Snopes rips the media for fake news stories

An in-depth analysis of the false allegations and misleading claims made against the 45th President since his inauguration.

Source: The Lies of Donald Trump’s Critics, and How They Shape His Many Personas

Read it, please.

I am not a fan of President Trump, did not support him and I am not involved with either the Democrat or Republican parties. I have watched with disbelief, however, as the full power of propaganda messaging has been brought to play by “professional journalists”. There are many, many, many negative things that can be reported accurately and get the point across – but as Snopes documents, reporters have crossed a line into fantasy writing, as if it is their intent to interfere with democracy itself. I have not previously written about this specific topic – propaganda versus Trump – because the topic is overwhelming in scope.

Thankfully, Snopes does an excellent job addressing the absurd levels to which propaganda messaging has become the default position and concludes:

It has to be acknowledged that since January, many of Trump’s opponents, and even lukewarm supporters, have found considerable fault with his policies and behavior, based on accurate facts. There have been many occasions when Trump himself, undistorted and unfiltered, contributed mightily to the four personas we have outlined.

….

[but regarding poorly produced news stories] these sorts of massive exaggerations and gross distortions are even more corrosive and destructive than fake news about diarrhea on the golf course, because they bear some distant relationship with the truth.

Which is precisely how the best propaganda operates – it has at least some link to truth, but bends and distorts that truth to motivate the target to adopt and agenda or take action.

Years ago, I observed the use and power of propaganda to persuade others to adopt someone’s agenda. That led to much study on the subject and to the creation of this blog and Facebook page.

Politics is a minefield of propaganda messaging not only from politicians but also from their fanatical devotees on social media plus their friends in the mainstream media whose bad reporting is shared on social media as confirmation of allegations.

In the linked post, Snopes eviscerates the credibility of professional media (and some of the professional fake news web sites, especially those on social media) due to the media’s having morphed into a full time propaganda operation. In the future (which could be next week), when the Media screams “Wolf!”, few people will believe them anymore.

Remember, there are many, many issues regarding Trump that can be reported accurately and are quite negative for Trump or his policies. There is plenty to bash by just sticking to facts and policies. But the media, as Snopes documents, has become a giant propaganda messaging operation. Discerning truth from such overwhelming propaganda firepower is difficult.

We worry about allegations of foreign nations interfering in our elections but ignore media actually doing so through lies, distortions and inaccurate reporting.

Using Questionable Statistics to Drive Up Wedding Costs?

What is the claimed average cost of a wedding in the U.S.?

$35,329 in 2016, says “The Knot” (not including costs of a honeymoon trip). More on their press release.

This value is *widely* distributed in the media, on social media, and in online forums.

Other estimates come from Conde Nast Bridal Infobank and The Fairchild Bridal Group.

How can an average wedding cost $35,329 when 62% of American have less than $1,000 in their savings account and only 10-20% have more than $1,000 in savings? (Perhaps this is because they spent it all on weddings and are now complaining they have no money?)

In my state, about 1 in 4 children live in poverty. More than 1 in 4 citizens qualify for Medicaid, which has extremely low income levels for qualifying.

The only way these numbers can all be true is a small number of people spend a huge amount on weddings or a large number live in poverty because they spend a lot on elective luxuries like high end weddings. Or the wedding estimates are bogus.

Propaganda Benefit

This survey is likely designed to produce a high dollar figure for the purpose of “anchoring” brides and grooms into an expectation of how much they should spend: The wedding industry wants you to believe you must spend a small fortune on your “special day”.

By anchoring this value, this “grounds” brides (especially) into how much is appropriate. But this is propaganda designed to set your expectations as to how much you should spend! Once this value is in mind, one’s costs will soon grow to fit with in this “budget”!

Undoubtedly there will soon be a Federal program to provide loans and direct subsidies to needy couples!

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.

Repost: Media and social media perpetual “outrage culture”

I posted this previously on November 17, 2016. Social media and media messaging have turned our entire world into a culture of perpetual outrage:

We have a media system that loves to yell and scream. It is basically its default setting. Forget deliberation and civil discourse, it goes immediately to outrage and cynical condescension, or in other cases, relentless and unprovoked shaming. And we, as the consumers and residents of this culture, have come to confuse all this noise and reaction with action. Psychologists call this the narcotizing dysfunction—when the amount of effort and energy poured into something becomes self-soothing, obliterating any notions of effectiveness or reality.

The result? Our daily nightmare. A world in which not only are truth, vulnerability and nuance completely lost—but the incompetent and the conniving in our midst are able to capture immense amounts of attention. Where not only is shamelessness the ultimate defense against any form of accountability, but where all the normal, qualified and well-adjusted people have walked away in disgust.
….
At this point, everything in-between—vulnerability, nuance, truth—may as well not exist. When our culture encourages the fakeness and stupidity and trolling it is supposedly trying to rail against, there is no room for anything else.

Source: This Is The Hollowed-Out World That Outrage Culture Has Created | Observer

I was reminded of this today because of widespread publicity about the Women’s March to protest Trump. The March was initiated after a recording of Trump making lewd, vile and disgusting comments about women, was made public last fall.

Today I realized I am so old that I remember when women’s rights leaders actively defended a serial sexual predator in the White House and condemned the victims.

What has changed between then and now?

Perhaps the power of social media to keep us in a state of perpetual outrage.

(If it is not clear from the first paragraph, I believe Trump should be condemned for his outrageous and lewd comments. I have to state this, of course, because of the logical fallacy that if I do not, you may – will – assume the opposite.)

Did the Washington Post publish a fake news report about fake news? The Intercept says yes.

With the help of uncritical journalists, a story about “fake news” ended up disseminating far more than it exposed.

Source: Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist From a New, Hidden, and Very Shady Group

The Intercept (and others) allege the Washington Post published a fake news story based on anonymous sources and lobbyists, making assertions and allegations without supporting evidence.

The WaPo story reads like fake news stories prevalent on social media, typically based on allegations sourced from flimsy evidence and quotes of “she said, he said”. RT notes WaPo has agreed to publish a correction to provably fake allegations made in the article.

The article appears designed for the so-called “outrage culture” – literally the shouting and sharing on social media. Social media amplifies the media’s propaganda message, as people Like and Share online, attempting to persuade their “friends” to adopt someone else’s agenda. As we note on this blog, few will attempt to question or correct such stories, as few want to take the time or risk their friendships. The consequence is that social media becomes a friction-less platform for the spread of nonsense.

The WaPo article appears to use many propaganda techniques including appeals to anonymous authorities, logical fallacies, patriotism, lies, and emotion.

Political campaigns use fake “Astro turf” social media influencers

In politics, “grass roots” supporters refers to an organically developed  group that supports an initiative, a party or a politician. The idea is the group has arisen “from the people”.

Counter to that, lobbying organizations create fake “grass roots” support groups, with fake names such as “Citizens for Jobs”. These fake organizations are known as “astro turf” – literally fake grass roots support organizations funded and managed by lobbying groups working to present the false impression that this is a concerned citizens effort.

This article: Astroturf ‘Outrage Machine’ of Paid Trolls Floods Social Media to Counteract Negative News About Hillary Clinton | The Stream names individuals and groups who created or organized fake social media “astro turf” campaigns and accounts to further the agenda of their sponsor. These fake groups create fake Twitter and Facebook accounts and use them to flood social media with the appearance of support – or criticism – of various viewpoints. They often use “Appeal to Authority”  or “Get on the Bandwagon” propaganda methods.

For example, the Wikileaks document dump reveals what was already assumed – political campaigns employ armies of fake social media accounts to generate support for their initiatives and political goals. According to The Daily Kos, there were numerous online posts claiming to have switched from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton – but most of these posts were fake “astro turf” operations run on behalf of the Clinton campaign.

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Did attack dogs bite a little girl in the face at pipeline protest in North Dakota?

girl-attackedTL;DR Summary

  • Graphic photo of a little girl with bite wounds to her face was presented online as proof that attack dogs were unleashed on Native American and other protesters at an oil pipeline construction site in North Dakota.
  • This photo was then passed on social media, including online comments at “news” sites, as proof of the vicious attacks by dogs.
  • The photo, however, first appeared in a June 26, 2012 NY Daily News report about a dog attack that occurred in Texas. This photo has nothing to do with the events in North Dakota.
  • This is a classic example of social media propaganda used to incite riots based on false information. Social media almost instantly descends into mob mentality, lynching everyone in their path, including the innocent.

Read on to discover the fascinating history behind this false social media meme and how this became an established “fact”, in spite of it being an outright lie.

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“In the age of the Internet, the truth does not matter”

“In the age of the internet, the truth does not matter. The message you want to propagate can be told, and it will spread like wildfire. And spread it did.”

Propaganda spreads faster than wildfire on social media, often torching everything in its path. The marriage of social media and propaganda is extraordinarily dangerous if you think about how Internet mobs convict people, groups, ideas – in a matter of hours – in the absence of a full set of evidence. Or how similar behavior may rally support for a war – or rally a mob of protesters that trash a community.

The above quote is from a scientist that was slimed, tarred and feathered by an Internet mob about a supposedly secret email he had written to help stop an anti-GMO initiative. The story began with incompetently written and unvetted news reports from Wired, Nature and others and was then shared online in social media. The report and the social media mob, in fact, had the story backwards – and completely wrong.

Social media then propagated the false story – manufacturing a “new fact” out of thin air – a fact that was never true nor even possibly true. And in so doing, ruined the reputation of an innocent scientist.

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