This begins a series called Challenges in Media. We’ll also touch on ways to manage those challenges. Today’s topic is Trust Projection. We’ll parse what that means next.
As humans, for some reason, when we see printed text next to a famous photo and attribution, we automatically lend credibility of the text as valid, not because we trust the original person who created the photo, but because we trust the person or venue who sent the photo to us. Take for example this photo of Pope Francis with an atheist quote:
It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. In a way, the traditional notion of God is outdated. One can be spiritual but not religious. It is not necessary to go to church and give money – for many, nature can be a church. Some of the best people in history did not believe in God, while some of the worst deeds were done in his name.
Somehow, the faith we have in our friends is projected onto the random item they shared. Let’s call this phenomenon “Trust Projection”.
Image crafters spend hours or even days crafting semi-credible artwork meant to evoke just enough of one emotion or another to cause whoever sees it to repost, share, like or comment. The image makes you feel joy, makes you laugh or makes you angry. The image goes viral. Make no mistakes. The entire goal of this type of image craft is to make the image go viral. It doesn’t matter whether the content is true, valuable or meaningful in any way. All that matters is that the content is transferred virally through the magic of human Projected Trust.
These are probably the most heinous of items to share on Facebook. They contain not a shred of truth and are intended only to spread angry emotion. But don’t take my word for it. Below are just a few of the example angry replies found in the comments section of this particular Nixon cartoon.
They all assume Obama _did_ something because that’s what is written in the image. One commenter denigrates Obama by calling him “Obumer”. Another goes even further and blames everything on “Liberals”. The point is not whether or not the opinions are well-founded. The point is that these reactions are based in anger, and that these unfortunate souls are allowing some image crafter to manipulate their emotions to such a degree that they feel it necessary to make such ugly statements. They are in essence merely puppets being controlled by one image crafter with a Facebook page that has taken the view that anyone who dislikes a particular politician cannot be trusted — except that the original page crafter may not even live in our country or even espouse the values suggested by the page. In other words, the page itself might be fake.
I have no idea whether the above cartoon was posted by a Russian. I have no idea whether the Citizens for Trump page was created by an American. It looks like it came from an American, but it’s hard to tell these days. Sure, you could put a restriction telling which country the page was created in based on IP, but today, anyone can use a VPN account to log in as coming from nearly any country in the world, including the US. Adding insult to injury, quite a number of these US-oriented political Facebook hate pages are apparently run by people who live in Russia. Content is measured and crafted by Russians who understand the emotions behind US politics better than many US citizens do. If you doubt this, here’s an article from the New York Times with example ads confirmed as posted by Russian image crafters and from Russian owned pages. I remember some of them in my own facebook feed. These images hit the emotional jackpot with wide and varied segments of US society, targeting not merely one extreme. It’s a bit chilling to see how our citizens have been manipulated. When we talk about fake Facebook ads, it’s not an ad for Oops, All Berries Cereal or Doritoes Blaze. They look and sound like any other satirical cartoon or video put out by American political campaigners, except they’re not American ads.
Below is a classic example that looks like it could have been crafted by someone in the US, except it wasn’t. It was crafted by a Russian. Regardless of my sentiments on the below image post, the most critical phenomenon to recognize is that we’re being manipulated by people outside our real friends and family on Facebook through the projected trust of our actual friends and family who share these posts with us.
Still not convinced? Here’s another list of Russian ads from a reputable news outlet, CNN in their “Money” section. Need more? Here’s a breakdown of how the ads work as compiled from nearly 3000 examples released by our lawmakers for public review. Facebook allows you to target specific audiences, and it doesn’t care if you’re American or Russian when you do it.
At this point, I give up. Rather than attempt to determine whether something is true of false, I’m skeptical of any political image or word crafting on Facebook. When I see an angry post about a particular politician, I either ignore it or research whether the claims are true. If I know the person well enough who shared it and I know the post is in error, I might point out that the shared post is false. Otherwise, I ignore the post. I recognize the likelihood that these ads are created solely to divide Americans along various social strata from politics to race to gender issues, and dismiss them all as un-American in tone and design, regardless of origin.
Finally, I don’t generally unfriend people in Facebook just for sharing things that I disagree with, so long as they post on their own timeline. It’s important to me that I understand the world they’re living in, because as often as not, the things they’re seeing on Facebook are entirely different from what I see. Any glimpse I can get into what’s shaping their opinion will help me better understand my friends. I don’t block pages or unfollow friends because I want to be sure I’m not cocooning myself in my own little influence bubble.
For this reason, I get a lot of shared posts from opposite US political, racial and gender issue extremes, and frankly, they’re almost always poorly informed, regardless of party affiliation or social strata when the object is to make the viewer angry. In instances where they are well-informed, it’s still pretty obvious that the page it comes from is propagandist in nature and not news as much as it is opinion meant to change my perspective. I will be the one in charge of deciding whether my perspective changes, and I’m willing to change my opinions based on facts and reality, not lies and myths.
And Mr. Zuckerberg, you say you want to make Facebook better in 2018? Give me a method for determining which ads were paid for, where these ads are actually posting from and the specific human who has actually paid for them in real time at the top of each ad. When one of my friends shares something that’s obviously false propaganda, give me a way to mark an ad as false propaganda until Facebook can determine whether something is actually false. Facebook could review the number of views vs. marks for a specific ad and research it. If someone abuses the marking system, remove their marking privileges. If the ad is hateful or includes lies, take it down. If they’re not American, and influencing an American political campaign, remove the page that created the ad. Don’t make me wait until you’ve determined the source after the damage has been done. Even better, shut down your post boost system. The boosted-post model discourages real grassroots activism and encourages anyone, domestic or foreign who has money, to game the political system. You’re no better than the corporate-bought bureaucrats running Congress if you punish real and worthwhile political activism with this crummy “boost” system. Fix this.
Have you been influenced by Russians? Here’s a link to a Facebook page that will tell you whether or not any of the pages or friends you currently follow have been identified as Russian influencers.
If you have been influenced by Russian ads on Facebook, why not post comments below with the link to the Facebook page or group in question here!
Projected trust. Your friends and the things they share are separate. Don’t let strangers on facebook pull your strings through the trust of your friends. Question authority and research validity.