Agenda setting as a strategy in Information Warfare

Tsvetkova Yulia,
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University;

Nina Kiknadze,
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University;

Inna Khlopunova,
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University

Abstract. This article demonstrates agenda setting as a tool and kind of a strategy for modern information warfare. The purpose of the study is to identify the features of conducting modern information wars and determine the role of the agenda in this process. As a result, the author comes to the conclusion that the manipulation of public opinion through a distorted agenda setting can lead to the formation of an incorrect picture of the world in society, which carries the risks of unpredictable consequences.

Key words: information warfare, agenda setting, mass media, public information sphere, social manipulation.


At present, the complication of the geopolitical situation, as well as the increase in the rate of change and the level of uncertainty in the world call for finding new effective tools to achieve social and political goals. With the onset of February 2022, the global situation escalated even more - the world community was finally destabilized. The long brewing conflict, which took the form of active confrontation, gave rise to a global crisis comparable to a global catastrophe. Analyzing the development of the military conflict, we cannot ignore the tendency to increase the number of economic sanctions and also the growing information pressure, which determines the relevance of this article.

Research methods: analysis, synthesis, comparison, induction, deduction, abstraction and others.

Main Part

At the beginning of the 21st century, social and political global relations are being formed in difficult conditions under the influence of globalization, geopolitical competition, as well as political and information confrontation. Today, using an arsenal of tools, these processes can take especially dangerous and aggressive forms. In the modern world they are very common. It is called - information warfare.

It should be noted that information warfare is hardly a new endeavor. In the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, Persian ruler Xerxes used intimidation tactics to break the will of Greek city-states. Alexander the Great used cultural assimilation to subdue dissent and maintain conquered lands. Taking place below the level of armed conflict, information warfare is the range of military and government operations to protect and exploit the information environment[1].

Information warfare is a term that is rather hard to define. It is a quite new category and is still evolving under the growing interest for defense planners and policymakers. Appearance of information warfare associated with so-called information revolution, rapid evolution of cyberspace and associated information technologies[2].

Grand PhD in Sociology Sinchuk Y.V. identified the following features of information warfare that determine its effectiveness:

  • the suddenness;
  • the secrecy;
  • conditions for concealment of true intentions through the methods of psychological, informational and technical influence;
  • the ability to act on behalf of others;
  • the absence of material traces of aggression, allowing to reveal the true aggressor and bring him to international justice;
  • no physical invasion in order to achieve goals;
  • the inaction of the military potential of the state that has become a victim of information aggression[3].

Studing of the relevant literature makes it possible to identify several main types of psychological impact in information warfare: desinformation, lobbying, manipulation, propaganda, and others, but all of them are closely related to such a “distribution” channel as the media[4].

Traditionally, mass media (TV, radio, newspapers, social media and others) have been regarded as the information gatekeepers and the main source of knowledge for the general public. However, the rise of digital media and social networks has added new layers of complexity to the media's role in information warfare. On the one hand, the media can be used as an effective tool of propaganda and disinformation, on the other hand, the media can also be a kind of defender of truth and transparency.

At the same time, we can note the growing involvement of the media sphere in PR and the general strategy of mass consciousness control. The strategy suggests a conscious move away from the term "propaganda" used in the past and becomes more agenda-setting. The information agenda turns out to be the main factor determining the topic’s choice. At the same time, it becomes the result of cross-connected media activities. In the conditions of media convergence, along with traditional ways of communication, the information agenda is formed by network sources, including the content of the blogosphere[5].

Currently, the term "agenda setting" is considered by experts in various ways. According to ones, the agenda acts as an indivisible set of events and ways of their formation. But if we turn to others, we find out that it is hardly a correct definition, because it doesn’t take into account external factors of influence. According to J. Dearing J., D. McQuail, S. Windahl, the agenda is segmented and divided between different types of audience (in terms of age, social status, geographical location, etc.), which is especially important in the information pressure on society.

As a strategy in information warfare agenda setting can be achieved through a variety of methods. For example, by flooding social media feeds with posts and articles about a particular issue, a group can create the illusion of widespread public interest and support for that topic. The Pew Research Center’s survey in 2016 found out that 66% of Facebook users get news from the site. 62% of these users are exposed to news incidentally while doing other things online, so they are not exhibiting as ones who are politically interested. However, when users open their Facebook or Twitter[6] feeds, they receive the information that corresponds to the agenda.

In some cases, agenda setting can be used as a form of disinformation by promoting false or misleading information to advance a particular agenda. It can also be used to distract attention from other issues or topics that a group wishes to keep out of the public view.

However, it is important to emphasize that the agenda relevant for the media is not initially relevant for the society. We see the information warfare in action to form relevant to the audience agenda, but it deforms the mass consciousness. Here it is important to keep in mind that the distortion of the picture of the day has a negative impact on public opinion. In addition, sometimes it can generate dysfunctional reactions that go against the agenda being promoted.

Results of the Study

Summing up the results of the study, it seems appropriate to affirm that agenda setting reflects the ability of a particular group or entity to control what subjects or issues are given prominence in the public discourse. Agenda setting is a powerful strategy in information warfare that can be used to shape public opinion and decision making process in support of a particular social and political goals.


The world we live in seems to increasingly revolve around technology and information. The same could be said about warfare. In the context of information warfare, agenda setting can be used as a powerful tool to influence public opinion. By controlling the agenda and paying attention to certain topics, a group or entity can shape the public view. However, the agenda relevant for politicians is not always the same for society. It is important to emphasize that the manipulation of public opinion is able to divert attention from other, more significant issues. In turn, it leads to a distortion of reality in the public mind and can lead to unpredictable consequences.


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[1] Catherine, A.T. Information Warfare: Issues for Congress [Electronic resource] // Congressional Research Service. - 2018. - URL:

[2] Molander, R.C. Strategic information warfare : a new face of war / R.C. Molander. - Santa Monica: RAND, 1996. - 53 p.

[3] Sinchuk Y. V. Information warfare in modern conditions / Y.V. Sinchuk //Greate Eurasia: development, security, cooperation. - 2018. - №1-2. - с.189-192

[4] Manoilo, A.V. State information policy in special conditions: monograph / A.V. Manoilo. - M.: MEPhI, 2003. - p. 388

[5] Feezell, J.T. Agenda Setting through Social Media: The Importance of Incidental News Exposure and Social Filtering in the Digital Era / J.T. Feezell // Political Research Quarterly. - 2017. - №71(04). - pp.1-13

[6] are blocked in Russian Federation as extremist networks