disinformation

Fact-checking is a critical process used in journalism to verify the factual accuracy of information before it’s published or broadcast. This practice is key to maintaining the credibility and ethical standards of journalism and media as reliable information sources. It involves checking statements, claims, and data in various media forms for accuracy and context.

Ethical standards in fact-checking

The ethical backbone of fact-checking lies in journalistic integrity, emphasizing accuracy, fairness, and impartiality. Accuracy ensures information is cross-checked with credible sources. Fairness mandates balanced presentation, and impartiality requires fact-checkers to remain as unbiased in their evaluations as humanly possible.

To evaluate a media source’s credibility, look for a masthead, mission statement, about page, or ethics statement that explains the publication’s approach to journalism. Without a stated commitment to journalistic ethics and standards, it’s entirely possible the website or outlet is publishing opinion and/or unverified claims.

Fact-checking in the U.S.: A historical perspective

Fact-checking in the U.S. has evolved alongside journalism. The rise of investigative journalism in the early 20th century highlighted the need for thorough research and factual accuracy. However, recent developments in digital and social media have introduced significant challenges.

Challenges from disinformation and propaganda

The digital era has seen an explosion of disinformation and propaganda, particularly on social media. ‘Fake news‘, a term now synonymous with fabricated or distorted stories, poses a significant hurdle for fact-checkers. The difficulty lies not only in the volume of information but also in the sophisticated methods used to spread falsehoods, such as deepfakes and doctored media.

Bias and trust issues in fact-checking

The subjectivity of fact-checkers has been scrutinized, with some suggesting that personal or organizational biases might influence their work. This perception has led to a trust deficit in certain circles, where fact-checking itself is viewed as potentially politically or ideologically motivated.

Despite challenges, fact-checking remains crucial for journalism. Future efforts may involve leveraging technology like AI for assistance, though human judgment is still essential. The ongoing battle against disinformation will require innovation, collaboration with tech platforms, transparency in the fact-checking process, and public education in media literacy.

Fact-checking stands as a vital element of journalistic integrity and a bulwark against disinformation and propaganda. In the U.S., and globally, the commitment to factual accuracy is fundamental for a functioning democracy and an informed society. Upholding these standards helps protect the credibility of the media and trusted authorities, and supports the fundamental role of journalism in maintaining an informed public and a healthy democracy.

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The concept of cherry-picking refers to the practice of selectively choosing data or facts that support one’s argument while ignoring those that may contradict it. This method is widely recognized not just as a logical fallacy but also as a technique commonly employed in the dissemination of disinformation. Cherry-picking can significantly impact the way information is understood and can influence political ideology, public opinion, and policy making.

Cherry-picking and disinformation

Disinformation, broadly defined, is false or misleading information that is spread deliberately, often to deceive or mislead the public. Cherry-picking plays a crucial role in the creation and propagation of disinformation.

By focusing only on certain pieces of evidence while excluding others, individuals or entities can create a skewed or entirely false narrative. This manipulation of facts is particularly effective because the information presented can be entirely true in isolation, making the deceit harder to detect. In the realm of disinformation, cherry-picking is a tool to shape perceptions, create false equivalencies, and undermine credible sources of information.

The role of cherry-picking in political ideology

Political ideologies are comprehensive sets of ethical ideals, principles, doctrines, myths, or symbols of a social movement, institution, class, or large group that explains how society should work. Cherry-picking can significantly influence political ideologies by providing a biased view of facts that aligns with specific beliefs or policies.

This biased information can reinforce existing beliefs, creating echo chambers where individuals are exposed only to viewpoints similar to their own. The practice can deepen political divisions, making it more challenging for individuals with differing viewpoints to find common ground or engage in constructive dialogue.

Counteracting cherry-picking

Identifying and countering cherry-picking requires a critical approach to information consumption and sharing. Here are several strategies:

  1. Diversify Information Sources: One of the most effective ways to recognize cherry-picking is by consuming information from a wide range of sources. This diversity of trustworthy sources helps in comparing different viewpoints and identifying when certain facts are being omitted or overly emphasized.
  2. Fact-Checking and Research: Before accepting or sharing information, it’s essential to verify the facts. Use reputable fact-checking organizations and consult multiple sources to get a fuller picture of the issue at hand.
  3. Critical Thinking: Develop the habit of critically assessing the information you come across. Ask yourself whether the evidence supports the conclusion, what might be missing, and whether the sources are credible.
  4. Educate About Logical Fallacies: Understanding and educating others about logical fallacies, like cherry-picking, can help people recognize when they’re being manipulated. This knowledge can foster healthier public discourse and empower individuals to demand more from their information sources.
  5. Promote Media Literacy: Advocating for media literacy education can equip people with the skills needed to critically evaluate information sources, understand media messages, and recognize bias and manipulation, including cherry-picking.
  6. Encourage Open Dialogue: Encouraging open, respectful dialogue between individuals with differing viewpoints can help combat the effects of cherry-picking. By engaging in conversations that consider multiple perspectives, individuals can bridge the gap between divergent ideologies and find common ground.
  7. Support Transparent Reporting: Advocating for and supporting media outlets that prioritize transparency, accountability, and comprehensive reporting can help reduce the impact of cherry-picking. Encourage media consumers to support organizations that make their sources and methodologies clear.

Cherry-picking is a powerful tool in the dissemination of disinformation and in shaping political ideologies. Its ability to subtly manipulate perceptions makes it a significant challenge to open, informed public discourse.

By promoting critical thinking, media literacy, and the consumption of a diverse range of information, individuals can become more adept at identifying and countering cherry-picked information. The fight against disinformation and the promotion of a well-informed public require vigilance, education, and a commitment to truth and transparency.

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Stochastic terrorism is a term that has emerged in the lexicon of political and social analysis to describe a method of inciting violence indirectly through the use of mass communication. This concept is predicated on the principle that while not everyone in an audience will act on violent rhetoric, a small percentage might.

The term “stochastic” refers to a process that is randomly determined; it implies that the specific outcomes are unpredictable, yet the overall distribution of these outcomes follows a pattern that can be statistically analyzed. In the context of stochastic terrorism, it means that while it is uncertain who will act on incendiary messages and violent political rhetoric, it is almost certain that someone will.

The nature of stochastic terrorism

Stochastic terrorism involves the dissemination of public statements, whether through speeches, social media, or traditional media, that incite violence. The individuals or entities spreading such rhetoric may not directly call for political violence. Instead, they create an atmosphere charged with tension and hostility, suggesting that action must be taken against a perceived threat or enemy. This indirect incitement provides plausible deniability, as those who broadcast the messages can claim they never explicitly advocated for violence.

Prominent stochastic terrorism examples

The following are just a few notable illustrative examples of stochastic terrorism:

  1. The Oklahoma City Bombing (1995): Timothy McVeigh, influenced by extremist anti-government rhetoric, the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff, and the 1993 siege at Waco, Texas, detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people. This act was fueled by ideologies that demonized the federal government, highlighting how extremism and extremist propaganda can inspire individuals to commit acts of terror.
  2. The Oslo and Utøya Attacks (2011): Anders Behring Breivik, driven by anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant beliefs, bombed government buildings in Oslo, Norway, then shot and killed 69 people at a youth camp on the island of Utøya. Breivik’s manifesto cited many sources that painted Islam and multiculturalism as existential threats to Europe, showing the deadly impact of extremist online echo chambers and the pathology of right-wing ideologies such as Great Replacement Theory.
  3. The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting (2018): Robert Bowers, influenced by white supremacist ideologies and conspiracy theories about migrant caravans, killed 11 worshippers in a synagogue. His actions were preceded by social media posts that echoed hate speech and conspiracy theories rampant in certain online communities, demonstrating the lethal consequences of unmoderated hateful rhetoric.
  4. The El Paso Shooting (2019): Patrick Crusius targeted a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 23 people, motivated by anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric about a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas. His manifesto mirrored language used in certain media and political discourse, underscoring the danger of using dehumanizing language against minority groups.
  5. Christchurch Mosque Shootings (2019): Brenton Tarrant live-streamed his attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people, influenced by white supremacist beliefs and online forums that amplified Islamophobic rhetoric. The attacker’s manifesto and online activity were steeped in extremist content, illustrating the role of internet subcultures in radicalizing individuals.

Stochastic terrorism in right-wing politics in the US

In the United States, the concept of stochastic terrorism has become increasingly relevant in analyzing the tactics employed by certain right-wing entities and individuals. While the phenomenon is not exclusive to any single political spectrum, recent years have seen notable instances where right-wing rhetoric has been linked to acts of violence.

The January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol serves as a stark example of stochastic terrorism. The event was preceded by months of unfounded claims of electoral fraud and calls to “stop the steal,” amplified by right-wing media outlets and figures — including then-President Trump who had extraordinary motivation to portray his 2020 election loss as a victory in order to stay in power. This rhetoric created a charged environment, leading some individuals to believe that violent action was a justified response to defend democracy.

The role of media and technology

Right-wing media platforms have played a significant role in amplifying messages that could potentially incite stochastic terrorism. Through the strategic use of incendiary language, disinformation, misinformation, and conspiracy theories, these platforms have the power to reach vast audiences and influence susceptible individuals to commit acts of violence.

The advent of social media has further complicated the landscape, enabling the rapid spread of extremist rhetoric. The decentralized nature of these platforms allows for the creation of echo chambers where inflammatory messages are not only amplified but also go unchallenged, increasing the risk of radicalization.

Challenges and implications

Stochastic terrorism presents significant legal and societal challenges. The indirect nature of incitement complicates efforts to hold individuals accountable for the violence that their rhetoric may inspire. Moreover, the phenomenon raises critical questions about the balance between free speech and the prevention of violence, challenging societies to find ways to protect democratic values while preventing harm.

Moving forward

Addressing stochastic terrorism requires a multifaceted approach. This includes promoting responsible speech among public figures, enhancing critical thinking and media literacy among the public, and developing legal and regulatory frameworks that can effectively address the unique challenges posed by this form of terrorism. Ultimately, combating stochastic terrorism is not just about preventing violence; it’s about preserving the integrity of democratic societies and ensuring that public discourse does not become a catalyst for harm.

Understanding and mitigating the effects of stochastic terrorism is crucial in today’s increasingly polarized world. By recognizing the patterns and mechanisms through which violence is indirectly incited, societies can work towards more cohesive and peaceful discourse, ensuring that democracy is protected from the forces that seek to undermine it through fear and division.

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Microtargeting is a marketing and political strategy that leverages data analytics to deliver customized messages to specific groups within a larger population. This approach has become increasingly prevalent in the realms of digital media and advertising, and its influence on political campaigns has grown significantly.

Understanding microtargeting

Microtargeting begins with the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data about individuals. This data can include demographics (age, gender, income), psychographics (interests, habits, values), and behaviors (purchase history, online activity). By analyzing this data, organizations can identify small, specific groups of people who share common characteristics or interests. The next step involves crafting tailored messages that resonate with these groups, significantly increasing the likelihood of engagement compared to broad, one-size-fits-all communications.

Microtargeting and digital media

Digital media platforms, with their treasure troves of user data, have become the primary arenas for microtargeting. Social media networks, search engines, and websites collect extensive information on user behavior, preferences, and interactions. This data enables advertisers and organizations to identify and segment their audiences with remarkable precision.

Microtargeting, by Midjourney

Digital platforms offer sophisticated tools that allow for the delivery of customized content directly to individuals or narrowly defined groups, ensuring that the message is relevant and appealing to each recipient. The interactive nature of digital media also provides immediate feedback, allowing for the refinement of targeting strategies in real time.

Application in advertising

In the advertising domain, microtargeting has revolutionized how brands connect with consumers. Rather than casting a wide net with generic advertisements, companies can now send personalized messages that speak directly to the needs and desires of their target audience. This approach can improve the effectiveness of advertising campaigns — but comes with a tradeoff in terms of user data privacy.

Microtargeted ads can appear on social media feeds, as search engine results, within mobile apps, or as personalized email campaigns, making them a versatile tool for marketers. Thanks to growing awareness of the data privacy implications — including the passage of regulations including the GDPR, CCPA, DMA and others — users are beginning to have more control over what data is collected about them and how it is used.

Expanding role in political campaigns

The impact of microtargeting reaches its zenith in the realm of political campaigns. Political parties and candidates use microtargeting to understand voter preferences, concerns, and motivations at an unprecedented level of detail. This intelligence allows campaigns to tailor their communications, focusing on issues that resonate with specific voter segments.

For example, a campaign might send messages about environmental policies to voters identified as being concerned about climate change, while emphasizing tax reform to those worried about economic issues. A campaign might target swing voters with characteristics that match their party’s more consistent voting base, hoping to influence their decision to vote for the “right” candidate.

Microtargeting in politics also extends to voter mobilization efforts. Campaigns can identify individuals who are supportive but historically less likely to vote and target them with messages designed to motivate them to get to the polls. Similarly, microtargeting can help in shaping campaign strategies, determining where to hold rallies, whom to engage for endorsements, and what issues to highlight in speeches.

Ethical considerations and challenges

The rise of microtargeting raises significant ethical and moral questions and challenges. Concerns about privacy, data protection, and the potential for manipulation are at the forefront. The use of personal information for targeting purposes has sparked debates on the need for stricter regulation and transparency. In politics, there’s apprehension that microtargeting might deepen societal divisions by enabling campaigns to exploit sensitive issues or disseminate misleading information — or even disinformation — to susceptible groups.

Furthermore, the effectiveness of microtargeting in influencing consumer behavior and voter decisions has led to calls for more responsible use of data analytics. Critics argue for the development of ethical guidelines that balance the benefits of personalized communication with the imperative to protect individual privacy and maintain democratic integrity.

Microtargeting represents a significant evolution in the way organizations communicate with individuals, driven by advances in data analytics and digital technology. Its application across advertising and, more notably, political campaigns, has demonstrated its power to influence behavior and decision-making.

However, as microtargeting continues to evolve, it will be crucial for society to address the ethical and regulatory challenges it presents. Ensuring transparency, protecting privacy, and promoting responsible use will be essential in harnessing the benefits of microtargeting while mitigating its potential risks. As we move forward, the dialogue between technology, ethics, and regulation will shape the future of microtargeting in our increasingly digital world.

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The war in Ukraine is less “surprising” to some who’ve seen it raging since 2014. Although it escalated greatly in 2022, the Ukraine timeline dates back all the way to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

To understand the backstory — which is now inextricably intertwined with our own presidential history given the impeachment of Donald Trump over his phone calls with Zelensky to the Republican Party‘s current-day support of the aims of Vladimir Putin — we have to go back to a time when no one was stronger on anti-Russian policy than GOP darling Ronald Reagan.

  • 1991 — Ukraine declares independence and becomes an independent entity after the fall of the Soviet Union
  • 1994 — Ukraine agrees to give up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for a protection agreement with Russia, United States, Britain, and Ireland (Budapest Memorandum)
  • 2004Viktor Yanukovich “wins” election under dubious circumstances and is deposed for a do over election, which he loses to Viktor Yuschenko (Orange Revolution)
  • 2006 — Viktor Yanukovych begins working directly with Paul Manafort, in an effort to boost his image after his electoral loss. Manafort was known for his work helping the “Torturers’ Lobby” of brutal dictators around the world in the 1980s, with Roger Stone (another infamous dirty trickster best known for his role as a fixer for Richard Nixon).
  • 2007 — Yanukovych’s Party of Regions does well in the Ukranian parliamentary elections, gaining a large number of seats credited to Manafort’s strategic advice about Western-style campaigning.
  • 2010 — Yanukovych is elected President of Ukraine, again largely crediting Manafort’s strategies for his comeback.
  • Nov 2013 — Having promised a more European-style government in order to win the presidency in 2010, Yanukovych turned on his word and initiated more pro-Russian policies than the Ukranians had signed up for. Yanukovych is now beset by enormous public protests against the corruption of his regime, and his unilateral decision to abandon an association agreement with the EU in favor of a trade agreement with Russia (Maidan Revolution / Revolution of Dignity)
  • Feb 2014 — After a harrowing 93 days barricaded inside Kyiv’s Maidan Square, activists are victorious; Yanukovich is deposed and flees to Russia
  • Mar 2014 — Russian forces invade and annex the region of Crimea within Ukraine
  • Apr 2014 — Russian forces invade the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, escalating a war that continues to this day and had already killed more than 14,000 people by the time the 2022 large scale invasion began
  • Apr 2014 — Hunter Biden and business partner Devon Archer join the board of Burisma
  • May 2014 — Candy magnate Petro Poroshenko succeeds Yanukovych as president of Ukraine
  • Feb 10, 2015Viktor Shokin takes office as the prosecutor general of Ukraine, tasked with getting a handle on rampant corruption
  • Oct 8, 2015 — US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland reiterates strong concerns that Shokin is failing to prosecute obvious corruption in Ukraine, and that efforts at anti-corruption must be stepped up there
  • Dec 8, 2015 — Then VP and point person on Ukraine Joe Biden gave a speech to the Ukrainian parliament, urging them to step up their efforts to pursue anti-corruption reforms to help strengthen their young democracy
  • Winter 2015-6 — Biden is talking to Poroshenko about how Shokin is slow-walking their anti-corruption efforts
  • Feb 16, 2016 — Viktor Shokin resigns as Prosecutor General of Ukraine
  • May 12, 2016Yuriy Lutsenko is appointed as the new Prosecutor General, despite having no law degree or legal experience. At first he takes a hard line against Burisma.
  • Aug 14, 2016 — “Black ledger” payments to Paul Manafort from Viktor Yanukovych go public
  • May 10, 2017Trump hosts Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office, the day after he has fired James Comey as the Director of the FBI over “the Russian thing” — only a photographer for Russian news agency Tass is allowed to cover the meeting
  • June 2017 — The NotPetya malware emerges and causes extensive damage — especially in Ukraine. It is widely fingerprinted as a Russian state-sponsored attack.
  • October 30, 2017 — Paul Manafort is indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for money laundering, acting as a foreign agent, making false statements, and conspiracy against the United States, as part of the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
  • Apr 30, 2018 — At a Trump dinner in his DC hotel, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman tell Trump they think Ukraine Ambassador Yovanovitch isn’t loyal enough to him
  • May-June 2018 — Lev Parnas pressures US Congressman Pete Sessions to pressure Trump to fire Yovanovitch in exchange for campaign funding; he and Fruman are later arrested for this scheme and other federal charges of illegal foreign funding of election campaigns
  • Summer 2018 — Trump reportedly frets a potential Biden run for the presidency
  • August 2018 — Lev Parnas’s company, which is named (I kid you not) “Fraud Guarantee,” hires Rudy Giuliani‘s firm for $500,000 to continue working on getting Ambassador Yovanovitch fired for doing her job pursuing corruption in Ukraine.
  • Sept 2018Congress passes and Trump signs a spending bill for the Department of Defense, including $250 million in military aid to Ukraine under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI)
  • Late 2018 — Lev Parnas arranges for Giuliani to meet with both Shokin and Lutsenko on multiple occasions; Devin Nunes also secretly meets with Shokin in Vienna.
  • Dec 6, 2018 — Trump pressures Parnas and Fruman to pressure the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into the Bidens
  • Late Feb, 2019 — Parnas and Fruman pressure then-President Poroshenko to open an investigation into the Bidens, in exchange for a state visit at the White House that would help his challenging re-election campaign against the popular young upstart comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy
  • Spring 2019 — A “working group” of Giuliani, Parnas, Fruman, conservative Hill reporter John Solomon, Joseph diGenova, Victoria Toensing, and Devin Nunes’s top aide Harvey meet regularly to work on the quid pro quo project
  • March 2019 — Prosecutor General Lutsenko opens 2 investigations: 1 into alleged Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 US election (a Russian conspiracy theory) and a 2nd into Hunter Biden’s involvement with Burisma (he will later retract many of his allegations).
  • March 24, 2019 — Don Jr. tweets criticism of Ambassador Yovanovitch
  • March 28, 2019 — Giuliani hands off a smear campaign packet of disinformation cobbled together on Yovanovitch, intended for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
  • April 24, 2019 — Trump orders Marie Yovanovitch recalled from her diplomatic mission in Ukraine, after Giuliani and other allies reported she was undermining and obstructing their efforts to extort Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky to claim he was investigating the Bidens for corruption.
  • July 25, 2019 — On a phone call with Zelensky, Trump pressures him to investigate Biden in exchange for the release of funds to keep the Russians at bay in Crimea. He disparages Yovanovitch on the call, referring to her as “bad news.”
  • Oct 3, 2019 — Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is unsummarily fired by Donald Trump after recently having been invited to continue her post for several more years
  • Dec 18, 2019 — The House of Representatives votes to impeach Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, the first of two times Trump will be impeached.
  • Feb 5, 2020 — The Republican-controlled Senate voted along party lines, having called no witnesses, to acquit Donald Trump of both impeachment charges.
  • Feb 2022 — Russian forces begin a large scale land invasion of Ukraine including massive attacks on civilian cities.
  • Feb 2024 — Donald Trump holds up a bipartisan immigration deal in Congress that would allow military aide funds to Ukraine to be released. Running for a second term as US President, Trump continues to break with 80 years of the post-WWII international order — in refusing to support NATO, the alliance widely regarded as keeping the peace in Europe broadly, as well as in supporting the regime of Vladimir Putin in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
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The adrenochrome conspiracy theory is a complex and widely debunked claim that has its roots in various strands of mythology, pseudoscience, disinformation, and misinformation. It’s important to approach this topic with a critical thinking perspective, understanding that these claims are not supported by credible evidence or scientific understanding.

Origin and evolution of the adrenochrome theory

The origin of the adrenochrome theory can be traced back to the mid-20th century, but it gained notable prominence in the context of internet culture and conspiracy circles in the 21st century. Initially, adrenochrome was simply a scientific term referring to a chemical compound produced by the oxidation of adrenaline. However, over time, it became entangled in a web of conspiracy theories.

In fiction, the first notable reference to adrenochrome appears in Aldous Huxley’s 1954 work “The Doors of Perception,” where it’s mentioned in passing as a psychotropic substance. Its more infamous portrayal came with Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” where adrenochrome is depicted as a powerful hallucinogen. These fictional representations played a significant role in shaping the later conspiracy narratives around the substance.

The conspiracy theory, explained

The modern adrenochrome conspiracy theory posits that a global elite, often linked to high-profile figures in politics, entertainment, and finance, harvests adrenochrome from human victims, particularly children. According to the theory, this substance is used for its supposed anti-aging properties or as a psychedelic drug.

This theory often intertwines with other conspiracy theories, such as those related to satanic ritual abuse and global cabal elites. It gained significant traction on internet forums and through social media, particularly among groups inclined towards conspiratorial thinking. Adrenochrome theory fundamentally contains antisemitic undertones, given its tight similarity with the ancient blood libel trope — used most famously by the Nazi regime to indoctrinate ordinary Germans into hating the Jews.

Lack of scientific evidence

From a scientific perspective, adrenochrome is a real compound, but its properties are vastly different from what the conspiracy theory claims. It does not have hallucinogenic effects, nor is there any credible evidence to suggest it possesses anti-aging capabilities. The scientific community recognizes adrenochrome as a byproduct of adrenaline oxidation with limited physiological impact on the human body.

Impact and criticism

The adrenochrome conspiracy theory has been widely criticized for its baseless claims and potential to incite violence and harassment. Experts in psychology, sociology, and information science have pointed out the dangers of such unfounded theories, especially in how they can fuel real-world hostility and targeting of individuals or groups.

Furthermore, the theory diverts attention from legitimate issues related to child welfare and exploitation, creating a sensationalist and unfounded narrative that undermines genuine efforts to address these serious problems.

Psychological and social dynamics

Psychologists have explored why people believe in such conspiracy theories. Factors like a desire for understanding in a complex world, a need for control, and a sense of belonging to a group can drive individuals towards these narratives. Social media algorithms and echo chambers further reinforce these beliefs, creating a self-sustaining cycle of misinformation.

Various legal and social actions have been taken to combat the spread of the adrenochrome conspiracy and similar misinformation. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have implemented policies to reduce the spread of conspiracy theories, including adrenochrome-related content. Additionally, educational initiatives aim to improve media literacy and critical thinking skills among the public to better discern fact from fiction.

Ultimately, the adrenochrome conspiracy theory is a baseless narrative that has evolved from obscure references in literature and pseudoscience to a complex web of unfounded claims, intertwined with other conspiracy theories. It lacks any credible scientific support and has been debunked by experts across various fields.

The theory’s prevalence serves as a case study in the dynamics of misinformation and the psychological underpinnings of conspiracy belief systems. Efforts to combat its spread are crucial in maintaining a well-informed and rational public discourse.

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“Source amnesia” is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when an individual can remember information but cannot recall where the information came from. In the context of media and disinformation, source amnesia plays a crucial role in how misinformation spreads and becomes entrenched in people’s beliefs. This overview will delve into the nature of source amnesia, its implications for media consumption, and strategies for addressing it.

Understanding source amnesia

Source amnesia is part of the broader category of memory errors where the content of a memory is dissociated from its source. This dissociation can lead to a situation where individuals accept information as true without remembering or critically evaluating where they learned it. The human brain tends to remember facts or narratives more readily than it does the context or source of those facts, especially if the information aligns with pre-existing beliefs or emotions. This bias can lead to the uncritical acceptance of misinformation if the original source was unreliable but the content is memorable.

Source amnesia in the media landscape

The role of source amnesia in media consumption has become increasingly significant in the digital age. The vast amount of information available online and the speed at which it spreads mean that individuals are often exposed to news, facts, and narratives from myriad sources, many of which might be dubious or outright false. Social media platforms, in particular, exacerbate this problem by presenting information in a context where source credibility is often obscured or secondary to engagement.

Disinformation campaigns deliberately exploit source amnesia. They spread misleading or false information, knowing that once the information is detached from its dubious origins, it is more likely to be believed and shared. This effect is amplified by confirmation bias, where individuals are more likely to remember and agree with information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs, regardless of the source’s credibility.

Implications of source amnesia

The implications of source amnesia in the context of media and disinformation are profound. It can lead to the widespread acceptance of false narratives, undermining public discourse and trust in legitimate information sources. Elections, public health initiatives, and social cohesion can be adversely affected when disinformation is accepted as truth due to source amnesia.

The phenomenon also poses challenges for fact-checkers and educators, as debunking misinformation requires not just presenting the facts but also overcoming the emotional resonance and simplicity of the original, misleading narratives.

Addressing source amnesia

Combating source amnesia and its implications for disinformation requires a multi-pronged approach, focusing on education, media literacy, and critical thinking. Here are some strategies:

  1. Media Literacy Education: Teaching people to critically evaluate sources and the context of the information they consume can help mitigate source amnesia. This includes understanding the bias and reliability of different media outlets, recognizing the hallmarks of credible journalism, and checking multiple sources before accepting information as true.
  2. Critical Thinking Skills: Encouraging critical thinking can help individuals question the information they encounter, making them less likely to accept it uncritically. This involves skepticism about information that aligns too neatly with pre-existing beliefs or seems designed to elicit an emotional response.
  3. Source Citing: Encouraging the practice of citing sources in media reports and social media posts can help readers trace the origin of information. This practice can aid in evaluating the credibility of the information and combat the spread of disinformation.
  4. Digital Platforms’ Responsibility: Social media platforms and search engines play a crucial role in addressing source amnesia by improving algorithms to prioritize reliable sources and by providing clear indicators of source credibility. These platforms can also implement features that encourage users to evaluate the source before sharing information.
  5. Public Awareness Campaigns: Governments and NGOs can run public awareness campaigns highlighting the importance of source evaluation. These campaigns can include guidelines for identifying credible sources and the risks of spreading unverified information.

Source amnesia is a significant challenge in the fight against disinformation, making it easy for false narratives to spread unchecked. By understanding this phenomenon and implementing strategies to address it, society can better safeguard against the corrosive effects of misinformation.

It requires a concerted effort from individuals, educators, media outlets, and digital platforms to ensure that the public remains informed and critical in their consumption of information. This collective action can foster a more informed public, resilient against the pitfalls of source amnesia and the spread of disinformation.

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Peter Navarro reports to prison

Former Trump advisor Peter Navarro — who wrote a book claiming credit for the idea to try and overthrow the 2020 election and bragged about it as the “Green Bay Sweep” to MSNBC’s Ari Melber — reported to prison today after the Supreme Court ruled he cannot get out of answering to a Congressional subpoena. Peter Navarro prison time is set to be 4 months for an independent jury’s conviction for Contempt of Congress.

The sentencing judge refuted Navarro’s allegations that he was the victim of a political prosecition: “you aren’t,” Mehta said. “You have received every process you are due.”

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The backfire effect is a cognitive phenomenon that occurs when individuals are presented with information that contradicts their existing beliefs, leading them not only to reject the challenging information but also to further entrench themselves in their original beliefs.

This effect is counterintuitive, as one might expect that presenting factual information would correct misconceptions. However, due to various psychological mechanisms, the opposite can occur, complicating efforts to counter misinformation, disinformation, and the spread of conspiracy theories.

Origin and mechanism

The term “backfire effect” was popularized by researchers Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, who in 2010 conducted studies demonstrating that corrections to false political information could actually deepen an individual’s commitment to their initial misconception. This effect is thought to stem from a combination of cognitive dissonance (the discomfort experienced when holding two conflicting beliefs) and identity-protective cognition (wherein individuals process information in a way that protects their sense of identity and group belonging).

Relation to media, disinformation, echo chambers, and media bubbles

In the context of media and disinformation, the backfire effect is particularly relevant. The proliferation of digital media platforms has made it easier than ever for individuals to encounter information that contradicts their beliefs — but paradoxically, it has also made it easier for them to insulate themselves in echo chambers and media bubbles—environments where their existing beliefs are constantly reinforced and rarely challenged.

Echo chambers refer to situations where individuals are exposed only to opinions and information that reinforce their existing beliefs, limiting their exposure to diverse perspectives. Media bubbles are similar, often facilitated by algorithms on social media platforms that curate content to match users’ interests and past behaviors, inadvertently reinforcing their existing beliefs and psychological biases.

Disinformation campaigns can exploit these dynamics by deliberately spreading misleading or false information, knowing that it is likely to be uncritically accepted and amplified within certain echo chambers or media bubbles. This can exacerbate the backfire effect, as attempts to correct the misinformation can lead to individuals further entrenching themselves in the false beliefs, especially if those beliefs are tied to their identity or worldview.

How the backfire effect happens

The backfire effect happens through a few key psychological processes:

  1. Cognitive Dissonance: When confronted with evidence that contradicts their beliefs, individuals experience discomfort. To alleviate this discomfort, they often reject the new information in favor of their pre-existing beliefs.
  2. Confirmation Bias: Individuals tend to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs and disregard information that contradicts them. This tendency towards bias can lead them to misinterpret or dismiss corrective information.
  3. Identity Defense: For many, beliefs are tied to their identity and social groups. Challenging these beliefs can feel like a personal attack, leading individuals to double down on their beliefs as a form of identity defense.

Prevention and mitigation

Preventing the backfire effect and its impact on public discourse and belief systems requires a multifaceted approach:

  1. Promote Media Literacy: Educating the public on how to critically evaluate sources and understand the mechanisms behind the spread of misinformation can empower individuals to think critically and assess the information they encounter.
  2. Encourage Exposure to Diverse Viewpoints: Breaking out of media bubbles and echo chambers by intentionally seeking out and engaging with a variety of perspectives can reduce the likelihood of the backfire effect by making conflicting information less threatening and more normal.
  3. Emphasize Shared Values: Framing challenging information in the context of shared values or goals can make it less threatening to an individual’s identity, reducing the defensive reaction.
  4. Use Fact-Checking and Corrections Carefully: Presenting corrections in a way that is non-confrontational and, when possible, aligns with the individual’s worldview or values can make the correction more acceptable. Visual aids and narratives that resonate with the individual’s experiences or beliefs can also be more effective than plain factual corrections.
  5. Foster Open Dialogue: Encouraging open, respectful conversations about contentious issues can help to humanize opposing viewpoints and reduce the instinctive defensive reactions to conflicting information.

The backfire effect presents a significant challenge in the fight against misinformation and disinformation, particularly in the context of digital media. Understanding the psychological underpinnings of this effect is crucial for developing strategies to promote a more informed and less polarized public discourse. By fostering critical thinking, encouraging exposure to diverse viewpoints, and promoting respectful dialogue, it may be possible to mitigate the impact of the backfire effect and create a healthier information ecosystem.

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The “wallpaper effect” is a phenomenon in media, propaganda, and disinformation where individuals become influenced or even indoctrinated by being continuously exposed to a particular set of ideas, perspectives, or ideologies. This effect is akin to wallpaper in a room, which, though initially noticeable, becomes part of the unnoticed background over time.

The wallpaper effect plays a significant role in shaping public opinion and individual beliefs, often without the conscious awareness of the individuals affected.

Origins and mechanisms

The term “wallpaper effect” stems from the idea that constant exposure to a specific type of media or messaging can subconsciously influence an individual’s perception and beliefs, similar to how wallpaper in a room becomes a subtle but constant presence. This effect is potentiated by the human tendency to seek information that aligns with existing beliefs, known as confirmation bias. It leads to a situation where diverse viewpoints are overlooked, and a singular perspective dominates an individual’s information landscape.

The wallpaper effect, by DALL-E 3

Media and information bubbles

In the context of media, the wallpaper effect is exacerbated by the formation of information bubbles or echo chambers. These are environments where a person is exposed only to opinions and information that reinforce their existing beliefs.

The rise of digital media and personalized content algorithms has intensified this effect, as users often receive news and information tailored to their preferences, further entrenching their existing viewpoints. Even more insidiously, social media platforms tend to earn higher profits when they fill users’ feeds with ideological perspectives they already agree with. Even more profitable is the process of tilting them towards more extreme versions of those beliefs — a practice that in other contexts we call “radicalization.”

Role in propaganda and disinformation

The wallpaper effect is a critical tool in propaganda and disinformation campaigns. By consistently presenting a specific narrative or viewpoint, these campaigns can subtly alter the perceptions and beliefs of the target audience. Over time, the repeated exposure to these biased or false narratives becomes a backdrop to the individual’s understanding of events, issues, or groups, often leading to misconceptions or unwarranted biases.

Psychological impact

The psychological impact of the wallpaper effect is profound. It can lead to a narrowing of perspective, where individuals become less open to new information or alternative viewpoints. This effect can foster polarized communities and hyper partisan politics, where dialogue and understanding between differing viewpoints become increasingly difficult.

Case studies and examples

Historically, authoritarian regimes have used the wallpaper effect to control public opinion and suppress dissent. By monopolizing the media landscape and continuously broadcasting their propaganda, these regimes effectively shaped the public’s perception of reality.

In contemporary times, this effect is also seen in democracies, where partisan news outlets or social media algorithms create a similar, though more fragmented, landscape of information bubbles.

Counteracting the wallpaper effect

Counteracting the wallpaper effect involves a multifaceted approach. Media literacy education is crucial, as it empowers individuals to critically analyze and understand the sources and content of information they consume.

Encouraging exposure to a wide range of viewpoints and promoting critical thinking skills are also essential strategies. Additionally, reforms in digital media algorithms to promote diverse viewpoints and reduce the creation of echo chambers can help mitigate this effect.

Implications for democracy and society

The wallpaper effect has significant implications for democracy and society. It can lead to a polarized public, where consensus and compromise become challenging to achieve. The narrowing of perspective and entrenchment of beliefs can undermine democratic discourse, leading to increased societal divisions and decreased trust in media and institutions.

The wallpaper effect is a critical phenomenon that shapes public opinion and belief systems. Its influence is subtle yet profound, as constant exposure to a specific set of ideas can subconsciously mold an individual’s worldview. Understanding and addressing this effect is essential in promoting a healthy, informed, and open society. Efforts to enhance media literacy, promote diverse viewpoints, and reform digital media practices are key to mitigating the wallpaper effect and fostering a more informed and less polarized public.

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Election denialism, the refusal to accept credible election outcomes, has significantly impacted U.S. history, especially in recent years. This phenomenon is not entirely new; election denial has roots that stretch back through various periods of American history. However, its prevalence and intensity have surged in the contemporary digital and political landscape, influencing public trust, political discourse, and the very fabric of democracy.

Historical context

Historically, disputes over election outcomes are as old as the U.S. electoral system itself. For instance, the fiercely contested 1800 election between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams resulted in a constitutional amendment (the 12th Amendment) to prevent similar confusion in the future. The 1876 election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden was resolved through the Compromise of 1877, which effectively ended Reconstruction and had profound effects on the Southern United States.

Yet these instances, while contentious, were resolved within the framework of existing legal and political mechanisms, without denying the legitimacy of the electoral process itself. Over time, claims of election fraud would come to be levied against the electoral and political system itself — with dangerous implications for the peaceful transfer of power upon which democracy rests.

Voting box in an election, by Midjourney

The 21st century and digital influence

Fast forward to the 21st century, and election denialism has taken on new dimensions, fueled by the rapid dissemination of disinformation (and misinformation) through digital media and a polarized political climate. The 2000 Presidential election, with its razor-thin margins and weeks of legal battles over Florida’s vote count, tested the country’s faith in the electoral process.

Although the Supreme Court‘s decision in Bush v. Gore was deeply controversial, Al Gore’s concession helped to maintain the American tradition of peaceful transitions of power.

The 2020 Election: A flashpoint

The 2020 election, marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots, became a flashpoint for election denialism. Claims of widespread voter fraud and electoral malfeasance were propagated at the highest levels of government, despite a lack of evidence substantiated by multiple recounts, audits, and legal proceedings across several states.

The refusal to concede by President Trump and the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, marked a watershed moment in U.S. history, where election denialism moved from the fringes to the center of political discourse, challenging the norms of democratic transition. Widely referred to as The Big Lie, the baseless claims of election fraud that persist in the right-wing to this day are considered themselves to be a form of election fraud by justice officials, legal analysts, and a host of concerned citizens worried about ongoing attempts to overthrow democracy in the United States.

Implications, public trust, and voter suppression

The implications of this recent surge in election denialism are far-reaching. It has eroded public trust in the electoral system, with polls indicating a significant portion of the American populace doubting the legitimacy of election results. This skepticism is not limited to the national level but has trickled down to local elections, with election officials facing threats and harassment. The spread of misinformation, propaganda, and conspiracy theories about electoral processes and outcomes has become a tool for political mobilization, often exacerbating divisions within the American society.

Moreover, election denialism has prompted legislative responses at the state level, with numerous bills introduced to restrict voting access in the name of election security. These measures have sparked debates about voter suppression and the balance between securing elections and ensuring broad electoral participation. The challenge lies in addressing legitimate concerns about election integrity while avoiding the disenfranchisement of eligible voters.

Calls for reform and strengthening democracy

In response to these challenges, there have been calls for reforms to strengthen the resilience of the U.S. electoral system. These include measures to enhance the security and transparency of the voting process, improve the accuracy of voter rolls, and counter misinformation about elections. There’s also a growing emphasis on civic education to foster a more informed electorate capable of critically evaluating electoral information.

The rise of election denialism in recent years highlights the fragility of democratic norms and the crucial role of trust in the electoral process. While disputes over election outcomes are not new, the scale and impact of recent episodes pose unique challenges to American democracy. Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach, including legal, educational, and technological interventions, to reinforce the foundations of democratic governance and ensure that the will of the people is accurately and fairly represented.

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A “filter bubble” is a concept in the realm of digital publishing, media, and web technology, particularly significant in understanding the dynamics of disinformation and political polarization. At its core, a filter bubble is a state of intellectual isolation that can occur when algorithms selectively guess what information a user would like to see based on past behavior and preferences. This concept is crucial in the digital age, where much of our information comes from the internet and online sources.

Origins and mechanics

The term was popularized by internet activist Eli Pariser around 2011. It describes how personalization algorithms in search engines and social media platforms can isolate users in cultural or ideological bubbles. These algorithms, driven by AI and machine learning, curate content – be it news, search results, or social media posts – based on individual user preferences, search histories, and previous interactions.

filter bubble, by DALL-E 3

The intended purpose is to enhance user experience by providing relevant and tailored content. However, this leads to a situation where users are less likely to encounter information that challenges or broadens their worldview.

Filter bubbles in the context of disinformation

In the sphere of media and information, filter bubbles can exacerbate the spread of disinformation and propaganda. When users are consistently exposed to a certain type of content, especially if it’s sensational or aligns with their pre-existing beliefs, they become more susceptible to misinformation. This effect is compounded on platforms where sensational content is more likely to be shared and become viral, often irrespective of its accuracy.

Disinformation campaigns, aware of these dynamics, often exploit filter bubbles to spread misleading narratives. By tailoring content to specific groups, they can effectively reinforce existing beliefs or sow discord, making it a significant challenge in the fight against fake news and propaganda.

Impact on political beliefs and US politics

The role of filter bubbles in shaping political beliefs is profound, particularly in the polarized landscape of recent US politics. These bubbles create echo chambers where one-sided political views are amplified without exposure to opposing viewpoints. This can intensify partisanship, as individuals within these bubbles are more likely to develop extreme views and less likely to understand or empathize with the other side.

Recent years in the US have seen a stark divide in political beliefs, influenced heavily by the media sources individuals consume. For instance, the right and left wings of the political spectrum often inhabit separate media ecosystems, with their own preferred news sources and social media platforms. This separation contributes to a lack of shared reality, where even basic facts can be subject to dispute, complicating political discourse and decision-making.

Filter bubbles in elections and political campaigns

Political campaigns have increasingly utilized data analytics and targeted advertising to reach potential voters within these filter bubbles. While this can be an effective campaign strategy, it also means that voters receive highly personalized messages that can reinforce their existing beliefs and psychological biases, rather than presenting a diverse range of perspectives.

Breaking out of filter bubbles

Addressing the challenges posed by filter bubbles involves both individual and systemic actions. On the individual level, it requires awareness and a conscious effort to seek out diverse sources of information. On a systemic level, it calls for responsibility from tech companies to modify their algorithms to expose users to a broader range of content and viewpoints.

Filter bubbles play a significant role in the dissemination and reception of information in today’s digital age. Their impact on political beliefs and the democratic process — indeed, on democracy itself — in the United States cannot be overstated. Understanding and mitigating the effects of filter bubbles is crucial in fostering a well-informed public, capable of critical thinking and engaging in healthy democratic discourse.

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The concept of a “honeypot” in the realms of cybersecurity and information warfare is a fascinating and complex one, straddling the line between deception and defense. At its core, a honeypot is a security mechanism designed to mimic systems, data, or resources to attract and detect unauthorized users or attackers, essentially acting as digital bait. By engaging attackers, honeypots serve multiple purposes: they can distract adversaries from more valuable targets, gather intelligence on attack methods, and help in enhancing security measures.

Origins and Usage

The use of honeypots dates back to the early days of computer networks, evolving significantly with the internet‘s expansion. Initially, they were simple traps set to detect anyone probing a network. However, as cyber threats grew more sophisticated, so did honeypots, transforming into complex systems designed to emulate entire networks, applications, or databases to lure in cybercriminals.

A honeypot illustration with a circuit board beset by a bee, by Midjourney

Honeypots are used by a variety of entities, including corporate IT departments, cybersecurity firms, government agencies, and even individuals passionate about cybersecurity. Their versatility means they can be deployed in almost any context where digital security is a concern, from protecting corporate data to safeguarding national security.

Types and purposes

There are several types of honeypots, ranging from low-interaction honeypots, which simulate only the services and applications attackers might find interesting, to high-interaction honeypots, which are complex and fully-functional systems designed to engage attackers more deeply. The type chosen depends on the specific goals of the deployment, whether it’s to gather intelligence, study attack patterns, or improve defensive strategies.

In the context of information warfare, honeypots serve as a tool for deception and intelligence gathering. They can be used to mislead adversaries about the capabilities or intentions of a state or organization, capture malware samples, and even identify vulnerabilities in the attacker’s strategies. By analyzing the interactions attackers have with these traps, defenders can gain insights into their techniques, tools, and procedures (TTPs), enabling them to better anticipate and mitigate future threats.

Historical effects

Historically, honeypots have had significant impacts on both cybersecurity and information warfare. They’ve led to the discovery of new malware strains, helped dismantle botnets, and provided critical intelligence about state-sponsored cyber operations. For example, honeypots have been instrumental in tracking the activities of sophisticated hacking groups, leading to a deeper understanding of their targets and methods, which, in turn, has informed national security strategies and cybersecurity policies.

One notable example is the GhostNet investigation, which uncovered a significant cyber espionage network targeting diplomatic and governmental institutions worldwide. Honeypots played a key role in identifying the malware and command-and-control servers used in these attacks, highlighting the effectiveness of these tools in uncovering covert operations.

Honeypot hackers and cybercriminals

Ethical and practical considerations

While the benefits of honeypots are clear, their deployment is not without ethical and practical considerations. There’s a fine line between deception for defense and entrapment, raising questions about the legality and morality of certain honeypot operations, especially in international contexts where laws and norms may vary widely.

Moreover, the effectiveness of a honeypot depends on its believability and the skill with which it’s deployed and monitored. Poorly configured honeypots might not only fail to attract attackers but could also become liabilities, offering real vulnerabilities to be exploited.

Cyber attackers and defenders

Honeypots are a critical component of the cybersecurity and information warfare landscapes, providing valuable insights into attacker behaviors and tactics. They reflect the ongoing cat-and-mouse game between cyber attackers and defenders, evolving in response to the increasing sophistication of threats. As digital technologies continue to permeate all aspects of life, the strategic deployment of honeypots will remain a vital tactic in the arsenal of those looking to protect digital assets and information. Their historical impacts demonstrate their value, and ongoing advancements in technology promise even greater potential in understanding and combating cyber threats.

By serving as a mirror to the tactics and techniques of adversaries, honeypots help illuminate the shadowy world of cyber warfare, making them indispensable tools for anyone committed to safeguarding information in an increasingly interconnected world.

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The term “hoax” is derived from “hocus,” a term that has been in use since the late 18th century. It originally referred to a trick or deception, often of a playful or harmless nature. The essence of a hoax was its capacity to deceive, typically for entertainment or to prove a point without malicious intent. Over time, the scope and implications of a hoax have broadened significantly. What was once a term denoting jest or trickery has morphed into a label for deliberate falsehoods intended to mislead or manipulate public perception.

From playful deception to malicious misinformation

As society entered the age of mass communication, the potential reach and impact of hoaxes expanded dramatically. The advent of newspapers, radio, television, and eventually the internet and social media platforms, transformed the way information—and misinformation—circulated. Hoaxes began to be used not just for amusement but for more nefarious purposes, including political manipulation, financial fraud, and social engineering. The line between a harmless prank and damaging disinformation and misinformation became increasingly blurred.

The political weaponization of “hoax”

In the contemporary political landscape, particularly within the US, the term “hoax” has been co-opted as a tool for disinformation and propaganda. This strategic appropriation has been most visible among certain factions of the right-wing, where it is used to discredit damaging information, undermine factual reporting, and challenge the legitimacy of institutional findings or scientific consensus. This application of “hoax” serves multiple purposes: it seeks to sow doubt, rally political bases, and divert attention from substantive issues.

the politicization of hoaxes, via fake scandals that tie up the media unwittingly in bullshit for years, by DALL-E 3

This tactic involves labeling genuine concerns, credible investigations, and verified facts as “hoaxes” to delegitimize opponents and minimize the impact of damaging revelations. It is a form of gaslighting on a mass scale, where the goal is not just to deny wrongdoing but to erode the very foundations of truth and consensus. By branding something as a “hoax,” these actors attempt to preemptively dismiss any criticism or negative information, regardless of its veracity.

Case Studies: The “Hoax” label in action

High-profile instances of this strategy include the dismissal of climate change data, the denial of election results, and the rejection of public health advice during the COVID-19 pandemic. In each case, the term “hoax” has been employed not as a description of a specific act of deception, but as a blanket term intended to cast doubt on the legitimacy of scientifically or empirically supported conclusions. This usage represents a significant departure from the term’s origins, emphasizing denial and division over dialogue and discovery.

The impact on public discourse and trust

The strategic labeling of inconvenient truths as “hoaxes” has profound implications for public discourse and trust in institutions. It creates an environment where facts are fungible, and truth is contingent on political allegiance rather than empirical evidence. This erosion of shared reality undermines democratic processes, hampers effective governance, and polarizes society.

Moreover, the frequent use of “hoax” in political discourse dilutes the term’s meaning and impact, making it more difficult to identify and respond to genuine instances of deception. When everything can be dismissed as a hoax, the capacity for critical engagement and informed decision-making is significantly compromised.

Moving Forward: Navigating a “post-hoax” landscape

The challenge moving forward is to reclaim the narrative space that has been distorted by the misuse of “hoax” and similar terms. This involves promoting media literacy, encouraging critical thinking, and fostering a public culture that values truth and accountability over partisanship. It also requires the media, educators, and public figures to be vigilant in their language, carefully distinguishing between genuine skepticism and disingenuous dismissal.

The evolution of “hoax” from a term denoting playful deception to a tool for political disinformation reflects broader shifts in how information, truth, and reality are contested in the public sphere. Understanding this transformation is crucial for navigating the complexities of the modern informational landscape and for fostering a more informed, resilient, and cohesive society.

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Wealth Cult -- rich men behaving badly, by Midjourney

A network of exceedingly wealthy individuals and organizations have channeled their vast fortunes into influencing American politics, policy, and public opinion — they’ve formed a wealth cult. And they’ve leveraged that cult and its considerable fortune to influence and in many ways dramatically transform American politics.

The term “dark money” refers to political spending meant to influence the decision-making and critical thinking of the public and lawmakers where the source of the money is not disclosed. This lack of transparency makes it challenging to trace the influence back to its origins, hence the term “dark.”

And, it is dark indeed.

Wealth cult anchors the trench coat

The Wealth Cult is one of 3 primary groups or clusters supporting the right-wing and generally, the Republican Party. It anchors the trench coat by funding the 2 cults above it: the Christian Cult, and the White Cult.

Its story is stealthy and significant.

A bunch of billionaires toast themselves to themselves, by Midjourney

The wealth cult has funded disinformation campaigns, the spread of conspiracy theories, created fake social movements through astroturfing, enabled violent extremists to attack their country’s capitol, cruelly deprived vulnerable people (especially immigrants, poor people, and women) of the kind of state aid granted generously throughout the developed world, bribed regulators, rigged elections, crashed economies, and on and on in service of their extremist free market ideology beliefs.

They believe in “makers and takers,” or Mudsill Theory, as it was once called by pedophile and racist Senator and slavery enthusiast James Henry Hammond. Some people were born to serve others, they say. Hierarchies are natural, they claim. Wealthy men should make all the decisions — because that’s what’s best for everyone, they say in paternalistic tones.

I don’t buy it. I believe all men are created equal. So did a certain Founder of our country.

Continue reading Wealth Cult: The oligarchs influencing American politics from the shadows
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