Social media outrage mob falsely accuses professor of racism, calls for his firing

Social media outrage led to amateurs falsely identifying a University professor as participating in the Charlottesville, VA mob, leading to people publicly calling him a racist and calling upon the university to fire the professor of engineering.

He was verified and confirmed at University event 1,100 miles away at the time of the riot. Imagine if this happened to any of us – and we did not happen to be at an event providing us with an alibi.

Social media is a platform for hate – and not just the racists and their evil, but also the hatred that emerges from the outrage culture leading to venomous attacks on innocent individuals and groups. Social media – Facebook, Twitter – are leading to the downfall of civilized society.

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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.

Two heroes murdered in Portland defending teens against anti-Muslim hate speech

An individual harassed two teen women on Portland’s Trimet MAX rail system, verbally attacking Muslims and others. Three local heroes stepped up to stop the verbal assault and two were murdered by the attacker and one remains hospitalized. Additional heroes include those who provided immediate first aid and those who left the train to follow the attacker on the street.

Not surprisingly, social media, even some professional media, plus the comments to news stories, turned the story in to a political event, blaming “alt-right”, Trump and Trump supporters and Republicans. The Huffington Post writes a column blaming Trump and others.

The tiny problem with this thesis is that the alleged murderer was a Bernie Sanders supporter and voted for Bernie Sanders, or so he says on his FB page. The only way he could have voted for Sanders in Oregon is by being a registered Democrat. He also appeared to support Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. He attended an “alt-right” public event in Portland where he is said to have shouted down “left wing” protesters and was kicked out by the “right wing” event organizers. He was vociferously opposed to Hillary Clinton and said little about Trump other than publicly calling for the assassination of AG Jeff Sessions and Trump. He does not say who he voted for in November.  He advocated in favor of several left wing causes on his Facebook page.

One of the defenders of the Muslim teen, was a past Republican Party candidate for public office; he was murdered.

In spite of this, many in the social media crowd blamed Trump and conservatives for the behavior of the alleged murderer. The Portland Mayor is now calling for the cancellation of public event permits issued to a group holding a pro-Trump rally. (The ACLU says that would be unconstitutional and the Mayor eventually backed off. A separate, racist-themed  event a week later, was canceled by the organizer.)

As The Willamette Weekly notes, the only consistency in the alleged murderer’s rants is that he was extremely racist. Newsweek, a reliable source of fake news (see their coverage of Satoshi Sakamoto), uses the propaganda method of transference to link the alleged murderer to Trump. Some of the local Portland media immediately ran with the “alt-right” meme, launching the social media firestorm that was off the rails from the start. Yet the only conclusion that can be reached is the individual is severely messed up. (“Alt-right” is a term white supremacists and neo-Nazis adopted to describe themselves. They adopted the label to re-brand as something other than Nazis, with hopes the label would imply transference of a softer view of their hate ideology. The label does not refer to traditional conservative politics although in Portland, “alt-right” seems to describe any group that is not left wing or progressive.)

This story is a sad commentary on the ugliness that spawned such hate to occur, but also on the public’s desire to jump to a conclusion that matches their preconceived notions, without questioning. The social media commentary turned so ugly that The Oregonian disabled commenting on their news stories. Never let facts get in the way of an opportunity to promote one’s personal ideology on social media!

Social media, and in particular, Facebook’s implementation of social media (FB presents posts in your timeline that FB believes you want to see), serves to reinforce views, even if those views are contrary to facts and logic. Consequently, social media has become the number one platform for the dissemination of propaganda messaging. Confused messages, including those of the alleged murderer, are freely posted and shared on social media.

To see the evidence of the alleged murder’s political thoughts, click through …

(I live in the Portland area. I am neither Democrat nor Republican and I did not vote for Trump.)

Update: Late on May 30th, The Oregonian catches up with the background of the individual: “Who is Jeremy Christian? Facebook shows a man with nebulous political affiliations who hated circumcision and Hillary Clinton“. While the story confirms what I wrote above, The Oregonian botches the story with this quote: “The question of whether Christian was a Trump supporter or a Sanders supporter, doesn’t have an either/or answer, except: he definitely was not a Clinton supporter.” As you will see after the break, Christian promoted Sanders on his Facebook page and said he voted for Sanders. There is no ambiguity on that point. He does not say who he voted for in November, but said after the election that may be he should have voted for Trump.

Update: May 31, local Republican groups say they are receiving death threats in response to the events of the past few days.

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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.

How bureaucrats use passive language to escape responsbility

Long article (link below) explains how corporations and governments torture language to escape culpability. By carefully crafting the message, these organizations use propaganda to intentionally mislead the target audience – and they get away with it because it works and rarely does anyone call them out for their malfeasance and lies.

What became clear to me in this exchange is that the passive voice is itself unsuited for the lexical landscape of United’s email, which itself is part of a larger world we now find ourselves in, where corporate and government bureaucracies rely heavily on language to shape our perception. Munoz’s email relies heavily on the passive voice to evade culpability, but he also employs a host of other rhetorical moves that collude to put the blame on the man who was assaulted and carried out on a stretcher. Like a well-trained bureaucrat, Munoz used an array of syntactical choices in a predictable, quantifiable and deliberate manner, and it’s time we recognize it for what it is.

Source: The Elements of Bureaucratic Style

And how the media itself is fully complicit in this malfeasance:

Readers need to know, for example, that journalists who use phrases like “officer-involved shooting” in any context other than a direct quote from law enforcement are derelict. It is law enforcement’s prerogative to use spin and dissimulation to obtain favorable coverage; it is the media’s role to resist this. And yet, this is a role the media has almost wholeheartedly abdicated.

When corporations and government speak through their public relations staff, they are almost always lying or hiding something.

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Using outright lies to inflame the target and spread propaganda

11800154_1666909613542254_6320716305316920615_nTL;DR Summary

To accuse a health care practitioner of murder, as done in this social media poster, is libel.

This is one of the most disturbing and vicious propaganda posters distributed on Facebook.  This poster illustrates the horrendous danger of social media, the sick individuals who inhabit social media (and newspaper comment forums) and the undue influence they hold over others through spreading their own messages of hate.

This example illustrates how easy it is to
1. Create a propaganda poster out of anything, twisting the original out of context.
2. Quickly spread it on social media – because people share without thinking.
3. And stupidly engage in online libel.

I do not know the original source for this altered image but it has been shared widely online, and then commented by many other people who believe the poster is accurate. Thus, an outright lie was turned into a “true fact” by propaganda, even though it is absolutely false.

Social media is very, very frightening. Outright lies are shared and turned into “true facts” through friction-less social media sharing, leading to the creation of a false virtual world where people who vote are making future decisions based on falsehoods.

The more you examine social media propaganda the more you realize, “What if you everything you think you know is a big lie?” (See next post below this one)

How do we get control over this spread of falsehood and hate on line – by people who would never ever view themselves as discriminatory and yet routinely group individuals by their membership in a group (the exact behavior or racism, sexism, ageism, ethnic-ism, etc). This behavior cuts to the core of the thinking processes of those who engage in these behaviors.

Euroskepticism is widespread in Europe

In the U.S. the propagandists are out in force, spinning the British non-binding referendum election vote to leave the EU.

The main propaganda messages in the U.S. are:

  1. The Brits who voted for the EU split are stupid, uneducated, unsophisticated, old white people.
  2. The Brits who voted for the EU are racist xenophobes (and have the same qualities as #1 too)

Update: Breathless news reports noted a spike in UK residents searching for “What is the EU?on Google, according to Google Trends. This, of course, confirmed the meme that the Brits who favored leaving the EU were stupid. Except the trend spike was caused by all of about ~1000 people doing a search. From this small number, the media generalized to all of Britain. From a propaganda perspective, this “fake news” (widely reported) set the tone, even though it was essentially a false news report.

There are other explanations – as Pew notes, below, a lot of people in Europe are displeased with the European Union:

The “stupid” and “racist” memes are the propaganda method of “name calling” and do not contribute to meaningful understanding or dialogue. But “name calling” is a surprisingly effective and simple way to motivate one’s followers (on social media) to adopt your agenda. (Of course, racism is an issue, but there are many potential issues at play. When we focus on one, highly charged item, such as racism, the propaganda aspect becomes apparent.)

Of course there are elements of truth in such statements – some people are not sophisticated and some are racist – which enables the target to generalize a subset into “the majority are dumb and racist”.

Pew Research finds that euroskepticism is high across the EU amid a feeling that the EU in Brussels is micromanaging the states and people of the EU, without listening to their input. In some countries, like Britain, the “right wing” disapproves of EU membership more than the “left wing”; but in other countries, it is the opposite. In Spain, the left wing is opposed to the EU while the right-wing supports the EU. In the U.S., we would probably call this a “states rights” issue.

Pew writes:

“Europeans are divided along ideological lines in their views of the EU, but this division is not a simple matter of left versus right in each society. In some nations Euroskepticism is a right-wing issue, in others it is a left-wing cause.”

Social media propaganda messaging is bombarding us on this topic, with posts, comments, likes and shares from people who may know little of the nuanced issues but who certainly have their own ideology to promote. Be very skeptical of what is crossing your social media timelines right now!

There is significant opposition in key European countries to an ever closer EU.

Source: Euroskepticism Beyond Brexit

Right or wrong, #Brexit is about leaders that stopped listening to their constituents. Personally, I have no idea what the British should have decided regarding this referendum nor should I – I am not British and do not live in Britain. This is their decision, for better or worse for all us, unfortunately.