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.

U.S. cities fall behind in wealth measure! :)

CaptureTL;DR Summary

  • From a design standpoint, this poster is effective. Readers likely see it, quickly nod agreement, and then click Like and Share!
  • It uses simple statements with an authority figure as the source of the quote.
  • Some of the claims are false or misleading, but they all seem plausible.
  • The poster works by making assertions (some of which are not true) and using an appeal to authority. The poster was designed to appeal to the preconceptions of its target audience, who subscribe to the fake news outlet. The goal of the poster seems to be that there is a lot of wealth and a lot of poverty in the U.S., therefore, wealth is bad (or poverty is bad or industrialization is bad or whatever). Since the quote/poster never says what the conclusion is supposed to be, the conclusion is left to your own (pre-conceived?) thoughts.

Poster Source

Since the post asks, “What’s wrong with this picture?“, let’s take a look!

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Effective propaganda posters that do not actually mean much

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TL;DR Summary

  • President Obama selected as the most admired man in the world, per Gallup Poll of U.S. residents.
  • Analysis: True! And it is good that the US President is selected for this, in this poll.
  • Almost every year since 1946, the current sitting President has been identified by this Gallup poll as the most admired man in the world. Doesn’t matter who is in office (except for Gerald Ford – it sucks to be Gerald Ford, apparently).
  • This works on a propaganda level because (a) it is a true statement, (b) the message is simple, and (c) “What you see is all there is”. When you see all US Presidents since World War II (except Gerald Ford) were selected as the most admired man in the world in this annual poll, the message of the poster becomes less significant, of course.

Continue on to see the chart of the Gallup Poll results from 146 to 2014.

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False: President Roosevelt on why the minimum wage must be a living wage

CaptureTL;DR Summary

  • A true quote but taken out of context – the quote is  referring to something completely different than a modern day “minimum wage”.
  • As a propaganda message, this has  been widely shared, which makes for successful propaganda, even though the message is untrue.
  • Roosevelt did say this quote, but it was not about the minimum wage but about creating opportunities to become skilled, employable and have the ability to earn good wages. The speech was about the need to balance the interests of labor and capital. The speech was not about a minimum wage, which was not enacted until 28 years later.
  • The basic methods used are Assertion (that this is about a minimum wage), “Appeal to Authority” by citing President Teddy Roosevelt and a Logical fallacy of linking his comments  to today’s minimum wage.
  • The poster originated from Occupy Democrats.

Below is the full paragraph from the 1910 speech so you can see the original context. The speech is available online at http://www.presidentialrhetoric.com/historicspeeches/roosevelt_theodore/newnationalism.html.  No where in the text is a minimum wage discussed. The context in which this was given was about creating opportunities and providing everyone with the education and skills to be able to earn a living. He proposes the need for regulations to ensure sanitary and safe working conditions. The reference to “workman’s compensation” refers to workers being compensated when injured on the job – not to normal wages or minimum wages. You can find discussion on the “workman’s compensation” issue and what Roosevelt meant at the Social Welfare History Project at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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