How ideology-based thinking creates propaganda memes #socialmedia #propaganda

This is a very clever bit of propaganda messaging. Preliminary job market data for September indicated a loss of 33,000 jobs, the first decline in monthly job numbers in 7 years as the country climbed out of an economic depression. (A separate survey of households showed job growth – in time, these surveys will be reconciled).

Because of this 33,000 job loss estimate, a Facebook “friend” posted this item.

The Propaganda Technique Used

The wording on the above is very, very, very, very subtle. Most of us interpret this as adding a net positive 500,000 jobs per month to our employment. That would be great!

The sneaky part of this is the choice of the words “job GROWTH rate”. “Job growth” anchors our System 1 thinking to a growth in jobs. But that is not actually what is said here.

The poster is referring to a change in the job growth rate – which was negative the entire year of 2009. But between January and September the rate, which remained negative, declined from -739,000 jobs lost to just -220,00 jobs lost or a decline of -519,000 jobs in the number of jobs lost.

The poster then erroneous asserts this is “500,000 jobs per month” reinforcing the anchor to the idea that we were seeing a growth in jobs of 500,000 per month.

Subtle and clever!

The Data

Let us turn to the data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – change in non-farm employment (the series that is commonly used) in 1000s.

Jobs were lost every month in 2009. In no month in 2009 was there an increase in total jobs.

Where does the 500,000 jobs claim come from?

In January the country lost -739,000 jobs. In September, the country lost -220,000 jobs. Since the loss of jobs declined by -519,000 jobs, this is used as the basis for the sneaky wording that that the “job growth rate was improving by 500,000 per month“. In the real word, a total of 4.587 million jobs were lost January to September but the rate of decline was slowing.

Second, the claim of “500,000 per month” is not correct. The poster is comparing January to September providing a reduction in job losses of -519,000 and falsely asserting this is a “per month” figure. That decline from January works out to -58,000 per month. In other words, job losses were declining by about 58,000 per month. Further, the reference to “500,000 per month” reinforces the incorrect interpretation of the propaganda message that 500,000 jobs were being created.

Third, the U.S. had, in 2008, entered the worst economic downturn and job loss period since the 1930s Great Depression. This had numerous ramifications on the job market decline and subsequent rebound. Historically, after all economic declines and job losses, we see significant job growth, regardless of who holds what political office. Additionally, with the unemployment rate at 4.7% in September 2017, it becomes nearly infeasible to employ 500,000 more workers each month – there are simply not enough workers available. (Economists say 5% is basically full employment as job positions are eliminated and created continuously meaning there will always be some level of unemployment as workers have to switch positions.)

Years ago, I predicted the next Presidency (2017-2020), regardless of party would likely have a notable economic recession. While recessions do not occur at precise intervals, the U.S. does experience an economic recession, on average, once every 7 years. From the chart above, the job market has been rebounding since 2010. Do the math. (The NBER declared the recession over as of June of 2009 and this is the date from which the 7 years should be counted.)

Total jobs as illustrated in this trend line, over time, from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. From January to September of 2009, 4.587 million jobs vanished and continued to disappear through early 2010.

Important Note

This post is not about the Obama Presidency or the Trump Presidency. This post is about how ideological thinking clouds judgement, leading to social media propaganda memes that get Liked and Shared. Their goal is to persuade others to adopt their agenda – the definition of propaganda messaging.

Job growth in 2017 during the Trump Presidency is less than during the last years of the Obama Presidency as shown in the spreadsheet table, above. This is a clear and unambiguous statement.

This propaganda example illustrates:

  1. How extremely clever, subtle – and mostly accurate – word choices can convey (or imply) conclusions that are not correct.
  2. Few people contest erroneous information on social media. It takes time, and in this case, attempting to point out the error resulted in others, and the original poster, torturing logic to defend it, which in turn, would then need to be contested.
  3. This also illustrates that the only way to defend ourselves against such propaganda onslaughts is to Hide, Unfollow or Unfriend such individuals, and to only post items on our social media that we can personally vouch for.

Since late 2016, I adopted a personal policy on the use of Hide, Unfollow and Unfriend on Facebook – and am thinking about whether I should “Like” any public post since “Liking” is equivalent to Sharing on Facebook.

I took these steps to clean up my social media news feed so that it is not a constant stream of perpetual outrage. As I have written about on these pages, I doubt it is mentally healthy for so many to spend so much of their day expressing outrage over whatever, nor is it healthy for their targets and the “drive by victims” (most of us) who just see this stuff in our social media news lines.

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Begging the question (fallacy) in propaganda messaging

“Begging the question, sometimes known by its Latin name petitio principii (meaning assuming the initial point), is a logical fallacy in which the writer or speaker assumes the statement under examination to be true. In other words, begging the question involves using a premise to support itself. If the premise is questionable, then the argument is bad.”

Source: Begging the question (fallacy) – Grammarist

This is explained by example at a conservative leaning blog:

This insidious process of begging the question is typical of totalitarian propaganda which made abundant use of expressions like “undeniably”, “unquestionably” or as “everyone knows” or their more modern equivalents like as “all decent people agree …”, “the science is settled” or “this is not who we are” to assume what must otherwise be proved. But it nevertheless compels obedience like a herd driving itself along.

This has the effect of positing a consensus which in fact may not exist.

This is the basic concept of asserting something to be true, followed by asserting that everyone already agrees (“Get on the Bandwagon” propaganda method).

This propaganda statement is extremely common as illustrated by the last item, above “this is not who we are” – this statement, often in exactly those words, was issued by United Airlines after they assaulted a paying customer, was used by Equifax after losing personal data on 143 million Americans, and is used in almost every press statement after a company has been caught doing something wrong or just plain stupid. Yet empirically, this is exactly who they are as illustrated by the event they are responding to!

Statements such as “everyone agrees” are intended to anchor you to the thought that the discussion on the topic is settled.

Is this one of the nation’s worst fire seasons?

It has been a bad fire year but some mainstream reporting is getting ahead of itself and seems more intent on providing a propaganda message. In fact, its the worst fire season since … 2015!

Propaganda:

Note the reference to “in one of the nation’s worst fire seasons”.

And:

“worst fire seasons we’ve ever seen”?

Some news writers confused record spending with record wildfires. While there is a linkage, it is not an accurate 1:1 correlation nor is the spending inflation adjusted.

Data:

  • As of September 15th, 2 of the last 10 years burned more acres, and 4 of the last 10 years had more total fires – to date per the National Interagency Fire Center (screen snapshot taken on September 15th, 2017).

It has been a bad fire year, but 2 of the past 10 years were worse – to date – and 4 of the past 10 years had more total fires – to date. And in the context of the last 100 years, it is not unusual and not even close to being “one of the nation’s worst fire seasons”.

Reporting

Many news reports correctly note questions on how the nation has funded (or not funded) wildfire suppression and management. My state’s US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been pushing since 2013 for more funding and pro-active management of forests, saying fuels have grown precipitously during a time that fires (a natural process in the west) have been aggressively suppressed.

Oregon Public Broadcasting has a good and lengthy explanation of the issues related to western wildland fires. If you would like to learn more, read it!

It is not fake news to say this is a bad wildland fire year, but the stories slide in that direction when marking it as one of the nation’s worst fire years. That claim is false, based on the data, above, from official government sources.

It is unfortunate that news reporters were unable to spend a few moments with Google in order to add context to their reporting.

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

 

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.

Photo said to be from August 12 – Charlottesville, VA, circulating on social media is not from August 12

The following photo is now circulating widely on social media as shown in this screen capture from Twitter: 

The image used here appears, currently, in Google Image search results spanning an astounding 15 pages. The above tweet has alone been shared 227,000 times on social media. This is not the only social media copy, either. It is likely this has now been shared tens of millions of times on social media.

The photo, while from Charlottesville, is of a different event in early July, 2017. And it is a very good photo, as is the professionalism of this police officer!

The situation may be similar. The sentiments expressed may be similar. And I suspect most of us agree with this caption and are impressed. But it is not a photo from Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017.

Update:

Another widely shared item concerns commentary about North Korea. This one uses the “Appeal to Authority” argument by citing an alleged comment from a Marine regarding threats from North Korea. As you can see, the names were blacked out in the original. We have no idea who wrote this or whether the claims or true or not. Whether we agree his or her sentiments is not the point here – the point is how we quickly share what we likely agree with, regardless of whether it is accurate, well sourced or whether any part of it can be confirmed. This may very well be from a US Marine too. But we just don’t know! Yet we share it online like crazy.

What This Illustrates

After many widely reported, highly emotional news events, many people turn to social media to spin the story for their own propaganda messaging. For example, I saw on social media a claim that the driver of the car in Charlottesville panicked after his car was attacked and was merely responding to an alleged attack and drove erratically to escape. No supporting evidence was provided for this assertion. Lacking actual information, this is propaganda messaging to spin the story in someone’s desired direction.

Be extremely cautious about what you see on social media after such events occur. As this blog previously noted, racist supremacist groups made extensive use of social media after protests at the University of Missouri.  Be extremely skeptical of what you see on social media. Most of it is propaganda messaging.

Update: I changed the caption on this post. It originally was titled “Fake photo…” but that gives the wrong connotation. This is a genuine photo but from a different event that occurred in Charlottesville in early July, and not on August 12th.

 

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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Charts that do not mean what you think they mean

A popular meme in media and social media is commentary about income distribution. The typical chart distributes the population into fifths or quintiles, like the chart shown here.

The popular interpretation of this chart is to find your income level at left and conclude you are stuck in that quintile forever – and your prospects for advancement are non-existent.

Did you know this interpretation is wrong?

Most people do not stay in the same quintile. People look at this chart, figure out where they are, and incorrectly assume they stay there forever – but the reality is that the people in the n-th quintile in 1990 are not the same group in 2000 or 2010!

Most begin their working life in the bottom or second quintile and over the course of their work life, rise to the 4th or 5th quintile. At retirement, their income (from investments, savings, pensions, government programs) causes them to fall downwards by one or two quintiles.  On the other hand, many people will fall into the 5th quintile – even the highest few percent of income – the day they sell their fully paid for home whose price has risen due to inflation (or technically, due to the Fed’s devaluation of the dollar).

The logical fallacy is to see this chart and assume that everyone stays in the same position over time.

A valid interpretation is that the 5th quintile sees rising incomes while others do not, but we go on to make the logical fallacy assumption that this is the same group of people, year over year.This is part of our brain’s ability to quickly jump to conclusions (Kahneman’s System 1 style thinking), which are often wrong!

The logical fallacy is to assume that only those in the 5th quintile today receive the rising income benefit – when in reality, many people will move up and down between the quintiles, over time.