Tag Archives: propaganda

The Existential Dangers of the Online Echo Chamber

google-search-fake-news

The online filter bubble is a natural extension of our preexisting biases, particularly evident in our media consumption. Those of us of a certain age — above 30 years — once purchased (and maybe still do) our favorite paper-based newspapers and glued ourselves to our favorite TV news channels. These sources mirrored, for the most part, our cultural and political preferences. The internet took this a step further by building a tightly wound, self-reinforcing feedback loop. We consume our favorite online media, which solicits algorithms to deliver more of the same. I’ve written about the filter bubble for years (here, here and here).

The online filter bubble in which each of us lives — those of us online — may seem no more dangerous than its offline predecessor. After all, the online version of the NYT delivers left-of-center news, just like its printed cousin. So what’s the big deal? Well, the pervasiveness of our technology has now enabled these filters to creep insidiously into many aspects of our lives, from news consumption and entertainment programming to shopping and even dating. And, since we now spend growing  swathes of our time online, our serendipitous exposure to varied content that typically lies outside this bubble in the real, offline world is diminishing. Consequently, the online filter bubble is taking on a much more critical role and having greater effect in maintaining our tunnel vision.

However, that’s not all. Over the last few years we have become exposed to yet another dangerous phenomenon to have made the jump from the offline world to online — the echo chamber. The online echo chamber is enabled by our like-minded online communities and catalyzed by the tools of social media. And, it turns our filter bubble into a self-reinforcing, exclusionary community that is harmful to varied, reasoned opinion and healthy skepticism.

Those of us who reside on Facebook are likely to be part of a very homogeneous social circle, which trusts, shares and reinforces information accepted by the group and discards information that does not match the group’s social norms. This makes the spread of misinformation — fake stories, conspiracy theories, hoaxes, rumors — so very effective. Importantly, this is increasingly to the exclusion of all else, including real news and accepted scientific fact.

Why embrace objective journalism, trusted science and thoughtful political dialogue when you can get a juicy, emotive meme from a friend of a friend on Facebook? Why trust a story from Reuters or science from Scientific American when you get your “news” via a friend’s link from Alex Jones and the Brietbart News Network?

And, there’s no simple solution, which puts many of our once trusted institutions in severe jeopardy. Those of us who care have a duty to ensure these issues are in the minds of our public officials and the guardians of our technology and media networks.

From Scientific American:

If you get your news from social media, as most Americans do, you are exposed to a daily dose of hoaxes, rumors, conspiracy theories and misleading news. When it’s all mixed in with reliable information from honest sources, the truth can be very hard to discern.

In fact, my research team’s analysis of data from Columbia University’s Emergent rumor tracker suggests that this misinformation is just as likely to go viral as reliable information.

Many are asking whether this onslaught of digital misinformation affected the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election. The truth is we do not know, although there are reasons to believe it is entirely possible, based on past analysis and accounts from other countries. Each piece of misinformation contributes to the shaping of our opinions. Overall, the harm can be very real: If people can be conned into jeopardizing our children’s lives, as they do when they opt out of immunizations, why not our democracy?

As a researcher on the spread of misinformation through social media, I know that limiting news fakers’ ability to sell ads, as recently announced by Google and Facebook, is a step in the right direction. But it will not curb abuses driven by political motives.

Read the entire article here.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

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The Conspiracy of Disbelief

Faux news and hoaxes are a staple of our culture. I suspect that disinformation, fabrications and lies have been around since our ancestors first learned to walk on their hind legs. Researchers know that lying provides a critical personal and social function; white lies help hide discomfort and often strengthen support with partners and peers. Broader and deeper lies are often used to build and maintain power and project strength over others. Indeed, some nations rise and fall based on the quality of their falsehoods and propaganda.

The rise of the internet and social media over the last couple of decades has amplified the issue to such an extent that it becomes ever more challenging to decipher fact from fiction. Indeed entire highly profitable industries are built on feeding misinformation and disseminating hoaxes. But while many of us laugh at and dismiss the front page headlines of the National Enquirer proclaiming “aliens abducted my neighbor“, other forms of fiction are much more sinister. One example is the Sandy Hook mass shooting, where a significant number of paranoid and skeptical conspiracy theorists continue to maintain to this day — almost 4 years on — that the massacre of 20 elementary school children and 6 adults was and is a well-fabricated hoax.

From NY Magazine:

On December 14, 2012, Lenny Pozner dropped off his three children, Sophia, Arielle, and Noah, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Noah had recently turned 6, and on the drive over they listened to his favorite song, “Gangnam Style,” for what turned out to be the last time. Half an hour later, while Sophia and Arielle hid nearby, Adam Lanza walked into Noah’s first-grade class with an AR-15 rifle. Noah was the youngest of the 20 children and seven adults killed in one of the deadliest shootings in American history. When the medical examiner found Noah lying face up in a Batman sweatshirt, his jaw had been blown off. Lenny and his wife, Veronique, raced to the school as soon as they heard the news, but had to wait for hours alongside other parents to learn their son’s fate.

It didn’t take much longer for Pozner to find out that many people didn’t believe his son had died or even that he had lived at all. Days after the rampage, a man walked around Newtown filming a video in which he declared that the massacre had been staged by “some sort of New World Order global elitists” intent on taking away our guns and our liberty. A week later, James Tracy, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, wrote a blog post expressing doubts about the massacre. By January, a 30-minute YouTube video, titled “The Sandy Hook Shooting — Fully Exposed,” which asked questions like “Wouldn’t frantic kids be a difficult target to hit?,” had been viewed more than 10 million times.

As the families grieved, conspiracy theorists began to press their case in ways that Newtown couldn’t avoid. State officials received anonymous phone calls at their homes, late at night, demanding answers: Why were there no trauma helicopters? What happened to the initial reports of a second shooter? A Virginia man stole playground signs memorializing two of the victims, then called their parents to say that the burglary shouldn’t affect them, since their children had never existed. At one point, Lenny Pozner was checking into a hotel out of town when the clerk looked up from the address on his driver’s license and said, “Oh, Sandy Hook — the government did that.” Pozner had tried his best to ignore the conspiracies, but eventually they disrupted his grieving process so much that he could no longer turn a blind eye. “Conspiracy theorists erase the human aspect of history,” Pozner said this summer. “My child — who lived, who was a real person — is basically going to be erased.”

Read the entire disturbing story here.

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Abraham Lincoln Was a Sham President

 

This is not the opinion of theDiagonal. Rather, it’s the view of the revisionist thinkers over at the so-called “News Leader”, Fox News. Purposefully I avoid commenting on news and political events, but once in a while the story is so jaw-droppingly incredulous that your friendly editor cannot keep away from his keyboard. Which brings me to Fox News.

The latest diatribe from the 24/7 conservative think tank is that Lincoln actually caused the Civil War. According to Fox analyst Andrew Napolitano the Civil War was an unnecessary folly, and could have been avoided by Lincoln had he chosen to pay off the South or let slavery come to a natural end.

This is yet another example of the mindless, ideological drivel dished out on a daily basis by Fox. Next are we likely to see Fox defend Hitler’s “cleansing” of Europe as fine economic policy that the Allies should have let run its course? Ugh! One has to suppose that the present day statistic of 30 million enslaved humans around the world is just as much a figment of the collective imaginarium that is Fox.

The one bright note to ponder about Fox and its finely-tuned propaganda machine comes from looking at its commercials. When the majority of its TV ads are for the over-60s — think Viagra, statins and catheters — you can sense that its aging demographic will soon sublimate to meet its alternate, heavenly reality.

From Salon:

“The Daily Show” had one of its best segments in a while on Monday night, ruthlessly and righteously taking Fox News legal analyst and libertarian Andrew Napolitano to task for using the airwaves to push his clueless and harmful revisionist understanding of the Civil War.

Jon Stewart and “senior black correspondent” Larry Wilmore criticized Napolitano for a Feb. 14 appearance on the Fox Business channel during which he called himself a “contrarian” when it comes to estimating former President Abraham Lincoln’s legacy and argued that the Civil War was unnecessary — and may not have even been about slavery, anyway!

“At the time that [Lincoln] was the president of the United States, slavery was dying a natural death all over the Western world,” Napolitano said. “Instead of allowing it to die, or helping it to die, or even purchasing the slaves and then freeing them — which would have cost a lot less money than the Civil War cost — Lincoln set about on the most murderous war in American history.”

Stewart quickly shred this argument to pieces, noting that Lincoln spent much of 1862 trying (and failing) to convince border states to accept compensatory emancipation as well as the fact that the South’s relationship with chattel slavery was fundamentally not just an economic but also a social system, one that it would never willingly abandon.

Soon after, Stewart turned to Wilmore, who noted that the Confederacy was “so committed to slavery that Lincoln didn’t die of natural causes.” Wilmore next pointed out that people who “think Lincoln started the Civil War because the North was ready to kill to end slavery” are mistaken. “[T]he truth was,” Wilmore said, “the South was ready to die to keep slavery.”

Stewart and Wilmore next highlighted that Napolitano doesn’t hate all wars, and in fact has a history of praising the Revolutionary War as necessary and just. “So it was heroic to fight for the proposition that all men are created equal, but when there’s a war to enforce that proposition, that’s wack?” Wilmore asked. “You know, there’s something not right when you feel the only black thing worth fighting for is tea.”

As the final dagger, Stewart and Wilmore noted that Napolitano has ranted at length on Fox about how taxation is immoral and unjust, prompting Wilmore to elegantly outline the problems with Napolitano-style libertarianism in a single paragraph. Speaking to Napolitano, Wilmore said:

You think it’s immoral for the government to reach into your pocket, rip your money away from its warm home and claim it as its own property, money that used to enjoy unfettered freedom is now conscripted to do whatever its new owner tells it to. Now, I know this is going to be a leap, but you know that sadness and rage you feel about your money? Well, that’s the way some of us feel about people.

Read the entire story here.

Video courtesy of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central.

 

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Propaganda Art From Pyongyang

While the North Korean regime is clearly bonkers (“crazy” for our U.S. readers), it does still turn out some fascinating art.

From the Guardian:

A jovial group of Red Guards bask in the golden glow of cornfields, waving their flags at the magnificent harvest, while a rustic farming couple look on, carrying an overflowing basket of perfectly plump red apples. It could be one of the many thousands of posters issued by the Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department in the 1950s, of rosy-cheeked comrades brimming with vim and vigour. But something’s not quite right.

In the centre of this vision of optimism, where once might have beamed the cheerful face of Mao, stands the twisted loop of the China Central Television (CCTV) headquarters, radiating a lilac sheen. Framed by the vapour trail of a trio of jet-planes performing a victory flypast into the sunset, the building stands like a triumphal gateway to some promised land of Socialism with Chinese characteristics.

The image could well be the mischievous work of its own architects, the Rotterdam-based practice OMA, which has made its own collage of the building alongside Kim Jong-il, George W Bush, Saddam Hussein and Jesus for a book cover, as well as an image of it bursting into flames behind a spread-legged porn-star. But it is in fact the product of artists from a North Korean painting unit – the very same that used to produce such propaganda images for the Kim regime, but now find themselves designing food packaging in Pyongyang.

The Beautiful Future, which comprises six such paintings to date, is the brainchild of British ex-pat duo Nick Bonner and Dominic Johnson-Hill, who both arrived in the Chinese capital 20 years ago and caught the Beijing bug. Bonner runs Koryo Tours, a travel company specialising in trips to the DPRK, while Johnson-Hill presides over a street-wear empire, Plastered, producing T-shirts emblazoned with Maoist kitsch. The paintings, on show earlier this month as part of Beijing Design Week, are the inevitable result of their mutual obsessions.

“North Korean artists are the best people at delivering a message without slogans,” says Bonner, who collects North Korean art and has produced documentaries exploring life in the DPRK – as well as what he describes as “North Korea’s first feature-length rom-com” last year, Comrade Kim Goes Flying. “We wanted to show contemporary China as it could have been, if it had continued with Maoist ideology.”

One painting shows a line of excited comrades, obediently dressed in Mao suits, filing towards Herzog and de Meuron’s Bird’s Nest stadium. The skyline is proudly choked with glassy skyscrapers on one side and a thicket of cooling towers on the other, belching smoke productively into the pink skies. An elderly tourist and his granddaughter look on in awe at the spirited scene.

See more propaganda art here.

Image: “KTV Gives Us a Voice” Image: The Beautiful Future. Courtesy of Guardian.

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