Disinformation and the National Elections: A Rant
In 2016, Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews conducted a study of the sudden shift of Russian propaganda from old-school obfuscating techniques of the Soviet Era to the contemporary multi-channeled, rapid-fire information bombardment through the use of the Internet. They called it the Firehose of Falsehood Propaganda Model, and it is characterized by these elements:
- High-volume and multichannel;
- Rapid, continuous, and repetitive;
- Lacks commitment to objective reality; and
- Lacks commitment to consistency;
The first element highlights the model’s efficiency in delivering the product to its targets. It aims to bombard the target with misleading or just outright false information to deprive them of the time to think. The medium of delivery should also be not isolated. The product must be delivered in those places wherein people spend most of their time. So if one application delivers the said product, it should also be compounded with other applications to saturate the information ecosystem of the target. This destroys the variety of content present in the application that serves as a natural check to any content that might dominate.
The delivery should also be fast and repetitive, for the more the content gets repeated, the more it is believable and the more it will garner attention time which in turn jives well with the algorithm of the applications. The algorithm is intelligent. It tries on you a variety of different products to see what bites and what does not. Once it finally extracts from you a pattern, then it will reinforce said pattern to make you more susceptible and conducive to additional products that usually contain the same content.
See, these social media companies rely on the “flashy” business model of advertising. An advertisement must captivate the target with too-good-to-be-true claims, and one maximizes its use by using keywords that MUST evoke reflexive responses from the target. That’s why there is an endless proliferation of posts and videos that contain captions or titles that are all capitalized; are framed as exposé; are constructed along the question of Why?; and are mainly addressed to an individual or a group that is perceived as the evil that should be vanquished because of some baseless accusations.
Since these products are designed to attract attention and keep the target consuming, there is a consistent disregard for whether or not the content abides by objective reality or not. Indeed, whether they put fact or fiction in the content itself is not part of the equation. Creators of these products are not concerned with whatever the content might contain, it is only engineered to attain a goal. As a result, when a careful observer looks at them systematically, one product more often than not contradicts another. Creators do not notice this because again, they’re more invested less in the validity of the content than in the shock of it and the feelings it might evoke.
It’s amazing to think how this simple equation works wonders. It’s more effective when a population uses the services of the Internet and social media greater than others. Although some unscrupulous elements in the world have seen how it can be mobilized for nefarious purposes; how it can produce extreme emotions such as hate for a group or an individual. Once hate is present, politicians can tap into this hateful mass to propagate more lies that breed more hate and push extremists into doing actions that they might not even do if they are just given time to ponder about what they feel.
Extreme emotions notwithstanding, through the use of this powerful tool, leaders can shift public scrutiny and protect their own interests by burying the scrutiny under divisive public opinions. Once this loyal, and at the same time, the hateful group has been created, they can be tangibly used to hinder real-world proceedings and alter what could be a very stressful moment for a politician. They can say to their loyal throng that their opponent is trying to silence them and that they are planning for the eventual destruction of the country which of course is usually unfounded. Still, the crowd, of course, has been deprived of their critical faculties to say that this is not so.
We have seen populist governments arise the world over. It is a pattern among the countries where this kind of government is prevalent that there is the excessive use of disinformation to stoke feelings of spiteful anger towards something that is barely explained. The Internet is a barely explored field, and government laws cannot keep up with the proliferation of the various methods divisive individuals might use to further their own interests at the expense of social stability. Populist governments have managed to further widen the decade-old social division within their own countries, and populist leaders have presented themselves as the only solutions to bridge this divide.
Populism is destructive for it tramples on truths that a democracy needs to work and to become stable. In the Philippines, presumptive president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., the son of the former dictator, was able to attain a landslide win in the national elections because of the disinformation machine that has been planned shortly after his family went into exile in 1986. It found further improvement when the Internet came into being. He was able to render in front of his massive support base the different guilty court judgments he and his family received virtually non-bearing; their validity was thrown into question.
On top of that, his support base now believes in a “golden” past that the “evil” opposition has destroyed and has virtually reduced historical facts, together with guilty court judgments, to just mere mudslinging on the reputation of the Marcos family. Who knows what they might be capable of doing eventually? Maybe engage in violence at the behest of their lord? One thing is clear as of now, that this coming presidency will open a totally bleak, petrifying image of the country for the next six years, and the president-elect has the resources and has the army to force it into reality.
Junior’s assuming the highest elected position of the land is, by itself, the epitome of everything that has plagued this country. His election into the presidency through the use of disinformation and misplaced unhistorical reminiscence of the days of the brutal Martial Law is possibly the greatest manifestation of this country’s rotten traditional patronage politics, entrenched political dynasties, nepotism, anti-intellectualism, the non-remembrance and denial of the brutal past, the decaying state of education, the absence of justice, the country’s poor as no more than a vote farm for the parasitic class of the traditional elite who keeps the former in destitution for their misery brings them benefits, and our politicians’ reluctance to recognize all of these.