We came across the following claims on the social media site X/Twitter:
The posts made variations of the claim that Taylor Swift was a government psychological operation to influence population sentiment, or ‘psyop’ in short.
Some versions of the post included a clip of a political commentator responding to a clip of what appears to be a NATO conference presentation on which Swift is featured.
According to the commentator, Swift is featured in a NATO psychological operations presentation because ‘they worked with her in the past… as a key actor who can be trained to spread desired messaging’.
Far-right Conspiracy Theories
A web search revealed that reports of the conspiracy theories had been widely reported across the media. These appeared to be in response to the former Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy, who suggested on 29 January that the Super Bowl was rigged to ensure Swift’s prominence on television ahead of a potential endorsement of incumbent president Joe Biden later this year.
Swift has recently featured on live television coverage during NFL games as her partner, Travis Kelce, has been part of a team that has successfully earned a place at the Super Bowl.
Going further back, we found that the earliest suggestions of Taylor Swift being a government asset emerged from a 10 January segment on Fox News by Jesse Watters, who suggested that the ‘Pentagon psyop unit pitched NATO on turning Taylor Swift into an asset for combatting misinformation online’. Segments of the NATO conference in the Twitter posts also featured in Watters’ segment.
These claims were dismissed by the Pentagon, who referred to them as a conspiracy theory.
The NATO Conference
When we looked up the conference that was cited in the Twitter posts, we traced it to a Conference on Cyber Conflict (CyCon 2019) organized by NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn.
Unlike the Twitter posts’ claims of psychological operations, CCDCOE is an institution that provides NATO and cooperating nations with expertise and training in technology, strategy, operations and law.
We found that a video of the panel cited in the Twitter posts was available on YouTube, titled ‘Information Warfare: defining and analysing’. Upon identifying the section of the panel that included the mention of Taylor Swift, we found that instead of psychological operations, the panel was instead discussing ways to counter covert (information) campaigns, such as health misinformation.
In this context, one possible strategy cited was working with famous people and opinion leaders to share messages that counter misinformation.
Taylor Swift was mentioned by the panellist as an example of how a famous person could influence opinion, with the image used being one that was cropped of Swift next to a ‘go vote’ sign.
The panellist credited Swift for her ability to influence voter turnout, suggesting that famous people could similarly play a prominent role in combatting covert information operations. However, there was no suggestion that NATO or CCDCOE was working together with Swift for this purpose, and neither was there any suggestion that they would be doing so in the future.
A Swift Decision at the Polls
While there is no evidence that Swift has worked with NATO or the US government to counter covert information operations. Swift has, for several years, vocally encouraged her followers to participate in elections and made her political opinions known.
In 2020, Swift publicly endorsed Joe Biden and his running partner, Kamala Harris, for President and Vice-President.
Polling by Newsweek has revealed that 18 percent of voters say they are ‘more likely’ or ‘significantly more likely’ to vote for a candidate endorsed by Swift, and the Biden campaign has reportedly pondered sending the incumbent president to attend Swift’s Eras Tour as part of a strategy to garner an endorsement from the singer.
Influential, but Not an Asset
As such, while it is clear that Taylor Swift is highly influential among her followers, and that political candidates are hoping to earn her endorsement for a boost at the polls, there is no evidence that Swift is an asset of the US government, the Pentagon or NATO.
The NATO conference erroneously cited by the claims references Swift as an example of how famous individuals can influence behaviour, without any suggestion that such cooperation was ongoing.
As such, the claim that Taylor Swift is a government psyop is false.