1st Edition

Routledge Handbook of the Influence Industry

Edited By Emma L. Briant, Vian Bakir Copyright 2025
    408 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This Handbook provides the first comprehensive examination of the influence industry and how it operates worldwide across different domains.

    The rapid evolution of emerging technologies and data-driven persuasive practices has been linked to the spread of misleading content in domestic and foreign influence campaigns. This has prompted worldwide public and policy discussions about disinformation and how to curb its spread. However, less attention has been paid to the increasingly data-driven commercial industry taking advantage of the opportunities these new technologies afford. The handbook uses the term ‘influence’ here to include not only messaging and public relations (PR), which fell within the traditional focus of propaganda studies, but to consider the infrastructure and actors behind an advanced array of capabilities that can be used in a coordinated way to affect an audience’s emotions, ideas, and behaviors in order to advance a state or non-state actor’s objectives - increasingly based on data-driven profiling. The volume fills a gap in scholarship exploring the recent technical, political and economic development of this industry, surveying the extent of different technologies and services offered to clients worldwide across multiple domains (commercial, political, national security and government). The chapters are divided into three thematic sections, and evaluate Influence Industry practices, aims and effectiveness across audiences; business practices and economics; and democratic structures and human rights. They also offer advice for researchers and consider key ethical issues and new regulatory approaches.

    This volume will be of much interest to students of political science, propaganda studies, sociology, communication studies and journalism.

    Tables of Contents


    List of Figures and Tables

    List of Abbreviations

    Notes on Contributors 

    Section I – Theoretical, Conceptual and Historical Background to the Influence Industry

    1 Introducing the Influence Industry

    Vian Bakir and Emma L Briant

    2 Concepts for Understanding the Influence Industry

    Emma L Briant and Vian Bakir

    3 Situating the Digital Influence Industry

    Emma L Briant and Vian Bakir

    4 Techniques and Transformation in the Digital Influence Industry

    Vian Bakir and Emma L Briant

    5 The Economics of Social Media Manipulation: Insights into Digital Influence Mercenaries' Tactics and Impact

    James Forest

    6 Masspersonal Social Engineering and the Evolution of the Influence Industry

     Robert W. Gehl and Sean T. Lawson

    7 The analogue-era Influence Industry and South Africa’s quest for Reputational Security, 1948-1994: Buying Friends for Apartheid.

    Nicholas J. Cull

     Section II - Micro-Practices and Social Impacts of the Influence Industry: International Case Studies

     8 Cambridge Analytica's online disinformation and propaganda in Nigeria: Does local culture reveal limits in persuasion and influencer activities?

    Shola Olabode

    9 Russian Active Measures in the 2016 US presidential election: 'Useful idiots' and intelligence agencies

    Stephen McCombie & Allon J Uhlmann

    10 The Kremlin’s Influence Industry and its use of Lawfare to Undermine Democracy

    Alexandra Chalupa

    11 Deception Supply Chains in the Middle East, 2010 – 2023: A playbook of social media manipulation, disinformation and influence operations

    Marc Owen Jones

    12 Medical Populism, Nationalism, and Parody: Unmasking Digital Dissent in Turkey’s COVID-19 Landscape

    Alkım Yalın, Nora Suren and Jonathan Corpus Ong

    13 Understanding Conspiracy Theories as a Business: the case of Humanitad

    Alexander Beunder and Emma L Briant

    14 Digital ‘Guerrillas’ and the changing Influence Industry’s impact on Latin American democracies: lessons from Chile

    Marcelo Santos & Ximena Orchard 

    15 Brazil's Far-Right 'Media Literacy' Campaign: Delegitimizing The Press For Profit

    Rose Marie Santini & Débora Salles

    16 Weaponizing WhatsApp: A case study of a digitally amplified institutionalized riot system in India

    Benjamin Grazda

    Section III – The Future of the Influence Industry: Rights, Ethics and Governance for Emerging Technologies

    17 Why the Influence Industry Matters

    Vian Bakir and Emma L Briant

    18 Ethics for the Future of military information operations

    Mark Zelcer

    19 Trust, truth and ‘organised lying’: A critical study of The Edelman Trust Barometer

    Lee Edwards

    20 Local Civil Society and the International Influence Industry: Preparing for Electionswith Practice-led Research

    Amber Macintyre and Stephanie Hankey

    21 Combatting the Influence Industry within Surveillance Capitalism: the Potentials and Pitfalls of Personal Information Management Systems

    Vian Bakir Alexander Laffer and Andrew McStay

    22 Guarding against automated empathy attacks on ontological security

    Vian Bakir & Andrew McStay

    Section IV: Conclusions and Recommendations

    23 Towards an Ethical Influence Industry

    Emma L Briant and Vian Bakir

    24 Researching and Conceptualizing the Influence Industry

    Emma L Briant

    25 Conclusion

    Emma L Briant 




    Emma L. Briant is Associate Professor of News and Political Communication at Monash University, Melbourne. She researches contemporary propaganda and information warfare and previously authored Bad News for Refugees (with Greg Philo and Pauline Donald, 2013) and Propaganda and Counter-Terrorism: Strategies for Global Change (2016).

    Vian Bakir is Professor in Journalism and Political Communication at Bangor University, UK.  Expert in the impact of the digital age on propaganda, disinformation, and dataveillance, her most recent book is Optimising Emotions, Incubating Falsehoods (with Andrew McStay, 2022).

    "This essential and comprehensive volume brings together an impressive range of scholars from across the world to shine a light into one of the most important - but misunderstood - issues of our time."

    Rory Cormac, University of Nottingham, UK

    "At a time when too much scholarly attention is given to the notion that disinformation is but an artifact of algorithms and social media's commercial logic, Emma L. Briant and Vian Bakir remind us of the role of institutionalized political power, what they call in this important volume the influence industry.  Powerful industry actors take advantage of technology to shape public perceptions and even behaviors in a struggle for dominance and control.  This insightful book is a must-read for those interested in understanding modern digital politics."

    Steven Livingston, George Washington University, USA

    "This invaluable collection gives a sharply-focused analysis of what the as yet under-researched influence industry is. Even more important, it reveals what the industry does - shaping how people think and guiding how they act - through a series of impressive case studies that show how data-driven influence campaigns and practices operate worldwide across commerce, politics and national security. Innovative conceptually, it proposes a new, better way to understand and study propaganda and disinformation. And it offers constructive, practical proposals for countering their effects."

    Steven Lukes, New York University, USA

    "The Routledge Handbook of the Influence Industry is one of the most important contributions in our field in recent times. The editors have done a remarkable job in bringing together a series of works that have effectively open a new space for reflection and discussion. I have no doubt that it will quickly become a seminal piece that will be quoted and used as a reference by scholars and experts to understand the perversity and the extent of manipulation of the public that have led to disasters such as Brexit and the 2016 election of Donald Trump."

    Jairo Lugo-Ocando, University of Sharjah, UAE