News, Fake News and Propaganda

It’s a confusing world. What is purported to be news isn’t always news. Sometimes it is fake news, alternative facts or propaganda. It can be hard to know the difference. But here is a good rule of thumb: Rely on well-known, long trusted media sources for your news. Organizations such as The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters provide news from around the world in an unbiased manner.

These organizations, along with major newspapers and some major broadcasting networks, endeavor to be accurate and honest in their reporting. Yes, mistakes do happen, but they are corrected as quickly as possible. And the mistakes here are unintentional, not deliberate attempts to deceive.

Simply defined, news is information about current events. This may be provided through many different media: word of mouth, printing, postal systems, broadcasting, electronic communication, or through the testimony of observers and witnesses to events. Much of what is purported to be news on social media platforms is not news. It may be there just to push a viewpoint or to sow dissent.

Such material can better be described as alternative facts – lies – or fake news. Fake news describes material used by a group or individual to purposely mislead with inaccurate facts. Fake news, essentially lies, is as old as humanity. Fake news has became associated with popular satires, including the comedy paper The Onion and the TV show The Colbert Report. Far right media outlets, conspiracy sites and trolls from foreign governments have developed a reputation for spreading fake news stories.

In its most basic form, fake news is propaganda – information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

There are many techniques for spreading propaganda, some very obvious to those hearing or reading it, some more subtle. Here are a few of those techniques:

Ad hominem – A Latin phrase that has come to mean attacking one’s opponent, as opposed to attacking their arguments.

Ad nauseam – This uses tireless repetition of an idea. An idea, especially a simple slogan, that is repeated enough times, may begin to be taken as the truth.

Agenda setting – The ability to influence the importance placed on the topics of the public agenda. If a news item is covered frequently and prominently, the audience will regard the issue as more important.

Appeal to authority – This one cites the views of prominent figures to support a position, idea, argument or course of action.

Appeal to fear – This method seeks to build support by instilling anxieties and panic in the general population.

Appeal to prejudice – Using loaded or emotive terms to attach value or moral goodness to believing the proposition.

Bandwagon – Bandwagon appeals attempt to persuade the target audience to join in and take the course of action that “everyone else is taking.” In its simplest usage, a child may falsely tell parents that “all my friends can go, why can’t I?

Inevitable victory – This one invites those not already on the bandwagon to join those already on the road to certain victory. Those already or at least partially on the bandwagon are reassured that staying aboard is their best course of action. Example: “The debate is over. Nearly everyone who matters agrees with me.”

Beautiful people – The type of propaganda that deals with famous people or depicts attractive, happy people. This suggests if people buy a product or follow a certain ideology, they too will be happy or successful. This is used more in advertising for products, instead of political reasons.

Big Lie – The repeated articulation of a complex of events that justify subsequent action. The descriptions of these events have elements of truth, and the “big lie” generalizations merge and eventually supplant the public’s accurate perception of the underlying events. After World War I the German stab in the back explanation of the cause of their defeat became a justification for Nazi re-militarization and revanchism.

Black-and-white fallacy – Presenting only two choices, with the product or idea being propagated as the better choice.

Cherry picking or selective truth – Richard Crossman, the British Deputy Director of Psychological Warfare Division for the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force during the Second World War said “In propaganda truth pays… It is a complete delusion to think of the brilliant propagandist as being a professional liar. The brilliant propagandist is the man who tells the truth, or that selection of the truth which is requisite for his purpose, and tells it in such a way that the recipient does not think he is receiving any propaganda…. The art of propaganda is not telling lies, but rather selecting the truth you require and giving it mixed up with some truths the audience wants to hear.”

Cognitive dissonance – People want to be consistent. Suppose a pollster finds that a certain group of people hates his candidate for senator but loves actor A. They use actor A’s endorsement of their candidate to change people’s minds because people cannot tolerate inconsistency. They are forced to either dislike the actor or like the candidate.

Common man – The “plain folks” or “common man” approach attempts to convince the audience that the propagandist’s positions reflect the common sense of the people. It is designed to win the confidence of the audience by communicating in the common manner and style of the target audience. Propagandists use ordinary language and mannerisms in attempting to identify their point of view with that of the average person.

Cult of personality – A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. The hero personality then advocates the positions that the propagandist desires to promote. For example, modern propagandists hire popular personalities to promote their ideas or products.

Demonizing the enemy – Making individuals from the opposing nation, from a different ethnic group, or those who support the opposing viewpoint appear to be subhuman (e.g., the Vietnam War-era term “gooks” for National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam aka Vietcong, or “VC”, soldiers), worthless, or immoral, through suggestion or false accusations. Dehumanizing is also a term used synonymously with demonizing, the latter usually serves as an aspect of the former.

Disinformation – The creation or deletion of information from public records, in the purpose of making a false record of an event or the actions of a person or organization, including outright forgery of photographs, motion pictures, broadcasts and sound recordings as well as printed documents.

Euphoria – The use of an event that generates euphoria or happiness, or using an appealing event to boost morale. Euphoria can be created by declaring a holiday, making luxury items available, or mounting a military parade with marching bands and patriotic messages.

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt – This is an effort to influence public perception by disseminating negative and dubious or outright false information designed to undermine the credibility of their beliefs.

Firehose of falsehood – A propaganda technique in which a large number of messages are broadcast rapidly, repetitively, and continuously over multiple channels (such as news and social media) without regard for truth or consistency.

Flag-waving – An attempt to justify an action on the grounds that doing so will make one more patriotic, or in some way benefit a group, country, or idea. The feeling of patriotism this technique attempts to inspire may not necessarily diminish or entirely omit one’s capability for rational examination of the matter in question.

Gaslighting – Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction and lying to sow seeds of doubt in a target individual or group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, sanity and norms.

Gish gallop – Bombarding a political opponent with obnoxiously complex questions in rapid fire during a debate to make the opponent appear to not know what they are talking about.

Glittering generalities – These are emotionally appealing words that are applied to a product or idea, but present no concrete argument or analysis. This technique has also been referred to as the PT Barnum effect. (e.g., the advertising campaign slogan “Ford has a better idea!”)

Guilt by association – This technique is used to persuade a target audience to disapprove of an action or idea by suggesting that the idea is popular with groups hated, feared or held in contempt by the target audience.

Half-truth –A deceptive statement that includes some element of truth. It comes in several forms: the statement might be partly true, the statement may be totally true but only part of the whole truth, or it may utilize some deceptive element, such as improper punctuation, or double meaning, especially if the intent is to deceive, evade, blame, or misrepresent the truth.

Labeling – A euphemism is used when the propagandist attempts to increase the perceived quality, credibility, or credence of a particular ideal. A dysphemism is used when the intent of the propagandist is to discredit, diminish the perceived quality, or hurt the perceived righteousness of the individual. By creating a “label”, “category”, or “faction” of a population, it is much easier to make an example of these larger bodies, because they can uplift or defame the individual without actually incurring legal-defamation. Labeling can be thought of as a sub-set of guilt by association.

Loaded language – Specific words and phrases with strong emotional implications are used to influence the audience, for example, using the word reforms rather than a more neutral word like changes.

Managing the news– According to Adolf Hitler, “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” This idea is consistent with the principle of classical conditioning as well as the idea of “Staying on Message.”

Minimization – The opposite of exaggeration, minimization is a type of deception involving denial coupled with rationalization in situations where complete denial is implausible.

Name-calling – Propagandists use the name-calling technique to incite fears and arouse prejudices in their hearers in the intent that the bad names will cause hearers to construct a negative opinion about a group or set of beliefs or ideas that the propagandist wants hearers to denounce. The method is intended to provoke conclusions about a matter apart from impartial examinations of facts. Name-calling is thus a substitute for rational, fact-based arguments against an idea or belief on its own merits.

Oversimplification – Favorable generalities are used to provide simple answers to complex social, political, economic, or military problems.

Quotes out of context – Selective editing of quotes that can change meanings. Political documentaries designed to discredit an opponent or an opposing political viewpoint often use this technique.

Rationalization – Individuals or groups may use favorable generalities to rationalize questionable acts or beliefs. Vague and pleasant phrases are often used to justify such actions or beliefs.

Red herring – Presenting data or issues that, while compelling, are irrelevant to the argument at hand, and then claiming that it validates the argument.

Repetition – This is the repeating of a certain symbol or slogan so that the audience remembers it. This could be in the form of a jingle or an image placed on nearly everything in the picture or scene. This also includes using subliminal phrases, images or other content in a piece of propaganda.

Scapegoating – Assigning blame to an individual or group, thus alleviating feelings of guilt from responsible parties thus distracting attention from the need to fix the problem for which blame is being assigned.

Slogans – A slogan is a brief, striking phrase that may include labeling and stereotyping. Although slogans may be enlisted to support reasoned ideas, in practice they tend to act only as emotional appeals. Opponents of the US’s invasion and occupation of Iraq use the slogan “blood for oil” to suggest that the invasion and its human losses was done to access Iraq’s oil riches. On the other hand, supporters who argue that the US should continue to fight in Iraq use the slogan “cut and run” to suggest withdrawal is cowardly or weak. Similarly, the names of the military campaigns, such as “enduring freedom” or “just cause” can also be considered slogans, devised to influence people.

Smears – A smear is an effort to damage or call into question someone’s reputation, by propounding negative propaganda. It can be applied to individuals or groups.

Straw man – A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

Thought-terminating cliché – A commonly used phrase, sometimes passing as folk wisdom, used to quell cognitive dissonance.

Virtue words – These are words in the value system of the target audience that produce a positive image when attached to a person or issue. Peace, hope, happiness, security, wise leadership, freedom, “The Truth” etc. are virtue words. Many see religiosity as a virtue, making associations to this quality effectively beneficial.

Negative Review May Land You in Court

Posting online reviews has become second nature for many consumers nowadays – 82 percent of adults say they read online reviews at least some of the time, according to a Pew Research Center Study – so when they have a bad experience with a business, up goes a review, to share it with others.

Unfortunately, bad reviews are too often followed by nightmare lawsuits from the businesses receiving bad reviews.

“We’re seeing a rise in individuals being sued for speaking out online,” said Evan Mascagni, who works for the Public Participation Project. He says many lawsuits are designed simply to intimidate. They’re called “SLAPP” lawsuits (for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). “A SLAPP filer doesn’t go to court to seek justice; they are just trying to silence or harass or intimidate a critic of theirs,” Mascagni said.
Some states have laws against SLAPP lawsuits, but there is no federal anti-SLAPP statute.

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission began cracking down on businesses that put gag clauses in their consumer contracts in violation of the Consumer Review Fairness Act.

“CBS This Morning” consumer investigative correspondent Anna Werner asked Carl Settlemyer, of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices, “Why is it important enough that the government feels like, ‘Hey we have to step in sometimes’?”

“The online review medium has really exploded over the past decade or so, and people’s reliance on the ability to learn from online reviews has really grown in proportion to that,” Settlemyer said. “People have stories to tell, and they’re not able to get them out because they feel like they’re going to be threatened.”

Here are some examples.

A Florida man’s simple review turned into a year-long battle in court. “I never thought I’d be sued over anything that I write. There’s no reason to say anything but the truth,” said Tom Lloyd, of DeLand, Florida.

His ordeal began when his 10-year-old poodle Rembrandt suddenly fell ill last year. Lloyd rushed him to nearby DeLand Animal Hospital, where he says he was told the dog needed immediate surgery for what was probably a ruptured spleen.

“I said, ‘You’re going to do this right now?’ And he said, ‘Yeah,'” Lloyd recalled. But six hours later, he says, the clinic told him to come pick Rembrandt up: that they’d been unable to find a surgeon. He took the dog to a second clinic but says he was told it was too late – Rembrandt would need to be euthanized.

“It isn’t like there’s a closure,” Lloyd said. “He deserved a chance and they didn’t give him a chance. If he would have died on the operating table, I would have understood.”

Afterwards, Lloyd posted a review on Yelp, writing “The staff had wasted six hours of Rembrandt’s life and destroyed whatever chance he may have had to live. Our Rembrandt deserved a better last day.”

Weeks later, DeLand Animal Hospital and veterinarian Thomas MacPhail sued Lloyd for defamation, alleging his statements were “false” and “published maliciously and recklessly.” Lloyd said, “I’m finding out that isn’t always cheap to give an honest review, because if the other person has money, they can drive you in the ground.”

In other instances, a New York woman was sued by her doctor for $1 million for posting negative online reviews. A man in Kansas was sued over a three-star Trip Advisor review of a theme park, and a South Carolina woman was sued by a restaurant she claimed refused to honor a coupon.

Thomas Lloyd stuck to his guns, and countersued: Earlier this year, two former veterinarians from DeLand gave sworn affidavits saying even though they lacked experience doing the emergency surgery Lloyd’s dog needed, veterinarian MacPhail had declined to do the surgery and instead left for vacation.

After the animal hospital’s attorneys learned of the CBS interview with Lloyd, the case was quickly settled.
Lloyd told Werner, “They shouldn’t be able to try to financially break somebody just because they don’t like what you say.”

DeLand Animal Hospital, which is now under new ownership, did not respond to CBS News’ request for comment. Neither did veterinarian Thomas MacPhail, who DeLand told us is no longer working at the animal hospital.

Could Artificial Snow Help Antarctica?

What can be done to stop Antarctica’s ice sheets from disintegrating and causing a huge rise in global sea levels? A trio of scientists have simulated a radical geoengineering project to dump 7.4 trillion tons of snow on Antarctica, suggesting it could stop runaway instability in the glaciers.

Recent studies have shown warmer ocean water is being pushed toward the colossal West Antarctic ice sheet, destabilizing it and speeding up the decline of its huge glaciers. The threat of these huge ice deposits falling into the ocean is immense and the overall effect of their decline has been calculated to eventually raise sea levels by approximately 10 feet (3 meters) or more, endangering cities like New York.

“The real concern is that many of these glaciers have a reverse bed slope, meaning that as they retreat it exposes deeper and thicker ice to the ocean,” explains Sue Cook, a glaciologist at the University of Tasmania. “That is a very unstable position, and causes a positive feedback effect which accelerates the retreat (and hence contribution to sea level rise).”

The new study, just published in the journal Science Advances, proposes a drastic, decades-long geoengineering project that would pump huge amounts of ocean water to the ice sheet, adding 7,400 gigatons (7.4 trillion tons) of “artificial snowfall” and reversing the decline. Simulating the current effects on Antarctica’s ice sheets and the changes they experience with increasing snowfall, the researchers were able to map out a process that could potentially halt the ice loss.

Their suggestion would be an incredibly expensive undertaking and include immense technical challenges. The authors say it would present an “unprecedented effort for humankind.” Mostly, the problem lies in pumping the water out of the ocean, which requires an enormous amount of energy. The study suggests constructing a series of 12,000 wind turbines to enable this process to take place and then pumping artificial snow into two glaciers on the West Antarctic coast. The team suggest that activity would result in a 2 to 5 centimeter drop in sea level but the added weight of artificial snow falling on the surface would shore up the glaciers, improving their stability.

The larger effects of such a scheme are yet to be ironed out. What are the lasting effects on the Antarctic ecosystem and what kind of knock-on effects would we see in ocean currents across the world? We just don’t have answers to those questions right now.

What we do know is the Earth’s current default state: Burning fossil fuels and pumping tons of carbon into the atmosphere, warming the planet and causing sweeping changes like threatening a million species with extinction or, you know, the ice sheets melting. Considering the possibility of salvation in artificial Antarctic snow might be jumping a little far ahead.

“Even if a geoengineering project such as this were possible, it certainly shouldn’t detract from the other urgent action which is required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Cook notes.

It’s Not All Bad News

Cops Pay Woman’s Bill

A trio of New York City police officers were called to a Whole Foods store recently after a woman was accused of shoplifting. Instead of arresting her, they paid for the food she had stashed her bag.

Paul Bozymowski, a film and TV director who was at the store, tweeted a photo of the woman with her hands and a tissue over her face as she and the officers stood near the exit at the Whole Foods in Union Square.

“This woman was being held by security. She had food in her bag she didn’t pay for. When the NYPD showed up, they paid for her food,” Bozymowski wrote.

Queens dad saves daughter

A children’s worker trained in CPR used his life-saving skills for the first time to revive his own daughter when she suffered a terrifying seizure the day after a round of immunization shots.

Rasheen Hill had just opened the door to his Queens home after his shift at the New York City Children’s Center nearby when his wife frantically called out to him. Rachel Hill was trying to get her 1-year-old daughter Shiloh and 4-year-old son Zion to bed when the little girl suddenly went limp in her arms.

Seconds earlier, Shiloh was happily camped out near the tub, tugging at a roll of toilet paper as her older brother was bathed. As the busy mom hefted Shiloh to shuffle her two kids to their room for bedtime, the girl stopped moving and fear took over.

The terrified mother heard her husband Rasheen entering their home and hastily called for him.
Rasheen saw his daughter and immediately sprang into action, administering CPR to his daughter.

“Instincts just kicked in,” said Rasheen, 43, a mental health therapy coordinator who is required to take annual CPR classes for his job, even though he’d never had to use them.

The family later learned the adorable tot had a febrile seizure, the likely result of a 102-degree fever she had following a set of immunization shots.

Sea Turtle Count Rising

Although we’re only halfway through nesting season for loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles, nest counts have already exceeded last year’s numbers, according to Indian River,Fla., County Environmental Specialist Quintin Bergman.

As of June 28, 487 green-turtle nests have been marked on the Treasure Coast, more than twice the 235 from last year. This is a big deal, considering that four decades ago, biologists thought green sea turtles might go extinct.

Folks living along the beach know that under local ordinances designed to protect sea turtle nesting until Oct. 31. Lights visible from the beach must be shielded, repositioned, or turned off from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Disturbing a sea turtle, its nests or hatchlings also is illegal.

Sand sculptors create art

What better way to celebrate Cocoa Beach’s most famous surf shop than with the raw materials you’ll find on the beach? In front of Ron Jon Surf Shop is a sand sculpture built by local artists, and it is just so cool.

Jill Harris and Thomas Koet are the owners of Sandsational Sand Sculpting, based in Melbourne. They travel the world creating incredible works of art out of sand, but they’ve brought their talents home to Florida to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Ron Jon.

The sculpture was built from 25 tons of sand and water, and took a team of four sculptors a week to complete. It should stand for about two or three months – even if it rains.

Church pays off medical debts

A Michigan church said it raised enough money to pay off the medical debt of nearly 2,000 struggling families.

Sam Rijfkogel, pastor of Grand Rapids First in Wyoming, Michigan, said the church purchased more than $1.8 million worth of medical debt for “less than a penny on the dollar” through a nonprofit group.

“There are people whose medical debt, they cannot pay. There is no way. It’s looming over their head,” Rijfkogel said. “Most of these folks are in poverty levels or below poverty levels and there’s no way that it can be repaid, but they feel the creditor banging on their doors.”

“Today, that $1,832,439.26 that’s looming over families right now has been paid in full as a result of a gift from this church,” he added.

Rijfkogel said the debt was paid off by RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit group that says it has abolished more than $624 million in medical debt since it’s creation in 2014.