“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
— Herbert Simon
“Biases require us to work harder to find the truth.” — Andy Walsh
“My point is that perceptual bias can affect nut jobs and scientists alike. If we hold too rigidly to what we think we know, we ignore or avoid evidence of anything that might change our mind.” — Martha Beck
“As people’s opportunities to succumb to confirmation bias increases online – only seeking out information that confirms their prejudices – ignorance, extremism and close-mindedness have continued to rise unabated.” Maajid Nawaz
The subject of the weaponization of information is of profound importance to us today. We are easily led to believe that the world’s wars are being fought over there, that some-what ubiquitous… over there. I want to make it perfectly clear to all of us that the war is not over there; rather it is right here. It is being fought in our very midst and the ramifications are momentous. You and I are involved in the war whether we want to be or not. As a result, we are either victorious or defeated on a nearly daily basis.
We consume loads of information each day. It comes to us through our personal relationships as well as through television, radio, the internet, newspapers, magazines, books or signs we pass on the highway or see on a store-front. Information is everywhere!
In a recent 2019 study, it was noted that adults in the United States spend on average each day approximately 12 hours and 7 minutes with major media. This means that over half of the average American’s day is spent consuming information. By the way, the data collected includes the hours spent multi-tasking between multiple platforms, ie. watching TV and playing on our smart-phones. My point is that we are ingesting a huge amount of information. One study estimates the average amount of information consumed to be about 34 gigabytes a day. This is enough to fill your hard drive each week, 52 times in a year. Unless we have some pretty robust filters surrounding us, we will be consuming an immense amount of garbage along with the delectable treats on which we snack.
What I want to demonstrate this week and next is that there is an entire industry and there are determined enemies, who are ready and willing to take advantage of any opening you give them to sway your understanding of a reality that they themselves are designing. More than likely it will be a reality that is not what you were bargaining for. These industries want you to spend money you do not have to buy things you do not need. These enemies, simply want to sow confusion so that they can take control of your life and the lives of any who will submit themselves to their devices. One thing is for certain as we evaluate this broad subject. There is more than meets the eye when it comes to the massive proliferation of information being produced daily, and the often nefarious agendas behind it.
To begin, let’s discuss the several different ways that information is being proliferated and weaponized against the average consumer. Let me also say, that by the simple fact that you are reading the “More than Meets the Eye” weekly digest, that you are probably not the average consumer. It is understood that this is not an every-day average publication.
Here is how information is weaponized:
- Weaponized information often consists of intentional falsehoods, known as disinformation.
- Information can be true, but taken out of context, like a comment carefully selected from a longer statement so that it does not reflect what the speaker said or meant.
- Information may be a mixture of truth and lies, so that the known facts lend credence to the untruths.
- The information may be true but is significantly overblown or the timing of release calculated to cause the most harm possible.
These are just four of the simple ways that information is weaponized. There are much more complicated ways to weaponize information such as “deepfakes”, the modification of video or audio for the purposes of deceiving. Weaponized information is designed to deceive. It is created to make us believe something other than the truth. If you want to understand more about “deepfakes,” take a look at this short video clip by PBS about how it is done and how effective it is. Click here
Deepfakes are only one kind of weaponization of information. They are systematic and are designed to effectively deceive entire segments of population. A good example of another type of weaponization is cognitive hacking. For instance, when the Russian hackers attempted to infiltrate the US voting system during the 2016 elections. Several realities are known about those attempts at information distortion. It is still uncertain as to how effective they were and what the exact ramifications were as a result. There is one more reality that we can pretty much bet on: this will not be the last time we see them. This kind of warfare has been determined as effective. Just ponder the confusion still in your mind about who did what. Consider the millions of dollars spent trying to unpack it. Think about the erosion of our country’s confidence in the people who are in power and in the system itself.
Battles concerning the weaponization of information are being fought within our country as well. You and I regularly receive deceptive information attacks in the form of news articles, videos on Youtube and photos designed to cause us to believe things that are simply not true. The designers and producers of these kinds of media are not honest people. We must be more scrutinizing when we respond to these types of attacks against our intellects.
Recently, I got duped by a video and I confess, I subjected a few close friends to its fallacious assertions by sending it on. This is a practice that I normally do not adhere to, and I hope you don’t either. Let me use this particular video as an example of how information can be construed to maliciously attack other human beings with intent to destroy them, their reputations and their careers. I am using this example to demonstrate how the political right is as adept at this kind of warfare as is the left.
Both sides in my estimation are guilty of this kind of destructive behavior. We as a people of the Light need to walk in the light concerning the truth. Falseness, half-truths and lies do not become us. They are inconsistent with who we are and of whom we represent. When we pass on this kind of tom-foolery without hardened evidence of their veracity we are little better than those who produce it. We have become complicit in their specious behavior.
Recently there was a video circulated throughout the Internet asserting that US Freshman Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known as AOC, was photographed having an intense emotional reaction while looking through a fence toward a detention facility, housing immigrant children. The video asserts several non-truths. One, it was billed as a recent video. In actuality, the photos were taken by photojournalist Ivan Pierre Aguirre while covering a large protest against the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that separated migrant children from their parents. Aguirre took these photos during the June 24, 2018, event in Tornillo, Texas. That event took place over a year ago before AOC was even a congresswoman.
The photos in the new video were projected to be recent and to convince the viewer that the entire event was staged. It suggested that AOC was creating an emotional Photo Op in front of merely a parking lot. The producers of this video supported their assertions by showing photos of an empty parking lot in front of her. They failed to show that on the left side of the lot was indeed an immigrant children’s detention facility. AOC’s emotional response appeared sincere and visceral when other pictures taken from different angles by Aguirre were brought to light.
My point: It is easy to believe lies, especially when they support our narratives. I was duped by my own biases, because I do not necessarily support many of Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s viewpoints. What I do not plan to do is knowingly believe and spread lies, even when they support my own bias-driven narratives.
The above example is one of unadulterated information warfare. It’s clear intent was to destroy. The decision you and I have to make is whether we will be part of the solution or part of the problem. This is just one example of the weaponization of information that I can point too. I am sure that if I took the time I could find examples of this kind of malicious warfare being waged against you and me every day.
What makes the weaponization of information all the more confusing is that there is a growing chasm in our country as to what is true and what is not. Popular psychology and philosophical pundits would have us believe that there are no absolute truths anymore. My usual response to those assertions is, “Are you absolutely sure of that?” Even the absurdity of it all astounds me. This is believed by many highly intellectual people.
Many will attempt to convince us that the problem is “absolute truth.” That one person should believe what the truth is for himself. Nobody can tell another what is true and what is not. This thinking defies the very foundations of human intellect. So how do we as citizens of this nation, or any nation, live alongside an increasingly growing populace who believe that there are no genuine truths and that those who believe there are, are the sub-intellectuals in this society?
I find this particularly difficult to grasp in my own life as I know that I am not only made up of convictions of belief in a singular God. I also reflect my own learned cultural biases, some of which are right and others which are flawed.
We will only understand genuine truth when we are able to discern between our personal biases and our deep convictions. The world would have us believe that we do not have a right to our own convictions. Perhaps due to historical precedence, there is the belief by the secular intelligentsia that the very existence of our belief in a sovereign God demands from us an unloving intolerance of their belief. You and I both know that nothing could be further from the truth. The very fact that we believe in a loving, historically living God, means that our lives are driven by a passionate love for humanity no matter what they believe. Understanding how we can live out the Good News in an increasingly skeptical and unbelieving world is imperative.
At the risk of treating this immensely important subject with too little seriousness, I want to propose several actions that you and I can take in order to be part of the solution to the problem of the weaponization of information. Here are some practical ways.
- The presentation of the information may be skillfully crafted to exploit common cognitive biases and errors. People can protect themselves from being affected by weaponized information by strengthening their capacity for critical thinking. This takes time and energy, of which most of us are short. But that is what information warriors are counting on. They depend on the fact that we will just take what they say at face value and not think about it critically. When that happens we have just released control of our minds to a stranger, a gate-keeper of our understanding.
- Outsmart your own biases. Start by understanding where they’re coming from: excessive reliance on intuition, defective reasoning, or both. Ask yourself the bigger hard questions. Asking those tougher questions does not come naturally. We’re cognitive misers—we don’t like to spend our mental energy entertaining uncertainties. It’s easier to seek closure, so we do.
- Seek to “de-bias” your decisions. This is essential to broaden your perspective. Our biases often operate at an unconscious level. We may not intend to prefer information that confirms our beliefs and we are likely not aware of all the ways that we realize that preference, but we are all susceptible to confirmation biases nevertheless.
- Brutally question your extremes. “The lesson you always learn is that your definition of extreme is not extreme enough.”
- Take a hard look at which groups are influencing you. This desire for what psychologists call, “belief consonance” can unconsciously influence how we process information, leading us to prefer interpretations which are consistent with those corporate beliefs, and also influence our choice of groups, so that we prefer groups where our beliefs will not be continually challenged. Furthermore, we often ignore or decline information we suspect may be negative or challenging. It can even cause us to avoid information which would debunk a fake news story if we have some reason for preferring that the story be true. Yes, even preferring explicitly Christian media (including this very outlet) may represent a form of information avoidance.
- Renewing of the mind. Allow the Bible to be the primary source of truth for your life. I realize that by even writing that, I am setting myself up for criticism from numerous fronts. I have chosen to humbly consider how I benefit from believing the way I do. We need to actively seek information we might not like hearing in order to counteract our unconscious information avoidance. Having a firm foundation is not simply a bias. It is the firmament on which we stand. Ours is not to force others to believe anything. Ours is simply to love in the same way we were loved.
- Reconcile. I publicly apologize to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for unkindly believing lies about her in that malicious video and passing that on to several friends. It was wrong.
THOUSANDS SUPPORT REGIME CHANGE AT MEK’S FREE IRAN CONFERENCE: https://irannewsupdate.com
Hong Kong’s Summer of Dissent Rolls On as Protesters Broaden Their Agenda: https://www.wsj.com/articles/hong-kong-demonstrators-broaden-agenda-as-protests-spread-1156311384
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Joshua Yaffa, “Dmitry Kiselev Is Redefining the Art of Russian Propaganda,” New Republic, July 14, 2014.
Testimony of Rand Waltzman, The RAND Corporation, Before the Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Cybersecurity United States Senate April 27, 2017… https://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT473.html
Deepfake PBS show…https://youtu.be/9OIFVm0dPLw