Viral propaganda: the battle of the memes

Viral Propaganda: The Battle of the Memes

In the globalised, digitalised information world, there is a powerful actor that acts independently of humans: The use of AI is leading to new phenomena whose effects are not yet predictable. The dissemination of information is beyond control in terms of time, space and content. Misjudgements arise from artificially simulated, apparent majority opinions. In contrast to human actors, AI has (almost) unlimited resources. It is used as a tool of the technostructure to secure its sovereignty in its own information space.

A successful mechanism for information sharing is the principle of self-similarity. In the sense of Richard Dawkins' theory, which he presented in "The Selfish Gene" in 1976, a "meme" (Greek mimema for "imitated") can be described as a cultural unit of information spread by imitation. The basic principles of Darwinian evolution apply: repeated copying of information (replication), occurrence of variations (mutation) and selection of some variants at the expense of others. If Dawkins is right, then memes pursue their own selfish goals and replicate themselves whenever possible.

"Viral" memes contain instructions to copy them - with varying degrees of success. Some threats or promises related to replication are more prevalent ("viral") than others. However, all memes compete for people's attention, which is limited by their experience and scepticism. As with any replicator, those memes from the pool that are characterised by high "fertility", fidelity and longevity prevail. These are those memes that produce as many exact and permanent copies of themselves as possible.

Viral memes against diversity of opinion
Creating such "successful" memes is the task of the so-called fact-checker platforms. These have mushroomed within a very short time. While we can perceive the "fact checkers" like fruiting bodies on the surface, the enormous networked mechanism of action of the AI remains hidden from us like the mycelium. The memes generated are supposed to replicate successfully in the long term.

The fact-checking team of the dpa (Deutsche Presse Agentur) [1] was recently on the scene again after a young man from Eritrea allegedly stabbed a girl and seriously injured another near Ulm at the beginning of December. The fact-checker referred to a statement by René Springer, an AfD member of the Bundestag from Brandenburg, according to which foreigners had allegedly killed 1261 people in Germany in 2021.[2] The dpa fact checkers countered with a lengthy, detailed, if in the end not very meaningful, discussion of the data of the German crime statistics.[3] The viral meme "We have a problem with criminal foreigners" should be replaced by "Most crimes are committed by Germans".

This is only meant to serve as an example, because we are not interested here in the question of crime among migrants, our attention is on the fact-checkers.[4] Their concept is simple but perfidious:

  • They declare opinions other than the ones they defend as "enemies of knowledge" and emphasise their faith- or ideology-based component.
  • They boast of their open view of the world, which, unlike the dogmas of their opponents, is open to rational scrutiny (hence the term "facts").[5]
  • They make use of a meme complex of (supposedly) rational information to reject (allegedly) empty, illogical or simply false ideas.
  • They affirm that facts, arguments and evidence are information that appeals less to the feelings or beliefs of the recipients than to their reason.
  • In doing so, they give the recipients of their messages the feeling that they are on the safe side.

The paradox is that the information policy of fact checkers is itself irrational and thus essentially promotes one thing - stereotypical, quick and unconscious thinking. Very few fact-checkers stimulate strenuous, logical, calculating and conscious thinking. For that would hinder the real goal: Indoctrination by forming opinions and discrediting political opponents.

Who questions the fact checkers?
Fact-checker platforms became known to a broad public in the summer of 2020 with the report on the Covid-19 Infodémie.[6] The rapid reaction force in the fight against the "most viral and potentially dangerous claims we encountered in the spring of 2020" were AFP [7], CORRECTIV [8], Pagella Politica/Facta [9], Full Fact [10] and [11] with support from Google News Initiative [12]. They all belong to the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN) [13], a network that is in turn affiliated with the Poynter Institute.[14] Its donors include - among others - the Democracy Fund, the Lumina Foundation for Education, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the Omidyar Network Fund or the Open Society Foundations (OSF). [15]

Foundations like the NED or the Open Society are known to support foreign policy goals of the US government. The Omidyar Network Foundation [16] supports media and fact-checking organisations (for example CORRECTICV). The contributions of various sponsors to ICFN can be read in the Income Statement 2019-2021.[17] There we also meet other generous benefactors such as Google, Facebook and WhatsApp.

Only recently, the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung took a close look at this network.[18] According to the paper, the influence of the Poynter Institute/IFNC is enormous because the "certificates" for fact-checking organisations in Western countries run through them. Note: For a fact-checking organisation to get lucrative contracts from Facebook or Google, it needs a certificate from the IFCN. With reference to the Zürcher Zeitung, the Swiss media platform writes that the conflicts of interest are great and the actual sources of funding are rarely fully disclosed. For example, in 2020, the IFCN would have accepted 700,000 dollars from a state fund in the USA and at the same time would have been significantly guided by official information when determining Fake News.[19]

You can read about the destructive effects of this form of viral opinion-forming for the present, the future, but also the future past in part 2 of this article.

This article was first published in Courrier des Stratèges on December 23rd, 2022.