I just turned this in as an assignment for my Social Engineering class. It has not been graded yet. Enjoy!
For the last several years, it has been alleged and believed by some that President Trump would not have been elected in 2016 if the Russians had not bought ads on Facebook on behalf of fake clients. Understandably these allegations caused a lot of Facebook users to reconsider whether or not they should continue to support Facebook. In order to safely use Facebook or any social media platform, it is important to develop skills to help determine the credibility and reputation of any individual or organization.
As a Facebook user of many years duration, to help me decide the truth of the 2016 election influence claims, I sought answers to the following questions.
Are there examples of who made the allegations?
Here are a couple. Donald Trump’s opponent Hilary Clinton, named Facebook as one of the causes of her loss and declared that CEO Mark Zuckerberg should “pay a price” (Cadwalladr). It’s interesting that Mark Elias, counsel for Hilary Clinton’s campaign, helped Facebook to avoid putting disclaimers on ads back in 2011 (O’Sullivan).
In October 2020, Senator Mark Warner (D., Va.) wrote to Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, to urge Twitter to allow political ads after Twitter had banned them (Warner), even though in 2018 he had criticized Facebook for selling ads to what he identified only as “Russians” (Crookston). He also criticized YouTube for allowing radicalizing content by “Chinese, Iranian and others”. In Warner’s 2020 letter, he decries “Russians” use of ads even as he tries to persuade Twitter to accept ads. Referring to 2016, the 2020 letter states: “Russia took advantage of our openness and communications technologies, including exploiting American-bred social media platforms to spread disinformation, divide the public, and undermine our democracy.”
Has anyone attempted to refute the allegations against Facebook?
Here is the opinion of Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth. “So was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected? I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks. He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period.” (“Lord of the Rings…”). This opinion by Bosworth and subsequent opinions I attribute to him are taken from text purported to be from an internal memo that was published on the New York Times web site. I accessed what claims to be this memo on the web site TechyLawyer because the NYT article is behind a paywall and the Webster University online library doesn’t have the article. Since I’ve seen quotes from this memo on other web sites that match the TechyLawyer site, unless I come across information that the content been misrepresented, I’m accepting for now that this is what the memo actually did say.
It was reported by the Washington Free Beacon in the context of the 2018 midterm elections, that Senator Mark Warner was of the opinion that while Facebook is a concern, YouTube and Google hosted far more misinformation than Facebook and were less transparent and less cooperative than Facebook was in trying to fight the trend (Crookston). There was a video accompanying this article, formerly hosted by YouTube, which has since been taken down, I don’t know by whom. The senator’s remarks were quoted on many other web sites that I looked at so barring information to the contrary I find the reporting credible.
Did Russians in fact buy ads?
Bosworth weighs in. “Russian Interference was real but it was mostly not done through advertising. Instead, the Russians worked to exploit existing divisions in the American public for example by hosting Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protest events in the same city on the same day” (“Lord of the Rings…”).
What is meant by “Russians”? Do they mean the Russian government, Russian citizens, Russian-Americans, who exactly?
NPR reported that 3,000 Facebook ads were purchased on behalf of a Russian agency (Folkenflik). NPR did not say what kind of agency. An ad agency? A spy agency? That was not made clear. CNN referred to the ad buyers in question as a “Russian troll farm” (O’Sullivan). I kept clicking links to see what the actual identity of the “Russian troll farm”/”agency” is and ultimately came up against the New York Times paywall.
The Baltimore Sun alleges that the ads were placed by a Kremlin-influenced agency but the article includes no citation or source for Kremlin involvement (Fritze). The Politico article names the agency in question as “Internet Research Agency” and says it is Kremlin-linked but attributes no source for this information other than unnamed members of the House Intelligence Panel and provides no quotes or links to help verify (Politico Staff). The Washington Post refers to them as “Russian Operatives” without clarifying what that means (Keating, et al).
What are some examples of the fake Facebook clients?
According to NPR, the Russian ads were turned over to Congress by Facebook (Folkenflik). Names of the alleged fake organizations that I was able to find include “Black Matters”, “Native Americans United”, “LGBT United”, “Being Patriotic”, “Army of Jesus”, “United Muslims of America”, “Secured Borders”, “BM (does this stand for Black Matters, Bowel Movement, or something else?)”, “Born Liberal”, “_american.made”, “Heart of Texas” and “american.veterans”.
What was the content of the fake ads?
I think it’s interesting that Bosworth claimed in his memo that this Russian agency bought ads pitting Black Lives Matter against Blue Lives matter, but NPR reported that Russia was trying to inflame divisions between Muslims and Black Lives Matter (Folkenflik). Is it the position of NPR that Blue Lives Matter and Muslims are allies? That is unclear. It was also disclosed in the article that there is a financial relationship between NPR and Facebook.
In order to see which candidate the ads seem to favor, and to see whether the Russians desired Blue Lives Matter vs Black Lives Matter, or Muslims vs Black Lives Matter, I tried to find out what the ad content was. Despite hearing about the Russians and their ads for years, I could not recall seeing any images of the alleged ads so I did an image search and found alleged samples published by The Baltimore Sun, Politico and the Washington Post.
Here is a survey of the messages in the ads I could find: Pro Black Lives Matter Pro Native American rights Pro Bernie Sanders Anti Hillary Clinton Anti Islamaphobia Pro secure borders Pro Blue Lives Matter Anti Black Lives Matter Anti Donald Trump Pro 2nd Amendment Pro Texas secession Pro military veterans
How much was spent on fake ads?
Facebook vice president Andrew Bosworth stated that “$100,000 in ads on Facebook can be a powerful tool but it can’t buy you an American election, especially when the candidates themselves are putting up several orders of magnitude more money on the same platform (not to mention other platforms) (“Lord of the Rings…”). I’ve heard the $100,000 figure quoted on many other web sites so for now I find the amount credible.
How does the amount of money spent by the Russian fake clients compare to real clients?
As of December 31, 2016, Hilary Clinton had raised 1.4 Billion and spent 98% of it, and Donald Trump had raised 957.6 million and had spent 99% of it (“Election 2016…”).
With the above questions answered to the best of my ability, how credible do I find the claims that Russian ads by fake clients determined the results of the 2016 election?
I find myself agreeing with Bosworth that $100,000 isn’t going to buy an election when the opponent has spent nearly 1.4 billion. There would be no need to spend nearly 1.4 billion if that was the case, they would have just spent $100,000. That sounds like a better deal to me!
If you only have $100,000 to spend on ads to try to win the U.S. Presidency, I think it’s reasonable to assume your message has to be better targeted than these examples in order to be effective.
I do find accusations credible that an ad agency in Russia created fake organizations for the purpose of running fake ads to run marketing tests, and I agree that the ads are examples of trolling. Trolling has been used in ads and ad tests before. I’ve done it. I wrote about my experiment and the Elizabeth Warren campaign running such a test on Facebook in an assignment for Media and Culture class in 2019 (Winkelmann).
The subject matter of the Russian ads is bizarre and inconsistent. Their overall effect seems more like it would be confusion rather than favoring any one party or issue. Actually, if I hadn’t researched these ads and just looked at them with no background, I would probably have assumed they were part of a Dadaist or Fluxus influenced performance art project. If these are indeed the same ads everyone has been talking about, I don’t think the controversy they generated is justified.
I have this Pinterest board to help me keep track of sources. I started it when I started this degree. I’m in favor of transparency so I want people who read my articles and papers to see what sources I collected, and what I used and didn’t use. That tells you something about a piece, what was selected for use out of what was available. And if you are interested I hope you read the sources too!
In my social engineering class, I’m studying Russian social media advertising more and might write about the topic more on this blog. This week we have been assigned to read these three papers among other material:
As I read and work on my assignments, I may or may not find that some of what I wrote above is incomplete. This is a complex topic and if I run across anything I think I need to add or change, I’ll do that and make a note of it. In the meantime, I recommend that everyone read the same three papers I’m reading so you have more background on the issues. Media reporting on this topic is very poor and very confusing and seems mostly designed to obfuscate what happened instead of attempting to help people understand. Your understanding is likely to improve after reading and like me you might have a lot more questions as well. Enjoy!
I turned in my final paper for Media Organization Regulations last night. It was already a lot longer than it needed to be for the assignment, but I would have kept writing more if I had more time, right or wrong!
I am not an attorney or law student. Edit 12-22-20 – I found and fixed a couple of typo-type errors in the Works Cited section.
After seeing my grade, I did ok on this paper but I didn’t do great. I want it to be great. My professor left me some comments about things she thinks I should have included. It is possible that I will publish a revised version of this paper incorporating the professor’s suggestions. When/if I do that I will have to double-check how to give proper credit for that sort of thing in an academic paper in the MLA format because I’m being trained in academic writing and academic integrity as I go as well as in course material. Before starting this degree in 2019 I hadn’t written an academic paper since 1993. What you will read below is unedited from when I submitted it except for two typos in the credits section. When/if I revise it further I’ll make that clear in the proper format.
At the end I have links to sources, and after that links to other posts on this blog that are on related topics in case you think the subject is interesting and want to read more. I’ll also link to the Pinterest board I use to help collect and organize sources I might use. Enjoy!
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Geri L. Dreiling, J.D.
MEDC 5350: Media Organization Regulations
20 December 2020
Can Laws Protect The Public From The Media?
Physical abuse of women in history has been mostly allowed to go on without consistent punishment until the 1990s. Hundreds of years of beliefs that abuse victims deserve it, that the perpetrators who are punished are the real victims, or that abuse victims must be lying will likely take generations to diffuse because they were validated by hundreds of years of attitudes as well as the lack of prohibitive laws. Another obstacle abuse victims have to face is a lack of enforcement even when there were applicable laws on the books (Bancroft 321).
In our culture, physical violence against domestic partners is slowly becoming less acceptable. It is not as common as it used to be for family members, neighbors, or bystanders to look the other way when they witness abuse. Some schools even teach children that they are entitled to safety from family members in their home instead of only strangers outside of it when they are teaching them how to call 911 for help (Bancroft 293).
Even though emotional and economic abuse can inflict severe harm, there are not as many legal preventive measures or remedies available for mental abuse as there are for physical violence (Bancroft 293). It is difficult to promote awareness of the seriousness of emotional abuse when physical abuse has only been taken seriously in very recent history (Bancroft 321).
Negligent infliction of emotional distress, or NIED, is a tort that can be used in a suit against someone who carelessly caused emotional harm to another person (Trager et al 184). A plaintiff hoping to win such a suit must be able to prove the following facts (Trager et al 184):
The defendant had a duty to use due care in interactions with the plaintiff.
The defendant acted negligently while failing to use due care.
The plaintiff has suffered injury.
The injury can be proven to be caused by the plaintiff’s negligent actions.
Attempts have been made to bring NIED lawsuits against the media as well as individual abusers, but they usually are not successful (Trager et al 185). It is difficult for the plaintiff to prove proximate cause, that is, a reasonable finding that the defendant’s actions were directly to blame for the plaintiff’s injury (Trager et al 184). It is theoretically much easier to prove that a media plaintiff was negligent because there are ample studies showing how media members should behave if they care about the public’s well-being, but negligence alone is not enough to win a suit (Trager et al 184-185).
If the behavior of the media defendant is so outrageous that “a civilized society” would consider it “intolerable and beyond all bounds of decency” then the potential tort might rise to the level of intentional infliction of emotional distress, or IIED (Trager et al 179). The plaintiff must still prove direct causation (Trager et al 179). In addition, if the plaintiff is a public figure, the defendant must be proven to have acted with actual malice, that is “publishing with knowledge of falsity or a reckless disregard for the truth” (Trager et al 181). Even actual malice is sometimes not actionable if the courts interpret the defendant’s actions as satire or parody, or if the subject of the offending speech is about a matter of “public concern” (Trager et al 184).
One reason the media has so much latitude is because the founders of our country considered a free press and freedom of speech to be so important that they specified those rights in the First Amendment (Baran and Davis 30). When members of the media are criticized for having harmful effects on our culture, they argue that they are not that influential, that they reflect society but don’t have the power to shape it. At the same time, the media tells advertisers they can give them a good return on their investment and if an organization is of any significant size, be it government, nonprofit, or business, they spend money and resources on maintaining a public relations department (Baran and Davis 30). A belief that media IS very influential is apparently coming from somewhere.
There has been disagreement among theorists, academics, government officials, media companies and the public about how legally free from restraint the media should be ever since there was such a thing as media (Baran and Davis 62-63). The idea of technocratic control was considered and debated in the United States but ultimately rejected, at least if it was framed as control by the government. Technocratic control is “direct regulation of the media” by technocrats, people considered to possess the correct values and skills to regulate media for the welfare of the public (Baran and Davis 62). One of the reasons government technocratic control was rejected in the United States in the 20th century was because there was no consensus on who was qualified to have that power (Baran and Davis 62-63). Regulations that applied in certain situations that passed First Amendment tests have been enacted over the years and are sometimes thrown out by the courts when re-tested. The limits are renegotiated constantly from both the direction of greater freedom and the direction of more control (Baran and Davis 63).
Part of my incentive in choosing in this paper to examine parallels between domestic abusers and media abusers is the observation that both groups have the characteristic of constantly testing limits, like predators looking for weaknesses and loopholes to see what their targets and society will let them get away with. Awareness and legislation often lag behind the latest technological developments and technocracy strategies. Another reason is that abusers and media utilize many of the same manipulative techniques. Does the media share some of the same motivations as domestic abusers? Neither group can be trusted to be forthcoming about their intentions because of course they are more effective when their tactics are opaque – one can only judge by observing patterns of behavior.
There is another parallel between domestic abuse and media behavior that could be examined from a regulatory perspective. In considering the pattern of legal intervention in abuse, physical harm was an obvious effect of abuse to be considered worthy of attention by the law. When consumer products began to be subject to regulation in the United States, the danger of physical harm to the public was also an issue addressed early on.
Consumer protection laws began to be enacted in some US states as early as the mid-1800s to protect the public from adulterated food and drugs (Pride and Ferrell 78). The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was created to assume responsibility, formerly handled by the Department of Agriculture, for testing agricultural products (“The History of FDA’s…”). The 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act was a continuation this public safety work as the regulatory body evolved into what we know as the FDA by the 1930s (“The History of FDA’s…”). There was a further push for increased legislation designed to reduce physical harm from products, their advertising, and labeling in the 1960s and 1970s (Pride and Ferrell 78). Today there are several additional federal agencies created to help protect consumers. Some of the major ones are the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Pride and Ferrell 80).
Ideas are also products – they can be sold using a lot of the same strategies as tangible goods. By the 1930s, the notion of regulating harmful ideas was part of the discussion and remains so to the present day (Baran and Davis 68). An influential compendium of the state of scholarship on media effects, The Effects of Mass Communications, was published by Joseph Klapper in 1960. Klapper’s opinion was that media was more of a reinforcer than a dictator of current culture because there were mitigating social institutions in peoples’ lives such as churches, families and schools (Baran and Davis 114). If media actors with self-serving and destructive intentions wanted a strategy for how to break down society to bend more people to their will, it was made readily available to them, however unintentionally, by Klapper and other theorists.
Consumer protection laws of a sort directed at media and advertising do currently exist under the auspices of agencies like the FTC and the FCC. Normally these laws don’t deal much with physical harm unless the issues are safety related. Physical injury is however sometimes considered as part of the negligent infliction of emotional distress tort in some states. It is acknowledged in some jurisdictions that physical assault can cause emotional distress, and severe emotional distress can cause harmful physical symptoms and disease (Trager et al 185). If the link between the media and emotional abuse is better studied and acknowledged, and the link between emotional distress and physical disease is likewise given due consideration, a pathway to further regulation of media to protect consumers might be blazed through studies of the physical sufferings of those harmed when media abuse goes too far.
The FCC is permitted to regulate broadcast media to an extent because the airwaves are considered the property of the people. Broadcast stations are thought to have a responsibility to the public due to the people’s ownership of the airwaves (Trager et al 402-403). It is less clear who, if anyone, “owns” the internet, but it was originally partially developed by US taxpayer-supported institutions (Press). As of 2015 the amount of foreign ownership of US communications companies was capped at 25% with the then-current FCC commissioner proposing to raise the cap on foreign investment or eliminating it entirely (Traeger et al 404). The policy that foreign companies would be allowed to own anything that US citizens own or paid to develop is something the FCC could reconsider by following their normal procedures for a change of policy (Traeger et al 401). Any corporation, association or individual affected by FCC regulations has the legal right to a challenge in Federal appellate court (Traeger et al 402). Foreign exploitation via international internet scams is rampant all over the world but we still allow access to our citizens by criminals from foreign countries who don’t participate in international anti-fraud measures (“Report international scams…”). Economic exploitation tips the power balance in the abuser’s favor (Bancroft 156).
Tactics Employed by Domestic Abusers
Here are some of the techniques that abusers use to gain control over their victims (Bancroft 74, 145-146, 213-214, Dwyer 55-56).
Ridicule, name calling, insults, put-downs, and sarcasm
Distorting what was said
Accusing you of doing what they do, or thinking the way they think (projection)
Using a tone of absolute certainty and final authority – “defining reality”
Turning your grievances around to use against you
Criticism that is harsh, undeserved, or frequent
Provoking inappropriate guilt
Playing the victim
Threatening to harm you
Discrediting, spreading rumors
Getting other people to put pressure on you
Spreading confidential information (doxxing)
Presenting one face in public and another in private to gain credibility and trust
Using events from the past or situations that can’t be changed as a reason a person should accept poor treatment
Separating the target from sources of support
It is not easy sometimes for us to imagine that our entertainment providers would knowingly set out to abuse us, the consumers. People often feel warm emotions toward celebrities and providers of entertainment. A paper by Eduard Sioe-Hao Tan suggests why that might be the case (Tan 45). “A lay person’s understanding of what it means to entertain somebody involves being amusing or giving pleasure, activities associated with being a good host to a guest.” The entertainer may be considered responsible for voluntarily rendering a personal service to the viewer (Tan 45).
One trap that is easy for consumers to fall into is to forget that we are not really the ultimate customers for most entertainment products – the advertisers and sponsors are. We may be the audience, but we are not the customer. When considered in that light, it is a little more understandable why entertainment and media companies would be willing to actively abuse us, or at least not care if we become collateral damage.
In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Jim Taylor proposed that what we now call “popular culture” is no longer a reflection of the genuine culture of the people, but an artificial, media-cultivated corporate culture that he names “synth culture” (Taylor “Popular Culture…”). Cultivation Analysis is the theory that the media present a view that does not necessarily reflect reality, but because people believe it does, reality changes to conform to the media (Baran and Davis 287). As early as the 1950’s, architects were creating buildings and landscapes to conform to movie and television versions of reality. The cultural landscape known as Disneyland, for example, was the product of a media corporation and was not merely appealing to existing media-cultivated tastes but actively implanting them (Hine 150-152).
If the culture we have is not based on the genuine culture of the people but is deliberately planted there by the media, I postulate that if we don’t already have it, we will end up with a government that is no longer “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” but is of the self-appointed media technocracy whose primary interest is in exploiting us (Taylor “Popular Culture…”). It’s obvious which political direction the technocracy wants us to go. If we ask why, the large media corporations have the power to remove questions from public debate through moderating content and banning users with certain views even though they claim immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“Does Section 230’s…”).
The Rewards of Being Abusive
Above I have listed some of abuser’s techniques – now I’ll provide some of the possible incentives that motivate people to abuse other people. Abusers enjoy the following advantages and privileges in life (Bancroft 43, 152, 153-158):
Abuse victims change their behavior and work to bolster the abuser’s self-esteem to win approval or tolerance.
Abusers gain the freedom to behave as they desire without restraint while getting lots of attention.
After being catered to, they get praise for being a great person and improve their public image when they act decent.
The comforts, privileges, and financial advantages of being catered to are too attractive to give up.
The thrill of having power is a seductive feeling.
The abuser can pick and choose low-stakes situations to act altruistic so that they can cultivate a positive image without making any actual sacrifices.
Abusing others can give the abuser temporary relief of frustration at life’s annoyances.
Others can be coerced into performing unwanted tasks or giving up resources, resulting in better quality of life or gratification for the abuser.
When people are deprived of financial resources or financial autonomy, they are much easier to control.
The abuser’s goals are prioritized while others are diminished. The abuser escapes consequences while others who would dare to engage in the same behavior are held accountable.
The abuser receives peer approval from the surrounding culture.
Disunity among a group gives the abuser more power by directing attention into fighting among themselves rather than holding the abuser accountable.
Abuse Examples and Comparisons
Here are a few examples of how members of the media have used abuse techniques to advance their agenda while disregarding the harm to individuals and society.
Abuse Example 1
Abuse benefits: Abuse victims change their behavior and bolster the abuser’s self-esteem to win approval or tolerance. Others can be coerced into performing unwanted tasks or giving up resources, resulting in better quality of life or gratification for the abuser. Financial resources are often something abusers work on transferring from their targets to themselves (Bancroft 155-156).
Abuse tactic: Using a tone of absolute certainty and final authority – “defining reality”.
Media example: The highest status people in our culture tend to be doctors, lawyers, professors, executives, politicians, sports figures and entertainers (Dwyer 19). Some of these people are at least well-educated, but many have no more knowledge or ability about most issues than we do. When people are catered to as though they are of a higher status than the common person, they often feel entitled to treat us as inferior and expect us to defer to their authority (Dwyer 19).
News content producers can be an example of media using their sense of entitlement and branding skills to claim authority they have not really earned. Before the 1970s, news programs were offered as a public service and run at a loss to the station in exchange for the right to use bandwidth on the limited public airwaves. Released from that obligation, many news programs still claim the image of public service while earning large profits by featuring “sensational, sentimental or dramatic” stories that will attract mass audiences for their advertisers (Silverblatt et al 119). In return for their airwaves generating profits for media companies, the public gains at best only low-quality entertainment disguised as news, and possibly manipulation, abuse and ill health.
Some prominent social media companies have recently declared themselves to be authorities on objective truth, supposedly in the service of their users, who they see as not as qualified to judge as their own self-declared technocracy. They employ “fact checkers” to distinguish between beneficial and harmful content. A couple of the areas they recently claim special authority on are Constitutional law and medicine (Lucas, “Does Section 230’s…”). When a technocracy was originally considered for the United States in the 20th century, sufficiently wise people, such as social scientists, religious leaders, the military, the police, Congress and the FTC were considered as members (Baran and Davis 62-63). Investigative journalists have been trying to investigate today’s new technocracy. In documenting the harsh working conditions of Facebook content moderators, journalist Casey Newton found that most of Facebook’s content moderators are employees of outside contractors. At one facility in Phoenix, content moderators are paid $28,800 per year as compared to the average Facebook employee compensation of $240,000 (Newton). Facebook periodically audits the contract workers for accuracy, with accuracy defined as what Facebook decides it is. It is unclear what the educational qualifications are to be a contracted content moderator or a Facebook employed auditor (Newton).
Abuse Example 2:
Abuse benefit: The abuser receives peer approval from the surrounding culture.
Abuse tactic: Provoking inappropriate guilt.
Media example: Netflix aired a documentary showing walruses falling to their deaths from a cliff, claiming the deaths were caused by climate change. In actuality, the falling walruses were chased by polar bears, and possibly were even frightened by the film crew’s disturbing presence in the area and noisy equipment (Foster). Netflix gained the benefit of appearing to be socially responsible while directing attention away from their own possible culpability. As professor of space architecture and author Larry Bell commented in Forbes, phenomena that we used to be taught were natural, such as earthquakes, “hurricanes, droughts, floods, blizzard cold weather conditions and such” are now our fault and we are pressured to feel guilty (Bell).
Many celebrities have shared mis-identified fire photos on social media, claiming they are current and from the Amazon rain forest, when they were sometimes not current and taken somewhere else (Richardson). Perhaps they feel less guilty about their lifestyles for spreading these often unverified messages, while at the same time enjoying social approval from their peers without having to actually sacrifice anything. One of the privileges abusers regularly enjoy is to feel better while others around them feel worse (Bancroft 31).
What is the cost to mental health of this constant bombardment of what some affix the label “tragedy porn”? Therapy for eco-anxiety is a prominent field of mental health with over 120 practitioners known as far back as 2008 (Bell). Sufferers of eco-anxiety have reported shoulder pain, fibromyalgia, fatigue, overeating, bulimia, depression and alcoholism (Bell). 96% of respondents of one study on relatively affluent Americans claimed that eco-anxiety changed their ideas about having children, 6% even going so far as to regret the ones they already have (Carrington). What is it like for a child to grow up as a regret? In one case a seven-month old baby is going to have to find out what it’s like to live through a gunshot wound in the chest as the only survivor of an Argentinian family killed in a murder-suicide pact apparently precipitated by eco-anxiety (Sacks).
Children and adults alike have been taunted with threats that important cultural traditions like Thanksgiving and Christmas will be ruined or cancelled because of climate change (Watts). This could be interpreted as doubling down on the effort to induce poor mental health in viewers because religion is one of the well-known weapons against depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, suicidal behavior and poor physical health (Whitley). Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, not a religious one, but gratitude is something both atheists and theists alike can embrace. However, too much gratitude is not good for the advertising business. If people get too satisfied with what they already have, they won’t buy as many new things. The idea that products should constantly be updated in appearance to make old versions obsolete or deliberately made not to last very long became mainstream by the middle of the 20th century in the United States (Hine 66). The media likes to encourage us to buy unnecessary products while at the same time promoting guilt in us because excess consumption is bad for the environment. That behavior results in a triple win for the media/entertainment industry and their advertising clients – they sell more products, appear to be socially responsible for infiltrating our entertainment with guilt messages, and evade accountability for their own environmental misdeeds.
Abuse Example 3:
Abuse benefit: The abuser’s goals are prioritized while others are diminished. The abuser escapes consequences while others who would dare to engage in the same behavior are held accountable.
Abuse tactics: Getting other people to pressure you, discrediting, spreading rumors, ridicule, name calling, insults, put-downs and sarcasm.
Media example: Because they claim immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, social media corporations such as Facebook and Twitter maintain they are not liable for the actions of their users (“Does Section 230’s…”). At the same time, they can allow content they approve of and ban content they don’t approve of, boost content they favor and restrict content they disfavor, and promote or suppress users in an equivalent manner. In that way they can discredit, spread rumors, bully, harass or otherwise pressure whoever they choose by selectively enforcing speech, while avoiding proposed regulation of this privilege by manipulating public opinion to vote for whoever is unlikely to impose regulations that would reduce their technocratic control (“Does Section 230’s…”).
Sophisticated advertisers know what anxieties, fears and insecurities their target audiences are prone to, and they know how to trigger them at will and then offer products and ideas as solutions to the uncomfortable feelings that result (Silverblatt et al 291). Facebook ran a test in 2012 to see if they could go beyond mere curation and actually prompt the type of content users post on their platform by manipulating people’s moods (Meyer). They succeeded, and if there was ever any doubt, everyone now knows that they have the power to recruit their users into unconsciously propagating the media’s agendas and those of their advertisers. Fear and anxiety have been known to be aids to selling products for a long time (Packard 48, 58-59, 221-223). When Vance Packard published his book The Hidden Persuaders in 1957, the techniques advertisers studied to appeal to our fears and anxieties were still new to the public (Hine 28). Even though the methods are no longer new, they still work as the Facebook experiment demonstrates (Meyer). There are a number of possible health related side effects resulting from induced fear and anxiety, including fevers, vomiting, impotence, diarrhea, increased heart rate, fatigue, nausea, sleep problems, reduced ability to fight infections, heart disease, inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, substance abuse, social dysfunction and suicidal thoughts (Dyer 33, 197-198, Leonard).
Even with the available legal remedies, there is a limited amount that can be done for a victim of physical or mental abuse unless they decide to stop accepting the abuse and take action to use what help is available to assist in freeing themselves. Many of the harmful mental and physical effects of media can be overcome if individuals make the decision to reclaim their agency and follow up with suitable action. Abused individuals and abused media viewers are groomed in a similar manner with deceptive seductive techniques that hide the true intent of the abuser. Abuse and grooming gradually break down the resistance and health of the target to make the target less able to fight and break free from bondage.
Dangerous and addictive products that are regulated as “vice” products perhaps provide a precedent for the legal system and government agencies to regulate abusive media in a similar manner. “Vice” products are related to activities that are not considered healthy or moral and whose use is controlled to some extent by age-related or other restrictions (Trager 547). Categories of “vice” products currently include alcohol, tobacco, hookahs, e-cigarettes, drugs, gambling, sexually explicit material, firearms and marijuana (Trager 547, 550). In the past some of the methods of combating the harm caused by the misuse of these products has taken the form of public service messages and warning labels. The battle lines which government agencies and commercial interests navigate as they both attempt to advance their opposing goals is constantly in flux, with states and local jurisdictions having a lot of leeway to tighten or loosen regulations on vice products (Trager et al 542-555). If the media is going to intentionally or negligently affect our health, I think a case can be made for providing media literacy information content on their channels in lieu of labeling on media products in exchange for the benefits their corporate owners enjoy at the public’s expense.
Some forms of media regulation have been allowed by Federal government agencies and the courts in the past to promote the ability of citizens to make informed choices about their health, welfare and the consumption of products and ideas. Here are a few examples of past attempts by the FCC.
From 1949-1989 the Fairness Doctrine required broadcast stations to provide programming that presented diverse views on controversial topics of public importance (Trager et al 408).
The personal attack rule required broadcasters to provide a rebuttal forum for the subjects of an-air attacks on their “integrity, honesty, or character”. Because the personal attack rule did not apply to public officials, it had limited power to limit one-sided attacks. Even that protection for private individuals was eliminated in 2000 (Trager et al 409).
Under the political editorial rule, private broadcasters were required to allow legally qualified candidates for public office rebuttal time in response to editorials aired either against the candidate or in favor of a rival. The political editorial rule also ended in 2000 (Trager et al 409). Public broadcasters are not allowed to endorse a candidate but can editorialize on public issues (Trager et al 409), some of which could affect the livelihoods of those who work for public broadcasters and in that case could be one-sided and self-serving. The taxpayers who fund a portion of public broadcasting involuntarily are afforded no opportunity to rebut (Trager et al 417).
Net neutrality was the requirement for internet service providers to treat all internet traffic equally and not set up paid priority service for preferred content (Traeger et al 423). Net neutrality was repealed in 2018 (Morton). Some states have started to create their own net neutrality legislation since it no longer exists at the Federal level (Morton).
There was a time when the four above regulations were considered acceptable under the First Amendment. The First Amendment has not yet changed – not the text of it anyway. I suggest that as a country we consider bringing some regulations back, as they are possible hedges against the technocracy gaining further power over us and increasing their ability to abuse.
Bancroft, Lundy. Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. Berkeley Books. 2002.
Baran, Stanley J. and Dennis K. Davis. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Seventh Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2015.
The following paper was turned in last night for my Media Organization Regulations class at Webster University. It is not graded yet. Enjoy!
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Geri L. Dreiling, J.D.
MEDC 5350: Media Organization Regulations
1 November 2020
Freedom of Expression in The Age Of Powerful Technology Corporations
Freedom of expression is the right to disagree, to assemble in protest of laws and to publish and disseminate opinions, ideas and beliefs (Baran and Davis, 64-65). Freedom of expression is considered central to democratic self-government and is therefore described, though not in those exact words (“Bill of Rights…”), in the Bill of Rights (Baran and Davis, 64-65). In 1927, the Supreme Court found against the plaintiff in the case Whitney v. California, a ruling that was overturned in 1969 (Belpedio). This case was heard to decide whether or not the arrest and conviction of a Communist political activist in 1919 was in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (Legal Information Institute). Part of the written opinion of Justice Louis Brandeis caused some to question why he voted against the plaintiff in Whitney v. California since his defense of freedom of expression was eloquent and widely influential (Belpedio). Justice Brandeis’ words have been interpreted as a “virtual declaration of absolute free speech” (Belpedio).
A present-day issue that Justice Brandeis illuminated in his prescient comments from 1927 is the regulation of speech by corporations that are popularly known as “Big Tech” (“Does Section 230’s…”). On October 28, 2020, the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on current internet law and whether or not it is sufficient in the present day to ensure the free exchange of ideas in the online environment controlled by Google, Twitter and Facebook (“Does Section 230’s…”).
A study by the Pew Research Center found that as of 2018, social media had surpassed print newspapers as a source of news, accounting for 20% of the news audience (Shearer). The study also reports that 33% of adults in the U.S. consume news content from online web sites (Shearer). Since Google is the largest provider of internet search results, with a nearly 88% market share in the United States (StatCounter), having influence over potentially nearly 43% of all news content puts these three big tech companies in powerful positions. In a 2016 TED talk, referring to the platforms Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, internet freedom activist Rebecca MacKinnon stated “… we do know that journalism, activism and public debate are being silenced in the effort to stamp out extremist speech. So with these companies having so much power over the public discourse, they need to be held accountable” (MacKinnon). YouTube is owned by Google LLC (YouTube).
Concerns about the freedom of expression in search results and within social media platforms in the face of this power have been growing in recent history. On its web page “Digital Bill of Rights”, the stance of Adbusters, a nonprofit network of artists and activists declare that “It is high time that digital citizens, in the face of rampant techno-tyranny, openly mount a resistance to take back our mental space by force” (Adbusters “Digital Bill of Rights”). 73% of U.S. adults now suspect that social media companies intentionally block political content that they don’t want users to see (Vogels et al).
The Big Tech companies that the Senate investigated on October 28, 2020 are not legally required to allow their users rights as described in the First Amendment, which restrains government action only (Rosen). The law that the recent Senate hearing choose to focus on is Section 230 of Communications Decency Act (DCA) of 1996 (“Does Section 230’s…”). Section 230 does not address whether or not the platforms can legally restrict political opinions – it addresses immunity from lawsuits on other matters such as libel, because the platforms claim they do not influence content (Trager 210). It appears that it could be argued Section 230 immunity should not be applied to Facebook, Google and Twitter because they do “interact directly with content” in an attempt to cultivate attitudes to make the culture of the United States more like Europe (Rosen, Trager 210). In Europe, safety and propriety are valued more than freedom (Rosen) while the culture of the United States accepts more risks. In the words of Justice Brandeis, “Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty” (Baran and Davis 65).
Users who are attracted by the promise of free speech have been turning to alternative platforms that are perceived to be less restrictive than the three tech companies that the Senate Hearing examined. Parler appeals to unhappy Twitter users by claiming to offer an environment with more freedom and corporate accountability (Parler). Articles suggesting alternatives to Google and Facebook describe platforms that users concerned about data mining and privacy issues can try out (Broida, Taylor).
The movie industry’s voluntary Hays Code, which was in effect from 1934-1965 was intended to reduce public outrage and stave off possible future government regulation of motion picture content (Hays Code). The power of the medium of television and its effect on violence in children led to the threat of possible increased government regulation and in turn self-regulation by the industry in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Baran and Davis 166-167). The Big Tech companies might choose in the future to follow the lead of the movie and television industries that proceeded them and do more self-policing in order to better align their European-inspired standards to the expectations of the American public.
Here is some more of my homework for Strategic Comminications class at Webster University. The topic of Corporate Social Responsibility is one that we have addressed several times. Here is one of my writing assignments followed by some of my online discussion posts offered as food for thought.
Corporate Social Responsibility and Irresponsibility
“Cuties” is a film recently added to the network Netflix that director Maïmouna Doucouré claims is “social commentary against the sexualization of young children” (Sandler). Enough people were either offended by the topic of the film or the marketing of the film to organize petitions, boycotts and the hashtag campaign #CancelNetflix (Sandler). Netflix did in fact experience a higher number of cancellations than usual in September 2020 as a result of what some interpret as the normalization of pedophilia and child porn (Sandler). In the long term, will the reputation of Netflix be harmed permanently?
Findings in the paper “Corporate Social (Ir)Responsibility and Corporate Hypocrisy: Warmth, Motive and the Protective Value of Corporate Social Responsibility” suggest that the negative backlash against Netflix will be short-lived (Chen 486–524). Sometimes the same firms engage in acts that are perceived as both Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Corporate Social Irresponsibility (CSI) (Chen 486-487).
Netflix believes that showing the film “Cuties” is an act of CSR because it exposes and criticizes the sexualization of children, even though enough former viewers to create a noticeable spike in cancellations believes they have displayed CSI instead (Sandler). Netflix formerly employed actor Kevin Spacey to star in their original series “House of Cards” which was very popular and profitable for Netflix (Czarnecki). Netflix lost millions by firing Spacey to demonstrate support for the #metoo movement, but gained a great deal of good will from the public in return (Czarnecki).
It seems logical to assume that it is important to try to avoid the appearance of corporate hypocrisy – the difference between the perception of the values a firm vs. it’s actions. Is Netflix going to be judged as engaging in corporate hypocrisy, and therefore suffer in reputation? According to authors Chen et al in “Corporate Social (Ir)Responsibility and Corporate Hypocrisy: Warmth, Motive and the Protective Value of Corporate Social Responsibility”, hypocrisy does not always do harm to firms (Chen 487-490).
One factor that insulates a corporation against negative effects on its reputation is the perception of warmth (Chen 490). By accepting a significant financial loss to mitigate the “House of Cards” scandal (Czarnecki), Netflix raised their perception of corporate warmth to a great degree by promoting others interests above its own (Chen 490). In addition Netflix is “… a company that’s reinvented itself from being a tech-based internet-content-delivery machine to a creator of world-class content. Those two things combined have translated into an unprecedented reputational gain” (Czarnecki). Is there a rational reason for people to feel warm emotions toward a provider of entertainment as opposed to some other product or service? A paper by Eduard Sioe-Hao Tan suggests why that might indeed be the case (Tan 45). “A lay person’s understanding of what it means to entertain somebody involves being amusing or giving pleasure, activities associated with being a good host to a guest.” The entertainer may be considered responsible for voluntarily rendering a personal service to the viewer (Tan 45).
The perception of competence is another attitude that can mitigate CSI in the minds of stakeholders (Chen 490). Amazon is a company that is considered very competent but lacks the emotional connection enjoyed by it’s book-selling rival Barnes & Noble which connected with shoppers emotions by associating physical bookstores with nostalgic values (Czarnecki). Now that Amazon has evolved beyond just a delivery system of entertainment and is also in competition with Netflix as a producer of original entertainment content, the battle over viewer’s emotions will be interesting to observe. At a time when the spotlight is on racial injustice to a greater degree than is normal, Amazon and Netflix both made donations to organizations working toward racial equality (Hessekiel). Amazon donated 10 million, and Netflix donated 1 million. The amounts could reflect the resources available to each company for such expenditures, the awareness by Amazon that it needs to buy moral credits more than Netflix does, or perhaps some combination of the two. In that light, what is the meaning of WalMart donating 100 million?
Speaking of morality credits, another strategy that a firm can use to protect itself against harm to its reputation is to express aspirational messages of what it would like to do, or about the kind of society it would like to promote. The message of having certain values will give the corporation moral credits even if its behavior doesn’t always back up what it preaches (Chen 487-490). Whether a corporation’s behavior is always consistent or not, a strong investment in CSR does seem to have a protective effect on any future transgressions, intentional or accidental (Chen 517-518).
Chen, Zhifeng, et al. “Corporate Social (Ir)Responsibility and Corporate Hypocrisy: Warmth, Motive and the Protective Value of Corporate Social Responsibility.” Business Ethics Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 4, Oct. 2020, pp. 486–524. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1017/beq.2019.50. Accessed 28 September 2020.
Czarnecki, Sean, “Netflix tops the list for best corporate reputation.” PR Week, 2019, www.prweek.com/article/1580994/netflix-tops-list-best-corporate-reputation. Accessed 28 September 2020.
Hessekiel, David. “Companies Taking A Public Stand In The Wake Of George Floyd’s Death.” Forbes, 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/davidhessekiel/2020/06/04/companies-taking-a-public-stand-in-the-wake-of-george-floyds-death/#4e3e52d47214. Accessed 28 September 2020.
Sandler, Rachel. “Netflix Sees Spike In Cancellations Over ‘Cuties’ Backlash, Analytics Firm Says.” Forbes.Com, Sept. 2020, p. N.PAG. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=145929254&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 28 September 2020.
Tan, EduardSioe-Hao. “Entertainment Is Emotion: The Functional Architecture of the Entertainment Experience.” Media Psychology, vol. 11, no. 1, Feb. 2008, pp. 28–51. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/15213260701853161. Accessed 28 September 2020.
Some of my comments on Corporate Social Responsibility and Facebook
“My view of Facebook is that they are mainly supplying a platform for people to use as they want, with spaces for advertising. Of course there are some extreme things that get banned. Sometimes I think the bans are fair and sometimes I don’t. One thing I have noticed is that they put a voting badge in the interface so you can quickly check your status or register. Let me try it right now…
Ok I noticed they spelled my name wrong on the paper I got back from the election board, so I’m going to have to look it up under the misspelled name. The voting button leads to a voting information page hosted by Facebook which has links to the usual stuff that any web page that is put up for public information would have – how to register, what are the requirements, what are the deadlines, etc. Kind of similar to what a lot of information sites put up about COVID-19 or any other important issue. It’s good for democracy (I know we have a democratic republic) for as many people to vote as possible who are eligible, so that is an example of CSR.
Another feature I like about Facebook is that you can do searches on advertising regardless of whether it’s an ad that would be shown to you normally, and see who paid for it. That helps a lot with transparency.
It’s my opinion that Facebook is not inherently good or bad, like with most things it’s what you do with it that makes your life better or worse. The people at the top running it can be good or bad and the decisions they make do affect people. I think there is potential for abuse and with any platform or any media we have to be informed about how it works and insist on transparency to keep it in check. I am very interested in media literacy and how it can help protect us. I agree with people who say that too much use is not that healthy, and I think that about TV and a lot of other things too. There are a lot of things that can be a good tool used mindfully and purposefully, including food, something which I’m using more mindfully lately with beneficial effect. As we keep learning in this field of study, we all think we are better at determining how to use media than other people, which means other people think they know better than us how to use it safely. I do worry about us serving media rather than media serving us.”
“Speaking of voting, got these in my Walmart grocery pickup bag last night. It’s been awhile since I got a free sample. I like free samples and I like the voter registration encouragement. I tried texting the number and it works. When you get to the page on your mobile device, it gives you English and Spanish options. The data comes from https://www.ballotready.org/ and the card is branded with WalMart and the Consumer Action network. The Consumer Action Network is here – https://www.consumeractionnetwork.org/.
I looked at the web page for the Consumer Action Network and the issues they are involved with currently seem to mostly be based on beer and liquor sales and how to make it easier for consumers to buy beer and liquor. What do you think led to this particular partnership?
I like getting the freebie of the reusable cleaning cloth. It’s good promotion for the product and always fun to try out a free product sample. Is the product good for the environment? There is enough info on the package to research it.
I was unable to get the QR code to work. It might be printed too small to work with my phone.
I’ve been uploading a lot of images to Facebook to move them from my phone to a computer for editing. With my technology setup at the moment it’s a fast way to do it and sometimes gets a discussion going in my feed. So I put my commentary that I’m writing here with the photo in Facebook. Since I was either mentioning voting in my text, or the image had to do with voting, an algorithm popped up in Facebook with a link to the voting information center that they put together. So – both Facebook and Walmart and a lot of people are very invested in voting. I could not detect any political partisanship in either campaign. I’ve always thought that everyone who could vote, should. And try to participate in civic duties and civic activities whenever possible. The government chapter we read in our textbook has some things to say related to this.”
“Also interesting is the choice of graphic on the voting drive card. It sends a specific message to people who know the origin of that type of image, and there are things in it that would resonate with people just because of the elements it contains even if they don’t know the history.”
Authors Lu and Miller examined how loyalty rewards programs (LRP) combined with customer relationship management (CRM) and social media campaigns could increase sales of “green” products in a retail setting. Concentrating on grocers who sell foods that are marketed as organic, healthy and sustainable, the article explains that while the demand for “green” foods is growing, there are barriers to the acceptance of these products among some consumers (Lu and Miller, 87-88). Some potential customers hold the perception that environmentally sustainable foods are too expensive, aren’t adequate substitutes for conventional products and are not worth the extra cost. With additional knowledge about the value of such products, some consumers can be persuaded to give them a chance and be converted to motivated buyers (Lu and Miller, 88).
Because Facebook was the most dominant social media platform in the world at the time of the study, the authors used it to examine the relationship between Facebook content and sales among “green” grocery retailers in a large city in Australia. Facebook is a platform that marketers can use to practice social customer relationship management (SCRM), an updated form of customer relationship management (CRM) that adds social media into the marketing mix (Lu and Miller, 89). Intuition and previous studies showed the authors that effective content on Facebook should increase sales. Their study focused on participants in loyalty rewards programs which are proven to increase profitability if used effectively (Lu and Miller, 90).
Social media gives consumers more control over marketing because they can create and share content rather than just consuming content that is pushed to them by the brand (Lu and Miller, 89). Both brand-generated and consumer-generated content can increase the level of interest and engagement with a brand, which has a positive influence on actual shopping activity (Lu and Miller, 89, 91). “Green” products do often require more knowledge on the part of the consumer to realize the value and to stimulate a purchase (Lu and Miller, 91). Many “green” consumers organize themselves into social media-based communities that share common values and exchange information (Lu and Miller, 91). Consumers need to be motivated to effectively consume information presented by a brand (Lu and Miller, 92). It makes sense to leverage the power of social media along with the heightened brand engagement exhibited by long-term loyalty reward program participants (Lu and Miller, 92) to increase the acceptance of environmentally responsible products. Lu and Miller found that thoughtful SCRM strategies did increase the sales of “green” products to long-term LRP members (Lu and Miller, 97) and that these loyal customers responded more to messages about the health benefits of sustainable products than they did about the environmental benefits or the price (Lu and Miller, 98).
How this Article Relates to our Course
In Chapter 1 of our textbook, “Marketing”, we are reminded that environmental factors that influence marketing can change quickly (Pride and Ferrell, 13). As we are now suddenly dealing with a global health issue that has severe effects on many aspects of life, one way consumer needs have changed rapidly is that we need supplies to protect ourselves from infection. Health, physical and mental, is at the top of nearly everyone’s concerns right now. I work in a store that has a loyalty rewards program, engages in social media marketing, and sells some environmentally conscious products, considerations which made the article I reviewed of particular interest. We also sell supplies, some in stock intermittently, that customers want and need to cope with the pandemic. I’m observing and participating in real time how to change course rapidly as we respond to consumer demand as well as reading about it in our textbook.
Perhaps some might assume that such an event in history is a time for mere coping, not marketing. Marketing concept is a philosophy that an organization adopts when it takes into account not only the needs of customers but the welfare of all the stakeholders that it has an effect upon (Pride and Ferrell, 13-14). Customers of the store are stakeholders, as well as are owners, employees, vendors, service providers, delivery people, the families of all those groups and the community as a whole. Profiting by satisfying customer demand at the expense of other stakeholders was already frowned upon by many as a business practice before the current challenges we are facing (Pride and Ferrell, 14). Brand managers would be wise to be wary of being perceived as exploiting a crisis. For example, businesses that inflate the prices of crucial items or make false claims about the usefulness of products have been reported by name in an article published by the St. Louis Post Dispatch (Stewart).
The article I reviewed is enlightening when considering how marketing concept applies to serving the community in the present time. Since long-term loyalty rewards program customers are the most profitable customer category for a retailer (Lu and Miller, 92), it is less than rational to reap short-term gains at the risk of offending long-term loyal customers with behavior that is not community-minded. I hypothesize that a brand that already takes into account all stakeholders and has effectively imbued its organization with the philosophy behind its marketing concept is at low risk for carelessly implementing an action that will backfire because the first instincts of individuals within the organization will be to serve rather than exploit. Now is not a time to cease marketing but to use actions as marketing while serving all stakeholders with a view to their long-term health and welfare, fiscal and otherwise.
Lu, Qiang Steven, and Rohan Miller. “How Social Media Communications Combine with Customer Loyalty Management to Boost Green Retail Sales.” Journal of Interactive Marketing, vol. 46, May 2019, pp. 87–100. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.intmar.2018.12.005. Accessed 06 April 2020.
Pride, William M. and O.C. Ferrell. Marketing. 2018 Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2016, 2018.
In Mass Communication class this past fall, I wrote about the following propaganda techniques in my paper “How do we decide which media sources we can trust?” – Name Calling, Glittering Generalities, Transfer, Testimonial, Plain Folks, Card Stacking, Band Wagon, Impersonation, Emotion, Polarization, Conspiracy, Discredit and Trolling. I found some really interesting information about trolling that I saved in the extra links section below my paper for further study later. Recently in Media and Culture class, we watched a 60 Minutes video report titled “Brain Hacking” which inspired me to do a little experiment on social media the next day.
I saw a meme shared by a friend on Facebook that contained a false but somewhat plausible sounding claim about current political events. I shared it in my Facebook feed, which is public because I use it for marketing as well as other purposes, to see what kind of reaction I would get. I and others made some comments below it that I plan to investigate more and write up in a more polished way later. For now, one of the most important things I observed was that the meme drew comments from people I’ve been Facebook friends with for years (and friends in real life in some cases) who never respond to my more typical, much higher quality content. I can speculate on many reasons why this was so, some of which I may be able to prove and some I may not. One thing I can definitively assert however is the effect of the trolling on this blog, a separate channel from Facebook but with lots of cross-links back and forth. I posted the trolling meme on November 20, 2019 and here is a screenshot I took this morning of my blog stats.
With more research I hope to understand more about how trolling works, but I think it’s pretty clear why so many people do it – it gets attention!
In my current Media and Culture class, one of our recent assignments was to find and analyze examples of a successful political ad and and unsuccessful political ad. I found something really great – a successful political ad about political ads, very interesting for that reason alone, which was also a Facebook trolling experiment perpetrated by a presidential campaign.
Even though “trolling” is a word with negative connotations, I think this is a very successful example and in a way could be considered “good” propaganda as I consider my own trolling test to be. In both cases we tried to be somewhat ethical while trolling by eventually coming clean about what we were doing in order to raise awareness. Regardless of which candidate one supports, I think all can benefit from seeing and analyzing the Warren ad. In order to truly be able to interpret media messages it is a good media literacy skill to be aware of the ad policy on the channel on which you are viewing the content. It’s a hot topic right now in the news as channels scramble to modify their ad policies to bring about the election results they want, appease users who fear “fake news” and trolls, and still get a slice of that fat advertising pie (according to Bloomberg over a billion in 2016 just for the dominant presidential candidates).
The original Warren ad led off with a shocking statement to get attention. After explaining the purpose of lying in the ad, the copy then makes accusations that would take research to prove or disprove which I’m not going to attempt here, but would probably be believed or dismissed by many depending on how the audience has been primed. The photo of Trump and Zuckerberg shaking hands will likely get an emotional reaction out of a lot of people. Even though a handshake is a standard beginning and end to a business meeting, the photo suggests they are partners. I don’t know if the photo was purposely chosen to show eye contact between Mr. Zuckerberg and President Trump with the President appearing to be speaking and Mr. Zuckerberg listening, but it could be interpreted as trying to show the smaller, slighter, younger Zuckerberg as being under Trump’s thrall.
Was the Warren ad effective? When I did research trying to find information about this ad, I learned that it inspired commentary and articles on NPR, CNET, CNBC, The New York Times and others. The media coverage I’m sure is something the campaign wants since their stated goal is to raise awareness of Facebook’s current advertising policy. Based on a quick glance at Warren’s Twitter feed, the amount of likes and shares this ad instigated was a very good result compared to normal results. The call to action at the end is a common feature of many good ads – it lets viewers do something right away if they are so moved.
There is a Facebook Ad Library that allows you to view current and past ads, even ones you were not otherwise shown because you were not the target audience. It’s interesting to see what each campaign is running! Also if you do searches about a candidate (for example “Donald Trump”) vs. those that are paid for by the Candidate’s own committee (for example ” Trump Make America Great Again Committee”), you can get very different results. Try it!
The photo in the troll ad reminds me of the Webster University Journal article we discussed toward the beginning of the class about Senator Josh Hawley and the Confucius Institute. A lot of photos could have been chosen to use in that article. It’s interesting that most of the other articles I found have photos of activities at Confucius Institutes, Chinese people or Chinese culture, or some kind of protest. But the Journal article has a photo that could be considered kind of loaded, especially when you consider it in conjunction with the article’s contents. Why do you think a photo from Cape Girardeau was chosen instead of one from the St. Louis area when Webster University and the Confucius Institute it hosts are in St. Louis County? Sometimes certain photos are chosen because they are available. Sometimes certain photos are chosen because they convey a latent message. Do you think there are latent messages in these two photos?
Why was there no mention made that there was a Senate hearing on the issue with a member of the FBI giving testimony about why the agency was concerned?
Why was no mention made of other politicians from both major parties writing similar letters to colleges in their states? Some of the other Universities’ actions were mentioned, but not what prompted them. Why is that?
“Over the last several years, members of Congress, U.S. government officials, and academics have raised a number of concerns about Confucius Institutes, including about academic freedom, contractual agreements, transparency, hiring practices, and self-censorship. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Foreign Relations Committees all held broad hearings that discussed China at which Senators heard from experts on U.S.-China relations, academic freedom advocates, and law enforcement officials. Additionally, members of Congress from several states issued public letters to U.S. schools with Confucius Institutes urging them to reconsider their arrangement with Hanban.”
I am very much in favor of cultural exchange and the learning languages of other cultures. I think the more we and other nations understand each other the better off we will all be. I don’t know whether the Webster University Chancellor made the right decision or not because I don’t know enough about the legal and financial arrangements to judge. I could not detect anything false in the Webster Journal article, but on the other hand I don’t think there was enough information in it to understand the actual issue. I am pretty sure I know what the Journal wanted me to think about it though. I think my analysis is an example of how we have to read all news stories to be informed and not just manipulated.