It’s the medium, not the message that is the problem

Hoaxers impersonate legitimate reporters

In the first incident, a perpetrator used a software tool to create two fake tweets that looked like they came from the account of Alex Harris, a Herald reporter preparing tributes to the slain students. One fake tweet asked for photos of dead bodies at the school and another asked if the shooter was white.

The reporter almost immediately began getting angry messages.

Source: Hoax attempts against Miami Herald augur broader information wars | McClatchy Washington Bureau

Hoaxers also created a fake Miami Herald news story that got shared online. Read the whole story.

“I think it’s part of this larger evolving system of misinformation,” said Aviv Ovadya, chief technologist at the Center for Social Media Responsibility at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. “This is sort of the very, very beginning of something that could be much darker.”

The future will bring hoaxes that far surpass fake tweets and screenshots of fake stories, Ovadya said, noting that “fake video is just about here,” with tools that will make it easy even for amateurs to create images that are totally false but look real.

It’s the medium, not the message that is the problem.

This is social media.

Interesting example of how propaganda messaging lives forever and is recycled

The senator [Sanders] from Vermont says 40 percent of guns are sold without a background check.

The Washington Post notes the figure came from a small survey in 1993/1994 before major changes in gun laws. The latest data indicate it is 13%, not 40%. But remember, the first propaganda message someone hears is the one that sticks – undoubtedly this figure has stuck with Sanders for a quarter century.

Source: Bernie Sanders resurrects a ‘zombie’ claim on gun sales without background checks – The Washington Post

This works as propaganda due to its “Appeal to Authority” (Bernie Sanders says) and its quotation of numbers. Quoting numbers lends legitimacy to messaging. They do not even need to be correct. A friend who once worked in sales said he frequently made up numbers while meeting with potential customers: 70% of our customers see increased productivity!

Bernie Sanders has done this before too – using old data that is no longer true to assert his point. He does this because this is an effective way to propagandize targets – it combines assertion, appeal to authority, and lying. The lie has plausible deniability because the claim was at least true once upon a time in the past. Because targets may remember the old, but no longer correct number, the assertion sounds believable.

Disclaimer: This post is not pro- or anti-gun control efforts. This post is about a common propaganda method using assertion, appeal to authority, the use of a number to lend authenticity and using out of date data. An online political survey I took in 2016 said  Sander’s campaign platform mostly closely matched the issues of interest to me. I did not vote for him because I did not belong to a political party and was not eligible to vote in the 2016 primary election.

Double Double Double Cross propaganda

A UCLA student journalist reported a story using a photo of a sign in front of a student housing home that said “No Blacks Allowed”.

Russian trolls picked up the photo, extensively edited, and then posted it on a Russia run propaganda group called Blacktivist, to emotionally target members of the group. The FB group had 360,000 “Likes”, which was more than the Black Lives Matter group itself. But Blacktivist was a fake group designed by Russian trolls to racially divide America.

An African American neighbor was photographed by a security camera posting the sign, and according to police, admitted to having posted the sign. (Hence the title of this post “double double double cross”.)

This incident illustrates the dangerous impact of the friction-less propaganda platform known as social media. Social media has become dangerous and reckless in its impacts.

It’s not the message, its the medium.

Watch the full 6 minute long video at the link. And note the executives of Facebook claiming automation will solve this problem. It will not for the reasons I outline here plus an explanation of why Facebook is stuck on stupid.

Source: How Russia Turned a Student Journalist’s Web Post Into Fake News

Culture of outrage promotes idiocy

Face palm. A U.S. flag is flying above the flag of Norway.

In our political climate, a Norwegian flag, with its blue-and-white cross, was mistaken for a Confederate flag. Questions ensued in the Greenwood neighborhood.

Rebecca Morris is a well known author of crime novels that have been on the New York Times Bestseller list. She reported the flying of the “Confederate Flag” to the newspaper and because unlike the rest of us, she’s an important person, the paper looked into it. She is formerly a journalist for The Oregonian and The Seattle Times.

Source: ‘Suddenly there is a Confederate flag flying’ in Seattle’s Greenwood area – well, not quite | The Seattle Times

  • In a world where we must continually seek opportunities to be outraged, this is what happens.
  • In a world where outrage is promoted on social media, this is what happens.
  • We are losing our ability to think for ourselves and are allowing ourselves to be controlled by social media and media propaganda.
  • It’s not the message, its the medium itself.

Update: I just read something a friend shared on FB. This suggests one intent of propaganda is that we are not to think for ourselves, but to instead pursue collectivism and collectivist thought by outsourcing our thinking to others.

CNN: “The Trump supporters used by Russia”

CNN speaks with people unwittingly used by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency.

Source: The unwitting: The Trump supporters used by Russia – Feb. 20, 2018

CNN itself covered a rally sponsored by the Internet Research Agency and falsely reported that it was organized by a 20 year old.

CNN does not mention that it too was unwittingly used by Internet Research Agency, publishing news stories sourced to Internet Research Agency social media propaganda.

Nor does CNN mention that its coverage of an elderly woman who attended one of the rallies is considered “doxing” and she is now being harassed online. Such behavior on the part of CNN acts to suppress others from attending political events (of any type). Their own news coverage conveniently omits CNN’s own direct involvement. CNN’s report comes across as a threat intended to suppress others from having public perspectives.

Doxing

“The term dox derives from the slang “dropping dox,” which, according to Wired writer Mat Honan, was “an old-school revenge tactic that emerged from hacker culture in 1990s.” Hackers operating outside the law in that era used the breach of an opponent’s anonymity as a means to expose opponents to harassment or legal repercussions.[10]”

This is CNN.

Facebook aims to be less useful to you

Had this announcement in my notifications today:

Facebook intends to stop showing me content that I actually want to see. You can turn this off but it requires manual intervention to regain control over what you want to see, rather than what Facebook thinks you want to see.

  • First, when Facebook decides what you see, Facebook is acting as an editorial director.
  • Second, when Facebook decides what you see, Facebook is potentially promoting propaganda. It does not matter that this editorial selection is conducted by algorithms.

I learned long ago that working in any field for a period of time warps our thinking.

After two decades in the computer software industry, my brain was brainwashed into thinking all the world’s problems could be solved with software solutions.Everyone in tech sincerely believes that everything is just a software or tech problem!

After those two decades, I went to grad school and earned and MBA. I spent my time hanging out with people who did not work in the tech sector and discovered that not everything is solved with tech. I also learned many others believed that most of the world’s problems could be solved with what ever their expertise was in!

Indeed, all the way back as an undergraduate in computer science, in a private conversation with a professor of statistics, he said, “When you get down it, life is nothing but statistics. Everything in life is statistics!” Like all of us buried in a specialty, we only see the world through the eyes of our specialty

It’s as if, when all you have is a hammer, the entire world starts to look like a nail – hah hah.

Many years ago I attended a public community meeting where, interestingly, there were 22 people in attendance – 21 of which worked in health care, plus me, who did not. 21 of the attendees believed every community problem was a health care problem! Seriously, crime was a health care problem! Public bus transportation was a health care problem! By the time the meeting was over with, probably four dozen community problems were identified and each and every one of them could be solved through better access to health care and more subsidy money spent on health care.

And on and on.

The point is that Facebook, Google, and Twitter all believe any problems they have in their propaganda platforms being abused is just a software problem. More software will solve this! That’s because to them when all they have is software, the whole world looks like a software problem.

The tech sector needs to get out of its Get Smart-level Cone of Silence bubble and recognize that problems require a multi-disciplinary approach and solutions. For now, they are proceeding down the nonsensical, inward focused “it’s just a software problem”. 

They and many others do not yet realize that the propaganda problem on social media is not the messages, it’s the medium.

State of Oregon begins censoring historical re-enactments, largely due to social media propaganda efforts

Civil War re-enactment will relocate from Fort Stevens State Park after 27 years from The Daily Astorian

Fort Stevens is the site of an actual Civil War fortress, whose construction began in 1863 to protect the Columbia River from a feared attack by the Confederacy.

For 27 years, this fortress was the site of an annual (and very large) Civil War history and education program held every Labor Day weekend.

As the news report explains, Oregon State Parks is taking steps to end this annual event, including telling the non-profit organization that provides volunteer docents and workers, to discontinue supporting the public education and history event, and taking 5 months – rather than 2 weeks – to issue a permit – and then seeking  thousands of dollars in new fees.

Oregon State Parks already pushed Civil War re-enactments out of two other state parks.

Basically, this is state-sponsored censorship of history education. If you have not been to a historical re-enactment, then you are possibly not aware of what these events are about, how they are run, and the tremendous work they do in bringing history education to life.

This state-sponsored censorship comes about because of online social media propaganda events taking place in 2016 and 2017.  Some of that social media propaganda has been linked to the Internet Research Agency in Russia, and some to white supremacists (who we now learn might have been fake troll farm operatives).

Bottom line: social media platforms are destroying all of us and are reckless platforms sowing dangerous chaos to the entire world.

The medium is the problem, not the messages.

Source: Civil War re-enactment will relocate from Fort Stevens State Park after 27 years – Local News – The Daily Astorian

NBC publishes database of 200,000 Internet Research Agency tweets

Twitter doesn’t make it easy to track Russian propaganda efforts — this database can help

Source: Twitter deleted 200,000 Russian troll tweets. Read them here.

Download and take a look at their 29 megabyte spreadsheet file.

Only a very tiny percent of them have anything to do with candidates.

A large percentage strongly resemble a fake news operation, such as

There is very little having to do with candidates, a bit having to do with “issues”, and a lot of tweets reading like the above fake news click bait.

Is this what we are yelling and screaming about now? A fake news operation on social media run by a private business in Russia? Hello?

If a fake news operation can lead the U.S. to say the Russian government has declared war on the U.S., then social media is not only the most effective propaganda in world history, but also the most dangerous form of communications in world history.

Twitter terminates 1000s of accounts overnight, thought to have been bots

Source: Twitter says most recent follower purge is about bots, not politics

Twitter users see their follower counts drop by hundreds to thousands, overnight.

Twitter says its purging accounts they believe are bots. Fake accounts are deleted from Twitter all the time.

I have accounts on Twitter and Instagram and am aware that at any point in time, there are a number of fake accounts following my accounts. Most appear to be business/commercial marketing spam accounts. When Twitter deletes fake accounts and bots, we see our follower counts go down – simply because the accounts have gone away. Such drop offs have nothing to do with the content we have posted.

Automated systems for detecting fake and bot accounts can be error prone.

See my previous post on how such systems, even those having a presumed high confidence rate in their targeting, may incorrectly tag legitimate accounts as bots. I show there how a 98% confident “search” falsely tags twice as many people as it correctly identifies in a specific example scenario. Read it to understand the problem.

Fake news web sites spread conspiracy theories about Florida school shooting

These were provided to me yesterday, by a friend, in a post that claimed the students appearing on TV in regards to the Florida school shooting were actually actors.

I replied that it seemed that photos of unknown origin and unknown time frame were being re-purposed for someone’s propaganda, which turns out to be the case.

The NY Daily News says these social media memes were a conspiracy theory pushed by conservative fake news sites InfoWars and Gateway Pundit.

Outlets such as InfoWars and the Gateway Pundit have reported that there are “questions swirling” over the media appearances of those who survived the attack on Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last Wednesday.

The conspiracy, which resulted in the firing of the aide to a Florida state congressman who believed it, says that survivors David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez are paid actors who “travel to various crisis when they happen.”

Source: Conspiracy that shooting survivors are ‘actors’ easily debunked – NY Daily News

These fake news stories would have gone nowhere – except for the friction-less platform of social media propaganda distribution.

These nonsense posts were shared on social media.

But it gets worse. Another fake news meme popped up alleging that all of the dead students have no birth certificates and this was a “false flag” operation. These posts went on for pages on Facebook. Are these from real people or bots designed to sow discord?

(I found one post from someone who used the same database to check for birth records of their own family members- and found they had none of their living relatives in this database, calling into question the accuracy of the database being used by these nut jobs. A genealogist tells me that birth records at places like the website these people say they used, usually mark birth records of living people as private, and are not made public until many years after they have died, for privacy reasons.)

Crap is alive and well on Facebook, an online service that has degenerated into a dangerous purveyor of bull shit. Facebook has lost its relevancy – and it is no longer a harmless amusement but a danger to society itself. The social media platform has become a platform for reckless behavior.

These are screen snapshots of actual Facebook search results.