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Online manipulation

Updating Conspiracy Theory: The Rise of Weaponised Narrative and Manipulation Via Social Networks

The past few months has seen a proliferation of think pieces about ‘fake news’, much of it overstated or wrong-headed, and much also ignoring the fact that fake news has been around as long as news has. But there is certainly some truth at the centre of it all, and it may be more a case that the rise of social networks has allowed for a new type of ‘personalised’ manipulation via fake, hyperbolic and/or emotive stories, and it is that which we are noticing.

For those wishing to better inform themselves – in order to protect themselves against this manipulation – I heartily recommend two articles in particular. The first is a DefenseOne article titled “Weaponized Narrative Is the New Battlespace“:

Weaponized narrative seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity, and will by generating complexity, confusion, and political and social schisms. It can be used tactically, as part of explicit military or geopolitical conflict; or strategically, as a way to reduce, neutralize, and defeat a civilization, state, or organization. Done well, it limits or even eliminates the need for armed force to achieve political and military aims.

The article hits the nail on the head, I think, by pointing out the ‘information overload’ we are now experiencing makes us vulnerable to oversimplified, emotive narratives (a key component also in the rise in ‘populist’ movements):

Cultures, institutions, and individuals are, among many other things, information-processing mechanisms. As they become overwhelmed with information complexity, the tendency to retreat into simpler narratives becomes stronger.

Under this stress, cultures fragment. Institutions are stretched until they become ineffective or even dysfunctional. Individuals who define their identity primarily through the state – such as Americans, Russians, Chinese, or Europeans – retreat to a mythic Golden Age nationalism, while those who prioritize cultural and religious bonds retreat to fundamentalism.

…By offering cheap passage through a complex world, weaponized narrative furnishes emotional certainty at the cost of rational understanding. The emotionally satisfying decision to accept a weaponized narrative — to believe, to have faith — inoculates cultures, institutions, and individuals against counterarguments and inconvenient facts. This departure from rationality opens such ring-fenced belief communities to manipulation and their societies to attack.

While the observations in the DefenseOne article are mostly about a new type of battleground between nation states, the second article I recommend takes this one step further, and shows how any rich and powerful individual can push their own political view by manipulating us via weaponized narrative that uses our own social data against us. The article, “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media“, starts off rather blandly, discussing one of the biggest funders of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Robert Mercer – “a billionaire who is, as billionaires are wont, trying to reshape the world according to his personal beliefs”. It is the later part of the article, when it discusses how Mercer is doing this, that we should all be paying major attention to:

there was another reason why I recognised Robert Mercer’s name: because of his connection to Cambridge Analytica, a small data analytics company. He is reported to have a $10m stake in the company, which was spun out of a bigger British company called SCL Group. It specialises in “election management strategies” and “messaging and information operations”, refined over 25 years in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In military circles this is known as “psyops” – psychological operations. (Mass propaganda that works by acting on people’s emotions.)

On its website, Cambridge Analytica makes the astonishing boast that it has psychological profiles based on 5,000 separate pieces of data on 220 million American voters – its USP is to use this data to understand people’s deepest emotions and then target them accordingly. The system, according to Albright, amounted to a “propaganda machine”.

…[According to the communications director of the Leave.EU (Brexit) campaign], Cambridge Analytica had worked for them…it had taught them how to build profiles, how to target people and how to scoop up masses of data from people’s Facebook profiles.

Facebook was the key to the entire campaign. A Facebook ‘like’, he said, was their most “potent weapon”. “Because using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert.

Facebook profiles – especially people’s “likes” – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results…with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself.

According to an expert in the field, Professor Jonathan Rust:

The danger of not having regulation around the sort of data you can get from Facebook and elsewhere is clear. With this, a computer can actually do psychology, it can predict and potentially control human behaviour. It’s what the scientologists try to do but much more powerful. It’s how you brainwash someone. It’s incredibly dangerous.

It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.

Quoting short sections doesn’t really do either of the articles justice – I heartily recommend reading them both in their entirety to understand how vulnerable we all are to manipulation in the 21st century. But how do we combat these types of strategies? Your suggestions are more than welcome in the comments section!

Link:Weaponized Narrative Is the New Battlespace

Link:Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media

  1. “On the Dangers of Reading”

    “But that’s not all. Do you remember how you good you felt until you read that book about a cheating spouse? Before that, you didn’t worry about the faithfulness of yours. You also did not obsess over rare diseases, traffic accidents, bacteria-laced foods bringing on an epidemic, cunning identity theft, or an internet predator lunging at an opportunity to con you out of your life savings. The list goes on. Books deliver ideas vividly, viscerally: readers hear the criminals plot inside their minds, feel the destructive viruses penetrating a human body, and agonize over the betrayal of those whom we love and trust. And this is how reading an enthralling well-written book can result in a nagging worry or fear.”

    You Are Being Played:

    Dorothy Kilgallen – “Fake News” Reporter

  2. Eyes Wide Shut
    Yes, ignorance is bliss sometimes. Once you see what’s really going on it’s hard to go back under the rock again.

    The status quo will always have free help on its side. Most humans (Grail hounds excepted, haha) generally don’t like anomalies and will consciously and unconsciously try to suppress them. That makes it very difficult to say who’s “in on it” and who’s not.


      Today’s article by Joseph Farrell at Giza Death Star nicely describes the current meme/fad – somehow we are supposed to suddenly be unable to differentiate truth from fiction because the technic has changed, but the technic has not necessarily become any more blindly persuasive than it has ever been – just witness the lame Google Ads model which to everyone I know anyway is just crude and not at all hitting its “targets” with any fidelity to its massive data sweeps – it automatically assumes that because you have “looked” at something you must therefore “believe” in it enough to want to consume it. The same goes with any information – reasonably aware people know when they are being manipulated or “led.” Even when I suspect I am being played I will nonetheless keep an angle or story filed away for comparative purposes because sometimes what you thought was outlandish sounding actually led to something revelatory. Sound familiar Daily Grail readers?
      It’s also very important to keep in mind that with stories like pizzagate the researchers doggedly attached to the story are not primarily advocating for its truthfulness but for its being worthy of investigation whereas the mainstream “fake news” ululation appears to be trying to head things off at the pass before any investigation can get going. That is very telling indeed.
      I admit I am somewhat offended by The Daily Grail’s unending publishing of articles that scold us for being “overwhelmed” by speculative information when in fact TDG revels in that very thing. I know people who think TDG is a “fake news” site extraordinaire that traffics mostly in ridiculous nonsense, but these people don’t understand fluid thinking, now do they?
      So, when “fake news’ is about political subjects TDG appears to have one standard that does not quite apply when the subject is say, paranormal, bigfoot, ufo’s, life after death and all the other stuff that “those people” whoever they are (what, Trump supporters?) just do not want to go anywhere near. Cognitive dissonance.

      1. Problems with the logic
        [quote=emlong]Today’s article by Joseph Farrell at Giza Death Star nicely describes the current meme/fad – somehow we are supposed to suddenly be unable to differentiate truth from fiction[/quote]

        The trouble with calling it a meme (dare I say the meme of calling it a meme) is, at least for me, that well before anybody in the media was talking about it I had already noticed it (and almost quit social media because of it). My Facebook feed last year was literally more than half fake news stories (mostly about immigrant violence/behaviour in Europe). So I have little time for people telling me that I’ve been played by a meme, because I noticed it before anybody told me about it.

        I think the problem is not so much that we can’t differentiate now, vs the old days – I’ve corrected many an urban legend since pre-Internet days, so we’ve always had problems – it is the amount of it and how ‘well’ it is presented (and perhaps, how targeted it is at achieving certain aims, as mentioned in the articles linked to).

        [quote]I admit I am somewhat offended by The Daily Grail’s unending publishing of articles…[/quote]

        Excellent, I’m not doing my job unless I’m offending people. 😉

        [quote]… that scold us for being “overwhelmed” by speculative information when in fact TDG revels in that very thing. I know people who think TDG is a “fake news” site extraordinaire that traffics mostly in ridiculous nonsense, but these people don’t understand fluid thinking, now do they?
        So, when “fake news’ is about political subjects TDG appears to have one standard that does not quite apply when the subject is say, paranormal, bigfoot, ufo’s, life after death and all the other stuff that “those people” whoever they are (what, Trump supporters?) just do not want to go anywhere near. Cognitive dissonance.[/quote]

        I’ve actually addressed this very issue previously (, and you commented on the story so I’m assuming you read what I said. In any case:

        “I find myself in an unusual position, because I run a website devoted to speculative theories ranging from the paranormal, through conspiracy, to rewriting history. If there is to be any purge of ‘fake news’, surely the Grail should be one of the first against the wall?

        I think the difference (perhaps I’m mistaken) is that we are always careful here to be clear that we are “exploring the fringes of science and history”, and that things we post are often speculation or early, preliminary evidence (for some time now, our logo has also featured the phrase caveat lector – ‘let the reader beware’). We also often urge readers to not “believe” anything, most especially things that confirm your own biases.

        This is important. All of us involved in exploring the edges of knowledge – and especially those of us ‘broadcasting’ this information – have an ethical responsibility to urge caution, rather than to convince. Because, as I said above, this shit can have consequences.”

        [quote]It studiously and tendentiously omits a “billionaire” who plays the very same game as the one being slow-grilled.[/quote]

        I’m not sure why the article necessarily “studiously and tendentiously omits” others, when it is (a) obviously devoted to the subject of Mercer and his involvement with computer algorithms/big data (not to mention that he is now the hidden figure behind POTUS, which puts him in a uniquely powerful position) and (b) by necessity it is already a very long read. I think your own biases are showing here (I’m not disputing the fact that there are *many* rich and powerful individuals attempting to control/manipulate the narrative, just that this article intentionally avoided talking about them.)

        [quote]There is no better “narrative weaponizer” than Soros and the people he is fronting for. He makes Mercer look a piker.[/quote]

        It’s an odd thing that people keep saying how good at media manipulation Soros is, given that Republicans now control basically everything in the U.S.. If Soros does do everything people say he does, he is an abject failure and deserves ridicule rather than myth-making, because he appears to be completely awful at being a “narrative weaponizer”….

        1. I did not say that Soros was
          I did not say that Soros was a particularly adept manipulator – many people have seen through him by now. I simply said that he was quite as capable of stirring the pot and creating mischief as this “Big Data” Mercer fellow. What they both have in common is huge piles of money to play with, and they both will be boys with their toys.
          Sorry, but I just can’t get worked up over this “Big Data” stuff. The single most “weaponized narrative” of our time was the 9/11 false flag, and that required no fancy algorithms and data mining other than making sure first that everybody was scared witless by a mainstream media either owned by the war machine nexus or intimidated mightily by the whole “you’re either with us or against us” tomfoolery spat in their faces by George Bush the Second– no fancy algorithms or “data mining” need apply.

          This whole big data/fake news song making the rounds is nothing but a diversion meant to block investigations into what Wikileaks is finding for us.
          To wit – and here’s a “caveat lector” for you – if you want to know who really controls you look at who you are not allowed to criticize:

          Google de-lists Natural News:

          1. Meanwhile at Planet Kurzweil
            Natural News claims that that Google is suppressing natural supplement websites. I wonder if Google go-to-guy Ray Kurzweil knows about that? Isn’t he like the biggest supplement user on the planet (haha)?

            By the way, I haven’t noticed any problems with googling supplements that I personally use. Has Google taken it upon themselves to suppress what they believe are “snake oil salesmen”?

          2. I heard that NaturalNews had
            I heard that NaturalNews had run some articles endorsing Trump in some way however obliquely. That, in addition to all the attacks on BigPharma, was enough for Google to de-list them apparently.

  3. Weaponized Narratives
    A couple observations here:

    1) TV was also touted as “the new electronic hearth” around which families would reconnect and rediscover their familial integrity: it did not play out that way, though. Social Media is merely the latest version of this trend – the typical use case doesn’t employ it to connect to previously unknown people/places – instead, most people use it like an echo chamber they wear on their head. People actively engage in confirmation bias and gorge themselves on whatever data they can find to reinforce their opinions.

    2) In the case of Twitter, I think there’s an inherent danger in the form (the limited number of characters) which does nothing to encourage truth-telling or factuality, if such things even exist objectively, and rather tend toward a Darwinian hyper-evolution of weaponized language. The strongest content – that is, the stuff that resonates most with readers – is crafted to make an impression, not convey insight. Twitter is the verbal equivalent of monkeys flinging poo at each other… and the stinkiest, most digusting poo often wins.

    1. “Too Many Notes!”
      “Confirmation bias” is the oldest profession. People have been aggregating in groups/tribes for eons with the express purpose of cementing ideological bias. Nothing is new about any of these current modalities of gathering except that there are “more notes.” Get over it.

      “The famous complaint of Emperor Joseph II about The Marriage of Figaro – “too many notes, Mozart” – is generally perceived to be a gaffe by a blockhead. In fact, Joseph was echoing what nearly everybody, including his admirers, said about Mozart: he was so imaginative that he couldn’t turn it off, and that made his music at times intense, even demonic. Hence Mozart’s bad, or cautionary, reviews: “too strongly spiced”; “impenetrable labyrinths”; “bizarre flights of the soul”; “overloaded and overstuffed.””

      Letting genies out of the bottle has always been at times controversial and unwelcome.

  4. “Confirmation Bias” Indeed
    Speaking of “confirmation bias” the article to which we are responding is a prime exhibit A of just such a practice. It studiously and tendentiously omits a “billionaire” who plays the very same game as the one being slow-grilled.

    “When it comes to Soros manipulating press coverage of voter fraud, the process works similar to the Soros machine’s Black Lives Matter operation. “The leaked funding documents describe how the propaganda about the ‘myth of voter fraud’ is generated by two Soros-funded organizations, moved to blogger and racially-centric media outlets, and eventually to mainstream media,” Adams explained. Indeed, almost the exact same process is used by Soros to promote hatred of the police and racial agitation, with the ultimate goal of nationalizing law enforcement. As The New American has previously reported, Soros-funded groups protest and riot, Soros-funded academics produce propaganda “studies” to justify the narrative, and then Soros-funded propaganda organs provide media coverage of it all. The Washington Times described the Soros propaganda machine as an “echo chamber.””

    There is no better “narrative weaponizer” than Soros and the people he is fronting for. He makes Mercer look a piker.

    1. Grail Rant
      It’s remarkable to me just how much “sales resistance” that the typical web surfer has today. However, “mainstream news” tends to be viewed rather uncritically by those same people.

      I don’t participate in Facebook. I also resent my Internet provider spamming me when it is a paid service. I also don’t appreciate “news sites” that seamlessly intermingle paid advertisements with other so-called real news. There truly is no shame to the game!

      Most have given up on the search for historical truth, much less contemporary truth. The Grail has increasingly come to represent a personal quest for self-actualization. I really can’t blame those who have adopted that mentality. It seems like the only recourse available in a world that is irretrievably corrupt. In the end, truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth may be over-rated and we should just “give the devil/falsehood its due”. Yet, there is a serious problem with initiatory organizations (like the various major religions) that don’t reveal deeper truths to those who have proven their sincerity, and instead just keep them in perpetual falsehood. These organizations may have long discarded the secret truths that they appointed themselves guardians over, and as no longer of any value.

      On a positive note, I love the editorial approach at TDG. I’m a generalist at heart and want to see a broad range of topics covered in a concise format (with minimal “spin”), as it is done here. I have come to respect Greg even more for following his own heart and convictions about the importance of a full range of paranormal and alternative topics rather than trying to be more popular.

    2. The Observer Article was about Mercer, Not Soros
      “Studiously and tendentiously omits” — come on! The article was about Mercer and friends, not Soros, not all wealthy individuals intent on influencing the outcome of elections and referenda, the course of societies, countries, or even empires disguised as countries, no less than the beliefs of countless individuals. Mercer isn’t alone on his side of things, either — there are of course the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, and quite a few others.

      Properly covering the topic would require many heavy thick volumes; multiply the number many times should you wish to also include the actions of intelligence and security agencies, groups within military organizations, bankers, “big oil,” and so on.

      You would need a rather large library if you chose to extend this study backwards in time and trace it forward into the present — it’s all rather daunting.

      You’d be studying the structures of power and wealth and like many other subjects, you might never get through it all in a single lifetime.

      I never cared much for the topic — I prefer other areas, including those “fringe” areas frequently covered here — but I did eventually come to believe that the events of 9/11 were not as advertised.

      This was not strictly from a rational perspective, either; my change of belief involved intuitive and “psychic” experience. After that, I gleaned what I could from a great heap of speculation, seeking that which I felt was “solid” or fact based.

      There’s not a tremendous amount of that available for clandestine or covert activities, at least not until principals die, and even that is not always the case.

      I lacked the time and energy to pursue how this came about, ponder its antecedents, or get too focused on what followed — you could say I was “stuck” for a time.

      Then I met someone who narrowly survived a particularly nasty murder attempt by an unknown government agency. I didn’t believe the tale at first, but began digging and gradually realized it was all too true.

      This led — during a very bizarre and divisive year of political campaigns — to a study of the Deep State.

      I’ll never finish this — as I wrote above, the topic is simply too huge, too extensive; you can learn more and more about what happened, once, but even as you pursue this current events are still taking place.

      I’m still working full-time at 65, too, reducing the time and energy I can put into this, while it gets into such darkness and ugliness, such vanity and hubris, that I can only stand just so much at a time.

      I’m currently reading _The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government_, by David Talbot, but this is just one book of many — I’ve only recently discovered Carroll Quigley and Antony Sutton, among others.

      I’ve become a fan of James Corbett with his videos, podcasts, and documentaries, too.

      The vast majority of those who pursue power and wealth become corrupt — there’s nothing new about that. They will do whatever they can to preserve their power and wealth, too, if they succeed in obtaining it. Some will create organizations to extend this over time, sometimes relatively long periods of times; such organizations exist now and have existed, created in different periods. I’m not aware of any single monolithic organization; instead, there are a number that may merge, compete, become temporarily aligned, and so on.

      They aren’t all powerful, however; each of us creates our own personal reality in accordance with our beliefs; each of us is an aspect of a larger, non-physical entity, and then there is All to round out the picture.

      Needless to say, an all encompassing being includes each of us along with everything else — therefore, each of us is connected to it; it behooves us to become consciously aware of that connection, in my opinion. What’s required is the practice of methods for accomplishing this. Which are effective? There’s only one way to find out.

      BTW — I want to like Greg’s article but can’t find the like button.

      1. That article was certainly
        That article was certainly part of a very “tendentious” run of articles in a similar vein that have been appearing on TDG ever since the ascendency of Trump. Hey, I don’t like the guy either, but TDG has become something of a mouthpiece for the alt-left. It’s not my web site, and far be it for me to tell the editors how to choose their stories. I just can’t remember in the seven or so years I have been here TDG ever getting so wrapped up in pure politics. It has become salient enough that one has to wonder if TDG is slowly morphing into something quite beyond its original charter – something perhaps like my own blog.

      2. Man Can Not Live By Truth Alone
        In retrospect, it was only a matter of time before something as useful as the Internet became “Weaponized”. Makes me think of an old Sting song (haha):

  5. Weaponized Narrative
    I am a long-time follower of the Daily Grail and will be, but I agree that I don’t follow the logic of posting an article that bemoans weaponized narrative with a post that uses all the tools of weaponized narrative against someone using weaponized narrative.
    What I get from this is that people hate weaponized narratives that they don’t agree with but think weaponized narratives they agree with are just articles we should pay attention to.
    And that will just feed the beast.
    Instead, we should challenge our biases and insist that the stuff we read and the feeds we subscribe to present well-balanced and fair points-of-view.
    You know, journalism.

  6. The Scold’s Bridle

    “When the branks was placed on the “gossiper’s” head, they could be led through town to show that they had committed an offence or scolded too often. This was intended to humiliate them into “repenting” their “riotous” actions. A spike inside the gag prevented any talking since any movement of the mouth could cause a severe piercing of the tongue.[5] When wearing the device, it was impossible for the woman either to eat or speak.[9] Other branks included an adjustable gag with a sharp edge, causing any movement of the mouth to result in laceration of the tongue.
    In Scotland, branks could also be permanently displayed in public by attaching them, for example, to the town cross, tron or tolbooth. Then, the ritual humiliation would take place, with the miscreant on public show. Displaying the branks in public was intended to remind the populace of the consequences of any rash action or slander. Whether the person was paraded or simply taken to the point of punishment, the process of humiliation and expected repentance was the same. Time spent in the bridle was normally allocated by the kirk session, in Scotland, or a local magistrate.[9]
    Quaker women were sometimes punished with the branks for preaching their doctrine in public places.[10]
    Jougs were similar in their purpose as a pillory, but did not restrain the sufferer from speaking. They were generally used in both England and Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries.[5″

  7. Bigger Data
    HERE is the big data harvester we should be worried about:

    “The government is “laundering” information gained through mass surveillance through other agencies, with an agreement that the agencies will “recreate” the evidence in a “parallel construction” … so they don’t have to admit that the evidence came from unconstitutional spying. This data laundering is getting worse and worse.”
    “And the former NSA director admitted that the mass surveillance is a power grab.”

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