Fed up and we are not going to take it!. This woman says it all . Great video of he campaign against Cheney.
Category Archives: Social Media Manipulation
Astroturf and manipulation of media
What is Astroturf:
Creating the impression of public support by paying people in the public to pretend to be supportive.
The false support can take the form of letters to the editor, postings on message boards in response to criticism, and writing to politicians in support of the cause.
Astroturfing is the opposite of “grassroots”, genuine public support of an issue.
Award winning investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson shows how Astroturf, or fake grassroots movements, funded by political, corporate, or other special interests very effectively manipulate and distort mainstream media messages.
Here is the full transcript of Sharyl Attkisson’s TEDx Talk: Astroturf and Manipulation of Media Messages at TEDx University of Nevada conference.
Consider this fictitious example that’s inspired by real life: say you’re watching the news, and you see a story about a new study on the cholesterol-lowering drug called cholextra. The study says cholextra is so effective that doctors should consider prescribing it to adults and even children who don’t yet have high cholesterol.
Is it too good to be true? You’re smart, you decide to do some of your own research. You do a Google search, you consult social media, Facebook, and Twitter. You look at Wikipedia, WebMD, a non-profit website, and you read the original study in a peer-reviewed published medical journal. It all confirms how effective cholextra is. You do run across a few negative comments and a potential link to cancer, but you dismiss that, because medical experts call the cancer link a myth and say that those who think there is a link, they are quacks, cranks, and nuts.
Finally, you learn that your own doctor recently attended a medical seminar. The lecture that he attended confirmed how effective cholextra is, so he sends you off with some free samples and a prescription. You’ve really done your homework.
But what if all isn’t as it seems? What if the reality you found was false; a carefully-constructed narrative by unseen special interests designed to manipulate your opinion? A Truman Show-esque alternate reality all around you? Complacency in the news media combined with incredibly powerful propaganda and publicity forces mean we sometimes get little of the truth. Special interests have unlimited time and money to figure out new ways to spin us while cloaking their role.
Surreptitious astroturf methods are now more important to these interests than traditional lobbying of Congress. There’s an entire industry built around it in Washington.
What is astroturf? It’s a perversion of grassroots, as in fake grassroots. Astroturf is when political, corporate, or other special interests disguise themselves and publish blogs, start Facebook and Twitter accounts, publish ads and letters to the editor, or simply post comments online to try to fool you into thinking an independent or grassroots movement is speaking. The whole point of astroturf is to try to get the impression there’s widespread support for or against an agenda when there’s not.
Astroturf seeks to manipulate you into changing your opinion by making you feel as if you’re an outlier when you’re not. One example is the Washington Redskins’ name. Without taking a position on the controversy, if you simply were looking at news media coverage over the course of the past year, or looking at social media, you probably have to conclude that most Americans find that name offensive and think it ought to be changed.
But what if I told you 71% of Americans say the name should not be changed? That’s more than two-thirds. Astroturfers seek to controversialize those who disagree with them. They attack news organizations that publish stories they don’t like, whistleblowers who tell the truth, politicians who dare to ask the tough questions, and journalists who have the audacity to report on all of it.
Sometimes, astroturfers simply shove intentionally so much confusing and conflicting information into the mix that you’re left to throw up your hands and disregard all of it, including the truth; Drown out a link between a medicine and a harmful side effect say, vaccines and autism, by throwing a bunch of conflicting paid-for studies, surveys, and experts into the mix, confusing the truth beyond recognition.
And then, there’s Wikipedia — astroturf’s dream come true — Built as the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, the reality can’t be more different. Anonymous Wikipedia editors control and co-opt pages on behalf of special interests. They forbid and reverse edits that go against their agenda. They skew and delete information in blatant violation of Wikipedia’s own established policies with impunity. Always superior to the poor schlubs who actually believe anyone can edit Wikipedia only to discover they’re barred from correcting even the simplest factual inaccuracies.
Try adding a footnoted fact or correcting a fact error on one of these monitored Wikipedia pages, and poof! sometimes within a matter of seconds you’ll find your edit is reversed. In 2012, famed author Philip Roth tried to correct a major fact error about the inspiration behind one of his book characters cited on a Wikipedia page, but no matter how hard he tried, Wikipedia’s editors wouldn’t allow it. They kept reverting the edits back to the false information.
When Roth finally reached a person at Wikipedia – which was no easy task – and tried to find out what was going wrong, they told him he simply was not considered a credible source on himself.
A few weeks later, there was a huge scandal when Wikipedia officials got caught offering a PR service that skewed and edited information on behalf of paid publicity-seeking clients, in utter opposition to Wikipedia’s supposed policies. All of this may be why, when a medical study looked at medical conditions described on Wikipedia pages and compared it to actual peer-reviewed published research, Wikipedia contradicted medical research 90% of the time. You may never fully trust what you read on Wikipedia again, nor should you.
Let’s now go back to that fictitious cholextra example and all the research you did. It turns out the Facebook and Twitter accounts you found that were so positive, were actually written by paid professionals hired by the drug company to promote the drug. The Wikipedia page had been monitored by an agenda editor, also paid by the drug company.
The drug company also arranged to optimize Google search engine results so it was no accident that you stumbled across that positive non-profit that had all those positive comments. The non-profit was, of course, secretly founded and funded by the drug company. The drug company also financed that positive study and used its power of editorial control to omit any mention of cancer as a possible side-effect.
Once more, each and every doctor who publicly touted cholextra or called the cancer link a myth, or ridiculed critics as paranoid cranks and quacks, or served on the government advisory board that approved the drug, each of those doctors is actually a paid consultant for the drug company.
As for your own doctor, the medical lecture he attended that had all those positive evaluations was in fact, like many continuing medical education classes, sponsored by the drug company. And when the news reported on that positive study, it didn’t mention any of that. I have tons of personal examples from real life.
A couple of years ago, CBS News asked me to look into a story about a study coming out from the non-profit National Sleep Foundation. Supposedly, this press release coming out said the study concluded we are a nation with an epidemic of sleeplessness, and we don’t even know it, and we should all go ask our doctors about it.
A couple of things struck me about that. First, I recognized the phrase “ask your doctor” as a catch phrase promoted by the pharmaceutical industry. They know that if they can get your foot through the door at the doctor’s office to mention a malady, you’re very likely to be prescribed the latest drug that’s marketed.
Second, I wondered how serious an epidemic of sleeplessness could really be if we don’t even know that we have it. It didn’t take long for me to do a little research and discover that the National Sleep Foundation non-profit, and the study which was actually a survey not a study, were sponsored in part by a new drug that was about to be launched onto the market, called Lunesta, a sleeping pill.
I reported the study, as CBS News asked, but of course, I disclosed the sponsorship behind the non-profit and the survey so the viewers could weigh the information accordingly. All the other news media reported the same survey directly off the press release, as written, without digging past the superficial. It later became an example written up in the Columbia Journalism Review, which quite accurately reported that only we, at CBS News, had bothered to do a little bit of research and disclose the conflict of interest behind this widely reported survey.
So now you may be thinking, “What can I do? I thought I’d done my research. What chance do I have separating fact from fiction, especially if seasoned journalists with years of experience can be so easily fooled?”
I have a few strategies that I can tell you about to help you recognize signs of propaganda and astroturf. Once you start to know what to look for, you’ll begin to recognize it everywhere.
First, hallmarks of astroturf include use of inflammatory language such as “crank”, “quack”, “nutty”, “lies,” “paranoid”, “pseudo”, and “conspiracy”. Astroturfers often claim to debunk myths that aren’t myths at all. Use of the charged language test well: people hear something’s a myth, maybe they find it on Snopes, and they instantly declare themselves too smart to fall for it.
But what if the whole notion of the myth is itself a myth, and you and Snopes fell for that? Be aware when interests attack an issue by controversializing or attacking the people, personalities, and organizations surrounding it rather than addressing the facts. That could be astroturf.
And most of all, astroturfers tend to reserve all of their public skepticism for those exposing wrongdoing rather than the wrongdoers. In other words, instead of questioning authority, they question those who question authority. You might start to see things a little more clearly; it’s like taking off your glasses, wiping them, and putting them back on, realizing, for the first time, how foggy they’d been all along.
I can’t resolve these issues, but I hope that I’ve given you some information that will at least motivate you to take off your glasses and wipe them, and become a wiser consumer of information in an increasingly artificial, paid-for reality.
Weaponizing the Social Media
All credits to The Corbett Report.
Now openly admitted, governments and militaries around the world employ armies of keyboard warriors to spread propaganda and disrupt their online opposition. Their goal? To shape public discourse around global events in a way favorable to their standing military and geopolitical objectives. Their method? The Weaponization of Social Media. This is The Corbett Report.
It didn’t take long from the birth of the world wide web for the public to start using this new medium to transmit, collect and analyze information in ways never before imagined. The first message boards and clunky “Web 1.0” websites soon gave way to “the blogosphere.” The arrival of social media was the next step in this evolution, allowing for the formation of communities of interest to share information in real-time about events happening anywhere on the globe.
But as quickly as communities began to form around these new platforms, governments and militaries were even quicker in recognizing the potential to use this new medium to more effectively spread their own propaganda.
Their goal? To shape public discourse around global events in a way favorable to their standing military and geopolitical objectives.
Their method? The Weaponization of Social Media.
Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Snapchat. Instagram. Reddit. “Social media” as we know it today barely existed fifteen years ago. Although it provides new ways to interact with people and information from all across the planet virtually instantaneously and virtually for free, we are only now beginning to understand the depths of the problems associated with these new platforms. More and more of the original developers of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter admit they no longer use social media themselves and actively keep it away from their children, and now they are finally admitting the reason why: social media was designed specifically to take advantage of your psychological weaknesses and keep you addicted to your screen.
SEAN PARKER: If the thought process that went into building these applications—Facebook being the first of them to really understand it—that thought process was all about “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever, and that’s gonna get you to contribute more content and that’s gonna get you more likes and comments. So it’s a social validation feedback loop. I mean it’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. And I think that we—the inventors/creators, you know, it’s me, it’s Mark, it’s Kevin Systrom at Instagram, it’s all of these people—understood this consciously and we did it anyway.
SOURCE: Sean Parker – Facebook Exploits Human Vulnerability
It should be no surprise, then, that in this world of social media addicts and smartphone zombies, the 24/7 newsfeed is taking up a greater and greater share of people’s lives. Our thoughts, our opinions, our knowledge of the world, even our mood are increasingly being influenced or even determined by what we see being posted, tweeted or vlogged. And the process by which these media shape our opinions is being carefully monitored and analyzed, not by the social media companies themselves, but by the US military.
MARINA PORTNAYA: When the world’s largest social media platform betrays its users, there’s going to be outrage.
ABC HOST: The study to see whether Facebook could influence the emotional state of its users on that news feed.
CNN ANCHOR: It allowed researchers to manipulate almost 700,000 users’ news feeds. Some saw more positive news about their friends, others saw more negative.
CNN GUEST: Well I’m not surprised. I mean we’re all kind of lab rat than the big Facebook experiment.
PORTNAYA: But it wasn’t only Facebook’s experiment. It turns out the psychological study was connected to the US government’s research on social unrest.
MORNING JOE GUEST: This is really kind of creepy.
PORTNAYA: And it gets worse. What you may not know is that the US Department of Defense has reportedly spent roughly $20 million conducting studies aimed at learning how to manipulate online behavior in order to influence opinion. The initiative was launched in 2011 by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, otherwise known as DARPA. The program is best described as the US media’s effort to become better at detecting and conducting propaganda campaigns via social media. Translation: When anti-government messages gain ground virally, Washington wants to find a way to spread counter opinion.
SOURCE: US military harnesses social media to manipulate online behaviour
The DARPA document that details the Pentagon’s plans for influencing opinions in the social media space is called “Social Media in Strategic Communication.” DARPA’s goal, according to their own website, is “to develop tools to help identify misinformation or deception campaigns and counter them with truthful information.”
Exactly what tools were developed for this purpose and how they are currently being deployed is unclear. But Rand Walzman, the program’s creator, admitted last year that the project lasted four years, cost $50 million and led to the publication of over 200 papers. The papers, including “Incorporating Human Cognitive Biases in a Probabilistic Model of Retweeting,” “Structural Properties of Ego Networks,” and “Sentiment Prediction using Collaborative Filtering,” make the thrust of the program perfectly clear. Social media users are lab rats being carefully scrutinized by government-supported researchers, their tweets and Facebook posts and Instagram pictures being analyzed to determine how information spreads online, and, by implication, how the government and the military can use these social media networks to make their own propaganda “go viral.”
As worrying as this research is, it pales in comparison to the knowledge that governments, militaries and political lobby groups are already employing squadrons of foot soldiers to wage information warfare in the social media battlespace.
AL-JAZEERA ANCHOR: The Pentagon’s got a new plan to counter anti-American messages in cyberspace. It involves buying software that will enable the American military to create and control fake online personas—fake people, essentially—who will appear to have originated from all over the world. The plan is being undertaken by CENTCOM (US Central Command), and the objective of the online persona management service is to combat enemy propaganda by influencing foreign social media websites. CENTCOM has hired a software development company called “Ntrepid,” and, according to the contract, the California-based company will initially provide 50 user licenses, each of which would be capable of controlling up to 10 fake personas. US law forbids the use of this type of technology, called “sockpuppets,” against Americans, so all the personas will reportedly be communicating in languages like Arabic, Persian and Urdu.
SOURCE: Persona Online Management, Fake Online Personas, Sock Puppets, Astroturfing Bots, Shills
CTV ANCHOR: So is it okay to have the government monitor social media conversations and then to wade in and correct some of those conversations? With more on this, let’s go to technology expert Carmi Levy. He’s on the line from Montreal. Carmi, do you think the government’s monitoring what you and I are saying right now? Is this whole thing getting out of line, or what?
CARMI LEVY: It opens up a bit of a question. I’d like to call it a Pandora’s box about, you know, what exactly is the government’s aim here, and what do they hope to accomplish with what they find out? And as they accumulate this information online—this data on us—where does that data go? And so I think as much as we should applaud the government for getting into this area, the optics of it are potentially very Big Brother-ish. And the government really does need to be a little bit more concrete on what its intentions are and how it intends to achieve them.
SOURCE: CTV Confirms Government(s) employing Internet Trolls, Shills & PR Agents to ‘correct misinformation’
4WWL REPORTER: New evidence that government-owned computers at the Army Corps of Engineers office here in New Orleans are being used to verbally attack critics of the Corps comes in an affidavit from the former editor-in-chief of nola.com. Jon Donley, who was laid off this past February, tells us via satellite from Texas, in late 2006 he started noticing people presenting themselves as ordinary citizens defending the Corps very energetically.
JON DONLEY: What stuck out, though, was the wording of the comments was in many ways mirroring news releases from the Corps of Engineers.
SANDY ROSENTHAL: These commenters tried to discredit these people . . .
4WWL REPORTER: And when Rosenthal investigated, she discovered the comments were coming from users at the internet provider address of the Army Corps of Engineers offices here in New Orleans. She blamed the Corps for a strategy of going after critics.
ROSENTHAL: In the process of trying to obscure the facts of the New Orleans floodings, one of their tactics was just verbal abuse.
SOURCE: Government Sock Puppets
NAFTALI BENNETT: Mo’etzet Yesha, in conjunction with My Israel, has arranged an instruction day for Wiki editors. The goal of the day is to teach people how to edit in Wikipedia, which is the number one source of information today in the world. As a way of example, if someone searches the Gaza flotilla, we want to be there. We want to be the guys who influence what is written there, how it’s written, and to ensure that it’s balanced and Zionist in the nature.
SOURCE: Course: Zionist Editing on Wikipedia
These operations are only the visible and publicly-admitted front of a vast array of military and intelligence programs that are attempting to influence online behaviour, spread government propaganda, and disrupt online communities that arise in opposition to their agenda.
That such programs exist is not a matter of conjecture; it is mundane, established, documented fact.
In 2014, an internal document was leaked from GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA. The document, never intended for public release, was entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for a New Generation of Online Covert Operations” and bluntly stated that “We want to build Cyber Magicians.” It then goes on to outline the “magic” techniques that must be employed in influence and information operations online, including deception and manipulation techniques like “anchoring,” “priming” and “branding” propaganda narratives. After presenting a map of social networking technologies that are targeted by these operations, the document then instructs the “magicians” how to deceive the public through “attention management” and behavioural manipulation.
That governments would turn to these strategies is hardly a shocking development. In fact, the use of government shills to propagate government talking points and disrupt online dissent has been openly advocated on the record by high-ranking government officials for the past decade.
In 2008, Cass Sunstein, a law professor who would go on to become Obama’s information “czar,” co-authored a paper entitled “Conspiracy Theories,” in which he wrote that the “best response” to online “conspiracy theories” is what he calls “cognitive infiltration” of groups spreading these ideas.
“Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action. In one variant, government agents would openly proclaim, or at least make no effort to conceal, their institutional affiliations. […] In another variant, government officials would participate anonymously or even with false identities.”
It is perhaps particularly ironic that the idea that government agents are actually and admittedly spreading propaganda online under false identities is, to the less-informed members of the population, itself a “conspiracy theory” rather than an established conspiracy fact.
Unsurprisingly, when confronted about his proposal, Sunstein pretended to not remember having written it and then pointedly refused to answer any questions about it.
LUKE RUDKOWSKI: My name is Bill de Burgh from Brooklyn College, and I know you’ve written many articles. But I think the most telling one about you is the 2008 one called “Conspiracy Theories,” where you openly advocated government agents infiltrate activist groups of 9/11 Truth and also stifle dissent online. I was wondering why do you think it’s the government’s job, or why do you think the government should go after family members who have questions and 9/11 responders who are lied to about the air, survivors whose testimony conflicts, and also government whistleblowers that were gagged because they released information that contradicts the official story.
CASS SUNSTEIN: I think it was Ricky who said I’d written hundreds of articles and I remember some and not others. That one I don’t remember very well. I hope I didn’t say that. But whatever was said in that article, my role in government is to oversee federal rule-making in a way that is wholly disconnected from the vast majority of my academic writing, including that.
RUDKOWSKI: I just want to know is it safe to say that you retract saying that conspiracy theories should be banned or taxed for having an opinion online. Is it safe to say that?
SUNSTEIN: I don’t remember the article very well. So I hope I didn’t say either those things.
RUDKOWSKI: But you did and it’s written. Do you retract them?
SUNSTEIN: I’m focused on my job.
SOURCE: Obama Information Czar Cass Sunstein Confronted on Cognitive Infiltration of Conspiracy Groups
Now, a decade on from Sunstein’s proposal, we know that military psyops agents, political lobbyists, corporate shills and government propagandists are spending vast sums of money and employing entire armies of keyboard warriors, leaving comments and shaping conversations to change the public’s opinions, influence their behaviour, and even alter their mood. And they are helped along in this quest by the very same technology that allows the public to connect on a scale never before possible.
Technology is always a double-edged sword, and sometimes it can be dangerous to wield that sword at all. There are ways to identify and neutralize the threat of online trolls and shills, but the phenomenon is not likely to go away any time soon.
Each of us must find our own answer to the question of how best to incorporate these technologies into our life. But the next time you find yourself caught up in an argument with an online persona that may or may not be a genuine human being, it might be better to ask yourself if your efforts are better spent engaging in the argument or just turning off the computer.