Monday, June 26, 2017

Fake News and Memetic Warfare in the Philippines

It is a fact that the Philippines is awash in fakery.  Fake coffee, fake honey, fake name brand shoes, fake designer clothing, fake diplomas and documents, fake DVDs, fake rice, fake smiles, fake electronics, is there anything in this country that is genuine except for the corruption, pollution, and loud BOOM BOOM BOOM of karaoke and fiestas??

Naturally with all this fakery "fake news" fits in quite well.
Months before issuing a pastoral letter against fake news on Wednesday, June 21, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) published its Pastoral Guidelines on the Use of Social Media. It comes with an appendix on websites "carrying fake or unverified contents." 
In a country where fakery is accepted as an everyday fact of life it's not any surprise that "fake news" would be accepted and protected. But some have gone beyond simply decrying the crusade against "fake news" as censorship and an attack on free speech.
In the face of formidable power, the weak devise mechanisms to fight back in order to survive, or maintain sanity. When confronted by the public transcripts of dominant power, the oppressed resort to creativity. 
Their resistance could find expression in parody, where the tormented can turn the tormentors into materials for laughter. 
Antonio Contreras' thesis is that "fake news" is a way for the marginalised and oppressed to fight back against their oppressors. He believes that what was once an elitist space, the internet, has now become a space where the ordinary people can congregate and have their voice heard.
Another face of creativity is seen in the colonization of the internet by the ordinary people. 
Social media and the internet started out as an elitist space, which only those who could afford handheld gadgets and laptops could inhabit and frequently circulate. Maria Ressa’s Rappler used to lord it over internet-mediated news. 
However, the entry of cheap mobile phones and of free internet enabled the ordinary people to invade the internet and consequently, social media. This turned the internet into a technology that was weaponized by the powerless and the marginalized to fight the dominant and the powerful. 
Eventually, armed with creativity, ordinary people gradually turned Facebook from just a page on which to post selfies and food porn into one where they could become participants in political discourse. It became a place where they could express their political grievances. They turned Facebook into one big carnival, where memes making fun of political figures exploded without mercy. And here, ordinary people were ruthless not only in their creativity but also in their ability to ridicule.
He goes on to admit that truth of "fake news" is of no consequence since the purpose is to destabilise the regime and assert the power of the oppressed and that anonymity is key to being able to disseminate "fake news."
James Scott has argued that one of the strategies used by the weak is rumor whose potency to undermine and destabilize the established and dominant power rests on its having an anonymous source. Rumor, by its very nature, doesn’t have to be true, since the objective is not to assert a fact, but to destabilize the truth that is convenient to the powerful. 
It is here that trolls descended into social media, taking advantage of the very nature of its technology, which enables anonymity to launch an attack. 
This development has destabilized and challenged established institutions. This array of creative strategies of defiance and resistance, often anonymous and without accountability has undermined the monopoly of the journalist to report news, of the intellectual academic and professional expert to dispense knowledge, and of the political elite to exercise power.
He is right about anonymity. The internet provides a cover of anonymity. Anonymity is empowering. On the internet anyone can be anyone and is free to say anything with little to no repercussions. But anonymity is also frustrating since no one can be sure who is wearing a black hat or a white hat or even no hat at all.

Who is authoring these "fake news" websites? Is it the ordinary people? Of course not. The ordinary person is too busy trying to take care of his family. He does not have time to sit in front of the computer all day coding and writing. Nor would he have the money to purchase domain names or the computer equipment needed or the type of internet connection needed to keep up the game of "fake news." To be a blogger or internet reporter means an almost 24/7 obsessiveness to keep up on trends and to disseminate information. The authors of these websites have coding skills to create the pages as well as time to write article after article and then promote them on various social media sites and the money to purchase the domains and equipment while still being able to provide for themselves. They are by no means ordinary people. They are well funded and well skilled. Buying a P20 load with unli-Facebook isn't going to enable someone to craft a blog or memes.

That is not to say that ordinary people don't create memes or participate in the creation and dissemination of fake news.  It's easy to create memes.  It's also easy to share a link. It's not so easy to author a blog or a news site. Though its easier than it may seem since anyone can write a blog on a number of free platforms you still need lots of free time to keep at it and produce anything worthwhile that will get thousands of views. How do these sites even get enough promotion that they do receive thousands and even millions of hits? Who is really promoting these "fake news" sites?

His assertion that "fake news" or rumour has the purpose to destabilise or challenge established institutions contradicts his first assertion that "fake news" is a way to maintain sanity.  It is important to remember that "fake news" is passed off as real news and not satire. Satire is a way to maintain sanity.  Think of political cartoons as an age-old method of satire to maintain sanity and reveal the truth. Comedy has always been a method to peer back the veneer of lies all in the name of having a laugh.

So which is it?  Are people seeking a way to empower themselves by having a laugh or are they seeking to overthrow the existing order?

That anyone would seek to destabilise the the existing order is troubling.  Who is seeking this end and for what purpose? Are the ordinary people seeking to destabilise and challenge the existing institutions?  The ordinary Filipino will not even complain about bad service at a restaurant or ask their rude neighbour to turn down the loud karaoke yet Antonio Contreras would have us believe that the ordinary Filipino citizen is seeking to destabilise and challenge the existing political order through memes and blogs! What do they stand to gain from doing so?  Whether or not the existing institutions are desirable or not is not the question here.  The question is "cui bono?"  Who benefits?

And how does "fake news" destabilise the existing order away? In the Philippines the current order is Duterte and his party.  The Yellows are out.  So what purpose do fake stories about Leni Robredo's daughter being arrested for drugs, Triallnes and Alejano's gay wedding in the Netherlands, that the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Duterte,  or that Bill Gates has invested 20 billion dollars in the Philippines serve?

And how about one of the most egregious instances of "fake news" in recent months?

How does this bit of "fake news" empower the powerless when even the powerful fell for it?

How does this provable lie empower anyone? By distracting the public from the fact that the government knew in advance of the attack on Marawi?

Did the Duterte administration plant this story about Aquino and Trillanes as being the brains behind the Marawi attack in order to take the heat off them since they knew it would eventually come out that they had prior knowledge of the Marawi attack? So much for empowering the people through satire!

So much for "fake news."  What about memes?  What is a meme?
meme (/ˈmm/ MEEM) is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.
So all these pictures with funny text are supposed to transmit ideas from one mind to another and shape individual behaviour. Ideas about the incompetency and corruption of the government or certain people. Ideas about how great Duterte is. Ideas about how martial law is great and if you disagree you are a traitor.

Typical meme
Who is making these memes?  The ordinary people?  Antonio Contreras would have us believe so but it's not likely. Has he ever heard of meme warfare or memetic engineering? In March 2017 Wikileaks released CIA documents revealing their plans for meme warfare.
Recently surfaced CIA documents reveal that the military are going to create a “Meme Warfare” division tasked with controlling the minds of the American population. 
According to US defense documents, memes can be used to win wars and influence the general population. 
In a paper published in 2005 by Michael B. Prosser, the U.S. military are able to weaponise and diffuse memes in order to “defeat an enemy ideology and win over the masses.”
Now this may seem to be US-centric but we know from the past that the CIA, as one of the fingers of the deep state, works on a global scale using psyops to mold populations to their liking. Why wouldn't organisations in the Philippines or with an economic or political stake in the Philippines take a lead from the CIA and use their tactics in an effort to shape public opinion?  
Memetic engineering is a term developed by Leveious Rolando, John Sokol, and Gibron Burchett based on Richard Dawkins' theory of memes.
  • The process of developing memes, through meme-splicing and memetic synthesis, with the intent of altering the behavior of others in society or humanity.
  • The process of creating and developing theories or ideologies based on an analytical study of societiescultures, their ways of thinking and the evolution of their minds.
  • The process of modifying human beliefs, thought patterns, etc.
Cognitive scientists, cultural anthropologists, behavior scientists, and game theory experts must be included as professional meme-wielding-gunfighters on future battlefields. The US must recognize the growing need for emerging disciplines in ideological warfare by ‘weaponeering’ memes. The Meme Warfare Center offers sophisticated and intellectually rich capability absent in current IO, PsyOps and SC formations and is specifically designed to conduct combat inside the mind of the enemy. Memes are key emerging tools to win the ideological metaphysical fight .
So who is making the memes?  I don't know but to say that the Filipino people are part of a complex psyop in order to shape their minds and behaviour is not out of the question. Mocha Uson was hired by Duterte for that very purpose!
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has caused a stir by appointing Margaux Justiniano Uson, a blogger known for posting “sexy” videos on social media, his new assistant secretary of the Presidential Communication Operations Office. “Mocha,” as she is known, will run the federal government’s social media.
Mocha Uson is a meme warrior and a memetic engineer paid by the Duterte administration to shape the minds of the Filipino people in a way that is favourable to the Duterte administration. Mocha Uson is a psyop.

And let's not forget that Facebook, the source of so much "fake news" and so many memes, the website that Antonio Contreras calls a once elitist space and now a space for ordinary people, has morphed from neat little website crafted in Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard dorm room into data collection tool of the CIA, NSA, FBI, and every other intelligence agency around the globe. Oh and its also a psyop!
Over 600,000 Facebook users have taken part in a psychological experiment organised by the social media company, without their knowledge.  
Facebook altered the tone of the users' news feed to highlight either positive or negative posts from their friends, which were seen on their news feed.  
They then monitored the users' response, to see whether their friends' attitude had an impact on their own.
"Fake news" is perfidious and dangerous because it is lies. It's not satire. It's not comedy. It is flat out lies and people are too gullible to discern the lies from the truth. We should always seek to speak the truth whatever it may be. Lies do not empower anyone. Lies disenfranchise everyone from the powerful to the powerless. There are enough lies to be had in the Philippines.  We do not need more lies under the guise of "power to the people!"

Antonio Contreras would do good to look into the history of COINTELPRO or even Operation Mockingbird which were and are both deep state operations within the US intelligence cabal to infiltrate and subvert organisations and influence popular opinion through the media. Psychological warfare is not a conspiracy theory.  It is a fact of modern life!
Psychological warfare (PSYWAR), or the basic aspects of modern psychological operations (PSYOP), have been known by many other names or terms, including MISO, Psy Ops, Political Warfare, "Hearts and Minds", and propaganda.[1] The term is used "to denote any action which is practiced mainly by psychological methods with the aim of evoking a planned psychological reaction in other people".[2] Various techniques are used, and are aimed at influencing a target audience's value system, belief system, emotionsmotivesreasoning, or behavior. It is used to induce confessions or reinforce attitudes and behaviors favorable to the originator's objectives, and are sometimes combined with black operations or false flag tactics. It is also used to destroy the morale of enemies through tactics that aim to depress troops' psychological states.[3][4] Target audiences can be governmentsorganizationsgroups, and individuals, and is not just limited to soldiers. Civilians of foreign territories can also be targeted by technology and media so as to cause an effect in the government of their country.
One thing is certain.  These "fake news" websites are not the creations of the ordinary public. Antonino Contreras' shallow analysis of "fake news" as resistance is muddied with so much Marxist theory that he fails to see the bigger picture which is that outside powers use and manipulate people all the time and for their own nefarious purposes. Even the so-called "resistance" is bought and paid for! (See COINTELPRO)

At best "fake news" websites are opportunistic ways for clever scam artists to make money by having a gullible public click and share the links.

At worst they are evidence of deep state operations meant to conquer and divide the public. The watchers are watching to see what everybody's reaction is and they continue to push things further as they always do.

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