Lets talk about social media

Social media is a handy way to communicate with family and friends, and a way to share precious moments with others. The applications that provide these services are many, and I will not attempt to list them all. They all have a few things in common with one another though. The number one feature is that they are free to download, install and use. Once installed one needs to open an account with the ‘mother-ship’, the firm that provided the software. Your account will include your real name, an email address, a telephone number and your location. Some of these may be left blank, but on some sites, they are mandatory. Next, you create a user identification and a password. Some sites allow you to add a ‘handle’ – a nick name – that others will see instead of your real name. You then click a box that acknowledges your acceptance of the terms and conditions you must follow to use the site. Then you click a button to create your account. All very simple and easy to do.

20 y/o college student Peter Cvjetanovic at the neo-Nazi white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA 8-12-2017

Peter Cvjetanovic (attribution, Twitter)

The social media sites do not verify who the user is, so the user can project a persona the same as, or one very different from their actual identity. A user can be truthful about who they are, or can create an imaginary or fake user to suit their needs. If a fake user profile is used to attract a person into an interaction, the person may not realize they are communicating with a fraudulent user. This deceptive interaction is called ‘catfishing‘ when used for nefarious purposes. Several child predators have used this process to lure their victims to meetings, by posing as a child themselves. It has also been used to initiate romantic relationships by luring unsuspecting persons into conversations that sometimes result in dashing the hopes of the victim. Or in some cases, worse.

Have you ever wondered why the site provides this wonderful communication tool for free? I have, and I investigated how it is done. One thing to keep in mind is that these ‘free’ sites are worth millions, if not billions of dollars. Put these two thoughts together and one question pops out. What makes the site so valuable that the creators have bank accounts with three commas. The secret to the site is advertising. Advertising that is focused on the individual using the site, advertising that is created on the fly as you view the page. No one else sees the same ads that are pushed to you unless they have a similar profile of activity on the site.

What profile, you ask? Your name and zip code that you entered in your site profile? No. Your activity profile is a record of what you have viewed, liked or forwarded to your friends. It also includes small files called ‘cookies’ that are created on your device when you visit a web page. These cookies include terms that you type into a search on a web site or search engine. For example, if you go to an on-line book store and look for a specific book title, that book title is written in a cookie. The social media application looks for these small files and reads them, adding that information to your activity profile.

The social media site then pushes advertisements to you based on your searches, likes and other activity. You do not have to click on the ad, it only has to be presented to you. That presentation is called an ‘impression’ that is recorded in your profile and generates a few cents for the media site. Should you click on the ad, called a ‘click through’, a few more cents go to the media site. If you actually buy something from the advertiser, the media site gets a commission. Multiply this scenario by the number of ads you are presented and then by the hundreds of thousands or millions and you have a business that generates thousands of dollars an hour.

The entities buying the ads select key words that are indexed in a master file created by a program that searches the activity profiles. This master file allows the ad buyer to send specific ads to user profiles that match their needs. For example, if you searched for shoes, an ad buyer may send you an ad for shoes. The chances that you would click on the ad are much higher for you than if the ad was sent to a random person, as you were looking for shoes, and were targeted for that reason. Targeted advertising is quite effective and has a good rate of return on the ad cost. It works.

This same process is also used to communicate non-advertising materials. These are cartoons and images that convey information that the ad buyer believes you may support or at least be interested in. For example, a buyer may want to find individuals with a strong belief in a specific religion, nationality or gender. The picture or cartoon will be a basic, bland subject concerning the belief. Your reaction to that media is what is recorded, and added to your profile. Before long, you profile will identify you as a supporter of a certain belief. It could be concerning guns, violence, race, religion, immigrant status or peaceful protests.

The next step is to use this newly discovered aspect in you profile to send more aggressive materials to encourage or discourage your belief. The user then clicks on the like or forwards the material to fiends and family members, building more data for the profile. Some of these accounts may agree while others may disagree with the material. This opens a conflicting dialog between users, which is the actual intent of the entity pushing the material to the users in the first place.

When you wish to influence a person’s beliefs, the technique must be subtle and very low key otherwise it is obvious and the person reacts to repel the influence. When done slowly and repeatedly, it is almost ignored, even though the content is still received subconsciously. The new information begins to make the person doubt that the previously known information was correct. The term that describes this process is called ‘gaslighting.’ The whole purpose of the process is to remove previous convictions and bias that are present from previous teaching and experience, replacing them with doubt and an alternative that becomes the new normal.

Why would someone want to do that? The answer is less than obvious to a casual user, and the casual user may not believe it is happening, even when it is explained to them – it is labeled ‘Fake News.’ Sound familiar? Heard that term before? Nothing new here, Joseph Goebbels, the head of Hitler’s Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda used this technique to acquire and maintain power for the implementation of Nazi policies. Take a look at the themes used in Nazi Germany at Wikipedia.

So, who is behind this now, and why are they doing it?

America has always held the Soviets as an enemy, at least for a hundred years. The modern version of the Soviets, modern Russia, is still held as an enemy of American democracy. The American government placed sanctions against Russian transgressions that hurt them financially, the Russian leadership in particular, as it is they who control the banking and financial interests there. They are extremely wealthy, mostly due to international banking where they launder and hide their ill gotten gains. The American sanctions stopped much of that activity that involved transactions with American interests. The Russians wanted a way to neutralize the sanctions for some time, and finally developed a plan to do so.

They needed a politician willing to work with them, and spared no expense finding several who would do their bidding, for a price. The Russians began a cash flow to those politicians through international banks and shell corporations. After a few transactions, the original source for that money became hard to trace. The money was then used to purchase real estate owned by the politicians at well above market value, paying in cash. Some property was purchased at more than twice its already over-stated value. Once the politicians were bought, it became necessary to hide those transactions and bury the influence gained. That is where the above ads come into play.

The purpose of those materials pushed to selected users was to cause a disruption to commonly held beliefs based on ethical and moral principles. It was necessary to change that paradigm in away that it was permissive to ignore the old truth and accept the new truth that such transactions are ethical and moral, much like the Nazis did when they pushed their themes to make National Socialism acceptable.

The Russian technique is to make long held but socially unacceptable and now illegal racial practices acceptable again. They foster this by sending racist materials to individuals who have shown an interest in such materials. More than one group of individuals are selected, as the hate groups have an overlapping interest. This is how Nazi supporters and KKK members become drawn to the same events. They see each other as sharing a common enemy, even if one does not exist. The Russians accommodate them, by creating an imaginary enemy, the anti-fascists. This imaginary group is then pushed to those who oppose the other two, and an actual loosely formed group becomes real.

Remember Catfishing? That is how its done. The Russians are operating ‘boiler rooms’ where employees create fake accounts, some of which are automated to reply when certain key or ‘trigger’ words are used in a posted conversation. When one of these ‘trolls’ or ‘bots’ posts, it looks very much like a genuine person making the post. Sometimes, if well done, the spelling, grammar and syntax is very close to American English. Sometimes, not so much. The posts made by the bot serves one purpose – disruption. They encourage the discord between legitimate users and to create doubt.

These fake accounts are not permitted by the social media web site rules and terms, but they are almost impossible to police. One reason the trolls and bots are not actively sought and contained is that Russian investors have invested in these sites and have poured hundreds of millions into the pockets of the site owners. The site owners then refuse to work against their financial master’s interests. Plus, these financial backers are the same entities buying the ads that are causing the discontent being sown by the site. Stopping the bots would reduce the profitability of the site.

This hate, distrust and discord serves its intended purpose, creating unrest and loss of trust in the American government sufficient to draw attention away from the paid-off American politicians who are working behind the scenes to remove the sanctions that block the financial transactions that make the rich richer.

One way to stop this abusive behavior is to regulate social media. Not to quench it, but to forbid the automation or some other control to keep the content honest and truthful, yet respect the first amendment protection for free speech, as is done with broadcast news.

About Terry Welshans

I grew up in Burbank, California. My dad worked at a company that made sub assemblies for about every airplane made in the 1960-1970 era, so it was only natural that the aviation bug bit me while I was quite young. I hold a commercial pilot certificate and fly as much as I can. I live in Bardstown, Kentucky with my wife, moving here after we retired. I am a Vietnam veteran and a cancer survivor. I like to keep politicians honest, and do so when they open an avenue where I feel they have erred.
This entry was posted in Anti-Semitism, Christianity, Corruption, Democracy, Free Speech, Propaganda, Tribalism. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Lets talk about social media

  1. shortfinals says:

    A sound summary of the current situation; thank you, Terry!

  2. Nudging public opinion was described by Dr. Joe Overton when he formulated what has come to be called the “Overton Window.”
    Social acceptance is by degrees. An idea that starts out as unacceptable ends up being fully embraced. The steps are:

    – Unthinkable
    – Radical
    – Acceptable
    – Sensible
    – Popular
    – Policy

    Start out with the Communist scare following WW2. It was not only unthinkable to embrace Russian influence, it could get you blacklisted, fired, or even jailed. It got the Rosenbergs executed.

    The Overton Window is explained in psychological terms. Dr. B. F. Skinner, the famous Harvard Psychologist, studied modification of behavior. He described behavior shaping by successive approximation. In this context “behavior” includes both observable behavior as well as belief systems.

  3. Steven D. Searls says:

    I have some concerns with this essay.

    First you offer no evidence for the allegations made that Russian money was laundered and then used to pay for online advertising. At the very least, since the spending by both campaign on Facebook ads totaled $81 million in the 2016 general election (not including SuperPAC expenditures) – Source: https://techcrunch.com/2017/11/01/russian-facebook-ad-spend/ – and FB has only identified roughly $46k of FB ads from so-called Russian Troll farms prior to the election, it seems hyperbole to claim that Russian propaganda is responsible for the current polarization and divisiveness in the country. The rise of conservative talk radio, FOX News and online blogs on both the right and left over the last three decade have done far more in my judgment to polarize the electorate than anything Russia may or may not have done in 2016, or in any other year for that matter.

    Second, your claim that broadcast news is subject to regulation is misleading. There has been little to no regulation of broadcast news since the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine. State courts have even held that broadcast news outlets can lie and it is not a violation of any Federal rule. In general the FCC “defers to the reasonable, good faith judgment
    of broadcasters regarding newsworthiness.” – Source: http://scholarship.law.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1386&context=commlaw

    The FCC News Distortion policy, first enumerated in a series of opinions during the 1960’s and 70’s merely provides that deliberate distortion of the news can be considered in reviewing a broadcaster’s license, and even then the standard set by the FCC is extremely high: source: http://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1506&context=wlufac (discussion is set forth in pp 447-450 of that law review article). The FCC has rarely if ever suspended the license of any station based on this policy. Considering the amount of falsehoods propagated in mainstream outlets since, well since forever (in the runup to Iraq wars 1 and 2, for example) and their complete failure to cover significant stories such as the violence perpetrated by police and pipeline security forces against native Americans and their allies in North Dakota (NoDapl), I don’t see much regulation at all of broadcast news, or major legacy media whether in print or online to insure they are providing truthful and unbiased reporting. Far from it. I’d argue that broadcast news is a far more insidious source of disinformation these days than anything on the internet thanks to media consolidation and big media’s reliance on major corporate sponsors for their revenue stream.

    I also think you should hold off on comparing an alleged, speculative Russian presence on social media to the Nazis use of propaganda, especially as the Nazi Ministry under Goebbels had complete control over all forms of media – radio, press and film inside Germany. That comparison a gross exaggeration, at best, of whatever effect Russian propaganda online has on Americans.

    Frankly, I am far more concerned about regulation of any online platforms, which have already shown that they will censor and even shut down legitimate forums based on vague and inconsistently applied Terms of Service rules. Considering government disinformation and propaganda campaigns in the United States by the intelligence and defense community occurred even under the Obama administration (Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/somali-american-caught-up-in-a-shadowy-pentagon-counterpropaganda-campaign/2013/07/07/b3aca190-d2c5-11e2-bc43-c404c3269c73_story.html?utm_term=.1a824190a047) I am far more worried about any attempt to give the the Federal government to censor online platforms in America. Ask yourself if we really want to end up like China, where FB and Google are subject to government restrictions on what can be reported on their platforms to the Chinese people.

    It is dispiriting to see a call for restrictions on the first amendment on a progressive website. The federal government and state governments have done far too much to run roughshod over the freedom of speech and of the Press in the last few decades. I don’t think calling for more restrictions on our first amendment rights out of fear that outside influences will corrupt American popular opinion is justified. In fact, it sounds like the same justifications for restricting 1st amendment rights I’ve seen from conservatives blaming outside agitators and communists for civil rights protests (as was done during the Civil Rights era, eg, and more recently to BLM) as a justification for police crackdowns on peaceful protests. To go further down that road in the online environment right now based on what I view as neo-McCarthyist alarmism seems like madness to me.

    • Terry Welshans says:

      Thank you for your reply.

      First, I did not say that Russian money laundering paid for the ads. I said the ads were used to distract from the money laundering and the political shenanigans surrounding it. The site that you linked says the Russians spent $150,000 on ads over a two year period. Each ad costs only a few cents, so we are talking millions of ads, and Facebook alone admits that millions of accounts viewed these ads, some of which were passed on to other users after being viewed. The ads did not try to sway the viewer to the Russian cause, it just spread distrust and turmoil, the goal of the Russian troll masters. The purpose is to weaken the belief in our system and to cause distrust.

      I agree that broadcast and cable television has fostered discontent through programs such as Rush and Infowars. These sites spread outright fabrications as if it were fact.

      Secondly, I don;t see where I mentioned broadcast being regulated or not. If I did so, please show me where I did. I just said they should be honest and truthful. My essay was not about broadcast news, it was about social media.

      Third, my reference about Goebbels was to identify the techniques used by his organization and to compare them to the technique and processes I described in the essay. I am not comparing what is happening to the Nazi party, or the Russians.

      I share your concern about any deterioration in the first amendment. I am suggesting the social media sites follow their own terms and conditions, terms that specifically forbid bots and trolls. If you have a way to end the troll and bot problem on social media, please share it with us. To quote my last paragraph:

      “One way to stop this abusive behavior is to regulate social media. Not to quench it, but to forbid the automation or some other control to keep the content honest and truthful, yet respect the first amendment protection for free speech, as is done with broadcast news.”

      Here is an example of what is happening in social media:

      https://www.thedailybeast.com/exclusive-russia-activated-twitter-sleeper-cells-for-election-day-blitz?via=twitter_page

      • Steven D. Searls says:

        Thanks for the reply. You mentioned broadcast news regulation briefly at the end of your essay.

        My apologies for not reading fully enough to understand all your points. Nonetheless, when you consider that, in my view the ads mentioned as having so much impact were dwarfed by the ads placed by both campaigns, I cannot accept that Russia had near as much influence as people have been led believe. How many people read FB ads? I suspect the percentage is much lower that we have been led to believe. FB itself has been accused of puffery regarding the impact of its ads and the number of people who actually were exposed to them in order to increase their ad rates, revenue and, more importantly, its stock price. Source: https://secure.marketwatch.com/story/facebook-accused-of-fake-audience-numbers-2017-09-06

        I am of the opinion that America and its government is by far the worst military aggressor on the planet and the country that has interfered, and interfered much more directly, in the elections and overturning of governments. Putin is a tyrant, but his country’s power is very limited, and is primarily based on Russia’s nuclear weapons. Russia’s military budget is more than ten times less than ours. China is a far greater threat to American hegemony because of their economy. It should also be noted that both Republicans d and and Democrats have connections to many countries, including Russia (note Bill Clinton, the Clinton Foundation and the Uranium One deal), but far worse, Pakistan and the Saudis. Manafort and the Podestas have both been implicated in the representation of the Ukrainian oligarch and that country’s former President, which is why Tony Podesta was forced resign (source: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-31/mega-lobbyist-podesta-quits-after-u-s-unveils-manafort-charges ) from their K-Street firm as he is a subject of Mueller’s investigation and was hired by Manafort. When it comes to making money off of lobbying the US government, both parties are in up to their necks in corruption.

        Not to mention that the greatest outside influence on our elections for many decades has been AIPAC, a lobby for Israel that has as much if not more influence than any other lobbying organization in Washington (source – https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=Q05 ). In my view, we are being set up and distracted by this entire Trump/Russia controversy. Where did the Clinton campaign get its dirt on Trump which was released in the Steele dossier? From Kremlin sources according to Steele, the ex-MI6 spy who collected it. As many people have noted, the NSA, with its powers to obtain electronic surveillance information from both Americans and Russians would have the proof and could release it w/o damaging “methods and sources.” They have done so in the past when they accused North Korea of being behind the SONY hack. To date no one has shown any smoking gun that ties Russia to the alleged schemes that have been asserted. Your essay does not do that either.

        Meanwhile, I see little action by the current leaders of the Democratic party in opposing the bills that are being passed through Congress by Republicans, bills that that are not Trump specific, because all Republicans support them. Those bills if passed will do far more damage to our country than anything that might result from unproven allegations of supposed collusion between Trump and Russia. The Sanders/Progressive wing of the party has been pushing for substantive resistance to the GOP based on actual policy like the Medicare for all bill Sanders proposed in the Senate A similar bill is before the House). But all we hear from the Dem Leadership is Russia! Why? Because they do not wish to admit that they are tied to their big donors in the pharmaceutical and Insurance industries. There are numerous issues on which a majority of Americans agree, but both parties use this Kabuki act to keep us divided and to justify why what the majority of Americans want cannot be passed into law, while the majority fo what their donors want usually is passed into law.

        Social Media at least allows new players in the news market to make a name for themselves and provide alternative narratives to those mega-corporations that dominate news media elsewhere in print, online and over the airwaves. These Oligopoly/Oligopsony based corporations are the greater threat in my opinion to what little democracy we have left.

        I confess I had a visceral reaction to this essay because I am of the opinion its thesis is essentially wrong and distracts us from far greater issues and problems facing our country, including our imperialistic war policy which both Republican and Democratic administrations have and continue to pursue, our allegiance to an international financial system led by Wall Street, that benefits a very few extremely wealthy individuals and corporations across the globe at the expense of everyone else, and both parties’ refusal to seriously address climate change (and no, “The Paris Accord” did little if anything to advance international efforts to stop greenhouse gas emissions). You are free to disagree with me, but I see no benefit to blaming Russia and a small number of FB ads and whatever else people have been led to believe as to why Clinton lost to Trump, a candidate we know from the Podesta emails her campaign had its sources in the media promote (the “Pied Piper” strategy – source: https://www.salon.com/2016/11/09/the-hillary-clinton-campaign-intentionally-created-donald-trump-with-its-pied-piper-strategy/ ) because she believed he would be an easier opponent to beat. But to me the entire Russia narrative strikes me as a means to keep us divided while both parties continue to depend on Big donors and dark money to maintain themselves.

        • Terry Welshans says:

          I agree that the United States has been a bad neighbor and much too warlike. Sounds like a good topic for an essay in and of itself.

          My concern is how social media has turned neighbors, friends and relatives against one another. Several of my cousins posted forwarded and ‘liked’ hundreds of these Russian paid for ‘ads’ in my direction. They gradually trended from a typical pro-religious vein where you are to ‘like’ a picture of a man in a robe that is holding a lamb in his arms with a slogan about world peace to that same image being used with a Nazi slogan applied to it and then to the same picture with a burning cross in the background.

          Today, in Virginia, a Twitter post was prominent for three hours before it was removed with a statement about on-line voting. Paid for by the Russians? Don’t know. Just a demonstration of how the site is abused.

  4. Working on a reply to both Steve and Terry. Both of you have extremely valid points. I worked in radio during the time the Fairness Doctrine was in effect. I remember how careful we had to be. In those days, a company could own no more than six radio stations. A single corporation or person could not buy up all the local media in a community.

    In the meantime:

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