Facebook to alter its news feed sharing algorithms

Facebook is said to be rolling out changes to how content is selected for each of us to see in our news feed. FB will show us content that their algorithms believe is user generated (versus that from publishers), and which has been shared, liked or commented upon. Other posts will apparently see lower priority and less visibility, meaning, they sort of disappear.

Facebook says this should result in seeing more personal posts from actual FB friends. FB is trying to discourage “passive” reading of posts and wants to push people to interact more. I suspect they are pushing towards interaction because passive reading provides them no data on your interests. By leading you to click Like, Share or Comment, they can detect your interests which they use to refine their dossier on each of us, to improve the marketing of products and services to us.

Source: ‘We’re losing hope’: Facebook tells publishers big change is coming to News Feed – Digiday

The notionally accurate NY Times

This tweet is not the way to respond to accusations of “fake news”.

Maggie Haberman is the White House reporter for the NY Times. Perhaps she does not know what the word “notional” means – or, she is advocating fake news is fine as long as meets (her) imaginary world view.

From Dictionary.com:

  1. pertaining to or expressing a notion or idea.
  2. of the nature of a notion or idea: a notional response to the question.
  3. abstract, theoretical, or speculative, as reflective thought.
  4. not real or actual; ideal or imaginary: to create a notional world for oneself.
  5. given to or full of foolish or fanciful ideas or moods.
In other words, Haberman is saying that though it is false, it meets our imaginary idea of what we want it to be, therefore, it is true.
It is perplexing why the media does this to itself. I do not think Orwell intended his novel “1984” to be a “how-to” guide for the NY Times.

The Gorilla Channel

A cartoonist, who has done this sort of satire before, posted the following on Twitter:

He made this fake excerpt as a parody of Trump, the book, and the media and you won’t believe what happened next! Hah hah.

About twenty gazillion people shared this on social media, thinking it was genuine. This illustrates both the craziness of the political elite (Trump is odd) and the confirmation bias that people bring to social media, and who share nonsense without questioning anything.

Worse, of course, is when the professional media sources from social media because – reliability or something!

I expect a lot of fake memes like this to now flood social media. Why not?

Constant consumption of news leads to anxiety, sleep problems, night mares, sense of distraction and loss of control

Staying informed is a strength, but for many people it’s mushroomed into an obsession with the news.

Source: My therapy clients can’t tear themselves away from the news — and it’s messing with their lives – The Washington Post

Personally, I found that certain subjects were “triggering” anxiety in me and I have cut way back on news and social media consumption. I also unfollowed or unfriended individuals who spent most of their social media time baiting people with hostile political rants. These steps led to improved sleep and better mental health.

Through my fascination with propaganda and the creation of this web site, I learned how media is manipulative. I learned how it uses emotional hooks as bait for our attention, and how these hooks inflame our emotional state. I learned that ranting on social media is not healthy for those doing the ranting nor for their drive by victims.

I learned that a large quantity of news is speculation, often intended to inflame our emotions (and the speculation generally proves unfounded when we look back at old news stories). I also learned that much news is pointless, exaggerated, lacking in context or surprisingly wrong. We pretend we are being informed when in reality news is mostly a distraction and a form of entertainment.

We’ve gone to a 24 x 7 cable TV driven news cycle – where almost all of it is repetitive drivel and speculation of no importance to any of us. We will doubtfully remember most stories in a day, let a lone in a week.

How to create fake Twitter tweets that look official! Create your own online hoax!

This came across my social media today – with the comment that this was posted by Nancy Pelosi on December 20th, but she had quickly deleted it. This is, of course, a hoax.

Snopes calls this a hoax, nothing that while such a tweet could have been made, and then deleted, it was allegedly re-tweeted over 2,000 times (see image). Consequently, there would be evidence of people sharing a tweet that no longer existed (these appears as deleted tweets) but they could not find any such tweets. However, those comments are moot – the tweet was actually created using an online meme generator and is water marked as such.

I did not know about the fake Tweet generator – let’s go have some fun! Some of the fake tweets displayed on that page are hilariously funny!

 

Social media propaganda poster implies world hunger is getting worse (but it’s not) #socialmedia #propaganda

This came across my Facebook time line today:

“The world’s hunger is getting ridiculous” – the word “getting” implies global hunger is getting worse – which is the message intended by this social media propaganda meme.

Some types of shampoo may contain extracts of flowers or herbs and a few may contain extract of a fruit, but they are not significant components, by mass, of shampoo. This tidbit seems thrown in to encourage the target to feel guilty.

In reality, in the incidence of global hunger is decreasing sharply. In spite of growth in the world’s population, hunger fell from 1,010.6 million afflicted in 1990-1992 to 794.6 million afflicted in 2014-2016.

Because of population growth, when translated to a percentage, the incidence of hunger fell from 18.6% to 10.9%.

Social media is filled with false propaganda claims such as the above. The target is undoubtedly aware that hunger is a problem. Due to media coverage and advertising campaigns by groups[1] doing fund raising to fight hunger (which remains a genuine problem, although access to clean water is a bigger problem), the target has received pre-propaganda messaging to know that hunger is a problem. Consequently, when a minor social media propaganda post such as the above is shared by friends on Facebook, the target’s System 1 intuitive and easy going thinking mode kicks in and thinks, wow, hunger is getting worse.

Few people will stop to think about this poster. The effect is that social media propaganda messaging, even extremely simple messages like that in this poster, have the desired impact on the target. This type of simplistic propaganda is effective at influencing public opinion – and notably, the results of public opinion polls.

As we noted in the past, public opinion polls measure the effectiveness of a propaganda campaign (at best). Opinion polls are mostly just another form of propaganda used to influence public policy.

The person posting and sharing this poster (or similar) is engaged in virtue signalling, showing to others that he or she is a compassionate, caring individual. On Twitter we see many “Re-tweet if you agree” memes. Not one of these tweets will actually fix or change anything – but the person re-tweeting can feel good about themselves because they are making a difference (well, not really) – and letting their friends know that they care!

[1] Hunger, with a focus on children, is a powerful marketing message for fund raising. Groups that depend on donations know this and make hunger the “face” of their promotional activities because it works. Many of these groups have effective programs and are doing good works but hunger programs may be a relatively minor part of their spending.

 

The old is new again: States want schools to teach students “media literacy”

State lawmakers around the country are pushing schools to put more emphasis on teaching students how to tell fact from fiction online, a skill they say is critical to democracy.

Lawmakers have introduced or passed bills calling on public school systems to develop lessons for a form of instruction called “media literacy.”

Alarmed by fake news, states push media literacy in schools

We did this when I was a kid in elementary school. We were asked to read a newspaper article each day starting in about 2nd or 3rd grade. By 5th or 6th grade, we were required to write a paragraph summary of a newspaper article (sometimes each day). I grew up infatuated with the “news” and the importance of “news”. We were taught how news worked, how reporters were “objective” and unbiased, and how a free press was critical to a democracy.

Today, of course, we’ve learned that pros play silly games with absurd click-bait headlines (shouldn’t this be titled “Alarmed by this, states push this on school children”?), engage in subject cheer leading instead of objective and unbiased reporting,while sanctimoniously lecturing us while their star personalities (and many more) were arrogant jerks.

Will students be taught to think for themselves (hopefully!) or will they be trained how to be compliant targets of propaganda wars waged in the media and in social media?

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

How social media propaganda can spread globally in minutes

Dave Weigel is a politics reporter for the Washington Post. Recently he posted a photo of a mostly empty arena that was used for an event with the President, with the caption “Packed to the rafters” showing that the arena was not very full. He neglected to note that the photo was taken hours before the event was to begin.

The event, in fact, had 1,000+ more attendees than seats in the arena and was filled. Weigel may have suffered from confirmation bias – and like most everyone else on social media, quickly shared his post online without stopping to verify.

Within minutes, his tweet reached millions of people.

Thin-skinned President Trump, who suffers from the verbal equivalent of diarrhea and is unable to control his own Tweeting, named the errant reporter in a Tweet, instantly spreading Dave Weigel’s Twitter feed to tens of millions of people.

Weigel responded by noting he had deleted the tweet “after like 20 minutes“.

It took “like 20 minutes” for his tweet to spread like wildfire, reaching tens of millions of people, becoming the subject of national news coverage,and being cited by the President.

Literally, a single tweet, in minutes, became a national news story and was cited by the President.

This incident illustrates the incredible power of social media for propaganda.

Weigel gave a hint as to a possible motivation for his embarrassing tweet – just 2 hours later he posted this on his Twitter account, now being visited by potentially millions of people:

Is it possible that reporters are, in fact, making sloppy mistakes because they’ve learned that all publicity, even bad publicity, is of value to their personal brand?

Weigel turned his Twitter nonsense into a sales pitch for his own book. With one simple tweet, he bought himself a whopper of an ad campaign on social media, with help from the President’s verbal diarrhea problem. In effect, Weigel staged a public relations (also known as propaganda) coup to benefit himself.

“News” is just entertaining gossip and “infotainment”

This may be the first of several posts on the degeneration of “news” into speculative, gossip-focused, entertaining drivel. They – and you – pretend you are being informed when in reality you are being entertained. At best your time is distracted from learning meaningful information and at worse you have become prey for propaganda messaging.

Visit the web pages of various news sites and note the majority of their “headlines” are entertaining gossip stories.

Yahoo News:

  • “Vonn: Backlash shows ‘how divided we are now'”
  • “And Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is…
  • How 1 tiny signature cost Greg Schiano $27 million
  • 10 stunning photos of Ellen’s new home
  • San Francisco mayor dead at 65
  • Jaguars take swift action against fans in ugly melee
  • Daredevil ‘Rooftopper’ Plunges 62 stories to his death
  • Watch: CNN’s Don Lemon, Branded ‘Dumbest Man’ on TV by Trump, Lost for words at Kayla Moor’es Cringe…
  • Roy Moore Reemerges for an Election-Eve Rally, and Good Lord, Was it Weird

May be 2 are “objective” journalism of any importance.

MSN:

  • Metal Building Insulation (is actually a sponsored ad made to look like a news report, in the headline spot!)
  • Suzanna Leigh, who co-started with Elvis Presley, dies at 72
  • Boy in viral bullying video speaks out as mom faces backlash
  • Matt Lauer is ‘fighting to save’ his marriage: source
  • Schwarzeneggar calls out Trump in stunt
  • Twitter goes bonkers for Dolphin’s throwback uniforms
  • Daredevil dies doing pullups off a skycraper in China
  • (way down the page, after ads and other “stuff”, news resumes)
    13th human foot washes ashore in Canada; residents seem unfazed
  • NYPD official: It’s “getting harder” to stop lone wolf attacks
  • Photos of the Day
  • Appliance Parts Fast – Huge selection of appliance parts. (sponsored ad in the list of headlines)

Local TV Station KPTV’s Web Site

These headlines are primarily reporting on the daily noise of city life. A week from now, or more likely tomorrow, we will doubtfully remember even one of these stories.

Local TV news is entertainment that occupies your time while your eyeballs and ears are leased to advertisers. They – and you – pretend you are becoming informed. But you are not. The majority of these “news reports” are useless drivel.

Most news is entertainment. It does not inform you of much. In fact, it distracts from time spent on delivering substantive subjects to you, which requires your thinking skills to process. Local news (and most national news too) is keyed towards being entertaining. In the 1980s, the term “infotainment” was created to describe television news – literally information delivery, often dramatized, as a form of entertainment.

This model is what drives almost all news reporting in the United States.

Pointless news reports are the starting point for conversations on social media as these reports are Shared, Liked and Commented upon. Some, especially when political entertainment news is Shared, become the root cause of the “culture of outrage” prevalent on social media. Each of us receives a daily onslaught of this “noise”, typically bending our internal emotions out of shape, and for some, leading to anxiety, depression and anger.

Social media becomes the amplifier of media nonsense. And none of this is good for our mental health.