Fake News: Propaganda in the 21st Century

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I can’t tell if this is pro-Trump or pro-CNN but I love it either way.

‘At first the claims of propaganda were so impudent that people thought it insane; later, it got on people’s nerves; and in the end, it was believed.’

We are living in a paradox. 100 years ago, the only news a regular worker could receive was from government-controlled newspapers, leading to a world full of misinformation and propaganda. Now, all human knowledge is located in an ether literally a few keystrokes away!

Here’s the paradox: Despite the vast amount of information readily available, many of us are still trapped in echo chambers of deception no different from the early twentieth century. Why is that? Because the propaganda virus has evolved to exploit the overwhelming nature of the internet. In other words, it has become fake news.

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Common consensus is that propaganda is a relic of the past and we as a society have developed to avoid such misleading indoctrination. It’s this naivety that has allowed fake news to slip into our lives relatively unprovoked. An outrageous claim, I know, but think of this: Propaganda and fake news both aim to willingly deceive the masses in pursuit of a chosen agenda and are merely two sides of the same coin. To achieve this goal of thought infiltration, they are forced to apply dishonest methods. In case you didn’t know, that’s a bad thing.

Since fake news ‘like the [propaganda] poster, consists in attracting the attention of the crowd, and not in educating those who are already educated or who are striving after education and knowledge, its effect for the most part must be aimed at the emotions and only to a very limited degree at the so-called intellect.’ What you just read was a passage from Mein Kampf about war propaganda which just so happens to neatly fit into the function of fake news. In terms of emotional manipulation, clickbait is the most immediate example, where titles such as ’26 Face Swaps That Will Make You Ridiculously Uncomfortable’ and ‘Which Possible Illuminati Member Are You?’ use awe to distract your thoughts, if only for a moment. However, there is one emotion that conquers people’s thoughts like cocaine on steroids. And extra cocaine.

Anger is powerful. Once it takes over, rational thought is pushed aside in favour of vulnerable outbursts fuelled by adrenaline. Whether it’s a WW1 propaganda poster demonising the enemy or a Wall Street Journal article unjustly slandering Pewdiepie’s name, a reasonable search for truth is cast aside in favour of a sensational story which is much more likely to gather attention.

Due to Hitler’s belief that ‘the spiritual weapon can succeed only if it is applied on a tremendous scale,’ the government financed his pursuits of propaganda generously. In 1941, the annual budget for the Propaganda Ministry totalled 187 million Reichsmark, worth around $1.03 billion USD today. It was this tremendous scale that enabled the government to convince a nation to fight for a fanatical cause until its bitter end. Fake news may not have the same financial resources, but it has a weapon so powerful that many can’t imagine life without it: social media. Weird… Well, remember my definition of how fake news deceives the masses in favour of an agenda? That’s a vast distortion of the truth. You see, media corporations receive their money from advertising, meaning the more readers, the more profit. Many news outlets aren’t synagogues releasing accurate information for the greater good, but half-assed reports being pushed out as early as possible to get that sweet, sweet green. By doing this, they oversimplify issues into easily-digestible chunks of disinformation. This wouldn’t usually be an issue, however, the ‘share’ button has allowed these stories (because that’s what they really are) to spread immensely quicker on social media, where the average person spends nearly two hours per day. On Twitter, a fake news story reaches 1500 people SIX TIMES faster than a regular news story!

‘This Video Will Make You Angry’ by CGP Grey gives a great explanation how emotional manipulation combined with social media results in mislead political bubbles.

There is one thing Hitler got wrong about fake news (Hitler got something wrong? No way. That’s fake news) that is essential to its prevalence in our society today. He believed ‘it is a mistake to make propaganda many sided… for the crowd can neither digest nor retain the material offered.’ If this is true Adolf, how come so much of the public is misinformed by fake news on a daily basis? How can we live in a time where access to the internet is everywhere yet many still believe easily disproved lies? It’s because he, along with the rest of us, underestimated the extent people are willing to ignore other arguments as a way of keeping their world view intact, stubbornly ignoring opposing viewpoints that challenge their own. Why? I don’t know, ask a psychology professor. If I had to answer, it’s because many people identify themselves with their opinions, so when their opinions are criticised, they feel as if they are criticised, and so enter a somewhat fight-or-flight mode. People like giving each other labels so the world can fit into their neat little box of good and bad, right and wrong, black and white. The media surely doesn’t help this by devoting barely any time to delivering a full picture of the story. “I know, there’s a mass protest against Trump but let’s focus on the tiny minority who inflicted property damage.” Stories sell. News doesn’t. And even if they did do their job and you know, TELL THE NEWS, who’d listen? People hear what they want to hear and block out the rest.

What can you do about it? Factcheck. Guess what though, this doesn’t matter when everyone else doesn’t. There are 7.5 billion people and we’re letting them vote. Clearly democracy has failed and we must abandon it. You know what, can’t we just go back to aristocracy? It worked amazingly for the Greeks and Romans. Up until the whole collapse of civilisation followed by a millennia of the dark ages and whatnot.

Alright, so aristocracy is clearly not the best option. How about el fascismo? Well, I don’t know about you, but I like my women like I like my nations, not brainwashed. Fine. So what’s left? Monarchy? Nah, too incestual. Robot leadership? Can’t, James Cameron ruined it. Or maybe we should just re-elect Mayor ‘Goldie’ Wilson. I know! How about we all just agree to place educational reform and teach kids about being free thinkers so the next generation doesn’t grow up ignorant? Hey, I wrote a thing about that being good. Check it out. So there ya go. I fixed the media.

You’re welcome.

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