Bill Gates never gave this high school speech

This crossed by Facebook crap feed this week. It is a fake, of course. The “rules” were written by author Charles Sykes in a couple of books he wrote. This has nothing to do with Bill Gates or even a high school.

Did Bill Gates create a list of ‘Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School’?

Source: Bill Gates High School Speech

But thanks to social media, this was shared, Liked and re-shared again this past week.

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No, the “OK” Gesture Is Not a Hate Symbol

Has the simple thumb-and-forefinger “OK” hand gesture become a white supremacist hand sign?

Source: No, the “OK” Gesture Is Not a Hate Symbol says the Anti-Defamation League.

Another day, another Internet meme – this time claiming that people making a popular “Ok” symbol with their thumb and index finger are actually expressing a symbol for “white power”. This in turn has been used to publicly accuse people who display the “ok” symbol as clandestinely flashing a white power symbol.

All thanks to social media propaganda!

 

 

Washington Post, Miami Herald, CBS, Vox, Buzzfeed sourced stories from Russian social media propaganda

Major US “news” publishers cited tweets now known to originate from propagandists in Russia as the source for their reporting.

As you know, social media is always a reliable source for your news reports. Not. A legitimate question is why do all media now source content from unverifiable social media? From the Washington Post to the local TV news – all of them do this routinely.

The mass media that relies on social media becomes a conduit in the propaganda war. Journalists, of all people in the world, should be hyper sensitive to the use and abuse of propaganda.

Misinformation

“The extent to which legitimate, mainstream news outlets picked up and amplified Russian misinformation is an illustration of its pernicious reach”

And it is not just “Russian misinformation” – the root cause problem is that social media is a friction-less platform for the spread of propaganda by anyone, at zero cost. Everyone is spreading propaganda and misinformation.

If we focus on just that originating in Russia, we not only permit other propaganda originators to flourish, we encourage it!

The Washington Post, Miami Herald, InfoWars and other U.S. sites spread Russian propaganda from Twitter

“Changing the Subject” and false comparisons to deliver your message

Verge reports the Trump administration will drop a mandate to require all automobiles to contain automated vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems.

The reporter writes

Under the Obama administration, then-Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said V2V technology would greatly enhance autonomous driving technology to, “provide 360-degree situational awareness on the road,” and improve vehicle safety. [Emphasis added as the quote is about vehicle safety]

and then follows that with:

The Trump administration’s decision comes at a time when traffic fatalities in recent years have jumped to levels not seen since the 1960s.

Source: US set to drop proposed vehicle-to-vehicle communications mandate – The Verge

How do you interpret the above statement? Perhaps that vehicle safety is falling and traffic fatalities are increasing rapidly?

The reporter did a twist from vehicle safety to a numerical count of traffic fatalities presumably thinking they are the same measure. They are not.

Context Matters

Here is a chart of annual traffic fatalities since 1900. If you squint you can see that current traffic fatalities are just about equal to 1960. Thus, the reporter’s statement is true. But note that rates have only been below 1960 levels during the past half dozen years and may have bubbled upwards as part of normal annual variation.

But the reporter leaves out two crucial details

  1. The population of the U.S. has grown dramatically since 1960.
  2. The number of miles driven each year by each driver increases by about 1-2% per year.

When the fatality rate is converted to deaths per miles traveled – the only meaningful way to compare 57 years of data – we get a measure of vehicle safety. (There are other measures too.)

We now see that vehicle safety has reached an all time historical low – and is about ten times better than in 1960!

We do not know if the reporter is deliberately propagandizing this story.  The reporter has confused vehicle safety with a numerical count of traffic fatalities. This may just be really, really bad reporting. Or perhaps the reporter is using a false comparison to make his own point, whatever that is.

This technique of a false comparison is common in propaganda – and arguments – and we easily fall for it because its a magician’s sleight of hand that we do not notice.

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Social media fake propaganda poster

This is a photograph of an animal crossing bridge in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. This bridge has nothing to do with the Netherlands.

The photo was stolen from Joel Sartore, a professional photographer for the National Geographic Society, Geo, Smithsonian and others, and the photo is featured on his own page: https://www.joelsartore.com/keyword/greatest-hit/page/3/

Why do people create these garbage posters? And why do people share them? Why do people then add supportive comments to these posts?

And why are people so stupid as to think the Netherlands looks like this mountainous terrain?

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.

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.

Washington Post’s “Russian hacking” fake news story falls apart

TL;DR Summary

  • Washington Post writers Juliet Eilperin and Adam Entous publish a news story titled “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont“.
  • This story is shared widely on social media, in part from social media promotion by Washington Post staff, and is quickly re-printed and re-published nationwide relying on the fear created by the headline.
  • The headline is false and ultimately the entire story is shown to be false.
  • The Washington Post silently rewrote the headline and added an “Editor’s note” at the bottom (later moved to the top). The Editor’s note itself left out critical information.
  • The electric utility involved, Burlington Electric, issued a statement condemning the false and untrue statements made: “Media reports stating that Burlington Electric was hacked or that the electric grid was breached are false.”
  • What actually occurred was a lap top connected to an IP address which is thought to be connected with malware but which is also used for other applications.  The electric grid was not hacked. There was no evidence that this involved anyone from Russia. A statement from Burlington Electric states  there was no malware on the laptop computer.
  • Update: The Washington Post has effectively retracted the original story: “Russian government hackers do not appear to have targeted Vermont utility, say people close to investigation
  • Update: Cnet tech news all but says the story was false or fake.
  • Update: Snopes says the story is mostly false.
  • Research shows most people only read the headline and viral stories on social media live on forever, even when wrong.
  • Update: Part of the reason this story was readily accepted by the masses is likely the mistaken view that all communications is connected to the Internet. Utility grid systems do have security vulnerabilities (notably SCADA and PLCs) but utilities run their own private networks, independent of the Internet. That means separate fiber cables and private microwave links. This is also known as an “air gap” – there is not a physical connection between the grid networks and the public Internet.That does not mean they are immune from malware attacks. Notably the U.S. itself attacked systems in Iran by delivering the malware on a USB thumbdrive, which someone plugged into a computer on the secure side of the “air gap”.

    This story works as social media propaganda, in part, because of the “What you see is all there is” problem – the reader fills in the missing gaps to make the narrative fit the reader’s world model. Since computer security is opaque to the typical person, many may believe that the utility grid can be readily hacked over the Internet.

  • Update: The Washington Post intentionally spread this story on social media, gaining rapid shares to “go viral”  and then tried to cover their tracks. Spreading stories on social media with emotionally intense headlines to encourage sharing was pioneered by fake news publishers.
  • Update: The Washington Post failed again, days later, says Time magazine. The WaPo also failed two weeks earlier with their story naming fake news web sites based on a list provided by a shady and anonymous source; WaPo largely retracted the claims after being accused of defaming legitimate news sources. There seems to be a trend underway…
  • Update: The US government intelligence agency report on alleged Russian hacking notes itself that it was based on  news reports and social media posts for “key judgements”:

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Leave social media to improve mental health

“I noticed that Twitter, Facebook and other digital forms of communication fed and nurtured my very real anxiety until it consumed me. Whenever I turned to the internet for a distraction, and even a possible sense of reassurance, I was instead sent reeling to the worst corner of my psyche. Only when I consciously stepped away from the screen, did I regain some sense of calm and perspective.”

Source: In these turbulent times, take a break from social media to find comfort | David Sax | Opinion | The Guardian

This is what I noticed too – the world of social media has turned awful.

Once more, as I have said repeatedly, social media acts as an amplifier of the anxiety inducing click bait of mass mainstream media. The MSM’s job is to sell advertisers to eyeballs. Emotional content engages readers and viewers for longer, and while emotionally connected, readers and viewers are also more susceptible to advertising messages.

Public relations staff, governments, politicians, activist groups, marketing organizations, non-profits, main stream news and fake news publishers – all know how the system works. Nearly everything we see or hear, every day, is a piece of propaganda often clothed as a “news report” (only some of which we label “fake news”).

They launch stories into the media. Then the story gets shared on social media where echo chambers amplify the message and share some more.

Then, commenters chime in. Soon, even nonsense turns into a politically correct “fact” that must not be questioned.

Anyone who disagrees or notes errors in logic is quickly branded with numerous nasty terms.

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Social media after big events

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TL;DR Summary

  • In this poster, the “facts” do lie.
  • This poster was modified from 162 (or may be 163) to read “164”. Those numbers are false.
  • Snopes.com says, the original social media poster was a lie, based on using different definitions for “pre-Obama” versus “Obama” to inflate the latter’s count.

 

In the aftermath of a mass shooting in Burlington, Washington, I saw “fake” photos distributed on Twitter. Twitter was filled with accusations against Muslims. Few seemed interested in waiting for actual facts. Instead, spreading political ideology was the goal on social media. As 3 lay dead, and 2 others were critically injured (and later died) and as police conducted a manhunt for the shooter, there were a great many political posts advocating more gun control or more guns.

This poster works because of its use of numbers –  and it some how sounds believable. The first 4 numbers are basically correct. Like other propaganda posters, a sequence of true statements is then followed by an untrue statement. Lacking critical thinking, the final statement is then perceived as true.

In the immediate aftermath of a large event, most everything spread on social media is incomplete, exaggerated, subject to change, misreported, or is spun to promote someone’s agenda. Keep your Bull Shit detector set to maximum sensitivity.

Text for Search Engines

Facts Don’t Lie …

Reagan: 11 mass shootings

Bush Sr: 12 mass shootings

Clinton: 23 mass shootings

Obama: 164 mass shootings (or 162 or 63)