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Fox News pushes conspiracy theory that Taylor Swift is a psy-op

Jesse Watters pushed a conspiracy theory that the pop superstar is a Pentagon tool for combating misinformation

Martha McHardy
Wednesday 10 January 2024 20:44 GMT
Jesse Watters confuses Afghanistan with Ukraine while trying to mock Biden

Fox News has been accused of pushing a conspiracy theory that Taylor Swift could be used in a government psychological operation.

During Tuesday’s Jesse Watters Primetime, the Fox News host played a video that he said showed a Department of Defense official suggesting Taylor Swift is a Pentagon psy-op for combating misinformation.

Only, this wasn’t what the video showed.

“I like her music,” Watters began the segment by saying. “She’s all right, but I mean, have you ever wondered why or how she blew up like this?” he added.

“Well, around four years ago, the Pentagon psychological operations unit floated turning Taylor Swift into an asset during a Nato meeting. What kind of asset? A PsyOp for combating online misinformation.”

He then went on to show a video of what he claimed was a female employee of the Pentagon giving a presentation on stage to Nato officials in 2019.

“You came in here wanting to understand how you just go out and counter the information operation,” the woman could be heard saying in the video. “The idea is that social influence can help– can help encourage or promote behavior change… So, potentially as like a peaceful information operation… I include Taylor Swift in here because she’s– she’s, you know, a fairly influential online person. I don’t know if you’ve heard of her.”

Fox News has been accused of pushing a conspiracy theory that Taylor Swift could be used in a government psy-op (Fox News)

After the clip ended, Watters told viewers, “Yeah, that’s real. Pentagon’s PsyOp unit pitched Nato on turning Taylor Swift into an asset.”

However, the woman giving the presentation in the video was not a Pentagon employee. Her name is Alicia Marie Bargar, a research engineer in applied physics at Johns Hopkins University who has no known contracts or relationship with the US military.

In the video, Ms Bargar was presenting research she had conducted with her team at Johns Hopkins University about how information spreads online.

During the presentation, she discussed hypothetical scenarios for how information can be manipulated, using Taylor Swift as an example, owing to her status as probably the most famous pop star in the world.

The video shown by Watters on his show was heavily edited and was only a three minute segment of the full presentation. In a segment of the presentation not included on Watters’ show, Ms Bargar explains that Swift has used her platform to tangibly influence voter turnout.

She showed a screenshot from an Instagram post where Swift showed herself waiting in line back in 2016 to vote - a post that was credited with increasing voter turnout amongst young people.

“Celebrities, at least in the U.S., regularly will post pictures of themselves with an encouragement for people to go vote and this has a measurable affect on voter turnout,” Ms Bargar said.

During her 2019 presentation, Ms Bargar was joined on stage by four other speakers – none of whom worked for the Department of Defense or the United States government.

In a 2016 Instgram post, Swift showed herself waiting in line to vote (Taylor Swift/Instagram)

The speakers included an employee of Mozilla, an officer in the British Army, and an assistant director at Nato, and the presentation was given as part of Nato’s International Conference on Cyber Conflict, or Cycon.

The heavily edited version of the presentation was also shared on X on Monday by former State Department official Mike Benz, who served under Donald Trump.

“Watch the incredible moment that a rep from the Pentagon’s psychological operations research firm pitched NATO’s military psyops center on turning Taylor Swift into an asset for the Western military alliance to stop “disinformation” on the Internet,” Mr Benz wrote.

A community note was later added to his tweet stating that his claim was false. The note also included a link to the entire presentation.

Swift was named Time magazine 2023 person of the year (TIME/Reuters)

Mr Benz’s tweet was later shared by Jeffrey Clark – a former Justice Department lawyer under Donald Trump who was indicted alongside the former president in Georgia over Mr Trump’s efforts to overturn the election in the state.

Swift has long been thought by relatively fringe elements, including the X account known as End Wokeness, to be a psyop, with the conspiracy theory gaining more prominence afterTime magazine named Swift as 2023 person of the year.

“Taylor Swift has a cult-like following that would drink poisoned Kool Aid for her. The media knows this and is feeding it,” End Wokeness tweeted roughly a month ago.

“Music. Entertainment. Sports. Now they crowned her Person of the Year. The next step? Politics. If you don’t think the regime has plans to weaponize her just in time for 2024, you clearly have not been paying attention,” the account added.

Elon Musk, the owner of X, has frequently engaged with the account’s content.

Ex-Trump administration officials, including former senior adviser Stephen Miller, have also pushed the conspiracy theory.

“What’s happening with Taylor Swift is not organic,” Mr Miller tweeted in December.

CNN’s Pentagon reporter, Haley Britzky, shared a jokey response from Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh to the conspiracy: “[W]e are going to shake it off. But that does highlight that we still need Congress to approve our supplemental budget request as Swift-ly as possible so we can be out of the woods with potential fiscal concerns.”

The Independent has contacted Fox News for comment.

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