It’s the medium, not the message that is the problem

Hoaxers impersonate legitimate reporters

In the first incident, a perpetrator used a software tool to create two fake tweets that looked like they came from the account of Alex Harris, a Herald reporter preparing tributes to the slain students. One fake tweet asked for photos of dead bodies at the school and another asked if the shooter was white.

The reporter almost immediately began getting angry messages.

Source: Hoax attempts against Miami Herald augur broader information wars | McClatchy Washington Bureau

Hoaxers also created a fake Miami Herald news story that got shared online. Read the whole story.

“I think it’s part of this larger evolving system of misinformation,” said Aviv Ovadya, chief technologist at the Center for Social Media Responsibility at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. “This is sort of the very, very beginning of something that could be much darker.”

The future will bring hoaxes that far surpass fake tweets and screenshots of fake stories, Ovadya said, noting that “fake video is just about here,” with tools that will make it easy even for amateurs to create images that are totally false but look real.

It’s the medium, not the message that is the problem.

This is social media.

Do social media propagandists suffer from fragile egos?

This linked piece was shared into my FB news feed. The item argues that President Trump suffers a fragile ego and is constantly looking for affirmation from others.

The column says people seek to increase their “tribal self esteem” by strengthening their group membership, by, for example, spreading online propaganda messaging in support of their cause – and denigrating those who think otherwise (for any reason).

The column quotes from Nathaniel Branden:

“It would be hard to name a more certain sign of poor self-esteem than the need to perceive some other group as inferior.”

This is the form of much online social media propaganda, whether you call it “I’m right and your wrong” or “My group is smarter than your group”.

It comes down to fragile egos seeking positive feedback from their own group.

Much online social media propaganda reinforces group membership – it certainly does not cause the target to change their perspective. But “sharing” such propaganda virtue signals one’s self importance within the group garnering group support that satisfies the social media propaganda participant’s ego.

Source: Trump’s Ego Is Actually Too Small – Foundation for Economic Education – Working for a free and prosperous world

Highly successful propaganda operation concerning road and highway funding

“Hundreds of bridges in Oregon and Southwest Washington are structurally deficient, according to a new report released Tuesday.”

Source: Bridges in trouble: Report names hundreds of Ore., Wash. ‘structurally deficient’ bridges | KATU

The organization that issued this report is a lobbying organization:

“Established in 1902, Washington, D.C.-based ARTBA is the “consensus voice” of the U.S. transportation design and construction industry before Congress, the White House, federal agencies, news media and the general public.”

Congress is about to consider legislation that might fund infrastructure spending in the 1 to 1.5 trillion dollar range.

The organization’s report uses fear as its primary means of propaganda messaging based on two sets of words:

  • “Crumbling infrastructure”
  • “Structurally deficient”

Each year they issue reports which the news media dutifully reports as about America’s “crumbling infrastructure”. Their propaganda is so successful that one seldom see a news article about infrastructure without “crumbling” placed in front of “infrastructure”.

The group’s goal is to persuade the public to spend money on infrastructure improvements that translate into business for members of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

Terminology or careful selection of words plays a major role in propaganda messaging. In the past, bridges that needed to be repainted were labeled “structurally deficient” (appears to still be true, page 68). Similarly, standards have changed – a bridge that has an overhead clearance of less than 14 feet or lane widths less than contemporary standards are now considered structurally deficient (technically they are “functionally obsolete” but those are rolled up into the “structurally deficient” count). Bridges that have lead-based paint may be considered “structurally deficient”.

‘”Structurally deficient” does not imply that it is likely to collapse or that it is unsafe.”‘

A “deficient” bridge is one with some maintenance concerns that do not pose a safety risk. A “deficient” bridge typically requires maintenance and repair and eventual rehabilitation or replacement to address deficiencies.

This is similar to saying your car needs an oil and air filter change, therefore your car is structurally deficient.

Because the public’s concept of “structurally deficient” is different than the civil engineers’ view of “structurally deficient”, this choice of wording is effective in persuading the public to give more money to civil engineers.

Which is why this is a tremendously successful propaganda messaging operation.

Of course, there are bridges, roadways and tunnels that need work or replacement but it is difficult for the public to make informed decisions when those with a conflict of interest are running the public propaganda campaign.

Note – this post is NOT about whether or not transportation and other infrastructure facilities need to be repaired, rebuilt or expanded. This post is about the obvious propaganda messaging undertaken and, in particular, how the use of wording or language itself can be used to deliver a propaganda messaging. Public opinion polls will subsequently be run to show how much the public supports “fixing America’s crumbling infrastructure”. These polls results will then be used to influence spending priorities of elected representatives.

The public, of course, generally knows nothing about the details of highways and bridges but instead forms their opinion from the propaganda messaging that has been delivered to them. They have been told repeatedly about “America’s crumbling infrastructure” and its scary sounding “structurally deficient” bridges.

Public opinion polls do not really measure public opinion – they measure the success of propaganda operations!

 

Much news reporting is pure speculation, not actual reporting

I ran across a link to an old CNN Money financial news report from October 24, 2016. Every speculation made in this news report was wrong and illustrates how much “news” is not really reporting on events but is speculation about the future.

One week before the 2016 Presidential election, CNN Money’s report is titled

Key points:

  • If Donald Trump wins, U.S. stocks – and likely world markets – will “almost certainly tank”
  • “A Trump victory would be “America’s Brexit.” It would shock U.S. and global markets, much like the surprise, June referendum in the U.K.”
  • “Almost everyone on Wall Street currently predicts Hillary Clinton will win”
  • “A Trump triumph would likely cause investors to flee stocks to the safety of gold and bonds”.
  • “the market is already pricing in a Clinton win”
  • Voters like a split government but “there’s a growing fear that the Senate — and even the House — could flip [to Democrats] if voters come out strongly for Democrats.”
  • There is a 71% chance Democrats retake the Senate
  • “All the ‘market metrics’ point to a Clinton victory

All of the key points were speculation and were wrong.

Do watch the CNN video at the link and do watch the reporter’s body language. (The reporter no longer works for CNN. She now works for the Washington Post.)

Impact on Social Media and Propaganda

These news reports are entertainment stories designed to occupy your time while pretending to inform you.

These stories become the basis for social media conversations as they are Shared, Liked and Commented on via Twitter and Facebook.

These stories whip some into emotional outrage. In reality these stories waste our time – we are not better off for having watched or read a story that ended up being 100% wrong. In fact, we may be worse off.

Speculative Stories Are Easily Spun into High Emotional Impact Stories

Large numbers of news reports are pure speculation about the future; none are ever a scorecard of whether past speculation proved true or false. Speculative stories are entertainment to fill a 24 x 7 news cycle, to keep our eyes glued for the delivery of advertising messages. Reporters can find an authority (“Appeal to authority”) to find any quote they want. Speculative stories are easily spun into high emotion grabbing content, which is perfect for Sharing – or merely to lull our brains into being more susceptible to advertisements.

Bottom line: Learn to recognize speculative news reports and do not take them seriously. Learn to think for yourself and question whether someone is spinning a story to persuade you of something. Avoid sharing speculation on social media – all that does is amplify that you’ve wasted your time and think your friends should waste their time too.

Disclaimer – The U.S. is so polarized that I am required to post a disclaimer: reminder, I did not vote for Trump and the above comments are not pro- or anti-Trump but are a comment about the use of speculation as an editorial technique to inflame our emotions and engage us into social media propaganda sharing.

Supporting Data

Continue reading

Polar bears, social media, and how our emotional response may have helped a PR stunt

(This item – featuring a polar bear – emotionally hooked many people – and for some, any discussion is controversial. However, this post is not about polar bears or climate change but about successful propaganda messaging.)

Here is the original dying polar bear photo and post from photographer Paul Nicklen. Read carefully. He – and his associate – never say this polar bear is dying due to climate change but he does link climate change to polar bear habitat and asks readers to join Sea Legacy (of which he is the founder). His co-photographer Cristina Mittermeier acknowledged they had no way to know the cause of this bear’s starvation. At time of this blog post, her photo had received over 1 million likes just on Instagram. Nicklen has nearly 4 million followers of his own on Instagram.

The photos – and video – use the method of emotional engagement to capture the viewer’s quick acting System 1 thinking style. There is no question that this polar bear is starving and its life is endangered.

Again, per Mittermeier, they acknowledge they had no way of knowing the cause of this bear’s starvation.

National Geographic (for whom Nicklen has worked as a photographer), without evidence, links this bear and this photo to climate change.

Many media outlets picked up the story – emotional stories engage readers and viewers and tacked on the claim that the bear was dying due to climate change.

The photographers said, In the end, I did the only thing I could: I used my camera to make sure we would be able to share this tragedy with the world.”

The photo and videos were taken in August and published on December 5th, days before a global climate change conference in France.

Literally millions, if not tens of millions of people, saw this photo in media reports and shared posts on social media.

In the week that followed, we learned more:

Ultimately we learned that all of us were led, through a likely propaganda campaign, heavily reinforced on social media, to believe something that was not supported by evidence.

As the Toronto Sun notes, this photographer used similar photos in the past as PR for his group Sea Legacy. In this case, the photo was released months after it was taken, but days before a 50 nation climate summit in France.

Sea Legacy responded to some of the criticisms suggesting that the Inuit want to profit from polar bear hunting.

Higdon responded (and also noted that Inuit earn little from this activity):

The irony is that Sea Legacy is itself using this as a fundraiser while saying the Inuits’ interest is just money. Sea Legacy encouraged readers to join Sea Legacy and also provides licensing information for use of the video.

From a PR standpoint, this was an overwhelmingly success propaganda campaign. This story consumed social media Likes and Shares for days.

This campaign successfully delivered the message that polar bears are starving to death because of climate change – and you could make a difference by contributing to the Sea Legacy organization.

How it Worked

The photo tugs at our emotions and quickly puts our brain into an emotional response, rather than a rational response. Pre-propaganda campaigns have already established  images of polar bears as the sign of climate change; before climate change, we called it “global warming”, hence, a connection to Arctic ice.

The photographers added commentary, saying we found a starving bear, experts say climate change will cause melting ice and will lead to food shortages for bears … leaving the conclusion to the viewer –> this bear’s death is due to climate change. Much of the professional media took the bait – and immediately drew that conclusion in their reporting. This method of using a sequence of true statements to direct the target to a false conclusion is common in propaganda. See The most spectacular example of social media propaganda – so far! for another example of this method.

The message was distorted at best and possibly wrong at worst as no supporting evidence was provided as to the cause of starvation. Some suggested that Sea Legacy had a duty (because the polar bear is a protected species) to notify the Canadian government who likely would have euthanized the bear and performed a necropsy to learn more.

Bottom Line

As always, in propaganda messaging, the first message is the one that sticks, even when subsequently shown as false. We can be sure that millions of people got the messages: polar bears are already dying due to starvation caused by climate change. Young children in schools are likely brought to tears by these images and this message will stick with them perhaps for life.

In the end, this is not a story about polar bears or climate change – but a story about propaganda methods. The evidence that this was a PR stunt is greater than the evidence provided that this bear’s death is due to climate change.

This is possibly one of the most successful propaganda messaging campaigns of the modern era. Although as more people learn they were taken for a ride on this PR stunt express, this could cause long term harm to other environmental organizations attempting to legitimately raise awareness of serious issues, as we all tune out “yet another PR stunt”.

Note – This post is not about polar bears or climate change but about how a successful social media meme appears to have been launched in the media and social media days before a major international climate conference. Clearly, the pictured polar bear is starving. I have linked to respected and relevant sources (BBC, CBC, Polar Bear International’s Chief Scientist, National Post, Slate Magazine, Dr. Higdon, Andy Revkin and others) that question the accuracy of the messaging. This story, as noted by many (see links) has the appearance of a successful propaganda messaging campaign. This post makes no assertion as to the health of polar bear populations, the certainty or uncertainty of climate change or the future – and should not be interpreted as supporting or not supporting any position on those topics.)

Another social media propaganda poster today

This came through my social media feed earlier today. Another example of a simple, well crafted social media propaganda posters that elicits a quick response and a click on the Like and Share buttons.

The quote at top is accurate, so what could be wrong?

Per Snopes, the quote is in reference to before these 4 people were killed at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya and was not in reference to events in Benghazi.

As a propaganda poster, it is effective. A short simple quote with a photograph of Hillary Clinton, followed by photos of 4 people that the target knows were, in fact, killed in Libya.

Very compelling when all we do is apply our fast acting System 1 emotional style thinking.

That makes this a very effective social media propaganda poster even though the conclusion is wrong. No one will bother to research the quote when they see this – instead, they will click on Like and perhaps Share, spreading the false propaganda on to others.

And now for the rest of the story …

Source: Seattle hits record high for income inequality, now rivals San Francisco

The data presented in the article is correct. But it leaves out critical information for understanding what this means overall, or even if it means what it purports to mean.

Almost 20 years ago in a graduate economics course we learned that the “static” view of income at an instant in time is not a full picture. Not surprisingly, incomes change over time, often by a lot. Consider when someone starts a career, but over time, advances in their career or grows their own business – their income rises over time.

20 years ago we learned that most people start their earnings in the bottom #1 or #2 quintiles and then most rise to the top #4 or #5 quintiles. Upon retirement, the typical  person then falls backwards by 1 or 2 quintiles.

Other research captures this effect in a different way. 73% of Americans end up in the top 20% of income for 1 year or more (details are not provided as to whether this is due to unique, once in a life event, or spans many years, or occurs many times over several disconnected years).

Source

A professor of social welfare wrote about this in the NY Times in 2014.

The “income inequality” subject is a popular one in the news media and among political activists. By definition, political activists are engaged in propaganda – they are trying to convince you to adopt their agenda versus adopting someone else’s agenda. In this specific instance, the propaganda message supports a Seattle City local income tax.

The propaganda message is simple to understand – the top 20% (in the first chart) make more than half of all the area income. This message is very effective – the bottom 80% make less than half. This message is easily interpreted by the bottom 80% and may become the basis for policy.

Many in the bottom 80% are likely unaware that most will see considerably higher incomes in the future. Consequently, this propaganda message is highly effective, preying on lack of knowledge to push someone’s agenda.

The methods used include (usually) “appeal to authority”, “cherry picking” and sometimes “Get on the bandwagon” (some other city is doing x, y and z). The discrepancy in income stratas may also invoke an “emotional” response in the target.

This post is not about whether the income inequality in Seattle is good or bad, right or wrong or whether the solution is a redistribution income tax or not. This post illustrates how presenting one part of a complex topic leaves the public thinking they have learned something when by learning only a partial view they may be dumber than before they read the article. This post does not examine if a very small number of extremely successful entrepreneurs in the Seattle area (think who lives there!) bias the sample with outliers.

This story illustrates the power of propaganda methods – after reading only the above Seattle Times article, would you be more or less likely to support a city income tax? After reading the source for the second chart and learning about how incomes are dynamic, over time, would you be more or less likely to support a city income tax?

No, the “OK” Gesture Is Not a Hate Symbol

Has the simple thumb-and-forefinger “OK” hand gesture become a white supremacist hand sign?

Source: No, the “OK” Gesture Is Not a Hate Symbol says the Anti-Defamation League.

Another day, another Internet meme – this time claiming that people making a popular “Ok” symbol with their thumb and index finger are actually expressing a symbol for “white power”. This in turn has been used to publicly accuse people who display the “ok” symbol as clandestinely flashing a white power symbol.

All thanks to social media propaganda!

 

 

Crime is worse than ever – except not really! #crime #media

Most of us believe crime is getting worse. How often do we see yet another news report about car prowling, a break in, or especially, a violent crime? Probably every single day. Many TV news casts lead with murders and mayhem, followed by fires and auto crashes.

What effect do you think this has on how you view the world?

Pew Research took a look at the data and found that “public perceptions about crime in the U.S. often don’t align with the data”. In fact, they wrote:

  • “Violent crime in the U.S. has fallen sharply over the past quarter century.

  • Property crime has declined significantly over the long term”

Source: 5 facts about crime in the U.S. | Pew Research Center

Surprised?

Take a look at the Pew charts:

Media’s interest is in selling eye balls to advertisers. Headlines about a young single mom assaulted outside her home grab our attention.

The media frequently cherry picks stories (by frequently we mean perhaps most of the time) based on their emotional hooks and novelty. Their goal is to sell advertising. Their “propaganda” is to push stories that persuade you to watch or read their story in order to expose yourself to their advertising customers.

Novelty, emotion and fear are powerful hooks. Crime stories are scary!

A side effect is we get a very skewed perspective on the world around us – and incorrectly think that crime is worse than ever.

Social media outrage can lead to jail #Facebook #Socialmedia

The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a conviction to stand, where the individual was convicted of making violent threats on Facebook.

Source: Supreme Court upholds PA man’s conviction over Facebook post – Las Vegas Sun Newspaper

Our nation is consumed by a culture of perpetual outrage. Many go out of their way to be extremely rude. Many go out of their way to be offended. Comments are twisted by the alleged victim to insist the perpetrator meant something they did not say. Regardless of what is said, someone will find a way to be outraged!

Everyone is in a constant state of outrage over something.

Rather than seek a way to reduce tension, everyone seeks to exacerbate tension. Social media amplifies the faux outrage of the media talking heads who fill air time and column inches with their own outrage, and amplifies absurd statements by prominent politicians.

The result is protesters ransacking communities but who can’t coherently explain what they are protesting against or what they seek.

The point is not to seek positive change – the point is to be outraged.

We have achieved a culture of perpetual outrage.

See also:

Update:

Nice to see media has their priorities straight in regards to the Las Vegas shooting/terror attack. Screen capture taken from DuckDuckGo on 10/2/2017 after searching for “Las Vegas News”. 4 of the first six items were celebrity gossip and two were news about the massacre.

Second Update

Many protesters do not even know what it is they are outraged about. The whole point now is to be outraged!

Here in the Portland, Oregon area, protests are a way of life. The joke here is “What are they protesting?” with the standard answer “Whatever, no one really knows.”

I saw this item in the Oregonian – the University of Oregon president was set to announce a $50 million dollar gift to the university but protestors shut him down and he never took the podium. As is typical in Oregon, “The loud group of a few dozen students did not have a cohesive message

The entire point is to be outraged – you no longer need be outraged about anything specific! The point is to be outraged!

I also saw a new item about a report of a noose found in a college dormitory (not at U of O), leading an official response from the university president and a formal police investigation about racism on campus. Ultimately it was determined that the “noose” was a shoelace, in its original store packaging. A student had inadvertently dropped and lost his just purchased shoelace in the dorm. Some else hung the package on a door knob opening to a public stairwell, in hopes that the visibility would enable the lost item to be found. Another student interpreted the standard way this brand of shoelace is placed inside the packaging as a “noose” and called campus police. Today, everything and anything is seen as an excuse for outrage.

We are in peak outrage culture land now.