Post No.: 0616
On social media, we’ve got to be highly cautious of coming across ‘false flags’ – where a person pretends to belong to or support one side of an issue in order to give that side a detrimental or deplorable image. So for example, there could be a woman who is really against abortion but she pretends to be pro-choice and sends messages that says that she doesn’t care about the rights of ‘parasitic foetuses’ because her own body and choices matter more. This will make those supporting abortion seem callous and heartless, thus reinforce the stances of those who are against abortion, and it might also push the undecided towards siding against abortion too.
This is relatively easy to do on social media due to the ease of setting up new accounts and hiding behind anonymity. Who knows how many societal divisions have widened and ballooned out of all proportion on various issues because of false flags?
False flags are also frequent tactics used in conflicts and covert or black operations; including in cyberspace, such as when it comes to attempting to disguise whom is really responsible for a cyber attack. The term ‘false flag’ makes sense when a naval vessel flies the flag of a neutral or enemy country in order to hide its true identity. But if, say, an email (containing malware) that appears to originate from an official UN or other neutral source really comes from a belligerent then such an act during an armed conflict will likely be considered an act of perfidy (a form of deception) and will be in breach of International Humanitarian Law.
One side might attempt to make some terrible act appear to originate from a source other than the real source, in order to smear or frame the target source and to keep the real source’s reputation clean. Some accusations will be true, while some will be false but are folded in along with the true, which makes it hard to know what to trust.
This all means that it’s best not to take things at face value or to jump to conclusions without first receiving less ambiguous evidence of the facts.
Of course there’s therefore the problem of things being accused of being false flags when they’re not i.e. false false flags(!) The existence of false flags makes things more easily deniable – it’s just like genuine facts being accused of being fake news. The truth is often accused of being a false flag to discredit or counter-blame the other side. For instance, an atrocity actually committed by members of group A is accused of being a false flag planted and committed by members of group B in order to frame group A. Observing supporters of group A will highly likely believe this claim too because people have a tendency to be more sceptical about members of their own side committing any atrocities compared to members of other sides. (It’s like most parents will instinctively and automatically side with and protect their own children.) It can lead to rationalisations like ‘people who commit heinous crimes cannot truly be one of us’ and could even lead to complete denials of major recorded events, such as the Holocaust.
People could even claim that their social media accounts had been hacked and assert that reputationally-damaging content posted from their accounts originated from hackers rather than from themselves. Accounts can be genuinely hacked into, but people could also claim that they were when they weren’t.
‘Black propaganda’ is very closely related – this is propaganda that has been made to look like it originated from those it is designed to discredit. Even the side that created it can start to believe in it! The CIA, for instance, spread some false propaganda around the world to make the Soviet threat seem more ominous than it really was during the Cold War, and then US neoconservatives began to believe it was all true despite members of the CIA confirming that they had themselves made the propaganda all up!
Disinformation campaigns spread during wars to divert an enemy’s attention onto the wrong things can end up being believed by the general public too, and then be very hard to un-believe by the general public. One example could be how people started to believe that carrots can increase the ability to see in the dark beyond normal levels for those who otherwise aren’t deficient in vitamin A – this possibly originated from the British Royal Air Force because they didn’t want the German Luftwaffe to know that radar technology and simple red lights on instrument panels were the real reasons for their success during night battles in WWII.
‘Sealioning’ (a propaganda term that insults innocent sea lions!) is when trolls participate in debates under the guise of sincerity but they’re really trying to annoy those they disagree with via incessant disingenuous questions and requests for evidence, for even incredibly basic claims. The other side will then start to get frustrated and appear to be the side that’s unreasonable during discussions or debates!
If someone tries to disprove that a conspiracy exists, they might be counter-accused of being a part of that conspiracy. Or if someone tries to prove that something is just pseudoscience, they might be counter-accused of trying to gag those who are spreading the, what they believe is genuine, science. This would mean that the truly conspiring side is trying to smear the honest side by accusing the honest side of being the conspirators(!)
‘Dark public relations’ (DPR), or negative public relations, is about destroying a target’s public image and reputation because they’re a threat to one’s, or one’s client’s, own reputation or interests. Techniques include doxing – where a party deliberately searches for dirty or embarrassing private secrets and publicly releases them in order to shame and/or extort money from someone; or where a party produces misleading information to fool a competitor. Intel on a commercial target can be gathered through legal competitive intelligence gathering methods or through illegal industrial espionage. Regular public relations (PR) was covered in Post No.: 0538.
‘Dark advertising’ is a type of targeted advertising where certain adverts are only visible to the publisher and their intended targets. This means that even journalists will find it impossible to check the purported facts proclaimed in those adverts because they may not be exposed to the exact same adverts. (Advert archives make this possible, but they still might not reveal who ultimately funded those adverts.)
A similar effect will occur if groups on social media are made more private – it will become harder for journalists to see what’s going on inside these groups to see what sort of misinformation is being shared and spread within them. This is a dilemma between privacy versus transparency. Woof.
Dark advertising is most commonly found on online social media platforms because these platforms collect a lot of personal information that makes finely-tuned demographic targeting possible – by geotargeting, age targeting, behavioural targeting, or psychographic targeting, for instance. These adverts can shape major political outcomes. (You could say that the likes of Meta (who own Facebook and Instagram, amongst other subsidiaries) have the technologies and amount of intimate information on users that totalitarian regimes crave!)
Targeted adverts, in general, are an efficient way to reach your target market. But targeted adverts might mean the targeted exploitation of vulnerable groups of people like the elderly, as well as the enabling of discrimination against certain groups i.e. not showing certain adverts to certain people, such as not showing rooms for rent for members of ethnic minorities. Targeted political adverts create an echo chamber where people are only seeing one side of a story or only news that merely reinforces their existing worldviews. And people are less likely to question any fake news that reinforces their existing worldviews. Although targeted adverts, on the one paw, can save people time if they’re relevant and informative – on another paw, they at the very least can hook users and keep them on social media platforms for longer and this means that they take up people’s precious attention and time.
Local but large chat groups, who aren’t together due to a directly political reason, such as a group for young parents, are quite important targets when it comes to influencing undecided voters. Those in chat groups who are together precisely for political reasons are likely already sure about whom or what they’re going to vote for so aren’t as valuable when it comes to targeted political adverts.
…Overall, dark advertising presents a dilemma between privacy and transparency; targeted advertising in general has its pros and cons; and the fuzzy confusion generated via the use of false flags (or false false flags) may be a favourable effect for one side because people tend to stick with the status quo when unsure of what to believe in or do.
Simply put – information is power, thus people or groups with their own self-interests want to control it.