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Disinformation has been around forever. In her book “Strongmen” the author points out that the use of disinformation has empowered such tyrants as Mussolini, Hitler, Berlusconi, and dozens more. …
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Disinformation has been around forever. In her book “Strongmen” the author points out that the use of disinformation has empowered such tyrants as Mussolini, Hitler, Berlusconi, and dozens more. We might ask how tyrannical strongmen fool their people into allowing their reigns of terror. I don’t want to make this a book report, but historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat outlines the strategies that fool citizens into being convinced that the leader is a noble person with patriotic motives. Their message often revolves around an “only I can fix it.” theme.
The amount and depth of misinformation and its entwinement with the Internet is concerning. Every day we are bombarded with inaccurate information, alternative facts and outright lies. I have done a deep dive into this subject including the book “Trust me, I’m Lying,” an account of how the world of manufactured disinformation works. The author, Ryan Holiday shares his diabolical misadventures.
Let me start with some examples. The book author tells how he promoted a movie. His first step was to personally vandalize a billboard he had created to promote the movie. Next, he sent out pictures of the vandalized billboard with messages of outrage to several small blogs. The bloggers repeated the outrage and the fake story got bigger. He attached fake comments from made-up e-mail addresses. Within two weeks, thousands of college students protested the provocative movie. Fox news.com wrote about the backlash and the New York Post wrote about the author. The Chicago Transit Authority banned advertisements of the movie. The Chicago Tribune and Washington Post ran negative editorials. The movie was now what everyone was talking about, and it all started with the acts of one media manipulator.
You might think this is a victimless crime. Do you remember Terry Jones, the Florida Pastor who said he would burn the Koran? This began with a grainy video outside his church but ballooned in a similar fashion until the act resulted in the deaths of 11 U.N. staffers and Afghans. In this case innocent people died.
How do these things happen? First, understand that there are millions of bloggers out there all trying to get paid. The paydays are small so the bloggers must produce volumes of stories to pay their bills. Think about the thousands of news stories you see on-line every day. You may use a news aggregator like Smart News, Yahoo News, News Break and many more. They provide a never-ending collection of news stories available to you. They have beautiful pictures, provocative titles which often overstate or outright distort what’s promised in the title. Embedded in the article are ads. It’s these ads that generate revenue. If I click on an embedded ad, money flows to the blogger. As you have probably noticed, the design is such that you may inadvertently click on an ad, thus the name clickbait.
I have a friend who is a writer. She has done her share of writing for a fee by creating blogs. It usually starts with blogs that are created to utilize what are called keywords. She was able to get contracts which she wrote and posted on a strict schedule. Words like dependable, high quality, reliable, effective and similar favorable words, are recognized by Google. As it recognizes the words, the resulting match moves the posting company up within the Google selection system. If you have enough of this search engine optimization, you will pop up at the top of a customer’s search.
My friend reports being asked to write articles which overstate a product’s performance or attributes. She has turned down many requests to author bogus customer product reviews. My friend decided that these were not how she would utilize her writing expertise, but there is no absence of individuals who will write these “fictional” posts. It seems not to be the most ethical use of the internet, but this is how it works.
Companies like the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA Today all have reputations as respected news sources. They hire college trained journalists who are expected to follow reporting and fact checking standards honed over many years. In 2017 three CNN senior reporters were fired not because their story was wrong, but because they failed to follow the fact checking protocol. The small bloggers, where most content originates, have no journalism standards, and certainly no reputation to protect. There is an incentive to produce more words, but none to check the facts within those words. Thus, the stories are often distorted or even baseless. As the stories are picked up by larger bloggers more readers are exposed to the alternative facts produced by some nameless blogger. Edgar Allen Poe said. “Believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see.” Today he might add, “and fact check everything.”
Next: Disinformation and politics.
Jim Rohrer of Evergreen is a business consultant and author of the books “Improve Your Bottom Line … Develop MVPs Today” and “Never Lose Your Job … Become a More Valuable Player.” Jim’s belief is that common sense is becoming less common. (More about Jim at www.theloyaltypartners.com.)
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