MEDIA & PROPAGANDA
“Those who consciously manipulate of the habits and opinions of the masses constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed , our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of."
THE SCIENCE OF PERSUASION
Thomas Jefferson believed that the heart of a democracy is an informed citizenry. One can only wonder then what the author of the Declaration of Independence would say if he were suddenly thrust into present day America and confronted by the flood of disinformation washing over the republic each day.
In addition to the lies, innuendo and unfounded rumors that pass for news on social media, the country’s third president would be aghast to discover that the Russian intelligence Service employs thousands of full-time workers who author fake news articles, social media posts, and comments on mainstream U.S. websites.
And these operations don’t stop at the Russian border. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the 50 countries with the worst human rights violation records have spent $168 million on American lobbyists and PR specialists since 2010.
Audio and video forgery capabilities are, in turn, making astounding progress, thanks to a boost from artificial intelligence. In the future, realistic fakes will constantly confront people. Confronted by altered audio, video, images, and documents, people will struggle to know whom and what to trust.
Rather than defenders of the truth, what we have is a proliferation of con artists who thrive in times of social and political upheaval. According to Maria Kornikova, author of The Confidence Game, “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true. And once we’ve accepted a story as true, we’re not likely to question it; on the contrary, we will probably unconsciously bend any contradictory information to conform to the conclusion we’ve already drawn.”
Though highly sophisticated, none of this is new. The rules for most of the cant, hyperbole and propaganda we are witnessing today were created at the beginning of the 20th century by Edward Bernays.
In his seminal work The Engineering of Consent, Bernays writes that: “in almost every act of our daily lives, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.”