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

 

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Did a Federal law make U.S. Civil War Confederate solidiers the equivalent of U.S. veterans? No.

This past week, my Facebook news feed showed a shared item that claims Confederate soldiers of the U.S. Civil War were declared as “U.S. veterans by an Act of Congress”.

Not exactly. In fact, most of this claims is false.

Snopes.com explains that this is mostly false.

This item works as social media propaganda because it appears to cite what sound like legitimate sources for the information (an appeal to authority). The item also appeals to patriotism (U.S. veterans) and the use of transference (Congress said they are U.S. veterans so therefore, they should be treated the same).

However, the alleged Congressional acts either do not exist or refer to something different. The alleged “last Confederate veteran” who died in 1958, was a fraudster who was not an actual veteran. In reality, the last actual Confederate soldiers died in 1959.

This is just a propaganda meme that is mostly not true, but sounded convincing to many.

Nonsense: “the supervolcano is ready to blow and WIPE OUT life on Earth”

Really?

YELLOWSTONE volcano has been struck by 1,400 earthquakes in recent weeks, leading to fears that the supervolcano is ready to blow and WIPE OUT life on Earth.

Source: Fears that deadly Yellowstone supervolcano about to BLOW after 1400 earthquakes hit | Science | News | Express.co.uk

Click the link and play the video with am ominous and scary musical sound track to really drive home the point – IT’S GOING TO BLOW AND KILL US ALL!

This story does not even need a fisking. Buried in the last sentences:

“However, seismologists state that there is nothing to be concerned about yet.

Jamie Farrell at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City told New Scientist: “This is a large swarm but it is not the largest swarm we’ve recorded in Yellowstone.”

This is similar to serial fiction publisher Newsweek’s previous report on the Yellowstone earthquake storm.

The above fiction story is passed along by a newspaper publisher as real news for the purpose of generating clicks and eyeballs for advertisers.

Like much propaganda, this fiction is designed to hook the powerful emotion of fear.

But is that fake news story any different than this one?

More than 150,000 people could die as a result of climate change each year in Europe by the end of the century, shocking new research has found. The number of deaths caused by extreme weather events will increase 50-fold and two in three people on the continent will be affected by disasters, the study – that serves as a stark warning of the deadly impact of global warming – found.

Source: Extreme weather could kill 150,000 people each year in Europe by the end of the century, say scientists | The Independent

The study was a scenario generator based on assumptions – it is not a prediction, not a forecast. Instead, it says if our assumptions are correct, and if our model is correct, then this is one possible outcome. Right off the top, however, the assumptions used in their scenario are absurd and ridiculous.

Viewed standalone, did you apply  System 2 thinking when you first saw the second story? Or did you just let System 1 say “Oh My God, We are all going to die!

The second story is as absurd as the first, above. But most of us probably thought the latter is a true and honest portrayal of the future because of the consensus view (“Get on the bandwagon”) of climate change.

The purpose of both of these fictions is to hook the most powerful of propaganda techniques: fear. Whether it is for advertising click bait or to encourage you adopt someone’s agenda, this is propaganda messaging.

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The remarkable power of propaganda

I just scanned Twitter for items about the Affordable Care Act.

I estimate 99% of the Tweets were lies, contained significant errors, left out key information, or significantly exaggerated points. This included linked news stories at main stream news services such as the Los Angeles Times and NPR and others, which contained significant inaccuracies or left out crucial information and data that refuted the thrust of the article.

How many read the ACA? Probably a number approaching zero.

How many researched any of the topics at all? Probably a very small number.

So why are these people posting so much nonsense on Twitter?

Because of the effectiveness of propaganda that has delivered messages to them, which they in turn, regurgitate online, further spreading the propaganda message.

I covered this previously in National public opinion surveys are propaganda messaging in disguise.

Unfortunately, most national surveys of “American’s opinions” are surveys of propaganda effectiveness. The survey itself then adds to the growing body of propaganda messaging on a subject and becomes, itself, a form of propaganda.

You can go to news.google.com and find similar surveys.

  • 9% of American’s Feel Shingles Vaccination is a Priority
  • Many believe race relations will worsen under Trump
  • 68% of Americans believe humans are causing warming
  • 71% of Americans consider granola bars to be healthy

Surveys often follow a period of concerted propaganda messaging in the media.

In these and other cases, the survey is primarily measuring the effectiveness of the propaganda messaging around a subject. Most American’s understand little of the facts or logic for any of these items (and many more). Survey respondents are regurgitating the view given to them by propaganda messaging and the methods used to persuade masses of people.

 

Social media and the Paris Climate Agreement

In the past couple of hours, my social media feeds have *exploded* with loudly expressed perspectives on the Paris Climate Agreement.

How many of those expressing a perspective have read the Agreement?

I am guessing that is a number approaching zero.

The agreement is short, as far as government documents go, and you can read it for yourself here.

What does the Paris Climate Agreement actually do?

Read the text for yourself. It is a voluntary set of guidelines, with no enforcement provisions, for self reporting the steps each country will take and what they think they will accomplish. Out of 196 countries, none would ever cheat or bias the information they provide, of course.

If all of the voluntary measures were undertaken, various modeling groups estimate it may reduce global average temperature by between 0 and 0.36 deg C by 2100, if the climate change hypothesis is correct and all other factors remain the same. The Agreement says the goal is to limit temperature rise to 2 deg C over what it was about 150 years ago (or perhaps 1.5 deg C) at a cost of about $10 Trillion in present value terms just for the financial transfer from developed nations to developing nations and not including costs of developing alternatives for developed nations.

Countries choose their own “baseline” for emissions (China chose its model projected emissions in 2030 as its baseline whereas the U.S. chose 2005) and then voluntary measure their progress towards their self selected targets.

Dr. James Hansen, “father of climate change” said

“It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says, rubbing his head. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises.

Update: From the science journal Nature (May 22, 2017):

Better out than in

 

Continued US membership in the Paris Agreement on climate would be symbolic and have no effect on US emissions. Instead, it would reveal the weaknesses of the agreement, prevent new opportunities from emerging, and gift greater leverage to a recalcitrant administration.

A lot of emotion will be vented on social media over an agreement that most have not read, do not understand, and which the “father of climate change” says is a worthless agreement and the science journal Nature says is “symbolic and have no effect on US emissions”.

From the above short summary we can see that there are both pros and cons of the Agreement.

Why such a strong emotional response on social media?

The answer is propaganda. Rather than examining the underlying documents, almost everyone is responding in terms of what they think they know, which they learned from propaganda messaging. Remember, propaganda is messaging targeted at a group for the purpose of getting others to adopt someone’s agenda. A wide variety of methods are used to persuade a group to adopt someone’s agenda (appeal to authority, get on the bandwagon, name calling, are a small sampling of the methods used here).

Many people have been “trained” to what they should “believe” or accept as truth. They now feel it is their responsibility to evangelize their “beliefs” to others, via social media.

But most are virtue signalling that they are “on the bandwagon” and do not realize the Paris Agreement appears to accomplish little positive. The point of the Agreement seems to be to enable a group to say we agree but to not actually agree to anything.

Most car crashes caused by cellular phone usage?

I saw an item on a Facebook group where the general meme was that everyone knows cellular phone usage while driving is the cause of most vehicle crashes. The data, however, paints a remarkably different picture. Cellular phone usage, per the government’s own data, is a minor causative factor in vehicle crashes.

There are many causative factors in car crashes: one category of causative factors is “distracted driving”. Cellular phone usage is a subset of “distracted driving”.

The U.S.government’s National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a report in 2016 on distracted driving, with data up to 2014 (the most recent data available).

Here is what they write on page 1:

“A distraction-affected crash is any crash in which a driver was identified as distracted at the time of the crash.

  • Ten percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes, and 16 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2014 were reported as distraction-affected crashes…”

Let’s restate this:

  • 10% of fatal crashes involved a driver distraction
  • 18% of injury crashes involved a driver distraction
  • 16% of all reported crashes involved a driver distraction

The proportion of those distracted driving incidents where a cellular phone was a causative factor is a subset of these percentages (see tables in the report):

  • 7% of 10% of fatal crashes or less than 1% of all fatal crashes
  • 13% of 18% of injury crashes or about 2.3% of all injury crashes
  • Cellular phone usage for “all crashes” (including non fatal, non injury) is not provided in the report but is likely similar to the two other categories.

The data provided by the U.S. government does not support the widespread meme that cellular phone usage is the leading cause of vehicle crashes. Is my interpretation off in space? The report uses remarkably plain language for a government report. Am I missing something?

Why do people believe cellular phone usage is a leading cause if not pre-dominant cause of vehicle crashes?  (This was the conclusion of those in a Facebook group discussing this topic.)

There is no official answer to that question so we can only guess:

  1. Selected (cherry picked) emotional stories are given widespread media exposure
  2. Bad journalism/bad reporting (fake news from “non-fake” news sources) – often using a variety of propaganda methods to convey this. One common approach in news reports is to quote an “expert” (appeal to authority) who says “Over 30% of crashes are caused by cellular phone usage”. This is a common quote in many news reports, none of which substantiate the number except by an appeal to authority.
  3. Propaganda efforts by the insurance industry to promote a reduction in risk (and their costs)
  4. The tendency to generalize from n=small numbers (I once saw a bad driver using a cellular phone, therefore most bad driving is due to cellphone usage, and if most bad driving is due to cell phone usage then this must be the cause of most crashes). This is a”logical fallacy“.
  5. Everyone just knows that cellular phone usage by drivers causes most crashes (both the assertion and the get on the bandwagon propaganda methods).
  6. If anyone cites the data in a social media reply, this unleashes a barrage of name calling (another propaganda method) that if you disagree, you are a denier, an idiot or whatever.

Facts and logic are the enemy of propaganda. When many people believe something to be true, and that “something” is not supported by official data, it is likely that propaganda messaging has been used to persuade the public.

Smart people more likely to consume fake news

“On the left if you’re consuming fake news you’re 34 times more likely than the general population to be a college graduate,” says Green.

If you’re on the right, he says, you’re 18 times more likely than the general population to to be in the top 20 percent of income earners.

And the study revealed another disturbing trend: the more you consume fake news, the more likely you are to vote. It’s “fascinating and frightening at the same time,” says Green.

Source: The rise of left-wing, anti-Trump fake news – BBC News

The BBC is a bit late to this story, having only just noticed that the largest social media-based, online, for profit fake news publisher is a Occupy Democrats that targets left wing enthusiasts with exaggerated, emotionally laden headlines and frequently false stores. Their goal is to target the emotions of liberal enthusiasts who then share the stories on social media, generating click throughs back to selling eyeballs to advertisers.

Many people think propaganda is a tool to manage “the unwashed masses”, but they are mistaken. Propaganda is effective across a broad swath of the population.

The late Professor Jacques Ellul, a French sociologist, found academics were among the most susceptible to propaganda. He suggests this is because academics are in the business of absorbing lots of information, much of which is unverifiable. They believe, he said, they should have an opinion on every subject and since their job is to instruct others, academics believe it is their duty to pass along information to others.

Ellul’s argument identifies the unexpected role that smart people often play in the consumption and distribution of propaganda.

For amusement vis a vis United Airlines, Ellul believes the purpose of “public relations” is to adapt individuals to societal norms by forcing individuals to conform. If you don’t conform, we will assault you – hah hah.

(Reference: Ellul, J. Propaganda: The formation of men’s attitudes. Translated to English from the original French text. The book assumes the reader is already well versed in the basic methods and usage of propaganda.)

Past week was great demo of power of propaganda

As everyone now knows, last week Sunday evening, United Airlines forcefully removed a passenger from one of their United Express branded aircraft.

The initial official statement from United Airlines was that they reluctantly had to remove a belligerent passenger from an overbooked flight, the passenger’s injuries were because the passenger fell and hurt himself, and the airline had every right to do so.

Before the week was over, the CEO of United admitted in a televised interview that the passenger had done nothing wrong – no violation of rules, regulations or laws, the flight was not overbooked, United violated its own Contract of Carriage with passengers and video showed that the “police” had violently assaulted the passenger and then lied about it on their official report. Further, the “police” were security guards who did not have authorization to board aircraft nor arrest anyone.

A week later we find people on social media using strongly worded comments echoing United’s initial public relations propaganda, and saying the uncooperative passenger was required to obey the (unlawful) directives of flight crew and had no rights. All of these statements we now know are not true.

BUT – this ilustrates the power of propaganda. Remember that the first propaganda message that people hear and see, even if shown as false, is the message that sticks.

United’s public relations staff know this and they certainly approved, if not wrote, the CEO’s comments. Their comments were cold hearted, passive-voiced, defamatory and lies.

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National public opinion surveys are propaganda messaging in disguise

Long ago, a survey found that 75% of Americans believe violence on television leads to violence in society. The results of that survey were then used as evidence in a Congressional hearing.

Left out is that this was in the 1960s, and the survey was made after several Congressional representatives made this assertion and began talking about their assertion as if it were fact. The media dutifully reprinted their words, creating a broad propaganda message that violence on TV was the cause of violent behavior in society. This led to Congressional hearings and even the cancellation of some TV shows because public momentum was turned away from shows that showed violent scenes.

In effect, this national survey measured the effectiveness of the propaganda campaign as there was no data at the time to support this conclusion.

Unfortunately, most national surveys of “American’s opinions” are surveys of propaganda effectiveness. The survey itself then adds to the growing body of propaganda messaging on a subject and becomes, itself, a form of propaganda.

You can go to news.google.com and find similar surveys.

  • 9% of American’s Feel Shingles Vaccination is a Priority
  • Many believe race relations will worsen under Trump
  • 68% of Americans believe humans are causing warming
  • 71% of Americans consider granola bars to be healthy

Surveys often follow a period of concerted propaganda messaging in the media.

In these and other cases, the survey is primarily measuring the effectiveness of the propaganda messaging around a subject. Most American’s understand little of the facts or logic for any of these items (and many more). Survey respondents are regurgitating the view given to them by propaganda messaging and the methods used to persuade masses of people.

A classic example of how opinion surveys are used to influence the public are surveys about state-level voter initiatives. When the initiative appears likely to pass, and is promoted by well funded interests, you will often see many media reports showing “a majority of voters support”. But when the initiative is not supported – and is losing – media reports become scarce or non-existent as the promoters hide the result of their polling show the initiative is failing.

To illustrate the absurdity of national surveys that measure public opinions, consider this actual headline:

  • A Poll finds most Americans don’t trust public opinion polls

Unfortunately, what the above survey likely measured is that people don’t trust surveys that indicate they, personally, are out of step with their community. People selectively like surveys, as along as the survey agrees with their opinion.

The purpose of most polling is to identify a ground swell movement. The poll itself is a form of propaganda messaging known as “get on the bandwagon”. The survey results show that everyone else is thinking this way – why you aren’t you on the bandwagon too?

Consequently, most national opinion polls are garbage – and are themselves a component of major propaganda messaging to persuade you to adopt someone’s else agenda, not because of evidence, facts or logic – no, you should adopt their agenda because a bunch of other people are!

Unusual use of data in a propaganda poster

TL;DR Summary

  • Propaganda poster distributed on social media notes that the number of Americans killed annually by “Islamic jihadist immigrants” is very small.
  • The numbers in the chart appear to be approximately correct (depends on year and who is counting).
  • The poster uses data, which may invoke System 2 rational thinking, yet the numbers and layout are simple enough that many people may process this with their quick, intuitive and emotional-based System 1 thinking style. In that regard, this is an effective propaganda poster.

I checked some of the numbers in the table and they were approximately correct. This does not mean the data is accurate as I did not check all of the items, nor did I look in detail at how the tally was made in each category. The point of this post is to illustrate the use of data in a propaganda poster. Most propaganda is designed to appeal to emotions and is typically devoid of data. However, the data here is simple enough that it may be engaging a System 1 emotional response rather than rational, analysis response.