The media as a tool of war

Image: Chrisna Senatus


Coverage of the conflict in Palestine is yet another example of how the media can be a potential risk to democracy

Many times, our opinions have been cleverly suggested to us by media manipulation without us being fully aware of it. The media uses subtle methods to implant beliefs in us, while making us believe that they belong to us, that we choose them. In this sense, the motivations for media manipulation may be different, but, in most cases, they aim to create submissive citizens. Those who ignore important information and do not know their rights generally do not create problems for the stability of the political and economic system.

In other cases, as shown in the article “How the staging industry works in war-spectacle, part of the imperialist war machine since the end of the cold war to the present day” by Domenico Losurdo, the dissemination of fake news or the emphasis on borderline cases serves to create divisions. The wide space given to unfounded or logical opinions disseminated by major news agencies serves precisely this purpose.

From this perspective, the first means used to direct public opinion in one direction or another is alarmism. In consideration of this, words like alarm, war, genocide, attack, terrorism, emergency and danger are used very frequently by the world's homogeneous media. Such words serve to make people feel insecure and generate a constant subtle fear in them.

Another effective method is to focus attention on news that generates a strong emotional response. The issues that could trigger a mass reaction against the establishment they remain in the background to stimulate useless debates about facts that, unfortunately, can no longer be changed.

In Domenico Losurdo's article, the concept of (false) superinformation, which is another technique of media manipulation, is clear. Today, we talk to exhaustion about a subject to give the listener the impression that he knows enough, a lot, too much. However, in reality, the same things are repeated over and over and nothing is explained. This is to prevent citizens from having the desire to delve deeper, seeking information elsewhere and, therefore, building autonomous thinking about it.

Another structuring device is to extrapolate news from its context, which is useful for directing public opinion. This artifice is present in the narrative construction of wars. When this happens, please note that usually only the number of victims and locations are disclosed. In this scenario, the political, social and economic situation of these countries is never explained, much less the real reasons that led to the violence. Unfortunately, we are currently seeing this present in all national and international news through the Ukrainian War and now the Conflict in Israel.

The artifice of extrapolating the context of the news is also seen in the third section of Domenico Losurdo's article “The production of the false, the terrorism of indignation and the triggering of war”. When the Marxist philosopher quotes: The Dissolution of Yugoslavia, the Racak Massacre and the Gulf War. Let's be honest, all it takes to manipulate what we think is a careful choice of images, words or tone. In this way, we can automatically arouse approval or dissent to the issue at hand.

Speaking of the conflict in Israel, I notice a distortion when it comes to the production of misleading information. I don't know about you, but I feel a certain discomfort when examining the way news related to the conflict is reported, especially in recent days. Although there is a supposed “neutrality”, the Palestinian issue and the supposed Israeli heroism still maintain a dominant presence. The omission of relevant facts, unbalanced interviews and incorrect, manipulated and incomplete information hovers in the air. All of this seems rooted in a Manichaean simplification that fits into the concept of “terror of outrage”.

At this point, I am indignant at the way the clashes in the Middle East are covered by the mainstream Western press. It is imperative that we place the current political situation in the historical context, from the Nakba in 1948 until the occupation of the West Bank, the confiscation of land, the imposition of colonization on the Palestinian people and the disregard and humiliation of the Arab inhabitants of Jerusalem and the West Bank. I'm not here to defend Hamas, quite the opposite. However, claiming that the current escalation is solely the responsibility of Hamas is a simplistic analysis. It is crucial to recognize that we must cease the practice of absolving the State of Israel of its responsibilities in this conflict.

From this angle, in relation to news, even the space given to international coverage, especially war coverage, on television news – especially prime time ones – is part of media manipulation, as it confuses people in the concept of information. Unfortunately, the old dichotomy of good and evil, hero and villain, still sells a lot.

It is no coincidence that we never hear about certain much more important issues on television news and in printed newspapers, such as bank seigniorage, the production and export of weapons, and the activities of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Therefore, thanks to media manipulation, people don't know that they don't know. Watching TV, reading newspapers or getting information from social media, most of us are convinced that we know and, above all, that we are definitely on the right side.

Furthermore, the mass media (radio-TV-Web) became decisive in the creation of common sense. To this end, the effectiveness of media manipulation does not depend on symbols or metaphors as such, but on their ability to create an emotional context favorable to the acceptance of commercial and especially political messages (both direct and indirect).

In this sense, public opinion is trapped in the web of political propaganda, receiving only stereotypes, that is, simplistic representations of reality. Under this logic, social networks have become fertile ground for public opinion. Since the purchase of the extinct Twitter by Elon Musk, through the War in Ukraine, social networks are widely used in manipulating opinions, what shapes the media and how it will manipulate the recipients (us).

Detailing this point further for analysis, the 2022 elections in Brazil were marked by intense manipulation of public opinion. From methodology for remote services by French mathematician David Chavalarias, the three main types of manipulation observed were: (i) dissemination of false information: this is the most classic type of manipulation, which involves the dissemination of false information with the aim of influencing the vote. An example of this was the use of the narrative that President Lula is an “ex-convict” to sow doubts about his suitability.

(ii) Disclosure of personal or internal data: this type of manipulation consists of revealing personal or internal data of certain political parties immediately before an election, without giving time to verify the accusations. An example of this was the use of the 580 days that President Lula spent in prison, which was used to create the narrative that he is a criminal unfit to govern.

(iii) Multiplication of online messages: this type of manipulation consists of the multiplication of online messages containing biased information. Generally, these manipulations are carried out without revealing the identity of the author, or even suggesting another identity. An example of this was the disinformation network that spread false and distorted pro-Bolsonaro news through the WhatsApp application during last year's elections.

It is important to highlight that these manipulation techniques can have a decisive impact on public opinion, potentially influencing the results of elections and referenda. This is why it is important to be aware of these techniques and combat them.

That said, the media, although a tool for developing democratic participation, becomes a potential risk to democracy. In short, namely, the news media and government are intertwined in a vicious circle of mutual manipulation, mythmaking, and self-interest. Journalists, analysts and public opinion need crises to dramatize the news, and government officials in the great hegemonic powers need to appear to be responding to crises.

Ultimately, crises are often not really crises, but joint fabrications. The two institutions have become so entangled in a symbiotic web of lies that the media is unable to tell the public what is true and democratic governments are unable to govern effectively.

*Vanderlei Tenorio He is a journalist and professor/coordinator of Emancipa Itapira.

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