Category: Propaganda

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

 

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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

 

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Theresa May voted against anti-terror legislation, Jeremy Corbyn signed a motion that condemned IRA violence in 1994

The Conservatives have conducted their election campaign with sneering contempt, meaningless soundbites, trivial glittering generalities and barely a veneer of democratic engagement.

The misleading comments, half-truths, out of context one-liners and misquotes that have dominated the Conservatives’ typically authoritarian approach are a disgrace to politics, and the media that has accommodated these deplorable tactics and vapid crib sheet insults without holding the government to account have also played a part in undermining our democracy and distorting the terms of debate.

Any question the Tories are asked that they would prefer not to answer is met with a descent into gossipmongering about Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott. And when pressed, the Conservatives are always conservative with the truth. They are masters at erecting fact proof screens. This shows that the Conservatives have nothing but contempt for our democratic process. 

The corporate media are providing fewer and fewer venues for genuine democratic deliberation of political issues. Ordinary citizens are most often being treated as passive receptacles of “information” provided by media networks. It’s all style over content, though. The media should never be reduced to being a front for Conservative fake news.

Indexing, and media framing means that large organizations authorised to advance a news agenda often take their direction from political elites, and rely on those elite actors as sources of “information.” Media literacy and public democratic debate has little room to thrive in such a media environment. That needs to change. The public’s trust in the media has already been undermined considerably over recent years. The biggest concern is the negative impact that this has on our democracy and on public interest.

The Tories have no decorum, nor do they offer any genuine discussion about the details of Conservative policies whatsoever. Even worse, the Conservatives are so arrogant, they don’t feel they have to discuss their policy intentions or behave in an accountable and transparent manner at all. This is a government that have got their own way for far too long. They have spent their campaign telling the public who they should and should not vote for.  To vote for anyone but the Conservatives, they say, is “dangerous”. 

Not if you happen to be sick and disabled, however. Ask the United Nations.

A strategy of tension and perpetuated myths

Despite what the Conservatives have been saying to the public, Jeremy Corbyn signed a motion in the House of Commons that condemned IRA violence and “extended its sympathy to the relatives of those murdered”. 

He supported an early day motion put forward by Labour MP David Winnick to commemorate the victims of the IRA bombing in Birmingham in 1974. 

The motion was tabled on the 20 year anniversary of the attack that killed 21 people and injured 182 others and was signed by Corbyn in November 1994.  

The motion said: “This House notes that it is 20 years since the mass killings of 21 people in Birmingham as a result of terrorist violence; deplores that such an atrocity occurred and again extends its deepest sympathy to the relatives of those murdered and also to all those injured. And strongly hopes that the present cessation of violence by the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland will be permanent and thus ensure that such an atrocity as took place in Birmingham as well as the killings in many other places both in Northern Ireland itself and Great Britain will never occur again.”

Despite the fact the Labour leader has said several times during televised interviews that he condemns “all bombing” that took place during that period, journalists, political editors and correspondents seem to nonetheless feel a need to constantly ask if he will “denounce” IRA terrorism. The Conservatives have been permitted to peddle untruths and manipulate half truths unchecked. It’s almost as if Lynton Crosby, the high priest of divisive politics, dead cats and dog whistles, has widely distributed a crib sheet of a limited range of limited questions to be repeated over and over, such as this one, to divert everyone from any discussion whatsoever about policies or anything remotely meaningful. 

I’m rather disgusted in our so-called “impartial” national media for allowing this to happen without any critical thought or investigation whatsoever. Or genuine facilitation of democratic debate. You know, those things that journalists and such are actually paid to do. 

If someone pressed me over and over to denounce the IRA and to imply that England were entirely blameless in the Troubles, I would have been much less polite than Corbyn. This was an absolutely disgusting manipulation of Corbyn’s integrity.

It is possible to feel sympathy for ALL of those deaths and those family and loved ones left behind, in such a tragic, violent and seemingly relentless ethno-nationalist conflict.

Despite the fact that the British government claimed neutrality and deployed military forces to Northern Ireland simply to “maintain law and order”, the British security forces focused on republican paramilitaries and activists, and the Ballast investigation by the Police Ombudsman confirmed that British forces colluded on several occasions with loyalist paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and furthermore obstructed the course of justice when claims of collusion and murder were investigated. 

The British Army shot dead thirteen unarmed male civilians at a proscribed anti-internment rally in Derry, on 30 January, 1972 (“Bloody Sunday”). A fourteenth man died of his injuries some months later and more than fourteen other civilians were wounded. The march had been organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). 

This was one of the most prominent events that occurred during the Northern Irish Conflict as it was recorded as the largest number of people killed in a single incident during the period.

Bloody Sunday greatly increased the hostility of Catholics and Irish nationalists towards the British military and government while significantly elevating tensions during the Northern Irish Conflict. As a result, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gained more support, especially through rising numbers of recruits in the local areas.

It’s possible to recognise that those civilian deaths were an outrage and tragic. It’s possible to recognise the pain of their loved ones and families left behind. It’s also possible to condemn the acts of terrorism that left english civilians dead, too. It’s possible to honour ALL of those people who were killed in the conflict. I do.

Human lives are equally precious and have equal worth. It’s a mark of insighfulness, maturity and integrity to recognise this. History has a scattering of despots commiting atrocities and genocide, because they refused to consider all people as human beings. It seems we never learn, though. Holding this perspective does not mean that I cannot also condemn acts of despicable terrorism. 

The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 brought lasting peace. History actualy showed that Corbyn’s approach was the right one. So we need to ask ourselves why it is that Theresa May, her party, and the media are so fixated on events that happened over 20 years ago. For the record, Margaret Thatcher held secret meetings with the IRA to negotiate peace. John Major also had established links with the IRA for the same reason.

Quite properly so. It’s reasonable to expect our government to explore diplomatic solutions to conflicts in order to keep citizens safe.

It beggars belief that the media have permitted this opportunist political hectoring from the Tories to continue relatively unchallenged. It didn’t take a lot of  research – fact checking – to find this information, yet nobody else seems to have bothered.

It’s against the law for politicians to lie about their opponent’s character, or misrepresent them during an election campaign, by the way. I’m saving up all f those dark ads to send to the Electoral Commission with my complaint.

Just to emphasis how absurd the Conservative election campaign has become, it’s worth considering this:

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And this

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Does Prince Charles have “links with terrorists”?

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How about Donald Trump?

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Gosh, I have a strong sense of deja vu

There is a picture of Corbyn circulating in both the mainstream media and on social media that was taken in 1995 with Gerry Adams, (of Sinn Fein), in an attempt to try to link Corbyn with IRA “sympathies”, albeit indirectly. The picture was actually taken after the Downing Street Declaration (an agreement between the UK and Ireland that the Northern Irish people had the right to self-determination) which led to the first IRA ceasefire, under Major’s government. Corbyn contributed to the debate by pushing the IRA to abandon the bombings and sit down to negotiate since the 1980s. He has made it clear that he prefers diplomatic solutions to war. Rightly so. War should only ever be considered as a last resort. Wars do not keep people safe, but sometimes they become necessary, of course.

Voting against Anti-Terrorism Legislation

Jeremy Corbyn has voted against Anti-Terrorism Bills. They are complex pieces of legislation which have sometimes presented human rights conflicts within the details, for example. Theresa May also voted against Anti-Terrorism Legislation in 2005. The Conservatives have certainly been conservative with the truth and misled the public, implying that Corbyn is “soft” on terrorism, but of course Theresa May isn’t. Strong and stable propaganda from the Selfservatives.

Amber Rudd said recently on the televised leader’s debate:“I am shocked that Jeremy Corbyn, just in 2011, ‘boasted’ that he had opposed every piece of anti-terror legislation in his 30 years in office.”

Much to Rudd’s discomfort, Corbyn has replied:

“Can I just remind you that in 2005 Theresa May voted against the anti-terror legislation at that time. She voted against it, as did David Davis, as did a number of people that are now in your cabinet, because they felt that the legislation was giving too much executive power.”  ( Jeremy Corbyn, BBC Election Debate.)

I looked at the voting records to fact check this. Corbyn is right, of course. Here is what I found:

On 28 Feb 2005: Theresa May voted no on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Third Reading 

On 9 Mar 2005: Theresa May voted no on Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Rejection of New Lords’ Amendment — Sunset Clause

On 9 Mar 2005: Theresa May voted no on Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Rejection of Lords’ Amendment — Human Rights Obligations

On 10 Mar 2005: Theresa May voted no on Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Insisted Amendment — on Human Rights Obligations 

Source: Theyworkforyou.  

Broadening my search, I also found:

Terrorism Act 2000 – legislation introduced by the Labour government which gave a broad definition of terrorism for the first time. The Act also gave the police the power to detain terrorist suspects for up to seven days and created a list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

May: Absent from the final vote.

Counter-terrorism Act 2008

This legislation gave powers to the police to question terrorist suspects after they had been charged. It also tried to extend detention without charge to 42 days, but the Labour government abandoned this after being defeated in the House of Lords.

May: Absent from the vote.

Political journalists are uninterested in serious political debate, and have permitted, fairly uniformly, Conservative propaganda to frame the debates, with the same misquotes, misinformation and misleading and trivial emphasis being repeated over and over. That the government are using such underhand tactics – mostly smear and fearmongering attempts – to win an election, unchallenged, is disgraceful. To witness such illiberal discussion taking place without a shred of concern is actually pretty frightening. We have seen, over the last 7 years, the Conservatives’ authoritarianism embedded in punitive policies, in a failure to observe the basic human rights of some social groups, in their lack of accontability and diffusion of responsibility for the consequences of their draconian policies, and in their lack of democratic engagement with the opposition. Hurling personal insults, sneering and shouting over critics has become normalised by the Tories. People don’t recoil any more from what has often been dreadfully unreasonable hectoring. But they ought to.

Journalists may uphold public interest, they may contribute to the damage of democratic discourse, or they may remain indifferent. They make choices. One day the public will recognise those choices for what they are. The media have permitted a government to run an election campaign on simply telling people who they should not vote for, rather than one which informs people of policy choices, impacts and future political intentions. That is not healthy for democracy, which has been reduced by the Conservatives to gossipmongering, a lack of decorum, misquotes and dark ads and nudging people’s voting decisions.

You can learn such a lot about a person from the tone they use, and by a basic analysis of their language. The unforgettable slips by Iain Duncan Smith recently, when pressed about the triple tax lock and manifesto  – “Look, what we were trying to get away with… er… get away from, rather…” 

Who could forget Cameron’s slip: “We are saving more money for the rich”. A couple of moments of inadvertent truth.

Theresa May says “I will”.  A lot.

Jeremy Corbyn says “WE will”.

Only one of them is democratic and open to genuine dialogue. The other one is Theresa May.

 

Related

The biggest threat to our national security and safety is authoritarian Conservative posturing and their arms deals to despotic states

Theresa May lies about Labour Policy on Question Time 

Theresa May is ‘responsible’ for London terror attack and must resign says top David Cameron aide

I Served In Northern Ireland – And Corbyn’s Understanding Of The Troubles Has Been Proven Right By History

 


 

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Conservative dark ads on Facebook and the media commentaries grossly misrepresent Corbyn’s views on ‘national security’ issues

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                The real – Right wing authoritarian meets Pinochet

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The fake – Déjà vu: the Tories seem to imply that every Labour leader has “links” with the IRA and need a “coalition of chaos” to succeed. 

There is a picture of Corbyn circulating in both the mainstream media and on social media that was taken in 1995 with Gerry Adams, of Sinn Fein, in an attempt to try and link Corbyn with the IRA, albeit indirectly. The picture was actually taken after the Downing Street Declaration (an agreement between the UK and Ireland that the Northern Irish people had the right to self determination) which led to the first IRA ceasefire.

Corbyn contributed to the debate by pushing the IRA to abandon the bombings and sit down to negotiate since the 1980s. Margaret Thatcher held secret meetings with the IRA with the very same objective. By 1995, the Conservative Prime Minister John Major had taken the first hugely important steps towards peace in Northern Ireland. Blair built on that with the Good Friday Agreement, which led to lasting peace.

Corbyn has publicly denounced ALL acts of terrorism. Several times.

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You never hear of the Tories being “concerned” about Prince Charles’s links with the IRA, do you.

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Or Donald Trump’s

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and curiously, Boris Johnson’s (what a complete hypocrit).

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The Conservatives win general elections by using a combination of lying, smearing the opposition, misquoting the opposition and micro-targeted psychological manipulation that largely entails fearmongering and more lies.  Furthermore, much of this approach is being embedded in “dark ads” on social media, which target individuals, and are tailored according to the psychological profile of the recipient, to manipulate their perceptions. The profiling is based on “big data”, collected from a variety of sources, including social media platforms. The role of big data and social data and the micro-targeting of voters to influence voting decisions and election outcomes cannot be ignored.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), a public body in charge of data protection in Britain, began a formal investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes last month. In a statement, an ICO spokesperson said:

“These tools have a significant potential impact on individuals’ privacy,” adding that public awareness about how personal data was being collected online was generally low.

“It is important that there is greater and genuine transparency about the use of such techniques.”

Facebook itself has declined to comment on its advertising sales strategy for the British election.

In 2015, I wrote an article about Cameron being subjected to much ridicule after he misquoted the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, by taking his comments out of context, during the Prime minster’s Conservative party conference speech. This led to thousands of people sharing a video of Cameron himself describing Osama bin Laden’s death as “a tragedy.” 

Corbyn’s original comments had come from an interview with Iranian news channel, The Agenda. During the interview, Jeremy Corbyn, who was actually introduced as an “outspoken rebel in the Labour party’s ranks”, said:

“There was no attempt whatsoever that I can see to arrest him, to put him on trial, to go through that process.

This was an assassination attempt, and is yet another tragedy, upon a tragedy, upon a tragedy.

The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy. Tens of thousands of people have died. Torture has come back on to the world stage, been canonised virtually into law by Guantanamo and Bagram.”

However the malicious Cameron made no show of an attempt at quoting Corbyn correctly and instead used the old quote out of context, to mislead people, claiming he felt Corbyn somehow constituted a “threat to national security.” This is a long running theme in Conservative propaganda.

BBC’s Steven Sackur has previously said that as soon as Corbyn was elected as Labour party leader, the Conservatives “issued propaganda” suggesting that Corbyn is a “threat” to national security. He also pointed directly to the government’s fundamental lack of accountability, transparency and democracy in the unprecedented move to refuse to share military and intelligence information in 2015, which is conventionally shared with the leader of the opposition.

“National security” is a theme that has run through the Conservatives campaigns and media commentary since. It works because it generates fear. It’s the political use of psychological manipulation at its very worst, as it presents an “enemy” for the public to vote against, rather than something inspiring to vote for. 

The Conservative party always emphasise and distort issues of national defense and magnify our perception of threat, whether of foreign aggressors, immigrants, terrorists, or “invading” ideologies like Socialism (see the Zinoviev letter, for example). They reduce and present the world as a frightening place, and justify authoritarian policies to remedy the perceived threats. This is then used to portray the party as “strong”, and any opposition as “weak”. 

The Conservatives, with the cooperation of much of the media, are using this strategy of tension, designed intentionally to create public alarm, to divide, manipulate, and control public opinion using fear, propaganda, disinformation, intensive psychological operations and false flags in order to achieve their strategic aims – to portray the left as a “threat” to the wellbeing of society – and it reverberates around the media, to be used as part of an arsenal of pro-establishment, anti-progressive propaganda to discredit Corbyn. That is before he even has an opportunity to put the record straight. Yet even a glance through the Labour manifesto shows that this “threat” patently untrue.

The Labour party has again accused the Conservatives of creating “fake news” after a Tory attack video that went viral was edited to show Jeremy Corbyn refusing to condemn the IRA, when in fact the Labour leader said: “I condemn all the bombing by the loyalists and the IRA.”

The 85-second montage of Corbyn’s quotes has been circulating online for the last week and has been viewed 5.3m times, three times more than any other political campaign video. The Conservatives are also paying Facebook to insert it into people’s news feeds. It is subtitled: “On June 9th, this man could be Prime Minister. We can’t let that happen.”

Actually, we can and must. The frightful and unthinkable alternative is an extreme authoritarian right wing government with clear fascistic tendencies. 

Another Facebook advert that was paid for by the Conservatives claims Corbyn wants to abolish Britain’s armed forces. This is false. The Labour manifesto pledges to spend 2% of GDP on defence and states: “We will ensure that our armed forces are properly equipped and resourced to respond to wide-ranging security challenges.”

A spokesperson for the Labour Party said: “The Conservatives are running a hateful campaign based on smears, innuendo and fake news.

“They do so because they have nothing to offer the British people and their super-rich donors fear Labour’s plan to transform Britain for the many not the few.”

For balance, the Guardian asked Conservative HQ if they wanted to highlight false claims in any Labour party advertisments, but it declined. 

The media don’t help people sift facts from fiction either. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has claimed several times that she is “worried” about Labour’s ability to deal with terror threats. She based her claim on Corbyn’s “voting record”, saying: 

“I am shocked that Jeremy Corbyn, just in 2011, boasted that he had opposed every piece of anti-terror legislation in his 30 years in office.”

Much to Rudd’s discomfort, Corbyn has replied:

“Can I just remind you that in 2005 Theresa May voted against the anti-terror legislation at that time. She voted against it, as did David Davis, as did a number of people that are now in your cabinet, because they felt that the legislation was giving too much executive power.”  Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, BBC Election Debate.

I looked at the voting records to fact check this. Corbyn is right, of course. Here is what I found:

On 28 Feb 2005: Theresa May voted no on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Third Reading 

On 9 Mar 2005: Theresa May voted no on Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Rejection of New Lords’ Amendment — Sunset Clause

On 9 Mar 2005: Theresa May voted no on Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Rejection of Lords’ Amendment — Human Rights Obligations

On 10 Mar 2005: Theresa May voted no on Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Insisted Amendment — on Human Rights Obligations 

Source: Theyworkforyou.  

Broadening my search, I also found:

Terrorism Act 2000 – legislation introduced by the Labour government which gave a broad definition of terrorism for the first time. The Act also gave the police the power to detain terrorist suspects for up to seven days and created a list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

May: Absent from the final vote (there was no Second Reading)

Counter-terrorism Act 2008

This legislation gave powers to the police to question terrorist suspects after they had been charged. It also tried to extend detention without charge to 42 days, but the Labour government abandoned this after being defeated in the House of Lords.

May: Absent from the vote

Character assassination

Character assassination is a deliberate and sustained process that destroys the credibility and reputation of a person, institution, or social group. The method involves a mix of open and covert methods, such as raising false accusations, planting and fostering rumours, and manipulating information. It may also involve exaggeration, misleading half-truthsto present an untrue picture of the targeted person. It is a form of defamation and typifies the Conservative overuse of ad hominem argument in debate.

The Labour leader’s rising popularity, particularly since his recent televised appearances, has led to the Conservatives stepping up their heavy targeting of Corbyn with nine out of 10 of their adverts attacking him, according to an analysis of 889 Facebook ads placed by the three main parties into the feeds of more than 8,000 voters. The data has been gathered by the Who Targets Me project and analysed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

One ad is subtitled: “A leader who supports our armed forces or one who wants to abolish them? The choice is clear: Corbyn and your security is too big a risk.”

By contrast, the Labour party hardly Theresa May in its social media campaign with only 9% of the 136 different ads seen so far by Who Targets Me referring to the prime minister.

The adverts that Labour is promoting hardest are related to policy, but the majority are urging people to get out and vote. The next most common topics addressed in paid for ads by the party are the NHS and tuition fees. The Conservatives are focusing most on smearing Corbyn, Brexit, the economy and security while the Liberal Democrats are using Facebook ads to talk about Brexit and dementia but also to seek donations.

The fact that the Conservatives feel safe enough to reduce politics to little more than smear and fear campaigning, and accusing anyone opposing them as subverting “the people’s will” indicates just how dangerously authoritarian they are.

It’s not as if the Conservatives have demonstrated any such democratic accountability and actually care about what the wider public think, until the run-up to an election day. Nor do they listen to what we have to say. A plurality of perspectives and healthy debate are the foundation of democracy, yet the Conservatives don’t want that. 

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Elections are supposed to provide choices: the opportunity for voters to have a say on the big issues. There is no shortage of serious questions facing Britain in 2017 – not just what type of relationship we want with the European Union after we leave, but on a much wider range of important economic and social challenges, after seven years of an unsuccessful “long term plan” of austerity cuts. 

It’s time to ensure that your voting decision is based on real policy choices, a responsible decision that prioritises both societies’ and your own best interests, rather than on a fleeting emotional response from empty style-over-content marketing strategies, and superficial glittering generalities captured in a meaningess Tory slogan or meme. The Tories don’t do dialogue or democracy: they simply shout over their opponents and critics very loudly to stifle healthy debate. They also pay a lot of money to ensure that they saturate social media with toxic smear campaigns and lies.

Don’t let the Tories buy the election again.

 

 

vote_labour_red


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.

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David Dimbleby says Jeremy Corbyn is treated unfairly by a biased right wing press

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David Dimbleby has confirmed what many of us already knew – that Jeremy Corbyn has been treated unfairly and misrepresented by the media.

Dimbleby will be interviewing both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May for a Question Time special on Thursday. Dimbleby said that most British newspapers show a right wing bias and complained of their “lazy pessimism”.

He said: “I don’t think anyone could say that Corbyn has had a fair deal at the hands of the press, in a way that the Labour party did when it was more to the centre, but then we generally have a rightwing press.”

He also suggested the Labour leader has more support among the public than he does among the parliamentary Labour party.

He went on to say: “My own prediction is that, contrary to the scepticism and lazy pessimism of the newspapers and the British media, it’s going to be a really fascinating night, and it will drive home some messages about our political system and the political appeal of different parties that no amount of polling or reading the papers will tell us.”

Just four months ago, the BBC Trust found a BBC political editor inaccurately reported Jeremy Corbyn’s views about shoot-to-kill policies in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris. 

The broadcaster’s regulator concluded that Laura Kuenssbergs report for the News at Six in November 2015 breached the broadcaster’s impartiality and accuracy guidelines, in a ruling that triggered an angry response from the corporation’s director of news. 

The News at Six item included a clip of Jeremy Corbyn saying: “I am not happy with a shoot-to-kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counterproductive.”

Kuenssberg had presented the clip as Corbyn’s response to a question put to him on whether he would be “happy for British officers to pull the trigger in the event of a Paris-style attack”, but the Trust concluded that Corbyn had been speaking in a different context.

The Labour leader had acually been responding to a question about whether he would be happy to order police or military “to shoot to kill” on Britain’s streets – and not specifically regarding a Paris-style terrorist attack in the UK. 

The Trust agreed with the complainant that the news report misrepresented the Labour leader’s views on the use of lethal force and that it had wrongly suggested he was against the additional security measures which the item had said the government was proposing. The Trust also found that the inaccuracy was “compounded” when Kuenssberg went on to claim that Corbyn’s message “couldn’t be more different” to that of the prime minister, who was about to publish anti-terrorism proposals. 

The Trust agreed with the complainant, pointing out that accuracy in any one programme rather than the entire output was particularly important when dealing “with a critical question at a time of extreme national concern”.

The news item was edited to mislead the public. It’s a curious thing that the Conservatives have frequently used the very same tactic of deliberately misquoting Corbyn to misrepresent his views in their election campaign. It’s time there were tighter laws on this kind of nasty manipulation of pubic perceptions and opinion. 

It was agreed that: “According to this high standard [of accuracy], the report had not been duly accurate in how it framed the extract it used from Mr Corbyn’s interview.”

Inaccurate portrayals like this have become normalised by the media and the government.

However, it isn’t just the way that responses are mispresented that is problematic. The framing of issues is also heavily biased, reflecting the permitted success of the Conservatives and a predominantly right wing press to shape the entire news agenda. What we hear and read is a long way from impartiality and accuracy. 

BBC’s Steven Sackur has said that as soon as Corbyn was elected, the Conservatives “issued propaganda” suggesting that Corbyn is a “threat” to national security. He also pointed directly to the government’s fundamental lack of accountability, transparency and democracy in the unprecedented move to refuse to share military and intelligence information in 2015, which is conventionally shared with the leader of the opposition.

“National security” is a theme that has run through the Conservatives campaigns and media commentary since. It works because it generates fear. It’s the political use of psychological manipulation at its very worst, as it presents an “enemy” for the public to vote against, rather than something inspiring to vote for. 

The Conservative party always emphasise and distort issues of national defense and magnifies our perception of threat, whether of foreign aggressors, immigrants, terrorists, or “invading” ideologies like Socialism (see the Zinoviev letter, for example). They reduce and present the world as a frightening place, and justify authoritarian policies to remedy the perceived threats. This is then used to portray the party as “strong”, and any opposition as “weak”. 

The Conservatives, with the cooperation of most of the media, are using this strategy of tension, designed intentionally to create public alarm – to portray the left as a “threat” to the wellbeing of society – and it reverberates around the media, to be used as part of an arsenal of pro-establishment, anti-progressive propaganda to discredit Corbyn. That is before he even has an opportunity to put the record straight. Yet even a glance through the Labour manifesto shows that this “threat” patently untrue.

The media does not engage the public, instead there is a pre-determined, biased and right wing agenda being imposed and then presented as a consensus. The media is   contributing significantly to public cynicism and alienation and sowing divisiveness. We are witnessing the erosion of the media’s role of watchdog, as a guardian of public interest, and as a conduit between the governing and the governed. We are witnessing the mainstreaming of democratic decay.

 

Related

Election coverage alert 30 May: Distorted debates, vacuous interviewing techniques and more fake news in the Telegraph – 

The erosion of democracy and the repression of mainstream media in the UK


 

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Political polls, think tanks and propaganda: the antidemocratic writing on the wall

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The Mail on Sunday columnist, christian and Burkean Conservative, Peter Hitchens, has said:

“Opinion polls are a device for influencing public opinion, not a device for measuring it. Crack that, and it all makes sense.”

I don’t agree with Hitchens on very much, but he is right about this.

In his book The Broken Compass, Hitchens informs us that opinion polls are actually a device for influencing public opinion. He says that the establishment and the media are responsible for this manipulation, based on the misuse of statistics. The overall purpose is to “bring about the thing it claims is already happening”. 

The author cites contemporary examples of the media attacking Gordon Brown and the “predicted” win of the Conservative Party at the 2010 general election, although Hitchens also described Brown, as a “dismal Marxoid. Hitchens’ comments are based on his time as a reporter at Westminster. He says that political journalists are uninterested in serious political debate, and describes how a media reporting bias is attempting to facilitate a Tory general election win.

Remarkably, as a social Conservative, Hitchens states one of his motivations for writing the book was to frustrate this exercise.

Of course government influence isn’t the only problem. Neoliberal bias and “market forces” that result in a biased presentation include the ownership of the news source, concentration of media ownership, the selection of staff, the preferences of an intended audience, and pressure from advertisers. In short, we cannot escape the cultural saturation of pro-establishment views, and the establishment is of course both neoliberal and Conservative. 

Predicting elections may seem interesting, fun, and perhaps even educational from an academic perspective, but it doesn’t add much to our democratic practices. Polls give an apparency of “data-driven journalism” but it produces a reductive “horse-race” narrative, in which political and policy context is mostly ignored with the numbers, accurate or not, pretty much being framed as all that matters. This trivialises our democracy and obscures the importance of critical thinking and informed choices regarding policies in influencing the public’s voting decisions. 

Roger Pielke Jr, professor of Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, says: Rather than trying to see the future, political science might serve us better by helping citizens to create that future by clarifying the choices we face and their possible consequences for policy.” In treating politics like a sporting event, we diminish the partisanship, the choices, and the fundamental values that lie at the core of politics. I fear that data journalists have diminished our politics.” 

When political opinion polls and the media appear to support one political party over another, there can be little doubt that this will have an influence on the psychology of voters, because it’s akin to declaring election winners before the election is actually held. It works rather like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the UK, the media is biased and leans heavily towards the right. Despite the fact that the Labour party currently has the highest party membership in western Europe, yet the leader is viciously attacked, and very often in a particularly nasty, personal way. The systematic way in which the media are actively attempting to delegitimise Corbyn is unworthy of a so-called democracy.

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Some countries, such as France, Brazil and South Korea, impose a halt on election polling because of the bandwagon effect, which may skew the democratic process. The bandwagon effect describes a process of voters favoring a party that is doing well in the polls, while the underdog effect predicts that support will go to a party trailing in the polls.

There is also the possibility of a projection effect, with voters’ expectations conforming to their partisanship. There is rather less empirical evidence for the existence of underdog effect than there is for the existence of the bandwagon effect, which is based on individuals rallying to the perceived majority opinion, because of a fairly widespread psychological need for feeling we are part of a social ingroup, and a general tendency towards normative compliancce and social conformity.

We know that political opinion polls are certainly not always an accurate reflection of public opinion. Samples of the population selected to participate may be biased. For example, asking Daily Mail readers who they will vote for will almost certainly produce a majority right wing set of responses. However, if you ask the same question on Twitter, you are much more likely to get a Labour majority.  

The polls do have an effect on voter intentions and on those trying to influence the outcome of elections.

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Poll by ITV’s This Morning asked viewers which party leader they would prefer to see as Prime Minister.

More generally, in sociology and other social sciences, bias is defined as any tendency which prevents unprejudiced consideration of a research question. Bias can occur at any phase of research, including study design, or sampling and data collection, as well as in the process of data analysis and publication.  

It is widely recognised that quantitative social research methods, such as surveys, may be susceptible to reduced reliability and research bias, sometimes entailing a process where the researchers performing the survey influence the results by selecting a specific kind of sample of the population, for example.

Human nature is complex and can not be reduced easily to just a simple either/or response. Bias may arise when researchers inadvertently or deliberately select subjects that are more likely to generate the desired results. Either way, this is a reversal of the normal processes governing science.

Additionally, there is also a risk of response bias – a general term for a wide range of cognitive biases that influence the responses of participants away from accuracy or truthfulness. These biases are most prevalent in the types of studies and research that involve participant self-report, in quantitative research such as surveys. Response biases can have a large impact on the validity of questionnaires, surveys and polls.

With all of this in mind, we need to think about how the conventional political polls are run, who runs them, who funds them and for what and whose purpose.

In the UK, some of the major polls are run by:

  • Survation, pollster to The Mail on Sunday, Daily Mirror, Daily Record and Sky News. They say: “Survation also have an active strategy and campaign advisory business helping clients better understand customers & members, appreciate & help shape public opinion. We help our clients improve customer engagement and effectiveness of campaigns – be they charitable, political or commercial.” 
  • ComRes, retained pollster for the BBC and The Independent. It says on their site: ComRes provides specialist research and insight to support reputation management, public policy and communications. For more than a decade we have used the latest developments in market and opinion research to inform strategies, change behaviours and define debates.”
  • Ipsos MORI (formerly MORI). Ipsos MORI’s Social Research Institute works extensively for the Government of the United Kingdom, looking at public attitudes to key public services, and so informing social policy. Issues such as identity, social cohesion,loyalty, physical capital and the impact of place on attitudes are all key themes of the Institute’s work. The company also specialises in mass media, brand loyalty, marketing and advertising research.
  • YouGov. – Stephan Shakespeare, the firm’s founder and CEO from 2010, once stood as a Conservative candidate for Colchester; he was also a Conservative Party pollster. The other founder, and CEO until 2010, is Nadhim Zahawi a British Conservative Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Stratford-on-Avon since 2010.
  • ICM. They say Understanding choice means you know how your audience feels, thinks and behaves. And how you can change that. We help influence choice in three areas. How do you energise your brand and communications? How do you improve your customers’ experience of you? How do you understand and influence citizens?  
  • Populus, official The Times pollster. They say: “Our Reputation & Strategy team works with the boards of global companies and public institutions to help them understand, influence, and improve their reputations. We are specialists in reputation. We understand why it matters, how to measure it, what drives it, who influences it, how to align it with existing activity, and what you should do to improve it.”
  • TNS-BMRBTNS changed their name to Kantar Public UK: a leading agency providing research and consultancy to UK policymakers. The company is structured around specific areas of marketing expertise: Brand & Communication; Innovation & Product Development; Retail & Shopper; Customer Experience; Employee Engagement; Qualitative; Automotive; and Political & Social.

All of these companies operate within a taken-for-granted neoliberal context, supporting various actors within the “global market place” paradigm, including governments, and therefore have a distinct ideological leaning and very clearly defined economic interests in maintaining the status quo. 

Nudging voting decisions

It’s likely that Lynton Crosby’s international notoriety made him the subject of considerable press attention during the Conservative’s election campaign. However, there was another man also behind the Conservative campaign who was probably even more cunning. American strategist Jim Messina was hired as a strategy adviser in August 2013. Senior Conservative staff had been impressed by Barack Obama’s easy victories in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, crediting a relentless focus on data collection to Messina.

Access to this level of personal data was crucial to the success of the Conservative campaign: it determined which voters the party needed to target, contact and which type of message they would present. This process began with direct mail – personally addressed to voters in each target seat, who were divided into 40 different categories, with a slightly different tailored message for each one.

A telephone research company called Return Marketing (now known as Return Research) canvassed thousands of voters in the run-up to the 2015 general election. The calls they made rather tellingly targeted voters in specific, marginal constituencies.

Last year, the The Canary found evidence that the Conservatives may have broken a law that prohibits paying canvassers to support a specific candidate’s election. Whistleblowers speaking to an independent journalist have alleged that they were told to push poll voters (sway voters towards voting for the Conservatives by using loaded questions.)

Channel Four’s secret filming of the company Return Market’s “push polling”- polling designed to influence voters while masquerading as political research – during the EU referendum.

Pollsters, by and large, reject the charge that they herd public opinion, but social psychologists and behavioural economists inform us that there is more than a little truth in the bandwaggon effect theory.

Pollsters say they are careful to avoid influencing the outcome of a poll through priming and order effects in the survey design, but there are many other stumbling blocks to bear in mind. Social psychologists and the new behavioural economists say that in general people want to follow the crowd and do not like to challenge the normative order (which as a concept is in itself a very functionalist and conservative framing of society).

This is reflected in the nudge theorists’ use of social norming strategies, currently being adopted in public policies, which politically target some social groups to change their perceptions and behaviours. Social norming is based on an assumption of pluralistic ignorance bychoice architects. Ultimately, the “choice architects” are the government, who, after all, are responsible for public policies which utilise experimental behavioural theory.

It’s of major concern that attempts by a government to surreptitiously change the perceptions, behaviours, emotions and decision-making of a population using experimental behavioural economic theory and discriminatory policies is not currently subject to public scrutiny and ethical standards. There is nothing standing in the way of “choice architects” using social norming to generate, manipulate or exploit pluralistic ignorance in order to simply maintain and justify the status quo.

So if we see an opinion poll telling us what the majority thinks, believe or is doing, because many have an inbuilt psychological bias towards following the crowd, we need to question potential motives underpinning that “information”.

The government know about the bandwaggon bias and are designing communications strategies and policies which play to this heuristic.

Think tanks, the media and the Conservative influence on public thinking

In the late 1960s and 1970s, movement conservatives persuaded wealthy individuals and businesses to establish a conservative intellectual and political infrastructure. This includes think tanks that resemble academic institutions but publish studies supporting Conservative and libertarian arguments. The American Enterprise Institute was founded in 1943, but was expanded dramatically with new funding in 1971. The Heritage Foundation was created in 1973 and the Cato Institute was founded in 1974.

In Britain, Tim Montgomerie, has described the Conservative movement as “the infrastructure outside of the party that supports small ‘c’ conservative values.”

A March 2009 presentation by Montgomerie and Matthew Elliott listed a number of organisations as part of the British Conservative movement: 

Institute of Economic Affairs | Centre for Policy Studies | Reform | Adam Smith Institute | Policy Exchange | Centre for Social Justice | Civitas | International Policy Network | Taxpayers’ Alliance | ConservativeHome | New Culture Forum | Standpoint | Migration Watch UK | Countryside Alliance | Centre for Social Cohesion

Elliott compared this with the smaller size of the movement in 1997. According to Montgomerie, the comparison was intended to be indicative rather than comprehensive. An up to date, comprehensive powerbase list might include: 

2020 Health | Atlantic Bridge | Adam Smith Institute | Better Off Out | Big Brother Watch | Bow Group | Bruges Group | Campaign for an English Parliament | Campaign for the Protection for Rural England | Centre for Policy Studies | Centre for Social Cohesion | Centre for Social Justice | Christian Conservative Fellowship | Civitas | Conservative Education Society | ConservativeHome | Conservative Intelligence | Conservative Party | Conservative Philosophy Group | Countryside Alliance | Democracy Institute | Direct Democracy | Drivers Alliance | Doctors for Reform | Economic Policy Centre | Enterprise Forum | European Foundation | European Policy Forum | Family Education Trust | First Defence | Forest | Freedom Alliance | Freedom Association | Freedom Zone | The Free Society | Global Vision | Global Warming Policy Foundation | Henry Jackson Society | Institute of Ideas | Institute of Directors | Institute of Economic Affairs | International Policy Network | Legatum Institute | Liberty League | Localis | Message Space | Migration Watch | New Culture Forum | Nothing British about the BNP | Nurses for Reform | Open Europe | Policy Exchange | Politeia | Progressive Vision | Reform | Reform Scotland | ResPublica | Safe Speed | Save Our Pubs and Clubs | Selsdon Group | Social Affairs Unit | Social Market Foundation | Spiked | Standpoint | Student Rights | Sunlight COPS | Taxpayers Alliance | TEA Party UK | UK National Defence AssociationYoung Britons Foundationamong others. 

The problem is that think tanks synthesise, create and communicate “information” and give “advice” to the public and policy-makers, very often through the media. Think tanks tend to be far more media savvy than academics, often with staff who have backgrounds in the communication industry – media, PR or lobbying organisations.

This means that policy proposals, media narratives and public debate are much more likely to reflect Conservative ideology and favor pro-establishment outcomes, rather than being non-partisan, evidence-based and crucially, a representation of public needs. This of course turns democracy completely on its head. 

As Professor Judy Sebba points out in Getting research into policy: the role of think tanks and other mediators: “Far from educating the public about evidence, think tanks are characterised by closedness and exclusivity. They do not subject their work to review by others and so the quality of their outputs are not assessed. Most worryingly, the media present the work of think tanks as credible sources of research and facts without any checks being in place.”  

As key players in “democratic” politics and in shaping public opinion, think tanks have a responsibility to be transparent about their operations, but seldom are. A good question to ask is who funds them and what is their agenda?

The bandwaggon propaganda technique is also used as a key campaign strategy

More recently, I explored the role of intentionally deceitful political language and rhetoric in another article  which highlights the role that the media play in shaping our public life. Media manipulation involves a series of related techniques in which partisans create images or arguments that favour their own particular interests. Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies, psychological manipulations, deception, linguistic, rhetorical and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or alternative perspectives by simply crowding them out. 

Discrediting and minimisation are often used in persuading other people or social groups to stop listening to certain perspectives and arguments, or by simply diverting public attention elsewhere. An example of diversion is the recent widespread scapegoating of refugees and people who need social security, such as disabled people or those who have lost their jobs, in a bid to maintain the hegemony of neoliberalism and its values at a time when its failings were brought into sharp focus during and following the global crisis – also exposing failings in the behaviours and practices of the government and the vulture capitalist financier class.

Neoliberalism always gravitates towards increasing inequality, extending and deepening poverty. Fear mongering is sometimes used with a diversion or misdirection propaganda technique to mask this, and may be pervasive. Sometimes politicians and media commentators suddenly take a debate in a weird and irrational but predictable direction to avoid democratic accountability.

During the coalition and Conservative governments, the tabloids have chosen and framed most of the debates that have dominated domestic politics in the UK, ensuring that immigration, welfare, law and order, the role of the state, and Britain’s relationship with Europe have all been discussed in increasingly right wing terms, while almost ironically, the government have colonised progressive rhetoric to cover their intentions. It also serves to further discredit the narrative of the left.

However, there is therefore a growing chasm between Conservative discourse, and policy intentions and outcomes. There isn’t a bridge between rhetoric and reality. 

The Conservatives commonly use a nudge technique called “social norming” – a Behavioural Insights Team variant of the bandwaggon propaganda technique – particularly for General Election campaigning. It’s about manipulating a false sense of consensus, and normalising Conservative ideology. It’s also about prompting behavioural change, and as such, this method is a blatant attempt to influence the voting behaviours of the public, by suggesting that many others have already “joined” the Conservative “cause” and are happier or better off for doing so. The technique uses societal pressures to play on several basic emotional elements of human nature.

Oh, and then there is the basic technique of telling lies, of course.

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And using euphemism:


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Social norming is an appeal to emotional needs to fit in and belong, and also, to be on the side that wins. As stated earlier, it has a kind of self fulfilling prophecy element to it, too. It’s used in advertising – words like “everyone”, “we”, “our” and “most people” or “many” are used a lot to sell brands and imply a popularity of certain products that usually isn’t real.

Political slogans like the almost farcical “country that works for everyone” and the previous “all in it together” are examples of poor attempts at social norming. It’s aimed at shifting our normative framework to accommodate the status quo, too, regardless of how the accounts don’t tally with reality. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

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It’s worth noting that “We are all in it together” was a slogan made famous in Terry Guiliams’s dystopic black comedy Brazil. Cameron certainly had a moment of recycling propaganda with grim irony there.

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Propaganda techniques commonly used by the Conservatives

As mentioned previously, bandwagon and “inevitable-victory” appeals attempt to persuade the target audience to join in and take the course of action that “everyone else is taking.” Inevitable victory invites those not already on the bandwagon to join those already convinced they are 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.  

Join the crowd is a technique that reinforces people’s natural desire to be on the winning side. This technique is used to convince the audience that a programme is an expression of an irresistible mass movement and that it is in their best interest to join. As an example, see Grant Shapps under fire over website ‘sham’ which used models featured on Australian university site to make Tory activists look ‘youthful and in touch’ with Britain. Also see Behaviourism.

Common man – The ordinary folks or Common Man technique is an attempt 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 (and clothe their message in face-to-face and audiovisual communications) in attempting to identify their point of view with that of the average person, and to naturalise it.

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Ad hominem is a Latin phrase which has come to mean personally attacking your opponent, as opposed to challenging their propositions and arguments. A recent example is Boris Johnson’s strange attack on Jeremy Corbyn, calling him a “benign herbivore” but at the same time, also a “mutton-headed old mugwump.

The word comes from Massachusett, an Algonquian language spoken by the Massachusett people, from whom the US state takes its name. The word mugquomp, meaning “war leader” or “great chief”, appeared frequently in John Eliot’s 1663 translation of the Bible into the Massachusett language, where it was used as a gloss for an officer, captain, and duke.

Sadly, Johnson, languishing in his own in solipsism, has clearly invented his own personal meaning, though he really should pay heed to Wittgenstein, who warned of the dangers of private language (the idea of a language understandable by only a single individual is incoherent.) Then he wouldn’t sound like such a mutton-headed numpty. Johnson, like many Conservatives, has problems reconciling his “inner” (subjective) experience with the “outside” (objective) world.

By the early 1800s the form “mugwump” had been adopted into English as a humorous term for an important person, leader, or boss. J K Rowling was probably thinking of the earlier meaning when she used the word for the head of the International Confederation of Wizards in Harry Potter, the Supreme Mugwump.

Ad nauseam – This approach 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. This approach works best when media sources are limited and controlled by the propagator. Joseph Goebbels, not known to be driven by the passionate inspiration of the moment, but by the result of sober psychological calculation, was particularly talented in utilising this approach. Iain Duncan Smith has previously shown a similar penchant for repeated mendacity. Then there is Theresa May’s ad nauseum slogans: ” A strong and stable leadership in the national interest,” and “A country that works for everyone.”

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   Image courtesy of News Thump

Which brings us to the Glittering Generalities technique. This another category of the seven main propaganda techniques identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in 1938. It’s a device often used by the media and in political rhetoric to persuade us to approve and accept something without examining any evidence.

This is a propaganda technique purposefully designed to divert and distract, so that people are less likely to develop their own critical thoughts. This said, the purpose of all forms of propaganda is to tell you what to think, and not how to think.

Glittering Generalities capitalise on increasingly sloganised political discourses, leading to a loss of conceptual clarity, over-idealisation and they also reflect conceptual miserliness – a tendency for some people to prefer simple, superficial and easy answers, rather than having to expend time and effort to grapple with complexity, critical analysis and the need to weigh up evidence. They also succeed in conveying codified messages that reference underpinning discourses which are often prejudiced and controversial, but presented in a way that bypasses any detailed scrutiny, as a consensus view and “common sense.”  An example is the slogan “Taking our country back” as it references an underpinning racist, supremicist discourse, whilst sounding vaguely rightous, because someone nicked England, or hid it on another planet.

Glittering Generalities imply – or signpost us – via common stock phrases to our own tacit knowledge, which often lies below our current focal awareness – prior information, beliefs, ideals, values, schemata and mental models, stereotypes and so on, creating the impression that the person using the terms and phrases understands and sees the world as you do, creating a false sense of rapport by doing so. Or the feeling that some very important recognition has been made.

Glittering Generalities propaganda is sometimes based on a kind of logical fallacy known as Equivocation – it is the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning (usually by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time)

Glittering Generalities is a technique very often used by people who seek to stifle debate, sidestep accountability and suppress democratic processes. Because Glittering Generalities tend to obscure or gloss over serious areas of disagreement, they hide controversy and submerge alternative propositions.

As such, Glittering Generalities may often be used to neutralise opposition to dominant ideas. It’s a way of disguising partisanship and of manipulating and reducing democratic choices. It’s part of a process of the political micro-management of your beliefs and decision-making.

Here is a bit of refreshing straight talk for a change:

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I’m not above a bit of sloganeering myself. In 2015, I came up with “Tory cuts cost lives”, which my friend, Robert Livingstone, turned into a couple of memes.

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This one recent one went very viral very quickly, glad to see it so widely used:

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Finally, I thought I would share that the widely used word “selfservative” came from a disillusioned Tory I knew called Derek. I used it a lot on social media, and my friend, Robert Livingstone, popularised it in his memes. Derek defected to Labour and vanished from the Conservative Facebook groups where Robert and I used to have surprisingly civilised debate with him. 

I will be writing more about electioneering, exposing propaganda and other techniques of persuasion, over the next couple of weeks.

Related

Propaganda Techniques (Summary)

The Conservative’s negative campaign strategy: “share the lies and win a prize”

Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

The erosion of democracy and the repression of mainstream media in the UK

Department for Work and Pensions officials admit to using fake claimant’s comments to justify benefit sanctions – a very basic propaganda technique called “telling lies”

Our attitudes and beliefs are being manipulated, our decision-making is being “nudged,” citizens are being micro-managed and policed by the state:

“In a white paper authored by Facebook’s security team and published on Thursday, the company detailed well-funded and subtle techniques used by nations and other organizations to spread misleading information and falsehoods for geopolitical goals. These efforts go well beyond “fake news”, the company said, and include content seeding, targeted data collection and fake accounts that are used to amplify one particular view, sow distrust in political institutions and spread confusion.

“We have had to expand our security focus from traditional abusive behavior, such as account hacking, malware, spam and financial scams, to include more subtle and insidious forms of misuse, including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive people,” said the company.

“In general, Facebook said it faced a new challenge in tackling “subtle and insidious forms of misuse, including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive people.

“Facebook described much of the activity as “false amplification” – which included the mass creation of fake accounts; the coordinated sharing of content and engagement with that content (such as likes); and the distribution of “inflammatory and sometimes racist memes”.  – BBC

In its effort to clamp down on information operations, Facebook suspended 30,000 accounts in France before the presidential election. The company said it was a priority to remove suspect accounts with high volumes of posting activity and the biggest audiences.

The company also explained how it monitored “several situations” that fit the pattern of information operations during the US presidential election. The company detected “malicious actors” using social media to share information stolen from other sources such as email accounts “with the intent of harming the reputation of specific political targets”. This technique involved creating dedicated websites to host the stolen data and then creating social media accounts and pages to direct people to it.

At the same time, a separate set of malicious actors created fake Facebook accounts to falsely amplify narratives and themes related to topics exposed in the stolen data.

Facebook did not specify which stolen data it was referring to, but we know that tens of thousands of emails were hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s Gmail account and released by Wikileaks.

Nor did Facebook attribute the manipulation to any nation state, although it said that the company’s investigation “does not contradict” the findings of a January report by the US Director of National Intelligence that outlined Russian involvement in the election.

Russia has also been implicated in the hacking of French presidential frontrunner, Emmanuel Macron, according to a report by researchers with Japanese anti-virus firm Trend Micro, published this week.

Facebook pledged to monitor attempts to manipulate the platform, to develop new ways of identifying fake accounts, educate at-risk people about how to keep their information safe, and support civil society programs around media literacy.

“We recognize that, in today’s information environment, social media plays a sizable role in facilitating communications – not only in times of civic events, such as elections, but in everyday expression,” said the report. “In some circumstances, however, we recognize that the risk of malicious actors seeking to use Facebook to mislead people or otherwise promote inauthentic communications can be higher.” – The Guardian

“The JTRIG unit of GCHQ is so notable because of its extensive use of propaganda methods and other online tactics of deceit and manipulation. The 2011 report on the organization’s operations, published today, summarizes just some of those tactics:

Throughout this report, JTRIG’s heavy reliance on its use of behavioral science research (such as psychology) is emphasized as critical to its operations. That includes detailed discussions of how to foster “obedience” and “conformity”:


An “I told you so” moment from Glenn Greewald


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Government rebuked again for misusing statisics – this time on homelessness

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Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Rosalind Grender, has submitted a formal complaint to the UK Statistics Authority about the government’s misuse of homelessness statistics in press notices and parliamentary debates.

In a letter responding to her concerns, Ed Humpherson, the Authority’s director general, said he agreed with her complaint. He described the Department’s use of the figures as “disappointing” and that it was “potentially misleading” to the public.

It’s not the first time the government has been reprimanded officially, for trying to mislead the public. Who could forget David Cameron being rebuked by the statistics watchdog over national debt claims – The PM said the government was “paying down Britain’s debts” in a political broadcast, even though the debt was rising (and continues to increase).

Then there was Iain Duncan Smith’s unforgettable misuse of benefit statistics – he was rebuked by Office for National Statistics (ONS) for his claim that 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the benefit cap which was found to be “unsupported by the official statistics.” 

Later in that same month, Duncan Smith also drew criticism and a reprimand for claiming around 1 million people have been “stuck on benefits” for at least three of the last four years “despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work”. However, the figures cited also included single mothers, people who were seriously ill, and people awaiting assessment.

Anyone would think that the Conservatives are trying to hide the damaging consequences of their draconian policies. (See: The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control.) 

The UK Statistics Authority disputed figures announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which claimed last year that homelessness had been more than halved since 2003.

However, the government’s claim was based on a very narrow statutory definition of homelessness which included only those who authorities are obliged to help. The number did not take into account homeless people who were given assistance under other schemes.The overall number of people facing homelessness has not dropped. The government also did not explicitly include the statutory homelessness definition in parliamentary debates in the House of commons and Lords, or in press releases.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We’re aware of the issue raised and have taken steps to make sure this does not arise in future.”

Baroness Grender welcomed the finding saying that the Government “has been caught out playing a numbers game, rather than accepting there is a problem, and getting on with the important work of finding solutions”.  

“It is time to stop spinning the statistics and start solving the problem,” she said.

 

Looks like my list from 2014  – A list of official rebukes for Tory lies – needs updating.

 

Related

Government backs new law to prevent people made homeless through government laws from becoming homeless

Labour Party To Refer Groundless Iain Duncan Smith Claim To Statistics Watchdog Again

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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