How A Russian Troll Fooled America

There is a reason why these “amateur” approaches to manipulate people work so well on social media.

As I have written elsewhere, the very nature of our biology makes fooling our brain’s perception of reality and truth quite easy.

Unfortunately, human biology did not significantly change in the last 10.000 years; the same way we cannot choose what nutrition and vitamins our body needs to stay healthy, we cannot choose what our brain responds to, or how it responds when flooded with desinformation, propaganda and untruths in an emotion-rich setting (social media). Our brains were never built to handle an environment like social media rationally.

The frustrating truth is that everybody is born with a brain which is easily manipulated. Without exception.

Scientists have discovered many ways how our brain perceives “reality” and how we make decisions. Nobel price winner Daniel Kahneman spend his whole life to study how humans make decisions. He discovered mechanisms of our human brain that directly influence how we perceive reality. Just to name a few:

Availability bias. e.g. We perceive information as more trustworthy, the more often it is shown to us. The “ease of information retrieval” from memory is used to judge the frequency of events, not the actual number of events. That is why terror attacks seem so much more common than they actually are.

Anchoring. e.g. We tend too heavily on the first piece of information about any new topic. This is heavily used in setting expectations for price discussions; but also prominent in mud slinging tactics. If we start with picturing the opponent as the worst, it is easier to sell them as “at least somewhat bad/ not trustworthy”.

Confirmation bias. e.g. We are way more likely to retain information that confirms what we already believe, while discarding what does not fit our preconceived worldview. Our brain passively chooses what “information” it allows our consciousness to reach, filtering out contradictory evidence. Couple that with negative anchoring, and a set of fake stories, and your political opponent is suddenly a godless, sex-ring organizing murderous corporate sellout bitch.

Loss aversion. e.g. We feel losses hurt way more than equaly/more valuable gains. Make people feel that they are about to lose something, and they will get their asses up to safe it. It is way harder to get people to show the same enthusiasm for gaining something, even if the gain would be more valuable than what they would have lost for it.

This is why weaponized social media propaganda coupled with psychological profiling is so dangerous.
Just find out what makes us emotional, and once our analytical thinking skills shut off, we are prey to impulse and eat up all information uncritically. Once this information is internalized, we defend it with teeth and claw, without ever again checking its truth content. Welcome to alternative reality.

You do not have to be a genius to press the buttons anybody of us has; you just have to reach us and make us emotional (angry, fearful, anxious, outraged). Social media is exactly the right tool to do that.

This bot is just one more example of its effectiveness.