Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
The Woozle Effect: ” The Woozle Effect, also known as “evidence by citation“, or a woozle, occurs when frequent citation of previous publications that lack evidence misleads individuals, groups, and the public into thinking or believing there is evidence, and nonfacts become urban myths and factoids.”
Slide-By News: How I describe “news” rolling by an iPhone screen at the speed of a finger swipe. A previous post elaborates on this.
Soft Coup: “Soft Coup is a term used to describe a coup d’état without the use of violence, but based on a conspiracy or plot that has as its objective the taking of the State power by partially or wholly illegal* means, in order to operate an exchange of political leadership – and in some cases also of the current institutional order.”
*I would add, by cleverly crafted, legal–if not completely transparent and honest– words as well.
THE POWER OF THE PEN–AND THE PC
Remember this? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
That old playground expression aimed at verbal bullies may have been true in the past if one was thick-skinned enough, but in today’s fast-paced, 24/7 news world, and with the advent of the Woozle Effect and Slide-By News in the United States in particular, words can, indeed, hurt, in various contexts–not only individuals but nations, indeed, the entire world.
The entire world?
In his first Inaugural Address, January, 1981, Ronald Reagan summed up not only the national but also the global impact of sustaining the freedoms outlined in the United States Constitution and its Amendments with these words: “We as Americans have the capacity now, as we’ve had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom.”
But listening to Reagan way back in 1981, prior to the incursion of the freedom-endangering, some would say, advent of Political Correctness and other such efforts to dampen if not demonize what certain Americans say, think, believe, and do, it was hard to imagine the full impact of his words.
Besides, most listeners casually assumed there were many other “bastions of freedom” in the world.
ENTER MODERN WORDCRAFT
Prior to the advent of Snowflakes and safe spaces, micro-aggressions and the endangerment of conservative views on, ironically, college campuses–sometimes by violence–who could possible know where we were headed as a nation, thus, to Reagan’s inference, where-to the world, as well?
I believe there were those who well knew and who were already at work shape-shifting, by wordcraft, for one means, the culture of the United States founded on our freedoms and undergirded by the rule of law and certain moral absolutes as delineated in the nation’s Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
And they–the word smiths–have been diligently at work behind the scenes.
But who are “they”? What did they know, and how have they seemingly become so successful in chipping away at this “bastion of freedom” in such relatively short amount of time since Reagan’s speech?
Historians would point to myriad sociopolitical forces and movements, but from my lens as a college writing and rhetoric instructor I would point to two closely linked forces that, with the advent of twenty-first century technology, have fast-forwarded the power of the pen to a dizzying degree: the Woozle Effect and Slide-by News.
As inferred by the above definitions of each of these emergent concepts, I believe both rhetorical obfuscation (the Woozle Effect) and speedy news delivery systems (Slide-By News) have been at work behind the scenes in some cases to bamboozle readers, viewers, and social media users to the end game of a great culture shift by “them,” “they” “those” behind the spokespersons who oppose both the rule of law and the idea that freedom is self-evident and endowed not by government but by God.
I believe it is the “they” whose real goal is socialism, not democracy, where freedom is mainly for those at the top of the power grab. Indeed, history reveals what inevitably has happened, and is likely to again, in a number of failed, socialist Utopias where high human ideals failed to overcome base human nature.
The marketing of the end game, however, has had to be very subtle, accomplished more by patience and attrition than blunt, overt force. At least at first, until Utopian ideals in the hands of power grabbers inevitably become fists.
FROM THE (TROJAN) HORSE’S MOUTH
Here is another comment from a past world leader that I also recall: “We do not have to invade the United States, we will destroy you from within.” –Nikita Khrushchev (First Secretary of the Community Party in the Soviet Union, 1953-1964)
Many believe, as do I, that such inner destruction is happening right now, and has been going on for some time.
The revolutionaries, some call themselves, have had to Trojan-Horse their way into our culture via education, social movements, and governing institutions because in order to over-ride the strength of this experiment in freedom called the United States of America, sustained, amended, and upgraded for over 240 years, there are too many people who disagree, and who counter their efforts.
But they–we–counter the bent toward socialism by a growing number in our nation only if we do not discard the disciplines of careful analysis and action by, first, resisting the tyranny of the urgent with un-examined, knee-jerk reactions to whatever new crisis-fires are being lit–more every day (film at eleven and every hour in-between in the modern 24/7 news cycle).
More importantly, however, we counter by applying what each of us has to contribute to the cause of freedom in our individual corners of the Republic.
I am reminded of another Inaugural Speech, this one given by President John F. Kennedy who challenged us thus, back in 1961: “It is not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
So what does—indeed, can–a single concerned citizen do in these troubling times? Run for local, state, or national office? Speak? Write? Pray? Support those who do what we may not be able to?
At the very least, vote?
Yes, to all of the above.
But whatever each of us can do, we face formidable opponents in this silent take-over, starting with, I believe, watching out for words carefully crafted by the coup-enablers coupled with the power of new, technology-enhanced, speedy information-delivery mechanisms.
After that, we must choose what action we can—while we yet can. It starts with paying very close attention to the “news”.
THE WOOZLE EFFECT: HOW TO OBFUSCATE THE TRUTH
Are you old enough to remember that when the words, “NEWS ALERT” flashed across the screen in the middle of a regularly scheduled program, it meant that some event of great significance had taken place or was in progress? Everybody nearby stopped, looked, and listened with full attention.
When I was in grade school, this is how we got the urgent news on television and on radio—and how we reacted–for example, when President Kennedy was assassinated. This was how major events of the Vietnam Conflict were broadcast and prompted powerful reactions and, later, how the explosion just after take-off of the Space Shuttle, Challenger, was announced and the nation went into collective shock.
Not only did we pay rapt attention to what followed the flashing “NEWS ALERT” message we also placed complete trust in the broadcasters. They were in the positions to know, after all.
Nowadays, however, every little late, breaking, big or small, real or fake, news detail is broadcast by red letters crawling across the bottom of the screen, “Alert, Alert, Alert”. Some news commentaries even begin their regularly scheduled programs with a headline that includes the word “Alert”.
Although we’ve become fairly desensitized to what used to be the high anxiety-inducing impact of those words and the messages following, we are still inclined to pay a little more attention to the red letters, accompanying bell-tones, and the fact that something is happening that demands at least some attention.
We are also still inclined to place at least a little trust in the smooth-talking, well-educated, good-looking people in traditional positions of authority—and trust—who feed us the late-breaking information: the news broadcasters. And the shinier their suits, the slicker their tongues, the easier their “sell”.
Of course, such conditioning and trust can easily be exploited by the word smiths. Consider how the “Woozle Effect” can do just that. Below is an example.
“ALERT” flashes across the screen (or monitor); our eyes shift attention to the announcer.
“This just in,” he or she declares in an urgent tone. “According to a report in the Trusted Daily News Feeder, powerful political insiders reveal suspected collusion by high-ranking officials in the Beltway with anonymous secret agents reportedly leaking classified data that may or may not be at play in what some are regarding as the most corrupt administration in America’s history.”
If one takes one’s time unpacking the suggestions, inferences, persuasive techniques, obfuscations, etc., of the above “news” one realizes that the only vetting is referencing an article in a news source that, while it has a trustworthy-sounding name, may or may not be in on the coup, which, for starters, is no vetting at all. Indeed, researching the editorial bias of the Feeder’s staff may prompt skepticism from the get-go.
But wait. There’s more unpacking to do.
Who are these “ powerful political insiders?” And can we trust them?
Not finished, yet.
“Suggested collusion” can trigger emotion-grabbing, thought-stopping responses, especially if the word “collusion” is repeated continually with disdain and outright contempt for the suspected colluder(s)–but suspicion is not necessarily reality.
And don’t by-pass the rest of the “report”.
“Anonymous secret agents” gives some weight to idea that they have some expertise, but, again, who are they? “Reportedly leaking” suggests deflecting accountability to whomever reported this, not to the reporting agency, Trusted Daily so the news source has some legal CYA-ability, particularly combined with the phrase, “may or may not”.
And last, but not least, the high-dollar persuasion terms, “most corrupt administration in America’s history” are bound to either affirm like-minded conspiracists or convince skeptics that here is just another attempt to sway opinion based on clever wordcrafting…
Woozle enough people for long enough and what is not news can seem a lot like real news—and the populace is ripe for easy (influence) pickins.
What makes it worse—and hastens its persuasive power—are media platforms designed to deliver Woozle News in short spurts and at high-speed, with the flick of a finger scanning a screen, leaving very little time to reflect and analyze.
SLIDE-BY NEWS: HOW TO HOOK–AND KEEP–A WOOZLED AUDIENCE
Once readers and viewers have become sufficiently Woozled by news, real or fake, rolling by at the speed of a finger swipe on the latest iPhone, it becomes easy to hook them—and keep them under the influence.
This occurs not only by the power of persuasion techniques and adapting to new information delivery systems but also by the power of news flickering past the eye—and the brain– at speeds too fast for appropriate vetting and comprehension. One after another after another…at speeds users determine due to interest, boredom, and/or addiction.
And the addiction, my greatest concern, has a potent, neurological basis.
The nature of this addiction is now hitting some news outlets and is perhaps one of the reasons that, as of the day I am writing this, there is a news item noting a downward shift of social media use, although researchers and SM developers aren’t quite sure why. And it’s not the only down-side expose of the industry.
Perhaps as people come to understand more about how they are being used, in between the fun, games, and social interaction, to make sales for tech owners with each click and/or swipe, perhaps a bit of cynicism drips in.
Perhaps it’s the loss of real face time and the depression stemmed by comparing one’s all too often dull life with others’ seemingly exciting lives (but often curated to suggest this) displayed on social media. Or perhaps the novelty has somewhat worn off.
However, and more importantly, in my view, perhaps some of the loss can be explained by growing awareness of specific addiction algorithms, so to speak, built into certain apps.
Former tech insiders in a recent “60 Minutes” program (see below), tell how our addiction to social media and the Internet are aided and abetted by computer algorithms designed to not only mine each user’s consumer interests but also their viewing habits in order to keep them hooked to the phone or PC.
This adds to the income of not only the sellers of goods and services—and lucratively–but, I would add, it also serves propaganda hawkers. Especially if consumers are already sufficiently Woozled.
Not that it takes more than a few seconds to comprehend simple, 140 characters or less, messages and memes flicking by on the cell phone or PC.
But when it comes to poorly vetted information–or vetted by the power of suggestion only–that needs to be read and researched carefully, therein is the danger of delivery systems that not only keep us hooked by design but also by limiting sufficient content exposition.
Thus we are more easily led by the nose whithersoever the hawkers will because of the power bits and bytes have on our brains.
The “60 Minutes” report entitled “Brain Hacking,” hosted by Anderson Cooper and featuring three tech insiders and one psychologist who is studying the effects of technology on our anxiety levels, reveals some of the inside baseball of technology’s hold on us.
According to Tristan Harris, former Google product manager and author of “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention,” who now speaks out on the negative effects of social media use in particular, says, “Never before in history have a handful of people at a handful of tech companies shaped how a billion people think and feel every day with the choices they make about their screens.” He notes that programmers work to “hi-jack people’s minds” by embedding a whole playbook of techniques to get people to use the products for as long as possible. He provides examples.
According to Ramsey Brown, a programmer with background education in neuroscience and who coined the term Brain Hacking, “A computer programmer who knows how the brain works, knows how to write code that will get the brain to do certain things.” His company, “Dopamine Labs,” specializes in writing code designed to provoke a neurological response to get the user to come back as often as possible. He provides examples of techniques that accomplish this.
According to Psychologist Larry Rosen and his team, who are researching the effect technology has on our anxiety levels and how this keeps us addicted to checking the phone to relieve that anxiety, we are all part of a big experiment. His concern is that we do not yet know the long-term impact of such technology on the brain, especially on the formative brains of the young.
According to Gabe Zickermann, a “gamification specialist” known as an expert in his ability to make the Online products of companies such as Apple and CBS as irresistible as possible, “at the same time we can argue that the neuroscience is being used to create dependent behavior, those same techniques are being used to get people to work out using their Fitbit.” Yet, though Zickermann cites the positive aspects of technology, he is also concerned about its addictive elements, and to counter these, he also designs software called “Onward” to help break users’ bad habits.
Now back to my focus–the selling of propaganda and perhaps even the promotion of a soft coup–at no time in history has there been such a boon in delivery systems to maximize the effects of old-fashioned persuasion techniques via new, incredibly fast, addictive-by-design (technological) media.
Therefore, if the Woozle Effect is in full force and fed to an audience already adapted to fast “news”–of questionable vetting status–imagine how easy it might be to sway the masses toward this ideology or that via the powerfully addicting mechanisms embedded in social media apps?
NOW WHAT? COUNTERING THE COUP
But though our adversaries may be clever, well-resourced, and growing in number and power, each of us can counter the force. After all, the masses outnumber the masters; they–we–just don’t always know our power—and what specific steps to take.
But how? A few suggestions:
Think for yourself, choose, and act accordingly.
Resist the tyranny of the urgent
Resist knee-jerk reactions.
Unplug, log off, and take the time to examine words, speeches, commentaries, and “news analyses” carefully.
Do your own research and with primary sources.
Get your information from more than one source and more than one side of an issue (something my dad always used to say when news of the world frustrated him).
But above all, understand that wars begin with words, artfully crafted, that lead to beliefs, that lead to actions, thus, there is a real power of the pen that can very well and effectively use freedom of the press, ironically, to feature only a dominant press that wants to strip the “politically incorrect press” of its freedom.
I believe this is what is happening, in part, today.
But it’s a significant part of what’s happening.
Do not be fooled: such word power can end up, and often does, with blood on the streets, as every era reveals that what follows is real tyranny when all are caught up in the maelstrom of evil—even the so-called “useful idiots” of history who do the bidding of the bullies in the co-opted press and in the streets, although they may not be aware of it at the time.
Understand that the end game of evil is only more evil unless checked. An old saying puts it well: “Just as Death and Destruction are never satisfied, so human desire is never satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20, NLT).
Understand that human nature is not necessarily benign nor is it innately good. It can reveal, if unchecked, a heart of darkness with designs few people want to think about, let alone battle.
But if we want to sustain what remains of freedom’s bastions here in the United States and anywhere else they may still exist, we must resist, act however we each can, while we yet can.
And know that though it may seem so, we are hardly alone.
We are, in fact, legion, and it won’t be the first time a “sleeping giant” has had to rise and overcome bullies made more powerful by a complicit press–a press never more powerful than now, facilitated by equally potent, new technologies–and it will likely not be the last time.
Given the power of darkness influencing every era, I believe this is history’s real “Alert”–and, most importantly–it’s most urgent lesson–and call to action.
NOTE: I sometimes use Wikipedia as a resource because it gives useful thumbnail synopses of topics presented. But in the footnotes, the serious researcher can find substantive texts, peer-reviewed articles, and scholarly papers that go into much more depth and provide corroborating data.