June 2015 article about Internet Research [Agency] in Russia

The article details an attempt to gather information about the Internet Research [Agency] organization in St Petersburg, Russia, described as a professional propaganda operation run by an oligarch. This article is of interest in its description of a propaganda operation. The article was published in June 2015, well before the U.S. media and political interest in social media propaganda.

I friended as many of the trolls on Facebook as I could and began to observe their ways. Most of the content they shared was drawn from a network of other pages that, like Ass’s, were clearly meant to produce entertaining and shareable social-media content. ….. The posts churned out every day by this network of pages were commented on and shared by the same group of trolls, a virtual Potemkin village of disaffected Americans.

The quoted section illustrates how social media acts a friction-less platform for the distribution of propaganda. “Like”, “Share” and “Comment” are all, by default the same – they all end up sharing a post to more people.

IRA is not the only social media propaganda operation. Unfortunately, there are many more and the others are being ignored.

An even earlier story appeared in 2013 describing the trolling operation of the IRA.

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Cleaning up your social media news feed #politics #socialmedia #propaganda

Last winter I created an informal policy on what to do about the propaganda appearing in my social media news feed, particularly Facebook.

As remarked on this blog, social media is a frictionless platform for the rapid spread of propaganda messaging. Many people are outraged over something and for whatever reason are compelled to share their outrage online.

Being outraged all the time is not likely a healthy state of life. Thrusting your outrage on to your “friends” is probably not a wise idea and probably does not accomplish whatever you hope it should accomplish. Seeing a steady stream of outrage likely takes a toll on the mental health of all the “drive by victims” who see these posts in their own news feeds.

Every time you Like or Comment on a public post, you are Sharing that post with all your friends. Some people post little but comment a lot – not realizing that all their comments (often on politics) are shared on their Facebook page with all their friends. When you tag a friend in a post, your post is published on their “wall” or page. FB is set up to distribute your activities as widely as possible, to as many other people as possible, even without your realizing this is going on.

Last winter I adopted some policies on how I use social media. Social media had gotten out of control and far too often, my visits to social  media caused me to feel upset, angry, depressed or anxious. This is the direct impact of high pressure propaganda messaging that floods social media.

I left social media for several weeks – during that time I decided I would use social media on my terms, not someone else’s terms.

That meant cleaning up my news feeds.

  1. First, I chose to post only items on FB that I personally create or which are created by a real life friend that I personally know. By adopting this policy, I stop the spread of social media propaganda, memes and fake news.
  2. Friends who share conspiracy theories or hate speech get unfriended quickly.
  3. Friends who post politics or propaganda exclusively over a period of weeks are unfriended. I have no desire to be bombarded with their politics (regardless of their political persuasion). I distinguish between items that are “thoughtful”, and provide an opportunity to think and learn – from those items that are just drive-by propaganda hit pieces. I have no interest in friends that post nothing but politics.
  4. I use the FB “Hide post” feature for those who post occasional propaganda and political items. Supposedly FB “learns” and improves its automatic filtering out of such items in the future.
  5. Friends who post multiple political propaganda pieces per week are unfollowed; I often mark their page to give “notifications” of updates, but I rarely read them. This way we remain “friends” but I don’t have to see their posts unless I feel like looking.
  6. I have never unfollowed or unfriended someone because of their political leanings – my unfollowing or unfriending comes because of the quantity of their posts and the desire to use Facebook primarily as a propaganda platform.
  7. I dropped out of some hobby oriented (non political) groups because members were not nice people. They tended to be arrogant and looked at newbie questions with disdain.

The result of these steps is I rarely see politics and – in fact – rarely see much propaganda in my Facebook news line anymore!

And leaving groups where people were not friendly means I now hang out almost entirely with friendly people, helping others and generally being happy. Being surrounded by mostly happy and helpful attitudes rubs off on our own mental health too – leaving us better for the experience. Compare and contrast to how you feel when surrounded by angry people shouting at you all the time!

On the downside, this means I have much less material to analyze for this blog! But perhaps that is a good thing!

Regardless, this illustrates what you might do to “clean up your news feed” and to avoid becoming a victim of propaganda, outrage and shouting- and avoid becoming a cog in the propaganda machine, which is what you are, when you Share, Like or Comment on any of those nasty posts.

Disaster Propaganda

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.)

Examples

  • 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.

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”!

Remember

Not everything you see on social media is real, although I am certain this is genuine:

Disclaimer

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.

Related

 

Facebook said to running massive propaganda operation

This is an update to the previous item, below.

According to Gizmodo, quoting former Facebook workers:

Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project. This individual says that workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users.

Source: Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News

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How social media propaganda silences dissent

The “spiral of silence” is a well-researched phenomenon in which people suppress unpopular opinions to fit in and avoid social isolation. It has been looked at in the context of social media and the echo-chamber effect, in which we tailor our opinions to fit the online activity of our Facebook and Twitter friends.

Source: Mass surveillance silences minority opinions, according to study – The Washington Post

Rather than increasing perspectives, social media naturally enforces a conformity in ideas, in order that people avoid feeling like outcasts. Consider this in terms of social media propaganda: if your news feed is filled with propaganda posters expressing group beliefs (even when factually or logically wrong), you will be less likely to express alternative beliefs (even when factually or logically correct). In this way, social media propaganda not only serves to further an organization’s agenda but acts to suppress dissent.

This concept is not new. When I was in elementary school, decades ago, a friend used to get a group of kids together and then go up to an unsuspecting kid and tell a “joke” that made no sense and was not funny. But all the kids who were “in” on the deal would break out laughing – as would the unsuspecting target who succumbed to instant peer group pressure. Social media is the same idea, but on a global scale.

Denmark Fairy Tales: Denmark does not have a 33 hour work week

DenmarkPoster2TL;DR  Summary

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The most spectacular example of social media propaganda – so far!

11694954_1666895460210336_8548751201993760462_nTL; DR Summary

  • This poster is designed to lead you to the conclusion someone died because Republicans fund wars rather than highway infrastructure.
  • But your conclusion, based on the provided evidence trail, is not just wrong but spectacularly wrong when you see the full set of evidence.
  • This poster was shared over 25,000 times within 24 hours of appearing on Facebook, making it one of the most effective propaganda posters I have seen.

This poster is elegant in its design, use of “anchoring” and logical fallacy – but the poster is a work of fiction and an outright lie.  Yet it successfully engaged System 1’s quick and intuitive thinking to lead viewers into a false conclusion, and whose viewers then quickly shared it with their friends, encouraging their friends to reach the same false conclusion.

Read through to learn how false this poster is – yet why it worked as such a spectacular piece of social media propaganda.

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How pro sports uses the national anthem for promotional propaganda

CaptureTL;DR Summary

  • Why do we play the national anthem at sports events?
  • Why do we have the emotional re-uniting of families with a service member returned from overseas at sports events?
  • These seemingly spontaneous events of joy and patriotism are often paid endorsements from the marketing budget of the the US Department of Defense.
  • In the case of the Superbowl, the symbolism is taken to an extreme to link pro sports with patriotism, military and nationalist pride.

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Nature Valley: Association and Transference in social media marketing

11181730_1680718155494733_1656437490448346584_nTL; DR Summary

  • This promotional messaging associates positives feelings about nature with their product.
  • They encourage sharing this with the specified hashtag.
  • This example also illustrates the use of social media propaganda posters in marketing campaigns and promotions.

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