Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On the spread of conspiracy theories in the US today

A few comments on the manner in which conspiracy theories have become mainstream in the US.

Conspiracy peddling news sources and agitprop venues have existed in the US media for as long as anyone can remember, but it was only when the Donald Trump campaign came to depend exclusively on them as a replacement for traditional political advertising channels - that their presence and effects in the media metastasized. The use of guerrilla marketing is not novel, it just has never been applied on such a scale because no one in their right mind would care to expose their product to such a polarized climate. No one would want to sell their product to an audience that either "loves it" or "totally hates it" - it is simply too high-risk an affair, something only a pathological narcissist would find appealing. Neither the Democratic party nor the Republican party knows how to deal with this phenomena. Both parties are aware that Donald Trump doesn't care about either party or the country and simply wants to see as many people talking about him as possible. They know they will never get the Trump machine to stop mainlining these conspiracy sources even if Trump is allowed to become president. He can never get enough attention and will always crave for more. 

That being said - a major consumer of the conspiracy theories is currently Trump's main political audience - i.e. second cohort white baby-boomer men and early Gen X white men. This social sub-segment is being force fed a bone-meal of pure conspiracy on a daily basis through various "independent media" (i.e. twitter, youtube, instagram etc...). This material is streamed directly to their personal devices and since it augments their sense of political empowerment the material is re-transmitted without critical thought. It is the spread of this material through the re-tweets that catches the eye of the AIs running the news feed catchers (all major mainstream news media outfits have automated AI feedcatchers that watch twitter/instagram/reddit/youtube) . Once it is caught by the feed catcher (i.e the feedcatcher scores it high enough to merit human review), the conspiracy headline is escalated through the main stream news desk where editors review the material and try to show that the conspiracy theory is false. However by contradicting this theory - the mainstream news cycle in turn draws more attention on the internet to the theory and when an AI builds a word cloud - the conspiracy theory word counts come up extremely high.  This feeds the notion that conspiracy theory is much more readily accepted by the population than it really is. 

What is being missed here is that this is a case of the measurement apparatus polluting the information it is attempting to measure. Neither the purveyors of the conspiracy theory, nor their political backers, nor the useful idiots who readily re-transmit it without any thought nor the mainstream media realize that the entire effect of the conspiracy theory is being magnified by the way in which the effect is measured. It is a peculiar effect - which most seasoned marketers or intelligence agencies are used to thinking about but the public at large is unaware of.  It is easy to shift a public opinion trend by targeted marketing, but it is difficult to sustain that shift if it is a bad product to begin with. Guerrilla marketing can boost a bad product for a short period of time only and without repeated boosting, there is no way to sustain the performance over any significant time frame. The entire strategy falls apart if there is one fluctuation in the marketing resources available. The entire approach rebounds on its creator. 

I think the most natural consequence of this is the strange pattern in the polls. As the polls are an imperfect survey of average public opinion at a given moment in time, they are catching the noise introduced on to the instantaneous public opinion by these guerrilla marketing efforts. The result is polls that show no clear trends and as expected only the average of many polls drifts slowly. The really misleading part is to believe that the weekly polls reflect anything serious, and both campaigns should ideally rely on the ground contact operations to build up a true sense of where voter loyalties will actually lie. Therein lies a major gap between the two campaigns. The Trump machine has no ground contact even in highly contested states. They have no direct poling efforts on the ground. This is mostly because the Trump campaign is more a publicity vehicle for Donald Trump rather than a serious political campaign.  Most of the republican vote managers and money managers have taken note of this and the bulk of the "get out the vote cash" is still withheld from the Donald Trump campaign and in its place it is likely being handed out directly to veteran GoP ground operators who have no direct loyalty to the Trump campaign. The Trump Campaign seems to think that GoP voters that come to vote for their local republican "down ballot" representatives will check off the Donald Trump box out of a sense of mere formality. They don't seem to comprehend that the GoP has no interest in Donald's presidency and that they feel he is a bigger threat to them than Hillary Clinton. 

It is difficult to gauge the exact nature of the national security threat from such a proliferation of conspiracy theories. It is likely that the more air-time these get - the weaker public confidence in government will be. Such a situation naturally appeals to enemies of the state. Again that being said - there are no specific threats on the horizon that I am aware of. 


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