Tag: Social media

After a miserable decade of austerity and inequality, how did the Tories get re-elected?

How Britain voted 2019 age-01

Voting preferences according to age in the 2019 general election.

I’m writing a series of articles about the general election results in December. I’m looking for opinions on this topic. 

If you’re interested in writing about the election, drop me a message here at Politics and Insights.

George Monbiot’s view

George Monbiot says:  “Something has changed: not just in the UK and the US, but in many parts of the world. A new politics, funded by oligarchs, built on sophisticated cheating and provocative lies, using dark ads and conspiracy theories on social media, has perfected the art of persuading the poor to vote for the interests of the very rich. We must understand what we are facing, and the new strategies required to resist it.

“When the same thing happens in many nations, it’s time to recognise the pattern, and see that heaping blame on particular people and parties fixes nothing.

“In these nations, people you wouldn’t trust to post a letter for you have been elected to the highest office. There, as widely predicted, they behave like a gang of vandals given the keys to an art gallery, “improving” the great works in their care with spray cans, box cutters and lump hammers. In the midst of global emergencies, they rip down environmental protections and climate agreements, and trash the regulations that constrain capital and defend the poor.

“They wage war on the institutions that are supposed to restrain their powers while, in some cases, committing extravagant and deliberate outrages against the rule of law. They use impunity as a political weapon, revelling in their ability to survive daily scandals, any one of which would destroy a normal politician.”

Monbiot proposes a new model of politics which he calls political ‘rewilding.’

You can read more about Monbiot’s proposal in his article – There is an antidote to demagoguery – it’s called political rewilding.

Ian Mclauchlin’s view

The second view on the outcome of the election is a guest post (below) by my friend and fellow campaigner Ian Mclauchlin, reflecting his own justified suspicion of a “new politics, funded by oligarchs, built on sophisticated cheating and provocative lies, using dark ads and conspiracy theories on social media, has perfected the art of persuading the poor to vote for the interests of the very rich.”

He says: “I’ve been dismayed to see that the world seems to be going from bad to worse. Rogues are elected and there’s a suspicion (in my mind at least) that it’s happened not always by fair means. They’ve been doing the ‘wrong’ thing almost as a matter of course and getting away with it. Their values are not my values. etc. 

How could this be? Why, in recent times, have we been saddled with particularly unsavoury and incompetent leaders?

If you accept for a moment that they’ve been given all the votes that they seem to have been given, why would people vote like that? For the obviously retrograde and the dangerous?

Well ask yourself what’s changed. In the last 15 years or so, but especially the last 10, Social Media have become available and increasingly heavily used. That’s given those who previously didn’t have a voice the opportunity to find their voice. Not only have they found it, but realised that it can be spread around the world. It’s then amplified by sharing and comments by like minded people. That doesn’t mean it’s the right voice, nor does it mean it’s a correct analysis. But the proponents ‘think’ that it is. So what follows?

What follows is that the bigoted, uneducated, prejudiced and intellectually challenged have found that they can spread their ‘opinions’ – often gained by  accepting with gullibility what they’re told to think by the newspapers they choose to read – far and wide. They then think that their opinions are worth more than they are. Social media amplify those opinions and recipients believe that they’re majority opinions so, like sheep, adopt them as their own!

And Political Parties of dubious morality (are there any other kind?) haven’t been slow to notice this and have deliberately muddied the social media waters accordingly for their own ends, thereby adding to the amplification and the wrong thinking. And so they’re complicit in it all and need to be held to account for that reason alone.

That’s one explanation anyway, in the face of the otherwise inexplicable and downright perverse . . . .

____

So what do you think happened? Ian is right about government and the media’s unrelentingly ruthless lies, dishonesty and disinformation strategies in the run up to the election and the sheer gullibility of the working class, who have apparently voted for more of the same retrogressive policies that have made their lives more difficult and precarious over the last decade.

In my next article in this series I’m exploring how social psychology may play a part in the rise in populism – a political approach that strives (on the surface, at least) to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups, nationalism and authoritarianism, especially in societies where people experience high levels of socioeconomic inequality.  Unfortunately, many people often mistake authoritarian leaders for ‘strong’ ones.

They’re not. Authoritarians are invariably all mouth, lots of slogans and no democracy.

The despised elite has ignored the public in the UK for the last decade has just been returned to office by the same public, as if people expect that voting for more of the same will somehow yield different results and benefit them personally, this time. Unless people really thought the elite was not this particular elite who are not a fundamental part of the establishment…

The electorate has absolutely no grounds whatsoever for the belief that things will improve, and there is plenty of evidence over the past ten years which shows how the Conservatives have not got working class interests at heart.

It seems that many people were quite happy to forego both an interest based and evidence-based decision on how to vote in 2019. 

How Britain voted 2019 education level-01


Educational attainment and voting preferences in the last general election.


 

Politics and Insight’s independent, measured, authoritative reporting has never been so vital, or in the public interest. These are turbulent, decade-defining times. Whatever lies ahead for us all, I will be with you – investigating, disentangling, analysing and scrutinising, as I have done for the last 9 years. 

More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

I don’t make any money from my research and writing, and want to ensure my work remains accessible to all.

I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart. 

My editorial independence means I set my own agenda and present my own research and analyisis.  My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power, holding them to account.

My first step to fight back this year is to join the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) as soon as I can afford to. It is an essential protection, now.

It’s not cheap, especially for someone like me, as I’ve no income from my work. I pay WordPress to keep adverts off my site, too. But I am one of those people who often has to make daily choices about whether to eat or keep warm. I am disabled because of an illness called lupus. Like many others in similar circumstances, I am now living in fear for our future under a government that has already systematically and gravely violated the human rights of disabled people, which has resulted in fear, suffering, harm and all too often, premature death.

I hope you will consider supporting me today, or whenever you can. As independent writers, we will all need your support to keep delivering quality research and journalism that’s open and independent.

Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable and helps keep me going. 

DonatenowButton

Social media is being used to stage manage our democracy using nudge-based strategies

 

Image result for Online propaganda

A study from the University of Oxford, published this month, has concluded what many of us already know: bots, shills and trolls are working together to spread propaganda and disinformation, disrupt discussions, discredit individuals and are attempting to manipulate social media users’ political views.

The report warns: “Computational propaganda is one of the most powerful new tools against democracy.” 

The Oxford Internet Institute says that computational propaganda is the use of algorithms, automation, and human curation to purposefully distribute misleading information over social media networks. Social media are actively used as a tool for public opinion manipulation in diverse ways and on various topics.

Bots and trolls work to stifle authentic and reasoned debate between people in favour of a social network populated by (usually aggressive) argument and soundbites and they can simply make online measures of social support, such as the number of  “likes” (which can, of course, be bought), look larger  – crucial in creating the illusion of consensus and encouraging a bandwaggon effect.

In democracies, social media are actively used for computational propaganda, through broad efforts at opinion manipulation and by targeted experiments on particular segments of the public (which is antidemocratic in itself). This strategy isn’t so far removed from the “big data” approach, where individuals are targeted in election campaigns to receive personal messages that are highly tailored, designed to appeal to certain categories of “personality types” as discerned by the use of extensive data mining and psychological profiling techniques. 

The report also says that “In every country we found civil society groups trying, but struggling, to protect themselves and respond to active disinformation campaigns.” 

The research team involved 12 researchers across nine countries who, altogether, interviewed 65 experts, analyzed tens of millions posts on seven different social media platforms during scores of elections, political crises, and national security incidents.

They say that in democracies, individual users design and operate fake and highly automated social media accounts. Political candidates, campaigns and lobbyists rent larger networks of accounts for purpose-built campaigns while governments assign public resources to the creation, experimentation and use of such accounts.

Ultimately the presence of bots, shils and trolls on social media is a right-wing bid to stage manage our democracy, in much the same way that the biggest proportion of the rabidly right-wing corporate media has, until recently.

The report describes online propaganda as a “phenomenon that encompasses recent digital misinformation and manipulation efforts”, which “involves learning from and mimicking real people so as to manipulate public opinion across a diverse range of platforms and device networks”.

According to the report, bots “played a small but strategic role” in shaping Twitter conversations during the EU referendum last year. Bots work most effectively and powerfully when working together with trolls.

Political bots, social media bots used for political manipulation, are also effective tools for strengthening online propaganda and hate campaigns. One person, or a small group of people, can use an army of political bots on Twitter to give the illusion of large-scale consensus. Bots are increasingly being used for malicious activities associated with spamming and harassment.

According to the report authors: “The family of hashtags associated with the argument for leaving the EU dominated, while less than one percent of sampled accounts generated almost a third of all the messages.”

Political bots, built to look and act like real citizens, are being deployed in determined anti-democratic efforts to silence oppostion and to push official state messaging. Political campaigners, and their supporters, deploy political bots – and computational propaganda more broadly – during elections in attempts to sway the vote and defame critics. 

Anonymous political actors harness key elements of computational propaganda such as false news reports, coordinated disinformation campaigns, and troll mobs to attack human rights defenders civil society groups, and independent commentators and journalists.

The report warns “Computational propaganda is one of the most powerful new tools against democracy.” Facebook in particular has attracted a great deal of criticism in recent months, due to the rise and promotion of fake news.

Mark Zuckerberg initially denied that false stories spread through the social network had an effect on the US Presidential election, but changed his stance soon after.

The University of Oxford report says social media sites need to redesign themselves in order to regain trust.

The role of Intelligence Services in the deployment of psy-ops

 

In 2015, Glenn Greenwauld published a series of documents from the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG). He says that though its existence was secret until 2014, JTRIG quickly developed a distinctive profile in the public understanding, after documents from the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the unit had engaged in “dirty tricks” like deploying sexual “honey traps” designed to discredit targets, launching denial-of-service attacks to shut down internet chat rooms, pushing veiled propaganda onto social networks and generally warping discourse online. 

JTRIG’s tactics include seeding propaganda on social media, impersonating people online, and creating false blog posts to discredit targets.

A fascinating and must-read 42-page document from 2011 is particularly revealing, detailing JTRIG’s activities. It provides the most comprehensive and sweeping insight to date into the scope of this unit’s extreme methods. Entitled “Behavioral Science Support for JTRIG’s Effects and Online HUMINT [Human Intelligence] Operations,” it describes the types of targets on which the unit focuses, the psychological and behavioral research it commissions and exploits, and its future organizational aspirations.

The document is authored by a psychologist, Mandeep K. Dhami, a professor of  “Decision Psychology”. Dhami has provided advice on how JTRIG can improve its approach and attain “desired outcomes”, for example, by applying behavioural theories and research around persuasive communication, compliance, obedience, conformity, and the creation of trust and distrust.

Among other things, the document lays out tactics that the agency uses to manipulate public opinion, its scientific and psychological research into how human thinking and behaviour can be profiled and influenced, and the broad range of targets that are traditionally the province of law enforcement rather than intelligence agencies.

Since the general election in the UK, there has been a noticably massive increase in right-wing trolling presence and activity on Twitter. Most of the activity is directed towards discrediting Jeremy Corbyn. It’s very easy to spot a troll. They make outrageous claims that often read like tabloid headlines, resort quickly to personal attacks and attempts to discredit and smear when you disagree, and they never debate reasonably or evidence their comments.

In my experience, some, however, may initially engage reasonably, make a few concessions to evidenced debate, then suddenly show their true colours, by moving the goalposts of the debate constantly to include more disinformation, and by becoming aggressive, very personal and exceedingly irrational. My own management strategy is to address the claims made with a little evidence and fact, and block unhesitantly when it invariably turns ugly. 

The Oxford University research report concludes: “For democracies, we should assume that encouraging people to vote is a good thing. Promoting political news and information from reputable outlets is crucial. Ultimately, designing for democracy, in systematic ways, will help restore trust in social media systems. 

Computational propaganda is now one of the most powerful tools against democracy. Social media firms may not be creating this nasty content, but they are the platform for it. 

“They need to significantly redesign themselves if democracy is going to survive social media.”


Further reading

From the Intercept:

THE “CUBAN TWITTER” SCAM IS A DROP IN THE INTERNET PROPAGANDA BUCKET 

CONTROVERSIAL GCHQ UNIT ENGAGED IN DOMESTIC LAW ENFORCEMENT, ONLINE PROPAGANDA, PSYCHOLOGY RESEARCH

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwauld

Theresa May pledges to create new internet that would be controlled and regulated by government 

The media need a nudge: the government using ‘behavioural science’ to manipulate the public isn’t a recent development, nudging has been happening since 2010

 

Image result for online intelligence propaganda operations


I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you.

DonatenowButton