The Technology of Propaganda

Well, this is pretty terrifying.

My oldest son recently sent me a link to an article from an online magazine called Paste. I had never heard of the publication; it seems, after a cursory investigation, to be credible. The title was “How the Trump-Russia Data Machine Games Google to Fool Americans.” The author identified himself as a former member of an online marketing team.

I’m not going to get into the weeds of SEO (search engine optimization). But I am going to say something that sounds completely insane, and warn you that we’re in the middle of something we’ve never experienced in America: a full-on psychological war. And Google, of all places, is a main battlefield…

There are other information weapons, such as bots and fake news sites, but other stories have those pretty well covered. But before we get started, though, two things to keep in mind:

First, most of us don’t even know we’re in this war yet. You don’t know when you’ve been wounded, when you’ve been killed. And that’s the whole point: You’re not supposed to.

Second, the attacks in this war aren’t aimed at your enemies. You attack your own side.

The author says that highly selective information is being presented in ways that encourage “selective reading” and offer “psychological and social rewards.” We are being rewarded, essentially, for being stupid and for spreading stupid to others. Where this lesson in the uses and misuses of search engines got really chilling was in the following example.

A couple weeks ago I saw an insane person on my Facebook feed screaming about how Obama had leaked classified information about the Bin Laden raid that got people killed. What the fuck? I’d never heard anything about this, and the raid was six years ago, and this guy was a total right-wing crackpot, which is the trifecta for guaranteeing at least fifteen full minutes of batshit conspiracy theory misinfotainment. So I duly Googled “obama classified information bin laden.” If you do that right now, here’s what you get.

If you click through, he has reproduced a large number of links to sites offering variations of the same “Obama gives classified information” story. Several of them were clearly products of a political fringe, others looked reputable. But as the author pointed out

Look … at the dates on those articles. May 16 and 17 of this year. This year. The Bin Laden raid, again, was six fucking years ago. What’s happening here? Why are all these different white nationalist news sites suddenly writing about this together? Why did they start doing it on May 16? Why do those articles even exist?

Well, on May 15, you might remember, The Washington Post broke this little gem: President Trump shared top secret intel with the Russian Foreign Minister and Russian Ambassador. In the Oval Office. In front of Russian state media.

The author suggests another experiment:

Together, we’re going to Google the phrase “trump no evidence collusion.” (And because Google searches change over time, I’ll drop screenshots of my results here.) What will emerge is a picture of an invisible hand writing a specific argument, over and over and over. That hand belongs to Robert Mercer, Trump’s data man, who gamed Google and fake news during the campaign and whose return to the scene is heralded by Trump’s war room and bot boom. If you want, you can read more

And here’s where the optimization comes into play: pages one and two of the Google search results do not include any reputable sources. Not until page three!

There, buried under InfoWars and National Review and The Blaze and not one, not two, but three pieces from The Free Beacon, we finally find good old Reuters! And, lo: the good old Washington Post! And what about The Failing New York Times? Truly failing.

The article is lengthy, and it takes the reader through the strategy of optimization, step by step. It is eye-opening.

I strongly suggest you read the entire article. It’s illuminating–and very, very depressing…..

26 thoughts on “The Technology of Propaganda

  1. Russia’s “teams” learned several years ago how to weaponize the internet. We have argued, in Bailey et al v United States, docket 16-1464, a Petition for Writ of Mandamus and for Appointment of Special Master before the United States supreme Court, that numerous matters constituted an invasion of the United States, in violation of Article IV, Sec 4 of the United States Constitution. We also have argued treason occurred to place Donald J Trump in the White House. We seek a revote. As an intermediate remedy, we seek appointment of a Special Master to conduct an independent investigation. Such an investigation is unlikely to occur under the Republican-majority houses of Congress and will not happen under the executive branch. One thing people can do is write letters to their representative and Senators and request Congressional subpoenas be issued for ALL software and voting machines in the country. In Wisconsin, as an example, one precinct’s machines were removed the day AFTER the elction for the software in the machine to be “updated.”

  2. Wasn’t there something like this during the Bush II administration? I remember reading about how some White House connected entity would put out the “story line/topic” of the day, and then all of hate talk radio would focus that day’s broadcast on the same story line/topic. This is just a ratcheting up of that tactic, only this time they are using the internet and Google in particular to spread their propaganda.

    We all need to work at becoming better at using the internet. It’s just a tool, not the be all and end all of information.

  3. I thought we all knew this is how The Technology of Propaganda operated. Each side uses the ‘bots’ …. FOX still uses old fashion reporters quoting the ‘bots’ but the question I am left with is why are we so ready to choose sides and be so polarized?
    With Bernie supporters resorting to guns I am glad I have chosen to watch rather than participate in the conversation.

  4. “Why are all these different white nationalist news sites suddenly writing about this together?”

    Why? Because they may have different site names but all are under the White Nationalist perverted view of white supremacy which brought about the Civil War. There is power in numbers. The KKK, White Citizens Councils, White Supremacists; changeable and interchanging titles, currently White Nationalists, adhering to southern sovereignty governing in all southern states. Who better to guide white nationalists than Jefferson Sessions? Self-recused from the Russian investigation but a main participant in the firing of James Comey, chief investigator of said investigation, and unable to answer questions in the legal hearing regarding the Russian investigation due to failing memory?

    Do we even need to use Google or other search engines when we can watch and listen to their own words and denials live and in real-time? Propaganda is not technology when we witness the spread of denials and lies of Trump/Putin/Russia propaganda as it happens during these frustrating hearings; both moving at snail pace due to interrupting sidetracks provided by our current elected and appointed “leaders”.

    Yesterday’s terrible shootings, remember there were TWO shootings, are not sidetracking us from anything but Trump’s ignored birthday. Where are his whiney, cry-baby, overnight Tweets seeking recognition and celebration of the day of his birth? Could we find that on any search engine?

  5. You probably don’t want to Google the word “santorum”.

    If, in fact, Google search is being weaponized and used to influence our elections and destabilize our government and NGO institutions, then it needs to be determined if Google’s senior management is aware of this (they would have to be) and what steps they are taking to combat it worldwide. If such initiatives seem inaedequate or purposefully accommodative (in the name of a free and unregulated internet) then our Congress needs to take action to assert its constitutional authority to regulate commerce and put some kind of oversight in place that utilizes the talents of DoD and NSA. Unfortunately, this opens up a Pandora’s box of issues around government control of powerful communications and information/knowledge infrastructure. What’s next? Wikipedia? But if it’s a trade off between the wild wild west of unregulated business and the long -term preservation of our republic, I’m going with the latter every time.

  6. Let me repeat myself and expand my comments on this subject.

    WE ALL NEED TO IMPROVE OUR USE AND UNDERSTANDING OF THE INTERNET.

    For starters, when you read ANY “news report” that contains the words “may, might, perhaps, or could” you are getting someone’s conjecture. Conjecture is not news. It is opinion.

    All “news” outlets are not equal. Real news outlets publish and broadcast FACTS, not opinion unless they clearly label it so. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer of these news outlets everyday.

    If you cannot take the time to check out the source of the information you are taking in and then perhaps sending out to others, you are part of the problem.

    Be skeptical and take responsibility.

  7. It is scary,but propaganda is nothing new. The right has been using this tactic for a long time,so has our government (Gulf of Tonkin),and as of late the Democratic Party. Propaganda works,you can view its success within the comments of this very blog.

    You cannot trust “credentialed” news organizations such as the NYT (Judy Miller). One must be careful of what they read. One,as unfortunate as it is,there is no evidence the Russian state hacked and influenced the last American election–None!

    Yet,this is being propagated by people who consider themselves well informed. If it were the case,why is it the Democratic Party has not lobbied against electronic voting?

  8. Theresa, you are absolutely right! “Be skeptical” should be the watchword of every day. Links in those posts often contain worms as well, so don’t go there. It’s too bad we can’t inject everyone with a good judgement serum.

  9. this must be why im so ever misinformed, i dont google, face,tweet. I spend a good piece of my day reading decent independant journalism, people with awards for effort,and people who, get interviews with the people directly involved with the subject matter. am I diffrent? maybe thats how i was raised, to listen,and further my search for VIABLE sources,not some fanatic crap to disturb the democracy in our country. sure its basically political,but thats where my citizenship is, for people,not some cheap rant or rave about some pet peave. facts,will determine an opinion,and my own opinion. Then if in all course, the vote. where did this track of thought take a dump off a long pier? Im in talking with like minded,and not so like minded blue collar workers everyday. mainly in my job. I hear,some far out crap that is just too far to believe from the start, where did they get this info?face,google,some right wing blog, and of course, talk, cheap talk. makes one feel good,makes his buds keep them part of their little world, maybe as far as the bigO… sorry, but its possible.. when i question their source,im met with im not getting my news and facts from good sources. my sources, mmmm, the nation, huff post,politico,intercept,and the like. mmmmm, makes one think,what they were tought in school and family value. i question it, because our democracy depends on a free and noteworthy news source,beyond cheap rehetoric,or,propaganda. hey is goebles still alive and well? take a look at past propaganda,and why it was used, maybe someone needs a course in being a citizen,and not working for the demise of our country,goverment,and democracy. best wishes.

  10. The Intelligence Community has been employing this since the 1950’s – most importantly after WWII where they saw millions of Germans turn against Jews and each other in the name or purity.

    Mein Kampf is a handbook of Hitler’s use of propaganda. We’ve experienced decades of this to convince us to buy one product or service over another. Public relations and marketing are all about the psychology of consumers.

    Google is working on a filter which will use the Washington narrative, as revealed by WaPo and NYT, to filter out all fake news from searches and the Internet. In other words, the Washington narrative is the “TRUTH”. Anybody holding a contrarian view will be classified as a fake news.

    It’s an ingenious form of manipulation, censorship, and propaganda.

    The goal is to eliminate populism by forcing people to conform. They’re losing control. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump should have never been allowed to become popular enough to win an election. That must be stopped for the sake of the USA being an ongoing concern.

    Matt Taibbi just published a great article about the “illusion of centrism” with the right-left paradigm. The official US narrative is our country is split by right, center and left belief systems.

    The truth is we are a class system where the majority encompasses the “have-nots”. If we ever figure out the game is rigged against us…we’ll demand changes. Those running this country will not voluntarily hand it back over to the people. They will use all their power to prevent the people from taking our country back.

  11. William is flat-out wrong when he says “One,as unfortunate as it is,there is no evidence the Russian state hacked and influenced the last American election–None!”

    There is a massive amount of data and some of it is public. The coordination of Wikileaks, RT News, Sputnik, and bot attacks from sites controlled or affiliated with Russia are well-established. If you are confused about that, I’d refer you to Clinton Watts’ public testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. To claim otherwise is willful ignorance or deliberate deception. Our intelligence agencies have also uncovered attempt to manipulate voting rolls. It is yet to be determined whether they succeeded in deleting data there, which is even better than manipulating the voting machines themselves, since it would prevent people from casting ballots if they are not on the rolls.

  12. Trump does not need an army of auto-bots to influence the “news” cycle he has the greed of the McMega-Media to rely on. Everyday 24/7 the news cycle is Trump-Russia or Russia-Trump, solemn looking guests on a panel comment on the latest leak, or source and carry on their on the air investigation. It seems to me these “presenters” on these cable networks have watched far too many episodes of Law and Order or CSI Hooterville. Crimes or alleged crimes are not solved through the judicial system in one hour.

    At least in my Baby-Boomer lifetime the Media have been willing out lets for government propaganda: Gulf of Tonkin, War on Drugs, Gulf War 2, War on Terror just to name a few.

  13. Propaganda is nothing more than Lakoffian framing to manage the issue under discussion. Goebbels did a great job for Hitler (Jews and communists are colluding to overthrow the legitimate government) and dumb as he is, Trump is good at framing issues. Thus what Comey said that was good for his cause is truth, but Comey is a liar on matters that are adverse to his interests.
    Among other distortions of truth, one of the direct results of all this propaganda and counter-propaganda whether electronic or ink-based is that America is spinning its wheels on passing desperately needed legislation on such issues as minimum to living wage, regulation of a Wall Street ready to go back to its old tricks now that Dodd-Frank has been defanged and the rich and corporate class can again be in charge of allocation of risk for the rest of us as they were in the Bush Administration – like, who elected them? The Congress is doing nothing and what they are doing is so secretive that the leadership in the Senate will not even level what is in bills with their own party members, and all the while their “malignant narcissist” president is tweeting his way into impeachment territory, the sum total of which points to treading water while a political tsunami is coming into view. We can and should do better, and shooting Republicans is not the way to go. Let’s (figurtively) put them out of political commission at the polls. They represent the Gilded Age past, not our future, so let’s do our duty in 2018.

  14. I do find it interesting how people can get all in a lather about Russian interference in our election. It seems to be easy for people to compartmentalize their outrage concerning the USA’s interference in other countries vs when it happens to the USA.

    There is a long list of countries around the world since WW 2, that the US has invaded, sponsored coups in. Millions dead, wounded, missing and refugees from Indo-China to the Middle East because of US Military actions approved by our elected politicians. We are supposedly the champion of human rights, but blindly support the Theocratic Dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Oil States.

    We ignore the actions of the Wall Street-Security-Military-Industrial Complex when it’s destruction is released on the world, but become hyperventilated about Russian interference in our elections.

    The lobbyists, big campaign donations by the 1%, Citizens United, PACs, and Super PACs have inflicted far more damage on our political system than the Russians could have dreamed of doing.

  15. There is a bigger issue surrounding all of this and that is: is democracy viable when our lives are so enmeshed in information that is unreliable or intentionally distorted?

    I think not but I don’t have any answers to the follow-up question, if not democracy, what?

    Look at the dysfunction that fake news has already caused the world and we have to believe that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg as technology rolls on at a breakneck pace.

    We have taken the process that empowered Hitler as an example and put it on steroids. We have unintentionally created the Ministry of Truth of “1984” and we have no cure.

    We used to think the atomic bomb was the ultimate weapon but it turns out that wrecking minds is way more powerful than wrecking buildings and killing people was.

    It was bad enough that it led us to unsustainable consumption but it appears to have destabilized civilization.

    Now what?

  16. mark small – I am taking your advice, quoted below, and hope others do as well.

    “One thing people can do is write letters to their representative and Senators and request Congressional subpoenas be issued for ALL software and voting machines in the country.”

  17. William – the internet article you posted is from EXACTLY the type of site that today’s blog is about. Why on earth would you ever trust something from a source like that???

  18. Nancy,no it is not. This man and his writers live in reality. You do not.

    Colonel W. Patrick Lang is a retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces (The Green Berets). He served in the Department of Defense both as a serving officer and then as a member of the Defense Senior Executive Service for many years. He is a highly decorated veteran of several of America’s overseas conflicts including the war in Vietnam. He was trained and educated as a specialist in the Middle East by the U.S. Army and served in that region for many years. He was the first Professor of the Arabic Language at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. In the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) he was the “Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East, South Asia and Terrorism,” and later the first Director of the Defense Humint Service.” For his service in DIA, he was awarded the “Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive.” This is the equivalent of a British knighthood. He is an analyst consultant for many television and radio broadcasts.

  19. William; your posts often confuse me, seldom more than your comments at 12:21 p.m. today. I did, while reading a favorite book of poetry, find a verse in Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” it compares with.

    “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
    All mimsy were the borogroves,
    And the mome rath outgrabe”

    I’m sure you must be one of the few who actually understands Trump’s Tweets and probably Sessions’ responses at the Senate Intelligence hearing; but why you deny Russia’s interference is beyond understanding. To me, it was like trying to decipher the above verse from “Jabberwocky”. Not worth the attempt.

  20. I think the responses epitomize and underscore the subject given by the professor as the premise for today’s post.

    In JoAnn’s view,if one doesn’t believe in the BS being propagated by the Clinton Inc. sycophants and its surrogates( Russia Stole The Election),that person is summarily accused of being a Trump supporter.

    Propaganda works. Many among this very forum have fallen for it.

  21. “The United States Intelligence Community has concluded with high confidence that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.[1] ”

  22. Many of us have worked on student newspapers, yearbooks, television-radio projects, then in newspapers or have retiring relatives who have. Meanwhile, we cannot use periodicals and journals TWICE — pasted into a Court report on a case or any other “twofer” uses. The social register turned me off right away as HIGH SCHOOL level or phonics.
    All that personification is just more ink that actually leads to less, Inc.

    Americans write BOOKS to each other just for a doctorate in Speech.

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