'Net's potential as a propaganda machine

"Some lies are so well disguised to resemble truth that we should be poor judges of the truth not to believe them."

- Anon

Have you recently received an e-mail message containing a clever poem that begins:

I am Starr. Starr I are.

I'm a brilliant barri-star.

I'm here to ask, as you'll soon see,

Did you grope Miss Lew-in-sky?

This amusing sonnet did the rounds of the Internet in next to no time -- I received at least six copies in one day!

What was particularly interesting was the lack of attribution. I didn't really think much of this until I heard the Sept. 23 broadcast of the radio program "Fresh Air" on my local National Public Radio station.

On that particular show was an interview with Dan Perkins, a.k.a. Tom Tomorrow, the cartoonist best known for his comic strip "This Modern World".

Perkins stated he is the author of this ode to Fornigate that shot around the Internet (in slightly altered form from what he presented in one of his comic strips). Perkins is not pleased about this. His main complaint was that it was picked up by "serious" newspapers and reprinted without attribution or, more importantly, without payment.

Perkins also points out that the journalists who acquired this content made no effort to find out who the author might be.

This highlights one of the curious attributes of the Internet. Stuff that gets passed around is assumed to be true simply because it is being circulated. I confess, I've been taken in by a few of these: virus scares, urban legends and the like.

And along with the bogus content, we are being increasingly bombarded by real, honest-to-the-gods news.

Along with this deluge comes another problem: we have to pay attention if we want to gain anything from the torrent. But attention is the most valuable commodity in the Information Economy simply because it is the most crucial limiting factor.

So our attention gets stretched thinner and thinner - we scan more than read and we really do "browse".

This susceptibility is based on our gullibility. For example, we assume the online joke culture is freewheeling and independent - but can we be sure? What if all the jokes about the President's indiscretions are being generated and circulated by his enemies? The simple fact that our attention is being diverted by what appears to be humour while our opinions are being moulded is not to be taken lightly.

Mark my words, the Internet will become the most important propaganda machine in the world. On the Internet the techniques of spin-doctoring -- misinformation, misdirection and misrepresentation -- will become increasingly commonplace and more subtle than ever.

But will we become a more cynical society because of it -- or a more manipulated one? My money is on more manipulated, and if you look at advertising and politics, I'd say history is on my side.

(Propaganda to nwcolumn@gibbs.com)

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?