How ideology-based thinking creates propaganda memes #socialmedia #propaganda

This is a very clever bit of propaganda messaging. Preliminary job market data for September indicated a loss of 33,000 jobs, the first decline in monthly job numbers in 7 years as the country climbed out of an economic depression. (A separate survey of households showed job growth – in time, these surveys will be reconciled).

Because of this 33,000 job loss estimate, a Facebook “friend” posted this item.

The Propaganda Technique Used

The wording on the above is very, very, very, very subtle. Most of us interpret this as adding a net positive 500,000 jobs per month to our employment. That would be great!

The sneaky part of this is the choice of the words “job GROWTH rate”. “Job growth” anchors our System 1 thinking to a growth in jobs. But that is not actually what is said here.

The poster is referring to a change in the job growth rate – which was negative the entire year of 2009. Between January and September the rate, which remained negative, declined from -739,000 jobs lost to just -220,00 jobs lost or a decline of -519,000 jobs in the number of jobs lost.

The poster then erroneous asserts this is “500,000 jobs per month” reinforcing the anchor to the idea that we were seeing a growth in jobs of 500,000 per month.

Subtle and clever!

A Chart to Illustrate

This chart illustrates the defects in the social media propaganda meme. Compare the slope of the yellow and blue lines. By month 9 in the chart, the blue line is still going down, but at a slower rate than it was at the start of the period. It is disingenuous to spin a reduction in job losses as better than an absolute increase in total jobs.

(Chart is from the excellent Calculated Risk Blog).

The Data

Let us turn to the data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – change in non-farm employment (the series that is commonly used) in 1000s.

Jobs were lost every month in 2009. In no month in 2009 was there an increase in total jobs.

Where does the 500,000 jobs claim come from?

In January the country lost -739,000 jobs. In September, the country lost -220,000 jobs. Since the loss of jobs declined by -519,000 jobs, this is used as the basis for the sneaky wording that that the “job growth rate was improving by 500,000 per month“. In the real word, a total of 4.587 million jobs were lost January to September but the rate of decline was slowing.

Second, the claim of “500,000 per month” is not correct. The poster is comparing January to September providing a reduction in job losses of -519,000 and falsely asserting this is a “per month” figure. That decline from January works out to -58,000 per month. In other words, job losses were declining by about 58,000 per month. Further, the reference to “500,000 per month” reinforces the incorrect interpretation of the propaganda message that 500,000 jobs were being created.

Third, the U.S. had, in 2008, entered the worst economic downturn and job loss period since the 1930s Great Depression. This had numerous ramifications on the job market decline and subsequent rebound. Historically, after all economic declines and job losses, we see significant job growth, regardless of who holds what political office. Additionally, with the unemployment rate at 4.7% in September 2017 and 4.1% in October 2017, it becomes nearly infeasible to employ 500,000 more workers each month – there are simply not enough workers available. (Economists say 5% is basically full employment as job positions are eliminated and created continuously meaning there will always be some level of unemployment as workers have to switch positions.)

Years ago, I predicted the next Presidency (2017-2020), regardless of party would likely have a notable economic recession. While recessions do not occur at precise intervals, the U.S. does experience an economic recession, on average, once every 7 years. From the chart above, the job market has been rebounding since 2010. Do the math. (The NBER declared the recession over as of June of 2009 and this is the date from which the 7 years should be counted.)

Total jobs as illustrated in this trend line, over time, from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. From January to September of 2009, 4.587 million jobs vanished and continued to disappear through early 2010.

Important Note

This post is not about the Obama Presidency or the Trump Presidency. This post is about how ideological thinking clouds judgement, leading to social media propaganda memes that get Liked and Shared. Their goal is to persuade others to adopt their agenda – the definition of propaganda messaging.

Job growth in 2017 during the Trump Presidency is at a lower rate than during the last 5 years of the Obama Presidency as shown in the spreadsheet table, above. This is a clear and unambiguous statement.

This propaganda example illustrates:

  1. How extremely clever, subtle – and mostly accurate – word choices can convey (or imply) conclusions that are not correct.
  2. Few people contest erroneous information on social media. It takes time, and in this case, attempting to point out the error resulted in others, and the original poster, torturing logic to defend it, which in turn, would then need to be contested.
  3. This also illustrates that the only way to defend ourselves against such propaganda onslaughts is to Hide, Unfollow or Unfriend such individuals, and to only post items on our social media that we can personally vouch for.

Since late 2016, I adopted a personal policy on the use of Hide, Unfollow and Unfriend on Facebook – and am thinking about whether I should “Like” any public post since “Liking” is equivalent to Sharing on Facebook.

I took strong steps to clean up my social media news feed so that it is not a constant stream of perpetual outrage. As I have written about on these pages, I doubt it is mentally healthy for so many to spend so much of their day expressing outrage over whatever, nor is it healthy for their targets and the “drive by victims” (most of us) who just see this stuff in our social media news lines.

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