Posts Tagged ‘disinformation’

Advertising

December 8, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of one of the fixes needed for the internet proposed in Richard Stengel’s informative work, Information Wars. This is last fix he provides.

He writes, “Advertisers use ad mediation software provided by the platforms to find the most relevant audiences for their ads. These ad platforms take into account a user’s region, device, likes, searches, and purchasing history. Something called dynamic creative optimization, a tool that uses artificial intelligence, allows advertisers to optimize their content for the user and find the most receptive audience. Targeted ads are dispatched automatically across thousands of websites and social media feeds. Engagement statistics are logged instantaneously to tell the advertiser and the platform what is working and what is not. The system tailors the ads for the audiences likely to be most receptive.”

Of course, the bad guys use all these tools to find the audiences they want as well. The Russians became experts at using two parts of Facebook’s advertising infrastructure: the ads auction and something called Custom Audiences. In the ads auction, potential advertisers submit a bid for a piece of advertising real estate. Facebook not only awards the space to the highest bidder, but also evaluates how clickbaitish the copy is. The more eyeballs the ad will get the more likely it is to get the ad space, even if the bidder is offering a lower price. Since the Russians did not care about the accuracy of the content they were creating, they’re willing to create sensational false stories that become viral. Hence, more ad space.

The Russians efforts in the 2016 election have been reviewed in previous healthy memory blog posts. The Trump organization itself used the same techniques and spent exponentially more on these Facebook ads than the Russians did.

Stengel concludes this section on techniques for reducing the amount of disinformation in our culture would reduce, but not eliminate, disinformation. He writes that disinformation will always be with us, because the problem is not facts, or the lack of them, or misleading stories filled with conjecture; the problem is us (homo sapiens) .  There are all kind of cognitive biases and psychological states, but the truth is that people are gong to believe what they want to believe. It would be wonderful if the human brain came with a lie detector, but it doesn’t.

HM urges the reader not to take this conclusion offered by Stengel too seriously. It is true that human information processing is biased, because it needs to be. Our attention is quite limited. But rather than throwing in the towel, we need to deal with our biases as best we can. The suggestions offered by Stengel are useful to this end.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What to Do About Disinformation

December 3, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Richard Stengel’s informative work, Information Wars. This book is highly informative and provides information not only about the State Department, but also about the actions Rick Stengel took performing his job. But the most useful part of the book is this section, What to Do About Disinformation. Several posts are needed here, and even then, they cannot do justice to the information provided in the book.

When the Library of Congress was created in 1800 it had 39 million books. Today the internet generates 100 times that much data every second. Information definitely is the most important asset of the 21st Century. Polls show that people feel bewildered by the proliferation of online news and data. Mixed in with this daily tsunami there is a lot of information that is false as well as true.

Disinformation undermines democracy because democracy depends on the free flow of information. That’s how we make decisions. Disinformation undermines the integrity of our choices. According to the Declaration of Independence “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” If that consent is acquired through deception, the powers from it are not just. Stengel states that it is an attack on the very heart of our democracy.

Disinformation is not news that is simply wrong or incorrect. It is information that is deliberately false in order to manipulate and mislead people.

Definitions of important terms follow:
Disinformation: The deliberate creation and distribution of information that is false and deceptive in order to mislead an audience.
Misinformation: Information that is false, though not deliberately; that is created inadvertently or by mistake.
Propaganda: Information that may or may not be true that is designed to engender support for a political view or ideology.

“Fake news” is a term Donald Trump uses to describe any content he does not like. But Trump did not originate the term. The term was familiar to Lenin and Stalin and almost every other dictator of the last century. Russians were calling Western media fake news before Trump, and Trump in his admiration of Russia followed suit. Stengel prefers the term “junk news” to describe information that is false, cheap, and misleading that has been created without regard for its truthfulness.

Most people regard “propaganda” as pejorative, but Stengel believes that it is—or should be—morally neutral. Propaganda can be used for good or ill. Advertising is a form of propaganda. What the United States Information Agency did during the Cold War was a form of propaganda. Advocating for something you believe in can be defined as propaganda. Stengel writes that while propaganda is a misdemeanor, disinformation is a felony.
Disinformation is often a mixture of truth and falsity. Disinformation doesn’t necessarily have to be 100% false to be disinformation. Stengel writes that the most effective forms of disinformation are a mixture of information that is both true and false.

Stengel writes that when he was a journalist he was close to being a First Amendment absolutist. But he has changed his mind. He writes that in America the standard for protected speech has evolved since Holme’s line about “falsely shouting fire in a theater.” In Brandenburg v. Ohio, the court ruled that speech that led to or directly caused violence was not protected by the First Amendment.

Stengel writes that even outlawing hate speech will not solve the problem of disinformation. He writes that government may not be the answer, but it has a role. He thinks that stricter government regulation of social media can incentivize the creation of fact-based content and discentivize the creation of disinformation. Currently big social media platforms optimize content that has greater engagement and vitality, and such content can sometimes be disinformation or misinformation. Stengel thinks the these incentives can be changed in part through regulation and in part through more informed user choices.

What Stengel finds most disturbing is that disinformation is being spread in a way and through means that erode trust in public discourses and democratic processes. This is precisely what these bad actors want to accomplish. They don’t necessarily want you to believe them—they don’t want you to believe anybody.

As has been described in previous healthy memory blog posts, the creators of disinformation use all the legal tools on social media platforms that are designed to deliver targeted messages to specific audiences. These are the same tools—behavioral data analysis, audience segmentation, programmatic ad buying—that make advertising campaigns effective. The Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia uses the same behavioral data and machine-learning algorithms that Coca-Cola and Nike use.

All the big platforms depend on the harvesting and use of personal information. Our data is the currency of the digital economy. The business model of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple, among others, depends on the collection and use of personal information. They use this information to show targeted advertising. They collect information on where you go, what you do, whom you know, and what your want to know about, so they can sell that information to advertisers.

The important question is, who owns this information? These businesses argue that because they collect, aggregate, and analyze our data, they own it. The law agrees in the U.S. But in Europe, according to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, people own their own information. Stengel and HM agree that this is the correct model. America needs a digital bill of rights that protects everyone’s information as a new social contract.

Stengel’s concluding paragraph is “I’m advocating a mixture of remedies that optimize transparency, accountability, privacy, self-regulation, data protection, and information literacy. That can collectively reduce the creation, dissemination, and consumption of false information. I believe that artificial intelligence and machine learning can be enormously effective in combating falsehood and disinformation. They are necessary but insufficient. All three efforts should be—to use one of the military’s favorite terms—mutually reinforcing.”

Information Wars

December 1, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an informative book by Richard Stengel, a former editor of Time magazine. During the second term of the Obama administration he was appointed and confirmed as the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy. The book provides a detailed and interesting description of the State Department and the organization and workings of the State Department.

Stengel was appointed to lead the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication. It was integral to the Global Engagement Center. This is important because information warfare is the primary means terrorist organizations fought. It was punctuated by despicable terrorist acts, but the primary messaging was done using the internet. Effective counter-messaging needed to be developed to counter the messaging of the terrorists.

Although ISIS and al-Qaeda are currently recognized as the primary terrorist organizations, it is important not to overlook the largest and most threatening terrorist organization, Russia. Our term “disinformation” is in fact an adaptation of the Russian word dezinformatsiya, which was the KGB term for black propaganda. The modern Russian notion of hybrid warfare comes from what is called the Gerasimov model. Gerasimov has appeared in previous healthy memory blog posts. He is the father of the idea that in the 21st century only a small part of war is kinetic. He has written that modern warfare is nonlinear with no clear boundary between military and nonmilitary campaigns. The Russians, like ISIS, merged their military lines of effort with their information and messaging line of effort.

In the old days, disinformation involved placing a false story (often involving forged documents) in a fairly obscure left-leaning newspaper in a country like India or Brazil; then the story was picked up and echoed in Russian state media. A more modern version of dezinformatsiya is the campaign in the 1990s that suggested that the U.S. had invented the AIDS virus as a kind of “ethnic bomb” to wipe out people of color.

Two other theorists of Russian information warfare are Igor Panarin, an academic, and a former KGB officer; and Alexander Dugin, a philosopher whom he called “Putin’s Rasputin.” Panarin sees Russia as the victim of information aggression by the United States. He believes there is a global information war between what he calls the Atlantic world, led by the U.S. and Europe; and the Eurasian world, led by Russia.

Alexander Dugan has a particularly Russian version of history. He says that the 20th century was a titanic struggle among fascism, communism, and liberalism, in which liberalism won out. He thinks that in the 21st century there will be a fourth way. Western liberalism will be replaced by a conservative superstate like Russia leading a multipolar world and defending tradition and conservative values. He predicts that the rise of conservative strongmen in the West will embrace these values. Dugan supports the rise of conservative right-wing groups all across Europe. He has formed relationships with white nationalists’ groups in America. Dugan believes immigration and racial mixing are polluting the Caucasian world. He regards rolling back immigration as one of the key tasks for conservative states. Dugan says that all truth is relative and a question of belief; that freedom and democracy are not universal values but peculiarly Western ones; and that the U.S. must be dislodged as a hyper power through the destabilization of American democracy and the encouragement of American isolationism.

Dugan says that the Russians are better at messaging than anyone, and that they’ve been working on it as a part of conventional warfare since Lenin. So the Russians have been thinking and writing about information war for decades. It is embedded in their military doctrines.

Perhaps one of the best examples of Russia’s prowess at information warfare is Russia Today, (RT). During HM’s working days his job provided the opportunity to view RT over an extensive period of time. What is most remarkable about RT is that it appears to bear no resemblance of information warfare or propaganda. It appears to be as innocuous as CNN. However, after long viewing one realizes that one is being drawn to accept the objectives of Russian information warfare.

Stengel notes that Russian propaganda taps into all the modern cognitive biases that social scientists write about: projection, mirroring, anchoring, confirmation bias. Stengel and his staff put together their own guide to Russian propaganda and disinformation, with examples.

*Accuse your adversary of exactly what you’re doing.
*Plant false flags.
*Use your adversary’s accusations against him.
*Blame America for everything!
*America blames Russia for everything!
*Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Stengel writes that what is interesting about this list is that it also seems to describe Donald Trump’s messaging tactics. He asks whether this is a coincidence, or some kind of mirroring?

Recent events have answered this question. The acceptance of the alternative reality that the Ukraine has a secret server and was the source of the 2016 election interference is Putin’s narrative developed by Russian propaganda. Remember that Putin was once a KGB agent. His ultimate success here is the acceptance of this propaganda by the Republican Party. There is an information war within the US that the US is losing.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Unhealthful Memories Can Lead to Alzheimer’s and the Loss of Democracy

May 3, 2019

This post is motivated by an article by Greg Miller titled “With Mueller silent, Barr speaks for him—and defends the president” in the 2 May 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The article is about how Barr has gotten ahead of Mueller and completely misrepresented the report of the special council. Mueller has remained silent trying to observe the normal protocols. Barr has completely misrepresented Mueller’s report and continues to lie and misrepresent his characterization of the report when questioned by Democratic members of the Senate. Most Republicans seem to be complicit in Barr’s lies and misrepresentation.

Mueller will eventually testify, but much damage has been done by Trump’s puppet Barr. However, it is more than time that truth will need to overcome. The failure of too many Americans to use their critical thinking processes also hinders their reaching truth.

A brief review of Kahneman’s two process theory of cognition is appropriate here. System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.

The default mode network will be mentioned in future posts. Basically it corresponds to System 1 processing. What is important is the word “default.” Once misinformation has gotten into memory it takes cognitive effort to remove and correct it.

Without knowing it, Trump is a genius at exploiting the default mode network. The default mode network is also responsive to emotion. Emotion comes first. That’s why it is important to stop and think, when you become angry, so you do not respond foolishly. But by exploiting pre-existing biases and out and out lying, misinformation gets into memory. And it will remain there until the individual thinks, discovers the information is wrong, and corrects this memory.

This problem is exacerbated by social media. As has been shown in previous posts, social media reinforces this disinformation. Much of this misinformation is emotional. Hate spreads easily, unfortunately, much faster than does love and caring.

There have been many previous posts on how cognitive activity, system 2 processing, getting free of the default mode network decreases the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Moreover, there are many cases of individuals whose brains have the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, who die never knowing that they had Alzheimer’s because they had none of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms.

Effective democracy also depends on healthy memories. It requires that citizens know how democracy works and seek and evaluate information as to how the democracy should proceed. There is ample evidence that few citizens know how the government is supposed to work as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. And there is ample evidence that most voting citizens have little understanding of the issues and candidates on which they are voting.

If Russia waged a conventional military attack on the United States, citizens would be outraged and demand that we fight back. But the Russians are smart, and too many Americans are stupid. The Russians used cyberattacks. These cyberattacks have been described in previous healthy memory posts. These cyberattacks promoted Trump for president and created disruption and polarization among the American public. Remember that Trump was not elected in the popular vote. He lost that by three million votes. He won due to an irresponsible electoral college.

Trump built his campaign on lies, and continues to support himself on lies. Obviously it requires too much mental effort for too many citizens to recognize this individual as the fraud and obscenity he actually is.

Regardless of the Mueller report, there is ample evidence that Trump needs to be impeached. And reading the Mueller report one quickly realizes that if Trump did not commit any crimes of which he could be convicted, his behavior still puts democracy at risk. Should he not be impeached and should he lose a reelection, he will claim fraud and refuse to leave the office. Our democracy is at risk of becoming a de facto totalitarian dictatorship. Obviously that is something that Barr would prefer, as he thinks there are no limits on presidential power.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Internet is the Best Answer

January 3, 2019

The title of this post is the second part of the title of an article by MeGan McArdle in the 2 Jan ’19 issue of the Washington Post. The first part of the title is “What connects Trumpish figures around the world?” The author notes that in the two years since Donald Trump’s unexpected victory, everyone seems to have developed a strong theory about what’s wrong with modern politics. She writes, “It could be the economic decline of the white working class—or maybe, less charitably, the problem is the white working class’s incorrigible racism. Others prefer to blame immigration, political correctness or simply the overweening arrogance of America’s self-appointed mandarin class.”

She continues, “Proponents of these explanations can point to compelling evidence. But that evidence has the same fatal flaw in each story: the attempt to explain a novel phenomenon by way of some long term factor that hasn’t changed, or else to explain a global phenomenon in terms of some local peeve.”

Columbia University sociologist Musa Al-Gharbi has pointed out some of the flaws in the racism thesis. The most glaring of these is that the United States has been racist for a long time and much more racist in the past than now-but now is when American elected Trump.

One might argue that it took a novel event to fan the embers of the nation’s latent racism, and that the presidency of Barack Obama might have been such a novel event. But Trumpish leaders seem increasingly popular through the world, Rodrigo Détente in the Philippines, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in the Hungary. So the problem goes beyond latent racism.

MeGan suggests that the most compelling answer is the Internet, and particularly social media, is disrupting politics the way it has disrupted everything else—nearly everywhere, and all at once.

HM suggests that the Internet and social media are the not problem, but rather the way that humans use the internet and social media that is the problem. The internet provides the means of access to a tremendous amount of knowledge, and a means of communicating this knowledge to other human beings. Unfortunately, most who use the internet use it superficially. The stay plugged in, although it is impossible to keep abreast of everything. Their processing of this information is superficial. Moreover, they let themselves be led by the media to find not just superficial information, but disinformation. People need to unplug and use the internet more critically. They need to think, engage in Kahneman’s System 2 processing. This not only reduces one’s being manipulated by external agencies, but it also provides more accurate information in one’s memories, provides for the development of a cognitive reserve and greatly reduces risks of dementia of Alzheimer’s.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content