Did an Iranian immigrant start California fires? NO.

This fake news nonsense came through my Twitter feed today.

The story traces back to this fake news web site.

Source: Fact check: Did Illegal Muslim From Iran Started California Wildfire – ayupp

Answer: NO, the entire story is fake.

Note that this item has been shared 471 times and liked 330 times on Twitter. Of the 105 comments, very few pointed out that its a fake news story.

The photo, which is easy to cross check, is of a Palestinian who “carried out on Friday a stabbing attack in Halamish settlement in which three Israelis were killed and a fourth was injured”

There is more in the ynetnews.com online magazine about the related trial which took place in September 2017.


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).

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


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.

More on how social media “negativity” harms us all

Highlighting the work of social psychologist Roy Baumeister, Seppälä points out that our brain’s “tendency to give more weight to the negative may have helped our species survive by highlighting potential dangers.”

“However, in this day and age, our negativity bias, both as it relates to the environment and to our self-judgments, is harmful,” she writes.

Source: Psychologist says this mindset makes you happier and successful

Attributes of social media – especially the angry, negative posts – may be overloading our brain’s ability to cope with the scary. We really are better off focusing on the positive rather than the negative.

Teen anxiety problems driven by social media?

Teens are said to be suffering from anxiety, more so than in the past. No one cause is identified but social media is called out:

“When I asked Eken about other common sources of worry among highly anxious kids, she didn’t hesitate: social media. Anxious teenagers from all backgrounds are relentlessly comparing themselves with their peers, she said, and the results are almost uniformly distressing.

Anxious kids certainly existed before Instagram, but many of the parents I spoke to worried that their kids’ digital habits — round-the-clock responding to texts, posting to social media, obsessively following the filtered exploits of peers — were partly to blame for their children’s struggles. To my surprise, anxious teenagers tended to agree. “


Until last winter, I was very anxious about logging into Facebook. Each day I was confronted with other people’s negativity, bitterness, anger – and their control issues as they sought, through their use of social media to propagandize others to adopt their agenda. Literally, I was on edge each time I logged into Facebook as my stomach would churn like butterflies fluttering. I avoided logging into FB in the evening, worried I’d be left upset about whatever and have trouble getting to sleep.

With my new awareness of propaganda techniques I recognized the effects propaganda was having on me.  Anger, fear and emotional hot buttons are powerful motivators in the propaganda tool box and are used daily to attack each of us. The constant onslaught of negativity, anger and fear can lead to anxiety and depression in the target.

  • My solution was to recognize I was being manipulated by others seeking to control my emotions and my thoughts through the tools of propaganda.
  • I had to decide: stay on social media or leave it entirely? I chose to stay, but on my terms.
  • I cleaned up my newsfeed to get rid of the anger, the negativity, and the bitter control freaks seeking to engage us with every post.

These steps eliminated the anxiety I felt when using social media. Today, I log in to read helpful posts from hobby groups I belong to. I post helpful tips to others in those groups. I read fun updates from friends about events and sometimes their accomplishments. I turned social media into a positive, supportive environment rather than a stinking cess pool of anger and hostility.

I also had an epiphany – the power that controlling persons exert on the rest of us: Social media has become the ideal platform for those who are compelled to control others[1]; such people are “neither nice nor respectful“.

None of us can change their behavior – we are best to walk away. They are the ones with a problem, not us.

“It’s when they start telling you who you are, what to wear, think, feel and do that they’re being controlling.”

“Controlling people often assume that they understand how you think, even when they actually don’t.”

“Questions can irritate a controlling person because they would rather be in control of the questioning, not anybody else.”

“controlling people will turn belittling or cruel at the drop of a hat, especially if they think you’ve done something wrong. If you frequently feel small, embarrassed, humiliated, or sad after this person talks to you, you might be involved with a controlling person.”

“Controlling people often demean or criticize others as a means of building themselves up and appearing superior and in control. In fact, a controlling person is easy to spot from the constant monologue about how rotten, stupid, evil, ridiculous, annoying, etc. everyone else is (presumably they’re never any of these things).”

(see this link for more about controlling persons and their behaviors)

I no longer feel badly for unfollowing or unfriending someone whose social media is consumed by anger and negativity as I free myself from their attempts to control me through their ranting.


  • It’s said that Instagram is the social media platform for narcissists who constantly post photos of themselves, seeking adulation and approval from the masses.
  • Facebook is the social media platform for controlling personalities sometimes also known as control freaks and toxic personalities. The latter because of their toxic effect on everyone else.


[1] Many people are control freaks and try hard to control their surroundings and the  people within their environment. This is a subject for psychologists (a field of which I know little). Many of us have dealt with control freaks or may be have some controlling urges ourselves – learning to recognize how these behaviors are toxic to others is important. Learning how such toxicity has come to rule much of Facebook can help each of us walk away from the negativity and develop healthier minds as a result.


“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” – Joseph Heller

Here are the set of advertising trackers used by a local newspaper that is part of the USA Today Network, owned by Gannett Communications, the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S.

65 of them on a single page!

Separately, I paged down through my Twitter feed and after a few pages, a total of 119 trackers were blocked – so far. If I continued paging through the feed, even more trackers were blocked.

Trackers could be used merely to determine how many times an ad has been displayed, or how many times seen by the same browser, or to gather information.

In reality, they are tracking as much as possible and stuffing it into giant databases. If you visited 3 web sites that displayed DoubleClick ads, as an example, they can link together your visits between those web sites. Over time, they can discern your interests (do you visit many computer or photography related web sites?) and probably your sex, age and income range. This data is extremely valuable to advertisers as it enables them to target ads right at your interests!

You can block many trackers using browser plug ins or privacy browsers like Epic. You can and should frequently delete your browsing history and “cookies” to reduce the effectiveness of these data collections.


Google AdWords put fake news ads on fact-checking web sites

Funny – Google’s Adwords system has been placing “fake news” ads on web sites like Snopes.com that do fact checking about, often enough, fake news.

Source: Google reportedly put fake news ads on fact-checking sites – CNET

Most professional media sites run fake news advertising right alongside the legitimate stories and advertising. Obviously, they do it to generate revenue but lumping fake news with real news seems a bad choice. Especially if you miss the small, greyed out  “Sponsored content” hovering nearby.

“Violence towards cops skyrocketed in 2016”? Or How to create an inflammatory headline?

Newsweek “Violence towards cops skyrocketed in 2016 and whites are mostly responsible

“More cops were killed in the line of duty last year than in any year since 2011, leading many, including some in the FBI, to falsely connect the increase in violence with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. “

Chart of officer deaths from 2017 to 2016:

Data in the chart is from the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund

The Newsweek report correctly cites the “felonious assault” number, which is separate from “accidental deaths”. For 2016, the combined total is 118.

The NLEMF numbers refer to total deaths and their count of total deaths is different than the FBI numbers (FBI data is from here). This may be, in part, due to the NLEMF including officers who died from having a heart attack while on duty, as well as some additional categories of deaths that are different than what the FBI counts as an officer death.

Seeing the overall context during the past 100 years, did violence against cops “skyrocket in 2016”?

The trend has been remarkably downwards since 1971, in spite of the U.S. population increasing by about 1% per year and the number of police officers in the U.S. increasing per year. What we saw in 2016 is a large percentile increase in a relatively small number (66). During the previous 10 years, the number of officers killed in felonious assaults, per the FBI, varied from a low of 27 in 2013 to a high of 72 in 2011.

The annual year-to-year variation is large and while the “61%” year over year hike sounds like a lot, it is within the normal annual variation in this number.

But the news coverage lacks context so that readers or viewers are not informed – they are being told what to think.

How others headlined this story:

  • FBI report accounts for 118 police officers who died on duty in 2016
  • FBI says US police deaths spiked 61% in 2016
  • FBI: Over 57000 Police Officers Assaulted in 2016
  • Jeff Sessions Calls 61% Spike in Law Enforcement Officer Murders ‘Shocking’ and ‘Unacceptable
  • Number of cops killed in the line of duty rose in 2016
  • FBI: 118 police officers killed on the job in 2016
  • 2016 was a deadly year for law enforcement

News services that have a track record of “hyping” stories (both on the left and right) used provocative headlines while those that report more like traditional, objective news services use the milder, non pejorative headlines.

And then there is Newsweek:  “Violence towards cops skyrocketed in 2016 and whites are mostly responsible

Which publication headlines from the above are using online, for profit, fake news publishing techniques and which are not?

Note – all officer deaths are sad. This post is not about that, however. This post is an illustration of fake news techniques employed by a conventional news publisher to enhance the emotional response of the targeted reader. Newsweek is intentionally manipulating your emotional response in the style of yellow journalism (emphasizing “sensationalism over facts”).

Unfortunately, a large segment of the U.S. media has reverted to the techniques of yellow journalism.

Learn to recognize this style of news – and avoid such publishers – learn to think for yourself.

Using fake likes, shares and comments to boost a social media presence

I received the following email message regarding one of my Youtube accounts

Hi There!

Your channel is too good. We strongly feel that your channel should be at the top in the search ranking. With little more push it can become still more popular. We can make it happen for you.

We provide a completely anonymous and discreet service that helps you gain real exposure and encourages viewers to like, comment and subscribe.

For more information, please get in touch with us at

Email: xxxxxxxx@gmail.com
Skype ID: xxxxxxxxx

View counts, Likes and Shares cause videos to “bubble up” and then be placed on recommended viewing lists. Consequently, Youtubers may seek out methods to up their ranking.

I’ve read that nearly all of the top channels on Youtube became top channels through viewer count manipulation fraud when Early Youtubers realized the best way to get seen was to have high viewer counts on their videos. In the early days, they could create a single page of HTML that loaded their video in a Youtube player, 100 times, and then refresh the page repeatedly, rapidly cycling their viewer counts sky high!

Videos with high or rapidly climbing view counts were then “recommended” to other viewers, causing the view counts to snow ball upwards.

Today, Youtube has anti-fraud mechanisms in place to try and stop this. However, per the email message, you can see that the system is still gamed.

Fake views, likes and shares also appear on other venues. Fake reviews are a serious problem on Amazon and other online shopping systems.


NY Times issues social media guidelines to staff, seeks to hide staff biases

Reporters from many organizations have posted personal thoughts on Facebook and Twitter, revealing they hold extraordinarily partisan perspectives and lack objectivity and balance and being open to diverse viewpoints.

Because of that, the NY Times is asking reporters to hide their biases from their social media posts. This enables the NY Times to pretend that its reporting staff is “seeking to cover objectively” various topics by hiding their staff biases.

  • “In social media posts, our journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.

  • Our journalists should be especially mindful of appearing to take sides on issues that The Times is seeking to cover objectively.”

Source: Social Media Guidelines for the Times Newsroom

None of this fixes the root cause problem – the often intense biases of their reporting staff. All it does is hide the evidence of the crime. (See “What you say on social media can get you fired or jailed“.)