In relation to my previous post, I would like to continue to argue that the reality we live in is false through the manipulation of various forces. Thus the attempt to determine what is the real human nature is impossible.
Every time we walk down the street, use the public transportation or visit the mall, advertisements surround us. Though most of us tend to ignore these posters or screens, we are being influenced by them. Williamson, a CDA (Critical discourse analysis) and media discourse researcher, wrote the book “decoding advertisements.” She argues that advertisements form a system of meaning, or structures of meaning, that sell us ourselves. Meaning, ads shape and form meaning, through our interpretation of them. Its functions are to steer our understanding of them, but not control it entirely, thus leaving us a room to form a unique individual understanding. Their function is to connect things to human values and feelings. For example to connect diamonds with eternal love and vice versa. Ads are used to connect the dots, the feelings to the products, in order to shape our understanding of the world. Ads influence the way we view society, as ads usually tell us that “everybody do this or that” and that it is normal. Though it might be a lie at first, it can become truth, as more and more people succumb to this “fact” ads made for us.
Through consumption, we come to understand our role in society in a capitalist society. If we buy expensive things, it means we belong to a higher status in society. If we have a particular hairstyle, and we dress with specific brands, it signifies that we belong to a certain group of people. Through ads, we understand the world around us because they sort out for us the material reality around us. Through advertisements, we know that “coca cola” is for “young spirits” or that “Nike” is for people who live a healthy lifestyle (but not those who actually make these products).
To achieve that, advertisements were changed and modified to attack and manipulate our unconscious minds. Ewen Stuart in his book “Captains of consciousness,” depict how this came to be. In the past (before the 20th century), ads were the same as long articles, which explained in a rational manner to potential customers, why these goods are “good” and worth buying. People didn’t buy out of desire but out of necessity, as thrift was a virtue. As production expanded, the heads of the market came to realize that they have to convince the public to consume out of desire, so that the rate of consumption would meet the ever-increasing rate of production. So, people like Edward Bernays used Freud’s (he was his nephew) theories to convince us through our unconscious desires. To make the irrational to be rational.
This is how we came to think about cars, not as “tools” but as symbols that will enable men to “get the girl.” This is why people eat and consume when they are sad or happy. In Japan, KFC took over Christmas, as people came to understand that Christmas equals eating fried Chicken in KFC. Valentines came to be associated with chocolate. In Israel, a holiday called “Shavuot” came to symbolize dairy products. Dairy products became “the right way” to prepare the holiday’s dinner table. Ads and campaign do this “matching” as they shape our understanding of social events as well.
This is how ads control our environment and shape our understanding of the world. But today in the era of WEB 2.0, this “shaping” of our environment became even worse. Regarding ads, we know that they are there to convince us. We can resist them to some degree (we mostly don’t unless we are incredibly aware and have studied about ads history and way they operate), things became worse. The recent turmoil about Facebook and the U.S elections show to how degree it is dangerous in the current era.
First, we have the notion of “Filter Bubble.” Through Filter bubbles, we become isolated from ideas on the internet and social media as we are exposed to the same ideas over and over again. Facebook algorithm for example, “study” us and our likes and dislikes, and monitor our activities, thus determine where we are on the “political scale.” When the algorithm knows what we like, it tends to show us things that align with our tendencies. For example, if you are Vegan, it might show you more pro-vegan articles, shares, and opinions over articles and opinions regarding other matters. You might come to think that “most people you know are vegan” or that “Vegan beliefs are expanding rapidly”. But, it might be an illusion due to the “filter bubble” that isolates you from other pressing matters.
Another problem of the “filter bubble” is that the algorithm “knows” what we hate, and is programmed to give us small doses of “hatred.” We tend to engage with extreme opinions because they trigger us. The algorithm notice that, and starts to show us more extreme opinions from the other political spectrum. This helps to create the false notion that the “other side” had lost it.
This means that our political environment is being shaped and manipulated. Before that, people read newspapers, and they knew, more or less, what agenda which paper has. But today, when we search in google, different people come across different results. Two people can look for the word “Egypt,” and one will see tourist attractions, while the other will see news about “the Arab spring” or Isis. When we go on FB news are shared and appear on their own. The algorithm decided what we “want” to see. Thus, we falsely think that we expand our horizons as we read the “news“ and search the net, while we actually explore the same ideas over and over again, as they shape our limited understanding of the world outside. So is there really a reality? We might actually start to doubt that.
More so, the social media is being polluted with bots, which spread posts and create false engagement with them. Thus, these opinions become “viral” because those fake profiles – bots, share and like them. It was found that in Israel the right side of the political spectrum, uses many bots to create more engagement with their leader’s posts. Due to this fact, more people are being exposed to those ideas or messages, as FB treat them as “viral”.
When we read a politician’s post or a news article about something they said or done. These are used to create the misrepresentation that these opinions or leaders are more popular than they are. It might convince us that this opinion is popular and that it might be right. But they also use bots that use fake profiles to make this appearance. They also pay people to comment and argue with other people, to enhance the misrepresentation, not only for popularity to “our arguments” but also to deem the other side with labels, such as “traitor” or “detached from reality.”
Thus, many “realities” we come to understand might be fake. We live in an era when the truth is obsolete. I will write about “post-truth politics” in my next post.