The Russians weaponized laughter!

By David Peck

How Russia weaponized laughter by combining Facebook data with parody, or otherwise known as a political message that imitates another political concept by polemical allusion.

Trump called for a human wall to be build at the boarder last week. I was reminded of an earlier human wall, an imaginary one around the walls of Paris in Gargantua and Pantagruel I’d read decades ago. Searching this morning for the reference I first went to Bakhtin’s History of Laughter, Rabelais and His World — and enargeia struck! This book was a weapon Bakhtin wrote while in exile in Kazakhstan to subvert Stalin’s USSR. A laughter developed in response to the «rapid Stalinization of Russian folklore, after the «fatal first All-Union Congress of Writers in 1934” where Maxim Gorky urged «culture workers» to model their heroes on the heroes of folklore. Bakhtin liberated folklore by using his « most glowing colors to highlight attributes of the folk precisely and diametrically opposed to those celebrated in Soviet folklórico.» But this weapon has now been turned on us. This is the instruction manual Putin is using to meddle with our brains:

“Putin’s adviser Surkov to those “who cry about Russian meddling in elections”: “Things are much more serious: we meddle with your brains, we change your conscience — and you have no clue what to do about it”.

Russian intelligence has long known about folk humor as a weapon, but until recently this was mostly defensive, but now it is their principal weapon for CyberWar. Putin uses parody to resist western hegemony by targeting the contact zones of western power. They choose their own battlefield, then drew us to their chosen contact zone: CyberWar with their finely honed weapons of laughter.

“As it relates to information warfare in the 2020 cycle, we’re not on the verge of it – we’re already in the third inning.”

“A new type of communication, Bakhtin wrote in the introduction to the History of Laughter, always creates new forms of speech or new meanings given to the old forms.”

The new type of communication is the World Wide Web that allowed the creation of Facebook and Twitter. Remember the Russians were the first big funders of FB. Lies are «facilitated by algorithms that encourage users to share and engage with popular content.»

The three horses of the apocalypse were sitting on the shelf by my bed gathering dust: irony, satire, and parody. When emails stolen by the Russian GRU, or Guccifer2 from the DNC, or Podesto are then released on Wikileaks, these formerly august documents are transformed into irony, parody, and satire.

«In the broader sense of Greek parodia, parody can occur when whole elements of one work are lifted out of their context and reused, not necessarily to be ridiculed.»

Christchurch was a parody of a video game. «In some ways, it felt like a first – an internet-native mass shooting, conceived and produced entirely within the irony-soaked discourse of modern extremism.»

These books are the source, the rosetta stone to decipher the methodology of Russians to destroy meaning in the West.

The scientific medical literature is starting to identify social media as a cause of illness; social media driven by Russian intelligence. Russia is not limited to interference with our politics, but has been fingered as having also interfered with our public health. Legislation narrowly focused on insuring higher rates of vaccination, will be undermined by this Russian interference. And this Russian interference is likely driven by the GRU, or Russian Intelligence. You, know, to stay on topic and all, but there appears to be another aspect to this discussion of the good and the bad arguments about vaccines. The Russians don’t care, but intend to injure us by taking both sides of this argument making it into a parody. They are using the ideas of Bakhtin, designed by this internal exile of the USSR — against the west.

It might be useful to go the root of this strategy, in the writing of Bakhtin, because this strategy was created by Bakhtin as the most effective attack on the authoritarianism of the Soviet Union. Putin surely knew about this when he was an officer of the KGB and the German Stasi.

This author below is close, but not quite gets it. The Russians are undermining the authority of democratic institutions; and are destroying meaning, not truth, by weaponizing laughter, or parody. If we don’t understand the theory behind this, how will we design an effective strategy to defeat, or even contain it?

For example, because this kind of laughter negates authority, more authority will unlikely be effective.

“In addition to sowing division, the promulgation of conspiracy theories and disinformation about vaccines appears to have a broader goal: undermining trust in democratic institutions, shared knowledge, and, ultimately, the notion of truth altogether.”

For example, I wonder who is paying for this anti-vaxxer ad on Facebook that is specifically targeted at women who are ‘interested in pregnancy’. Ads like this are then amplified by these Russian bots. I found this here:

This has been a trope of Russian influence campaigns in Europe.

“Putin’s adviser Surkov to those “who cry about Russian meddling in elections”: “Things are much more serious: we meddle with your brains, we change your conscience — and you have no clue what to do about it”.

This is the formula for the creation of parody:

“Content from these sources gives equal attention to pro- and anti-vaccination arguments,” the study reported. “This is consistent with a strategy of promoting discord across a range of controversial topics — a known tactic employed by Russian troll accounts.”

Information of more quality and authority is unlikely to reduce the efficacy of weaponized laughter.

“Social-media giant Facebook may take steps to combat the prevalence of anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories on its platform, the company said Thursday. Facebook is “exploring additional measures to best combat the problem,” it said in a statement first reported by Bloomberg News. Those steps may include “reducing or removing this type of content from recommendations…and demoting it in search results, while also ensuring that higher quality and more authoritative information is available.” The statement came shortly after The Daily Beast reported that anti-vaccine Facebook ads have been viewed millions of times since late last year. Many of those ads have targeted women over the age of 25, a demographic likely to include mothers of young children. Some even targeted Facebook users “interested in pregnancy,” according to data from ProPublica. A number of the ads also appear to have targeted residents of states currently struggling to control measles outbreaks. Facebook’s statement came in response to a letter from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who questioned the company’s procedures for weeding out scientifically inaccurate and potentially dangerous misinformation on the platform”. — Lachlan Markay

If it’s parody, the laugh is on us. This is how you contain the Russian active measure.
“Ernst said that she was well-aware of the “vaccine controversies” interest category, but never uses it. Targeting people who see vaccines as controversial “gets toward making social media a place where vaccines are fought over, which feels really counterproductive to public health,” she said. “It’s making the echo chamber more echo-y.”

So if more facts from better authoritative sources is unlikely to be an effective strategy to defeat this active measure, what will? A model was successful in California. A model that shows the growth of measles in local communities. See below.

For this case, understanding the mechanism of how Laughter is weaponized, an effective deterrent can be developed. In this case, This model should be used for the design of an app to show how local communities would be affected with varying vaccination rates and Social medium platforms forced to implement them.

Lewandowsky said that making the simulation relevant to where you live taps into a well-established principle of cognitive psychology called “construal theory.” When a problem feels local, Lewandowsky said, people are more likely to be proactive.

When making the case for mandatory vaccination, simply presenting people with the facts may not convince them and could even backfire, Lewandowksy said. People tend to dig in deeper when presented with information that contradicts their worldview. To reverse people’s beliefs, it’s more helpful to provide an explanatory model, he said.
There was something about showing a movie of your hometown that people relate to,” said Don Burke, dean of the school of public health at the University of Pittsburgh. It was his idea to break the model down by county.

Lewandowsky said that making the simulation relevant to where you live taps into a well-established principle of cognitive psychology called “construal theory.” When a problem feels local, Lewandowsky said, people are more likely to be proactive.

Therefore, in our post-modern world, social media causes disease that is cured by literary theory. How about a test? Do what @DrPanMD did to convince his legislative colleagues to support his vaccine legislation, but on an individual level. Patients and methods: get a baseline @DrPanMD district. Then rollout the model to individuals showing the spread of disease from their neighbors house to their’s. Poll again and measure how attitudes change. Author legislation to roll out statewide with commitment of Gov.

David Peck

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The wood-oven cook in the Mediterranean Garden

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