Information is power. The ability to reason, to critically think, is a major component of how we perceive and digest information and how that information can influence our perceptions, thoughts, ideas, actions and behaviors. We live in the era of an age of information. We are just in our infancy of the Technological Age. Information is for the taking at the click of a button, and that click is a very powerful tool.
We have now seen up close how the power of suggestion is a powerful weapon that can be wielded for good and bad. The 2016 Presidential election of disinformation will be one for the history books. What will people 100, 200, 500 years from now say about us as they look back? Will we be compared to those people we look back on 100, 200, 500 years ago from us and equate us with flat Earther’s? It is a sobering thought. We think we are so smart.
But the reality is, the truth does not change. It is just waiting for us to discover it. The earth was not flat, it was just sitting there waiting for us to discover it was round.
We look back to a time when books were a sign of wealth, where only the wealthy had access to knowledge, then progressed into the printing press. I tend to believe this is a comparative comparison to where we are now. Can you imagine living in the 15th century and then suddenly there are mass productions of books and dissemination of information? We are talking about a time people still burned witches.
So much information that can influence us. Could the American Revolution have succeeded without the ability to roll out propaganda? There is food for thought.
Fast forward to the 2016 Presidential election, earlier, really, considering we now know as early as 2012 Ben Shapiro, whether wittingly or not, helped Paul Manafort push pro-Russian Ukrainian political propaganda on Breitbart – “Bada bing bada boom.”
But election propaganda is nothing new, not even dirty, smear-campaign propaganda tactics. Campaigns in the 19th and throughout the 20th centuries saw just as bad. And it would be wildly naïve of us to think that foreign powers did not attempt to influence division from within before now. The Civil War comes to mind. Letters between Friedrich Engles and Karl Marx and how America and Americans were ripe for the taking for what they themselves were ex-communicated from their own counties.
What we experienced in 2016? This isn’t new. What is new is the tool being used to do it. That means it is up to the users of that tool to inform ourselves to the best of our abilities. Government cannot fix this. Oh, they’ll try, of course. And doing what they do best they’ll only make it worse.
But regardless, it’s still up to us, the users. We cannot stop them from doing it, we can only control what we can control, and one thing we can control is how we not only digest that information and how it influences us on all the different levels, but how to, at the very least, try to be cognitively aware enough to be on the lookout for it.
I understand the idea, ‘but it shouldn’t be that way!’ No. It should be that way. Because otherwise that puts all the onerous on others, and other’s to “fix” it for us. This is about personal responsibility.
I brought you the story about this administration ramping up their attacks on social media platforms here. How Sessions is conspiring with states’ AGs to go after these private companies while efforts stall in the US Congress. And while they’re all convincing themselves, and those out here who will buy it, they’re ‘only doing it for the good of us all’ we all know they’re being punitive and partisan, doing it for themselves, and of course, Trump. Always be wary of those who are telling you they’re only doing something ‘for your own good’, especially those in government.
But for all that, we now know Google and Facebook and Twitter…They did wrong. They sold information and ad space to third-parties never considering, or caring, who those third-parties were. Zuckerburg is infamous for saying as a nineteen-year-old kid when Facebook was not even a thing yet, telling a friend people just gave him all their personal information. When asked why they would, he responded, because people are “dumb fucks.”
He created something with this tool we call a computer and exploited it to the end to where he could collect all sorts of information on people, and what does he do with that information? Does he keep his promise to never share it? No. He sells it. Indiscriminately. Because ‘people are dumb fucks and if they’re stupid enough to trust him, well, their bad, right?’
But on that intellectual level, is he wrong?
To trust that there are not more nefarious people out there than the Mark Zuckerberg’s of the world? That would be our bad. While we can hold them accountable, we also need to be careful we are not willing to give away our rights to a government who think they are the arbiters of our rights. We are private citizens engaging in private commerce.
But I digress. My point is, this is why we are where we are right now. Information is power. Now it is time for us to start learning how to arm ourselves just like we would from intruders trying to break into our property to rob us, to hurt us.
TNB reported in May that House Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released a trove of 3,500 Facebook ads, space Facebook sold to what we now know were “Russian bot farms.” Then in July Twitter purged millions of “fake followers” (Hollywood celebrities hit hardest, oh, and Trump) and again at the end of July Facebook “had identified a political influence campaign that was potentially built to disrupt the midterm elections,” finding and deleting “32 pages and fake accounts.”
So. Let’s take a test. Let’s see how well we really know what we think we know. Because we’re so smart, right? Let us now step on the path to begin to arm ourselves with information so we can start to be more cognitively aware. And like TNB’s contributor Steve Wood’s awesome The People are Sovereign Essay Series and his The Presidents series, let’s put in our arsenal learning to identify “the fake (Russian) influence posts.”
Go to this interactive link at the New York Times, to their post titled, Can You Spot the Deceptive Facebook Post? Take the test. Then, let’s share in the comment section how we did and chat about what we learned and what more we can learn. Because the learning should never stop. If you’re telling yourself you already know everything, well then, I guess your journey is done? Never stop learning. Remember: Information is Power.
Happy Test Taking! Oh, and I only got 1 out of 4 right. Good luck.
On A Side Note
Pay particular attention as you read through the test that this is not just Russians doing this. There are people living right here doing it, sabotaging elections for their own political agendas and power grabs using these disinformation tactics as a means to suppress and depress voter turn out.