When I explain my research to others, I have to take into account that most people have never examined propaganda. Nor do they speak Turkish. Nevertheless, I still want them to be as excited by research as I am—so I have to present my research in a way that is easy for them to understand.
I typically start by stating that the purpose of my project is to draw attention to an ongoing Russian influence operation in Turkey. At this point, I also need to define “influence operation” for them. I do this by asking them to consider an analogy—”influence operation” is just a fancy phrase for “influence recipe” and in a lot of ways its similar to a cooking recipe. A cooking recipe is a procedure—a list of instructions to help a chef create a particular dish. An influence recipe works the same way. An influence recipe is also a procedure—a list of instructions to help governments, for example, create a particular public perception. Just like a cooking recipe might call for the chef to sauté some onions, an influence recipe might call for the government to disseminate propaganda. And in the same way that a cooking recipe might specify which particular kinds of onions the chef needs to sauté—red, white, yellow, etc., an influence recipe might specify which particular kinds of propaganda the government needs to disseminate—political cartoons, television programs, radio broadcasts, etc. For my project, I simply focus in on the dissemination of political cartoons.
Then I try explain why examining a Russian influence operation in Turkey is important. I describe how Russia has taken notice of the rise in US-Turkish tensions in recent years, and how Moscow hopes to exacerbate these tensions in order to create divisions within NATO. If Moscow can create such divisions, it can more easily pursue its own political and economic interests in the region. This in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but oftentimes Moscow’s political and economic interests directly contradict or impede US political and economic interests. So, a deeper understanding of how Russia is trying to manipulate the mindset of the Turkish populous provides us insight into what Russia’s political and economic goals are. With this insight in-hand, we can begin to develop measures to counter Russian influence operations around the world when such measures are not in US interests.
Even though my analysis is an academic pursuit, the findings of my research and the implications of these findings would be very useful for government officials. Therefore, its beneficial for me to network with as many government-affiliated entities as possible. When I complete this project, I hope to publish it in an academic journal while also giving public lectures and briefs summarizing my findings at various research centers, think-tanks, etc. My hope is that this will help convey the significance of my research to those outside of the academia.