Mud-slinging Has Always Been a Dirty Business. Now, it’s Corrupting the Heart of Our Democracy.
There is nothing new about false narratives during political campaigns or even lies being presented about the candidates themselves. Politics is a dirty game and always has been. We need only look back to the election of 1800, pitting Vice-President Thomas Jefferson and President John Adams against each other. The mud-slinging was horrendous with an Adams supporter suggesting that if Thomas Jefferson were elected as President “we would see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution.” Just one of many assault tactics, some in the country believed the nonsense, while others tried to stick with the facts. While our historical method of spreading news once relied on the daily printed newspaper, today’s landscape has expanded beyond anything that our founding fathers could have imagined. Out technologies are fusing the psychology of fake news to manipulate using methods that are crafted as brainwashing.
There is one underlying fact that permeates throughout the entire scenario of fake political news, and that is that we now have too many avenues for lies and manipulation to be delivered. The creators of these narratives make use of some underlying psychological ploys, combines lies with a small kernel of truth, and then spreads them out into a tribal base so that the misinformation will be shared. Once the purveyors have them “hooked,” they can add narratives that run from the ridiculous to the bizarre.
The University of Oxford’s Internet Institute academics group studied posting patterns and political affiliations of nearing 14,000 Twitter users and around 48,000 Facebook pages to identify which groups are more apt to post and share lies and fake news. While those involved in the study found that people on both extreme sides of the political spectrum shared and consumed junk news, it was the hard conservatives of the ultra-rightwing that share the largest quantity of fake news.
What worked in the past has been the heart and soul formula for playing people for fools. The deep-seated desire to have validation for their core belief system is wound up in a flurry of fake news articles, memes, and tweets. The more successful a fake campaign is, the more that the purveyors continue to ramp it up to include more and more outrageous comments and content until the tsunami of rhetoric lies is out of control.
Addressing the topic of political misinformation is a high priority around the globe. There is a dichotomy of philosophy between restriction of speech that can be completely legal and outsourcing the dialogue to private companies to let them take the directive. In 2018, the European digital commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, began promoting the EU new code against disinformation. In this format they are establishing guidelines that are nonbinding that pushes organizations such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter for increased transparency in online political advertising so that there is a reduction of the quantity of fake social media profiles and accounts. Other countries such as India and Brazil are considering similar programs.
However, as much as one might want to pat the organizers on the back, this is too little too late. They are fighting a 2020 political war based on 2016 information, with the digital age progressing at an alarmingly faster pace. Tactics have now escalated that makes it almost impossible to tell what or who is “real” and who isn’t. At one point it was relatively easy to identify Russian purveyors of fake new. However, now, these same individuals are becoming deeply embedded in the country as they pretend to be American or European citizens, purchasing political ads with local currencies and making it difficult to pinpoint that they are the misinformation sources. When you add the sophistication of AI and the latest tech projects developed by their engineers, we find that they have created the perfect storm of lies combined with technology and psychology.
Gauging Who is Behind the Lies Based on Who they are Attacking
The barrage of false attacks on Hillary Clinton started over 20 years ago and moved from the tabloids to Fox and any/all conservative mouthpiece. This seemed to set a kind of standard as there didn’t seem to be a storyline weird enough that the conservatives wouldn’t buy into, and it created a baseline for much of the fake news that we see today. There is a reason that the tabloids at the front grocery counter sold so well! No one was more aware of this aspect than Rupert Murdoch, founder of Fox News. He had made his millions in the U.K. with yellow tabloid journalism and just repackaged it into a television news program to appeal to the extreme conservatives.
In our piece on Attention vs Credibility, we state:
Journalism and truth have morphed into a constant battle of attention versus credibility, and the attention economy has been winning.
The war for attention has increased the betting lines so that the more outrageous the attack, the better the ratings.
As candidates are lining up for the 2020 Presidential election, we can pretty much place a bet on who the Russians are afraid of the most. Attacks are being crafted against individuals such as Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and even Amy Klobuchar. The quantity of attacks on Kamala Harris seem to be indicative that the powers-that-be on the conservative side see her as a true adversary. Some of the most recent misinformation on Representative Harris have included such idiotic “birtherism” questions as it relates to her family, accusations that she is Muslim and is aligned with President Obama (whom they also think is Muslim), and in one of the most heinous examples, Fox placed Ms. Harris’ image with a headline that had nothing to do with her but acted to insinuate that it did.
Misrepresentation of Ms. Harris picture with a misleading headline. Fox later apologized for the disinformation as there was no connection between the headline and Ms. Harris.
While there are many targets, the misinformation army traditionally tries to go for the low hanging fruit and since Ilhan Omar is a Muslim woman serving as Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District Representative, any comments that she makes is fair game. The attacks on Representative Omar have covered a gamut, from accusing her of a desire to have Sharia Law to taking one true quote and combining it with an outright lie.
The game may ebb and flow as new players are added, but one can just look at the volume of attacks under the guise of “news” to see who they are afraid of the most. Those that are creating the onslaught of false narratives have found an Achilles heel when it comes to the Democrats in that when an accusation such as sexual abuse is made, the Democrats will quickly throw their own under the bus as a purification method. This may have worked once or twice, but Democrats are keen on seeing through this ploy.
A NY Times article indicated what we are probably going to see as the 2020 Election cycle approaches:
“Russia’s social media efforts will continue to focus on aggravating social and racial tensions, undermining trust in authorities, and criticizing perceived anti-Russia politicians,” says the written threats assessment. “Moscow may employ additional influence toolkits — such as spreading disinformation, conducting hack-and- leak operations, or manipulating data — in a more targeted fashion to influence U.S. policy, actions and elections.”
“China and Iran may also seek to influence American politics, the assessment said. And China and Russia are working together as never before in recent history.”
Bots, AI, Fake Profiles, Lying Memes Assault Critical Thinking
Twitter bot amplification is at such a degree that it is considered to be out of control. The open platform that Twitter takes pride in also allows an original tweet to be amplified through retweeting to an almost unlimited number. Sophisticated algorithms are being designed to delve into the dark depths of the originators and follow the tweeting bread crumbs to the sources. All that it takes is one lie and a candidate that is captured and backed up by a few media sources and then tweeted and retweeted until people believe that the lie is the truth.
Imposter profiles on all forms of social media have become more prevalent and people are finding that they have to defend themselves against the fake ID’s and their often vicious comments.
The use of AI on such platforms as YouTube has opened the floodgates so that the very videos that we once relied upon as a method of truth are now well-designed lies. The investment into this technology is a game-changer as the political arena can be completely overthrown with false narratives that appear to be a favored political candidate. The purveyors aren’t just making use of one or two areas of focus, but are combining many formats as a complete organization. Groups, agendas, and marketing back up the videos as it becomes a free-for-all in the flow of lies.
Memes have been some of the most difficult to counteract as they are text embedded as art and therefore have been historically impossible for source or truth location. This fake news format is a driving force in the undercurrent as it continues to push the narratives in ways that are easy for individuals to share with little effort.
What began as big tech has now continued down the path of big tech and political leaders around the globe seem to be helpless to do anything on their own. The additional piece to the conundrum is that the political representatives themselves don’t seem to understand how the technology works, on even the most basic of levels.
As a society, we cannot rely on the critical thinking abilities that have been our mainstay to fight off the overwhelming volume of fake news. There is an absolute requirement for a method to the madness to identify, clarify, grade, and optimize so that we can be given a lens to see through and make our own judgments.
This Is Why We Fight,
We are fighting in the war against misinformation to create a more empowered critical thinking society.
To find out more about our team and the Blackbird.AI Mission, visit us at www.blackbird.ai