Propaganda 2.0

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“In an era of post-truth politics, driven by the 24-hour news cycle, diminishing trust in institutions, rich visual media, and the ubiquity and velocity of social networked spaces, how do we identify information that is tintedinformation that is incomplete, that may help affirm our existing beliefs or support someones agenda, or that may be manipulativeeffectively driving a form of propaganda?” (Lotan, Gilad. 2016.)

 

Over 70 years ago, Karl Polanyi established the term “double movement” Reviewing the most recent developments, politically, economically and socially, one may understand the value of his vision and why his ideas have been increasingly discussed lately.

Propaganda 2.0Post-truth politics

The Definition of Post-truth politics

Adjective: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,”

Why posttruth rhetoric is propaganda

This definition not only sounds familiar. The most recent events in global politics give incessant evidence that what is described as an “era” is nothing but history repeating itself.

From the economic and social context to commonly used rhetoric. It all boils down to something we all know as “Propaganda” and what it is its intent. To back these claims up, let me first outline the essential characteristics of propaganda and their objective.

Stanley’s definitions

“Propaganda is characteristically part of the mechanism,” he writes, “by which people become deceived about how best to realize their goals, and hence deceived from seeing what is in their own best interests.” This is achieved by various time-tested means — by appealing to the emotions in such a way that rational debate is sidelined or short-circuited; by promoting an insider/outsider dynamic that pollutes the broader conversation with negative stereotypes of out-of-favour groups; and by eroding community standards of “reasonableness” that depend on “norms of mutual respect and mutual accountability.” (Stanley, Jason. 2016.)

“Anti-Establishment” and “Mendacious press” allegationWolves in sheeps clothing

The most common rhetorical strategy is characterized by mixing up information with opinion. When being confronted with them, facts get mangled. Political and other opponents are bombarded with false claims. Especially when being exposed to accusations of wrongdoing themselves. Let’s just recap the “voter fraud” accusations made by Trump. But the by far most revealing rhetorical peculiarity is a reductive, Manichean storytelling (the philosophical doctrine of dualism). At the edge of having mastered a severe economic crisis, political and social tensions need a certain amount of time to decay. Increased mistrust into a government’s capacity to give its citizens with the essential resources still lingers on. Propagandists strategically exploit this mistrust and occupy these topics to establish themselves as saviors in midst of the world full of “fraudsters” In fact, they are just projecting their own manipulative traits onto the “establishment” in an effort to discredit political and social institutions in a phase of a steady progression of society. In times of increased criticism of capitalism and establishment of economic restrictions and social support. (key word “Obamacare”) Typically, at a specific point in time of this process: Just when the market has stabilized due to these changes.

This, so it appears, must be the last exit before the driving forces of neo-capitalism become obsolete.

Muslims and Mexicans

Constructing enemies while withholding own agendas:

“(…) standard slurs for ethnic groups are too widely recognized as slurs to occur in political debate in a liberal democracy,” (…) “apparently innocent words” or phrases — like welfare, work ethic, illegal immigrant — can take on negative connotations as they become “imbued, by a mechanism of repeated association, with problematic images or stereotypes.” (Stanley, Jason. 2016.)

As for Mexicans in the US, it goes for Muslims in Europe.

Playing the part of the “Bogeyman” both are being accused of a “hostile acquisition” and trying to grab what’s not have been lost during the crisis. This is, in both cases, just a hook and simultaneously distraction from their own agenda on keeping structures of self-enrichment alive. Nothing but the same has happened to the Jewish prior and during WWII.

Why it worksthe role of emotion

Strategic use of emotions

Social and economic crisis and erosion increase basis for fears. In a state in which it is hard to tell, whether fears are legitimate or not, populists have it easy to fuel anxiety. Tactics rely on triggering emotions, particularly fear to fuel such anxieties. In addition, creating an enemy (like Mexicans or Muslims) creates a shared identity and provides a source of stability. The result is a “double bind” situation in which both destruction and salvation are bound to the same source. Especially when positive changes have not fully unfolded yet, giving in to this dead — end constellation provides at least some stability.

In addition, scientific evidence shows, that likely such an emotional state is preferred to enduring the uncertainty during a process of durable change of social structures. Especially in societies in which conservatism is or was widespread (not unlikely, as findings of 2011 suggest, changes that do not fully In line with a person’s belief are less likely to be accepted.

Why it’s more hazardous today- Role of Social Media

Polarized Networked Spaces

Isolation (filter bubbles) increases insufficient falsification. Important details and the context of information fall behind. After a while, this systematically and deeply affects people’s perception of what is real and leads to increased political polarization:

“With increased political polarization, amplified by homophily — our preference to connect to people like us — and algorithmic recommender systems, we’re effectively constructing our own realities.” (Lotan, Gilad. 2016.)

Viral spread of content

Mass media distribution has changed due to multimedia interconnection. But especially since the rise of social media/networks, the amount, and speed of information circulation has increased drastically. Thus, once “fake news” is out there, there are likely not to stop before causing damage. Populists didn’t miss their opportunity to use this to their advantage. Because the viral spread of information measured and projected ahead based on simple mathematical calculations, knowing them, one has the capacity to increase the range of influence many times over the organic range. This can be achieved by buying ad space (Twitter vends ads e.g. to the Russian Telegraph) from common platforms. It can also be achieved by ”Media Hacking” and utilizing “Bots”. When it comes to these techniques, Twitter has become the most important platform. Evidently shown by the conspiracy theory known as “pizza-gate”.

If the information is distributed in this way, fact checking is nearly impossible. Concluding, that efforts to detect content like this will likely be insufficient in the undertaking of conquering “fake news”.

Information oversupply

As social media being part of neoliberal market, overproduction, and overconsumption of information throughout these platforms just as many key patterns of economic dynamics as they are in conventional production. The increase of information leads to the preference of “content easy to digest” and less consumption of credible and investigative journalism.

Data is money and viral posts are an essential source of data distribution. Which leads to the conclusion that also stopping viral propaganda by educating users. For once, because social media does not tolerate quality over quantity. Further, because quality content is unlikely to be created in a way, it could go viral.

Polanyi’ s Double Movement

Lack of a Counter Movement in the 1930s

The Great Depression of the 1930s was mainly caused by systemic failures of economic policies (Colander, David, et al. . 2011.). Back then, of the global economic downturn, resulting from WWI lead to a recession in Germany. It occurred, that, just when things started to get better, the national socialists appeared on the political landscape, later took over. The rise of fascism all over Europe is the same phenomenon we today observe in the US. Democratic structures, progressiveness, and implementation of social security had been achieved, not long before the take — over. While Europe was led into its own devastation, in the US the first steps towards a (limited) Welfare state have been undertaken. The Welfare state is a classic example of a counter, defined by the center-left. The paradigm shifts Polanyi anticipated was close to its realization during the 1960s and 1970s. Just when, as it did in Europe before, the far — right shifted policies back to the neo-liberalists advantage during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Lack of a counter movement today

The rise of the right wing in the US today is beyond has already caused damage far beyond what the 1980s rhetoric has left us with. Recent events go beyond a “push and pull” of political forces. The last time in history the right wing was as strong as today was before and during WWII. It is thus self-explanatory why a counter movement is urgently needed.

A global Counter movementImpact of self-regulating markets neo-liberalism

Diffusion of responsibility:

A deregulation of markets incites a diffusion of responsibility. This “culture of irresponsibility” is offering “gamblers” to speculate thoughtlessly — and end up “Down to the Felt”. It shows, that globally we have to deal with the same systemic failures we had to in the early 20th century. The most recent economic crisis (Financial crisis of 2007–2008) was a result of that. Instead of the perpetrator (rescuing banks, financed by taxes), the taxpayer was burdened with preventing banks from getting bankrupt. To offset the national budget economic growth must be promoted, resulting in increased pressure on the middle class (and lower class), a decrease of income, increase in vulnerable employment, insufficient social protection, temporary employment, and stigmatization of unemployment.

In short: to the erosion of the labor market and social inequality that struck the global economy back then.

Why Europe (EU) isn’t immune

Democratic deficits

Despite the support, some critical issues remain to challenge the political legitimacy of the EU. Especially insufficient civic involvement has been widely criticized for decades. Moreover, political experts are concerned, that the next severe economic crisis could cause irreversible damage to European solidarity.

Risky policies

States of the EU continue to undermine the foundation of the EU. Aside from Brexit, other states repeatedly try to establish their national agenda and violating laws. Apart from this, the EU’s current precarious financial situation which culminated in the ECB’s decrease in base rate to 0 per cent could indeed spark a severe financial crisis in the near future. Thus, form a basis for propagandists to gain ground also in Europe (of which parts already exist, according to findings of recent studies, reviewed by Armin Schäfer).

The free market does not operate self-regulatory but is an artificially created system, based on accelerated economic inequality, founded by shifting political, economic and social influence for capitalists. This artificially insufficient influence makes it essential to form social movements.

Polanyi’s theory of the “Counter movement” requires left — centrist actors to form a “Movement of protection” to re-establish social justice.

Inclusion of the missing counter movement into Social Media

“Second, a new generation has grown up that sees the technologies of communication and connectivity not as a threat but as a tool for building stronger ties of community and solidarity. Younger people do not appear to share their parent’s fears or ambivalence about a greater degree of social interdependence; they simply take it as a given. These changes could mean that today’s protective counter movement has the possibility not only of protecting societies and the planet from the grave dangers posed by global markets but of finally ending the double movement itself. However, such a radical transformation would require social mobilization on a global scale, the creation of new global institutions, and the elaboration of a new paradigm for conceptualizing individual freedom in a complex society.” (Polanyi, Karl. 1945.)

Social media has been taken over by Populists. Most essential channels of communication are poisoned by the spread of fear, hatred, and lies. A counter movement must first and foremost unmask the real source of misinformation and confront the movement with their underlying agenda. It must outline the causes and consequences of polarization and come up with constructive ideas to solve the issues hidden underneath increased social and political tensions. It further needs to establish online communities and networks of its own and establish groups in social networks.

Despite claims to take effective measure against the spread of hate fueled rhetoric, recent studies published by the “Oxford Internet Institute” suggest these claims remain unconverted.

Due to the fast-paced media consumption, platforms like BuzzFeed are crucial for transporting these ideas. As argued above, the information overload generated a preference for “light” content. Reaching an audience in an effort to falsify propaganda, information flow and underlining the uniqueness of content must be placed into the center of attention.

A blueprint to re-establish social justice

“Man [sic] becomes mature and able to exist as a human being in a
complex society.” (Polanyi, Karl. 1945.)

Polanyi’ ideas provide some valuable inspiration.

The redistribution of wealth is much less a side effect than a goal to be reached. With the EU falling apart, this might indeed be the moment of a movement laying the cornerstones of a global reorientation. The most important aspect the genuine transfer of power and changing the institutional structures of market societies. In addition, on a global level, creating “new international Institutions to manage trade and financial flows.”

Works Cited

Colander, David, Michael Goldberg, Armin Haas, Alan Kirman, Katarina Juselius, Brigitte Sloth, and Thomas Lux. “The Financial Crisis and the Systemic Failure of Academic Economics.” Lessons from the Financial Crisis (2011): 427–36. Print.

Polanyi, Karl. Origins of Our Time: The Great Transformation. London: V. Gollancz, 1945. Print.

 

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