A SWISS social media user has been convicted of defamation for “liking” posts on Facebook accusing an animal rights activist of being a racist and an anti-Semite.
Twitter is today filled to the brim with tributes recognizing the death of Gabriel García Márquez, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.
One tiny detail is missing from these tributes – he died in 2014! And apparently he just died again in 2017!
Just when you think the social media mob could not possibly do something dumber than the day before, there comes the next day!
Easily verifiable items spreading like wild fire on social media illustrate the true, friction-less nature of social media for the spread of propaganda messaging. This also demonstrates how easy it is to say anything – literally tell lies – and get away with it – on social media.
As one Twitter notes,
A related question is why are so many compelled to spread this story?
A possible explanation is signalling of some sort. Could be virtue signalling or could be signalling to others that you (the poster) are intellectual and well read or something else.
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:
- Selected (cherry picked) emotional stories are given widespread media exposure
- 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.
- Propaganda efforts by the insurance industry to promote a reduction in risk (and their costs)
- 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“.
- Everyone just knows that cellular phone usage by drivers causes most crashes (both the assertion and the get on the bandwagon propaganda methods).
- 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.
“On the left if you’re consuming fake news you’re 34 times more likely than the general population to be a college graduate,” says Green.
If you’re on the right, he says, you’re 18 times more likely than the general population to to be in the top 20 percent of income earners.
And the study revealed another disturbing trend: the more you consume fake news, the more likely you are to vote. It’s “fascinating and frightening at the same time,” says Green.
The BBC is a bit late to this story, having only just noticed that the largest social media-based, online, for profit fake news publisher is a Occupy Democrats that targets left wing enthusiasts with exaggerated, emotionally laden headlines and frequently false stores. Their goal is to target the emotions of liberal enthusiasts who then share the stories on social media, generating click throughs back to selling eyeballs to advertisers.
Many people think propaganda is a tool to manage “the unwashed masses”, but they are mistaken. Propaganda is effective across a broad swath of the population.
The late Professor Jacques Ellul, a French sociologist, found academics were among the most susceptible to propaganda. He suggests this is because academics are in the business of absorbing lots of information, much of which is unverifiable. They believe, he said, they should have an opinion on every subject and since their job is to instruct others, academics believe it is their duty to pass along information to others.
Ellul’s argument identifies the unexpected role that smart people often play in the consumption and distribution of propaganda.
For amusement vis a vis United Airlines, Ellul believes the purpose of “public relations” is to adapt individuals to societal norms by forcing individuals to conform. If you don’t conform, we will assault you – hah hah.
(Reference: Ellul, J. Propaganda: The formation of men’s attitudes. Translated to English from the original French text. The book assumes the reader is already well versed in the basic methods and usage of propaganda.)
Lies work because people are absurdly trusting of others and surprisingly trusting of authority figures.
We saw this during the past week as both Chicago Aviation Police and United Airlines told lies to defend unlawful actions against a paying customer. Much of the media bought the United story without skepticism, reporting initially that a belligerent passenger refused to get off an overbooked flight and then injured himself as police were forced to remove him from the plane. Except none of those assertions were true.
If there had been no cell phone video, the story would have ended there. But as has become typical, multiple videos showed a different story of abusive police. And we learned the United Airlines flight was not overbooked but United was unlawfully assaulting a passenger because their own employees were more important than paying customers.
While much propaganda does not rely on lies, lies are used often enough because they usually work. As we saw here, the media merely regurgitated United propaganda assertions and lies – turning their initial news reports in to fake news.
Two other big lies were caught this week. One, the Daily Mail newspaper paid a nearly $3 million settlement to Melania Trump after printing false and defaming allegations about her for which they had no evidence.
This blog has noted that many social media enthusiasts enjoy the culture of perpetual outrage that seems so prevalent there (and elsewhere too). Here, Theodore Dalrymple suggests that outrage some how gives meaning to otherwise boring lives:
“Outrage is a substitute for religion: It convinces us that our existence has some kind of meaning or significance beyond itself, that is to say beyond the paltry flux of day-to-day existence, especially when that existence is a securely comfortable one. Therefore we go looking for things to be outraged about as anteaters look for ants. Of all emotions, outrage is not only one of the most pleasurable but also one of the most reliable.”
Quoted from Theodore Dalrymple
Social media’s “self-affirming feedback loop” encourages “expectations for a custom-made reality” and indignation about anything “that deviates from our preferences.
Survey of college students find that Instagram is “the most narcissistic platform” that is “all-about-me”.
Same survey also found that many people delete their social media posts if they do not receive sufficient “Likes”.
Germany plans to fine social media firms if they do not remove flagged “hate speech” and “fake news” within 1 to 7 days, depending on the nature of the content. Because the time line is short and the fines are very large, social media companies are expected to err on the side of frequently censoring posts.
A grad student notes that a conventional wisdom is that grad students need to establish a social media presence. But some are finding that a break from social media is beneficial.
Government of Israel purchases software to deliver propaganda messaging on social media: “to plant an idea in the debate on social networks, web news sites and forums”. Further, “Via this system, the Israeli government is able to plant ideas in conversations on social networks and forums through an automated or semi-automated mechanism.”
Why need to recognize propaganda methods: “Amazeen, who teaches mass communication, advertising, and public relations, says she has seen students turn in papers citing sober-sounding sources—educational or official groups, seemingly—“but that are in reality industry or front groups with an agenda.” She says media literacy must go beyond being able to distinguish fake news from legitimate news to include an awareness of propaganda efforts.”
Spot on: ““Fake news” is simply a recent name for deception and propaganda. While the term propaganda is often associated with Orwellian images of big government, we now live in an age where we don’t have to worry about just one big brother, but rather a thousand little brothers that are running around unabated on the Internet. Although it may seem that we hear about it more now than in the past, using deceptive practices and propaganda to influence others is nothing new.” (emphasis added).
The point above is that today, everyone can be a propagandist. No broadcast license or printing press is required. All you need is a free Facebook account.
- This photo and caption was widely distributed on Facebook.
- The assertion at the bottom is an outrageous lie.
- The individual, Major Terri Gurrola, is a Senior Physician Assistant (PA-C), graduate trained in emergency medicine. She provides health care services to service members, and to community members and local children in Iraq and elsewhere.
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.
- More info on the photo and background story
- Major Gurrola’s LinkedIn page
- Source of image where 928 people say they “Like” this
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.
Long ago, a survey found that 75% of Americans believe violence on television leads to violence in society. The results of that survey were then used as evidence in a Congressional hearing.
Left out is that this was in the 1960s, and the survey was made after several Congressional representatives made this assertion and began talking about their assertion as if it were fact. The media dutifully reprinted their words, creating a broad propaganda message that violence on TV was the cause of violent behavior in society. This led to Congressional hearings and even the cancellation of some TV shows because public momentum was turned away from shows that showed violent scenes.
In effect, this national survey measured the effectiveness of the propaganda campaign as there was no data at the time to support this conclusion.
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.
A classic example of how opinion surveys are used to influence the public are surveys about state-level voter initiatives. When the initiative appears likely to pass, and is promoted by well funded interests, you will often see many media reports showing “a majority of voters support”. But when the initiative is not supported – and is losing – media reports become scarce or non-existent as the promoters hide the result of their polling show the initiative is failing.
To illustrate the absurdity of national surveys that measure public opinions, consider this actual headline:
- A Poll finds most Americans don’t trust public opinion polls
Unfortunately, what the above survey likely measured is that people don’t trust surveys that indicate they, personally, are out of step with their community. People selectively like surveys, as along as the survey agrees with their opinion.
The purpose of most polling is to identify a ground swell movement. The poll itself is a form of propaganda messaging known as “get on the bandwagon”. The survey results show that everyone else is thinking this way – why you aren’t you on the bandwagon too?
Consequently, most national opinion polls are garbage – and are themselves a component of major propaganda messaging to persuade you to adopt someone’s else agenda, not because of evidence, facts or logic – no, you should adopt their agenda because a bunch of other people are!