The 96th Block: The language of persuasion
Persuasions, promises, and propaganda
Perhaps thanks to an uptick of searches on deepfakes, disinformation and democracy because of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, there is an increase in visits to this newsletter… and troll comments. It takes a little bit of effort to comment (or even like a post) on Substack — you would have to register for a Substack account and subscribe to the newsletter itself.
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Now here’s a selection of top stories on my radar, a few personal recommendations, and the chart of the week.
Trung Phan on SatPost, taken in parts:
I started this vaguely titled list after reading about how Abraham Lincoln received information during the Civil War. After the war began in April 1861, the US Military Telegraph Corps. laid “15,000 miles of telegraph wire across battlefields that transmitted news nearly instantaneously from the front lines”, per History.
All communications from that telegraph network — literally 100% — was sent to the library room of the War Department, which was next to the White House.
Today, literally billions of people are being flooded with images, intel, news, updates and propagandas at every waking second. Obviously, we’re not getting the full picture but it’s an astounding amount of information (and mis/dis-information, too).
Each of us has Lincoln’s telegraph room in our pocket.
From posters and radio to the Internet, an American perspective on how war messaging (and propaganda) were produced and how fast they spread.
Stephen Harrison for Slate:
But before covering the latest developments, it’s worth revisiting one of the most brutal edit wars in Wikipedia’s history, which also says something about the Ukrainian spirit. The issue was whether the web encyclopedia should spell Ukraine’s capital as “Kyiv” or “Kiev.” Beginning in 2003, editors tried to change the spelling on the subject’s Wikipedia page, taking advantage of the site’s open platform to modify it from “Kiev” to “Kyiv” and back again. “Kyiv” derives from the Ukrainian language, while “Kiev” has Russian-language roots and is seen by Ukrainians as an imperial imposition. Both sides recognized that the spelling on Wikipedia was not a trivial matter. Not only does Wikipedia inform the work of journalists and publishers, but it powers Google’s search results around the world.
For nearly two decades, Wikipedia editors retained the “Kiev” spelling, spending more than 50,000 words on arguments and discussion about the issue (archived here). But following Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, many Western media outlets began using the “Y,” acknowledging the importance of that spelling to Ukraine’s national identity.
Unlike many other community-moderated sites, Wikipedia by and large trumps the rest when it comes to keeping misinformation at bay.
On the subject of Wikipedia, I would like to share, wholesale, this little nugget from columnist and tech professor John Naughton:
I use Wikipedia a lot, and always have. And I donate to it regularly. If, like me, you write newspaper columns, a link to the relevant Wikipedia entry often frees one from having to break the narrative by pausing to explain something in detail. Regular financial donations are a way of expressing my appreciation for using it as a resource.
In the early days, though, some people — especially academics — were very sniffy about it. I remember an occasion when the Vice-Chancellor of an ancient university made a dismissive comment about Wikipedia and then was astonished to find a very distinguished Fellow of the Royal Society interrupting her to say that the Wikipedia pages on his arcane speciality were the most accurate and up to date reference on the subject. Why? Because he had written them. Result: one very embarrassed Vice-Chancellor.
As time went on, I noticed that people tended to have two kinds of views about it — (a) dismissive because they had found a glaring error in a page; or (b) gushing with praise. I developed a strategy for dealing with both types.
For (a), the dialogue would go something like this.
Me: “So you’ve found a glaring error on a subject you know about?”
Critic: “Yes. Elementary mistake”.
Me: “So why haven’t you corrected it?”
Critic: Flustered (sometimes), irritated (often), defensive (much too busy)
For (b), things were generally simpler.
Me: “I’m glad you think highly of Wikipedia”.
Gusher: “Yes, it’s wonderful, isn’t it?”
Me: “So when did you last make a donation to ensure that it keeps going?”
Sophie Foggin and Helen Li compile a succinct list for Rest of World.
What I read, watch, and listen to…
I’m reading The State of the Internet’s Languages, a report by Whose Knowledge?, the Oxford Internet Institute, and the Centre for Internet and Society (India), shared by a reader after last week’s Chart of the Week.
I’m watching The Dropout, about Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes. Anyone who knows me knows that I consider her the greatest villain of Silicon Valley, bar none.
I’m also watching the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup. I am now operating in the New Zealand timezone for the next three weeks.
I’m listening to Fighting words in Ukraine from NPR’s Rough Translation. This updated version of the 2019 episode revisits how competitive comedy forged Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
More stray links:
Africans In Ukraine: Stories of war, anti-blackness & white supremacy by Shamira Ibrahim for Refiery29. ‘All’ lives matter, right?
Academic and journalist, Idrees Ahmad:You can only write this article or this headline if you've slept through the past 12 years. Virtually every event of the Syrian conflict has been captured on social media, in images, videos, tweets, livestreams, etc.
Stephen L. Miller @redsteezeUkraine is the first social media dominated war. My latest for @TheSpectator https://t.co/gewnO9hIcd