The Fourth Tool of Manipulation: Reputation

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The Nobel Prize disease; the number of times winners of the Nobel Prize have used their reputations to promote pseudoscience has become so many that it has its own name, and among them is Pierre Curie.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a psychic medium by the name of Eusapia Palladino began to gain popularity in England and in 1895 she was invited to The Society for Psychical Research. At the time, the idea of the psychic phenomenon was new and very serious research was being done to see if it could be validated.

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It was found that Paladino was using sleight of hand tricks to fool participants. She had a rubber bag with air into that she used to move curtains and other light objects. She would tie hair strings to objects to move them, and often used hand-holding circles during her sessions. During this hand-holding moment, she would guide the hands of the person on her left and right together, so that they held each other's hand, and no one was holding hers, thus allowing to her perform all sorts of illusion all while people thought she couldn’t move her hands.

After this, Palladino was banned from the Society for Psychical Research as a fraud. But it didn’t end her career. When world-famous Nobel Prize winner Pierre Curie became a fan of hers, Palladino was once again accepted.

Curie’s reputation as a man of science allowed Palladio to pedal her lies for decades more. After all if he, who knew so much about the importance of evidence in science and truth, believed her, she had to genuine, right?

The Third Fundamental Flaw of Truth: Casual Narrative

Devil music.

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Rock and Roll began in 1940, and by the 1950s it swept up the younger generations across America and into Europe. But a lot of older people didn’t like the new music style (oddly enough this is a universal reaction, every older generation doesn’t like the music of the younger generation, a concept known as juvenoia.) In reaction to the music they didn’t like, they began to tell stories of moral decay caused by this new music.

They said it corrupted people souls and led to alcoholism, drug use, and promiscuity. It had little impact on most people’s choice to listen to the music.

A new tactic was developed. Young people who were in prison for various reasons and had listened to rock and roll were told about the damaging impact it had on them. It was the reason they had done terrible things. The prisoners were eager for a scapegoat for their choices and agreed; Rock and roll was the problem. Radio shows and television had interviews with these young people ever telling their stories that had become criminals all starting with rock and roll.

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It had a dampening effect on music sales. It didn’t stop the movement, but some people believed.

That is the drive of great propaganda, not to get everyone, no single technique will do that, but to get some with each different stroke.

A story was told that explain a phenomenon, and people started to believe it. There was no science to back it up, just a story. A causal narrative.

The Second Fundamental Flaw of Truth: Financial Investment

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In the recent comedy Good Omens, the character Adam begins to dive deep in various conspiracy theories. When his friends try to tell it’s not real, his response is, “Guys, this isn’t just stuff on the internet. These are magazines.”

The case he is making is a common one. He is pointing out that a magazine has a cost to production. Someone writes the articles, someone else read them and decides they are worth the space in the magazine, cost of printing, and shipping; therefore, if they are lies they will cost; thus they must be true. There is a popularity fallacy at work here as well, but I covered that last week.

It’s a similar case to the old phrase, “and I couldn’t say it on tv if it wasn’t true.”

Once again the idea behind it is that the greater the financial investment in an idea or statement, the greater the cost at disproving, therefore it is irrational to spend a lot of money on lies….but then again there was Bernie Madoff, the purveyor of one of the most expensive lies in all history.

Madoff started his investment copy in 1960 with penny stocks and got a loan from his father. His company grew and promised incredible returns on investments, and when called upon delivered, but in 1999 it was discovered that his profits and returns were mathematically impossible, however at the time no one would listen. Madoff continued his lies and grew into a multi-billion-dollar business, in the much the fashion of the Wolf of Wall Street. He looked like the part. The financial investment in his lies fell into the Second Flaw. It was irrational that anyone would invest as much into their lies as Madoff was, so he continued to run his business. He wasn’t caught until 2008.

The odd thing is that Madoff is the exception, not the rule. The reason this is a fundamental flaw of truth is that most of the time, financial investment is a good indicator of truth. Most people don’t invest a lot of money in lies that can be disproven. It’s a classic problem of thinking fast and slow. The fast thinking tries to use this short cut because it works most the time. The problem occurs when someone recognizes how the quick thinking can be taken advantage of, like Madoff. He realized if he looked professional, with enough polish people would believe him, and trust him with their money. And they did.

The First Fundamental Flaw of Truth: Popularity

And how it is used to manipulate you

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Popularity: The base assumption here is that if so many people believe it, then it can’t be wrong. Behind this rest, the central idea that if a group is large enough, then someone will have investigated it and found the truth. The larger the group, the more likely this is possible.

However, there is a concept of clustering that allows companies, politicians, and social movement leaders to leverage this flaw of truth.

Did you know over 32 million people believe in alien abduction?

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In a recent survey, it was found that over 32 million people believe in alien abduction. THAT SOUNDS HUGE! But consider the global population out of 7 billion that is only 0.45% and almost sounds too low. It also doesn’t factor in that most people who believe in alien abduction are teenagers. If I leave off the extra facts, then I can claim the popularity flaw the support my idea. By clustering it, I can make a persuasive case using the popularity flaw.

CHANGING HOW DECISIONS ARE MADE

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The use of propaganda here is subtle and indirect. As a result of this study, a new type of influence was developed. When standard techniques of persuasion failed, then a team would try to identify what was the motivation behind the behavior that would change (example: picking up kids late.) The team would then create a strategy for redefining that motivation (fines=pay to pick kids up late.) The goal being to reshape the motivation into one that could be influenced.

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After the Council of Nicaea declared usury a Christian sin, it redefined how banks and loans functioned across all Christendom. Now the interest on a loan was no longer a business decision, but a moral one. Banks across Rome began to collapse when their interest rates didn’t bring enough revenue to sustain their business. This allowed for powerful religious leaders to enter the banking business with few competitors. Redefining interest and loans as a moral principle made people more likely to seek out loans from religious leaders and churches.

 Notes on the heading:

 The connection between the moral laws laid down at Nicaea and church running banks is a thin one. Throughout most of human history, churches and temples functioned as banks, providing loans for those that needed them.

I wanted to use the example of the Council of Nicaea as it was referenced in an earlier chapter heading and therefore readers would be familiar with it.

I think my biggest worry is not that I have seen this tactic used often, but rather that it might be.

A school was having trouble with mothers picking up their children late after school. It made the teachers have to stay late, waiting for parents to arrive. They introduced a fine system for every time a mother was late.

The original motivator for picking up a child on time was guilt. If you picked up your kids late, you were not a good parent.

The fine established a new way to evaluate that decision. You could simply pay if you need more time at the grocery store, or to finish a conversation with a good friend, or even need a nap.

The fine system was disastrous, and more mothers were late picking up their children than ever before, and they were late more often. The system was removed, but the behavior didn’t change back. You see the fine system introduced a new way of making decisions for the mothers, and even when it was gone, their new way of making choices wasn’t.

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Why We Eat Potatoes: Reference Points Part 2

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In the late 1700s Frederick the 2nd, King of Prussia thought the widespread adoption of potatoes would lower the price of other food staples and improve the economic welfare of his people. The problem is the potato is not an instantly attractive food, it’s not like a mango. It doesn’t wow with sweetness and flavor. Alone it has almost no flavor, so how it tastes is all about how you prepare it, which makes it hard to evaluate. At first, he forced them on his army as rations, so the soldiers would get used to them and hopefully request them at home. It didn't’ work.

Second, he ordered peasants to plant them under threat of having their ears and noses cut off. The message the people got was that the value of the potato was low, so no one wanted them. What they learned was “if the king is willing to cut off my nose if I don't eat them, they must be terrible.”

That’s when Frederick brought in his propaganda committee to change the way people thought about potatoes. Their idea was a royal potato field guarded on all sides. Once again, the message was clear. Potatoes were something rare and special. The people began to demand them, and it became a staple across all of Europe.

Even today, hundreds of years later potatoes are staples of Europeans and Americans. All because a propaganda committee wanted to change the way people think about them.

 Notes on the heading:

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 While the early techniques of Frederik the Second were tyrannical, I wanted to use this reference point to identify that not all propaganda campaigns have been negative. Email was largely driven by propaganda campaigns in the 1990s. It also introduces the idea of reputation, popularity and celebrity to the tools of persuaders.

This tool of advertisers is seen on every red carpet as fashion and jewelry designers try to get their creations noticed and attached to the reputation and celebrity of certain individuals. The psychology behind this is simple. Most people have an innate drive to be better, this often results in comparisons to know how we are holding up against humanity as whole, and our own personal progress. Within comparative thinking people create benchmarks and aspirations. We imagine a dream life and look around to see who best embodies that, then we try to recreate their success in our life. We try to do as they do. Thus, it was with royal potatoes and is with modern day celebrities and the companies that market through them.


Changing the Reference Point

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Reference Points change the way we think about the world. This is easiest to see on the Olympic medal stand. Silver medalists never seem happy, while the bronze medalists sometimes seem even happier than those receiving the gold.

The reason is that most silver medalists compares themselves to the gold medalist and think about how they were incredibly close but missed out. Most bronze medalists compare themselves to fourth place, who got nothing, and are thrilled to have gotten a medal at all. Clever propagandists know they can’t change the world as it is, but they can change our reference point for understanding it.

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In a recent make-up commercial, an advertiser illustrated how gentle their makeup was by applying it to a balloon. The reference point was clear to see; you must be gentle with balloons, or they will pop therefor this make-up will be gentle on your skin. The truth, however, is that human skin has little in common with the surface of a rubberized inflated bag, a balloon. Bleach is very hard on human skin, but you can dip a balloon in it, and the balloon will be fine. Reference points change perception when reality itself cannot be changed.

Notes on the heading:

While not mentioned by name, I discussed how comparisons impact perception in chapter 20, Semantics: It’s Healthy.

Reference points are one of the most powerful tools of manipulators, advertisers, propagandists, and politicians. Throughout this book, I’ll cover several different ways they are used along with multiple examples from history.

But at the root of them is the simple idea that some points of reality cannot be changed, only perspective. When reality can be changed, it will take hard work, and it’s easier to just change how people see the world.

CHAPTER 24: SAVAGE & BARBARIC

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When the Romans encountered the Gallic tribes, they called them barbarians and savages. Julius Caesar wrote elaborate letters and battle reports, detailing the danger of these foreigners, not because they challenge the great Roman empire, but because he wanted to make himself and his men look heroic. He wanted to ensure his supply of troops and support wasn’t reduced.

Since that time these words have been used to demonize groups by those who either want to exploit or eliminate. They were used to describe people living in the Middle East when the Crusades began, for the Native Americans before the genocide took place. They were used to justify the enslavement of the African people. And they are still used today.

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Consider this: what does savagery look like, what is its action? What does barbarism look like, can you draw it? I imagine that you can’t. These are not words that depict human condition or action, they are political words used to persuade others. They are not the only ones, but they are iconic of the way propaganda uses words for a single purpose, emotional manipulation.

Notes on the Heading:

I suppose this heading falls along the same lines as chapter 20, that discussed semantics and how the word “healthy” has been used to promote various products.

Every part of the world develops their own vocabulary for demonization. In America words such as “communist”, “fascist,” and “socialist,” are the words flung to demonize. While in other parts of the world “Americanist” is the demonizing phrase. All these words discourage investigation and thrive on provoking the emotions of those that hear them.

I wonder how such words first gain their emotional connotation. When I look at history it seems that on each point a person or group has always done this intentionally. Caesar did it with the Gallic tribes, yet nearly 2,000 years later the words are still used that way. It was the business tycoons and robber barons that turned “communist” into a filthy word in America as they fought against unions.

But why do they persist? For that, I don’t have an answer.


The-Nothing-Habit

As habit research boomed in the early 1900s a single most important habit in all human lives was identified; the-nothing-habit. The go-to behavior of people when they have nothing else to do.

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Media organizations have tried to capitalize on this behavior since it was first identified. Initially, newspapers encouraged people to carry them around in their briefcase or pocket and pull it out whenever waiting in line or waiting in a restaurant. These were easily identified times when people were doing nothing and the hope was people would develop the-nothing-habit to pick up a paper, thus allowing newspapers to better influence people and have better circulation.

Hitler went a step forward with his building of large speakers in cities across Germany and subsidizing the price of home radios. His plan bypassed the need for people to purchase the tool needed to create the habit. No longer was the-nothing-habit dependent on people picking up and buying newspapers, all they had to do was sit and listen. Once the habit was in place, when the people found themselves doing nothing, they would seek out a radio, thus giving him greater influence over the German people.

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[Additional Notes by Jay Nichols] The pursuit of the-nothing-habit continues today mostly through the development of cellphone apps. Some of the greatest minds of our time now spend every day trying to find ways to get people to spend more time on social media or other websites. Walking the streets of any city, you can see that these developers have won the battle for the-nothing-habit and now only contend with each other.

 Notes on the heading:

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 This is the first time I created the addendum to have Jay Nichols put in his own additional notes, these, of course, are mine as well, but I was getting feedback from beta readers about the timeline of technology and how it made some of the chapter headings feel out of place.

I find the idea of the-nothing-habit incredibly interesting. I once heard Spencer W. Kimble state, “When I know what a man thinks when he has nothing to think about, then I will know who he is.” The idea has resonated with me ever since. The emptiness of our lives, the in-between moments that have no demands can be some of our most defining, but the last 100 years of human history we have seen media or corporations trying to take those moments for their own profit.

I’ve played my share of dumb phone games. I always look back and wonder why? Why was it so engaging? I suppose the answer is that it wasn’t, I just didn’t have anything better to do. In recent years with the rise of Kindle and audiobooks I’ve been able to fill that time with literature, a deliberate choice by me instead of brilliant marketers.

The Sleeper Effect, or Disassociation Hypothesis

 

The real danger of the Sleeper Effect is that information from negative and unreliable sources is retained just as well as reliable ones. Once the source is forgotten, the information no longer seems unreliable or dubious.

Thus, when lies are told in propaganda, the liar only needs to wait for the people to believe. Once they have forgotten who said it, when and why they no longer have a reason not to believe.

Notes on the Heading:

In chapter 10, I discussed truth in repetition. This is one of the components of that concept that was heavily used by Hitler and Goebbels.

I remember this happening to myself in college. If an idea was discussed in class, there were times during the test when I couldn’t remember if it was a student who was wrong that said something, or the teacher correcting them. I knew the idea came from the discussion but was unable to remember the speaker. By the end of my colligate studies I wanted to plug my ears anytime, somebody said something incorrect for fear I would forget the source and then recall the wrong information on the test.

This is of even greater importance when dealing with media correction. They bury those corrections in fine print and back pages. The erroneous headline is still blazoned on our memories, pumped up by multiple newspapers, reports, and anchors discussing it, but the truth, the correction is mentioned briefly and quickly. Undoubtedly there are organizations who use this tactic intentionally. Some for ratings and circulation, some for influence and the spread of ideology.

from: The Sky Fall Conspiracy

Something in the way the human mind is created, the way its memory keeps and discards information, we can remember content, but rarely sources. This creates the “I’ve heard that before” moment for many people.

Kelman and Hovland did the initial studies where participants were given information from several different sources and brought them back over a series of weeks to see what they remembered. Content memory remained high, but the source of that memory degraded quickly.

Bending an Idea

The tactics of bending an idea first involve confirming a pre-existing belief or suspicion. Take for example the ketogenic diet. It was originally designed to treat seizures in children and has been found effective for it, but in recent years marketers have tried to present the ketogenic diet as a way to lose weight.

They first confirm the belief that the diet was created by doctors as a medical treatment. They never elaborate that it was not designed for weight loss. They then present the diet as a safe way to lose weight, it was after all developed by doctors. This is where the idea is bent to fit the needs of the marketer. The number of people who want to lose weight vastly outnumber those with seizures. They wanted to tap the bigger market, but first they needed to bend the idea.

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At the Council of Nicaea in 325, Christian leaders decided that usury, loan interest higher than 1%, was a sin. It is only in recent years that it has changed. Jews never held this religious belief and were thus motivated to open banks, as they could profit from interest without guilt.

In early anti-Semite campaigns the owning of banks was the confirming belief that was bent to allow for expanding prejudice. If Jews owned banks, they were sinners and the sin was greed. Thus, the prejudice began, not because of what Jews did, but because the new religion of Christianity believed it was wrong. The sin of loan interest was later removed from basic Christian teachings, but the prejudice and stereotype remains; Jews are greedy.

Notes on the heading:

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I remember reading The Merchant of Venice in high school and the Jew, Shylock, being hated for charging usury. My teacher explained this was interest on a loan. I was baffled as I knew banks did that all the time, so did credit cards, that’s how they make money. I was further confused as she explained the beliefs at the time. Without interest it seemed there was no motivation for anyone to provide a loan, or lend money, and that is a big driver of economy. I also wondered when the Christian changed.

It was the protestant break that took place with Martin Luther that began the easing of the usury as a sin. While Luther himself still strongly condemned usury, many other protestant leaders didn’t.

Usury has a very clear definition in Christian teachings, anything over 1% a month. So they are allowed to charge interest, but it has very specific limits.

As to Bending the idea through first confirming, I see this most in supplement marketing. A company will cite studies that are real scientific studies but only partially related to their products. One company I read about promoted a lemon oil based on a study on a chemical called PA35. The original study was done with wild oranges, but the company noticed that PA35 was also present in lemons, and lemons were easier and cheaper to come by then wild oranges. They didn’t do any studies to see if the chemical properties remained the same by using a different plant, or using different extraction methods.

Expertise Mismatch

Linus Pauling is probably one of the most famous Nobel Prize Winners in history, and not for the prize he won. In 1954 Pauling won his first Nobel in the field of chemistry. In 1962 he would win another for Peace.

In the early 1900s the understanding of vitamins and ability to extract them to create supplements led to a new hypothesis in medical science. The treatment of disease through vitamin, mineral and amino acid supplementation; a field known as orthomolecular medicine. By the 1930s it was experiencing a boom across America. Supplements were sold to treat all kinds of illness and studies were being conducted. The final conclusion, after decades of research, was that it didn’t work. Large deficiencies in vitamins and minerals could lead to specific problems, but additional amounts wouldn’t kill diseases. More vitamin A, B, C etc… didn’t kill viruses and bacteria, or cure mental illness.

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In the 1960s Linus Pauling became very interested in supplements and even created the term orthomolecular medicine to give the field more validity. Despite the medical community stating very clearly that it didn’t work, Pauling began to support it. His history of having received a Noble prize in a science field gave a strong backing to the community and it’s claims. The use of supplements to treat illnesses experienced a resurgence. Mega doses of vitamin C were given to cancer patients and once again proved ineffective.

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Pauling conducted many studies and trials to build a body of work to support his orthomolecular theory, but his expertise was in chemistry and the trials were poorly organized according to the medical community, and his results were not repeatable once the corrections had been made.

Pauling’s expertise was mismatched for the medical field, but the minority group that wanted to push its agenda of orthomolecular medicine was able to leverage the fact that most people had a lot of respect for the Nobel Prize, and title of Doctor to win over new followers. He became a gatekeeper, because of his mismatched expertise.

Notes on the heading:

I’ve seen this technique used many times by different groups. It’s most common in pseudoscience. When people become desperate and modern science either can’t help them or fails to help, they turn elsewhere. This can happen to even the most brilliant of scientists. It’s been common enough among Nobel Laurates that it’s called Nobel Disease.

Other techniques are used as well to add false expertise to unscientifically supported fields of medicine. Some of the greatest and most famous universities in the world offer various further learning certificates for adults who take classes during the summer. Occasionally these individuals will then claim to have attended these prestigious universities to present themselves as intelligent, and gather support for their ideas.

I think there is a flip side to this as well, sometimes experts get it wrong. The psychologists and behavior experts of the 1940s and 50s thought you shouldn’t hug and kiss your children or show them affection of any kind. It was only Harry Harlow who proved those experts wrong with his famous wire/cloth mother monkey studies.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. I don’t know if there is a shortcut to recognize when an expert is mismatched to leverage influence, or when they are a pioneer that will one day revolutionize the field. Statistically speaking mismatched experts are usually wrong when they oppose a group of experts working in their own field.

As a friend of mine once said, “I don’t believe in science. It gets things wrong all the time, sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot, but I accept it as the best we have for now.”

Gatekeepers, Not Experts

Chapter 17: Gatekeepers, Not Experts

During the Second World War, Allied governments wanted to convince their populations to eat organ meats, like liver and stomach to help support rationing.

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A series of studies was headed up by Kurt Lewin. Initially he tried having experts present lectures on why people should buy these types of meat, but such presentations had little effect.

In other experiments he found that discussions headed by someone considered important or popular in the community had a greater impact. He then presented his idea of Gatekeepers. People or organizations that control how and what information is introduced and accepted among certain communities.

[Additional Notes by Jay Nichols] The most interesting aspect of Lewin’s studies is that often Gatekeepers are not experts, thus persuasion is not based on knowledge or expertise. This allows people to lead large groups in areas they know little or nothing about. Consider the many surges of anti-vaccination led by non-medical professionals. They are gatekeepers that influence communities, but they are not experts.

Notes on the heading:

It seems each generation and niche of people has their own influencer elected by popularity. The one trait such influencers have in common is a cult of charisma; however, as stated in the heading, rarely do these people have expertise in the trends they lead. Since the boom of movies actors and actresses have set the standards of fashion and beauty.

In a discarded chapter heading I mention the impact Humphrey Bogart had on men’s fashion. In one of his movies, he unbuttons his white shirt to reveal he had no undershirt beneath. The impact on the clothing market was immediate and dramatic. Within a week of the movie appearing in theaters across the country, sales of men’s undershirts dropped 30%.

Similarly, Jennifer Aniston was given a haircut in the early television show Friends, that she hated; however, the beauty of Jennifer Aniston combined with the popularity of the program led millions of women across America to request The Rachel.

These decisions were not made based by experts, but writers, directors, casting and costume designers, but when they appeared on screen it was done by a Gatekeeper. (I also discuss misguided expertise, how being an expert in one field is leveraged to manipulate another in Chapter 18.)

Industries often try to capitalize on these influencers. They are paid to promote products, wear certain clothes. It’s advertising most people are familiar with. It seems a broken switch in the human social structure. Those who know are ignored in favor of those who are popular.

Propaganda for All, Educated and Uneducated

After the Germans surrendered during the Second World War, the Japanese began to test various ideas on how to persuade German soldiers to continue fighting. They tested various radio broadcasts and speeches and monitored how people would respond. They found that people with more education needed to hear a two-sided argument, or rather both sides of the argument for it to have any persuasive impact. Conversely, people with little to no education were more likely to be motivated by a single sided argument.

Further studies would shape future persuasion, propaganda and advertisements. Cities tended to develop economically with people clustering in areas of similar socioeconomic status. Armed with this information radio, and television spots could be targeted to fit that population. There were also trends in what radio and television people watched based on socio-economic status, allowing for even better targeting of people based on their educations and the type of argument most likely to influence them.

Notes on the heading:

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In the age of the internet this idea stands out even more. Most profiles on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook have people put in their education, where they went to school and how far they went, thus allowing for even more specific targeting of people with persuasion and propaganda.

People can also be broken down even further; by the types of entertainment they watch, the kinds of discussions they post on etc… Thus, propaganda is not written for two types of people but carefully curated for each individual.

tSFC: Chapter 14: When Parents Won’t Listen, Children Will

When adults refuse to change their beliefs propagandists, persuaders and advertisers go after children.

In 1885 the National Electric Light Association was created with the purpose of providing for the demand of electricity and electrical devices in the United States. It would later change its name to the Edison Electric Institute or EEI.

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In the 1920s and 30s electric power demand grew, and the number of companies entering the market began to take away from the profits of the NELA. After unsuccessfully lobbying Congress and the Senate to preserve their monopoly they tried a new strategy. They subsidized the writing of textbooks and bribed editors to discuss the importance of monopolies in economic development. In twenty or thirty years they could try again with a new generation of politicians in office. Ones they had personally taught to support what their company was doing.

Education is an area of chronic underfunding and endlessly in need. It thus opens itself up to influence, provided that the investors are willing to wait decades for it to pay off, which the NELA and EEI were. They saw a future demand for electricity and each year that demand grew. When the adults wouldn’t listen, they persuaded children in classrooms, who didn’t have a choice. Their classwork, homework, and tests all ensured the children, read and understood what was best for the EEI.

Perhaps a core concern here is what other ideas have been bought by the wealthy and put into the education of children for no other purpose than profit.

 

Notes on the heading:

Research into the NELA and EEI was difficult. There is very little written about their influence and impact despite the massive size of the company and heavy political involvement.

It is as though through their scholastic influence they convinced several generations of children to believe in their way of doing business, and now that those generations hold office they are rarely if ever in controversy.

Perhaps this is also because the company has a history of bribing reporters to bury anything that might shine a negative light.

As I prepared this heading I thought of the Youth of Hitler, children huddled into churches to hear the ideas of the Third Reich.

The EEI was not a group of racists or anti-Semites planting ideas into textbooks, but rather capitalists who simply wanted their children to make even more money than they were. It wasn’t illegal than, and still isn’t today. That’s what worried me most about learning of this tactic of propaganda.

Immune to Science?

Chapter 13: Immune to Science

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When I tell people about my work on propaganda and persuasion many find it interesting, some think it’s important, but none believe it is relevant to them. Every person I’ve spoken to assumes they are immune to the techniques and tools of modern propaganda. They worry for the masses they have never met, but never for themselves.

I find this approach most interesting. The techniques used by modern persuaders have been carefully studied in labs and derived from massive collections of data. It is science. I’ve never encountered anyone who thinks they are immune to the science of medicine or the science of physics. They don’t think that if they take a painkiller it will do nothing because they are immune, but such is the approach people bring to the science of persuasion. “They have tested it, proven it, but it won’t work on me.”

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I point out that much of persuasion research is dependent on this kind of hubris. The person who believes they are immune to the techniques of persuasion takes no precaution to protect themselves from it. I always assume that if I can’t tell you exactly how someone is trying to manipulate me, if I can’t break it down into its scientific pieces, that is because it’s working.

-End of heading

Notes on the heading:

In When the Sky Falls (see chapter 48) I discuss how certain magic tricks are constructed. Magicians actually base their tricks on the assumption that the viewer is skeptical, that they are trying to see where the trick or slight of hand takes place. As such arts are made the final product is then more likely to work on the skeptic rather than less likely. A similar approach is taken towards propaganda and persuasion techniques. Many are tested in focus groups to be more effective on people who are wary of persuasion.

This heading has a slightly different feel to it and came about after I had a conversation with a stranger. I was at a social gathering talking to a friend about my recent books sales. The man approached us and interrupted our conversation to tell me he would not buy or read my books. (As strange as that sounds it’s fairly common, or at least that’s my experience.) As I talked about my work and studies on mass media persuasion and propaganda his immediate reaction was “That doesn’t work on me.” In the moment I had a flashback of multiple conversations I had with people who all said similar things.

I had just spent the last few months studying Facebook advertising and how to target an audience then look at their other interest to drive better engagements, a tactic that was used by the BREXIT campaign to great success. My thought was, ‘If you only knew how this worked you wouldn’t say that.’ It then became something I thought a lot about, why do so many people assume they are immune to persuasion? Perhaps it is because they easily see all the persuasion techniques that are not targeted at them. I point out now, that even the most effective advertising or propaganda never impacts more than 30% of people. Truly widespread impact requires a multitude of tactics. So, the average person sees 70% of all persuasion as ineffective and therefore assumes that 100% is ineffective on them.

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The chapter heading comes from the The Sky Fall Conspiracy, but the additional notes are from The Nature of Sky Fall Events.







Chapter 12: Overcoming rational will:

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One method of effective propaganda is to overcome rational will. This method is best done by arousing emotions more than reason, usually by creating the illusion of rational decisions. This concept is achieved by a method known as one-sided reasons. In the study participants were asked to choose to assign custody of a child to one parent. Parent A had an average income, average relationship with the child, and average health. Parent B had higher income but traveled a lot for work. A strong relationship with the child, but also a very active social life and poor health.

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The overall choice of the students was then determined by the question asked, not the information given. If the participants were asked “Which parent should get custody” the majority of participants chose parent B for the reasons listed. If the students were asked “Which parent should not get custody” the majority of participants also chose B for the reasons listed.

It became clear that people make choices for a reason, as seen in the experiment the first option was bland, there was no reason to choose it or not to choose it, thus when people need a reason to choose or not choose a parent they always chose the same one. There was an illusion of rationality, and choice all established by the producer of the propaganda. The Nazi propaganda gave infinite reasons to distrust and hate the Jews, and when the people needed to make choices, they did so based on the reasons they had been given.





Citing Yourself as the Source & Getting Away with it.

In 1940 the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) started a radio broadcasting company in the United States with the purpose of spreading British propaganda and encouraging Americans to join the Second World War.

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However, after learning about all the lies Britain told in the propaganda during the First World War many Americans doubted if anything the British were saying was true. To combat this problem, the BSC started paying small American newspapers to publish stories their top writers and reporters were gathering. Once published in small-town papers these well-written stories were often picked up by larger publications. Once that happened the BSC would relay the stories on their own radio broadcasts, citing that the stories had originated in American Newspapers.

All these stories and propaganda had a single source, the BSC, a secret intelligence
agency with a single purpose; convince America to join the war, but to the American people it seemed that newspapers all over the country were producing these stories. Indeed, everyone was talking about it...because the British were paying them to do so.

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In the Cold War, the Soviet Union decided to plant stories that the AIDS was a virus created by the CIA and American government to increase anti-American sentiment. Knowing that any anti-America media that came out of the Soviet was suspect the propaganda team paid newspapers across India to publish the stories first. They then had radio stations broadcast the story across the world always citing that it was an Indian newspaper that broke the story first.

Similar techniques are used by the creators of fake news now. If a story picks up enough traction to be mentioned or even denounced on established news networks, an image or tag is added to the story and headline “as seen on….” Once again relying on the consistent human behavior to read news headlines, not news stories.




How to Alter Belief

People are reluctant to change belief or behavior, as any persuader, advertiser or propagandist knows. A psychological technique was created to manage the transition of belief called anchoring. The anchor roots in something the person or most people already believe.

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In 1516 the lower portion of the city of Rome was designated the Ghetto. It was not only reserved for Jews, but they were forbidden to live anywhere else in the city. The section is where much sewage drained, and the waterways were in poor repair. When rains came hard, the section flooded and sewage poured into streets. The section wasn’t filthy because the Jews lived there. The Jews were forced to live there because it was filthy.

It was here that anti-Semitic prejudice of the world took on a specific tone. Jews were dirty, filthy and carried disease. If anyone doubted this claim, all they needed to do was visit the lower section of Rome, crowded with Jews living in filth.

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In the building of their anti-Semitic campaigns the Nazis started with this age-old prejudice that Jews were filthy and carried disease, and from it, they fanned the flames of hate. They produced films and images that confirmed and solidified these ideas in the minds of the people.




The Impact of Images: Nast vs. Tweed

A good image tells an entire story with a single stroke. It ignites the imagination in a redetermined direction. Their comes from the fact that the viewers own imagination helps create that story. What do they imagine came before, what do they imagine comes after? And because they help create it, they are less likely to doubt when a contradiction to their own thoughts is presented.

In the mid-1800s, William Tweed rose to political power in the state of New York. There were long-standing jokes about ‘Boss Tweed,’ and his corruption told all throughout the state for years, but it wasn’t until cartoonist Thomas Nast aimed at the politician that his empire of corruption began to crumble.

Nast Drew cartoons of Tweed and his people taking part in various criminal activities, and abusing their power. In reaction, European investors panicked, withdrew and demanded payment on investments creating a financial crisis in the state. The images portrayed embezzlement, political corruption and intimidation.

At the time Nast had no proof and was creating cartoons based on rumors. The truth would eventually come out that he was right. But what if he had been wrong? None the less they still sparked investigations into the affairs of the politician.

In response to the political cartoons Tweed said, "Stop them damned pictures. I don't care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents don't know how to read, but they can't help seeing them damned pictures!"

As investigations revealed the truth and depth of Tweed’s corruption, he fled to Spain. Based on what the Spanish had seen of Nast’s cartoons they arrested Tweed, not because they knew his crimes, but because they believed Nast’s images.

Perhaps a similar thing can be said today in the tide of fake news. “My constituents don’t read the papers or watch the news, but they can’t help seeing them damn pictures, and headlines.”