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?

TripAdvisor’s censorship of online reviews more extensive than originally thought #tripadvisor

TripAdvisor admitted to censoring some specific negative reviews by consumers reporting that crimes and acts of violence had occurred at some venues.

Since then, more people have documented that TripAdvisor has censored reports of crime at U.S. hotel and related properties. Update: TripAdvisor caught lying, now said to be under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.

Unfortunately, online review sites are worthless due to a combination of “gaming the system” with fake reviews (both positive for your business and negative fake reviews for competitive businesses) and active censorship of negative reviews by online review sites such as TripAdvisor.com.

Social media’s ease of publishing has led to a rapid degradation in the quality of material available online. Online reviews are a form of propaganda – intended to influence your decision making. Review web sites know this. Business operators know this.

Now we know this: We intentionally avoided search results that went to TripAdvisor.com for a trip we completed over a week ago. What else can we do?

 

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.

 

Washington Post, Miami Herald, CBS, Vox, Buzzfeed sourced stories from Russian social media propaganda

Major US “news” publishers cited tweets now known to originate from propagandists in Russia as the source for their reporting.

As you know, social media is always a reliable source for your news reports. Not. A legitimate question is why do all media now source content from unverifiable social media? From the Washington Post to the local TV news – all of them do this routinely.

The mass media that relies on social media becomes a conduit in the propaganda war. Journalists, of all people in the world, should be hyper sensitive to the use and abuse of propaganda.

Misinformation

“The extent to which legitimate, mainstream news outlets picked up and amplified Russian misinformation is an illustration of its pernicious reach”

And it is not just “Russian misinformation” – the root cause problem is that social media is a friction-less platform for the spread of propaganda by anyone, at zero cost. Everyone is spreading propaganda and misinformation.

If we focus on just that originating in Russia, we not only permit other propaganda originators to flourish, we encourage it!

The Washington Post, Miami Herald, InfoWars and other U.S. sites spread Russian propaganda from Twitter

Facebook confirms it is a platform for the friction-less spread of propaganda

Emphasis added:

Facebook said Russia-backed operatives published about 80,000 posts that were delivered to approximately 29 million people on the social network during a two-year period, CBS News reported Monday, citing a source familiar with Facebook’s planned testimony. The posts may have spread to three times that many people after they were shared, liked and followed by Facebook users.

Source: Facebook: Russian-backed posts reached 126M during election – CNET

I am amused that the many (but not all) of the media reports seem oblivious to the widespread use of Facebook as a propaganda delivery platform. Some of the coverage of this topic leaves one thinking that most propaganda on Facebook must originate in Russia!

Disney’s “secret army” of Moms spread Disney promotional propaganda #marketing #astroturf

Disney has a secret army of mothers who flood the internet with Disney propaganda

While this sounds like a big deal and “secret” and what not, it is just “astro turf” public relations.

“Grassroots” organizing is when a group of people supposedly come together to promote something (often political or government policy related). The idea is that it is a movement that arose from the people.

In reality, nearly all “grassroots” movements today are “astro turf” operations, carefully orchestrated and run by public relations organizations. To learn more about how astro turf operations are run, see our previous post on astro turf propaganda. The best astro turf operations enlist participants who do not even realize that are being controlled as part of a public relations operation – participants think they are part of a grassroots movement!

Disney has enlisted an estimated 1,300 mothers who frequently blog about positive Disney experiences. Disney provides them with enhanced experiences at Disney theme parks with the hope this leads to further positive messaging, influencing the bloggers friends and followers  Participants blog and share their positive experiences on social media, enabling Disney to incorporate an astro turf army of moms into their social media marketing (also known as propaganda). The Mom’s who participate are fully aware of the PR efforts underway by Disney; this is not a secret.

None of this is new! Astro turf lobbying and astro turf marketing have gone on for years. Social media is merely a new platform for astro turf marketing.

Corollary: Absolutely nothing can be taken at face value: The innocent comments about a great experience at a restaurant or theme park may very well be sponsored. “Grass roots” lobbying efforts for a local city park or a state or Federal law are almost always driven by a professional public relations agency engaged in astro turfing. Social media  has expanded the ease with which fake grassroots messaging can be quickly delivered to millions of people.

Astro turf marketing is a powerful and effective method of propaganda that is frequently used to sell a product, service or an idea (such as new government program or policy).

Rent A Crowd “Crowds on Demand” – and How Absolutely Everything is Fake

A local politician came out to speak to an enthusiastic audience? Could be an entirely fake audience of paid participants.[1]

A local protest takes to the streets to demand ACTION over whatever – and gets extensive media coverage? Could be a fake group of paid participants. Or sometimes, it is a mix of paid actors plus others who think its an organic, grass roots event. But its fake too.

There are “public relations” firms (a.k.a. propaganda firms) that specialize in hiring crowds of people to create a media friendly spectacle. Here is a screen capture (August 14, 2017) of crowdsondemand.com:

Source: Crowds on Demand | Celebrity Experiences for Rent | Entourages, Paparazzi and Fans| Strategic Publicity Stunts | Corporate Events

We are surrounded by public relations/propaganda messaging campaigns 24 x 7. The term “grass roots” refers to an action that is allegedly coming “from the people”. The term “astroturf” refers to fake “grass roots” programs, like the above, designed to trick politicians and leaders into taking action based on a false perception of a “grass roots” effort. Most “grass roots” efforts today are actually “astroturf” operations run by professional propaganda outfits. More on our blog, here.

Powerful people in our society use rent-a-crowds to give the appearance of support to their own agendas. They could could be a business (say wanting to expand a building and needing local public support), a property developer wanting to build a new development, a non profit activist group seeking to raise donations, a politician seeking support for legislation – and on and on.

I first learned about this from an item shared on social media, an item, which like the “fake photos”, is incorrectly attributed to the Charlottesville, Virginia riot. Here it is – note the ad actually references Charlotte NORTH CAROLINA – not Charlottesville, Virginia.

  • Snopes also looked into this and was unable to confirm that Crowds on Demand was not involved in Charlottesville, VA or at similar protests. The company would not say much about what they do, except to say they do not support hate groups.

Notes

[1] The flip side of this is the use of paid audience members who are trained to help shape the discussion in the direction the politician or other leader desires. This is done even at local community meetings. Ostensibly a meeting is held to obtain community input. In reality, the decisions have already been made and the purpose of the meeting is to steer the group into a consensus around the decision that was already made. Techniques include rearranging seating to avoid “organized blocks” from emerging, the use of “planted” audience members who are called upon and give feedback supporting the desired meeting outcome, and other methods. These are methods of persuasion, propaganda and control. We are subjected to them daily without even realizing that we’ve been “had”.

Update to Oregon Health Authority Propaganda Story from yesterday: Director fired today

Propaganda, propaganda, propaganda:

Oregon Health Authority Lynne Saxton has resigned in the wake of news of her involvement in a plan to plant negative and misleading news about a local nonprofit health provider to influence lawmakers.

Source: Pamplin Media Group – Oregon Health Authority Director Lynne Saxton resigns in the wake of planted news coverage

OHA has a long track record of incompetence and poor management and leadership and public relations staff that tell lies.

 

Advertising IS Propaganda, and is the business model for Google and Facebook

“Facebook and Google get their revenue from advertising, the effectiveness of which depends on gaining and maintaining consumer attention.”

Source: My Google and Facebook investments made a fortune, but now they’re a menace

The very essence of Google and Facebook, at their core, is to operate as the world’s most sophisticated propagandists. Their business model is based on advertising, which is literally propaganda messaging intended to encourage you to adopt someone’s agenda, specifically, to buy something (products and services) or to agree with something (politics).

Each company builds electronic dossiers on every individual user of their service. They scan your emails, they examine your text messages, they use ad networks to track your online web site visits, they track your “Likes” and “Shares” (each of which tells them what you are interested in) they examine your list of friends to seek out what may be common interests – and then use their knowledge of you to create idealized advertising messages and ad placements to “hit” you when you are most vulnerable to those messages.

Social media is the most powerful, friction-less propaganda medium in world history. Google and Facebook are both mammoth entities that are in the position of controlling the world’s future. Facebook claimed that political propaganda on Facebook had no impact on recent elections – while simultaneously selling itself as a platform for highly effective advertising, which is just another word for propaganda messaging. Facebook is either lying or deluding itself.

Oregon sought propaganda campaign to publicly demean nonprofit health care provider

Oregon’s Oregon Health Authority put together a taxpayer funded “communications plan” (a.ka. propaganda program) to publicly demean and malign a non-profit health care provider because the OHA did not want the state legislature to pass laws supported by the non-profit health care provider.

OHA was responsible for Oregon’s failed Cover Oregon, a health exchange that never enrolled anyone before being shut down after wasting nearly 1/2 billion taxpayer dollars and disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens.

OHA claims the plan was never implemented. However,

“The Portland Business Journal, Willamette Week, Portland Tribune, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Oregonian and The Lund Report have all received targeted press releases aimed at bolstering the state’s case, as well as personalized emails to journalists and other outreach.”

This is a classic example of how “public relations” is a polite way of saying propaganda. This case illustrates the danger of government turning its propaganda apparatus loose on the public – this is a soft form of totalitarianism.

Portland Tribune: State sought to plant negative stories about nonprofit, 

The non-profit health care provider is now exploring its legal options against the state.