Category Archives: Assertion

Interesting example of how propaganda messaging lives forever and is recycled

The senator [Sanders] from Vermont says 40 percent of guns are sold without a background check.

The Washington Post notes the figure came from a small survey in 1993/1994 before major changes in gun laws. The latest data indicate it is 13%, not 40%. But remember, the first propaganda message someone hears is the one that sticks – undoubtedly this figure has stuck with Sanders for a quarter century.
Source: Bernie Sanders resurrects a ‘zombie’ claim on gun sales without background checks – The Washington Post
This works as propaganda due to its “Appeal to Authority” (Bernie Sanders says) and its quotation of numbers. Quoting numbers lends legitimacy to messaging. They do not even need to be correct. A friend who once worked in sales said he frequently made up numbers while meeting with potential customers: 70% of our customers see increased productivity!
Bernie Sanders has done this before too – using old data that is no longer true to assert his point. He does this because this is an effective way to propagandize targets – it combines assertion, appeal to authority, and lying. The lie has plausible deniability because the claim was at least true once upon a time in the past. Because targets may remember the old, but no longer correct number, the assertion sounds believable.
Disclaimer: This post is not pro- or anti-gun control efforts. This post is about a common propaganda method using assertion, appeal to authority, the use of a number to lend authenticity and using out of date data. An online political survey I took in 2016 said  Sander’s campaign platform mostly closely matched the issues of interest to me. I did not vote for him because I did not belong to a political party and was not eligible to vote in the 2016 primary election.

Is there a solution to the social media propaganda problem?

For several years I have been pointing out the problem of social media dominated by propaganda.
In the past week, awareness of social media propaganda has risen, albeit, focused solely on Russia connected actors.
Amusingly, a lot of posts from individuals bemoaning Russia connected propaganda are from individuals who do not realize their own posts are the problem too. Far too many users of Facebook and Twitter believe the primary purpose of their posts is to persuade others to adopt their agenda – this is nearly all that they do on social media!
You likely have friends whose online posts are predominantly political propaganda messaging. Your friends are propagandists who exploit the free and frictionless social media platform for their own propaganda operations.
Which leads to social media propagandists protesting the use of social media for propaganda!
Marshall McLuhan’s long ago phrase “The Medium is the Message” is a clue to our present predicament. It’s not the Russians – its the medium itself that is the problem.
Social media is the problem.
Is this problem solvable?
Not under the current business structures of the social media companies.
Obviously, social media companies are under pressure to put a stop to propaganda messaging regarding politics – depending on the source of the messaging – and to hate speech.

  • Some think new software technology based on neural networks and machine learning will identify inappropriate propaganda from appropriate and acceptable propaganda.
  • Some think software and new procedures will identify automated “bot” propaganda accounts -and distinguish between “evil” ones and “good” ones.
  • Perhaps new procedures will emerge to solve the problem. Facebook has said that in the future political ads will require verification by a U.S. address – but that does not stop foreign actors from using in country addresses. Nor does it stop the legal activity of foreigners exercising rights to voice their opinion about U.S. political activities in their personal posts, or of U.S. citizens from exercising rights to voice their opinion of political activities in other countries.
  • I’ve proposed charging a small fee for social media posts, to cut down on the endless sharing of propaganda messaging. Without sharing, propaganda memes go nowhere. This idea, of course, will go nowhere.

Could we train social media users?
Some think social media users need to be more discerning about the provenance of the content they view and share. Unfortunately, every day I see smart people sharing things that are exaggerated or untrue. I doubt training will work.
Could we train social media users not to share? I rarely share on my social media pages content that I or someone I know did not create. My goal is to prevent myself from becoming a cog in the social media propaganda machinery. But I do not see others adopting such stringent standards.
Is Social Media so overrun with crap that people quit?
This is entirely possible. We have already seen social media changes. Myspace is gone. Young people have abandoned Facebook in favor of Snapchat and Instagram. Estimates are that 15-50% of Twitter accounts are bots or otherwise controlled by software applications producing tweets automatically on behalf of a real person.
This reminds me of a cartoon from 20+ years ago. It showed a hypothetical automated classroom where students were taught by images on a video screen. In the other direction, the students were replaced by tape recorders 🙂
Twitter is becoming the same way – its automated messaging talking to other automated bot accounts, each re-tweeting each other’s content which is being read by fewer and fewer actual people.
When the medium is overcome with artificially generated and shared propaganda, people will abandon the platforms as the value proposition erodes.
I have semi-abandoned the platforms by choosing to be aggressive about cutting off friends and followers whose main use of a platform is to propagandize others. When my “friends” on Facebook believe the primary purpose of Facebook is to spread their propaganda, I hide, snooze or unfollow them. In some cases, I just unfriend them.
On Twitter I’ve taken to muting people who post the same general propaganda memes over and over again, and rarely offer any other interesting content. Simultaneously, I have dramatically cut my time spent on Twitter.
Cutting back our use of noisy social media, which is too often filled with outrage, is a first step to abandoning the platforms and a sign that the value of social media is becoming less and less for each of us.

Wall Street Journal's Fake News of the Day

Facebook became the world’s most dominant conduit of news and information but said it would remain neutral to what spread through its channels. Meanwhile, a handful of engineers were building algorithms to decide which of its 2.2 billion users would see what.
By remaining agnostic about which influencers rose to popularity, and helping them along by building recommendation and newsfeed algorithms to enhance that popularity, Facebook allowed Russia to rapidly gain influence on the site, says Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist at Yale who studies social networks.

Source: Why Was Facebook So Easy to Hijack? – WSJ
The entire story in the Wall Street Journal implies Russia is the predominate propagandist on Facebook, dominating and controlling public opinion.
What a load of bull shit.
Look at your friend’s Facebook posts. Those that share posts predominately regarding political issues are themselves propaganda activists seeking to use FB to persuade others to adopt their own agenda. The overwhelming quantity of propaganda comes from your own friends. (See update, below).
Individuals, informal “club-like” groups, formal organizations, industry, the media, academics and government all use Facebook for active propaganda operations. To suggest that Russia is the predominate propagandist on Facebook is reckless, foolhardy and empirically false.
Social media is a swamp of propagandists and propaganda messaging having nothing to do with Russia, China, Poland, Israel, North Korea, Britain, Japan or any other country.
Social media is a frictionless platform for the spread of propaganda. No government broadcast license or printing press required. Anyone can be a propagandist today.
The inherent model of social media is a platform for propaganda operations. That is the fundamental root cause issue.
UPDATE: Hah hah. I just looked on Facebook and see “friend’s” sharing or posting their own propaganda saying, basically, that foreign state actor propaganda dominates social media and threw the U.S. election. The irony is that none recognize their own role in propaganda messaging as both willing targets of propaganda, and as active participants in using social media to spread their own propaganda messaging.
They are unable to see that nearly everything on FB and Twitter is propaganda messaging – and that propaganda overwhelmingly comes from your own friends, not state actors.