Insightful newsletter of Drishtikone: Issue #235 - The Power of Lies
Lies spread in a society, even if fact-checked and corrected, have a life of their own. They can set emotions and consequences into motion that no one could have predicted.
“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” ― H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy
The entire premise of the seeds of mistrust sowed within the Kaurav mindset, specifically for Dhritrashtra and Duryodhan was that Pandavs were going to take over their kingdom of Hastinapur.
When war seemed imminent, Krishna made three trips to Hastinapur to negotiate on behalf of the Pandavs. He came to a point where he was willing to get just one village for each of the five Pandav brothers and leave everything else for the Kauravs.
But Duryodhana refused to part with even one inch.
The premise which had sown the seeds of mistrust was obviously false and misleading. At least now. It was basically meant to create enemies within the family.
Over the months and years that followed, the snowballing of that premise based on lies created an atmosphere of hatred and disgust. To a point where even Krishna was not spared.
That is the power of lies.
Even when you realize that they were lies, as was obvious during Krishna’s negotiations if not earlier, you cannot go back and correct the original set of lies. They have taken a life of their own and set in motion emotions on a gigantic scale.
To a point where the questions facing the family were different. It wasn’t whether one set of cousins would take over the kingdom of the other set of cousins. But how to kill them for even thinking of that and the many transgressions that had followed after that original lie of Pandavs’ right to Hastinapur’s kingdom. Something that they were willing to give up anyway by then!
That is the danger posed by those who create fissures in society by spreading lies - they turn distrust into hatred and then disgust until war and violence is the only way forward.
how lies used strategically can control masses
We had discussed the disgraceful incident where many journalists and prominent people shared an outright lie without any checking about the portrait unveiled by the President of India, the highest citizen. (Issue #234 - Journalism as Weapon).
Most of them had not even retracted. Hardly anyone owned up the responsibility of spreading lies. (Please read about the impact of “belief echoes” later in this newsletter to understand the import of their mischief)
The President’s office wrote a letter to one of the publications, whose journalists were particularly active in this shameful spreading of lies.
The so-called journalists were obviously at their lying best. They had done no fact-check. Not called the President’s office before trying to malign it of being stupid and foolish. Basic journalism 101 that even a “Dummies guide” would teach you were ignored and thrown away. Deliberately, it so appears.
Siddarth Vardarajan’s TheWire is one trashy tabloid that is known for fabricating stories and sharing lies. They did that with respect to Hathras when an honor-killing was presented as a caste killing. (Read Issue #146 - Caste is NOT proof of a crime!) Now he is working to fabricate yet another lie.
The District Magistrate of Rampur, Uttar Pradesh called out his lies on Twitter.
When challenged, he was forced to “update his story” but also add the part that it was “official declaration”. Versus what? A conspiracy theory that he made up in his loo?! What was the evidence for what he was putting out except someone’s opinion? An ideological hit-job. Geared to do what?
Create tensions and violence-prone situation!
Siddarth Vardarajan, the US citizen peddling lies in India (financed by?) just shut up after that.
creating and spreading propaganda lies
In 1938, Orson Welles, a legendary director, actor, and producer - often compared to Guru Dutt in India for their similar cinematic styles - did an interesting experiment. While he narrated an adaptation from HG Wells’ novel “The War of the Worlds, which described aliens invading our planet, a few new bulletins interjected. These news bulletins (false and made-up) talked about an extreme emergency situation - Martians had landed. In New Jersey!
It was also announced that these aliens - the Martians - had fired heat-ray weapons at the public and had, by now overpowered the US Military as well. (Source)
Remember, those were times of geopolitical drama. World War II started a year later.
There was a huge panic. Police stations were flooded with emergency calls. Electricity companies got calls to switch off the power in certain areas so the aliens would not see their sub-divisions and go away. People were angry at Orson Wells for this “prank.”
“After the broadcast,” Welles later said, “I was blocked by an impassioned crowd of news people looking for blood, and the disappointment when they found I wasn’t hemorrhaging.”
In 2019, the top 100 fake stories on Facebook were viewed 150 million times! (Sources).
What Orson Welles did was an example of the Magic Bullet theory used extensively by the propagandists.
Magic Bullet Theory (also called Hypodermic Needle Theory): The "Magic Bullet" theory graphically assumes that the media's message is a bullet fired from the "media gun" into the viewer's "head". Similarly, the "Hypodermic Needle Model" uses the same idea of the "shooting" paradigm. It suggests that the media injects its messages straight into the passive audience. (Source)
There are three types of Propaganda: White propaganda, Gray propaganda, and Black propaganda
White Propaganda is when a notion is promoted using simplistic and positive but extremely selective images and associations. The Source of the content is made public.
Gray Propaganda is when a notion is promoted using misleading images and/or associations. In such cases, the sources could be concealed.
Black Propaganda is when a notion is promoted using deliberately misleading images and/or associations. In these cases, the sources are mostly concealed.
While creating propaganda, care is taken to appeal to the emotion of the target audience, not the intellect.
That is how some of the popular techniques work.
Glittering Generalities techniques, for example, makes use of high value sounding concepts. Like Human Rights, Freedom, Equality, and Justice. Words offered as ‘glittering generalities’ automatically demand approval from the audience. I mean, how could you even argue against Human Rights or Equality? Once that is thrown at you, then behind the generalities, any argument can be sneaked in.
Card Stacking is another technique that has been used by advertisers very profitably. The propagandist only presents the information that supports his idea, while leaving out information that presents his notion in a negative light. The cards are stacked in favor of the propagandist’s notion. It’s not as if the information presented is false. Some of it is true, but it leaves out the other information that is critical. The impact of that small amount of truth is dangerous in terms of associations that are created with those products or notions. For example, old advertising for Coke presented it as a drink as having a “natural wholesome blending of pure food flavors.” We all know now how patently dishonest that is.
The science of propaganda is very complex these days. And the experts use many tools to get messages across.
The most potent ones obviously involve lies and misinformation.
The power of lies and misinformation is great. If these have been spread well enough, then even when someone counters them by facts and truth, they have a continued influence.
It is also called “belief echoes.”
Corrections often fail because the misinformation, even when explained in the context of a debunk, can later be recalled as a fact. If we think back to dual process theory, quicker, automatic thinking can mean we recall information, but forget that it was corrected. For example, if you read a debunk about a politician falsely shown to be drunk in a manipulated video, you may later simply recall the idea of that politician being drunk, forgetting the negation. (Source)
In a very interesting experiment by First Draft, a bunch of journalists were put together in groups and provided platforms like Twitter and Facebook as well to promote their messages.
Now, Jen Schwartz, who works with Scientific American, played Editor-in-Chief of a propaganda farm in a simulation.
She was not just sharing lies and incorrect messages, but when asked to take responsibility - as the Rampur DM asked of Siddharth Vardarajan - their communication department stonewalled the critics. Just like Vardarajan!
We watched the feeds react with more and more outrage to the “news” we published. Our comms director stonewalled our competitors, who kept asking us to take responsibility for our actions, even forming a coalition to call us out. (Source)
In fact, in one tip, someone on Social media reported that an active shooter had entered her voting premises. One of the newsrooms got this byte from the local police - “At this time, we are not aware of any active shooting threat or event. We are investigating.”
While other journalists and newsgroups went to investigate the incident, Jen’s reaction was to “terrible opening in the statement’s inconclusiveness.” So her directions to her team were:
“Let’s question the integrity of the cops,” I whispered maniacally to my team. (Source)
In light of how outlets like TheQuint, TheWire, ThePrint have been reporting on the entire attack by the so-called protestors - does that sound familiar?
Throughout the whole experiment, Jen’s team was not always lying outright. They were using the Card-stacking trick very effectively.
Once we were on a roll, I paused to survey the room. I watched the other teams spending all their energy on facts and framing and to-be-sures, scrambling to publish just one article debunking the misleading ideas we had scattered like dandelion seeds. We didn’t even need to lie outright: maybe there was an active shooter! In the fog of uncertainty, we had exploited a grain of possible truth. (Source)
This is exactly what every one covering the insurrection in India’s capital with a certain slant has done.
Acting as the liar, the bad guy took its toll on Jen and her team. Her final revelation was powerful.
Playing the bad guy showed me how the design of platforms is geared toward controlling minds, not expanding them.
And, that is important.
We have now come to a point where the design of platforms is geared to control minds. Not expand them.
So remember - Expansion of your perspective with an objective to touch the truth is not somebody else’s business. It’s yours!
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video corner: Ancient Peru - Shark Hunters?
Even though the ancient South American civilization and Peru, in particular, was very advanced and rich culturally, very little is known outside those countries.
There are a lot of similarities between the Peruvian civilization and those in India. Read this extract from Hinduism Today.
"Sri V. Ganapati Sthapati," read Deva Rajan's fax to our Hawaii editorial office from Machu Picchu high in the rugged Andes Mountains of Peru, South America, "has just measured with tape, compass and a lay-out story pole, two ancient Incan structures at Machu Picchu: a temple and a residence. He has confirmed that the layout of these structures, locations for doors, windows, proportions of width to length, roof styles, degree of slopes for roofs, column sizes, wall thicknesses, etc., all conform completely to the principles and guidelines as prescribed in the Vastu Shastras of India. Residential layouts are identical to those found in Mohenjodaro. The temple layouts are identical to those that he is building today and that can be found all over India." (Source)
Here is a very informative video on the ancient Peruvian civilizations and specifically about the Shark Hunters. This is because there were many sea creatures have been found buried in Peru, including Sharks. (Source)
Check it out.
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