Paid propagandists control social media discourse

Attkisson: When people get online every day and take part in social media or do searches for news, what is it you think they don’t know?

Matthew Brown: I don’t think they know they’re being manipulated.

Matthew Brown is a data analyst who pierces the secrecy behind paid efforts to influence online.

Attkisson: What areas of the Internet are used to shape and manipulate opinion?

Matthew Brown: Everywhere social. Everywhere social means specific Facebook pages, but it also means the comment sections in every major newspaper.

Brown began investigating after his health insurance costs tripled and he commented about it on the Obamacare Facebook page. He got bombarded, he says, by digital activists disguised as ordinary people.

Brown: Digital activists are paid employees; their purpose is to attack anyone who’s posting something contrary to the view the page owner wants expressed.

Brown decided to use analysis software to crunch the numbers. He evaluated 226,000 pro-Obamacare posts made by 40,000 Facebook profiles. What he found was remarkable.

Brown: 60 percent of all the posts were made from 100 profiles, posting between the hours of 9 and 5 Pacific Time.

Attkisson: Which means what?

Matthew Brown: They were paid to post.

Source: Sum of Knowledge Part 1

NY Times reports women’s FB page suspended after quoting the Bible

She apparently responded to a comment on her page by directly quoting the Bible – six months ago. Six months later, Facebook suspended her account for a week.

Source: (NY Times) Facebook accused of ‘liberal bias’ after suspending account of Christian blogger who cited the Bible on homosexuality

Facebook does not usually tell someone the specific reason their account has been suspended – only says the user has violated their community standards.

Did someone post a comment on my web site or Facebook page six months ago that led to the shadow ban on the Occupy Propaganda page? I have no idea. However, that Facebook censors discussion of the impact and methods of propaganda via social media is frightening, and as they say, the optics look awful for Facebook.

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, shadow banned by Twitter

Source: Scott Adams’ Blog – Scott Adams says he was shadow banned by Twitter. Apparently the ban has been removed as I can see his Tweets on Twitter at this time.

Shadow banning is a form of propaganda messaging that I  overlooked.

A “shadow ban” is a sneaky way of censoring someone’s voice by hiding their output from everyone else – but still enabling the poster to see his or her own posts. The poster is unaware of the censorship because the censorship itself is hidden from the poster.

In recent days, I learned that my Occupy Propaganda blog has been shadow banned by Facebook since December 15, 2016. For the past two months, I saw my  posts appearing in my own Facebook news line and was unaware that my posts had become invisible to everyone else.

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Bitter almonds were banned by the US government because they can treat cancer?

TL; DR Summary

  • This appeared in my Facebook news feed yesterday.
  • Many of the commenters to it, believed this to be true.
  • A few noted that perhaps this ban was because bitter almonds contain hydrogen cyanide (this is true) but pointed to other “nuts” like Apricot pits, that also contain similar levels of cyanide – and those are not banned. Therefore, say the conspiracy theorists, this poster must be true!

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20th Century Fox created many fake news web sites to promote a movie

The sites were designed by an experienced fake news publisher using the traditional, emotionally laden headlines, with false stories designed to be shared on social media. The purpose was to promote a movie –  by design, many people began sharing these fake news stories on social media where they were viewed as real.

Many of the stories were partisan political posts with false allegations. One fake post had been shared 65,000 times on Facebook alone.

A promotion tactic for “A Cure for Wellness,” which set up false news sites that put out articles that were widely shared, fell flat, as did the film’s projected ticket sales.

Source: 20th Century Fox Gives Real Apology for a Fake News Campaign – The New York Times

Even though the web sites have now been shut down, the original posts shared on social media can still be found by searching those web services.

Everyone produces fake news (we used to call them “public relations press releases”) and social media is the megaphone amplifier for any absurdity to be passed on as the truth.

Facebook manifesto: FB intends to control your life

The comments to this opinion column in the Oregonian (via Bloomberg), are mostly from people not happy with how Facebook has degenerated into a culture of outrage, anger and hate (broadly defined – not just in terms of government defined “hate groups”).
Source: Facebook plans to rewire your life. Be afraid: Bloomberg View

Social media has serious issues. Zuckerberg intends to add automation to eliminate “hate” (conventionally defined) and “fake news” – which suggests he does not  understand the problem.

People – and social media sharing – makes fake news successful

The creation of fake news is not the core problem – lying has been around for as long as people have spoken (“Thou shalt not bear false witness,” the Bible says). The problem on social media is that people who don’t know better spread the lies – and the technology enables them to do so faster than ever before. Like the difference between a fire on someone’s stove and a forest fire burning thousands of acres, virality is the primary issue, not the original lie.

Source: Stopping Fake News On Facebook Is Actually Simple. Here Is How I Have Been Doing It For Years.

I try to follow my own rule: On Facebook, I share items I create, or links to items I have created – rather than links to sources whose authenticity is hard to gauge.

I unfollow or unfriend people who frequently share fake news. By breaking the link, fake news fails to achieve market share, fails to go viral, and will not make money by selling eyeballs to advertisers, which is the goal of the fake news publishers.

Propagandists play the same game too – exaggerated or false headlines designed to grab our emotions, which we quickly Like and Share without a moment’s thought. Social media propaganda and fake news use the same methods – don’t play the game!

Non profit spins news story into propaganda success?

Source: Traffic deaths surge in 2016

My local paper (not linked here) spun this story with anecdotes and quotes that cell phones were the cause of most car crashes (they are not). The story is appearing in online news reports nationwide.

According to the National Highway Transportation Administration, all forms of distracted driving accounted for 10% of all fatal car crashes and 16% of all crashes reported to the police. Cell phone usage is one of several driving distractions.

Cell phone usage was a factor in 3% to 39% of all distracted driving fatal crashes (the percentage varies by age, with the age 20-29 group being the high outlier). That corresponds to 0.3% to 5% of all fatal crashes, and 0.5% to 6% of all car crashes.

Numerous stories claim or imply that cell phones are the cause of most crashes, which is not true. But judging by the comments in my local newspaper, this assertion has been turned into a fact thanks to propaganda and poor journalism.

I made this chart a very long time ago – while it only goes to 2000, the basic issue it illustrates remains true:


From a propaganda perspective, this story took off across the country today – originating with the National Safety Council, a safety advocacy organization. The NSC press release lists cell phones as one of many issues in auto safety – the NSC, however, wants to ban all cellular phone operation in automobiles, for any purpose.

The NSC press release also says “The U.S. lags the rest of the developed world in addressing highway fatalities” which is not true. The U.S. is not the worst for accident rates or total accidents even though the U.S. has more population, more drivers, driving more miles than other countries.

The NSC’s propaganda efforts have been a spectacular success, widely distributed in the media, and then amplified by poor reporting and news forum online comments that proclaim this assertion as a fact. Undoubtedly the story has been shared widely on social media. I have not been on social media for a few days as our Internet access has been unreliable and intermittent.

Oroville Dam emergency turns in to social media political propaganda opportunity

Just hours after a mass evacuation order was given, the emergency in Northern California turned social media into its usual outrage culture filled with political propaganda. This event has provided a real time illustration of the way that social media is collapsing in on itself.

The first and third comments in this screen capture illustrate both sides:Water scientist Peter Gleick says he cannot tell which is worse: “gloating comments” on social media might be worse than evacuating 190,000 people under threat of flooding and loss of life  – and he cannot tell which is worse? (His comments reinforce his documented reputation for unethical behavior.)
The environmental spin:

At this point, we don’t know the cause of the Oroville Dam problems – design, construction, maintenance, operational management errors, policy maker decisions, weather, uncertainty, history of floods in the area and so on – but on social media, we know the cause with precision …. or perhaps someone doesn’t want to let a crisis go to waste when it presents an opportunity for propaganda messaging. (There were numerous tweets similar to the above.)

The above were posted within 1-3 hours of the evacuation order.

The next day, but less than 24 hours since the evacuation order was given, Twitter’s #OrovilleDam tag has turned into mostly political propaganda. Literally, nearly half of the tweets were politicizing the disaster:

Some begin to note that turning a real time disaster in to politicking looks awkward:

These two appeared adjacent to one another on Twitter:

And so on. Never let a disaster of unknown cause go to waste when there is social media propaganda to spread!

(Note – I waited until after the crisis was largely resolved before publishing this post. The evacuation order was lifted yesterday afternoon.)