Weapons of Mass Distraction:
The Media, Advertising & Social Programming
By Marie D. Jones & Larry Flaxman
The mass media is the biggest remote control ever built, and we all exist within the four-walled idiot box it controls. Manipulation of thought and behaviour is a part of our accepted daily lives. Each time we lock eyes on a news story, whether on the tube, the screen, the tablet or the old fashioned way, via a newspaper, we are buying into a perspective that may or may not be our own. We read stuff, and readily accept it as reality, often without ever bothering to source the information or take the time to perform due diligence and research the subject more deeply. We then pass on some of that information to others, and the viral effect can now, with the Internet and cell phones, travel on a global scale in a matter of minutes. If you wanted to truly control the minds of the masses, what better way than buying time on the media outlets the masses most visit? And the most effective types of media most able to manipulate our behaviour and change how we think… and even consume? News media, advertising… and now, social networking. Get ready to have your channel changed, because with the sheer amount of social programming faced on a daily basis, you are no longer in control of your own remote.
It’s all bad news, all the time. The stories that bombard us on television, radio and even social networking often tend to be depressing, fearful and anxiety provoking… and they spread like wildfire. But we all know that good things happen in the world. Why then does the media love to focus on the blood, gore and violence? Because we respond to it, that’s why. Negative news stories dominate the news because we are hard-wired to respond more to them. It’s simple brain science, really, and harkens back to our days of needing every bit of news we could find in order to guarantee our survival. And much of that news involved FEAR. Predators, lack of food and water, bad weather, other nasty humans… our primitive brain responds to bad news because at one time we needed to know it all. Who cared about the good stuff when there was a chance of death around every corner?
In his book Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare, author Michael A. Hoffman brings up a strong point for the hypocrisy and mixed messages the media sends, especially when it comes to two of the viewing audience’s favourite things – sex and violence. “Have you ever noticed how television and print media will scream themselves hoarse in news documentaries, editorials and heavy analytical pieces about ‘rising pornography, crime, violence, gunplay’, etc? And yet in the same TV Guide announcing the latest special on ‘The Crisis of Sex and Violence’ will appear an advertisement for Miami Vice, the ‘show that brings you the action and excitement you’ve come to expect’, etc. Or your newspaper will condemn sex and violence in the loftiest terms but there in the entertainment section is a half-page advertisement for a new ‘action’ movie accompanied by a photo of women in string bikinis and high heels fondling automatic pistols and machine-guns.” Hoffman calls this the Double-Mind of mass media, and we are all guilty of buying out of, and right back into, each of the two minds… the one that repels and the one that accepts. The use of images to alter our emotions is an age-old way of manipulating behavioural responses, and the media excels at imagery that shocks us, terrifies us, and titillates us.
Misinformation vs Disinformation
Yet much of the information we are bombarded with via a variety of media sources is not corroborated or fact-checked. Many of the news ‘outlets’ people are getting their news on are satire sites, or blog sites, or websites that allow anyone to post a story without having to prove their points or source their material. It’s become standard business to spread and take viral the most shoddy reporting, which would never hold up to journalism standards of old, even without bothering to find out who funded the story, who owns the website it first appeared on, the source of the information, and whether or not any other news source has reported on it.
If it’s in print, or on the Internet, or the TV… we buy it. Who has time to find out if it’s true or not? Besides, if you see it in the media then it must be true, right?
Misinformation abounds. This is information that has no basis in fact, or is the result of poor journalistic skills or shoddy reporting. This is information that mistakenly is called fact and gets spread from person to person, network-to-network, and often goes global before someone decides to finally do a bit of fact checking. By then, it’s often too late, as the populace has already accepted the information as valid and real. Even when later presented with facts, it rarely changes the minds of those already entrenched in the falsities, especially if those falsities support their ideologies and worldviews.
Disinformation is planted on purpose, like seeds that will grow into accepted facts. Propaganda, rumour, gossip, news, and fear-mongering all spread with an agenda, usually to provoke fear and paranoia and cause people to react in a specific manner.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell misinformation from disinformation, and often the manipulation occurs in a subtle manner on a subconscious level, which makes it harder to pinpoint, and therefore refute. One of the main reasons why we allow this is because we are so willingly distracted by the media’s idea of what we should know. We would rather spend our time and energy on these distractions than have to face our own truths. This could easily explain the power of social networking to create its own form of mind control, as more people spend more time on sites that allow for every possible form of distraction.
Facebook & Social Networking
In 2012, the megalith known as Facebook did something quite nasty to its followers. 700,000 unwitting users were basically utilised as guinea pigs in a gigantic social experiment that allowed Facebook to manipulate emotions and emotional responses, without telling anyone it was doing so. Facebook data scientists set out to see if they could influence the emotional state of site users and prompt them to post more positive or more negative content. Using an algorithm that automatically omitted certain content that was either positive or negative, Facebook researchers manipulated users for one week, later publishing their data in the March issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But once the secret experiment got out, people screamed about the blatant invasion of privacy and manipulative, deceitful tactics of the experiment, even causing some of the scientists behind the study to apologise for their less than ethical methodology. Privacy lawyers and organisations came forward, admonishing Facebook for violating the rights of the users, who were never told about the research.
Problem is, Facebook had been doing these kinds of things for years, changing the functions and looks of the site to better serve their users, and give them more access to personal information at the same time. Users just didn’t know they were being manipulated until this particular study got attention. The forces behind Facebook understood how easy it was to influence the emotions of users with very little work, and all of it under the radar of the users. Subconsciously, these users were being swayed, even if they weren’t consciously aware of anything different on the site during the week of the study.
Are we being ‘programmed’ in the same way we program our DVRs to record our favourite shows? Also known as ‘social engineering’, this tactic of politics, religion and corporate consumerism, even education and academia, involves literally engineering the behaviour, attitudes and desires of large groups of people. Real social engineering is done using specific scientific methods of analysis and decision-making, often for more academic purposes. But social programming goes on every day in ways that are not necessarily meant for the greater understanding of humanity.
Similar to propaganda, social programming is a type of public relations that sways large groups to accept, deny, support, resist, or anything in between. One of the pioneers of public propaganda, known as the ‘father of public relations’, was an Austrian-American nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays. Even though he had a degree in agriculture, he was fascinated by the use of propaganda during wartime, and wondered if the same rules and methods could be applied in peacetime as well. He dove headfirst into the world of psychology and public relations, linking the two to design his own concepts of public persuasion and what he called, “the engineering of consent.”
By understanding how “group mind” worked, Bernays believed the masses could be controlled and manipulated without being aware of it. He used a lot of his famous uncle’s theories in his quest to shift public perception and promote specific behaviours, including his own desire to help out big business by treating the mass distribution of ideas the same way a company would treat the mass production of materials. His 1928 book Propaganda remains a highly influential examination of his work documenting the relationship between what he called an “invisible government, the true ruling power of the country” and the public that was ruled over, something Bernays saw as necessary to keep order over the chaotic masses.
This kind of social control is really about regulating the behaviour of both individuals and groups of people in a society, with the influence of propaganda as one of the tools of control.
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