‘Can You Hear Me?’ Scam Warning is probably fake news

Dozens of news outlets reported on a purported scam wherein fraudsters supposedly falsify charges by randomly calling people and asking ‘Can you hear me?’

Source: ‘Can You Hear Me?’ Scam Warning

CBS News prompted the latest round of this story. As Snopes notes, no one can identify an actual victim of the purported scam. Of course, it is a good idea to say as little as possible to telemarketers. However, it might not be a great idea to share the story on social media.

(CBS News is famous for “fake but accurate” reporting – the term the NY Times used to describe a CBS News report that caused interference in the 2004 US Presidential election, not by Russia, but by CBS. After an investigation, CBS fired CBS News producer Mary Mapes, CBS News anchor Dan Rather, 60 Minutes executive producer Josh Howard, Senior Producer Mary Murphy, and CBS Senior VP Betsy West. “Fake” news has been around a very long time.)

“Leaving Social Media Could Save Your Sanity”

Definitely a growing trend:

“I’ve been screaming my opinions at the world via the internet for a solid decade now. Back in college, I discovered LiveJournal, which I filled with movie reviews, shoddy political analysis, and snark (which I directed at other people on LiveJournal). Then Facebook opened up! And Twitter! And Instagram! And you could link them. I have now spent a solid decade getting positive reinforcement and criticism — at least someone cares! — from strangers online.

But this looks to be the year I have to stop.”

Source: Leaving Social Media Could Save Your Sanity

Social media has turned in the 1970’s “Citizen’s Band Radio” where anything goes. And the impact of all the shouting is causing people to become anxious and depressed.

The dominant activity on social media seems to be persuading others to adopt someone’s agenda. Whether its politics, environmentalism, political activism and rights groups, or online sales people trying to sell us stuff – someone is trying to persuade us to take an action.

Curtailing social media use is hard but it can be done – and the benefits are real.

“Fake news” targets those with preconceptions says study

Study finds it is doubtful that fake news changed vote outcomes.

“It may be less that false information from dubious news sources is shaping their view of the world. Rather, some people (about 8 percent of the adult population, if we take the survey data at face value) are willing to believe anything that sounds plausible and fits their preconceptions about the heroes and villains in politics.”

Source: Researchers Created Fake News. Here’s What They Found. – NYTimes.com

The study concludes fake news did not have much impact. However, the study’s findings agree with past research on propaganda methods – targeting pre-conceptions with “sounds plausible” stories is effective. This conclusion was already known in the propaganda industry and is the basis for most of the fake news web sites. They create stories designed to hit the emotional hot buttons of their target audience – because their targets want to believe these stories are true.

They almost tip toe up to the new role of distribution on social media but then miss it:

“People’s hunger for information that suits their prejudices is powerful, and in the digital media age, a pile of it emerges to satisfy that demand.”

Fake news is the tabloid model taken to a new level, with excessive hype, exaggeration and fiction writing but with distribution and promotion handled by the gullible who like and share on social media. It’s all about the revenue stream and the social media connection is the key difference.


Republican runs fake news web site

Cam Harris, who fabricated viral stories about Hillary Clinton, did so while living in the home of his boss, a Republican member of the Maryland legislature.

Source: Major Fake News Operation Tracked Back to Republican Operative

Also see “Man behind ‘alt right’ fake news sites is registered Democrat

For all of these, making money is usually the motivation. Secondarily, they may be playing dirty politics, but as the 2nd link illustrates, even that meme is messed up when fake news creators cross party lines. Fake news can be very profitable!



The first story is the one that is remembered, even if wrong

TL;DR Summary

  • A media outlet ran a story with the headline “”Ben Carson admits fabricating West Point Scholarship“, based in part on muddled comments from Ben Carson that were not clear.
  • The false version of the story was picked up by media and spread rapidly on social media.
  • The story was eventually shown as incorrect and prominent media called the story a “lie”.
  • But the damage was done. Propagandists know that the first message received by the target, even if later found to be false, is the message mostly likely to stick with the target. This is why elegant lies are effective in persuading others. (Update: There are contemporary examples from the Trump administration saying things that are not true. I wrote this post, originally, in late 2015 but did not publish until January 2017.)
  • This post is not about Ben Carson but is about a propaganda method that is illustrated well by this story involving Ben Carson and Politico. Even though the initial headline and story were not correct, this is the “message” that will live on in the minds of the targets.

Kyle Cheney at Politico.com wrote a story titled “Ben Carson admits fabricating West Point Scholarship“. After spreading online, both CNN and Washington Post  noted this headline was not true; Politico later revised the article and rewrote the headline.

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U.S. cities fall behind in wealth measure! :)

CaptureTL;DR Summary

  • From a design standpoint, this poster is effective. Readers likely see it, quickly nod agreement, and then click Like and Share!
  • It uses simple statements with an authority figure as the source of the quote.
  • Some of the claims are false or misleading, but they all seem plausible.
  • The poster works by making assertions (some of which are not true) and using an appeal to authority. The poster was designed to appeal to the preconceptions of its target audience, who subscribe to the fake news outlet. The goal of the poster seems to be that there is a lot of wealth and a lot of poverty in the U.S., therefore, wealth is bad (or poverty is bad or industrialization is bad or whatever). Since the quote/poster never says what the conclusion is supposed to be, the conclusion is left to your own (pre-conceived?) thoughts.

Poster Source

Since the post asks, “What’s wrong with this picture?“, let’s take a look!

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Effective propaganda posters that do not actually mean much

TL;DR Summary

  • President Obama selected as the most admired man in the world, per Gallup Poll of U.S. residents.
  • Analysis: True! And it is good that the US President is selected for this, in this poll.
  • Almost every year since 1946, the current sitting President has been identified by this Gallup poll as the most admired man in the world. Doesn’t matter who is in office (except for Gerald Ford – it sucks to be Gerald Ford, apparently).
  • This works on a propaganda level because (a) it is a true statement, (b) the message is simple, and (c) “What you see is all there is”. When you see all US Presidents since World War II (except Gerald Ford) were selected as the most admired man in the world in this annual poll, the message of the poster becomes less significant, of course.

Continue on to see the chart of the Gallup Poll results from 146 to 2014.

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“No, it wasn’t always on our money!”

CaptureTL;DR Summary

  • The phrase “In God We Trust wasn’t always on our money” states the propaganda poster.
  • This poster is both true and false, depending on how you define “money”.
  • It has been on some coins since 1909, for example.
  • The goal of the poster was to argue about separation of state and church (we think). It works due to (a) a true assertion, and (b) “What you see is all there is” and the viewer is not aware that the phrase was on other forms of currency before appearing on the one dollar bill.

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Employers use Facebook profile photos to screen applicants

“The candidate with the most favorable Facebook profile picture received approximately 21% more positive responses to his application in comparison to the candidate with the least favorable profile picture. The difference in the chance to be immediately invited to a job interview even amounted to almost 40%. “

Source: Employers use Facebook (photos) to screen job candidates — ScienceDaily

Those who were judged more attractive were more likely to have their job application move to the next step. The researchers also did an experiment where they attached the photo to the application, and had similar results.

The main conclusion of their study is that employers do indeed look up applicants on Facebook, without the knowledge of the applicant. And those with higher attractiveness scores are more likely to progress through the hiring process.