Sometimes it seems everybody wants to mess with what goes in and out of our brains. For all sorts of reasons, not least being to jigger with elections. And no, I am not talking about the Russians. The CIA has plans for a new department — the “Meme Warfare Center.”
We know about it courtesy of WikiLeaks and its big “Year Zero”/Vault7 release, made just last week. The idea is to “aim for a full spectrum meme generation, analysis, quality control/assurance and organic transmission apparatus.”
Cumbersome language is typical of bureaucratic memoranda, sure. Maybe once the Internal Memes Center (one of the two proposed divisions) is up and running, professional memesters will clean up such gobbledygook. A “meme,” after all, is the term Richard Dawkins invented for any notion or habit that is replicable in human brains. Obviously, the clearer — better constructed — an idea or icon or image or recipe is, the easier it will be to spread.
And this “warfare” won’t be limited to just inside the agency. They want an External Memes Center, too.
The CIA does not merely want to know everything we do. It wants to influence how we think. Planting stories and ideas in the great conversation on the Internet and in the old Gutenberg dimension might do the trick, and the trick is control.
Freaked out? Well, the Deep State’s “intelligence agents” are not alone. Almost everyone in politics wants to influence others. And that means meme generation, analysis, and transmission. Are you tired of the word “meme” yet? Well, I am afraid we are not quite done with it. Why? Because a few old-fashioned words no longer cut the proverbial mustard— words like FACT.
Which brings us to Snopes(.com) and Politifact, two well known websites devoted, like Sergeant Joe Friday, to “just the facts, ma’am.” Well, that’s the official meme.The trouble is, the current batch of fact checkers have more in common with the CIA’s infowars (not to be confused with Alex Jones’s) than with a straight-laced, probity-bound interrogator of “is” and “isn’t.”
When Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) said that a recent repeal of “three regulations” would save “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs,” Politifact rated the statement “Half True,” on the grounds that, well, not all experts agreed. But Sen. Paul’s statement was obviously a speculation, a prediction about the future is “half true” because it couldn’t be factually verified? Because some other people opined that he’s wrong about possible job losses? Still, Politifact admits, he may be correct, just as might be his opponents.
In 2015, objecting to a low figure for the Clinton Foundation’s grants to other groups that actually did things, Politifact gave a “Mostly false” judgment despite admitting that the statement was “technically true.”
NBC engaged in a similar move, admitting to the technical truth of a claim about unemployment, but said it was “extremely misleading.”
Snopes found reasons to tag a “Mixture” rating onto the simple fact that Omar Mateen, the Pulse nightclub mass murderer, was a registered Democrat. He was. But Snopes speciously speculated that the terrorist might have changed his mind after initially registering a decade before the shooting.
In these cases and many others, today’s most prominent self-designated fact-checkers cannot stick to the facts. They engage in speculation about speculations, and seem always to have partisan chopping tools to grind — often providing hatchet jobs instead of real “fact checks.”
The funny thing is, these sites are “Almost Right”: fact checking isn’t enough. Facts can be true, but deceptively used. Unfortunately, these sites lack the wit and honesty to separately cover matters of fact from matters of context. Instead, they add context, the better to spin the memes in the way they want. Not long ago, Emily Jashinsky noted a grand case of this, when Politifact rated “Mostly False” a Trump statement that was, in fact, literally true. Trump’s implication was false, but to let implication trump (beg pardon) the actual facts in the case is, itself, spin.
Call it “anti-spin spin.”
It is obvious that much of the major media leans left. And it is just as obvious that Fox News leans rightward. Everyone spins sometimes. It would be great if the fact-checkers concentrated on the facts, letting the hermeneuticians of a more sophisticated sort manage contexts.
Or they could simply offer a double analysis, with a double rating — True/False and then Clear/Caution, the latter category to cover interpretations and implications. Then, we would have much less reason to complain. Instead, they seek to mold opinion, and we are stuck with just more propaganda and heavy partisanship.
Meanwhile, Twitter and Facebook have both plunged deep into the cult of partisan memework, pretending that “fact checking” is some kind of panacea, and not just vomit-inducing Meme Warfare in disguise, a mercenary memetic emetic. This I noticed some time back, when I couldn’t help asking the immortal question, “who will fact check the fact checkers?”
You can bet we will not get much help from the CIA’s Meme Warfare Center.
Perhaps we should form citizens’ meme militias. Then maybe more memes will pass muster.