Political misinformation is harder to correct than health misinformation – especially among the educated

We have covered this phenomena before. The first information people receive, even if subsequently proven to be incorrect, is what stays in people’s minds. This is one of the reasons that propaganda based on lies is often successful. It is very hard to refute erroneous propaganda statements.

New research indicates that corrections have a moderate influence on belief in misinformation. ….“The alarming growth of misinformation and the limited repercussions for non-institutional actors for knowingly or unknowingly misleading the public turned misinformation and its correction to one of the most pressing issues in the social sciences,” said study author Nathan Walter, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.


Walter found evidence that corrections had a moderate effect on counteracting misinformation. However, misinformation about politics was harder to correct than misinformation about health, particularly among participants who were well-educated political partisans.


“Realistically speaking, however, the results are also somewhat alarming because scientific and political misinformation is much harder to debunk, interventions outside the laboratory tend to produce weak effects and, as time passes, people seem to forget about the correction and remember the misinformation,” Walter explained.

Source: Political misinformation is harder to correct than health misinformation – especially among the educated

Riding a “bike generator” for 30 minutes will power a house for a day? No, not even close. #Facebook #Bicycling #nonsense

This made me laugh – can you see why?

A typical bicyclist may generate 100 to 200 watts per hour on a bike. A very fit bicyclist might generate up to 300 watts per hour (and their peak output – like a sprint – can produce 500 or more watts briefly). (Good explanation here. Another way to look at this is that 1 horsepower is 746 watts. Are you as powerful as a horse?)

Consequently, for most people, 30 minutes of bicycling produces in the range of 50 to 150 watt hours (.05 to .15 kwh) (or stated another way – 100 to 300 watts per hours is 50 to 150 watts per half hour).

American homes have an average consumption of about 11,000 kwh per year or about 30 kwh per day. (The amount consumed varies greatly by where you live in the country, and depends on local climate and local sources of energy, particularly for heating and cooling.)

See the problem? Let’s say .1 kwh produced relative to 30 kwh consumed per day. 30 minutes of bicycling produces less than 1/2 percent of the electricity consumed by an average home in a day.

This type of propaganda uses the simple method of assertion, making a claim (30 minutes of bicycling could power a home for a day). Few people will fact check – few have an intuitive sense of what a “watt” means or how much power they actually consume per day.

Consequently, many people think this assertion sounds great and quickly jump “on the bandwagon” to share this item with their friends.

While the above is from Twitter, the link is to a Facebook page that has been viewed 6.2 million times, shared 89,000 times!

People who ride stationary bikes tend to listen to music or watch TV (visit a gym to see this), which means they are producing less electricity than is being used by the TV. It’s possible for a group of riders, in a gym, to collectively out produce the TV’s demand, but that’s about as good they will do. They still need to power the lights, which they would not be doing! Effectively, riding a bike in the gym is likely to be a net loss of energy versus not riding that bike.

Yet this “meme” will likely takeover and people riding bikes in gyms will be sanctimonious about their behavior, virtue signaling how wonderful they are for the planet. When in fact, they are likely increasing energy consumption 🙂

It may be virtue signalling, but at least its not actually true

This propaganda poster came across my news feed.

According to Snopes,

  • He occasionally rides a subway but is more often driving one of his sports cars or classic motorcycles.
  • He generously support several charities; however, his net worth is estimated at $350 million.
  • He lives in a $4 million home (shack, not a mansion, in Hollywood Hills, which is in California, not New York City).

Typical of propaganda, this poster extracts “bits” and extrapolates those to make broad or generalized claims that are not true.

The purpose of the poster seems to be to deliver a message that

  • Reeves is humble
  • He donates all his money to charity and lives a life of poverty (or something)
  • We should all be like this
  • Those who share or like this poster are virtue signaling their commitment to this ideal (or rather, they like it when other people choose this hypothetical life style)
  • The poster makes several assertions, most of which are not true (lies).
  • The poster uses celebrity endorsement.
  • The poster uses cherry picking of the available information.
  • The poster may be suggesting that we should “get on the bandwagon” too.

Why people are compelled to share items like this on social media is bewildering.

How media manipulates your interpretation of a news story

Nearly every story on Facebook this week has featured this Getty Images photo of Zuckerberg looking contrite:

The photo first appeared in the press in about May of 2017. In other words, this photo is about one year old.

The media has deliberately selected an old photo of Zuckerberg to make it look like he is contrite and feeling badly about the current predicament of Facebook. This assertion, however, is made up entirely by fiction writers in the media. We have no idea how he feels right now – for all we know, he’s smiling that he pulled his scam for so long!

The point is – the media itself is manipulating you by selecting this photo which has nothing to do with the current situation.

Source: In Just a Few Painful, Embarrassing Minutes, Facebook Showed Just How Arrogant It Is | Inc.com

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.

Is there a solution to the social media propaganda problem?

For several years I have been pointing out the problem of social media dominated by propaganda.

In the past week, awareness of social media propaganda has risen, albeit, focused solely on Russia connected actors.

Amusingly, a lot of posts from individuals bemoaning Russia connected propaganda are from individuals who do not realize their own posts are the problem too. Far too many users of Facebook and Twitter believe the primary purpose of their posts is to persuade others to adopt their agenda – this is nearly all that they do on social media!

You likely have friends whose online posts are predominantly political propaganda messaging. Your friends are propagandists who exploit the free and frictionless social media platform for their own propaganda operations.

Which leads to social media propagandists protesting the use of social media for propaganda!

Marshall McLuhan’s long ago phrase “The Medium is the Message” is a clue to our present predicament. It’s not the Russians – its the medium itself that is the problem.

Social media is the problem.

Is this problem solvable?

Not under the current business structures of the social media companies.

Obviously, social media companies are under pressure to put a stop to propaganda messaging regarding politics – depending on the source of the messaging – and to hate speech.

  • Some think new software technology based on neural networks and machine learning will identify inappropriate propaganda from appropriate and acceptable propaganda.
  • Some think software and new procedures will identify automated “bot” propaganda accounts -and distinguish between “evil” ones and “good” ones.
  • Perhaps new procedures will emerge to solve the problem. Facebook has said that in the future political ads will require verification by a U.S. address – but that does not stop foreign actors from using in country addresses. Nor does it stop the legal activity of foreigners exercising rights to voice their opinion about U.S. political activities in their personal posts, or of U.S. citizens from exercising rights to voice their opinion of political activities in other countries.
  • I’ve proposed charging a small fee for social media posts, to cut down on the endless sharing of propaganda messaging. Without sharing, propaganda memes go nowhere. This idea, of course, will go nowhere.

Could we train social media users?

Some think social media users need to be more discerning about the provenance of the content they view and share. Unfortunately, every day I see smart people sharing things that are exaggerated or untrue. I doubt training will work.

Could we train social media users not to share? I rarely share on my social media pages content that I or someone I know did not create. My goal is to prevent myself from becoming a cog in the social media propaganda machinery. But I do not see others adopting such stringent standards.

Is Social Media so overrun with crap that people quit?

This is entirely possible. We have already seen social media changes. Myspace is gone. Young people have abandoned Facebook in favor of Snapchat and Instagram. Estimates are that 15-50% of Twitter accounts are bots or otherwise controlled by software applications producing tweets automatically on behalf of a real person.

This reminds me of a cartoon from 20+ years ago. It showed a hypothetical automated classroom where students were taught by images on a video screen. In the other direction, the students were replaced by tape recorders 🙂

Twitter is becoming the same way – its automated messaging talking to other automated bot accounts, each re-tweeting each other’s content which is being read by fewer and fewer actual people.

When the medium is overcome with artificially generated and shared propaganda, people will abandon the platforms as the value proposition erodes.

I have semi-abandoned the platforms by choosing to be aggressive about cutting off friends and followers whose main use of a platform is to propagandize others. When my “friends” on Facebook believe the primary purpose of Facebook is to spread their propaganda, I hide, snooze or unfollow them. In some cases, I just unfriend them.

On Twitter I’ve taken to muting people who post the same general propaganda memes over and over again, and rarely offer any other interesting content. Simultaneously, I have dramatically cut my time spent on Twitter.

Cutting back our use of noisy social media, which is too often filled with outrage, is a first step to abandoning the platforms and a sign that the value of social media is becoming less and less for each of us.

Wall Street Journal’s Fake News of the Day

Facebook became the world’s most dominant conduit of news and information but said it would remain neutral to what spread through its channels. Meanwhile, a handful of engineers were building algorithms to decide which of its 2.2 billion users would see what.

By remaining agnostic about which influencers rose to popularity, and helping them along by building recommendation and newsfeed algorithms to enhance that popularity, Facebook allowed Russia to rapidly gain influence on the site, says Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist at Yale who studies social networks.

Source: Why Was Facebook So Easy to Hijack? – WSJ

The entire story in the Wall Street Journal implies Russia is the predominate propagandist on Facebook, dominating and controlling public opinion.

What a load of bull shit.

Look at your friend’s Facebook posts. Those that share posts predominately regarding political issues are themselves propaganda activists seeking to use FB to persuade others to adopt their own agenda. The overwhelming quantity of propaganda comes from your own friends. (See update, below).

Individuals, informal “club-like” groups, formal organizations, industry, the media, academics and government all use Facebook for active propaganda operations. To suggest that Russia is the predominate propagandist on Facebook is reckless, foolhardy and empirically false.

Social media is a swamp of propagandists and propaganda messaging having nothing to do with Russia, China, Poland, Israel, North Korea, Britain, Japan or any other country.

Social media is a frictionless platform for the spread of propaganda. No government broadcast license or printing press required. Anyone can be a propagandist today.

The inherent model of social media is a platform for propaganda operations. That is the fundamental root cause issue.

UPDATE: Hah hah. I just looked on Facebook and see “friend’s” sharing or posting their own propaganda saying, basically, that foreign state actor propaganda dominates social media and threw the U.S. election. The irony is that none recognize their own role in propaganda messaging as both willing targets of propaganda, and as active participants in using social media to spread their own propaganda messaging.

They are unable to see that nearly everything on FB and Twitter is propaganda messaging – and that propaganda overwhelmingly comes from your own friends, not state actors.

Could you throw a U.S. Presidential election for just a few dollars per day?

Parties in Russia bought ads on U.S. social media regarding candidates for U.S. President in 2016. About $100,000 was spent on Facebook ads, of which 44% was spent prior to the election. Additional actions took place on Twitter and Instagram. “Fake posts” were also created on social media for the purpose of being Liked, Shared and Commented on. It is claimed that about $2 million total was spent by the “American” department of the Internet Research Agency in Russia.

The leading U.S. Presidential candidates raised (and presumably spent) a little over $2.1 billion dollars for their campaigns, according to OpenSecrets.org citing data from the Center for Responsive Politics. It is not clear from the listing if this includes the primary election phase or the election in November. Let’s assume that it includes the primary elections too. Also note that this is fundraising totals, not spending totals.

Let’s further assume this money was spent starting from January 1, 2016 on wards to the election on November 8, 2016. This comes to a little over $6 million spent every day on campaigning from January 1st up to November 8th.

Meanwhile, according to Facebook, actors in Russia placed ads on their social media platform. According to Facebook,

“For 50% of the ads, less than $3 was spent; for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent”

44% of the ads appeared prior to the November 8th election with 56% appearing afterwards. Which suggests that in terms of the pre-election campaign, the dollar values in the above quote can be cut in half to about $1.50 and $500.

How were these ads identified as having originated in Russia?

According to Facebook, they used a variety of methods including “very weak signals of a connection” such as ads bought from U.S. accounts using U.S. IP addresses but with their computer attributes set to support the Russian language and Cyrillic character set:

An allegation has been made that purchase of Facebook ads threw the election for Donald Trump – or that social media operations in general threw the election:

  • If this is true, then $44,000 worth of Facebook advertising is the most powerful and economical form of persuasion in all of human history. You can throw a national election for a few dollars per day in spending!
  • (Updated) The Russian journalist who was first to report on the Internet Research Agency and their social media activities during the 2016 election saysOnly 90 people with $2 million made America scared!”. That’s a 1000:1 ratio of campaign spending versus the total social media operation. Neither the Democrat nor Republican Party was smart enough to figure out they could have thrown the election for just $2 million?
  • 1,320 social media ads costing $44,000 threw a U.S. national election. This implies Facebook is the grandest propaganda platform in world history. We have lost everything.

Is it legal for foreigners to “speak out on global issues” including US politics? Yes.

Last night I watched a Youtube video from a young woman in Norway discussing – in very good English – her thoughts on the U.S. election and which U.S. candidate she supported. Similarly, I have seen social media posts from U.S. citizens commenting or advocating for positions in other countries including Israel, Pakistan, India, Mexico, Canada and places such as the European Union.

The U.S. does have laws regarding foreigners actively participating in the U.S. elections but the U.S. does not have laws prohibiting foreigners from having public comments and opinions about U.S. politics (nor could the U.S. do so).

Consequently, foreign actors can – legally – post items on social media that may be interpreted as influencing U.S. elections.

From a U.S. perspective, posting commentary on other nation’s affairs on social media is not illegal. We may view it as unethical or unfair but it is not illegal. U.S. citizens, organizations and government agencies do this all the time too, both as informal propagandizing (individual user posts and shares) and as organized propaganda campaigns.

What Does It Mean?

I have written a number of posts about social media propaganda connected to Russia.

  • My view is that Russia-based actors conducted a propaganda operation in the U.S. (but I have no way to know, only to interpret the propaganda messaging directed at all of us to persuade us that this occurred).
  • A portion of the messaging seems related to for profit “fake news” publishing businesses creating emotionally laden click-bait links for ad revenue.
  • The evidence, including from the U.S. DoJ indictment conclusions, is that the impact was minimal.
  • Alternatively, you can believe that Facebook ad buys are many orders of magnitude more effective than any other media outlet – why would people still be buying ads on TV and radio and newspapers?
  • Posts on social media created by propagandists, Liked, Shared and Commented on were likely a far larger presence than ad buys.
  • Such posts, however, should be viewed in the context of the massive amount of social media propaganda spread by organizations, individuals and U.S. based fake news business operations. For example, I see numerous social media propaganda messages shared and liked everyday – yet Facebook itself says I never saw a single Russia connected ad or post. During the election season and before I began unfollowing propagandists, I saw at least a dozen propaganda posters each day and at least a dozen propaganda related posts each day – yet none apparently from the Russian operation. We are drowning in a sea of propaganda.

The main benefit of an investigation into Russia connected actors throwing the U.S. election is an awareness of the power of social media platforms for the friction-less spread of propaganda messaging. Unfortunately, there has been little attention given to propaganda in the broader context – Russia connected propaganda were not the only propaganda operations and were likely a tiny fraction of the overall propaganda efforts on social media.

We are missing a huge opportunity to understand and address these issues – the consequences of unbridled social media propaganda operations coming from numerous parties inside the U.S. and around the world. We are missing this opportunity because of a politically driven focus on Russia and avoiding the root issue: the frightening power of social media as a friction-less platform for the spread of propaganda.

The danger is not Russia – or China – or U.S. based propagandists – the danger is the friction-less platform of social media for propaganda messaging.

The root cause problem is the social media platform that enables free and friction-less dissemination or propaganda messaging.

Disclaimer (update 2/19/2018): In our unbelievably divisive culture, people jump to conclusions and make assertions that are not true. I have written about propaganda messaging for some time. Propaganda is a topic that only recently caught the attention of the mainstream media and social media posters – and their focus is nearly exclusively about Russia connected propaganda. Indeed, the media’s own propaganda messaging is that propaganda originates primarily from governments, which is false.

Because I look at propaganda in a broad sense and do my best to stick with evidence, I cannot – yet – roll with the meme that the U.S. election was thrown by a $2 million propaganda operation in Russia.

Some interpret this (I’ve heard from them) that (a) I am Trump supporter, (b) I am defending Trump, (c) I am a commie defending Russia, and so on. Once again, for the record: I did not support Trump, I did not vote for Trump and I have no interests in or with Russia. Furthermore, over a 6 week period in the spring of 2016, I watched the Trump primary campaign in organizational disarray and concluded that for someone seen as a successful businessman, he was seriously lacking in basic management skills. The lack of management and modern leadership skills was my main concern then and continues to be my main concern today.