Meme’s as misinformation (and disinformation)on social media

How many of you have clicked on a meme on Facebook? Be honest.

Memes are a popular way of getting a message across with a catchy graphic and a short but choice selection of words. They are intended to convey a point in a few seconds with minimal thinking involved. That is if the graphic and the text match.

But what about what the meme is telling the viewer and reality? Quite often there is degree of separation between the reality and what is being implied.

Much of the time the meme might be based on regurgitated information that was correct at the time of publication, but which is no longer the case. Many of them are completely harmless as people generally know enough to realize it is outdated.

A more concerning meme is the type that believed by people with a social disconnect, or who come from backgrounds where education was not such a high priority. Without any thought they might be unwittingly passing on disproved information. Almost none of these meme’s have references attached so it is difficult to track down who the author was or where their information came from. Many might have been written as a joke, but have somehow become gospel. Others were simply written out of boredom, got popular on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media and took off.

These meme’s are problematic because potentially anyone who can use a computer and has an internet connection could compile one with just a bit of training. Sometimes those meme’s are also made by people and organizations who honestly should have known better – New Zealand Labour Party and a meme going around about walking away from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (now Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership). It was made for the 2017 election. Labour are now in office and this misleading meme – it was dubious then, and it is more so now – continues to exist. Labour could take it down right now if they so chose to do so and many have called for them to do so, but I could find it on Facebook now I if I wanted to.

Others exist as well. They range in content. Some are medical advice that has been shot down enough times over that no reputable medical professional would support it. Some are flat out lies about political announcements and policy. Some were made overseas and went viral, somehow catching on in New Zealand even though it was demonstrably obvious that it had nothing to do with this corner of the world.

Most recently I have seen meme’s about the Kilauea volcanic eruption in Hawaii. These memes have been concerning because there have been a few instances of people taking the maps released by Hawaiian state government officials and the United States Geological Survey They have then expanded the map so it looks like a significant part of Hawaii is being inundated by lava and then used the print-screen function to create an image and posted it, ignoring the fact that over 90% of the island is still fully accessible. These do not help because they exaggerate the scale of the problem – yes it is a substantial eruption and yes it is causing major disruption. People then think “oh, the holiday will have to be cancelled, or nobody will want us to visit”.

And there are those that are simply disinformation. They were intentionally written to mislead. Sometimes facts get in the way of a good story. Sometimes political discourse runs into scientific research and the science is dismissed under any one or more of a range political disguises – the sky is falling; fake news; mainstream media – and so on. These are the most destructive as they are deliberate attempts to swing the public discourse down a route that might have large scale adverse results and has been widely discredited by those who have spent their careers thus far – be 4 years or 40 years – researching and making an honest attempt to understand their subject.

Some media outlets are unfortunately complicit in deliberate disinformation campaigns. Russia Today and Fox News are two such outlets, but there are others. Since the advent of mainstream journalism, the principles of journalism have slumped somewhat. It is not to say no good journalists still exist as many do, but corporate media where making a profit seems preferable to upholding the principles of the Fourth Estate, does seem to have an unfortunate propensity for tabloid news ahead of real news. Sometimes unfortunately that transmits as memes.


Syrian crisis shows no major players should be trusted

Around lunch time yesterday (N.Z.T.), France, Britain and the United States launched strikes against chemical weapon targets in Syria. The strikes which come after a chemical weapons attack against defenceless citizens in Douma a few days ago, have inflamed the rhetoric from both Moscow and Washington. But as we wait to see what kind of response Russia will make, it is also clear that the major media agencies in both countries have been far from freely dispensing the truth.

The only thing New Zealand should be relentlessly pushing aside from a truce of some sort is a neutral set of inspectors not from any U.N. Security Council country, being allowed to go in, unfettered and report direct to the Secretary General. I am specifically thinking or Switzerland or Sweden, New Zealand, Brazil and maybe Singapore – nations that are known for maintaining original foreign policy, but also crossing a diverse geographical and ethnic divide.

I do not trust the White House or the Kremlin. Nor do I trust RT or Fox. All of these networks have a degree of bias that undermines journalistic integrity. RT is known Рby its own admission to talk direct to Kremlin. Its blind support of the incumbent suggests to me it potentially faces consequences if it writes an original thought. whilst Fox is a neo-conservative  channel that was established by Rupert Murdoch as a sort of light entertainment/news channel. The company they keep in terms of viewers and commentators in their comments section suggest a channel that supports war against Iran and North Korea, ignorant of the consequences and dismissive of anyone who raises a counter argument.

The spiels that the media feed the people, sometimes with a clear government spin, as is the case with Russia should be checked by a fact finder first. In the case of the suspect chemical weapon facilities in Syria, the French, British and Americans should have given the inspectors a chance to confirm them as chemical weapon facilities. Governments by default have the means to hide information so that it cannot be released. All Governments – western or otherwise have an agenda. Some are corrupted by money. Some have huge monetary resources to tap into.

In some respects Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reminds me of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Mr Castro became well known for his staunch anti-American rhetoric. Mr al-Assad might not be so staunch, but he is becoming well known for his contemptuous regard international norms and human rights. All of this has led me to wonder if he quietly agitates for a major strike by the United States so that Russia is somehow justified in a massive military retaliation – in order to deter the Americans from attacking Mr Castro got the U.S.S.R. to place medium range nuclear missiles on the island knowing there was no way the Americans would tolerate that kind of threat so close by. This is what triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The Russian ambassador to the United Nations tried to divert attention when confronted at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

New Zealand needs to stick to its instincts. As a nation the only assumption we should make is that this is far from over as a crisis and has the potential to get considerably worse.


Centre-right commentators show their desperation

When National lost the election in 2017, the centre-right of New Zealand politics was in a state of despair. Shock! Horror! How could Winston Peters support a centre-left Government?

Quite easily it seems. After all, Mr Peters did leave National in 1993 to form New Zealand First because he thought that the market policies of the party were going to cause irreparable social damage to New Zealand. He had opposed asset sales as a means of raising money and many of his supporters felt betrayed by both major parties.

Determined to get back at the Government that they are convinced is going to turn New Zealand into a socialist nirvana, the centre-right have wasted no time trying to undermine in any way they can the new Government. But there is just one problem: their cheer leaders seem to forget National were not any better at the same time in early 2009.

Mike Hosking, well known as a avowed National Party supporter, has spent much time trying to give the appearance of the centre-left Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern being a disorganized, ill disciplined group that has no plans. He has been joined in recent days by columnist John Armstrong, who has criticized the Governments handling of the spy situation regarding Russia.

But are they disorganized? We are talking about a Government that has not even had time to deliver its first fiscal budget. We are talking about a Government that has not even reached the six month stage of its first year in office.

The situation with the Russian spies is one such case of the centre-right commentators trying to cast a misleading appearance. The New Zealand Secret Intelligence Service says it is not aware of any Russian spies operating in New Zealand. That is not to strictly say there are none, but that the Government is not aware of any and thus cannot expel anyone. It is also important to note that the New Zealand Government preferred to ascertain how New Zealand might be affected before it announced measures against Russia, instead of rushing into a knee jerk reaction.

It also smacks of hypocrisy. China most probably has significant spies in New Zealand, and indeed some people wonder if because of his training the National Party have a former Chinese spook in their ranks. Jian Yang denies he is a spook and so does the National Party, yet the latter works hard to cultivate significant Chinese investment here – no problem with that – but was often silent when credible concerns were raised about Chin

Another claim being made is that the Government has no plans. This could not be further from the truth. A quick look at the list of Bills of Parliament that are open for public submissions on the Parliament website show Bills of Government and a couple of ones submitted by Opposition parties. More importantly those Bills represent some substantial changes coming:

  • The Employment Relations Bill deals with a wide range of changes to employment law that the Government intends to put into law
  • The Charter Schools Bill ends the charade that is charter schools
  • International Treaty examination of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership
  • Education (National Education and Learning Priorities)Amendment Bill
  • Education Amendment Bill

So, the Opposition and the centre-right commentators can grumble all they want, but how much better had the National-A.C.T.-United Future coalition done at the same stage of their nine years in office? From memory, it was about the same time that their lack of a long term plan for New Zealand was in the early stages of revealing itself. I gave that Government the benefit of the doubt until about mid way through their second year, so I intend to do the same with this one.

T.P.P.A.???? No way!!! T.P.P.A.???? No way!!!

Today, scrolling through my Facebook feed I stumbled on something disturbing, but not terribly surprising: National are still trying to get the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement through in some form.

One should not be surprised. To many this is like the crown jewel in National’s economic and trade policies. It is something that they have spent huge diplomatic effort trying to shore up overseas – Prime Minister John Key, former Minister of Trade Tim Groser, current Minister of Trade Todd McClay in particular have gone to huge lengths in the course of their time in their respective roles talking to diplomats, trying to reassure the public in those few instances where the media has been brave enough to investigate.

I first became aware of the T.P.P.A. in about 2011. Someone in the course of a conversation over human rights told me about it and mentioned that human rights would be affected. I initially did not think too much about it, until when assisting New Zealand First in the 2011 election campaign it became a topic of debate. Still the media were not – and are still not really all that interested to this day – in why it is such a controversial subject.

It wasn’t until 2012 that I realized what a danger this was, when listening to members of the New Zealand First caucus talk about it at the party convention in Palmerston North. At that point I started investigating. What I could deduce was nothing more than what was already known – that 12 nations including New Zealand wanted to conclude an all Pacific Rim trade agreement. The problem was that the negotiations were being conducted behind closed doors, were not being scrutinized by the media and most New Zealanders were indifferent to it. I began to be involved in the protests that were organized by Its Our Future and prior to that Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa.

But it is the same T.P.P.A. that rallied the left wing spectrum all those years ago. It is the T.P.P.A. that I am hearing is turning some National Party supporters away from their party. It is the same T.P.P.A. that New Zealand First and the Green Party have consistently opposed from day one and refuse to have a bar of now or in the future. It is the same T.P.P.A. that prompted New Zealand First list M.P. Fletcher Tabuteau to draft his Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill, which was sadly shot down by National, A.C.T. and United Future in March 2017.

Basically it is the same ugly old trojan horse dressed as something New Zealand and New Zealanders should accept. It still has the hugely dangerous Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses that would take the T.P.P.A. beyond New Zealand’s court system and into the hands of a secret kangaroo court controlled by corporate interests.

I have said much that is harsh about United States President Donald Trump and have plenty more still to be said, but one thing I cannot be at all harsh on him about is the T.P.P.A. His point blank refusal to accept the agreement is something New Zealand should have done. It is the one action of his that I totally and unapologetically identify with. It is something that for New Zealand to do likewise, will require a change of Government to one that involves New Zealand First and preferably Labour.

So, if we cut a long story short, the rallying cry of the left in Parliament on this should still be: T.P.P.A.???? No way!!! T.P.P.A.???? No way!!!

When news is no longer news

Over the last several years I have become concerned at the level of clickbait in the news. The deliberate merging of information and entertainment to become “infotainment” is nothing new. What might be new though is the level of it pervading New Zealand news.

New Zealand’s primary hosting site for such material is Stuff. This is a multimedia site owned by Fairfax. It was primarily established to be a central home online for New Zealand newspapers and indeed the major ones all have a sub page on the website. The content online costs nothing to the user.

However a disturbing rise in what is known as click bait has been noticed. Click bait is a deliberately distracting type article with little or no meaningful knowledge in it, and will be titled something like “Ten photos of female celebrities having wardrobe malfunctions” or “Ten things airline cabin crew want to tell you”. Photographic clickbait is often stronger in terms of visual. They can be found as photo links often somewhat misleading or exaggerated and appear at the bottom of news articles.

The average persons knowledge is in no way enhanced. Certainly other than reducing productivity by distracting the reader from the task at hand, no meaningful transaction of knowledge or action that helps the reader or anybody else is likely – my writing a whole article about this at 0200 in the morning, when I should be in bed, is the exception rather than the norm.

And yet at the same time so much is ignored by New Zealand media. When the London apartment building caught fire, The Press had it as a front page article ringed by a black border – something usually only reserved for disasters of major magnitude such as the Christchurch earthquake or Pike River. But if an apartment building had caught fire in China and killed that many people, few would have said more than “oh, that is terrible” and go back to whatever they were doing.

So much is given to rugby, that many sports that might have otherwise meaningfully gained from the exposure are left to wither. My cousin for example used to play for the New Zealand womens indoor cricket team. She went to Sri Lanka for the Womens Indoor Cricket World Cup in 2003 with them. Did any of you reading this article know that actually happened?

No? Then you certainly would not have known they came 3rd.

I just find it ironic that the merging of infotainment is increasingly starting to fail. People are realizing it is click bait and not clicking on it, or they do, but they then do not any longer share with others stuff that they might have done so in the past. I wonder also where the photos came from – were they taken by paparazzi violating peoples privacy, or legally obtained but with restrictions on use that were then violated for malicious intent? And how many of those articles that have headings like “Ten reasons….” were actually researched at all?