Category Archives: Cherry Picking

Tesla really did say this in 1926

This poster came across on Twitter – and surprise – the quote is authentic!

Surprisingly (for social media memes!) Tesla really did say this in an interview published in Colliers on January 30th, 1926.
This forecast for the future is intriguing and certainly his brilliance comes through.
But … the same interview had a number of other predictions – some correct and some not so correct:

  • All railroads will be electric
  • Wireless energy will be used to power flying machines carrying no fuel
  • “static and all forms of interference will be eliminated, so that innumerable transmitters and receivers may be operated without interference.” (digital and CDMA basically does this)
  • Cities will have parking towers (parking garages?)
  • geothermal heat sources will be tapped for energy (true)
  • Equality of the sexes will be achieved (more true than not, especially compared to 1926)
  • “the average woman will be as well educated as the average man, and then better educated, for the dormant faculties of her brain will be stimulated to an activity that will be all the more intense and powerful because of centuries of repose”  (In the U.S. women significantly outnumber mean in college attendance.)
  • “marriage and motherhood will become abhorrent”
  • He advocated eugenics (as did the Nazis)
  • He believed in the “perfection of communism, of socialized cooperative life wherein all things, including the young, are the property and concern of all”

Tesla invented our modern day alternating current electrical system (versus the competing direct current system). He sold his patents to Westinghouse. More about that here.
Tesla, obviously, had many brilliant ideas – but he also promoted ideas that today we find abhorrent, such as eugenics, or failed, such as communism, which has declined from 24 countries to five.
By cherry picking the quotes – and censoring the quotes that make Tesla look out of step – the poster presents a white-washed view of Tesla. This is a typical approach in social media propaganda posters – simplify, leave out details, leave out conflicting information – and let the “All you see is all there is” phenomena take hold in the target’s brain.
For whatever reasons, myths about Tesla are popular on social media. I do not know why.

India finds Google manipulated search results; EU had already reached that conclusion

In its ruling, India’s competition watchdog said the internet giant has “abused its dominant position” that “enables it to operate independently of competitive forces.”

Source: India Fines Google $21 Million for “Search Bias” | Hollywood Reporter
Google, the overwhelmingly dominant search service, was found to favor its own online services and web sites in search results.
This illustrates the power that large online services potentially exert in propaganda messaging.

Polar bears, social media, and how our emotional response may have helped a PR stunt

(This item – featuring a polar bear – emotionally hooked many people – and for some, any discussion is controversial. However, this post is not about polar bears or climate change but about successful propaganda messaging.)

Here is the original dying polar bear photo and post from photographer Paul Nicklen. Read carefully. He – and his associate – never say this polar bear is dying due to climate change but he does link climate change to polar bear habitat and asks readers to join Sea Legacy (of which he is the founder). His co-photographer Cristina Mittermeier acknowledged they had no way to know the cause of this bear’s starvation. At time of this blog post, her photo had received over 1 million likes just on Instagram. Nicklen has nearly 4 million followers of his own on Instagram.

The photos – and video – use the method of emotional engagement to capture the viewer’s quick acting System 1 thinking style. There is no question that this polar bear is starving and its life is endangered.

Again, per Mittermeier, they acknowledge they had no way of knowing the cause of this bear’s starvation.

National Geographic (for whom Nicklen has worked as a photographer), without evidence, links this bear and this photo to climate change.

Many media outlets picked up the story – emotional stories engage readers and viewers and tacked on the claim that the bear was dying due to climate change.

The photographers said, In the end, I did the only thing I could: I used my camera to make sure we would be able to share this tragedy with the world.”

The photo and videos were taken in August and published on December 5th, days before a global climate change conference in France.

Literally millions, if not tens of millions of people, saw this photo in media reports and shared posts on social media.

In the week that followed, we learned more:

Ultimately we learned that all of us were led, through a likely propaganda campaign, heavily reinforced on social media, to believe something that was not supported by evidence.

As the Toronto Sun notes, this photographer used similar photos in the past as PR for his group Sea Legacy. In this case, the photo was released months after it was taken, but days before a 50 nation climate summit in France.

Sea Legacy responded to some of the criticisms suggesting that the Inuit want to profit from polar bear hunting.

Higdon responded (and also noted that Inuit earn little from this activity):

The irony is that Sea Legacy is itself using this as a fundraiser while saying the Inuits’ interest is just money. Sea Legacy encouraged readers to join Sea Legacy and also provides licensing information for use of the video.

From a PR standpoint, this was an overwhelmingly success propaganda campaign. This story consumed social media Likes and Shares for days.

This campaign successfully delivered the message that polar bears are starving to death because of climate change – and you could make a difference by contributing to the Sea Legacy organization.

How it Worked

The photo tugs at our emotions and quickly puts our brain into an emotional response, rather than a rational response. Pre-propaganda campaigns have already established  images of polar bears as the sign of climate change; before climate change, we called it “global warming”, hence, a connection to Arctic ice.

The photographers added commentary, saying we found a starving bear, experts say climate change will cause melting ice and will lead to food shortages for bears … leaving the conclusion to the viewer –> this bear’s death is due to climate change. Much of the professional media took the bait – and immediately drew that conclusion in their reporting. This method of using a sequence of true statements to direct the target to a false conclusion is common in propaganda. See The most spectacular example of social media propaganda – so far! for another example of this method.

The message was distorted at best and possibly wrong at worst as no supporting evidence was provided as to the cause of starvation. Some suggested that Sea Legacy had a duty (because the polar bear is a protected species) to notify the Canadian government who likely would have euthanized the bear and performed a necropsy to learn more.

Bottom Line

As always, in propaganda messaging, the first message is the one that sticks, even when subsequently shown as false. We can be sure that millions of people got the messages: polar bears are already dying due to starvation caused by climate change. Young children in schools are likely brought to tears by these images and this message will stick with them perhaps for life.

In the end, this is not a story about polar bears or climate change – but a story about propaganda methods. The evidence that this was a PR stunt is greater than the evidence provided that this bear’s death is due to climate change.

This is possibly one of the most successful propaganda messaging campaigns of the modern era. Although as more people learn they were taken for a ride on this PR stunt express, this could cause long term harm to other environmental organizations attempting to legitimately raise awareness of serious issues, as we all tune out “yet another PR stunt”.

Note – This post is not about polar bears or climate change but about how a successful social media meme appears to have been launched in the media and social media days before a major international climate conference. Clearly, the pictured polar bear is starving. I have linked to respected and relevant sources (BBC, CBC, Polar Bear International’s Chief Scientist, National Post, Slate Magazine, Dr. Higdon, Andy Revkin and others) that question the accuracy of the messaging. This story, as noted by many (see links) has the appearance of a successful propaganda messaging campaign. This post makes no assertion as to the health of polar bear populations, the certainty or uncertainty of climate change or the future – and should not be interpreted as supporting or not supporting any position on those topics.)

Social media companies really do read your posts, emails and documents

Google’s GMail service “scans” your emails and Google Docs to serve you ads. The word “scans” implies scanning for keywords but that is a false assumption about what is actually being done.

Natural language processing technology has advanced to where these algorithms are the equivalent of someone reading all of your emails and taking notes. Literally, online services are reading all of your email and building dossiers on what they think they know about you, ostensibly to better target advertising to you.

Facebook is taking this to extremes, having announced this week that Facebook’s algorithms are analyzing all of your online posts to determine if you suffer from depression and may be suicidal. In the event their algorithm decides you may be showing suicidal tendencies, Facebook alerts the authorities who send first responders to your home.

In other words, Facebook is now operating as an unlicensed health care practitioner and diagnosing your health based on your writings, and without ever having met you or spoken with you.

Facebook uses this information for marketing purposes too – imagine conducting this analysis and then showing you ads for anti-depressants and “talk to your doctor”. Also consider,

“An egregious example of the kind of behavior these companies’ business models encourage surfaced this summer when an internal Facebook sales pitch to advertisers was leaked to an Australian newspaper. Facebook stated it had pinpointed an audience of thousands of young teenagers who felt “insecure,” “defeated,” “nervous,” “failures,” “worthless,” and “needed a confidence boost.” These diagnoses were based on a psychoanalysis of private Facebook information: what users posted, what they liked, how they appeared in photos, who their friends and how depressed were they as well as their search and shopping histories, visits to mental illness sites or hotlines and so forth.” (source)

Twitter analyzes your Tweets, “Likes” and who you follow, plus combines this information with 3rd party advertising networks to create a profile of attributes. You can see this by going to Settings and Privacy and then selecting Your Twitter Data, page down and look at Interests from Twitter and Interests from Partners.

I discovered that almost everything they deduced about me in the Interests from Partners was wrong – seriously wrong. About the only correct items are that I have a cat and a graduate degree (2 actually, but do not tell them!)

All of this collected data is used to fine tune propaganda messaging directed at you. Of course, much of this is advertising; however, ads are also run for political purposes too. In effect, online services are proving our hypothesis – that social media has become the most advanced, friction-less propaganda platform in human history.

Silicon Valley “tech” firms have morphed into the most advanced propaganda operations in human history. Their actions are conducted in secret, they are unbounded, and they are unregulated. Their technology is now used to directly influence you and public policy.

To illustrate, this week, the head of the FCC commented on “net neutrality” and noted that Silicon Valley tech firms promote neutrality of the broadband pipe – while simultaneously censoring discussions conducted on their platform (Twitter and Youtube both do this). As if on cue, almost immediately thereafter, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Alphabet (parent of Google) announced they will now censor news.google.com to remove stories from Russian media outlets such as RT.

In that instant, Google showed its defense of net neutrality is shallow if not completely hollow. Google wants other people to be forced to be neutral while preserving a right to censorship (including news and political speech, among the most protected of speech in the United States) for itself.

Google, Facebook and Twitter are not merely platforms for the dissemination of propaganda – they are themselves major propagandists seeking to have others adopt their agendas for their benefit.

Google is not just evil (to re-arrange their motto of “Don’t be evil”) but is acting as a menace to democracy itself.

And what could possibly go wrong with Facebook’s surveillance and analyzing our posts and perhaps discovering that we hold views contrary to the power structure?

Someone should write a book about this – I know, they could title it “1984”!

Bottom Line

Online services including Google (Gmail, Docs), Facebook and Twitter and undoubtedly others are doing the machine equivalent of reading your email and documents, taking notes, and analyzing what you are writing to draw conclusions about you.

What could possibly go wrong?