New web URL: SocialPanic.org

The old web URL will continue to work but I just registered SocialPanic.org as an easier way to access this web site. The domain name is very appropriate for what this web site is about – the use of professional media and social media to deliver propaganda messaging for the purpose of getting others to adopt someone’s agenda. This is often done through methods used to create “social panic“.

The new URL will be usable shortly. It works now for me but it may take up to 72 hours for the domain name to propagate through the global Internet.

Never, Ever leave a reporter in a room alone, with a number

Sheer idiocy to have written this:

The “baby boom” is officially defined as those born from 1946 to 1964.

Per the above, in the year 2060, the aging baby boomer population will be aged 96 to 114, and apparently life spans will have increased by decades by the year 2060.

The study is not accessible to the public. The reporter who wrote this article and the editor who let this fly by are idiots. In a literal sense, the baby boom population will, of course age, and be mostly dead by 2060, and per the model, Alzheimer’s disease incidence will double. But the those two facts are not related! The reporter created a logical fallacy to imply there is a linkage.

Public opinion is formed by this sort of stupidity in reporting. When they can’t get the simple things correct (like the illogical reference to baby boomers) how can we trust them with complex parts of a story?

Obviously, it has not been a good week for the media. The proper response is to be more diligent than ever – instead, the media (ABC, Reuters, Bloomberg,  and CBS (false subpoena story), CNN and CNN’s correction (false Wikileaks story), Washington Post reporter’s admitted fake photo, and MSNBC) launched significant false reports in the past week, harming confidence in the media even more. The week before, long time reporters and TV hosts Charlies Rose (PBS) and Matt Lauer (NBC) were fired for sexual harassment and worse – plus others earlier in the year including Bill O’reilly (FOX).

Media reporting error causes Dow to drop 350 points

Lucky for me, I was busy all day and did not learn about this until it was over with.

ABC News reporter Brian Ross put out a report this morning with most of the crucial details wrong – causing the Dow 30 Industrials to drop 350 points. The false report was broadcast as an interruption to regular scheduled programming, as well.

Seven hours later, Ross issued a weak clarification; in fact, his report should have been retracted as much of it was wrong.

The take away from today’s media blooper is as we know, the first message people hear is the one that will stick with them, even if later corrected or changed. From a propaganda perspective, Ross’s erroneous report was quickly shared on social media and led to investor panic.

As of tonight, many people are still promoting the original false story on social media.

From my understanding (late now), the errors were quite significant and this clarification does not adequately respond to the financial harm caused by the errors. Update: ABC News eventually apologized for “serious error” and suspended the reporter, without pay, for 4 weeks and the reporter has been banned from ever again reporting on topics related to President Trump.

It is frightening that a reporter can cripple financial markets by issuing poorly done news reports (editors?). Combine a bad reporter’s mistakes (he has a history of doing this) with social media, and you end up with mass panic. Propaganda messaging can, as in this example, act surprisingly quickly and with extraordinary effects.

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?

Major global brands pull all ads from Youtube

The Times of London discovered that Youtube was running hundreds of thousands of videos basically containing “scantily clad” children, and those videos had numerous comments containing sexually explicit content. Ads from mainstream companies were running along side these videos – in effect, Google/Youtube was profiting from pedophilia.

Companies such as HP, Deutsche Bank and others have now pulled all ads from the Youtube platform.

Meanwhile, it was discovered that typing “How to have” in to the Youtube search box returned suggested searches like “How to have sex with children”, “How to have sex with kids”. Youtube itself was offering those suggestions (I verified that this was true, before Youtube removed this “feature”).

More

 

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.

 

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.

What you say on social media can get you fired, or jailed

CBS today fired a vice president/senior legal counsel after she made unsettling comments on social media regarding the massacre in Las Vegas:

“If they wouldn’t do anything when children were murdered I have no hope that Repugs will ever do the right thing, I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country music fans often are Republican gun toters.”

Source: CBS Fires Lawyer Over Facebook Comments About Las Vegas Mass Shooting

CBS hosts the Academy of Country Music Awards, owns the formerly named The Nashville Network which originally targeted the rural south with shows on hunting and fishing, but later evolved to Spike, targeting men, and Country Music Television (now called CMT).

See also the next post “Social media outrage can lead to jail

As noted on this blog, the culture of perpetual outrage that predominates on social media is likely not healthy for one’s mental health – nor for one’s career prospects.

Funny – after I wrote the above, this headline appeared in my Google News feed “CBS exec streamlines the route between Internet outrage and unemployment“. So true!

 

 

 

Disaster Propaganda Part 2: Is there anything it can’t do?

This is not the Part 2 I was planning to post. Guess there will be Part 3!

Earthquakes!

A 7.1 or 7.2 magnitude earthquake occurred near Mexico City. Mexico is the 7th most seismically active country due to the intersection of 3 tectonic plates. An 8.1 magnitude earthquake took place near there in 1985, causing massive destruction to Mexico City.

Big quakes in Mexico are not unusual and they cause enormous damage, deaths and injuries.

Fires!

The western U.S., and British Columbia, Canada, have seen an above normal wildland fire season. Many commenters think this is abnormal. It’s not.

2017 has been a bad fire year, to date. Yet 2 of the past ten years have burned more acreage, to date, and 4 of the past ten years have had more total fires than 2017 (to date) (from National Interagency Fire Center, as of September 15, 2017).

Going back even further, we can see that fires prior to 1950 burned vastly larger number of acres each year.

Chart from United States Forest Service

(Much of this has to do with how the U.S. did or did not fight fires at various times, and how fires are a natural part of the ecosystem. Aggressive fire suppression for decades has resulted in built up fuels.)

Hurricanes!

This year has seen the most hurricanes since  … 2005.  Then we had a 12 year drought of land falling large hurricanes. And people forgot that Florida has been hit by 119 hurricanes since 1850. Hurricanes, even large ones, are not unusual. For emphasis, here is what the scientists say.

The Solar Eclipse!

There was a solar eclipse visible in the United States, in August. Total solar eclipses occur somewhere about every two years, on average.

Pattern Matching!

People are constantly pattern matching their current experiences to create a model of how they think the world works. Not surprisingly, based on social media posts, people have concluded that

  • these events are unique and rare
  • they must be caused by something – there must be a cause so let’s find one that fits our limited world view!
  • their pattern matching has identified a pattern – that earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, the solar eclipse in August and climate change are linked together
  • Therefore, human behaviors are causing these disasters

Face palm moment.

Logical Nonsense

This illustrates how many are easily persuaded of logical nonsense.

Twitter is filled with bizarre tweets linking quakes, hurricanes, fires – and even the solar eclipse – to confirmation of human caused climate change. Yes, the eclipse caused fires! Hurricanes! Is there anything it can’t do?

I started to collect snapshots of the Tweets but there were far too many and I gave up.

Yet it is clear that many – including seemingly “smart” people – are drawing these correlations and have convinced themselves that quakes, hurricanes, fires, solar eclipses and climate change are all linked together!

Further, they believe it essential to share their nonsense propaganda with everyone on social media.

Never let a disaster go to waste!

Afterword

NBC News tried to push the “this must be unique” moment with the following:

If the problem with this silly statement is not obvious, consider the annual variance: “normal” varies between a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 28 named storms per year.

And then think about what “average” means.

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.

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