Baffle Them With Bullshit

The BBC recently opined that the goal of all those Russian bots and trolls isn’t to convince Americans of any particular fact or position–it’s to bombard us with so many competing versions of everything that nothing makes sense.

The observation reminded me of the old saying, “If you can’t convince them with your arguments, baffle them with your bullshit.”

CNN recently ran a story with a similar premise: the title was “Why Russian Trolls May be More Excited That the NFL is Back Than You Are.

The same Kremlin-linked group that posed as Americans on social media during the 2016 US presidential election has repeatedly exploited the controversy surrounding the NFL and players who have protested police brutality and racial injustice during the National Anthem, playing both sides in an effort to exacerbate divides in American society.

The debate is almost certainly an irresistible one for the Russians, given that it includes issues of race, patriotism, and national identity — topics the Russian trolls sought to exploit during the run-up to the election, and have continued to focus on in the two years since.

Propaganda in the age of the Internet has gotten far more sophisticated, and the goals it pursues are no longer limited to winning a particular debate or political campaign. The changes really started in earnest with Big Tobacco–the PR firms trying to head off new regulations realized that a frontal attack on the medical science showing that smoking is linked to cancer would fail, because contrary scientific studies paid for by the tobacco companies wouldn’t be seen as credible.

Instead, they hit on a tactic that has since been used to great effect by  other special interests, most notably fossil fuel companies denying climate change: they claimed that the evidence was still “inconclusive” and Congress should wait for more information before acting. Encouraging confusion was far more effective than attacking the science. The tactic played into the reluctance of lawmakers to pick a side in contentious debates.

It’s even easier for the Russians, because their goal is simply to divide us. They don’t care which side “wins” a debate–their goal is to add fuel to the fire and watch it burn.

Darren Linvill, an associate professor at Clemson University who has been studying the Russian group’s behavior with his colleague Patrick Warren, explained that the trolls “don’t slant toward one side or the other in the NFL flag debate, but they do slant very steeply to both extremes,” he said.

“Kaepernick is either a hero fighting a corrupt system or a villain who has betrayed his country. It’s two very simple, divisive story lines told at the same time with the goal of dividing our country rather than adding nuance to an ongoing, important national conversation.”

The most pernicious aspect of a fragmented media environment in which partisans can “shop” for the realities they want to find is the overwhelming uncertainty that less ideological citizens experience. We no longer know which sources are credible, which advocacy groups we can trust, which “breaking news” items have been vetted and verified.

We don’t know what’s bullshit and what isn’t–and that’s paralyzing.

17 thoughts on “Baffle Them With Bullshit

  1. Well, if your “research” consists of meme hunting, then I guess the Russians are on to something.

    Do we honestly think racists need Russian bots to seeth when a black football takes a knee?

    Every once in a while I’ll engage a Neanderthal on Facebook to see where it goes. They always justify their racism with patriotism. It’s disrespectful to those who served and died so we can have freedom and democracy. They also believe we are spreading the same “freedom and democracy” to other countries which is why we must spend $1 trillion on our military each year.

    It takes lots of propaganda to convince Americans they are free and have a country run by democratic principles. Look at all the names the billionaire Koch’s give to their faux organizations. LOL

    As ML posted yesterday, the Oligarchy uses a Meritocracy to choose who serves them and who doesn’t. Those chosen are willing sycophants. It is nothing more than a host/parasite relationship.

    When you have a society that worships money, guess what?

    Big Tobacco was one of the first industries post WW2 to use the expertise of Edward Bernays. They wanted to introduce women to smoking. Edward used a New York parade where he hired models to work the parade and smoke. He turned the media on to the idea and lots of films were taken of these cool looking ladies smoking cigarettes. It became all the rage and a huge profit-making endeavor for Big Tobacco. The cancer industry was launched.

  2. Along with the manipulation of social media by the Russians and far right, there is also a kind of manipulation of the news media by those who own and advertise on the TV news media. Left and right each paint a picture of an America that will appeal to potential customers whose vote or money is being sought.

    During recent coverage of Hurricane Florence there was a snippet of a report about looting. There was no follow up to confirm or debunk that information. Likewise, in an interview with one flood victim she reported the desperation of some that has led to shootings. Again, no follow up, no confirmation, no clarification. The impression left is that all flood victims are facing the disaster with stoic forbearance.

    Too many in the news media have given up on journalism and have become look’n good cheerleaders. In the Trump era this is an indifference to duty of the worst kind.

  3. The CIA and other government agencies regularly hack into other governments’ computer systems to spy and do mischief. It is well documented they sometimes do much worse. If we accept that premise, where do we go from here with Russia et al? I suggest we lay off the hysteria and work toward agreements we employ in every other aspect of international relations.

  4. We should all try to be a little skeptical of whatever we see, hear, or read.

    VOTE BLUE! (Don’t be skeptical about this.)

  5. I check the source of Facebook posts; if unknown or known to be unreliable I Google the information. I often drag out 1 of my 4 dictionaries to check usage of a word or phrase to check my understanding of the reported usage. There have been Facebook posts which are blatantly wrong, quotes which are known lies or those being quoted are known liars. The inherent laziness of too many Americans has allowed misinformation to be passed on as truth or truth to be ignored. I did learn that clicking on “share” on Facebook does not always include posted comments with the “share”; this caused confusion among some of my friends when I sent on something blatantly wrong but they didn’t get my comments regarding why they should ignore the information.

    Theresa’s reference to the supposed Florence looters is an excellent example. I was glued to MSNBC during and after Katrina and the levee collapses regarding the looting and killing that was reported as rampant around the city arena. I watched hours of live coverage of suffering people, a few filmed reports of looting and one older man named Charlie pushing a shopping cart filled with necessities for infants and toddlers. He readily admitted to looting the available stores for the items because “No one is helping the little ones.” The young mothers who picked out items for their babies were asked by Charlie to please, only take what you need for today, others are in need. Without fail every young girl or woman picked out only a few necessary items. I watched those trapped by the floods helping one another IF they could. I also saw them move dead bodies and cover them respectfully. We have seen little personal coverage of Florence victims because many are not within reach due to flooding. Puerto Rico is again a topic of importance; little was known or shown of their destruction. Trump has no understanding the Puerto Rico is an American territory and all residents are American citizens; deserving of the same help the 50 states receive.

    Per all newscasts; we have not yet seen the worst of the flooding in the Carolinas. Trump, rather than tossing Bounty paper towels to hurricane survivors did hand out some prepared foods…told the victims to “Have a good time.” Worse than “Good job, Brownie!” from George W.

    If you pay attention, have been paying attention all along and take time to do some research; you can sort out the bullshit for yourself, no matter the source. The realities of the current Kavanaugh situation regarding the sexual accusation, although years old, is another incidence of Republican’s attempt to cover up a possible sexual attack by one of their own as they have covered up Trump’s. legally filed sex abuse charges by 19 women Like a cat covering it’s shit in a litter box; their bullshit goes on …and on, and on, and on.

    VOTE BLUE!

  6. Walter White’s Variant: If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

  7. This makes perfect sense, most unfortunately. You can paralyze your enemy without using traditional military forces and thanks to the methodologies being used extend your reach and wreak havoc in a very cost effective way as well. As everyone else replicates the same techniques the whole world descends into chaos and those that are out to run the whole show by hook or by crook gain a tremendous upper hand. Sure wish Carl Von Clausewitz was still around so he can write another chapter in Vom Kreige (On War), it was finished after his death. While not knowing Carl personally I can’t imagine that he wouldn‘t be totally fascinated by what is happening. It also shows just how weak we are, or maybe the way to really express it is how weak we have become. This is only the beginning given that there is much more to come and we had better find a way deal with this and the state and non-state actors that are doing it without going kinetic in our response to it.

    Once again, as it seems to always be the case, we’re caught behind the curve and playing catch up although at this juncture the threats is coming at us at light speed. Now we’re dealing with means of conducting warfare where geography and large standing military forces have no bearing at all. Who needs nuclear weapons when you can flatten a country and its society and drive them utterly nuts through cyber warfare.

  8. The same thing applies to the administration and we live with it every day..Who has time to search around the net for Russian BS when we have plenty thrown at us 24/7 by our own government.

  9. Yes, Americans are particularly vulnerable to bullshit. After all, 62 million of us voted for someone who is the gold standard for bullshit. People get bullshit from constant advertising. People get bullshit from social media and even the mainstream media. So, therefore, bullshit is normal to the lives of those who choose not to follow up on facts.

    How did all this happen? I think this is an artifact of unregulated capitalism.

  10. I would agree with Todd’s statement > “Do we honestly think racists need Russian bots to seeth when a black football takes a knee?”

    Jim Crow appeared shortly after the Civil War. The racists were carrying around Confederate Flags long before the Internet – think of the George Wallace Era.

    Today anyone with a lap top and the knowledge to photo shop can spread all sorts of lies and mis-information instantly around the world to millions. 40 years ago people were racists, rabid right wing and sexist but were severely limited in terms of audience.

    It did not take the Russians to invent this age of trolling.

    As I have posted here before the greatest danger to the American Republic is not some Russian Bots, it is our own American Oligarchs who can fund attack ads via PACS, and Super PACS and also create permanent organizations to direct their bribed elected officials to protect the 1% from the Proles.

  11. Vernon

    “How did all this happen? I think this is an artifact of unregulated capitalism.”

    That is so very true. I’d add in the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine!

  12. There’s no doubt that our enemies are benefiting from the dysfunction that our entertainment media inculcated into our culture. I doubt that it’s stoppable.

    My “front” lately in the war is Facebook, not glamorous but I want to do what I can.

    Therefore I am nose to nose everyday with the enemy. They, like their hero Agent Orange, are incorrigible, unable and/or unwilling to learn from their mistakes because their belief is that our liberal democracy needs to be blown up in order to halt progress in order, they believe, to lock in the past that entitled them.

    It’s hard to tell from Facebook what the size of their army is but what’s clear is their hard headedness. They adamantly protect themselves from any and all learning.

    So, our problems are pernicious. It would be nice, and it’s possible that they are a voting minority and now that we are all awake the first step in recovery will be successful in Nov. If not, the Republic may be lost.

    In the meantime the Democrat Party is completely focused on doing Job 1, defeating the SCOTUS Justice nominee who was nominated simply because he believes that the President is above the law as most monarchs are. It’s political mud wrestling but when the ship is sinking it is an all hands emergency.

    Let’s both wish them success and do our job at the polls.

  13. Off subject, but remember that old saying -Dress for Success??? As a man in a white collar job, the three piece suit, expensive polished shoes and a power tie were requirements, to be seen as eligible for advancement. The saga of Kavanaugh continues.

    So yesterday I posted:
    A note on background per WIKI – Kavanaugh was raised in Bethesda, Maryland. As a teenager he attended Georgetown Preparatory School, where he was two years senior to future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

    Georgetown Preparatory School is a Jesuit university-preparatory, boarding and day school for boys in grades 9–12, school in North Bethesda, Maryland. It is among the most selective prep schools.

    Kavanaugh led a life of insularity and privilege, from expensive private prep schools to the Ivy League (Yale and Yale Law School).
    *******************************************
    Something new on the Yale front:

    A top professor at Yale Law School who strongly endorsed supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a “mentor to women” privately told a group of law students last year that it was “not an accident” that Kavanaugh’s female law clerks all “looked like models” and would provide advice to students about their physical appearance if they wanted to work for him, the Guardian has learned.

    Amy Chua, a Yale professor who wrote a bestselling book on parenting called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, was known for instructing female law students who were preparing for interviews with Kavanaugh on ways they could dress to exude a “model-like” femininity to help them win a post in Kavanaugh’s chambers, according to sources.

    Yale provided Kavanaugh with many of the judge’s clerks over the years, and Chua played an outsized role in vetting the clerks who worked for him. But the process made some students deeply uncomfortable.

    In one case, Jed Rubenfeld, also an influential professor at Yale and who is married to Chua, told a prospective clerk that Kavanaugh liked a certain “look”.

    “He told me, ‘You should know that Judge Kavanaugh hires women with a certain look,’” one woman told the Guardian. “He did not say what the look was and I did not ask.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/20/brett-kavanaugh-supreme-court-yale-amy-chua
    *****************************************************
    This “vetting” by Yale’s Chua and her husband, sounds remarkably like President Agent Orange’s beauty pageants. The buttoned down Ivy League Yale, looks to have a similar selection process. The Stepford Wives being played out at Yale for real.

  14. I must say, that your assessment is spot on! The articles I saw on Facebook were exactly that – one would be on one side of an issue and others on various other sides – en masse and copiously. Fake accounts were found by the hundreds on my four year stint on Facebook. I would warn people all the time – see WHO your friends are BEFORE you friend them. But there are mindless zombies by the millions on these platforms of social media with the brains of amoeba and less with an attention span that lasts as fast as they can flash through pages at a time of media and comment off the spur of the second. With absolutely no understanding what so ever of the importance or not of a subject. I mean what more could a devious mind want to spread chaos… ? Through in a few whores and dope dealers and scammers on the side – you have your circus all packaged for you all you have to do is set up an account under a false id and scam address and you are set to broadcast to mindless zombies by the millions – your agenda. Simple the more we attempt liberal freedom of thought and expression – some sons and daughters of a bitch decide to muck up the works for their own devious and underhanded agendas or wants. In this the most perfect of all worlds… (ahem!) I don’t see us finding a solution too soon. Too many voices and now a populace not sure of which voice is speaking something relevant and true that they can trust. The program of the upsetting of confidence has obviously won the majority. Wouldn’t that make it a good time for ‘the minority’ (as the majority of Americans is now called…) to stand up and say ENOUGH? Enough of us being told by the unknowing what we know to do. Bitch, gotta GO!

  15. We should not be surprised that Russian propaganda gives us both sides of any issue since, after all, the plan is to stir up chaos among the masses, not attempt to solve issues but rather to stir up discontent, inflame old hatreds etc. Putin has done a good job, and on the cheap since it is far less expensive to subvert the enemy’s beliefs and institutions and provide for their internal downfall than to have a war, a lesson our hawks have not learned with their gifts of trillions to our defense establishment in the name of “national security” (when in fact spending such enormous sums to the disregard of other spending priorities is in itself a threat to “national security”).

    Vern has pointed to capitalism as the basic culprit and he may be right, but we have had other “isms” fall as well since capitalism is no better or worse than they are in fomenting change via revolution or, as in our case, internal breakdown by reason of failure to stand up for our democratic institutions in ignoring the Putins and tobacco and fossil fuel sectors of this world. I can remember pre-WWII tobacco ads claiming that doctors preferred Camels by 2-1 over Lucky Strikes, and Ronald Reagan made an ad for Chesterfields claiming that “they satisfy.” I had a cousin who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers who made an ad for a sports magazine with his smiling picture in color telling us (like Reagan) that Chesterfields “satisfy.” I confronted him in the off-season, telling him I didn’t know he smoked. His reply: “I don’t, but they paid me money.” “They” now pay politicians money, some via “campaign contributions,” others via money laundering, and yet others in Zurich and the Caymans under layers of trustees to avoid detection.

    So, Vern, perhaps money is the problem – whatever the “ism” – since capitalists, communists, socialists, and (especially) libertarians are proven to be excellent larcenists, and perhaps greed (and fear) as manifested by a driving human need to acquire undergird the success of Putins and advertising oblivious to consequence beyond Madison Avenue. My guess is that there are a number of things we can point to in trying to distinguish between symptom and cause in this connection, and putting them together in the form of a coherent explanation is beyond my pay grade. I’m not that smart.

  16. Gerald,

    I do not mean to put words in Vernon’s mouth, but I suspect he might mean “unfettered” capitalism, a condition not yet totally here, but the goal of a host of oligarchs, Republicans, etc. I am often guilty of writing the same condemnation when what I really mean is unfettered, or deregulated capitalism.

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