“Fake news fabricated as truth that panders to its audience’s ideologies and promises an illusion of the future – enough to compel people to join an imagined cause.”
“Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”
“As an advertiser we must assume responsibility for everything we do, because everything we do has the potential to make someone think something or do something.
And that ‘something’ can be good or bad. It is up to us to steer it toward good.”
If I hear one more politician or troll commenter online say “not one vote was affected by Russian efforts during the Presidential campaign” I am gonna tear my hair out.
While I have talked about ‘fake news’ and the responsibility media has in reporting, I have avoided talking about how Russia influenced the Presidential campaign because it sounds political and politicians have made simplistic soundbites the discussion point by saying shit like “can anyone point to any evidence that one vote was changed”.
Today I am going to point … and I am not a politician and now I have a report to point to <which I will highlight in a couple of moments>.
Suffice it to say since the election of Donald J Trump and following the widespread debate about how fake news on social media may have contributed to his victory I have racked my brain on how to point out to people how, if done effectively, a Russian media campaign <fake news initiative> could have certainly impacted behavior at the election booth.
I wanted to do so not because I know for sure that votes were affected but rather because by not even considering, or acknowledging, that people may have been affected enough to influence their vote means we diminish the potential impact of a real propaganda campaign.
While non advertising people most often speak of “advertising creates awareness” <at best> or “I am not impacted by advertising” <at worst> … they are wrong.
The truth <inside the hallways of advertising agencies around the world> is that we speak of influencing real behavior – change brand preferences, convince someone to try, affect attitudes toward a particular brand or product <your own or a competitor>, shift preferences from one brand or product to another and even educate to create an impact in terms of behavior.
Advertising and professional communications is business … the business of persuading people to think things and do things. It may be immediate actions or it may be the process of engaging to ultimately affect actions … but I cannot think of one business spending one dollar on professional communications who does not desire to persuade people to think at least one thing with the intent to create at least one type of behavior.
I have sat through hundreds of meetings analyzing shifts in attitudes & behavior <linked to sales of my business as well as shifts in competitors business> scouring information with regard to perceptions, persuasion, purchase intent, impact of influencers, etc.
I have sat through thousands of hours of discussion on ideas, impressions and attitudes about a brand or product all with the intent to find something that will predispose someone to see it in some positive light in which it will compel someone to buy it versus something else.
I say all of this because it is absolutely nuts to suggest an effective propaganda or fake news <or let’s call it what it really was … an advertising campaign driven by social media> cannot affect people’s behaviors & attitudes.
I wrote today because a company called Trend Micro, a cybersecurity firm, just issued an 81 page study called Fake News and Cyber Propaganda: The Use and Abuse of Social Media.
They call it “forward thinking threat research” … I would have suggested they could have contacted any global advertising agency who could have shown them study after study with regard to how advertising can affect behavior & change attitudes.
The report does do what I have been unable to unearth in all my files of Attitude & Usage studies and communications research … they show specific tactics and plans and costs and results. They show you what a communication plan, done effectively, can do.
And, suffice it to say, it doesn’t take a shitload of money to effectively propagate lies, false narratives and fake news.
They provide an analysis focusing on fake news and alternative storylines and the use of influencers <influencers & influencer campaigns: is what every Public Relations agency in the world does for their clients every single day> as well as the overall effect in manipulating social behavior.
Their report is actually quite similar to what we in the advertising & communications business look at every week … except we do so in much more detail picking apart the minutiae in order to see what button we can push to … well … push someone a little closer to doing what we would like them to do.
With regard to the Presidential campaign, I want to be clear, what effective propaganda can do:
- It can make someone seem smarter
- It can make someone seem worse than they are
If those are two separate someones, you have created a distinction gap between the someones. I could argue that the Russians did exactly that … made an ‘incompetent someone’ edge a little closer to appearing competent and made a ‘flawed someone’ edge a little closer to being worse than flawed.
That can make a difference when market share equals millions of dollars or thousands of votes, not millions, equals a presidency.
Some people will never be convinced that a propaganda effort, or an advertising campaign, can actually affect how they think and what they do.
That is too bad.
They would be wrong … but purposefully ignorant type wrong.
But I do believe everyone would agree that discerning truth from fiction is more difficult today than it has ever been and I tend to believe everyone doesn’t like that. Which means it is increasingly important that people not only think a little more about what they are absorbing information wise but maybe we need to become better at helping people question what they see.
This is where leaders & influencers really do matter.
They need to stop undermining good sources of truth simply because that source may not support some narrative they want. Politifacts and maybe Snopes and a variety of other locations do a really nice job of sifting through fact versus fiction in a mostly unbiased way. And, yet, enough people diminish their value when it don’t match their narrative that they remain slotted as a viable source for some people and not a viable source for others. We need to find some universally accepted locations of truth.
Some people will not be happy about what they see but the real enemy is fake news and created fictional narrative and not half-truths or misused facts.
But all people should be happy with truth … and not being fooled by fake news and cyber propaganda.
The Russians did affect the 2016 election. I cannot tell you how much or if it represented a different result than would have happened if they had not been involved <although my gut professional instincts suggest they shifted the dial enough to make a difference>. I will tell anyone reading this if you gave MillwardBrown (or any viable advertising agency which has some programmatic planning) maybe $50k and all the county data & all the media information they could clearly, and unequivocally, show vote results in counties with Russia-driven messaging versus non-Russian messaging counties. Shit. That’s what they do in any media review meeting.
But, at this point, we shouldn’t debate the result we should be discussing how efforts like this, when done effectively, can impact our view on things, ideas and people. Because if we can all admit that, well, we are halfway to getting closer toward real truth.
And, to me, that sounds good – not a fake goal.
The report from Trend Micro, a cybersecurity firm, is 81 pages long but if you have the time … worth every second to read.
The Fake News Machine research paper comes at a time of increasing concern across the globe about the hacking of elections and the ways that fake news on social media has manipulated voters. The report delves into the underground marketplaces that can allow campaigns, political parties, private companies and other entities to strategically create and distribute fake content to shift public perceptions.