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The Availability Heuristic and the mechanics of propaganda


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starspawn0

starspawn0

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Propaganda has been around for a long time, and the same old tricks keep tripping people up -- and will continue to do so far into the foreseeable future.  One of the most-used tricks is to shift people's perception of the probability of a threat, by repeating a few shocking examples over and over again.  The more people hear about something, the more probable they think that it is.  That is, this technique plays on the Availability Heuristic or Bias:

 

https://en.wikipedia...ility_heuristic

 

a common type of human cognitive bias. 

 

Some common examples: 

 

1.  Someone hears about lottery winners all the time on the TV, and thinks that winning the lottery must not be as unlikely as they think.

 

2.  People hear about mass-shootings all the time on the TV, and conclude that they must be common, and a threat.

 

3.  People hear about murders all the time on the news, and conclude that murder must be common.

 

4.  People hear about "SJW" bad-actors all the time on social media, and conclude we are drowning in SJWs:  https://mobile.twitt...827937068589057

 

5.  Governments repeat the same bad actions by an adversary again and again, leaving the impression that the adversary is a lot more evil than ones own government.

 

 

What you want instead of cherry-picked examples is statistics or distributions.  For example, concerning the lottery, you want to see how many people played versus how many won; for mass shootings, you want to compare the total number killed against all other kinds of death or murder; and regarding governments, you want to see a comparison, in numbers, of all the bad acts by both countries.

 

This works some of the time, but as the real world is messy, you can bet there are more propaganda hacks -- in many cases, direct comparisons are difficult, and there is often a choice of what statistic to use to prove your point; some choices might work against you, others might work for you.  For example, someone can make the claim that "middle-class income has actually risen substantially," and be right, if we compare today with the situation back in 1967 or something, say; but might be wrong, if they compare how things have played out in the past 15 years.  Another example:  when comparing bad acts by two countries, should we take population into consideration?   If a country with 1 billion people performs twice as many bad acts as a country with 30 million people, is it "twice as bad"?  Which yardstick should we use in these cases?

 

Or, for example, when comparing Republicans to Democrats, one might hear, "Republicans have Roy Moore, but the Democrats have Al Franken!" -- and, of course, they aren't comparable.  Conyers is maybe a better example.  But can we compare alleged statutory rape with proven (in court) sexual harassment?  Sounds like apples versus oranges.

 

Skilled propagandists know how to slip a false-equivalency by people; and if the people already want to believe it, it becomes that much easier to convince them they're hearing a true equivalence, instead.

 

And there are many more tricks... 

 

....

 

Since this is supposed to be a sub-forum about THE FUTURE, let me add:  none of this is going away, and as AI propaganda-bots become even more numerous, you can bet the Availability Heuristic and false-equivalence will be used repeatedly to sway voters.  People will hear again and again on Twitter, from propaganda-bots, about violent Bernie Bros protesters -- the same 5 Bernie Bros -- and conclude that Bernie Bros are just very violent people, and will conflate that with Bernie's message.  

 

You can't make the Availability Heuristic go away -- and so, the side with the most bots and money will win.  I know that's a very cynical way to look at human nature, but I'm afraid it's the truth.


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