“People are much like cattle or sheep; they just want to be led.” The author of that controversial and maybe offensive quote is the author of this article. Maybe YOU aren’t like cattle or sheep, but most are. The problem with this sentiment is that some cowpokes and herders may use evil methods to lead their herd for their personal gain. In the digital age, this is done most effectively via disinformation weaponized with social media.
Cambridge Analytica, on behalf of its clients, scientifically weaponized social media using disinformation to win elections. It was first tested in third world countries and then with Brexit and most recently to win the United States presidential election. Here’s a breakdown of what is believed to be the basis of how it used social influence to change hearts and minds.
Company leaders understood that the weaponization of social media is the act of manipulating facts by spreading disinformation for propaganda. This act is accomplished by a coordinated effort using viral memes, emotionally charged videos, and clickbait headlines.
Fundamentally, disinformation is a confidence trick or scam. The motivation of a conman is to influence their mark enough to gain the confidence of the victim. The conman wants to be trusted. Once the conman has the trust of their target, it’s like taking candy from a baby.
The desired outcome of disinformation by its author is to divide and conquer or rule the persons who are manipulated by it. The Oxford definition of “divide and conquer” is the policy of maintaining control over one’s subordinates or subjects by encouraging dissent between them. In other words, from the perspective and motivation of the conman, “don’t trust them, trust me.”
Disinformation used to be spread by the spoken word only. But with the invention of the printed word and the press, disinformation was spread using pamphlets, leaflets, books, magazines, political cartoons, and in planted clandestine newspaper articles. Agents of influence, political spies, and journalists can all be used to spread disinformation. Digitally, social media spreads disinformation like the proverbial wildfire.
The birth of the word “disinformation” comes from the Russian word (dez-inform-ahhT-see-ahh) dezinformatsiya. Joseph Stalin coined the term in 1923 derived from the title of the KGB black propaganda “special disinformation office” department. Disinformation was formally defined in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia in 1952 as “false information with the intention to deceive public opinion”.
Disinformation is meant to instill fear and confuse its intended target by blurring the lines between fact and fiction. Disinformation’s primary purpose is to spread conspiracy theories that isolate readers and viewers from alternative viewpoints to create a cloud of confusion and paranoia.
When you see disinformation, which is born a lie that you believe to be the truth, and you agree with it and then support it by liking it and sharing it, you are then a victim of it and a perpetrator of the confidence crime that the disinformation is.
The 5 P’s of Persuasion
When you are of a particular belief…or persuasion…it means that you have already made up your mind. An example of this is of the Republican persuasion or the Democratic persuasion. Another definition of persuasion is the act of influencing another person to change their mind or to do something they might not do without your influence.
This is the study of people based on their aspirations, attitudes, and other criteria. It is especially the case in market research. The study of psychographics is a methodology that is used to describe a person based on their psychological attributes. The method has been applied to studying values, attitudes, personality, opinions, lifestyles, and interests.
Psychological Operations (PSYOPS)
Psychological operations, or PSYOPS, are used to convey certain pieces of indicators and information to an audience to influence their motives, objective reasoning, and emotions. It can ultimately affect the behavior of organizations, governments, individuals, and groups.
The act of psychological warfare is the planned use of threats, propaganda, or other non-combat techniques during the danger of war or even during a war. It can also apply to any time of political unrest to demoralize, intimidate, or influence the behavior or thinking of the enemy.
Propaganda is defined as information that has no objectivity and is used to influence a specific audience or to further an agenda. This is often done by presenting selective facts to encourage a particular perception or synthesis, or by using loaded language to create an emotional instead of a rational response to the given information.
Propaganda comes in many flavors.
White Propaganda is information that is purposefully put out by a known transparent source and credited by its origin. The information intends to express a valid option of its author. An example would be a political ad put out by the “Jane Smith” political campaign designed to discredit her opponent and at the conclusion the video stating “Brought to you by the campaign to elect Jane Smith.”
Grey Propaganda is when the source of information is not expressed nor credited, and the identity of the source is concealed. The information shown does not have to be inaccurate as it could be true or false. An example might be a local small business putting out an ad about a competitor revealing the competitor uses inferior materials. This information may be correct, but the author, to avoid backlash, doesn’t want to admit they placed the ad.
Black Propaganda is false information that is designed to look like it was created by those it is intended to discredit. For example, a meme or video that might appear to come from the Black Lives Matter network that may express images or video sanctioning black people attacking white people. Obviously, it is not in the best interests of a movement designed to accelerate civil rights to put out media of this kind. But if it says in the video “Brought to you by Black Lives Matter” and its spread via social media, it will inevitably spread disinformation to discredit the group.
The questions then are; Are you aware of what is disinformation? Or are you sheep?
© Robert Siciliano CSP All Rights Reserved.