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

Full text of the comment that was shadow banned by @Oregonian newspaper

The next morning, my comment remains shadow banned by the Oregonian.

Here is the description of the shadow ban, from last night with a screen capture of how the ban appears.

Here, I present the full text of the shadow banned comment plus the supplementary information for how I obtained the facts presented in the comment.

Here are actual price quotes from HealthCare.gov.

The first quotes are for a 64 year old married couple earning pre-tax income of $65,000 per year, which is above the subsidy cut off level, hence, no subsidies. These quotes are for the least cost benchmark Silver plan.

Asheville, NC – $34,344 per year + $14,000 deductible
Baker City, OR and Burns, OR – $28,344 + $5,000 deductible
Birmingham, AL – $30,732 + $10,000 deductible
Bozeman, MT – $38,956 + $11,400 deductible
Breckenridge, CO – $29,099 + $9,000 deductible
Charlottesville, VA – $56,998 + $9,000 deductible
Flagstaff, AZ – Flagstaff, AZ – $34,824 + $8,000 deductible (this is LESS than last year’s $36,000)
Homer, AK – $40,320 + $9,000 deductible (LESS than last year’s $48,000)
Laramie, WY – $49,164 + $5,000 deductible
Medway, ME – $$34,571 + $6,7000 deductible

Here are some quotes for a family of 5, a married 53 year old couple with 3 dependents age 21, 18 and 15.

Charlottesville, VA – $64,836 + $9,200 deductible
Laramie, WY – $55,943 + $5,000 deductible
Winnemucca, NV – $34,903 + $13,600 deductible

Some may be surprised that a person earning $65,000 per year may have $30,000 to $55,000 per year in insurance premiums – and not receive a subsidy. This occurs because the ACA determines the subsidy cut off level by the regional poverty income level – it has nothing to do with the insurance premiums actually paid in the market. Consequently, the married couples in Charlottesville VA and Laramie WY are told to spend more than their after tax income on health insurance + deductible.

Note – rates are nearly flat from age 21 to age 40. At age 43, rate curves turn sharply upward and rise extremely rapidly.

The ACA and the IRS define “Coverage considered unaffordable” as the least cost Bronze plan costing more than 8.13% of your modified adjusted gross income. To illustrate, if your family’s least cost bronze premium were $8,130 per year, if you earn less than $100,000 you are exempt from the individual mandate.

Using a real example, the married 64 year old couple in Baker City or Burns OR is exempt if they earn less than $348,634 per year in income.

Actual rate quotes from across the country show that by the ACA’s own definitions, many families in their 30s, most families in their 40s, and essentially everyone over 50 is exempt from the individual mandate at this time rendering political arguments over the mandate as entirely moot. The ACA itself has already repealed the mandate. (And it doesn’t matter, as the Frean/Gruber paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, in October 2016, found that the individual mandate has had no discernible impact on sign ups. For those that don’t know, Jonathan Gruber was considered the co-architect of the ACA as its design is based on his 20+ years of health policy research.)

Sadly, we have not seen the above information in many news articles as coverage has been woefully inadequate, primarily covering benefits and rarely to never discussing actual problems and how they might realistically be resolved.

Supplementary Information

All price quotes are from the U.S. government run web site healthcare.gov.

The following information was used in obtaining the price quotes.

  • Family 1 – a 64 year old married couple
  • Family 2 – a 53 year old married couple with 3 dependents, age 21, 18, 15.

Zip Codes Used at HealthCare.gov

(Copy of the notes file I maintained while looking up this information in November 2017).

Asheboro, NC 27203 (note png says Asheville due to typo)
Baker City, OR 97814
Burns OR 97720
Bozeman MT 59715
Flagstaff AZ 86001
Hillsboro 97124
Homer AK 99603
Klamath Falls OR 97601, 52, 52, 21, 18, 15 age of dependents, income $116,000/year
Laramie WY 8207
Cheyenne, WY 82007
Reno 89502
Grand Junction CO 81506, http://connectforhealthco.com/
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Woodinville WA 98072, https://www.wahealthplanfinder.org/
Winnemucca NV 89445
Bandon OR 97411
Boise, 83704, Birthdate 03/01/1954, https://www.yourhealthidaho.org/

https://www.healthcare.gov/see-plans/#/

2018 Data from healthcare.gov or state web sites
Boise, 83704, Birthdate 03/01/1954
https://www.yourhealthidaho.org/

Additional Reference Information

Yes, I really do log what I do, in great detail.

Frean, B., Gruber, J., Sommers, B. (2016). “Disentangling the ACA’s coverage effects – lessons for policymakers”.  N Engl J Med 2016; 375:1605-1608 October 27, 2016 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1609016 Retrieved from: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1609016#t=article

IRS. (2017). IRS Form 8965 Instructions. Retrieved from https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i8965.pdf. See page 3 (Coverage considered unaffordable) and page 9 (Determining an individuals’ required contribution – individuals not eligible for coverage under an employer)

eHealth. (2017). “Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Will be Unaffordable in 2018 for Many Middle-income American families, eHealth Analysis Shows”. Retrieved from https://news.ehealthinsurance.com/news/affordable-care-act-health-insurance-will-be-unaffordable-in-2018-for-many-middle-income-american-families-ehealth-analysis-shows

Additional Information

I also saved complete copies of the downloaded HTML pages from the logged in state and the not logged in state, plus screen captures.

The Oregonian did publish my follow up question, in the comments, asking why my earlier comment was shadow banned. However, there is no answer.

As of today, we will no longer be reading the Oregonian newspaper due to their heavy handed censorship of factual speech. In actual fact I had already limited myself to reading just one article per day due to issues I had already spotted in their content.

I anticipate taking a far harsher tone towards the creation of fictional news by the sanctimonious press. Remember, the definition of “fake news” is the use of a variety of methods, including exaggeration, distortion, emotional hooks and falsehoods to sell eyeballs to advertisers. Many “fake news” services are social media based, online, for profit businesses. Which describes most so-called mainstream media today.

Social media companies really do read your posts, emails and documents

Google’s GMail service “scans” your emails and Google Docs to serve you ads. The word “scans” implies scanning for keywords but that is a false assumption about what is actually being done.

Natural language processing technology has advanced to where these algorithms are the equivalent of someone reading all of your emails and taking notes. Literally, online services are reading all of your email and building dossiers on what they think they know about you, ostensibly to better target advertising to you.

Facebook is taking this to extremes, having announced this week that Facebook’s algorithms are analyzing all of your online posts to determine if you suffer from depression and may be suicidal. In the event their algorithm decides you may be showing suicidal tendencies, Facebook alerts the authorities who send first responders to your home.

In other words, Facebook is now operating as an unlicensed health care practitioner and diagnosing your health based on your writings, and without ever having met you or spoken with you.

Facebook uses this information for marketing purposes too – imagine conducting this analysis and then showing you ads for anti-depressants and “talk to your doctor”. Also consider,

“An egregious example of the kind of behavior these companies’ business models encourage surfaced this summer when an internal Facebook sales pitch to advertisers was leaked to an Australian newspaper. Facebook stated it had pinpointed an audience of thousands of young teenagers who felt “insecure,” “defeated,” “nervous,” “failures,” “worthless,” and “needed a confidence boost.” These diagnoses were based on a psychoanalysis of private Facebook information: what users posted, what they liked, how they appeared in photos, who their friends and how depressed were they as well as their search and shopping histories, visits to mental illness sites or hotlines and so forth.” (source)

Twitter analyzes your Tweets, “Likes” and who you follow, plus combines this information with 3rd party advertising networks to create a profile of attributes. You can see this by going to Settings and Privacy and then selecting Your Twitter Data, page down and look at Interests from Twitter and Interests from Partners.

I discovered that almost everything they deduced about me in the Interests from Partners was wrong – seriously wrong. About the only correct items are that I have a cat and a graduate degree (2 actually, but do not tell them!)

All of this collected data is used to fine tune propaganda messaging directed at you. Of course, much of this is advertising; however, ads are also run for political purposes too. In effect, online services are proving our hypothesis – that social media has become the most advanced, friction-less propaganda platform in human history.

Silicon Valley “tech” firms have morphed into the most advanced propaganda operations in human history. Their actions are conducted in secret, they are unbounded, and they are unregulated. Their technology is now used to directly influence you and public policy.

To illustrate, this week, the head of the FCC commented on “net neutrality” and noted that Silicon Valley tech firms promote neutrality of the broadband pipe – while simultaneously censoring discussions conducted on their platform (Twitter and Youtube both do this). As if on cue, almost immediately thereafter, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Alphabet (parent of Google) announced they will now censor news.google.com to remove stories from Russian media outlets such as RT.

In that instant, Google showed its defense of net neutrality is shallow if not completely hollow. Google wants other people to be forced to be neutral while preserving a right to censorship (including news and political speech, among the most protected of speech in the United States) for itself.

Google, Facebook and Twitter are not merely platforms for the dissemination of propaganda – they are themselves major propagandists seeking to have others adopt their agendas for their benefit.

Google is not just evil (to re-arrange their motto of “Don’t be evil”) but is acting as a menace to democracy itself.

And what could possibly go wrong with Facebook’s surveillance and analyzing our posts and perhaps discovering that we hold views contrary to the power structure?

Someone should write a book about this – I know, they could title it “1984”!

Bottom Line

Online services including Google (Gmail, Docs), Facebook and Twitter and undoubtedly others are doing the machine equivalent of reading your email and documents, taking notes, and analyzing what you are writing to draw conclusions about you.

What could possibly go wrong?

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.

Measuring effectiveness of propaganda campaigns: How unpopular is the Obamacare individual mandate?

Previously, this blog pointed out that public opinion polls are primarily a measure of the effectiveness of propaganda. Routinely, members of the public are asked to have an opinion on subjects about which they likely know little and what they do know was disseminated to them through a variety of propaganda methods and channels.

The following item illustrates this well.

Trump said the individual mandate is “highly unpopular.” As recently as February 2017, a YouGov poll found that 65 percent of people opposed it, a finding that is consistent with earlier polls from other organizations. That’s a fair sign of the provision’s unpopularity.

On the other hand, when people were given more details about the mandate, they had a more favorable view, as high as about 60 percent.

Source: How unpopular is the Obamacare individual mandate?

The second paragraph confirms the thesis – a public opinion poll is measuring the effectiveness of the propaganda campaign and little else.

To illustrate, here is additional propaganda on this subject. There is much discussion of whether or not there must be an individual mandate. What if the individual mandate is a moot issue due to how the ACA itself is written?

The authors of the ACA defined what was meant by “affordable” – if the price of insurance is too high, the government cannot force someone to purchase insurance. Here is an example – a 64 year old married couple living in Laramie, WY with an income of $65,000 per year is above the subsidy cut off level – that means there is no subsidy assistance to them.

The lowest cost Silver plan available to them is (quoted screen capture from HealthCare.gov for 2018) a staggering $49,000 per year:

First, you may be surprised that ACA insurance premiums can cost near $50,000 per year. Second, you may surprised that a person with a $65,000 pre-tax income has an ACA insurance bill of $49,000 per year with a $5,000 deductible – and no subsidy. This means their costs are $54,000 per year … or about 100% of their after tax income.

Clearly, this couple cannot afford ACA insurance. The ACA recognized this and this can be seen in IRS Form 8965. For 2016, if the least cost Bronze plan exceeds 8.13% of your income (modified adjusted gross income or MAGI), then you are exempt from the mandate. The least cost Bronze plan for this couple is $2,750 per month or $33,000 per year.

If this couple’s income is LESS than $405,904 per year, then they are exempt from the ACA individual mandate to purchase this insurance per IRS Form 8965.

For couples or families over age 45-50, the ACA rates have risen so high, so rapidly, that  s likely a majority, and nearly everyone over age 55, are exempt from the individual mandate, by law.

If your insurance costs are $750/month, then you are exempt if your income is less than $110,000 per year. Surprised?

In effect, the individual mandate is a moot issue for perhaps most of the unsubsidized market.

When you see actual ACA price quotes like the above, what do you think of the individual mandate?

Does this illustrate how a public opinion polls merely measure the effectiveness of propaganda campaigns?

Notes

In Laramie, WY, there is a Gold plan that costs less than the cheapest Silver plan – for a mere $40,000 per year. Why is the Silver plan used in this example? Because the US Department of Health and Human Services uses the Silver plans as the “benchmark” and subsidies are given out based on the pricing of the lowest cost Silver plan in each market.

Is Laramie just an outlier? Perhaps, we have not looked at all markets. It is common, however, for the ACA rates to run $25,000 to $35,000 for families in different locations in the U.S. The NY Times just noticed this for the first time in November of 2017 – check it out. (The NY Times diagnoses the wrong root cause, however – to learn about the actual root cause and possible solutions see my paper.)

Why is there no subsidy for this couple? Because the subsidy cut off level has nothing to do with the cost of insurance. The cut off level is set to 400% of the regional poverty level. There is no connection what so ever to insurance costs. Thus, a couple earning $65,000 per year has an insurance premium of $49,000 per year and is ineligible for a subsidy. If they made just $1,000 less per year, they then qualify for a $43,316 per year subsidy from the taxpayers. (Of interest, the out of pocket payment by the subsidy recipient works out to about the 8.13% value – as insurance rates rise, the subsidy payment increases to keep the consumer’s costs at the ACA defined affordability level. Of interest, in another year or two, the costs of insurance for some will exceed their annual income – and the subsidy value will also exceed their annual income too).

Is the 8.13% value set by the ACA and the IRS too low? The government’s data indicates we spend about 18+% of national GDP on health care. By their reckoning, insurance plus out of pocket costs and miscellaneous expenses are going to result in an average family spending of perhaps 18% on health (this is a simplified explanation). Thus, 8.13% for insurance is the component of this spending that is used as the ACA “affordability” criteria. Higher than this, and the government says it is not affordable. The government had to pick some level and chose this one based on data. The government might have selected a different dollar value – for example, should the government mandate that you spend 120% of your income on health insurance?

The bottom line is that ACA health insurance is not affordable according to the ACA itself.

 

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.

“Deluge” of information makes it difficult for social media users to recognize true and false statements

Mark Zuckerberg argues that more information reaching more people enhances democracy. But, as the adage goes, quantity does not equal quality.

Source: Facebook Built Its Vision of Democracy on Bad Math | WIRED

The linked article says social media users are under a deluge of information overload – there is now so much information in our news feeds – much of it fake or false – that we are unable to distinguish between the real and the false.

This concept also applies to comments at the end of online newspaper articles where anyone can write what they want, even if untrue. To illustrate, our local paper had an item somewhat related to the topic of climate change. A commenter provided the (logical fallacy) argument that since sea levels were 400 feet lower 15,000 years ago, we had best be worried! That sounds like a compelling argument – until you learn of the context.

Most such logical fallacy comments are left “as is”, and can turn into a “factoid meme” which is actually false. No one offers a correction or context to the stated item.

Another commenter pointed out it was 26,500 years ago, not 15,000 years ago, when the sea was 400 feet lower. During that period, we had an Ice Age and much of Europe and North America was buried under massive ice sheets. When you see the context, you see that the first comment is an invalid argument. Yet many people may see only the first comment and may then pass that idea along to others via social media. Almost no one cross checks and verifies claims made on social media!

And how can we? We are inundated with false claims and logical fallacies through the fire hose of social media content. More information is not making us better informed – instead it is making us dumber.

Is this one of the nation’s worst fire seasons?

It has been a bad fire year but some mainstream reporting is getting ahead of itself and seems more intent on providing a propaganda message. In fact, its the worst fire season since … 2015!

Propaganda:

Note the reference to “in one of the nation’s worst fire seasons”.

And:

“worst fire seasons we’ve ever seen”?

Some news writers confused record spending with record wildfires. While there is a linkage, it is not an accurate 1:1 correlation nor is the spending inflation adjusted.

Data:

  • As of September 15th, 2 of the last 10 years burned more acres, and 4 of the last 10 years had more total fires – to date per the National Interagency Fire Center (screen snapshot taken on September 15th, 2017).

It has been a bad fire year, but 2 of the past 10 years were worse – to date – and 4 of the past 10 years had more total fires – to date. And in the context of the last 100 years, it is not unusual and not even close to being “one of the nation’s worst fire seasons”.

Reporting

Many news reports correctly note questions on how the nation has funded (or not funded) wildfire suppression and management. My state’s US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been pushing since 2013 for more funding and pro-active management of forests, saying fuels have grown precipitously during a time that fires (a natural process in the west) have been aggressively suppressed.

Oregon Public Broadcasting has a good and lengthy explanation of the issues related to western wildland fires. If you would like to learn more, read it!

It is not fake news to say this is a bad wildland fire year, but the stories slide in that direction when marking it as one of the nation’s worst fire years. That claim is false, based on the data, above, from official government sources.

It is unfortunate that news reporters were unable to spend a few moments with Google in order to add context to their reporting.

Disaster Propaganda

This might be the first of more than one post. I have been collecting, when possible, social media propaganda items regarding recent natural and unnatural disasters (such as local arson caused wildland fires).

  • First, many people use unusual events as a platform for propaganda messaging to persuade others of their own agenda.
  • Second, much of this propaganda messaging takes the form of asserting claims that when examined in context of historical data, are not true or are weakly partially true (which is why this form of propaganda is often effective).
  • Third, most of us lack context to recognize false claims. Virtually none of us will seek out data to confirm or deny the assertions. Remember, we employ System 1 emotional thinking rather than System 2 rational thinking, and quickly agree with a propaganda messaging that fits our pre-determined world view. (Disclosure: For extremely good personal reasons, based on extensive experience, my own world view is today to be highly skeptical of everyone’s claims.)

Examples

  • As Hurricane Harvey was impacting Texas, reporters wrote news articles saying this weather event is proof of catastrophic anthropocentric climate change (or sometimes called “warming” and hence CAGW).
  • Social  media’s “culture of perpetual outrage” spread this and linked in western wildfires (including those started by arson after a wet cold winter) as definitive proof of CAGW.
  • The news media writes that Hurricane Irma is so powerful it is sensed by seismometers with the unstated assertion this is novel and for the first time – but it is not unique.
  • The media loves hype – and will often hype predictions and forecasts in advance of events that turn out to be different than forecast (Oregon’s Eclipse Armageddon that-did-not-happen being a prime example). But readers and viewers will remember the emotional and scary predictions versus the reality.
  • Actors participate in propaganda messaging – actress Jennifer Lawrence seems to imply that if Hilary Clinton had been elected President, these hurricanes would not have occurred.

Validating the Claims

Some assertions, like the last one, fail the test of logic. Many assertions can be checked against past history – there is actual data and historical context.

Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr, a professor of environmental policy at the University of Colorado and one of the world’s experts on disasters, has summarized the historical context of hurricanes and disaster damages in series of Tweets sourced to peer reviewed literature and IPCC documents.

Per Pielke’s summary, many of the claims asserted in the media and social media are not true.

Being told what to think by propaganda messaging is easy – and is our default System 1 thinking style. Learning to think for yourself – and employing System 2 thinking style – is hard work.

Do your best to be aware of propaganda methods and attempts to leverage current events for propaganda messaging. Set your B.S. detector to “sensitive mode”!

Remember

Not everything you see on social media is real, although I am certain this is genuine:

Disclaimer

This post is about using events (in this case, disasters) as the basis of propaganda messaging. Nothing in this post is about climate change promotion or denial and should not be construed as such.

Related

 

Eating too much protein will kill you? No, but it grabs the emotions and gets shared on #socialmedia!

Eating too much protein will kill you? That’s the message left by hundreds of headlines and news stories earlier this week. But the statement was misleading at best and untrue in regards to the individual who died. Yet most stories ran with quotes like this:

Meegan Hefford, a mother of two and bodybuilder, died after an overconsumption of protein shakes, supplements and protein-rich foods.

Source: Bodybuilder mom dies from too much protein before competition | New York Post

or “That Extra Scoop of Protein in Your Shake Might Actually Kill You

The family is calling for government regulation of “protein shakes or supplements”, presumably to require a doctor’s prescription and be dispensed at a pharmacy.

Many news stories about this event imply that eating too much protein will kill you. Which it can, if you too suffer from a rare medical disorder. She had a genetic disorder that caused her body to fail to remove ammonia from the blood stream. That’s what killed her.

The disorder is “urea cycle disorder“:

is a genetic disorder caused by a mutation that results in a deficiency of one of the six enzymes in the urea cycle. These enzymes are responsible for removing ammonia from the blood stream. The urea cycle involves a series of biochemical steps in which nitrogen, a waste product of protein metabolism, is removed from the blood and converted to a compound called urea in the blood. Normally, the urea is transferred into the urine and removed from the body. In urea cycle disorders, the nitrogen accumulates in the form of ammonia, a highly toxic substance, resulting in hyperammonemia (elevated blood ammonia). Ammonia then reaches the brain through the blood, where it can cause irreversible brain damage, coma and/or death.

Men’s Health got the story correct. Days later some of the other headlines morphed into the accurate “Australian mom with rare disorder dies eating high-protein diet“.

The media spun this into a viral fiction suitable for sharing on social media. When push comes to ad revenue, the media pays lip service to accurate reporting: It’s about the clicks and the social media shares. One writer says the media was straight up lying about this story to sell ads (I agree).

To make this work for them, the media down played or censored the rare disorder aspect of the story (censorship, cherry picking). If it is mentioned, it is mentioned in passing or at the end of the article. As shown on our blog, most people only read the headlines (especially those shared on social media) – the headline is the story.

The report – which comes from Australia and has no importance to people in the United States – became a focus because of multiple hooks:

  1. “eating too much protein” puts fear into everyone that this could happen to them (use of fear)
  2. Story involves a 25 year old Mom of two kids (stories about Mom’s with young kids target an emotional response),
  3. The victim was a 25 year old blonde fitness fanatic (she’s cute). You may have noticed that CNN and FOX generally *only* cover “cute lost white chicks”, sometimes for days and weeks on end – yet nearly a million people go missing every year and most are eventually found. But unless the missing are cute or have some other emotional hook attached, there is no news coverage and certainly no national news coverage. The subject’s cuteness is a prime reason for the story to run in the United States (every version of the story I checked had at least one and sometimes many photos of the victim). Heck, this one, with its outrageous fiction headline has five photos of the cute victim! And to further prove the point, the 12 year old story of missing Natalee Holloway is back to “Breaking” and “Developing” news reports today because … she’s cute. Remember, over 2,300 people go missing every day but only the missing cute white chicks get covered by the “news” services with saturation coverage for years.

In short, this story used multiple methods of propaganda for the purpose of selling eyeballs to advertisers. The hooks encouraged the sharing of the story on social media, thereby enlarging the potential ad audience.