Communication and Manipulation

Fabrizio Casari

Thanks to the Internet and social networks, the ignoramuses who used to crowd the bars and talk to a small group of friends now have a keyboard and a screen and spread their idiocy and hatred all over the world.
– Umberto Eco

If you listen to the media you will end up hating the victims and loving the aggressors.
– Malcolm X

Never in history has there been so much information. We are now inundated with information 24 hours a day. Never has the world been so full of information as it has been since the existence of social networks. Never have so many people been dedicated to informing and communicating. And yet, never has there been so much disinformation, never has truth been so overwhelmed by post-truth as in this historical phase.

On the economic-structural level, it must be said that the exponential growth of information sources has transformed their nature. For the dominant system, information has gone from being a superstructure to a structure, from a necessary cost for ideological affiliation to a core business. In fact, the main companies in this sector are among the 10 with the highest turnover in the world. Thus, the accumulation of wealth has been combined with political consensus, and the excellent fulfillment of the capitalist plan has been achieved: from generating profits to indoctrination, indoctrination has become the main source of profits.

But information, its methods and the structures on which it is based, is not a financial project in itself. Although with infinite means at its disposal thanks to the discovery of the Net and with resources unthinkable until 30 years ago, information plays exactly the same role: that of directing the market of the circulation of ideas, that of building consensus for the dominant system. More than information, the media are training.

Information and communication

In 1961, the American sociologist Marshall Mc Luhan, commonly defined as one of the founding fathers of modern communication, wrote in one of his books entitled “The Global Village” that the world, thanks to the instruments of modern communication (written press, radio and television) had experienced a profound change, but the real evolution had been made possible by the advent of satellites, capable of communicating and transmitting images in real time over great distances. Today the world has become an infinitely smaller place, so that the content of the generic message can be spread everywhere due to the common ideological identity of the mainstream media and received positively due to the cultural homogeneity of public opinion.

The media is the message because its particular narrative structure makes it “non-neutral” and the possession of information sources becomes a priority with respect to the content published in it. Why this? Because the media do not merely report events, but construct them; they do not report facts, but construct opinions independent of the facts; because they censor what is not functional to the message they want to convey; because by sensorially orienting public opinion, they engulf both their reason and their emotions. After all, the ability to decompose and recompose data, to build and deconstruct links, to elaborate theories instead of news, is only possible with the material possession of the media or with their absolute control, whether direct or indirect ownership (financial control).

That is why it is no coincidence that in the last 30 years the strong international powers have invested enormous sums in the purchase of newspapers, television, radio and the Internet. The occupation of the available informative spaces has been almost total and today it is estimated that 91% of the words written and pronounced to the public opinion have as their vehicle the media belonging to the Western financial and political forces. There is no sign of rebalancing, if we exclude the three international channels such as RT, TeleSur and Hispan TV. However, unlike the Western channels, which have univocal images and content, the three channels mentioned above are affected by the political positions of their respective country-editors.

Lying, manipulating, building consensus

The creation of a consensus, especially for a system undergoing a structural and non-conjunctural crisis, is a vital element for its defense. Denying, minimizing, exaggerating: everything serves to build a representation of reality consistent with the message to be conveyed. In spite of everything, public opinion continues to play a role in political decisions, so influencing their ideas and perceptions is a task of prime importance.

Like a commercial product, news is sold by building the relationship between supply and demand, in which, however, not only demand generates supply, but, through media campaigns to penetrate concepts and form opinions, it is increasingly supply that generates demand. But unlike radio, television and newspapers, the Web is interactive and transforms the user into an interlocutor.

After all, Mc Luhan said that communication could be built on the extensions of man’s senses, and each medium, by amplifying one sense, causes a real dulling of the others, thus upsetting the sensory balance.

This is the manipulation of truth by the empire of communication. For this, communication strategies are prepared. Through a series of techniques, the cognitive aspects are contained and the sensory aspects are stimulated. Information is processed and sold with marketing strategies based on covert persuasion, on the superimposition of feeling, perceiving, seeing, understanding, listening and believing. Precisely for this reason, the video component has become much more important than text.

Not everything is simple. In the age of mass information we do not always manage to communicate: what is decisive for the penetration of the message is that a shared code is established between the sender and the receiver, otherwise there is no return. Well, the shared code cannot be based on the analysis, the knowledge, the general culture of the events, because this would produce a dissonance between the different cultural levels inherent to the users. That is precisely why, since the objective is to reach the entire public opinion, in order to reduce the distance between the message and the end user, we work on the unification of language.

To this end, we work on comprehensible immediacy, which is a substantial part of the dissemination of messages. That is why we use short and elementary messages, easy to be understood, with memes and images, emoticons and graphics. Subliminal persuasion is built through the induction of suggestions and impressions. The method always consists of keeping the cognitive level low and raising the emotional level. Astonishment is sought to generate disbelief, which is then transformed into dismay; a disrupted reality is constructed to build outrage, and then outrage is processed for the next phase, that of indirect action, followed by direct action.

The ultimate goal is not just to generate ideas or opinions: the really strategic one is the formation of common sense. It is the common sense that is absorbed and transmitted for generations, even in the absence of elaboration, of consummate thought, of a consolidated opinion built on the analysis of historical and contemporary facts.

Mass disinformation

Disinformation, like information, serves to build an opinion that produces consent to the political and social choices of those who handle its sources. Disinformation has always been an element present in communication strategies, but the advent of social media and the so-called “citizen journalists” has been the main vehicle for the dissemination of liberal ideology. If we take into account that until the advent of the Net, one in thirty citizens regularly read a newspaper, while now, one in two has an Internet connection and more than 3 billion users have messaging systems, we can understand how and to what extent the Net is the crucial terrain of the confrontation between truth and falsification of truth. The instantaneous messages, the quantity of messages, which makes verification impossible, and the technical capacity to manipulate images and audio, to construct opinions from completely altered or even invented data, are the terrain in which disinformation wins. It is therefore a decisive battleground for those trying to free themselves from the media scam.

Through social networks, content is created, shared and exchanged, apparently managed by the users. But the “citizen journalist” concept is a mythology, since not even one percent of users produce information ( if any opinions) and the proprietary and authoritarian management of providers such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube fundamentally denies freedom of expression.

Social networks are in reality an extension of the propaganda machine of the United States and its allies. The question is therefore how to deal with them, because ignoring their existence and their capacity for mass penetration would be the biggest mistake of all.

The media’s methods of deception

There are three possible types of narrative: information, communication and propaganda. The first can be summarized in the provision of facts (I tell you what you don’t know). The second is active interaction (what you understand), the third is the transformation of reality into consensus (what I want you to understand). The biggest stumbling block comes from information and communication, since propaganda is usually easily identifiable. Communication requires the receiver to be predisposed to the role of interlocutor, and this is not always the case. Information, on the other hand, is more difficult to unmask because it arrives apparently in a neutral form and is easily intercepted by the receivers.

The reception of information activates the cognitive part of both the individual and the masses. If it is in a position to receive useful information to form an opinion, it represents a danger for those who act behind the back and against the interests of the less powerful classes. Changing mentalities also means changing knowledge. That is why one of the decisive steps in the strategies of mass manipulation is the progressive annulment of shared memory. The resetting of history, which is no longer written, and not only by those who win, but by those who have the information system. Erasing the memory of a country is fundamental to rewrite its history.

Information is an important part of the weapon systems used in the so-called hybrid wars, that is, the fourth and fifth generation wars. Nicaragua has been one of the main areas of application not only of the soft coup method, but also of cyber and information warfare.

The symbolic and the real

Symbols have a value that transcends the mere gesture that transformed them from men into heroes: their evocation is an accumulation of force and their destruction the manifestation of fear. In Nicaragua, for example, we saw the fury with which the liberal government of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro undertook the destruction of the effigies of the Sandinista martyrs, eliminating murals, changing the names of streets, squares and public facilities that commemorated their sacrifice. Above all, those names indicated to successive generations the role of the FSLN in the liberation of the country, and the destruction of their symbols was intended to destroy their memory. So even a repeated street sign makes that name become a piece of collective memory.

Eliminating shared history means creating a trauma in memory, an interruption in the generational transmission of knowledge, a friction in the emotional succession that the name and its history have aroused. In short, a memory is interrupted, but without memory there is no history, and without history the difference between just and unjust, between perpetrators and victims, between responsibility and merit, between heroes and criminals disappears. In this sense, the memory of the ephemeris has an important value, because it restores oblivion and erases the indistinct.

On another note, let’s think about the messages that the coup plotters spread during the 2018 coup attempt. There were two main memes: that they were students and not thugs; that Ortega and Somoza are the same thing. Both are outright lies, cleverly constructed hyperbole, since precisely the outright denial of these idiocies is itself the truth. In fact they were criminals and not students and Ortega is the opposite of Somoza. But what was the connection between the two memes? That the repression of the students (as during Somocismo) saw Sandinismo in the streets. In other words, they were trying to get the message across that assigned the coup plotters to Sandinismo and post-1994 Sandinismo to Somocismo. Why?

Not for Nicaraguans, who knew how things stood, but for international public opinion, whose instinct was to believe the narrative of the victim who became the executioner, one of the most widespread myths in international literature and cartoons. In telling it, there was an instinctive willingness to believe in a different reality than the one known in the 1980s, but one that fitted perfectly with the radical change that had taken place in the ideas of his listeners. After all, having betrayed the ideals of their youth made it perfectly compatible with the fact that the same thing had happened in Nicaragua.

The ability to produce truthful, credible information, honestly anchored in respect for the facts, is preparatory to its interpretation. Sandinismo has demonstrated an extraordinary ability in the construction of explanatory and positive messages, offered in a western narrative style and difficult to manipulate because they are based on data. The oligarchic media funded by the United States are forced to manipulate reality, since they have no parallel reality to report on. Vigilance against the dissemination of lies is an integral part of the defense of national security and, therefore, a substantial part of national sovereignty. In this sense, training in network guerrilla warfare and the broadcasting of positive messages produces a natural defense against disinformation. The formation of the FSLN cannot be separated from the constant strengthening of this decisive terrain in the political battle. And it is precisely in the generalized information society where we have lost the ability to communicate.