Episode 206 S6-6
Propaganda Yesterday & Today
The Endless Night Ch 6
Dale and Lisa Goodwin
The term propaganda was coined by the Catholic Church to describe efforts to discredit. Protestant teachings in the 1600s. During World War II the Office of War Information (OWI) was created to sway public opinion with print, radio, film, and posters, They encouraged food rationing, buying war bonds, and performing tasks to support the war. Another arm of this same department produced propaganda for the enemy, making it look like it originated from their country (black propaganda as it's known). They transmitted radio messages that looked like they were produced in Germany.
The Nazis were experts at using propaganda. The Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment & Propaganda had a strict set of principles. The material must be limited to a very few points. The message must be delivered time and time again until every member of the public understands what is wanted. They also knew that as soon as you sacrifice your slogan and try to be many-sided, the message would be lost.
Currently, media has a full understanding that they are a major force in public opinion. There are more ways to spread propaganda now than ever. With the world's information becoming more and more accessible, we need shortcuts to understand. Propaganda often reinforces social myths and stereotypes. For example, introducing someone as an expert. They may or may not be but because they are introduced that way we assume they are. Propaganda can also be very subtle. For example, think of how differently the fact that a country like France obtaining nuclear power is presented compared to a country like Pakistan having nuclear power.
Propaganda can be hard to defend. You have to be aware of the perspective that others use to present a problem or issue. Plus, you have to be sensitive to situational demands, however trivial, including group norms, pressures, symbols of authority, and so forth. Finally, vocally disagreeing with false propaganda may not be enough.
With the invention of the internet, propaganda has taken on a much different direction. A movie called The Creepy Line by Wandering Foot Productions (available on Amazon Prime) illustrates a disturbing aspect of how modern technology can exploit people. The theory is that with the internet, we have so much knowledge; however, this quote from the movie sums it up. "Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight, each grow out of the other and we need them all." Sir Author C. Clark
Because the internet is such a recent invention, it is difficult to understand its impact on society. The internet has made all the world's information accessible to anyone. Most of the major players of today were created in universities with intentions of making user's lives better. Google was founded at Stanford and Facebook at Harvard. They were all about the promise of a free flow of information. Very early on, they realized they could have a positive impact, but with that power came responsibility.
Today, Google controls sixty-five percent of searches in the United States and even more overseas. Google started as a search engine to move someone in and out of their sight as soon as possible. They started using the page rank algorithm to improve their targeting capabilities. Google spiders crawl through the internet and analyze links in a website. Websites with links to more popular sites, get moved up the page rank.
However, Google also needed to make money, so they started tracking the searches that users performed and compiling marketing information based on those searches. They started building user profiles so they would know what you were more likely to buy and point you in that direction. This targeted advertising could expertly link buyers and sellers, and the company was set up so that the Google founders would always have a controlling share of the company. They developed a corporate model that reflected their data compilation: "Don't be evil." However, Google never defined what "evil" was. Their homepage was always kept clean of adds and provided a safe, simple way to search.
Once smartphones came along, the game began to change. Now time on the sight became a big deal. Google had to figure out how to keep users on their platform, so they developed the Google Chrome Browser and the Android phone. The smartphone could even provide them with information about what the user was doing when they weren't online through the uploads of your day's locations. Every new tool provides Google with a new source of information about you. They went on to create Google maps, docs, etc. so they have more and more sources to gather information. You are the product! A detailed user agreements details their data gathering and you, the user, have to sign it.
All this technology is driven by math. In a room somewhere there are a handful of individuals that decide which sites the mathematics are picking out. With the data on an individual, it is easy to steer them in a direction that you want them to go, and you'll probably thank them because it provides you with something you were searching for. So, the question is: How do you ethically steer people's thoughts? When someone asks a question, the equation shuffles through the possible answers so you can take action. The machine is working as a filter between you and the outside world. However, the algorithm that this handful of people control doesn't just filter; it organizes the answers it provides into a list with the most important ones at the top. It is made to be biased and will always favor one thing over another. It builds a profile so it can decide what is best for you and filter out the "bad."
Companies with bigger and better computers have more access throughout the world, which also gives them more power over decisions. It can allow or deny you access before you can even think about it. This targeted material narrows our views. You only get to see what you know and agree with, cutting down on learning opportunities. This denial of information makes people more polarized, easier to control, and easier to manipulate.
This new power companies, like Google and Facebook, have gatekeeper control. They are not regulated like traditional media, and with most younger people getting their news from Facebook, that is scary. With this new hunger for easier to access news, much misinformation was spread. It is easy to fight against fake news media for a few reasons. It's competitive; you can publish, I can publish. You can see the fake news stories so you can judge it. Finally, you can match it against your confirmation bias. Did you already believe what the story was telling you? In a search or targeted Facebook message, you can't see that they didn't give you other options. It's harder to judge the message, without extensive fact-checking, and usually, the algorithm is picking us stories that already match our confirmation bias. They're showing you what they think you "should" see.
Facebook has conducted psychological tests on users. They wanted to see if what your friends posted had a direct effect on the user's mood. It turns out that if your friends post negative things, it will make you more depressed. Facebook took the information and "weaponized it" to find out if they could purposefully change someone's mood. As citizens, we have no vote on Facebook because if Facebook were allowed to edit the information they display, they would have an even bigger legal obligation. If you present the site as an open site, presenting all information, they are not legally responsible for what's posted.
Google's impact on society has been categorized as the SEAM (Search Engine Manipulation) Effect. Because something is at the top, the user thinks it's better. Fewer than 5% of searches go past page one. When you do a simple search, the best definition is usually at the top, so it teaches you to trust the answer at the top. This education makes it easy to shift user opinions with an invisible, noncompetitive tool.
Auto-fillin can also have a huge impact on a user. You start typing, and they suggest what you are looking for. SEAM happens again as the options that support your views appear in front of you. However, within the answers, if they provide just one negative one, the negativity bias will take over. Users are ten to fifteen times more likely to pick that one negative answer.
In the consumer world, Google is a major player. Their box at the top has the same look and feel of the other search answers but provides paid for, targeted answers. With forty percent of the searches on Google being performed locally, Google has a big part to play in local business as well. This one company can shift the opinions of billions with no known public knowledge.
The Creepy Line reminds us that Google's privacy notice states that you have control over your information. You can delete and decline, but if you allow them permission to use your data, they can serve you better. Google wants you to have privacy from everybody but them. They track emails and even email drafts that you don't send. They are present on school grounds and universities providing platforms for students to use as their data is collected and new profiles are built for our children. Google even runs the federal government. They already had a network, and the appropriate levels of security set up, so Google was hired to control government communications.
Google streetcars have been caught and fined for collecting unauthorized information. Now, they have Google smart devices that sit in our homes and are always on, collecting information. These new tools are answering our children's questions, and whether it is a child or an adult, the machine chooses the one best answer.
A little talked about fact is Google has "blacklists" of websites that they don't want to put on the results list. The worst is their "quarantine" list. Access to these sites is blocked, and there are millions of sites on the list. They can shut down the whole internet if they want to. One has to ask? Who gave them that power? Google doesn't even have to disclose their position on why adverse actions were taken against your site. They can block people from your YouTube channel, if what you are saying goes against their views. Google can shut of channel and email access for any type of "policy violation." They can block access to your website from Google Chrome as well as from other browsers, and there is no customer service department to discuss the decision with.
A highly respected psychiatrist, Robert Epstein, published a paper about Google's capability to sway an election and Google shut him down. His email and website were no longer accessible. Robert's prominence shined the light on Google's activities, but one has to wonder how many other people had this done to them, but they were not publicly respected enough to get noticed.
Google and Facebook are known as "kingmakers." They can make kings in any country with subtle operations that happen behind the scenes. if they teamed up in the United States, they could easily sway ten percent of the vote. To prove this theory, a test was performed with a group of US citizens. They were asked questions about an Australian candidate that they had no affiliation to and then forced them to pick a candidate. After that, the testers let the group research with a biased search engine. One group was shown answers favoring one candidate, and the other half saw biased answers the other way. Before the search, there was an even split between the candidates. After the search, there was a forty-eight percent shift in all questions toward the bias they were shown. Three-fourths of the people had no idea the results were biased.
In a second experiment, they found that if they presented just one different answer from the biased ones, there was a sixty percent switch in answers! Also, eighty-five percent of people had no idea the results were biased. In the final test, they added one more opposite opinion. This time there was an eighty percent shift in responses towards the bias candidate, and one hundred percent didn't know they were given biased results!
These high tech monstrosities lobby our government more than any other corporation, but they are not held accountable for the amount of control they wield. Human nature dictates that we should always assume there is a tyrant in us instead of a promise not to do evil. The dictators of the past could only dream of this type of social control. The regulation is far behind the technical advancements, and if this continues, our democracy would be an illusion in a world where communication between two people must be financed by a biased handful of people that want to manipulate them.
Featured Quote From Today's Chapter:
"Their chanting gave her strength, though, and reminded her what she was fighting for."
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