This study introduces methods for identifying search directives — content that could prompt an online search — and explores their presence on social media. Search directives can be an effective tool for indirect online influence, because instead of guiding people directly to content (e.g., a news article), they indirectly guide people to it through an independent intermediary (e.g., Google Search). By directing viewers to "do their own research" on a known, trusted, or seemingly objective intermediary, search directives have advantages in terms of both persuasion, by making people feel as if they discovered the content on their own, and evasion, by not directly posting the target link(s). Here we present a framework for identifying search directives on social media that includes methods for automated discovery, classification, and query extraction. Data we collected from social media demonstrate the widespread use of search directives, provide construct validity for our definition, and support our framing of search directives as a form of indirect online influence. Last, we report three case studies that highlight the immediate value of identifying search directives to researchers, practitioners, and journalists focused on online trust and safety.
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