The "Firehosing" Propaganda Technique

Mendel

Senior Member.
Article:
The firehose of falsehood, or firehosing, is a propaganda technique in which a large number of messages are broadcast rapidly, repetitively, and continuously over multiple channels (such as news and social media) without regard for truth or consistency. Since 2014, when it was successfully used by Russia during its annexation of Crimea, this model has been adopted by other governments and political movements around the world.
[..]
The high volume of messages and the use of multiple channels are effective because people are more likely to believe a story when it appears to have been reported by multiple sources. In addition to the recognizably Russian news source, RT, for example, Russia disseminates propaganda using dozens of proxy websites whose connection to RT is "disguised or downplayed."[2] People are also more likely to believe a story when they think many others believe it, especially if those others belong to a group with which they identify. Thus, an army of trolls can influence a person's opinion by creating the false impression that a majority of that person's neighbors support a given view.

Using the firehose model, according to the RAND Corporation, the Russian government has had some success in getting people to believe and spread falsehoods and disbelieve truthful reporting. The success of this approach flouts the conventional wisdom that communication is more persuasive when it is truthful, credible, and non-contradictory.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
[Narrator] At the height of the 2016 election researchers released a report warning about a strange propaganda technique.
[News Anchor 1]"Another day, another lie, another conspiracy theory, another falsehood."
[Narrator] They called it the "firehose of falsehood." when a propagandist bombards people with more lies than they can possibly keep up.
[News Anchor 2]"Why all these lies? Why is it lie after lie after lie?"
[Narrator] According to the report, these lies don't have to be believable.
[News Anchor 3]"It wasn't just a lie. It was such a bad obvious lie."
[Narrator]Researchers found that even obvious lies had the potential to be highly effective at shaping public opinion.
[News Anchor 4]"I mean he just says things and then they are the truth in the world of the Donald."
[Narrator] The thing is, that report wasn't about Trump. It didn't even mention him. It was about Russian propaganda.
And it raised an interesting question: How could a powerful leader benefit from telling obvious lies?
[Trump]"We've signed more bills than any president ever."
[News Anchor 5]"The president just simply lies for no reason."
[Trump]"I was against the war in Iraq."
[News Anchor 6]"Why lie about something that you don't have to lie about?"
[Trump]"You have people registered in two states."
[Trump]"They vote twice."
[News Anchor 7]"Why does he keep repeating it if it's obviously not true?"
[Narrator]We're going to get to Trump in a minute.
[Sidekick]Hell yeah!
[Narrator]But before that, we have to talk to Christopher Paul.
[Christpher Paul]"I'm a senior social scientist at the RAND Corporation."
[Narrator]He co-wrote the report on Russian firehosing and he described it as having four key characteristics.
[Christopher Paul]
1) Russian propaganda is high volume and multichannel.
2) It's rapid, continuous, and repetitive.
3) It makes no commitment to objective reality.
4) And it makes no commitment to consistency.
[Sidekick]Oooh, sounds like Trump.
[Can you give me a second? I'm building a narrative here.]

The first two characteristics are pretty standard for propaganda.
Research shows that if we hear a lie from multiple sources, we think of it as more credible.
The same is true for lies we hear repeatedly.
The more familiar we are with a lie, the more likely we are to think of it as true.

But the last two characteristics — no commitment to objective reality or consistency — that's surprising.

They don't care that much about the truth.

Much of their propaganda is either completely false or has a kernel of truth.
Maybe the most jarring example this was in 2014, when the world watched as Russian troops entered Ukraine. There were a bunch of Russian soldiers wearing uniforms without insignia and those were dubbed “little green men.” This was a huge deal. Russia was essentially invading a country they had said they were not going to invade. But when Putin was asked about it: "Were these Russian soldiers? No. These were local self-defense forces." Putin vehemently denied. “No no, the little green men are not Russian soldiers.”

It wasn't just that Putin was lying. He was lying about something so obvious. There was footage of the soldiers airing on TV. Russian troops spreading out throughout the strategic Crimean Peninsula. And then, a few weeks later, he just said the opposite: "Of course, we had our servicemen. They were acting very correctly." No “I'm sorry.” No “I misspoke.” Just, “Of course we have troops there.”

This is counterintuitive.
This is not what I expected.

I come from an influence background that says credibility is king and the truth will always win.
Part of being a good liar is not getting caught. Making sure your lies are at least somewhat believable.
When Dick Cheney said, "There is no doubt Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," he was lying, but to most people who aren't intelligence experts, it sounded credible.

If someone asks, "Hey did you eat my sandwich?" You'd say, "Nope. I brought my lunch from home."
You wouldn't say, "You never had a sandwich."
But when it comes the firehosing, believability doesn't really matter.
I think being willing to not be seen as credible is okay with the Russians.
We'll come back to this.

But right now it's TRUMP TIME!
[Trump time.]
Since the election, people have pointed out that Trump uses firehosing too.

I really had no view that this would be anything that anyone would think about applying to American politics.
That's not what I'm about.
I am concerned with foreign intervention in our political processes.

[Okay, fine. Donovan, bring in the second interview please. Thank you.]

"I think it can be deceptive just how different they look. But despite the different styles, I think they do the exact same thing."

This is Masha Gessen. She's a Russian-American journalist, activist, and all around badass. And she's been warning about the similarities between Trump and Putin for years.

"They just create sort of this unmanageable volume of falsehood."

Gessen argues that firehosing — telling and retelling obvious lies — isn't about persuasion. It's about power.
When Putin says there are no troops in Crimea or when Trump says he never mocked a disabled reporter, they're not just lying. They're asserting that they are not constrained by reality. That everything, even things that are totally obvious to us, can be challenged. That's a very clear demonstration of power.
You have to engage with what he said even though it's false.

Those last two features a firehosing — the shamelessness, the inconsistency — they're kind of the point.
The way that they lie that makes the obviousness of the lie part of the powerplay.
Yes, I know that you know what I'm saying is absurd, and I assert my right to say whatever I want whenever I want to.
He keeps urinating on the sidewalk and we have to keep wiping it up. Not the sidewalk, the living room rug.
[Yeah. On the rug!
What are you cheering for right now?]
Our knee-jerk reaction to lies like this is to fact-check them.
Fact checkers are having a field day with this one.
"President Obama did not found ISIS.""He was not wiretapped, there was no warrant out.""It is not the biggest tax cut in US history as the fact-checkers have noted."
But if the goal of firehosing is to assert power, fact-checking misses the point.
There is nothing quite so humiliating and disempowering as trying to prove the truth. Think of a schoolyard bully who says, "Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?" Degrading you by forcing you to argue with the obvious.
"Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?" Yeah, you'd know about being bullied. I sure would.
Thank you.
And I think that's kind of what it feels like when we fact-check Trump. It's sullying.
You feel like you've engaged with something that actually shouldn't be a part of the public sphere.
Firehosing turns even the most obvious of facts into a messy, mind-numbing political fight.
Every time he gets fact-checked Trump lashes out.
"They just don't want to report the truth."
Sarah Sanders blames the media.
"If anything has been inflamed it's the dishonesty that often takes place by the news media."
And something that should not have even been up for debate starts to look like just another screaming match where no one really seems credible.
Donald Trump lies and he lies compulsively.
So this very simple human assumption that you can know what's true, that assumption is taken away from you.
You have to work for the truth and the hope is that, yeah, you'll get exhausted and you'll eventually give up.
[I'm getting depressed.
I know, buddy. I'm almost done.

We're all almost done.]
The ultimate goal of firehosing isn't to pass lies off as truth.
It's to rob concepts like facts and reality of their power.

You stand by that claim about him?
I don't stand by anything.
I have my own opinions, you can have your own opinions.

To reduce truth to just a position.

Isn't it important just to, like, have factual debates when discussing these things?
Well, as you just commented, there's lots of different ways of looking at it.

You're saying it's a falsehood and they're giving alternative facts.
It's somebody's version of the truth, not the truth.
Truth is truth.

I don't mean to go like...
No it isn't truth.
Truth isn't truth.

And if that sounds a little abstract, just listen to what Putin said during his press conference with Trump in July.

As to who is to be believed, you can trust no one.
He defends the interests of the United States of America.
And I do defend the interests of the Russian Federation.

So Putin just basically wanted to establish as a baseline that no one can be trusted.
Everybody's pursuing their own strategic interests and there's no such thing as the truth.

And a few days later Trump took that argument a step further.

And just remember, what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.
Just stick with us. Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.
Just stick with us.

Essentially, reality is about picking sides.
They're basically saying there's no war between people who know the truth and people who are lying.
There's only positional warfare. Whoever has a better position.
Whoever has objectively more power owns reality. And it's remarkable how effective that is.
Maybe you can just start acting like you have total power and it will not exactly give you total power but it will give you a hell of a lot more power than an American president should have.

You never had a sandwich.
You never had a...

Come on man, you're killing me.
Don't look at him if you don't have to.
You never had... we have to unmic him.

All right.
You're off the set.
Excerpt from the transcript
1) Russian propaganda is high volume and multichannel.
2) It's rapid, continuous, and repetitive.
3) It makes no commitment to objective reality.
4) And it makes no commitment to consistency.

The ultimate goal of firehosing isn't to pass lies off as truth.
It's to rob concepts like facts and reality of their power.
To reduce truth to just a position.
Essentially, reality is about picking sides.
They're basically saying there's no war between people who know the truth and people who are lying.
There's only positional warfare. Whoever has a better position.
Whoever has objectively more power owns reality.
And it's remarkable how effective that is.
It's a modern version of the old fairytale of "The Emperor's New Clothes".
 
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JMartJr

Member
My reading of that is that it is something of a high-volume Gish Gallop with the added goal getting it onto as many "channels" of information as possible. So it is not only the flood of arguments, it' also that you see them everywhere you look.
 

obiwanbenobi

New Member
Hacking the attention economy, it seems to me.

plugging up the means of communication so that the main-stream people find no value in them any longer so then only the extreme ends of the range of people involved care to participate. does this sound familiar? it does to me.

destroy the middle and push the ends so far apart that consensus becomes impossible.
 

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