A Short Media-Aikido Tutorial

Aikido is a Japanese martial art focused on using the opponent’s strength and attack momentum against him or her. It allows to defend against a much stronger adversary. And we, at the Pocosa Research Chair, have spent the last few years self-learning Media-Aikido.

As an university-based team, the resources available to us are so paltry it would make the political foes we spar with laugh out loud if they only knew. We thus had to figure out a way to gain some leverage, and it was a little bit by accident that we noticed that one’s media exposure grows tremendously when a powerful opponent picks on you (and we want to sincerely thanks Dr. Gaétan Barrette and Québec’s FMSQ for their role in this process). We then deduced that by deliberately trolling powerful players in the media and policy arenas we could trigger them into responding and use their own clout against them.

We eventually came up with this formal definition of Media-Aikido as the deliberate trolling of powerful political foes in social or mass media in order to trigger them to react and then use their own clout and momentum to gain exposure and ultimately appropriate political legitimacy and power.

For example, someone with limited following on social media will gain a lot of attention if he or she can trigger an angry reply or commented retweet from an opponent with a large following. In the same way, in mass media, journalists are trained to look for the two sides of every story. Therefore, if a big player starts arguing with a trolling nobody, then that nobody has a chance to be pushed on the centre stage as the media looks for the “other side” of the story.

Obviously, media-aikido is a somewhat perilous approach to political communication. We at Pocosa don’t feel too much affinity with bullfighting, but have often felt how we imagine the torero feels when the bull finally notices the moving red flag. Once you do get the other side to notice you and to react angrily, you will need to have figured out a way to effectively deflect the attack momentum from yourself.

The best way to achieve such a deflection is by being able to frame (or reframe) the contentious issue in a more effective way than the opposing party does. One which creates some traction with the public and media, ideally by making the other side appear in an unfavourable light (ignorant, deceitful, greedy, etc.). It’s, of course, easiest to do this by actually being more knowledgeable than your target, and by picking on opponents who are actually ignorant, deceitful or greedy and deserving of your aikido skills. However, the same results can be achieved just as effectively through pure rhetorical skill and cleverly framed fallacies (something we definitely don’t condone).

It is also worth keeping in mind that you should be prepared for the possibility that you will effectively be crushed like an insect under the weight of their reputational clout or through non-communicational means such as litigation, lost funding, or even physical violence.

The effectiveness of the method also depends on the other side’s sophistication and media savvy; the most clever opponents would plainly just ignore you. This leads to a delicate balancing act, of walking a tightrope between becoming overly irritating and also maintaining an appearance of legitimacy and coherence within your discourse; another skill that improves with practice.

Now you might be wondering why we would share this media trick, as it intrinsically stops working once the other side catches on. That’s a good question. One reason is that Pocosa will cease existing this upcoming fall. However, the main reason is that we obviously aren’t the only ones to have figured this out: from anti-vaxxers to the far right, media-aikido is trending these days.

As people who actively played this game, we daily see others masterfully and successfully using the technique, from Russian-backed troll farms relying on state-sponsored resources to individuals pushing abhorrent political programs. In this context, the final advice we can give is to beware that annoying tiny mosquito trolling you; it might be wiser than you are.


 

(Still shot from Jim Jarmush’s movie, Ghost Dog)