Public Relations Failure: British Airways and the silly high visibility vest

The CEO of British Airways, standing in their operations center, apologizes for their terrible service and lack of contingency/disaster planning:

As you may know, it is essential that one wears a high visibility safety vest when standing in a computer operations center! Or maybe not.

Seriously, the reason for this odd clothing choice is that his public relations staff said it would help him look like he was “hands on” in the midst of the crisis.

You might remember when President Bush showed up after Hurricane Katrina wearing a long sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up – because staff thought having rolled up sleeves made it look like he was there and working on the problem.

Everything around us is stage managed fakery designed to influence our thinking process. At least a few people on social media noticed the absurdity of a high visibility vest in a computer operations center. His second video ditched the vest.

When PR staff think this nonsense is a priority in the midst of a systemic collapse of the company’s systems – you’ve gotta wonder about the clueless people working in PR.

 

 

Montana is a Democratic Party state, not Republican, contrary to news reporting

(Note – this post is about the media – not about the candidates or the political parties).

Actual headlines:

  • In blood red Montana, ObamaCare repeal to blame for close race”
  • “Montana house race is a gauge on Trump, test for Democrats”
  • “House elections to test whether Trump is hurting Republicans”
  • A populist test in Trump country
  • NY Times: “The Montana contest was the second special House election this year in a conservative district…” and further spins, near the end of the article, about Montana being hostile terrain for Democrats.

And so on. There are more headlines implying Montana is a Republican state. Except Montana has a long history of electing Democrats 3 to 1 over Republicans for Federal office:

The assertions made by the media are false.

The media has invented a fictional meme either to create controversy or heightened emotions or is trying to offer a crude explanation as to how a Republican could have won this race. This bad reporting looks like propaganda messaging.

The loser of this election was the media, for telling what is basically a lie. Except for NPR, whose reporting appears accurate and US News, which seems to have the issues sorted out. (FYI, I was in Bozeman days before this election.)

Not surprisingly, 2/3ds of Americans say they think the media publishes fake news. The first headline “In blood red Montana…” is a story written by a professor of political science, no less, which damages the reputation of academics as well. One would think there would be the slightest fact checking on such claims but the media leaves that up to bloggers.

“Twitter and Tear Gas”

How social media “adhocracies” are “more likely to be one-hit wonders” as they enlist social media propaganda to whip people into a frenzy – and how governments and politicians are fighting back using propaganda:

The author is also insightful on how governments and politicians are moving from censorship, no easy task on social media, to attention-grabbing and misinformation.

Source: Why networked protest struggles on the streets

Solar eclipse will increase fire danger?

“Drought over, but eclipse event will raise fire danger”

That is the odd headline of a KATU local TV news report about Oregon State. Authorities think more people will visit Oregon in the summer of 2017 because of a solar eclipse. Since humans cause wild fires, this will increase the wild fire risk.

To strengthen the claim, the local news story emphasizes:

“According to the National Park Service, 90 percent of wildfires in the United States are caused by humans, from unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes or arson.”

Source: Drought over, but eclipse event will raise fire danger | KATU

Wild fires are a serious threat to life and property and the majority of wild fires in the U.S. are indeed caused by human factors.

But two items in the story are misleading:

  1. The 90% figure comes from here. The actual percentage is 84% (and 44% of total area burned) from the PNAS journal article analysis of wild fire records from 1992-2012. This data point was oddly rounded upwards (0.84 rounds to 0.8, not 0.9) as the larger number has a greater emotional impact, a clue we might be seeing propaganda at work. Further, about 60% of the fires inside National Parks are caused by humans, which is not the figure you perceive given the quote above.
  2. In Oregon 48% of wild fires are human caused, not 90%, according to peer reviewed research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (authored by the same scientist who wrote the 1992-2012 analysis). Click on the link, then click on the SI tab, then download the supporting data PDF. Go to the last page of the downloaded PDF document. Search down for OR and read first 3 columns for % of total fires caused by humans or lightning.

Consider the above in the context of propaganda messaging:  KATU delivered a propaganda message that 90% of wild fires in Oregon are started by humans. This claim is not true for Oregon but is the number anchored in the minds of KATU TV news viewers and web site readers.

This propaganda could lead to state-level activism for increased laws, regulations and funding to reduce “90% of wild fires caused by humans”.

Wild fires are a serious threat to life and property in the U.S. and in Oregon State. The purpose of this post is to illustrate how the news media is an active participant in propaganda messaging and made no effort to verify the authenticity of the information and report on the subject accurately. And given the headline (most people read only headlines on social media!), how many will incorrectly conclude that solar eclipses cause wildfires? 🙂

(I notified KATU news of the above and they did not even acknowledge my note to them. I personally watched the May 20, 2012 solar eclipse visible in Northern California. Oddly, there were no concerns about eclipse related wild fires, even though California was in the midst of a drought.)

Researchers analyzing social media comments to evaluate your mental and physical health

It turns out, the comments we make online reveal a lot about us. Researchers are now analyzing online comments for a wide array of predictive patterns and signals, using Internet discussions and social media as sources of constant, easy-to-access information about what’s going on in people’s lives.

 

Their efforts may eventually allow health professionals to monitor patients’ well-being based on their Twitter streams and Facebook entries. Controversially, employers or insurance companies could one day screen job applicants and potential clients based on their social media status updates.

Source: What online comments can reveal about the person behind the keyboard – The Globe and Mail

Researchers say they can predict “personality traits, or their levels of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy, based on their Twitter histories”.

They say they can now predict the heart-disease mortality rates of an entire community based on the Twitter posts of people living in that community – and this is more accurate that evaluating “smoking rates, the obesity rates, the demographics, the income, the education”.

Google working to counter “fake news” and other fake stuff

Google wants to give higher priority, in search results, to authoritative sources. However, no one outside of Google knows what “authoritative” means nor how Google determines that information is “authoritative”.

How’s Google learning from the data to figure out what’s authoritative? How’s that actually being put into practice?

Google wouldn’t comment about these specifics. It wouldn’t say what goes into determining how a page is deemed to be authoritative now or how that is changing with the new algorithm. It did say that there isn’t any one particular signal. Instead, authority is determined by a combination of many factors.

Source: Google’s ‘Project Owl’ — a three-pronged attack on fake news & problematic content

Fake news, fake search results, fake online product reviews – everywhere we look, people are gaming the systems.

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.

More “Look at me!” propaganda memes

I am not the only one noticing this peculiar form of propaganda, now prevalent on Instagram and Youtube social media:

There is an undeniable aesthetic and demographic conformity in the vanlife world. Nearly all of the most popular accounts belong to young, attractive, white, heterosexual couples. “There’s the pretty van girl and the woodsy van guy,” Smith said. “That’s what people want to see.”

….

King clicked on the account’s most successful post, which has more than eight thousand likes. In the image, the back seat of the van is folded down into a bed; King faces away from the camera, holding a sheet to her chest, her hair cascading down her naked back. The second most popular post was of King wearing a bikini, standing on the van’s front bumper. In the next most popular, King is in a bikini, slicing lemons.

“People really want to see beautiful locations,” King said.

“They want to see Emily in a bikini, they want to see a sun flare, they want to see the van,” Smith said. “Ones of Emily in the van waking up with Penny, they crush it.”

“It’s real and it’s kind of moody—”

“It’s a naked female,” Smith said…

Source: #Vanlife, the Bohemian Social-Media Movement – The New Yorker

If you are cute enough and have enough followers, you can get paid promotional endorsements from advertisers. Which puts all this solidly in the realm of “celebrity endorsement” propaganda. Who knew?

Update: Hah! Here is how this post appears in my (the owner’s) Facebook news feed – I can even buy Likes for it!

Voila_Capture 2017-04-17_01-46-54_PM

If you have lots of friends, social media can make you feel better

When individuals post photos of their wonderful lives on social media, we do not typically think of this as propaganda – but literally, these are propaganda messages that say “I have a cool life” and you should follow and Like my posts.

A new paper comes up with the remarkable (not really) finding that if you have a lot of friends, social media can make you feel better about yourself.

Buried at the end: if you do not have a lot of friends, social media may cause you to be very depressed.

The data analysed revealed that using Instagram at one point was related to increased closeness to friends (perception that they are appreciated and loved by their friends) six months later, which in turn was related to lower levels of depression.

However, the researchers cautioned that if the use of the photo sharing app fails to stimulate the feeling of closeness to friends, it could be harmful in the long run.

Read more at: Instagram usage could help adolescents combat depression

I deleted my Instagram account two days ago because Instagram is a shallow propaganda platform for the purpose of self promotion.

Followers were not interested in my photography but were following others to get someone to follow them back. On Instagram, I saw crowds of narcissists, frequently attractive young women, posting endless photos of themselves, having an exciting and perfect life.

The main purpose of Instagram is not to show case one’s work or skill but to scream “Look at me!”. The primary propaganda message of Instagram is self promotion!

Many of the accounts that followed mine had a business connection – their goal was to increase followers to their (usually) small business. They followed everyone in hopes you would follow them back.

At the bottom line, Instagram is just another propaganda platform – for the purpose of self promotion. This phenomena has turned into an industry of “a new kind of social-media celebrity, someone famous not for starring in movies or recording hit songs but for documenting an enviable life.” Look at me!!!!!!!

Social media, especially Instagram and Youtube, enable this new industry. Today, Youtube has numerous channels of world travelers and sailors who post videos and live off donations via Patreon. Fair enough, some post high quality travelogues that rival professional productions and are worthy of support while others make  clear “Your donations allow me to pursue this dream life where I post photos of my self and my girlfriend who is really cute in a bikini on a white sandy beach over turquoise waters.”

The desire for approval – via likes – is so intense that it seems one photo sharing site uses an army of bots to give fake likes and followers to their members.

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.

Continue reading