Context matters – “Allah is the only god”


CaptureTL;DR Summary

  • Conservative social media protested that school children were ordered to write “Allah is the only god” for a school assignment.
  • The incident did happen, but context matters!
  • This is just one tiny part of a multi-part course segment on issues in world history. And specifically, on the role that religion has played in major historical events.
  • On 1 day of a 3 week period, students examined the Five Pillars of Islam to learn the role they played in history.
  • From a propaganda perspective, this poster is effective. It is simple to understand and depending on the target, quickly creates an emotional response that largely short circuits further in depth analysis or understanding.


Social media is about conformity

This odd study looked at women who wear heels and tracked their heel height as they geographically moved. The researchers found that when women moved to a wealthier area, their own heel height adjusted – up or down – to match that of the area they moved to – in other words, social conformity.

That tendency to conform differed depending on the wealth of the places that the women were coming from, and the wealth of the places they were moving to. People conformed much more when they moved to a place with higher socioeconomic status, as the chart below shows.

Source: What high heels say about the massive gap between the rich and the poor – The Washington Post

The greater the socioeconomic status, the more likely women would conform to the standards of the local area.

As our blog has noted, social media has become a medium that drives conformity. Few question their “friends” yet not “Liking” a post is interpreted as you disagree. Every social media action becomes a “signal” to others in your social group.

The study reinforces the strong desire to conform to social norms, with the observation that we tend to conform upwards, towards those having a higher socioeconomic status. I suspect the same conformity pattern exists in social media – we tend to conform to those who we believe are higher up in the social ranking (as measured by any number of metrics including fame, fortune, credentials or whatever).

This desire to conform to social norms implies social media is a highly effective platform for enforcing conformity in thought.

Republican Platform seeks to sell off all Western US Federal lands

Voila_Capture 2016-07-17_09-19-12_PMTL; DR Summary

  • The Seattle Post Intelligencer says the Republican Platform calls to “Sell off public lands in the West, log national forests”.
  • This link was widely distributed on social media.
  • says the erroneous story was based on an incorrect blog post from ThinkProgress claiming the GOP plans to close national parks, monuments, wilderness areas, national forests, BLM lands  and sell them to private interests.
  • notes the assertions about national parks, etc, are not supportable and that the Seattle PI actually quoted the 2012 platform, not 2016.  Read the link for their full analysis.
  • The final 2016 Republican platform does call for a review of federal lands with a goal of turning over “certain” lands to states.

The basic propaganda method used here is the strawman argument. In the strawman argument, you create a fictitious statement from your opponent (in this case by exaggerating what they said) and then argue against that fictitious statement, rather than what the opponent actually said or promoted.

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“In the age of the Internet, the truth does not matter”

“In the age of the internet, the truth does not matter. The message you want to propagate can be told, and it will spread like wildfire. And spread it did.”

Propaganda spreads faster than wildfire on social media, often torching everything in its path. The marriage of social media and propaganda is extraordinarily dangerous if you think about how Internet mobs convict people, groups, ideas – in a matter of hours – in the absence of a full set of evidence. Or how similar behavior may rally support for a war – or rally a mob of protesters that trash a community.

The above quote is from a scientist that was slimed, tarred and feathered by an Internet mob about a supposedly secret email he had written to help stop an anti-GMO initiative. The story began with incompetently written and unvetted news reports from Wired, Nature and others and was then shared online in social media. The report and the social media mob, in fact, had the story backwards – and completely wrong.

Social media then propagated the false story – manufacturing a “new fact” out of thin air – a fact that was never true nor even possibly true. And in so doing, ruined the reputation of an innocent scientist.

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Report: Portland Public Schools gave media flawed data on lead

The former top spokesman for Portland Public Schools knowingly gave a journalist flawed information on the district’s water testing, according to a local law firm’s investigation into the district’s lead crisis.

Source: Report: Portland Public Schools gave media flawed data on lead

The former spokesman now works for Uber.

Today, the Superintendent resigned effective immediately. The School district knew they had lead in the school’s drinking water, hid the information from parents and largely ignored it, even lied about it.

The issue here is that “public relations” staff have repeatedly destroyed their reputation and role (as often noted on this blog). As a field, PR staff may be assumed to be paid professional liars working hard to manipulate their targets.

Simple messages are more successful

11888078_1199937736733020_1490268399785666390_nTL;DR Summary

  • This Right Wing News poster is one of the few effective posters they distribute (right wing social media propaganda is way behind left wing social media propaganda).
  • Using the methods of Assertion and Linkage, this poster delivers a simple, easy to understand message. The significantly altered photo of Hillary Clinton likely engages an emotional response as well.

The 1956 Republican Platform



TL; DR Summary

  • This poster comes from a left wing web site “GOP-The Party of Mean” and uses the technique of quoting one’s opposition to score points.
  • This approach can be effective, even when, as Snopes points out, this stretches the truth. The poster uses words from 1956 in a clever way to imply support for 2015-2016 issues that are really quite different.
  • The poster is also “busy” – too much for a reader to process and draw a conclusion in seconds.

Click the link to see how many of the points in the poster, while sounding similar to issues in 2015-2016, are in fact, referring to something very different. How many viewers of this poster do you think will recognize that the poster’s bullet list refers to something rather different?

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How to use charts for misleading propaganda!

This chart appeared on a blog post saying auto sales are “down again” and this should worry us about a recession.  See that blue arrow at the right? Looks horrible!!!!

But this chart design is a real mess.


First, the blue arrow anchors our view on the blue line and its downturn at the right. But the real chart is the harder to see gray column chart. Column charts are a *terrible* way to show a trend – line charts work much better.

The blue arrow and the blue line is what we see when we look at this chart – but it is the gray columns that show the trend the original writer was referencing!

But look closer. Over 80% of the length of that down arrow, truck sales were growing – and truck sales make up the majority of vehicle sales. The miscolored blue arrow was anchoring our thought processes inadvertently to the truck sales – when it should have been a gray arrow to link us to the columns (which again, are a terrible way to show a trend) – what a mess!

Now look even closer. Truck sales are down during the winter and spring every year:

domestic-auto-REVISISED sales

From merely eye balling the chart, you can see that this years sales drop is less than the prior years sales drop.

Truck sales, are more than 50% of all “auto sales” and every every spring, they drop in a cyclical fashion.

What the chart shows is that truck sales, which are the majority of total auto sales, are doing well. Overall “total auto sales” for May 2016 are greater than May of 2015, although in between sales went still higher and then dropped back.

This chart “works” due to the use of “anchoring” on the blue line and failing to compare sales year-over-year, which rise and fall in a non-linear manner due to seasonal effects.