Monday, October 15, 2012

How to Start an Online Outrage – LIE!

It’s a bit under a month to the elections, so there’s a lot of political stuff out there. So how do you influence people and create a stink that will get you attention, pageviews, and help spread your position around the internet? You take a leaf from the page of every other con-artist and scammer, you lie.

The ability to lie has become more widespread as time goes by. You may remember that a while back I discussed an image showing healthcare law opposition written on a vehicle. It convinced a lot of people, who spread it around. It was, of course, complete garbage, but why did a badly painted sign in a van appeal to the thoughts of so many?

There are 3 main reasons
  1.  It was humorous  The idea that a someone got so incensed they painted their vehicle like that made it stick in people’s minds 
  2. It resonated with their own beliefs. Most people don’t like their worldview challenged, and like someone or something that confirms that what they thought was ‘right’, and it can’t be a stupid thought, because others think so too. Commonly known as confirmation bias 
  3. There are references to the specifics of law, or to a fact checking site, who ‘support the claim’. Usually they don’t. A common statement of email forwards is ‘Snopes confirmed it’s true’, while political stuff often has a complex-looking legal reference. Commonly known as ‘Appeal to Authority’ 
I’m going to leave points 1 and 2 for another time, and focus on the appeal to authority. And I’m going to explain a little of how it works, and how easy it is to actually check this stuff. My first example would be the truck. Here’s the image again.

Note the Appeal to authority in it? It gives a specific reference in a bill. Now most people don’t have a clue where to look that up. bills are long, and complex and people often just have difficulty finding it. Other people assume that since someone's spent the time to do it, it must be true. It's the same reason so many people believe that open source software is so nice and safe.

If someone actually went and checked up on what the law said though, you'd find that Page 114, line 22 says:
lent to 80 percent of the full actuarial value of
Actually, there was no chance it was going to say it anyway.There is a set layout for bills, and it doesn't leave much room for content per line. There are only 25 lines per page. That's why bills (and especially this one) had so many pages - each one is limited in the content. The layout is because it's a document that's designed to be edited. There's space above and below every line for corrections and notations to be jotted down.

The problem is, by the time you've looked this up, and pointed it out to people, they've already shared it and won't believe you. The Lie has worked.

But let's go on to a newer topic. This time the problem is your home appliances. Last week a story circulated about Government regulations threatening your kitchen. New dishwasher and washing machine laws saying you can't use so much water was introduced. One of the articles pointed out several federal laws.
There’s a pretty good chance that your current dishwasher using 6.5. gallons in a load. In the future, only 5 gallons of water can be used in the course of washing dishes. Maybe the manufacturers can ramp up the intensity of spray? Think again: new “energy efficiency” standards require that they use even less energy. Less energy plus less water equals dirty dishes. Plus, the new energy standards will substantially increase the cost of the appliance, taking it out of the affordability range for elderly people and the poor.  
How the heck can the regulators get away with this? You really want to know? Here’s the answer that the Department of Energy cites: “7 U.S.C. 7701–7772 and 7781–7786; 7 CFR 2.22, 2.80, and 371.3. Section 301.75–15 issued under Sec. 204, Title II, Public Law 106–113, 113 Stat. 1501A–293; sections 301.75–15 and 301.75–16 issued under Sec. 203, Title II, Public Law 106–224, 114 Stat. 400 (7 U.S.C. 1421 note).”  
So there.

Oh dear. Someone's paranoia ran away with them. The change wasn't new, and there has been a SUBSTANTIAL comment period on it, which basically had a lot of people saying 'we don't like it' but not a lot else in opposition, so it went ahead.

Again, notice the emotive tug about 'the new cost', resonating with people who feel the government just meddles (confirmation theory), and then the extensive citations of laws (appeal to authority). The problem is it's also complete crap.

The new regulations set the following standards for dishwashers

  • Standard (8 or more place settings) - Average of 307kWh/year and 5 gallons of water/cycle
  • Compact (less than 8 settings) Average 222kWh/year and 3.5 gallons of water/cycle

The article argues this will be a hard target and lead to expensive costs and dirty dishes, and expense as companies try to make these new targets.

Problem is, most already do. It's called 'EnergyStar compliant'

See, the EnergyStar requirements that have been in effect for the past 6 months are

  • Standard - 295kWh/year and 4.25 gallons/cycle
  • Compact - 222kWh/year and 3.5 gallons/cycle

Ooops. Any dishwasher you can buy right now with an energystar logo already meets it. Crap, there goes their expense argument. But what gives them the right still, yes? Well, let's look at those laws.

Ooops again. For those that didn't know, Title 7 of United States Code, is agriculture based. These specific codes are about dealing with plant protection, and hazard plants. You can find the code here.

So how did THIS mistake happen? It's pretty easy. the WHOLE PARAGRAPH is lifted from the October 1 2012 publication of the Federal Register. The problem is, it comes from column 2. The information about the new dishwasher standards doesn't start until the next paragraph. You'd think the giveaway would be the bit before and after the quoted reference.
 ■ 1. The authority citation for part 301 continues to read as follows: Authority: 7 U.S.C. 7701–7772 and 7781– 7786; 7 CFR 2.22, 2.80, and 371.3. Section 301.75–15 issued under Sec. 204, Title II, Public Law 106–113, 113 Stat. 1501A–293; sections 301.75–15 and 301.75– 16 issued under Sec. 203, Title II, Public Law 106–224, 114 Stat. 400 (7 U.S.C. 1421 note).
 ■ 2. In § 301.76–1, the definition of citrus greening is revised to read as follows:
§ 301.76–1 Definitions.
* * * * *
Citrus greening. A plant disease, also commonly referred to as Huanglongbing disease of citrus, that is caused by several strains of the uncultured, phloem-limited bacterial pathogen ‘‘Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus’’.

It's becoming a serious epidemic, especially in the political sphere, but there I'll be coming back another day. The sad thing is, this second story was brought to my attention after it was spread by a smart guy. He was a professor at a prestigious university and everything, and yet he got taken in.

Anyone can be taken in, but there is a key thing to remember. There's no requirement to tell the truth. News reporting has turned into advertising these days. It also has a lot in common with spam. You spread it out there, and hope you have enough suckers fall for it to make it worthwhile.

Anything interesting, contentious, etc. I check. It's really easy to check, especially if they have an appeal to authority, that authority is the first thing I check. If it says 'snopes confirmed it', I'll check snopes. If it quotes a law, then check the law (it's usually not that hard to understand). If it quotes a bill, then read the bill (this is usually the hardest, since many bills are scattered modifications to existing laws). I'll also have a quick look on and politifact.

Things are rarely easy though, and the scammers are betting on your laziness. Don't fall for it, and do some checking. The first one might be hard, but it gets easier, and quicker, and what's more, you LEARN stuff as you do it. And that's never a bad thing.

There's a reason why the Romney campaign, for instance, says they don't care about fact-checkers. Because most of the public is too lazy to do anything but moan. Though if the energy spent on moaning was spent on fact-checking, we'd find there's no reason to moan, and probably a lot less problems everywhere.

So do yourself, and your fellow man a favor, Find a Fact!

***UPDATE*** The last link above was incorrect. This has now been fixed. Thanks to @yaoyaoyiffy for pointing it out.

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