No One Ever

The sign in my No Frills grocery store is a true statement. How could it be otherwise? It gives me confidence that by shopping at No Frills, I’m not paying more than I need to. It convinces me that shopping somewhere else would be no advantage. I am confirmed in my desire to get the most for my money, not be wasting money unnecessarily. I can count on No Frills’ prices to be rock bottom. It’s the brand’s DNA. I believe in my heart it is a good company that promises to look after me. Yes, by Golly! I’m elated and in my mind, high-five the sign as I pass by it. Adding to my assurance, the pleasurable association of eating ice cream is right there up on the sign, egging me on. And after my eye is caught by the booming yellow and the deep-felt proclamation of the message along with the ice cream sensation, my attention then turns to see also that not only are prices the lowest, but I’m enjoying a sale, too, woo-hoo!!, a further reduction in price, and not just any sale, but a HUGE one.

I took this photo and am writing this piece because it strikes me there just might be something wrong about the sign’s message.

This couple, in their early thirties I’d guess, happened to be standing in the area of the sign. I had moved in closer to photograph the sign, close enough for a socially distanced conversation. I asked if they felt there was anything peculiar about the message.

They didn’t have an answer. The idea of the sign seemed like a no-brainer. I offered the perspective that for business to provide the lowest possible cost may involve exploiting people in the developing world or compromising on health and environmental standards. They instantly got the point. They understood that the sign wasn’t true for them. If with paying less they compromised their values, the the message was unacceptable. But as their initial response to my question indicated, they hadn’t really made the connection between their values and what the sign stood for. It wasn’t even a consideration for them to question the message at all, even think of questioning it despite the incongruity with their own social values; no doubt, the same happens as we travel through the course of our day viewing over 1500 messages.

‘But then advertising doesn’t affect me’, is often said. ‘I’m impervious to influence.’ -Ha! They’ve got you there. All the better to influence you if you feel you aren’t being influenced. Why do companies spend billions on advertising? Why are marketing, public relations, and strategic planning businesses not charities but highly profitable businesses? Why do they attract some of the the brightest, most creative people and why can the companies afford to pay them very well? Why? Because it all works. Promotion works. Persuasion works. And you don’t even know it’s working…on you.

We think little about any of it, but should we take time to reflect on how we are influenced, for just a moment, everything changes, that is, the world we live in and our relation to it would change. With only making a point of living with critical judgement, challenging the messages we live with.

Attractive messages when considered more carefully may be highly appealing for our inner desires but in fact not reflect our inner values, as the couple in No Frills realized during our passing conversation. And I hope for this couple, as my hope was for my students who I engaged in this way, that for the experience they would be better prepared to question the world they are living in. And for that be independent thinkers, happier people and better citizens.

Any critique we had of advertising standards and mass communication a few decades ago -the critique led by Joyce Nelson, Jerry Mander, Neil Postman, Gregor T. Goethals and others- is multiplied exponentially today in our new digital world. The ability to predict and target the consumer is so heightened, well, is actually more than we even know.

Targeting of the audience today isn’t limited to a broad demographic groups, but is tailored to each and every individual, custom, boutique persuasion based on what they know of us. for anyone using FaceBook, FaceBook has mined over 25,000 profile points for each person based on your searches: what you clicked on, when you clicked on it, for how long you spent there, where you went next…. FaceBook knows the time of day you are most vulnerable, perhaps tired after work and sitting on the streetcar going home. They know that could be an excellent time to target you with certain advertisers or certain articles to keep you online and exposed to more ads. And they also know we are too overwhelmed with the number of messages we receive to question any one of them. We know so little about how closely we are surveilled and our choices managed and we are so bombarded in our lives with messaging that We don’t question any of it. Without questioning any of it, we continue on in naive trust that our social media is there for our benefit, concerned with our well-being. Yes, there is benefit, but the tradeoff is for control over our behaviour. That second part we don’t know about. Only learning now thanks to the Whistleblowers that know from the inside how our civil society is being hollowed out for the sake of increased sales of products and services.

Unfortunately, the fact we don’t critique our digital diet is a huge stumbling block in getting anything done about important issues, and especially the most critical issue facing us: the climate crisis. Last year the world expended more hydrocarbons into the atmosphere than any time ever before despite overwhelming evidence it is sending us down a path of irreparable consequence. For 40 years little has been done about climate change by the world community. No wonder informed young people who aren’t old enough to vote are screaming their heads off at the adult world to wake up to their future being destroyed. I’d like to offer from my readings of experts that our tendency to not question the messaging we are receiving is the primary factor in our inability to make good choices for ourselves and the planet. They tell me that this is the main reason virtually little has been done to address the impending climate crisis. Why is that: Because someone else, and not with our interest at heart, is making choices for us. And choosing to limit change to our fossil fuel consumption.

With having read various experts, I am of the mind that before any effort at combatting the problem of climate change can show results, we have to combat the hidden problems with social media. I believe the two issues are co-dependent. While recognizing the value of all the environmental conferences, published research, documentaries, community activity, and political proclamations about issues of climate change, yet it seems paramount to deal first of all with an underlying matter and fix our use of social media. How is that? Well social media is shaping our opinion and blocking any concerted effort to address climate change.

Social media is not a channel of communication; it manages and directs our communication. It’s not a tool. It is actively using what it knows (a lot) of our human psychology and and uses our data (big data) to influence us, and as we must come to realize for our own sakes, social media in the end is against public interest and progressive change, far more than we imagine possible.

A claim of the companies themselves, social media companies can predict with high accuracy if someone is getting divorced or getting pregnant, even before that someone knows her or himself. And as they don’t tell us, but the whistle-blowers do, social media companies are using that knowledge of us to shape and nudge our behaviour to their ends. And we have no idea they are; social media is a new and unregulated technology. And often, as with the No Frills ad, social medias interaction with us – while seeming to serve our interests – is in deep conflict with our values.

I’m using the research and publications of Dr. John Cook, Centre for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University, along with others, including his colleague Edward Maibach, Sander van der Linden, Department of Psychology, Cambridge University and Stephan Lewandowsky, School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol and CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Australia.

As these researchers present in their paper, the central reason why no real movement on climate change has occurred, despite its devastating consequences and its irreversible effect, is that the public believes there is no apparent consensus among scientists about the risks of climate change. Well, yes, there truly is a clear consensus: 97% of scientists say we are on the brink, but that fact is skewered in social media as the authors have investigated. Unlike in the domain of science, in the domain of social media it appears to the public that only 2/3 of scientists agree there is an environmental crisis. A third of the experts have some doubt in the world of social media. And that skewering of the truth in social media serves the interest, the vested interest, of those not wanting any action on climate change. And who could that be?

The fossil fuel industry, intent on protecting its industry at any cost, has adopted the same techniques as the tobacco industry, also purveyors of a similarly poisonous product: Cigarettes. The tobacco industry wanted people to continue consuming cigarettes despite the overwhelming research revealing tobacco’s toxicity. To ensure they could keep selling a poisonous product, the tobacco industry in the past found that all they had to do to stem any effective opposition to the sale of their product was to provide some doubt about the claims of the view opposing their own.

The remarkable discovery for them was that the countering view they would promote did not have to be true nor stand up to scientific rigour. They could just say whatever they wanted, make any claim they wanted about tobacco, and so long as this alternative view was out in the public and repeated endlessly, the public would accept its legitimacy and feel uncertain about what was right. In a climate of uncertainty created by false information created by the tobacco industry, the public was confused and uncertain, and for decades did not call for change or demand any action against the tobacco industry. During that time the industry continued to flourish making huge profit from a product that had huge social costs for society and individuals.

A disinformation campaign was enough to sustain the tobacco industry for decades despite the consequential negative value of smoking. They had it easy. They found they didn’t have to mount any argument for the efficacy of cigarettes; all they had to do was suggest that the opposing view to their own was questionable. And they could create the uncertainty about the opposing view by nothing more than lying, and repeating the lie endlessly. And for the last decades, the petroleum industry, to maintain the status quo on consumption of fossil fuels despite all the consequential damage it is causing, followed the same strategy as the tobacco industry and is achieving their goal very effectively. As mentioned above, the planet consumed more fossil fuel based product last year than any year before. which is exactly what the industry wants.

To illustrate this, to the left is an explanation and example Dr. Cook gives of a memo sent by Frank Luntz who promoted the interests of the petroleum industry. His intent was to waylay any action against climate change. Learned from the tobacco strategists, Mr.Luntz used all his ability and insight into human nature to create talking points for Republican politicians to skewer the climate crisis debate and prohibit any concerted climate action by the American government. And his advice was excellent for the elected Republican officials who were his clients have stymied any action on the climate crisis for decades. Consider the four yearsL the American government has done nothing except pull out of the Paris Accord and appoint a petroleum industry lobbyist as the head of the Environmental Protection Association (EPA).


Please [he’s writing to Republican elected officials in the US government] keep in mind the following communication recommendations as you address global warming in general, particularly as Democrats and opinion leaders attack President Bush over Kyoto.

[Tallking Point:] 1. The scientific debate remains open. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming with the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.

Like the marketers for No Frills grocery stores, the tobacco and then petroleum industry are very good at what they do. And I must remind you: they are good at deceiving you. That’s the bottom line here.

There’s a deep psychological barrier in us all to accepting what I just wrote. I come back to it later on in the blog but in its essence we don’t like to doubt what we put our trust in. It’s endemic to us to trust our institutions, believe they have our interests at heart. We just don’t want to think the institutions we trust are capable of deceit. For us to question those in charge is to question our own judgement in trusting them. To undermine the foundation of trust we invest our lives in, the institutions we rely on and commit to for our security, well, to undermine them is to undermine our selves, our need for security and our belief in our own goodness. We just don’t readily or easily question or suspect or doubt the intentions of these institutions because as individuals we feel helpless and vulnerable without them around.

I’m asking a lot of you to follow me through this blog. I’m asking you to question the motivation of industries and institutions that provide you comfort and convenience and give you pride in who you are. I’m asking you to doubt the motives for what gives facility to the life you live, and what is the substance for your dreams. If the motives of these institutions is suspect, if they actually don’t have your best interests at heart at all, then your dreams might come crashing down. The hope you’ve built your trust around might disipitate leaving you with nothing to hold onto. Yes, I know, I’m asking a lot of you. I had to go through this myself.

The risk to us is in the wake of this admission to many of our cherished institutions serving their interests by using us, that we become depressed nihilists, anarchists, conspiracy theory junkies, or run away into escapist entertainment. The trick is to question, to hold accountable the institutions, but also to demand of them transparency, to expect more of them. Our task is to make our institutions work for us, for the public good, and to be vigilant against those who would co-opt our institutions for their self-interest, against our collective self-interest.

I feel the key we need to grasp about marketing and marketers, those really good at it, is to realize how well they understand human behaviour and how effective they are in shaping human behaviour. I remember psychologist James Hillman telling us how all the top ad executives would come to the academic Mythology conferences looking for insight into the depths of human consciousness. The best of marketers, a few at the top of the digital heap who are designing social media experiences, know more about the human condition and how humans behave, know more about us, than we know about ourselves.

Welcome to Big Data! And statistical analysis. And machine learning. And the sad part we have to accept is that, no matter how psychologically distressing it is for us to admit to, these geniuses of the virtual world exploit that knowledge to benefit themselves, and often to our harm. Poor innocent us. Gullible us. Pathetic us, really, unless we stand up to it. If we don’t challenge and question their messages, then we are going to be manipulated patsies for bright people intent on making money out of us or getting us to support their agenda, commercial or ideological. If we question them, affirm our own values, our own judgements and choices, then we become the ones running our own lives, and we are the ones choosing how to build a better society for all.

To be fair to the petroleum industry and marketing profession, I’m sure, many professionals working in these industries are concerned, responsible, decent people. However, in the detachment of the work, the little fragment everyone works on, the whole is a bit amorphous. At times employees wake up and protest their corporate employer’s policies such as when Google staff, who had been promised transparency by Google admin, protested on finding out Google was secretly making significant investment in weapons production and sales. (Can you blame Google for going behind the promise made to the staff? Munitions is the best money; better margins than even illegal drugs!) In the end though, while Google staff made a bit of a point, and some resigned, the same carried on. And while there have been many consumer campaigns to boycott Facebook, it all just disappears into the ether and things go on the same. Generally, people in tech work away on their isolated engineering tasks in their tech company silos as oblivious to to the effect of the messaging we see because of them, as they are to the effect of their work on us all, on our civil discourse.

So the bottom line, intentional or otherwise, is that social media companies have no interest in the ordinary citizen except to make money from our attention, and they quite readily allow us to be deceived if it suits that interest.

To make matters worse for us, the trick above all tricks is that they can make us feel (even believe) they care about us, brand themselves as our benefactor. Warm up to us as if our friend. True. A lot of young people, in particular, speak of ‘their’ social media as if their companion, friend to them, maybe that they even feel their digital device more of a friend than their hundreds of “human friend” contacts. As James Williams former employee of Google and now academic at Oxford University outlines in his book Stand Out of Our Light, that behind closed doors in social media companies the conversation is not about our interests but only about whatever it takes to beat out the competition and make a killing off us.

Of course that’s why there are rules and regulations, you point out. Business is fine with a level playing field; if everyone plays by the same restrictive rules, all is taken care of. But then, if some crafty entrepreneur can lower those rules to eke out a bit more profit, they’ll do it and everyone else has to follow. Hence populism in politics. Hence big business support for Thatcher and Reagan economics. Hence a global unregulated marketplace. Hence ‘astro turf’ organizations, that is, fake organizations set up for example, by the Koch brothers, to appear as if they are grassroots organizations representing ordinary people, conscripting believing ordinary people to fight the (fake) cause, when in fact the astro turf organizations are carrying out a behind-the-scenes agenda for the ghost corporation. Whew!! Hence the infallible belief that the internet should be unregulated by authorities so the people can speak freely. Funny that argument; especially when it’s only nine companies running social media for whom that ideal of free speech really means they get to do whatever they want. What they don’t want is anyone else, including the public, to monitor their activity, and they get us to accept that argument in the way the No Frills sign is convincing: It sounds like it makes sense (when it doesn’t).

Business certainly will do whatever it takes, honest or otherwise, if the competition is doing it. It’s how they stay in the game. No other way, really. Can’t let the competition get the drop on one. Could sink the business. MacDonald’s went to Haiti, poorest country in the world, and made a deal to assume control of pasture land exclusively for MacDonald’s beef cattle removing the local Haitians from the land, common land needed for the local people’s subsistence. With that deal, MacDonald’s was able to knock a nickel off of the cost of its North American burgers and do one better than Burger King who was cutting into MacDonald’s market and profit.

I live in a province that elected a government that has removed dozens of environmental controls and citizen rights to reduce the cost of doing business, allowing for more profit at the expense of increased chemical poisoning of our waterways, building on our floodplains, over essential wetlands and on land designated by the experts as environmentally sensitive. These changes given the Minister of Municipalities full authority to issue permits with no expert oversight are buried in omnibus bills rushed through without third reading where no citizen would expect the changes, all done behind the citizens’ backs when trying to deal with Covid.

Oh, that same government sold the electorate on the idea it was a political party representing the interests of the ordinary citizen, when all it has done is further the interests of an unscrupulous business class. The party was chosen by the population despite offering no policy platform during the election, and with but one promises of no increase to homeowner electricity costs, oh yes, and a popular promise of “a buck a beer for Ontarians.” For that they have gone ahead and set back Ontario’s climate change initiatives by 90 years.

How do they get away with it? Like the No Frills ad, they seem to give us what we want, even if there are gaps and flaws in the logic of the pitch. Cheapest possible food. And they don’t tell us they exploit other people to give us that. Exploiting other people including children or destroying the environment we live in is not what most people would support. Children working in dark mining tunnels, every day sucking dust and toxin into their lungs, with no protection, digging out the metals needed to build our cell phones, the payment of those workers’ lives to give us, the privileged ones, cell phones at a most competitive cost. But of course it’s good marketing not to tell us the cost of our low prices, the human cost to put a cell phone into our pockets. Just promise the low prices. Just give us the dream. Give us what we want. And we don’t dare question. To question may mean to lose it all; too high a price for us. So it all happens. Cheap prices. Disgusting moral compromise buried in ignorance. ‘Won’t want to think about it if I don’t have to’ is a totem buried deep in the recesses of our unconscious mind. Don’t ask questions, in other words. Don’t ask and you won’t know. To know would bother you. So our capitulation is captured in the marketing, reassuring us: “I want to pay more. Said by no one ever.” And we feel we belong. Don’t take that away. How difficult it is to do the right thing. I know this is hard for us to be told, to read here.

Ninety-seven percent of the expert scientific community says we are now in a critical moment when we have to pull back from the mad poisoning of the earth’s atmosphere, land and oceans or those 3-year old children today who will be 30 by 2050 won’t have a predictable environment to live in, will be subject to all kinds of extreme weather conditions leading to social uncertainty, food production and settlement that will be very precarious. It will be chaos. Yes, 97% of the experts say the human race is on the brink; sober, careful scientists have been telling us this now with more and more urgency. Ninety-seven percent. All credible scientists.

We don’t want to think about that, and fortunately for us, there is a dissenting point of view on the internet, so we don’t have to deal with it. That 3% of the scientific community that deny climate change – well it’s not really the scientific community: it’s scientists who are willing to go over to the dark side of the Koch brothers industry and say whatever the paymasters ask them to say. But that 3% is enough to change the debate from “what do we do about climate change?” to “is there climate change?”, and that’s enough to freeze any action on climate change. That’s enough for the petroleum industry to win. How is that?

Here’s the bigger problem: our social communication ecosystem. The misinformation generated by the public relations department of the petroleum industry gets retweeted and reposted. Like the No Frills message, that kind of seemingly true message caught with a few pithy words that appeal to our fantasy is a lot more seductive, like ice cream is seductive, than detailed research, careful examination, thoughtful reasoning, which don’t fit on the tiny phone screen. That don’t fire up our emotional cravings.

Weighed and considered research is hard to manage when we’re busy, but the bright lights of the clickbait, the heightened emotional rants that entertain us and shock us out of our boredom are so easy, so seductive, that we fall for them, and so we repost the bright shiny seductive message, and what gets lost, has no legs, gets no attention is the message of substance; it passes away, ignored.

A study reported in Psychological Science in June 2020 found people quite readily shared a FB post that was misinformation. However, for the second part of the experiment, they were asked to evaluate the accuracy of the article first, and the result of that time-out in order to question the article, the experiment results showed that the subjects were 3x more likely to spot the article as misinformation and choose not to repost. Typically, social media users don’t take that extra moment to ponder and question when scrolling on social media. And there’s a reason.

What’s going on? Well, when we decide to repost, our thought is not actually on the message we are reposting. Our thought, the research shows, is on whether we think our recipients will be attracted to the post, find it attractive… and so find us “attractive.” In the conceit of social media our “liking” is actually concerned with our deep-felt need that “I want to be liked.” You see, our interest in social media reposting, the activity of “liking,” is not saying ‘I like something,’ but is really saying, “I want you to like me.” And we know the flashy repost, misinformation or not, we don’t care, will get us far more attention that we seek because everyone else is grabbing at the eye candy as well, emotionally stimulated by the outrage, the bizarre, the fuzzy, the virally reassuring we share with them.

Will our repost get us attention? Wow. And the social media designers and the fossil fuel industry strategists know how much we want that -want to be liked- and boy do they use it. And all that misinformation online that is so seductive, just like every view of Trump is seductive, eye candy which we repost to get attention for ourselves, ends up with reposting on mass all kinds of misinformation, and it gets out there virally and it kills the truth of things. Fact is, the fictitious candy is more alluring than the truth of things.

As Dr. Cook says, if 97% of doctors agreed your daughter was sick, you wouldn’t hesitate to get her medical attention. The 3% would be ignored. But on social media, that 3% can look with reposting like 50%. For some people’s streams, the 3% looks like 100%. And that’s why other people seem to have such a different view of things to us. How could they get it so wrong we think. It’s because what they see as truth and what we see as truth are two different screen views, two different feeds, each specially targeted to the recipient in a way to keep that recipient on line longer. Whatever it takes. What we see and what they see is specifically curated to the biases and perceptions of the recipient, irregardless of the truth of it, so you see whatever it is that will keep you online longer. That’s it. How things are. The business model that has build incredible wealth for a very few people. And undermines are civil society, leaving it in tatters. Millions of people addicted to their social media yelling at each other.

What do we see on the screen? It’s only what social media algorithms has decided is best for us to see, in their interest, to keep us online for as long as possible. So when people see other people with such contrasting views they get so angry at those other people for being such fools. That’s what’s happening with people only seeing the 3%. They think 100% that climate change is a hoax and don’t understand why someone else can’t see what they see. And they believe with 100% certainty, for example, that Covid is a hoax, because that’s all they see on the screen, and they’ll even fight for that belief. And their anger gets our notice, and we get upset with them and it all gets reposted. And all the while, the 3% grows bigger and bigger. And the yelling gets louder and meaner. And nothing gets done about climate change, for example.

The world, including the United States, is full of mostly good people who want to do the right thing. Unfortunately as a group, humans are easily duped. We can’t be experts in everything, so it’s natural for us to turn to our leaders, go with what they say. If in our social order, the leaders we look to were honest and said 97% of the expert scientific community says we have to do something about our carbon emissions right now, and social media and Conservative Talk Media reflected that, then everyone on the planet would pitch in, and it would get done. But if they don’t, they dupe us. And we are easily duped unfortunately, fall for it because we are so trusting, don’t question. Believe what we see. And again the point: what we see from social media is not any kind of social truth. We see what the algorithms recommend, and that is all about keeping us online longer with whatever it takes, and true to our human nature, strong emotion, especially rage is best at keeping us online, gawking at Trump, for example. And a lot of money for a very few people is made from us staying online longer, with whatever it takes. And if that’s misinformation that people believe true, so be it. If society is polarized, so be it. If it sparks genocide in Myanmar, apparently, so be it.

A woman from the American mid-west interviewed on the October 29 CBC As It Happens radio show defended her support for Trump’s second term. Her defence against all the criticism levelled at Trump is that conventional media is critical of Trump because it is biased and a vested interest. Now, she of course knows that to be true because the media she listens to, not legacy media, tells her so! Conservative talk media convinces her not to trust what she hears in legacy media and conservative talk media convinces her by lying to her, by fabricating facts. She believes what she hears, for example, that traditional media has a bias so don’t believe them (believe us; we’re your friend). She accepts the misinformation without question because it’s what she wants to hear. She and her children work in the oil industry; her whole community and way of life, jobs for her grandchildren are dependent on increased oil production and carbon emissions. Talk media producers know what she wants to hear and they craft, brilliantly stimulating shows delivered to her by charismatic conservative talk media hosts, beautifully packaged entertainment masking as the fifth estate, even though it is mostly fabrication, distortion and lies. And as a society, we no longer seem to be able to see the difference.

CBC As It Happens Oct 29, 2020

In his excellent history of Talk Radio, author Brian Rosenwald points out that when the Talk Radio hosts are questioned about the veracity of their aired content, they blatantly say, ‘look, we’re not journalists, we’re entertainers.’ And they excuse themselves. Yes, they present as political journalists, guardians of the public interest, but that’s the game for them. And it’s better for them if no one knows the difference, just buys into the conceit. Like the No Frills ad: I want to pay more – No one ever said that, their messages sound good, what the listeners want to hear, what affirms the listeners’ assumptions, even if the whole story is concocted in the production studio. That’s how you keep an audience, Talk Radio proved and the floundering and bankrupt AM stations around America jumped board and suddenly found a way back to get rich.

Petroleum industry strategists are very good at what they do, those producers of misinformation; and they sustain their industry with it. Very crafty. Conservative talk media is very good at what it does; it makes a lot of money; Trump has adopted their successful strategy of communication. He is very good at what he does. Very good.

And the Republican party and fossil fuel industry strategy devised by Luntz et al did work and continues to be effective because today the public believes that only 67% of the expert scientific community agree on the climate problem when in fact it’s 97%. (Cook, et al)

When the public believes that support in the scientific community is only 67% for climate change, there is doubt about what is true; not accepting climate change has some credibility.

The same is happening on social media with Covid-19 information: seeds of misinformation, that are serving an ulterior vested interest, attain the same exposure and credibility as the comments of top scientists. And the misinformation is very effective as well. All kinds of decent people believe the pandemic is a hoax. Good people who believe what they read. And the result for civil society is inaction. The status quo is justified because the truth of the matter is deemed uncertain -even when it isn’t.

Unfortunately the strategists, so good at what they do, don’t care what self-serving road they take us down providing it’s profitable. We have to know that. Mr.Luntz did a great job for the petroleum industry, apparently willingly, even knowing it will result in his grandchildren’s considerable suffering. Didn’t seem to care. And we need to know that- know that they don’t care about our well-being at all- need to know that they don’t care so as to remind ourselves to ask the questions, question the motives behind the messages we are exposed to, not just fall for all the warm sentiments for how much they are doing for us as they draw us unsuspecting, innocently into the great seduction.

To stop and question is the alternative. Like the couple I met in No Frills. By taking a reflective moment to question why the strawberry ice cream cone was up there, they realized, in fact, the corporate message did not reflect their values. In that moment, they became their own selves, were no longer sold on the conceit.

We have to question. We have to fight off the seduction. See things as they are. It begins with holding to account the social media companies. The social media companies know exactly what they are doing. Social media companies know how seductively-crafted misinformation, with no better a seduction than rage, is much more likely to capitalize on reposting and retweeting (6 times more), and they allow misinformation and even hate messaging to go unfiltered because it’s good for business.

Social media companies know they control our attention by controlling our feeds with the ads and articles with which they target each of us, based on each of our unique profiles. Social media companies know they are shaping our behaviour in ways we wouldn’t choose, but they do it anyway because it’s really good money for them. Social media companies tell us they act in our interest when they know they act only in their own interest. Social media companies know their deception and greed is undermining civil society….. We have to know this about them, take careful note of it so as not to be seduced and duped by these purveyors of desire. Not to let them seduce us. Question and hold accountable. Get them to stop playing with us, with civil society, just to make money. All the glossy good Google is doing: sure, doing good for profits.

This is not an indictment against technology or social media even, but against how it’s being used. On a personal basis, social media is wonderful; on a collective basis, it’s unravelling the whole fabric of our civil society. Yes, social media brings us together for good, fosters social action but in the end what’s happening? The Arab Spring, the great social media online phenomenon, in the end benefited whom the most? Who? ISIS. ISIS was able to mine all that data out there to its own end. That’s who benefited most the experts tell us. Yes, we have convenience and benefit with social media, but the cost of our engagement is very high, high enough to have given Britain the Brexit vote, which the same people behind Brexit used as practice for electing Trump. Not an opinion I came up with; what the experts, whistle-blowing experts, tell us about the real cost of our unregulated social convenience. See the references at the end.

As with the example of the No Frills message, message-makers make themselves very comfortable to us, make their view to be our view. Become us. That’s the point of marketing: that you see yourself in their messaging and so are looking in the mirror at yourself, looking favourably on what you see: Yourself. To question that image in the mirror is to question and doubt your own self, but in reality it is not you in the mirror, not you actually in the No Frills sign; no matter if you do like ice cream, a lot. It’s only a shimmering, concocted deceit of your self. Coca-Cola will not make you happy.

Taken in the North West entrance of Humber College

If we step back to question the message, then we make our own choices for our own lives. If we don’t question, then the seduction will get us. We can’t resist. Look at the glowing surface of the image to your left, feel yourself there and listen to those words whispered in your ear, Intimately Yours. Without stepping back and questioning the message, by accepting the message at face value, if only passively and unconsciously, we allow ourselves to imagine that a cologne, become that message. In our imagination, becoming the message, we identify ourself, our possibilities in the conceit, our values become the values of that desire, seduced into the longing for wealth, power, influence over women. And the link between the product and the longing slips into our unconscious self… When we fall for the seduction, the desire of longing, then the marketers are the ones who dictate to us the choices we make and the life we live. When we question, we separate our self from the conceit, see our human need independent of the satisfaction of that need with which advertising entices us then we become our own self.

Intimately Beckham Cologne by David Beckham. Launched in 2006, this strong dapper scent evokes worldly sophistication. It opens with invigorating top notes of bergamot, grapefruit and cardamom. That bright trio gives way to a middle mix of violet, nutmeg and star anise. The scent’s base combines sandalwood, amber and patchouli. Intimately Beckham is packaged in a muscular square bottle with rose gold accents and a square stopper. In 2008, the cologne was honoured with the Fragrance of the… read more [after a moment on this online page, up pops a bright pink “Get 15% Off”] [Well, it’s bright pink for me. For you it might be a different colour because your profile of internet use tells the algorithm that you respond more positively to another colour and that’s the colour they’ll send you. It knows that because the algorithm is testing you all the time and more and more finding out about what makes you tick and using that to shape your behaviour…bottom line]

We’re up against it. They are so smart those engineers of persuasion. So subtle. They get under our skin, inside our head, turn things inside out and up side down so we become them, their agenda. The line between what is true and what is fiction got blurred when we didn’t notice: docudramas; reality TV; a Hollywood star for president; a reality TV star for president; infomercials; product launches that become news items….so advertising, which at least we could see as advertising, is now also slight-of-hand journalism, pseudo-journalism that for many people is their only journalism now. What has it come to: writing up journalism stories as click bait, not in order to report news but to attract attention; news feeds that are not about the news but keeping us online longer with self-gratifying stories…

If we question social media tactics and influence, then social media can’t be used to manipulate us by people such as Luntz who was quite happy to undermine the whole of our civil society for his narrow benefit.

If we question and hold to account what is published, then misinformation will not be credible. And if, for example, people are correctly informed that 97%, not 67%, of the expert scientific community are very afraid for the future, and those who manufacture misinformation are rebuffed, then I have every confidence the people of the world will all get together and do what is needed to halt global warming.

I think the shift to meaningful climate action can be as simple (and hard) as that. The climate deniers using misinformation have been very good at creating a belief that the climate crisis is debatable.

The climate crisis is not debatable; only the deniers in their own self-interest want us to think it’s up for debate. Should the scientific community and the politicians and opinion leaders all speak with one honest voice about the climate crisis as it undeniably is, then the world population will support that; people will do what’s needed to turn this environmental disaster around. We will do it. We are survivors. Just tell the whole truth -everyone- and nothing less than the truth.

It’s not true, in fact, that no one ever questions paying more. I expect the majority of people will pay more for products and services if it means a sustainable planet for our children; will pay more if it means a child somewhere isn’t working 15-hour days and instead can go to school; will pay another nickel for a burger so Haitian people can use their own pasture land for their own livelihood instead of going hungry; will pay more so Canada’s Barrick’s Gold mining in India is not poisoning and contaminating the bloodstreams of the local people…..Let us step back for a moment, take a moment, and ask ourselves.

The Consensus Handbook

Deconstructing Climate Change to Deconstruct Argument

National Geographic article : A Guide to Overcoming Covid-19 Misinformation

A few of the documentaries I can remember. Many more as well.

Green Blood Documentary

Influence Documentary

The Social Dilemma

Vanity Fair article on The Social Dilemma

Oil and Water Documentary

A Thousand Cuts Documentary

Propaganda: The Art of Selling Lies Documentary

Active Measures Documentary

Coded Bias Documentary

iHuman Documentary