Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Technology's Evolution and Effects on Propaganda

"In order to realize the nature of present-day Jingoism, as distinguished from the national war-spirit in earlier times, attention must be given to a complex of new industrial and social conditions which favour the growth of the passion. Foremost among these is the rapid and multifarious intercommunication of ideas rendered possible by modern methods of transport. The mechanical facilities for cheap, quick carriage of persons, goods, and news signify that each average man or woman of to-day is habitually susceptible to the direct influence of a thousand times as many other persons as were their anscestors before the age of steam and electricity."
-John Atkinson Hobson - The Psychology of Jingoism, 1901. p6.

This example of technology's role in the spreading of jingoist propaganda or extreme nationalist propaganda shows how the average person is susceptible to a thousand times as many other persons as their ancestors. Imagine how the propaganda of today spreads through such interactive and immediate technologies such as the internet and social media. This effect observed by Hobson has obviously scaled up in 2009 to equal a large percentage of the amount of people with internet access and "web 2.0" style applications. Chat rooms, message boards, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, the list goes on. One thing that governments seemed to have not predicted with the internet is how much power it gives to the individual to also reach a large audience of people.

In a book published in 2000, entitled "Exploring Mass Media for a Changing World," Ray Eldon Hiebert, Sheila Jean Gibbons, and Sheila Silver explain how long each form of new communication technology takes to get from an "elite communication system" to a "mass communication communication system":
"Books took nearly 400 years from their first appearance as a printed medium in the mid-fifteenth century to go from being an elite to a mass medium in the mid-nineteenth century. Newspapers took about 200 years, from the 1630s to the 1830s. Magazines required about 170 years, from 1700 to the 1870s. Sound recordings were transformed into a mass medium in about 60 years, from the 1880s to the 1940s. Motion pictures made the progression in about 50 years, from the 1870s to the 1920s; radio in about 40 years, from the 1890s to the 1930s; television in about 30 years, from the 1920s to the 1950s. The Internet took only 15 years, from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s."
Decidedly, it's taking less and less time for new forms and sub-forms of communication to take root in a massive way in society. Let's take a look at an example of how communications flow today with the usage of Social Media sites, text messaging, and video & photo sharing. The internet is speculated to include over 200 million independent online radio stations, blogs, podcasts, music or file sharing sites, and peer to peer networks; almost every one of them boasting heavy commenting and communications features among it's users. This points to the ease of flow of communications in today's world, and propaganda cannot spread without the vehicle of communication.

In the "Online Crisis Audit: Analysis of the online response to the crash of US Airways Flight 1549," January 15, 2009, (only fourteen days before this article,) Brendan Hodgson has recorded and reports, (in slideshow format,) on a time-line from the point the first photo of the crash, to the point where a hero was made in online print on day two. This raw slide-show includes screen shots of the pages spreading this story, in a time-line format.

The first communications happened only 10 minutes after the accident when someone shared a photo of the crash on a popular photo sharing site called Flickr. Within ten more minutes the traditional news media organizations had begun reporting using their online RSS (digital syndication) feeds. The US Airways website took about 55 minutes to respond by taking their advertisements down. Within the first hour after the accident, more images, and conversation had flooded through communication lines on some of the most popular social media sites and Google (the dominant, multi-service, multi-faceted and most popular search service). Another eight minutes after US Airways had taken down their advertisements they released their first official statement about the acident. Meanwhile 400 plus articles had shown up on Google search and 20 plus videos on YouTube. Within 2 hours of the actual incident a Twitter user named @usairwaysgirl had re-posted a tweet linking to the website of the US Airways pilot on the flight, (it seems that this information originated from the news media,) and within 2 days he had a huge facebook following and was being called a hero by people online worldwide. His company, perhaps coincidentally, is focused on security and describes itself as a "consulting firm that provides expert solutions to complex problems involving safety, high performance and high reliability."

An observation one can make in this examination is that while Social Media is credited with finding the story, it's the mass media who were able to give it a lasting strength, and then social media ran with the ball. Within the first 18 minutes, Google had already found 30 plus articles and media feeds from the mass media corporations. Another social media site called Twitter was found to have hundreds of snippets of communications, (what they call tweets,) from it's users, within 37 minutes. The presentation does not go into detail about when the "tweeting" started, but does mention that it "move[d] into overdrive" at that time. This shows an emergent pattern illustrated by the flow chart below:

What does this have to do with the way propaganda spreads? Firstly, it shows the viral nature of communications of the internet and the effect it has had on society. Secondly, the presentation gives a glimpse into the lightning speed of the channels through which propaganda flows. Keep in mind here that I am only using US Airways Flight 1549 as an example, and I am not drawing any conclusions that this event was untrue, was reported untruly, or was in any way falseified, neither am I creating any theories about the mass media. Furthermore I am not seeking to place blame for anything, much less trying to credit or discredit Chelsey Sullenberger; the pilot. I am "sticking to the facts" (for those of you who like to use that catch phrase.) The mass media is obviously, however, still a large player at the top of the communication stream and have upgraded their communications tools to give them access to quick propagation within minutes after an event or even a pseudo-event occurs, (will cover pseudo-events in next entry.)

One can draw a conclusion that the mass media corporations still drove the entire blossoming of the conversation as a whole, propagating the message out to those people from social bookmarking sites and micro-blogging sites such as twitter, who virtually camp-out on the media feeds trying to be the first person to link to an article. The people who often see a piece of news after-the-fact and have the least information about an event given to them are the ones who watch it on the afternoon news broadcast on television. The rest of the population of the world gets to see renditions of renditions or copies of original reporting that happened sometimes days earlier through the older methods of propagation through syndication such as newspaper and the age old art of in-person conversation. Many people hear about the event from a friend or co-worker, or overhear it in a public place such as a bar.

Throughout the entire dissemination process, a story's information will be recycled countless times, and usually by the time people are talking about it face to face, some of the facts are skewed and many of the details left out or forgotten. This is not to mention that during this process, there are multiple bloggers (or independent internet writers,) and even other secondary news syndication services that pick the story up and re-post it online to their own audiences, often including the addition of their own opinions as well as many other of their reader's comments. This effect seems to draw out a story for some period of time after the original event it references, in what I envision to be a semi-cyclical pattern that decreases in amplitude at every peak until at one point the mention of the subject is only used in a "historical" sense.
Propaganda can now move at the speed of the internet, giving haste to the implications and techniques of the great Propaganda Hackers and Propagandists of our time. What do you think the results of this are?

I have done a couple studies as to what the direct results of this are over time and have found that the matrix of interconnected subjects and relationships between subjects as displayed and represented by the mass media, are mirrored, imperfectly, but very closely, by the matrix of interconnected subjects and relationships between subjects in every day conversation of a society exposed to that media. I will cover this in more depth in a later article, but on another blog I have also posted up a start to this specific conversation for anlaysis.

As always, feel free to leave a comment, I am interested in what both Propagandists and Propaganda Hackers have to say about this and the rest of my work. Keep analysing and always ask yourself questions. Please also keep the subjective comments to yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment