Until this week, when we asked Facebook about it, the world’s largest social network enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” or, “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’”
Today I saw a tweet from an apparently famous person (I have not heard of her) saying that the current political environment (specifically the election of Trump) caused her so much anxiety that she is on medication and she is going to need better medication. This was preceded by and then followed by more Tweets expressing her outrage.
It struck me that her attempt to overcome anxiety by being publicly outraged, continuously, day after day, is probably not an effective strategy to improving her health.
As I look across the social mediascape I see many people expressing outrage on social media.
I have no background in psychology and I can only make guesses as to what is going on. It seems much of this anxiety may come from a feeling of “loss of control”. Expressing outrage on social media seems, to the individual, like a way of asserting control. At best, however, it thins their followers until all they have left is a group of the similarly outraged and angry.
Hanging out with a group of angry, outraged people does not seem like a healthy support group to overcome anxiety.
As I look at what people I know are posting on social media – frequent posts related to their outrage over whatever – I suspect we are peering into a public display of their mental health. This is not cool. Pouring their outrage out online is not helping them either.
The perpetual outrage we see online likely takes a toll on each of us too. Some of the outrage may be directed for or against issues we agree on – or could merely be creating a heightened sense of fear and anxiety in the recipient. I do not think we can be surrounded by so much negativity and be emotionally healthy.
Because of this, social media – if not properly managed – can become a mental health trap for both posters and recipients.
You can assert meaningful control, however. On Facebook, hide offending posts, Unfollow or Unfriend those who spread outrage and negativity every day. On Twitter, unfollow those who do the same.
(My rules are simple – people who post thoughtful “think” pieces, informative “factual” stories on any topic are fine. People who post occasional political advocacy items are fine. People who repeatedly post fake news or political propaganda rooted in falsehood get unfollowed or unfriended quickly. When propaganda promotion becomes their primary focus, it is no longer fine. And I unfollow or unfriend them. For my own mental health!)
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.)
- 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.
- Read the link. You may be surprised.
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”!
Not everything you see on social media is real, although I am certain this is genuine:
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.
But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking.
Key points from the column:
- News misleads.
- News is irrelevant.
- News has no explanatory power.
- News is toxic to your body.
- News increases cognitive errors.
- News inhibits thinking.
People who stop following the news are able to think more clearly and lead happier lives.
The next post – coming soon – looks at the trivial nonsense reporting now coming from the Texas flood disaster as reporters spin the story in multiple and pointless directions.
All of these reports are emotional in nature and designed for sharing on social media. Pointlessness.
Snopes.com has a “Hot 50” list of their top most stories and analysis. As you read the titles, you get a sense of the inanity and general pointless-ness of what apparently dominates the online psyche. Most of it is politics related nonsense, yet shared sufficiently on social media to draw the attention of Snopes.
TV audiences can’t get enough news coverage of Donald Trump. Reporting on pretty much anything else is ratings poison.
This year I had a chance to travel to several U.S. states. Among all the people I met, politics was avoided. Most seem fed up with politics and the purveyors of politics and definitely fed up with the culture of perpetual outrage.
Media targets a narrow demographic of the perpetually outraged that eats this up for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then shares their outrage on social media, with links to the “news”! And then the outraged come back for more!
Print publishers and broadcasters are counting the clicks – and outrage sells eyeballs to advertisers. They know what they are doing.
As noted before, “emotional hooks” are a powerful way to promote anything. When we are “emotionally engaged” we tend to stop thinking and are more susceptible to advertising messages (another form of propaganda).
Consequently, it is in the interest of media to imply politics is the only thing that matters in life as it riles up the perpetually outraged into a frenzy of emotion and social media outrage and sharing. All the better to sell stuff!
(Disclaimer – We don’t have cable TV, satellite TV, over the air antenna or a subscription to Internet TV service – we don’t watch TV news!)
Cross posted from my Internet of Things/Technology blog.
Tech companies have argued they are not and cannot be held responsible for speech, including defamatory speech, hosted on their platforms. Now they are specifically removing some types of speech, implying they can and do have the ability to control speech on their platforms, and therefore, may find themselves losing their “safe harbor” defense against defamatory speech.
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.
Eating too much protein will kill you? That’s the message left by hundreds of headlines and news stories earlier this week. But the statement was misleading at best and untrue in regards to the individual who died. Yet most stories ran with quotes like this:
Meegan Hefford, a mother of two and bodybuilder, died after an overconsumption of protein shakes, supplements and protein-rich foods.
The family is calling for government regulation of “protein shakes or supplements”, presumably to require a doctor’s prescription and be dispensed at a pharmacy.
Many news stories about this event imply that eating too much protein will kill you. Which it can, if you too suffer from a rare medical disorder. She had a genetic disorder that caused her body to fail to remove ammonia from the blood stream. That’s what killed her.
The disorder is “urea cycle disorder“:
is a genetic disorder caused by a mutation that results in a deficiency of one of the six enzymes in the urea cycle. These enzymes are responsible for removing ammonia from the blood stream. The urea cycle involves a series of biochemical steps in which nitrogen, a waste product of protein metabolism, is removed from the blood and converted to a compound called urea in the blood. Normally, the urea is transferred into the urine and removed from the body. In urea cycle disorders, the nitrogen accumulates in the form of ammonia, a highly toxic substance, resulting in hyperammonemia (elevated blood ammonia). Ammonia then reaches the brain through the blood, where it can cause irreversible brain damage, coma and/or death.
Men’s Health got the story correct. Days later some of the other headlines morphed into the accurate “Australian mom with rare disorder dies eating high-protein diet“.
The media spun this into a viral fiction suitable for sharing on social media. When push comes to ad revenue, the media pays lip service to accurate reporting: It’s about the clicks and the social media shares. One writer says the media was straight up lying about this story to sell ads (I agree).
To make this work for them, the media down played or censored the rare disorder aspect of the story (censorship, cherry picking). If it is mentioned, it is mentioned in passing or at the end of the article. As shown on our blog, most people only read the headlines (especially those shared on social media) – the headline is the story.
The report – which comes from Australia and has no importance to people in the United States – became a focus because of multiple hooks:
- “eating too much protein” puts fear into everyone that this could happen to them (use of fear)
- Story involves a 25 year old Mom of two kids (stories about Mom’s with young kids target an emotional response),
- The victim was a 25 year old blonde fitness fanatic (she’s cute). You may have noticed that CNN and FOX generally *only* cover “cute lost white chicks”, sometimes for days and weeks on end – yet nearly a million people go missing every year and most are eventually found. But unless the missing are cute or have some other emotional hook attached, there is no news coverage and certainly no national news coverage. The subject’s cuteness is a prime reason for the story to run in the United States (every version of the story I checked had at least one and sometimes many photos of the victim). Heck, this one, with its outrageous fiction headline has five photos of the cute victim! And to further prove the point, the 12 year old story of missing Natalee Holloway is back to “Breaking” and “Developing” news reports today because … she’s cute. Remember, over 2,300 people go missing every day but only the missing cute white chicks get covered by the “news” services with saturation coverage for years.
In short, this story used multiple methods of propaganda for the purpose of selling eyeballs to advertisers. The hooks encouraged the sharing of the story on social media, thereby enlarging the potential ad audience.
Facebook has taken the step of allowing people to share the post only if they also condemn its content, which is not unprecedented but unusual, according to The Verge. Posts that include the link will automatically be removed from Facebook, unless it also includes a caption that condemns either the article or The Daily Stormer, The Verge reported.
Obviously, the post and the racist group behind it are extraordinarily evil in their goals and action. But when 1/3 of the entire population of the earth has a Facebook account and most log in daily, Facebook has the most extraordinary power of propaganda messaging in world history. What else will Facebook choose to censor? (Quite a bit, actually, as they already censor on behalf of some governments.)
The Occupy Propaganda blog was itself previously censored by Facebook’s algorithms, and is the reason this blog is no longer hosted on my own web server but moved to wordpress.com. Facebook secretly “shadow banned” this blog’s auto posts to the Facebook group page, last winter. You can read about our experience with that, here.
At some point, people and governments that believe the freedom of expression is essential (and sometimes painful) to a democracy may believe they should step in and regulate Facebook’s extraordinary power to control world thought. But that could never happen: Facebook’s propaganda capabilities are so powerful that Facebook could readily turn the public against such an idea, or more likely, seemingly support such regulation but in a way (like most regulations) use the regulatory process to stymie competitors.