This post is a companion to the March 11 & 12, 2020 editions of The John Henry Show, a livestream broadcast on YouTube that appears every night M-F at 8pm eastern on my YouTube Channel. If you’d like to watch the videos you can find them here and here. If you have material you believe will be beneficial to these techniques, please leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to check them out and integrate them, but please don’t forget this is a one-man operation and there are only so many hours in the day.
I am an individual acting of my own volition and am not associated with or contracted by any candidate, PAC, Super-PAC, or party.
Combating Artificial Narratives In Social Media Related To The Sanders Candidacy
Step-By-Step Deconstruction: How This Happened So Far.
- Set up a very large field of candidates to make it difficult to be heard above the crowd
- As the field narrows with public support failing to materialize, allow a small group of third-tier candidates to gain support
- Allow the front-runner to get a little comfortable. Keep building various dishonest narratives (see below)
- The front-runner will eventually lose to someone. When that candidate is identified, they become the “party favorite.”
- Immediately shift narratives to support party favorite while downplaying successes of outsider candidate
- Support all narratives with both mass media and social media compliance-gaining tactics (see below)
- Once the party favorite is identified, pressure leading third-tier candidates to drop out with promises of reward if they throw support to party favorite.
- When party favorite wins, build narrative of “surge” and “the people have spoken.” Continue to ignore prior successes of leading candidate.
- Send proxies to speak in favor of party candidate and declaim outsider as Super Tuesday approaches.
- Continue working to undermine confidence in leading candidate. Ramp up negativity post-Super-Tuesday. “Can’t win,” “people don’t want a revolution,” etc.
- Continue to circulate easily-repeatable points with high resonance on social and mainstream media. The populists must be discourage and feel beaten.
- Continue to suppress turnout and enthusiasm for progress through disinformation campaigns combined with “evidence” of primary victories.
- Claim pre-emptive victory with less than half of delegates committed, to defuse any potential energy generated by the inevitable one-on-one debate, which must take place after both Super Tuesday and the following 6-state primary a week later.
- This ensures that enthusiasm and momentum is sapped for the popular candidate going in to the debates, which will hopefully blunt the predictable and one-sided victory of the populist in the debate afterward.
Understanding the Techniques Of Disinformation
In this election cycle we are seeing unprecedented levels of inauthentic behavior in social media. This is a key tool in manipulating public opinion; the use of social pressure. By creating the artificial appearance of social approval of the opinions selected by the propagandist, the unethical actor can readily manipulate the public into repeating them and thus doing the heavy lifting of the propagandist for them.
Example: Create multiple social media pages, groups, and other resources that appear on the surface to support Sanders or at least a substantial part of his platform. For instance you might name your group “[Insert Social Group] For Sanders 2020,” where any defined group can be used – Christians, Muslims, Blacks, Whites, Teachers, Utahns, Californians, Progressive, Liberals, Democrats.
One of the things this technique accomplishes immediately is to create artificial attractions to Sanders’ base that are readily confused with authentic “organic” groups. This has the added benefit of “teaching a lesson” to grassroots organizers that they’ll be outwitted, flanked, and have their own tactics used against them at every possible turn, which accomplishes some discouragement.
Rather than try to conduct a collegiate-level examination of the fine points of disinformation, let’s go ahead and dig in to the meat of the matter: what do these false narratives look like, how do I identify them, and how do I counter them?
Identifying Inauthentic Behavior
One of the most subtle and complex techniques that has emerged in the last two-four years in the American political landscape is the “seeding” of inauthentic narratives in such a way that they play on the fears of “soft” Sanders supporters – those who perhaps believe in his message or ideological goals but are afraid they won’t gain public approval, or that he’ll be hamstrung by an uncooperative Congress once he’s in office.
For this reason, we can only take the default behavioral path of treating anyone posting disinformation or misinformation as authentic, at least initially. So start out by giving the benefit of the doubt that the argument being put forth is sincerely held, and deal with it on that level first.
Inauthentic actors will double down on assertions and arguments that are readily disproven by fact or valid reasoning. The more they cling to their position in the face of contradictory facts and reason, the more likely it is that you’re dealing with an inauthentic actor.
There simply is no iron-clad way to identify a fake, troll, or poser on sight. You have to treat them as though they’re 100% real in every initial exchange. Most of them will reveal themselves as fake or inauthentic in the course of a short conversation, if you watch carefully.
Specific Points To Rebut
Here’s the “meat and potatoes.”
“Sanders can’t win”
- Sanders was winning just fine until people started buying in to this false narrative. Don’t lose hope. We all want a better nation, a country we can be proud of that takes care of its people and produces leaders in every discipline. To do that, we need to get people out from under impossible student loan payments and make college tuition-free so students can afford to attend
- Nearly every poll published in the last six months has Sanders beating Trump by a significant margin in head-to-head matchups, even among largely Republican and right-wing audiences like Fox News.
- Nearly everything we do is “socialism” in one way or another. Police, the military, roads, libraries, the NIH, the CDC, standardization of electrical current; every fundamental function of our nation is socialized.
- Socialized medicine in the norm in the developed world. While many nations have supplemental private insurance to pay for elective procedures like cosmetic surgery, these are general options that produce no benefit for medical needs but rather cater to a small group who chooses to engage in elective medicine.
- Wait times, low quality, and other dogwhistles are just plain not true. Anyone can cherry-pick anecdotes – which may or may not even be true – to support their existing biases. The reality is the United States pays twice as much per person as the next-most-expensive country in the world, and has the worst outcomes nearly across the board. This data is readily available from WHO
- If we had a proper universal single-payer system we wouldn’t be waiting for commercial enterprises to negotiate a profit for coronavirus vaccines, and thus those vaccines would be forthcoming much more quickly. Indeed a vaccine for SARS was developed four years ago that could potentially have been developed and modified for inoculation against nCoV, but there wasn’t enough commercial interest in funding it and our current profit first mindset ensured there was no political support for a federally-funded research path.
- The Soviet Union and “Red China” were not and are not socialist countries; they are authoritarian pseudo-communist countries. Confusing “socialism” with “authoritarianism” creates two major problems; first, it allows the word “socialism” to be used as a boogey-man against those who don’t understand what it is, and it also obfuscates the reality that capitalism can also create authoritarian systems, which is exactly what’s happening in the United States right now.
“The media said…”
- The mainstream media in the United States is owned by six corporations: Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany and Viacom, which own most cable channels, and the Sinclair Broadcasting Corp which owns a majority of local TV stations. Every one of these companies has a vested interest in defeating Sanders; thus, every one of them has a vested interest in manipulating the news to disinform voters and discourage the rise of a populist movement. Sanders has repeatedly spoken in favor of the unions present at these corporations and on the side of striking workers at Comcast, which owns MSNBC and CNN. Furthermore, Sanders supports “net neutrality,” which ensures internet traffic is not sped up or slowed down depending on the provider’s biases toward the content or content provider. That bias may exist as cash incentives (“fast lane” traffic for big sites) or as socio-political incentives (making access to information like what you’re reading right now inconvenient or effectively impossible).
“We don’t need a grumpy old man…”
- The entire race is grumpy old men. You can vote for the one who has consistently demonstrated a commitment to public interest throughout his career, or you can vote for one of the ones that don’t.
Nobody likes Bernie
- I like him. So do millions of other Americans. This is a false narrative put forth by his political opponents.
Congress won’t work with him.
- They won’t work with Biden either; any president’s success with Congress depends on the individuals serving in that Congress. If there must be compromise, then isn’t it smarter to begin negotiations from the position you actually want, rather than staking a watered-down position to begin with and then compromising further? Sanders has a much better chance of elevating down-ballot candidates who will work with him, if we keep public interest and enthusiasm engaged. If we allow the media to tell us we can’t win, we get nothing. Get Bernie into the White House and vote for the most progressive down-ballot candidates you can find, and you’ll end up with a Congress that works just fine with Bernie Sanders
- There is nothing radical about catching up with the rest of the world. I can attend university tuition free in dozens of countries without even being a citizen, and if I were a citizen there would be further benefits (e.g. stipend for living expenses in Finland). This is another boogeyman to make people afraid of positive progress for their benefit, and doesn’t hold up to reasoned scrutiny.Besides, can you imagine if our founding fathers had taken that position? Can’t break away from England, that’s “too radical.” We should try to negotiate better terms.
- The “overton window.” The Overton Window is a political phenomenon where a radical fringe continually redefines the limits of what is “left” and “right,” and then pulls the center toward them until what was once firmly centrist is seen as “radical.” The process is very subtle and executes over an extended period, and it’s been happening here for several decades now. We need it to stop; at this point the “left” is where the middle used to be, the right is off the edge of the scale, and anything that is genuinely in the people’s interests is treated as though it’s fringe lunacy. Wanting a nation of healthy, educated people is not fringe lunacy; it’s the only way to have a strong country
“The American People Don’t Want Revolution”
- Perhaps the american people who own corporations and pay tens of thousands of dollars to have dinner with candidates other than Sanders don’t. The rest of us are in a somewhat different boat. There are half a million people sleeping on the streets right now who don’t just want a revolution, they need one. Two and a half million schoolkids report being homeless at some point during the school year. Eighty-seven million people have no meaningful access to health care. Meanwhile you’ve got a candidate telling you that just getting back to the compromise position we already had in place four years ago represents a victory, and that’s just not true.
“People don’t want to change too quickly”
- Perhaps that shrinking group of people who enjoy the privilege of material security don’t. For everyone else, time is running out. Millions of us no longer have the luxury of being able to wait for a pleasant negotiation with profit interest who can, do, and will continue to take any sign of compromise as an indication that they can go for the throat.
“Bernie has no plan to get us there.”
- Of course he does. It’s on his website, go read it. It’s right there.
“He’s hiding information about his medical condition”
- How much information do you have about Joe Biden’s health? Donald Trump’s? Bet it’s less than you know about Bernies.
“He’s too old”
- Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the same age now that Sanders would be when finishing a second term, she seems to function well.
“He’s a hypocrite because he rails against the wealthy but he’s a millionaire”
- The Sanders’ have an estimated net worth of about 2.5 million, most of which has been acquired in the last few years through sales of a best-selling book and the inheritance of his wife’s parents’ home. The man never said he hated money; it’s the abuse of power that comes from great inequality of wealth that’s the problem.
“He’s a divider, not a uniter”
- This is an old tactic. The only thing that makes Sanders a “divider” is that he opposes the power being abused by the oligarchy that currently holds sway in this country. This is similar to accusations that Obama was a “divider.” Obama wasn’t a divider; the people who hated him were the dividers, and they gaslighted a bunch of people into thinking it was his fault. They’re doing the same to Sanders. Don’t fall for it.
“He can’t expand the base.”
- He has expanded the base, and continues to do so by reaching out to the 90 million eligible voters in this country who don’t bother voting because they don’t feel like they have a voice.
- Is your loyalty to the nation and its people, or to a political party? Why? What has the Democratic Party in and of itself done for you or anyone you know?
“He has no experience in international politics”
- Neither did Obama. Neither did Reagan. Neither did Carter, or Ford, or Nixon, or Kennedy, or Roosevelt before they were elected. Besides which, Sanders has traveled outside the country extensively – to at least forty-one other nations – and met with world leaders on multiple occasions. When he does so and is quite rightly critical of some of our less-savory engagements (like the Iran-Contra affair), then people turn around and complain about that. This, again, is just an empty complaint with no substance.
- Sanders supporters represent every corner of American society.
- Some of them are pretty angry, and frankly with good reason. They’re starving, they’re dying of preventable illnesses, and they’re hearing their friends and neighbors say, through their support of Trump and Biden, that those friends and neighbors don’t really care about them. Meanwhile, poor people, people of color, and others continue to waste away and die while we’re trying to negotiate a “civil discourse.” I’m pretty mad, too – why aren’t you?
This should be enough to get you started and rolling on some effective rebuttals. Here are some final thoughts to help you succeed:
- Avoid confrontational tones. – We’ve all heard the “Bernie Bros” narrative and I understand as well as anyone how frustrating it can be to talk to someone who clearly isn’t listening. Give them three cycles of conversation: if they haven’t stopped stonewalling you by that point, they’re not trying to have a conversation, they’re trying to win an internet argument. You can state clearly your reasons for doing so, and then walk away. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about the other people in our country, people like me and even people like you. Since you don’t appear to be interested in understanding it, I’m going to spend my energy on people who really do want solutions rather than arguments.”
- Avoid heavy criticism of other candidates. Nevermind what’s wrong with them – what’s RIGHT with Bernie? What positive does he bring to the table, what progress is he trying to achieve, what benefit to each of us does his ideological position provide us as a nation and as individuals. If you must compare and contrast, stick to facts and be prepared to back them up with evidence (e.g. video of Joe Biden saying he’d veto a universal single-payer health care plan if it passed Congress)
- Find Common Ground – Ask questions – what issues are important to you? What matters most to you in this election? The answers can guide your discussion further, for instance if they say “I just want to get rid of Trump,” you can point to the polls mentioned above under the “Bernie Can’t Win” bullet point. The simple reality is most Americans strongly support Sanders’ platform but have been manipulated to dislike his personality, or his followers, or something else that really isn’t relevant. Make them bring the conversation to a point, and once you have that point in focus any of the techniques described above should help you get there.