Coloring Idea #2: Rainbow Effect With Gel Pens and Colored Pencils
Sometimes when I do “adult coloring” I have a specific idea that I am trying to explore. At other times, I just want to color without thinking too much – it’s so soothing. Rainbow color gradations are a sure fire way to lift my mood. Here is how to get a fun effect with stencils, gel pens, and colored pencils.
Step 1: Tape a stencil over the design area and outline with a thin, sharp pencil. For this kind of utilitarian marking I really like a mechanical pencil. It’s easy to erase and I don’t have to keep stopping to sharpen it.
Step 2: With the pencil and ruler, draw parallel lines at intervals across the page.
Step 3: Note how the pencil lines you drew divide the design into striped areas. Outline your pencil lines in one gel pen color per stripe in rainbow order. For example, I outlined the first in blue, then blue green, then green, then yellow, continuing through to pink.
Step 4: To make sure the gel pen is dry, lay a clean sheet of scrap paper over your design then burnish with a squeegee or bone folder. Lift the paper and check to see if any of the ink is coming off onto the scrap paper. Repeat if necessary until no ink is transferring.
Step 5: Erase your pencil lines. You probably won’t be able to get all the pencil lines out from under the gel pen ink lines, but the rainbow effect will still come through well enough. If the pencil lines bother you, you could go back in and touch up your work later with opaque gel pen colors, paint markers, permanent markers or the like.
Step 6: Color in gradations in pencil between and around your gel pen lines, maintaining the overall color progression in hues. There is a lot of room for creativity in how to color in this step. I choose to make the pencil colored in areas lighter tints of the hues in the gel pens and keep analagous colors roughly together. Keep experimenting and coloring until you are satisfied with the effect.
The example at the above right is not finished yet. Here are a couple more examples I’m working on of the same idea so you can see the work a little closer.
This is a time-consuming way to color, but sometimes that is just what I want. It requires just enough concentration to distract me from problems I want to forget for awhile, but it’s not so hard to do that I need a lot of energy. Sometimes when you’re in a crisis great ambition isn’t really there. I may or may not leave some of the background white. We’ll see!
Bringing the coloring to Dad in the hospital
I worked on the samples you see in this article and for PART 1 both on the go and at home in order to have samples to show to my Dad. Dad likes to do the #12daysoftomsbeard project and he requested that I bring him some shapes for it to color on at the hospital. I wanted to give him a choice of coloring techniques, so I had samples of each technique ready. I had supplies on hand to cover either choice, but to streamline my supplies I only brought colored pencils as both techniques can be done with colored pencils even though I used colored markers for the first one. Dad chose the stained glass effect from PART 1 – stenciling over patches of background color.
When I brought this project to Dad, he was only a few days past some serious seizures that affected both halves of his body, but especially the left. Dad is left-handed and I was very worried because Dad’s left hand had been in a claw-like position for about a week or more. After the seizures his hand relaxed. I wasn’t sure how much function Dad would have in the hand yet, so I prepared a couple of sheets of shapes in advance for us to color, one for me to demonstrate on and one for him. I taped the shapes to scrap chipboard pieces so they wouldn’t slide around while being colored. I also brought some shapes that still needed to be cut out so that Dad could cut some if he was able.
I showed Dad an overview of what we were going to do, then I offered him a chance to try cutting some shapes. He did a great job on them – with a right-handed scissors no less! I was overjoyed and a bit teary-eyed to see him doing so well. I told him this is what I want for Christmas – to see you able to do this! It seemed like a miracle compared to how he was just a few days before. For awhile I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to ever talk with him again, much less do art together!
I suggested some color schemes for Dad – primary colors, secondary colors, and analagous colors. It wasn’t critical that the pieces be of any particular color scheme, but when I teach a project, if I can I like to include some useful art information. I’m not a trained art therapist but I am a trained artist so I can legitimately call these activities “educational” even if I can’t officially call them “art therapy” (Darley and Heath).
I got some colored pencils out for him to cover each scheme, and let him pick from among them. Instead of covering the whole background like I did on mine, he mostly drew small shapes all over the background without covering it all the way. And instead of coloring in the negative spaces between stencil markings, he put numbers on his tags, numbers 1-11 to go along with the #12daysoftomsbeard. He was short one tag, so I’ll make a #12 later when we get to that.
In this kind of project, expressive arts for therapeutic purposes, the process is far more important than the finished results (Darley and Heath). There is no reason to try to change what Dad wanted to do if it varied from my samples. Dad has always been creative – I was so glad to see that ability is still there!
Here I am drawing stencil lines over the colored in shapes before filling in the negative spaces with black permanent marker. The main difference between coloring over marker vs. colored pencil is that the colored pencil creates a slightly waxy surface which might resist the marker at first. To help with this, I outlined the black areas in gel pen before filling in with a black Sharpie marker. The gel pen sticks better to the colored pencil and once the outlining is done then it’s not hard to fill in with the Sharpie.
I have started embellishing some of the pieces that we colored with punched paper pieces, glued-on sequins and little dots of squeeze paint to go along with the stenciling.
When #12daysoftomsbeard starts on December 25, we’ll have a good selection of items to display on the beard. Hopefully people will send us more parts as a challenge to incorporate each day. The first year we did this activity, in 2019, I started out by clipping little pieces of paper to Tom’s beard with tiny clothespins. To keep things interesting, we’ve been gradually elaborating by making little garlands, involving Tom’s glasses, adding found objects and props, incorporating parts of the background, using far-out creative filters and more.
What will happen?
Above is a commemorative artistamp sheet I made to show off some of my favorite beard pictures from the first three years we did this project.
Works Cited andRecommended Reading
Darley, Suzanne and Wende Heath. “The Expressive Arts Activity Book: A Resource for Professionals”. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2008.
The 2022-23 Holiday season for many people is probably going to be the closest they’ve had for awhile to normal patterns of celebrating. My Dad and I have made some attempts to join in this year, but to be realistic most of our energy has been absorbed by the effort to get and stay healthy. My Dad has been having some medical issues since mid-October and I’ve been staying with him frequently at his house and visiting him him a lot in the hospital. Except for the past week – I just took a week off because I seem to have been hit by a flu-like illness (not COVID, I took the test!). I’m on the mend now. Dad has been taken care of during this time at a rehab hospital and will be coming home later this week if all goes as planned.
When he’s discharged, I’ll be providing some care he’ll need for about three weeks. I’m not sure how much either of us is going to be able to attend holiday activities in person. We will probably have to sit a lot of it out. But we will try to keep in touch online!
The annual project #12daysoftomsbeard is one that my husband Tom and I have been doing every year at Christmas time. It’s a way of combining crafts, installation art, photography, mail art, digital art and conceptual art into a holiday celebration for us and our friends and family and anyone else who wants to join in. From December 25 through January 6th he poses for me with different items in his beard and I apply wacky filter effects then upload the results to Instagram. We invite people to send in pieces to use in the beard. My Dad in particular really enjoys this activity and he wanted to work on some beard parts while he was in the hospital. I’ll show you how we combined stenciling and coloring to make a bunch of pieces to use in Tom’s beard during the 2022-23 Christmas season. I’m going to try to make an extra big deal out of it this year for my Dad and myself because we are going to miss out on most other holiday activities this year.
If you want more background information on #12daysoftomsbeard before reading on, here are a couple of my earlier blog articles about it.
Tools and Supplies Beard printouts – scroll to bottom of the page for links to 6 graphic files to download and print Cardstock and chipboard Pencil and eraser Ruler Black permanent markers Black gel pens Colored pencils Colored markers Painter’s tape Stencils and/or cookie cutters Scissors Hole punch Scrap paper for covering work surface Glue stick Squeegee tool or bone folder
Optional for Embellishments Sequins Glue Squeeze paint
Coloring Idea #1 – Stenciling Over Colored Markers
Scribbling some colored backgrounds is an easy way to make vibrant backgrounds for stencil art. By filling in the negative spaces with black marker, you can create an attractive faux stained glass effect.
Step 1 – Color in the background with markers in random patches to make something similar to camouflage patterns
Step 2 – Tape a stencil over part of the work area and outline in black gel pen, black fine tip marker or black fine tip pen.
Step 3 – Repeat with different stencils until the whole design area is filled with outlines.
Step 4 – Color the negative spaces in with black marker.
Step 5 – With a glue stick, paste paper pieces to chipboard or cardstock and cut out.
Step 6 – If needed, touch up the edges with black marker to make a neat edge.
Stay tuned for PART 2: Rainbow Effect With Gel Pens and Colored Pencils.
When I was Creative Director for my former employer Webinar Resources, we built QR codes, that is Quick Response codes, into many of our campaigns. I liked them so much I made a header graphic for our Facebook page meant to celebrate their functionality and their high-tech look. They appealed to me for design reasons as well.
We put QR codes on any surface we could think of – door knockers, cards, posters, electronic slides, buttons, t-shirts, holiday wrapping… I’m probably forgetting some. Eventually I even had a rubber stamp made of a QR code for my online store! I also made some graphics at my boss Mark Rice’s direction along the way to try to show how they work.
I thought for awhile that it was difficult to get people to adopt QR codes and that they might die out. That possibility was disappointing to me because they are useful and a lot of fun. But while working on Marketing and Communications homework for my classes at Webster University recently, I’ve snapped some pictures while doing research that make it look like QR codes are here to stay after all. It’s possible that the COVID-19 pandemic may have helped speed up the adoption of QR codes a bit because they provide a quick way to disseminate information without people having to touch anything. QR codes are also easier to access now because in many cases you don’t need to install a special app – on my newest iPhone the QR code reader is built right into the camera.
I have a client who is appearing in a live performance in two days in Scottsdale, Arizona. This morning I took some graphics off of some of the existing promotional and ticketing web pages and made a collage of some of them with a QR code on it. My intention was to make something fast and easy for people to share if they are inclined to, with the link built in by way of the QR code so that people who are interested can get to the ticketing page easily no matter how the graphic is shared.
There is a lot you can do with QR codes if you build them into campaign planning at an early stage. Even when you are under a time crunch, incorporating a QR code into a shareable graphic for social media is a very convenient way to spread information.
Trigger warning: this blog post deals with the topic of suicide. Please get professional help if you are suffering from mental health issues. If you are afraid that you might harm yourself, please call 911 or a suicide hotline immediately. Here is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number – 1-800-273-8255.
Knowing how to make memory craft projects and having memory craft materials around is most helpful when going through something like my remaining family and I just went through. My uncle Dave was discovered deceased on August 27, 2021 and my brother Larry died from suicide on September 4, 2021.
I think some people were taken aback that I was open about my brother dying from suicide almost immediately after hearing the news. No one gave me flak over it, but I do think a few people were surprised. I did ask my Dad for permission before I posted the cause of death. My Dad and I are the two remaining from our original nuclear family of four.
There are reasons why I wanted people to know the truth right away. For one thing I wanted people to know exactly what horror we were dealing with because it’s not likely that our lives will be “back to normal” any time soon, if ever. We will be needing and asking for some leeway in meeting some of our obligations as we try to figure out what our lives are going to look like now and decide how to prioritize tasks.
Another reason is that my brother fought to overcome bipolar disorder for over 20 years, and my late uncle did as well. My brother’s illness affected our family greatly even well before it was diagnosed because there were serious symptoms that made all of our lives challenging at times, even if we didn’t yet understand what they meant. I have done volunteer work from time to time over the years to help people with mental illness, mental disabilities, or are just going through a tough time as the result of a normal grieving process. In the past I taught workshops at the former Open Door Art Studio and a few years back I donated a few days work and a lot of supplies to Artists First studio with the hope of someday doing more work there. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, my husband Tom and I did a series of eight webcasts we called #virtualartparty to help people enjoy art and craft activities to help avoid mental health problems that could result from anxiety and isolation.
I knew my brother’s suffering had increased quite a bit over the last few months. I tried to show I cared and encourage him a little by doing a couple of “art therapy” projects with him and my Dad, and with a few other people who were also going through a hard time. I was planning to do more whenever I was able. I put “art therapy” in quotes here because while I’m a trained artist I’m not a formally trained art therapist – but since all art is therapeutic, my philosophy is it’s better to do something than nothing. Even if it doesn’t work, at least you have tried. And a few minutes of distraction from misery is better than nothing as well. I have to look for something good where I can in order to go on.
I have been through a course of therapy myself to recover from an abusive relationship and the resulting serious trauma. Even though I have great empathy for sufferers I know there is a limited amount I can do to help someone else recover from severe mental illness. My Dad and I know we tried everything that we could think of to save our loved ones but we could not do it. Dave and Larry were both under medical care and as far as we know fighting hard for many years. Our help and the work of many doctors and therapists was not enough to save them. I’m grateful for the people who can be saved and sad about the ones that can’t. There is a need out there for compassion and understanding to aid others in helping their loved ones with mental illness or consoling them if the outcome turns out tragic. That’s something I can help with in a little way perhaps by writing about it and continuing to make small contributions to the general cause of mental health whenever I can. I think dealing with reality head-on is more useful for this goal than trying to cover it up. I feel devastated over what happened but it’s based on sadness, not shame. I don’t want other mourners affected by mental illness or suicide to feel shame either. So I’m trying to contribute by setting an example of frankness and truth. I am not judging others who choose a different way – we all have our reasons for how we grieve and how we process our situations.
It comforts me to try to find answers and explanations to find meaning in overwhelming situations. Right now I’m more consumed with questions than in a state of readiness for trying to find answers. That’s where the memory crafts come in. I made a few things for the funerals in a hurry, which served the purposes of mourning the dead, comforting others, and providing a needed distraction and creative outlet for myself to help me cope. Following are some pictures. It’s my way to mark just about any important occasion with art and crafts – both celebratory and mournful.
We used the same tape on Larry’s boards but I painted it a black/bronze color before we started gluing down the torn paper. This is only a tiny percentage of all the photos we would have liked to show but Larry’s friend Tim and others helped put together a digital slide show as well that was greatly appreciated by all of us.
For our Social Engineering class, we were asked to propose to work on behalf of a real cause or a fictional one. Using ISIS as an example, how could we use similar social engineering tactics to win converts over to our cause? I decided to create a fictional organization called “Artists for Media Literacy”.
Media literacy is something I was taught in both grade school and high school, although I didn’t know then what it was called. Ever since I’ve been old enough and aware enough to realize what it was, I’ve thought it had the potential to heal many of the ills of our culture if more people acquired the skills. I felt strongly enough about it in 1998 that my first solo art show included a group project in which I encouraged people to send me postcards in the mail based on the theme “Turn Off Your Television”. Here are photos showing this project on the wall at my show, and a graphic for a postcard I sent out to help promote it.
On the left is a view of the gallery showing the TV project on the wall, and on the right is a postcard I made to promote the project.
So this is where my inspiration comes from for “Artists for Media Literacy”. Artists are trained communicators and often have a lot to say about the media and consumerism.
What techniques successfully employed by ISIS would be suitable for our group?
Isis intimidates opponents via well-produced videos, mass executions and hashtag hijacking.
“Artists for Media Literacy” is a philanthropic organization, so there will obviously be no violence or threat of violence. We have no ambition to intimidate anyone to force them to participate – we believe in individual rights and freedom and want people to voluntarily choose to adopt the media literacy techniques we propose. We do want to raise the alarm about propaganda and abusive media – so we will try to influence people to fear the consequences of not using media in a healthy way. We can use well crafted videos to promote the positive benefits of media literacy as well as the dangers of being uninformed.
Hashtag hijacking would lend itself extremely well to our cause because there are trending media-related topics going on all the time that we could hitch an awareness piece too. For example, I can check Twitter right now to see what topics are trending at this url – twitter.com/explore/tabs/trending. #Antifa and #RIP Twitter are trending right now. Those would both be great hashtags to hijack for a media literacy campaign.
Documentaries: we would not have to coerce participation from hostages to produce documentaries touting the benefits of media literacy. The challenge would be making them engaging and accessible.
Press releases: our work would be of interest to many news outlets if we target the right ones.
Instagram: this is a social media platform particularly friendly to artists, so we’d benefit from heavy use. Here is the Instagram account for the Back To Our Roots Art Show last year promoted by Webster University students – www.instagram.com/back.to.our.roots.art/. As a participant in the show, I can vouch for it’s usefulness in helping me keep track of deadlines, inspiring my vision for the work I was producing, and helping me promote the show to my social networks via attractive, branded and shareable content.
Civic forum boards: unlike ISIS, our boards would not need to be encrypted necessarily, but they should be secure to protect us from hackers.
Secure messaging: normal consumer level communications platforms should be adequate.
Battlefield drones: We won’t have battlefields in the sense that ISIS would, but if we ever have any outdoor events we could use drones to get interesting footage for videos. I’ve seen drones used that way at historic preservation events to attract interest by showing how well attended the event was and the extent of support for our cause, preserving the Gasconade River Bridge in Hazelgreen, Missouri. The organizers have succeeded in attracting large crowds in multiple years, including international Route 66 fans.
P.W. Singer, and Emerson Brooking, “How ISIS Is Taking War to Social Media”, Popular Science Magazine, 2015. Accessed through course module, 16 April 2021.
In my Social Engineering class we have been studying Russian and other foreign cyber attacks on the USA, Germany, France, Great Britain, Ukraine, and elsewhere. One of our recent assignments was to read the following reports:
“So, what should the United States do about it? Think about the political, economic, and military weapons of war (Clausewitz) and share your thoughts about how to combat the Russian SE attacks.”
“I considered Clausewitz’s lessons of war (summarized by Pietersen) to see how they could help me create a strategy that makes sense.
Just the first step, Identify, I see as a huge challenge. I’m under the impression that most people who are angry about attempted Russian interference in recent elections are angry because their preferred candidate didn’t win, not because our Constitution and the Republic are under attack and hanging by a thread. A lot of people accept the premise that unethical and illegal acts are permissible if it helps your side. They may not be informed about the seriousness of the threat, or are informed and are rooting for the Constitution and the Republic to fall. This would be a good way for intelligence to precede operations. Do enough people even want the Republic saved to make it worth the effort to fight for it? The goal will have to be changed if there aren’t enough people on board. I’m going to write the rest of this assuming that there is enough support.
The decisive point: “Save the Constitution” would be my mission statement, at least internally. I’m not sure how to frame the campaign to get the support of enough of the public for success. It used to be considered self-evident in our culture that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were good things, but there are a lot of people who have been conditioned and trained to deny those rights to others that they think are beneath them and sometimes even to themselves – they don’t think they deserve it.
Concentrate: This includes physical resources as well as hearts and minds. I understand that the reports we read were based on a subset of all the existing information. The tech companies didn’t give everything they had to the Senate, and we don’t know if the Senate gave all of what they had to the analysts who wrote the reports. Nevertheless, the reports do contain enough information to have some idea of what might help on the technology side.
I would like consumers to have more choices of viable communications platforms so that they freely choose the ones they feel protect their rights and reflect their values the best. That probably means breaking up monopolies and holding corporations accountable for tortious business practices or unfair competition practices such as collusion or violations of the immunity clause in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As others have pointed out in our discussion, communications companies sometimes have an incentive to allow content that harms their users but helps them financially. They’d be able to get away with this less if there were more choices.
I advocate re-instating the media based consumer protections that have been removed from our body of law such as the Fairness Doctrine, the personal attack rule and the political editorial rule, and I’d like to see them extended to online publishing and social media companies as well as broadcast and print. As I’ve stated before, I think it’s a human rights abuse to restrict information from people in order to control them. Can a “Right to Information” be added to our Constitution? I don’t know but that’s how important I think it is.
I would like to see all media companies compelled to run media literacy education content as a consumer protection measure.
I advocate media literacy training as a vital life skill in all levels of education.
Devote as least as many resources to the promotion of the Constitution and Democratic self-rule as the enemies do to undermining it.
US Consumers should have the choice to purchase physical products, software, and have access to technology platforms that are manufactured in the US and accountable to US consumers.
Resources that are vital to the security of the United States, such as medical supplies and media companies, should not be owned or controlled by foreigners.
Hold all levels of government to high standards of transparency and accountability to their constituents.
Remove: I would not want to see a repeat of excesses from the past such as McCarthy-style witch hunts or loyalty tests. I believe the most rational ideas will prevail if people are allowed to hear them and exercise their constitutional rights to assembly, free speech, freedom of the press and others. I also think internment camps for re-education or any other purpose should be off the table.
Ignore: I believe it’s important not to over-react to all the distractions that will be tried.”
I don’t consider my above suggestions as complete or comprehensive, but I think they’d be a good start. I welcome comments on this blog, pro and con, I think this is a discussion we need to have, openly and rationally, because, after all, this is war.
DiResta, Renee, Kris Shaffer, Becky Ruppel, David Sullivan, Robert Matney, Ryan Fox, Jonathan Albright, Ben Johnson. “The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency”, New Knowledge, 2019, digitalcommons.unl.edu/senatedocs/2/. Accessed 11 April 2021.
Howard, Phillip N., Bharath Ganesh, Dimitria Liotsiou, John Kelly, Camille François. “The IRA, Social Media and Political Polarization in the United States, 2012-2018”, Computational Propaganda Research Project, University of Oxford, 2019, digitalcommons.unl.edu/senatedocs/1/. Accessed 11 April 2021.
Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate. “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election: Volume 2: Russia’s Use of Social Media, with Additional Views”, 2019, digitalcommons.unl.edu/senatedocs/4/. Accessed 11 April 2021.
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’ve always believed in platform diversity to avoid economic damage and economic coercion. Have I been as vigilant as I needed to be? Doesn’t look like it. Now the stakes seem a lot higher than that even! I’m signing up for the social media and other platforms people I know are recommending. I don’t know how many it will be and how many will be able to stay in operation and how many I will want to stay on. When the dust settles a little I will probably add some logos to my contact page that lead to different platforms and update my profiles. Right now my priority is to get accounts to see which ones stay usable.
It’s supposed to be illegal in the United States for businesses to punish you for doing business with competitors. So let’s test it, shall we?
I don’t have time to write a lot now, but a good starting point is here:
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.
Everyone I know is probably getting tired of me saying that we have to be wary of the communication technology we use. A lot of it looks like it has a beneficial purpose on the surface but is something else when you dig into it a little deeper. I am a heavy user of social media and technology for marketing purposes so rather than stop using it I’m trying to be more careful about the amount of exposure I have and the type of exposure. I have never used Snapchat. For my homework I had to write about an indecency lawsuit against Snapchat so had to quickly read about how it works and what it does. It is widely believed in some circles that large segments of leaders in media, culture and business are constantly looking for ways to groom minor children for sexual exploitation. Do you agree or disagree? This paper has been graded but I didn’t change anything before publishing. I am not an attorney or law student, I am a Marketing and Advertising Communications major.
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Geri L. Dreiling, J.D.
MEDC 5350: Media Organization Regulations
29 November 2020
The Snapchat Indecency Lawsuit
Snapchat is a messaging app that also features paid advertising and content reformatted and republished from other information providers, known as Discovery partners. When Discover first launched, Snapchat stated on its blog that the Discover partners would be editors and artists who are “world-class leaders” providing “important” content, superior to social media which shows only what is “most recent or most popular” (Team Snapchat).
The Discover feature of Snapchat generated a lot of criticism when it was new. Among other complaints, a lot of users disliked the Discover content being featured prominently in the display and being difficult to ignore if one was using the app for other purposes such as chatting or photo sharing (Dredge). Complaints about sexually offensive material being pushed to minors led to a class action lawsuit against Snapchat citing violations of Sections 230 and 231 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in addition to other violations of State consumer law (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.). Here is a listing of the five causes of action in the complaint (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.):
Violations of Unfair Business Practices Act [Cal. Bus. & Prof.Code § 17200]
Violations of 47 U.S.C. §230
At the time of the lawsuit, around 23 percent of users of Snapchat were between the ages of 13-17 (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.). Snapchat was not accused of singling out underage users to push sexually oriented content to, rather the lawsuit was based on failing to warn users about content that was inappropriate for minors and failing to provide a way to filter out unwanted adult-oriented sexual content (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.).
Here are some titles of sampled “important” articles that “world class” editors and artists selected for their users that were alleged by the plaintiffs to violate decency and consumer laws:
“10 Things He Thinks When He Can’t Make You Orgasm”
“F#ck Buddies Talk About How They Kept It Casual”
“23 Pictures That Are Too Real If You’ve Ever Had Sex With A Penis”
In the past, marketers have been criticized for using cute animal mascots to make beer brands more appealing to minors while claiming that they are only marketing to people who are old enough to legally consume the product (Andrews, Newman). It was alleged in the Snapchat lawsuit that some of the images accompanying the offending articles appealed to kids by showing Disney characters paired with sexually suggestive captions and an illustration showing two dolls in a dollhouse engaging in sexual intercourse (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.). In the opinion of the plaintiffs, such images appear to be “directly marketed to minors based on the use of cartoons, childhood relatable images, and very young looking models” (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.).
Indecent material can be defined in different ways. The Supreme Court considers indecent material to be “nonconformance with accepted standards of morality” (Trager et al 457). To the FCC, indecency consists of “sexual expression and expletives” that are deemed harmful to children and therefore prohibited on broadcast television and radio at times of the day when children are likely to be exposed (Trager et al 442, 456).
By selecting and curating content, it could be argued that Snapchat took on the role of information content provider. A Snapchat spokesperson said that “Our Discover partners have editorial independence…” (Gardner). Snapchat may want to give the impression that the discover partners are truly independent but they can be de-platformed instantly if the CEO does not like the content they provided, as former Discover partner Yahoo found out (Flynn).
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 puts most of the burden for avoiding offensive non-broadcast content on the end user, or the parents or guardians of the end user if the person is a minor (47 U.S. Code…). The law distinguishes between an interactive computer service, which is a passive tool for users to publish and consume the content they choose, and an information content provider that selects material for distribution (47 U.S. Code…).
However, I think a case can be made that Snapchat had a duty to warn. Section 230 subsection D, Obligations of interactive computer service, states (47 U.S. Code…):
“A provider of interactive computer service shall, at the time of entering an agreement with a customer for the provision of interactive computer service and in a manner deemed appropriate by the provider, notify such customer that parental control protections (such as computer hardware, software, or filtering services) are commercially available that may assist the customer in limiting access to material that is harmful to minors. Such notice shall identify, or provide the customer with access to information identifying, current providers of such protections.”
Snapchat does not allow users under the age of 13, and asks for birth dates during the signup process, so they knew that minors were using their app (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.). In that light, I think it could be argued that Snapchat was at best negligent because of their following actions:
Deliberately choosing brands such as Cosmopolitan, MTV, Comedy Central and Vice to provide content
Pushing the content headlines by making them part of the user interface so that everyone sees them without seeking them out
Pushing the content headlines unfiltered by age
Combining sexual content with images that appeal to children
Dishonesty about their editorial goals and standards for the Discover content