Propaganda: facebook vs. google

Propaganda impedes the ability of the viewer/listener to distinguish who is making the message.  Facebook hired a P.R. firm (Burson-Marsteller) to plant semi-bogus stories about privacy concerns in the media.  Here is the Guardian on this trickery:

Suspicions in Silicon Valley were aroused earlier this week when two high-profile media figures – former CNBC tech reporter Jim Goldman, and John Mercurio, a former political reporter – began pitching anti-Google stories on behalf of their new employer, Burson-Marsteller. The pair consistently refused to disclose the identity of their client.

Goldman and Mercurio approached USA Today and other outlets offering to ghost write op-ed columns and other stories that raised privacy concerns about Google Social Circle, a social network feature based on Gmail.

In their pitch to journalists, the pair claimed Social Circle was “designed to scrape private data and build deeply personal dossiers on millions of users – in a direct and flagrant violation of [Google’s] agreement with the FTC [Federal Trade Commission]”.

Facebook’s cover was blown when Burson-Marsteller offered to help write an op-ed for Chris Soghoian, a prominent internet security blogger. Soghoian challenged the company’s assertion that Social Circle was a privacy threat and accused them of “making a mountain out of a molehill”.

Soghoian was stonewalled by Burson-Marsteller when he asked them who their client was. He later published an email exchange between himself and Mercurio.

Cordasco said on Thursday: “Now that Facebook has come forward, we can confirm that we undertook an assignment for that client.

via Facebook paid PR firm to smear Google | Technology | guardian.co.uk.

Offering to ‘ghost-write’ stories is fairly common in P.R. circles.  A casualty of the 24-hour news cycle, many reporters and editors are on constant copy hunts.  The lengthy time given to reporters to fact check has mostly disappeared instead replaced with quick internet searches.  Corporations (and their public relations mouthpieces) can offer to write the whole article in journalistic prose and then offer the article to a well-known pundit (or a beat reporter).

For those reporters on the grind — it is like a sudden snow-day off from school —  you are freed from the responsibilities of actually reporting.  But of course for those of us who still wish that mass media was actually reflecting accurately what someone SAW this is a tragic development.

But of course, the tendrils of internet companies (and google in particular, the medium by which many 0f us do our own ‘fact-checking’) quietly re-adjusting written history is a terrifying possibility.

Internet barriers presented by nations (China for instance) quickly become comfortable to the citizens. Evan Osnos wrote a fascinating essay describing his conversations and observations on a Chinese tour of Europe.  When he asks one of his fellow tourists if they used Facebook, he comes up with this reflection.

I asked Promise if he used Facebook, which is officially blocked in China but reachable with some tinkering. “It’s too much of a hassle to get to it,” he said. Instead, he uses Renren, a Chinese version, which, like other domestic sites, censors any sensitive political discussion. I asked what he knew about Facebook’s being blocked. “It has something to do with politics,” he said, and paused. “But the truth is I don’t really know.” I recognized that kind of remove among other urbane Chinese students. They have unprecedented access to technology and information, but the barriers erected by the state are just large enough to keep many people from bothering to outwit them. The information that filtered through was erratic: Promise could talk to me at length about the latest Sophie Marceau film or the merits of various Swiss race-car drivers, but the news of Facebook’s role in the Arab uprisings had not reached him.

via Chinese Citizens on Tour in Europe : The New Yorker.

It isn’t so much that any citizen of any nation censors themselves to protect the nation, but we swim in so much state-oriented media that it would be impossible to know what we don’t know.  Those elements that are forbidden to us, must be inaccessible for a good reason.

In this context, we should probably argue that corporate media filtration is more dangerous than national media filters.  As Osnos points out, people can circumvent national information barriers, but it is trickier to outwit google or facebook.

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Filed under human rights, media, propaganda

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