Frame this! Idea contagion

Simon Phipps makes a valid point about the effectiveness of framing, which is the subtle positioning of a concept so as to make it easy to surreptitiously implant it. It is often used as a propoganda technique, by emitting an eminently repeatable and memorable tagline that negatively labels an enemy. Some political examples include "Kerry flip-flops on key issues" or "axis of evil".

It's rather scary that primitive techniques like this are effective on us rational beings (ha!), but you only have to look at advertising to see that it is astonishingly effective - the only requirement is that the statement is sufficiently provocative or sensational or even ludicrous to grab attention in the first place, and then the steady drip-drip feed will integrate that thought into your forebrain and the primacy effect will cause it to impact your behaviour even if you could remember plenty of counter-evidence if you tried. Oooh, cue Twilight Zone intro ;)

These framing statements are memes, contagious ideas that spread like viruses from person to person. Unfortunately Norton or Kaspersky can't protect you from these viruses.

So what can you do to protect yourself? ;) The advice below is 100%-pure tongue-in-cheek ;)

  • Active reading - permanently engaging your critical faculty can help you toss these framing memes on their heads; reject dud (or fud) memes as mental spam (but it's sadly more fun to consume ideas than to really think about them)
  • Look for the motive - if you think about the interests of the parties involved, you can usually filter or ignore statements that are clearly propogandist (a pretty effective technique as you just have to think who would benefit from having you believe any given idea rather than actually trying to assess the ideas's veracity)
  • Fuzzy logic - life is not black or white, so try to think of all ideas you come across as being possessed of only a certain degree of truth
  • Wait for the technology - anti-spam software today can stop rogue messages from jamming up your input queue; when we finally implement AI like Hal, we can have it filter out propoganda (in the meantime, a pretty good approximation is to recycle your newspaper before you read it or send all of your e-mail to /dev/null ;)

Another analogy: idea-framing is not evidence of any conspiracy; people emit ideas with the same goals and effects as pheromones, except that ideas compete for control of your cerebrum, not your hypothalamus.

Ah blogging; where else could you read such sheer random-ness ;)

Comments:

J. Clingon's blog points to evidence of Sun's being framed as more proprietary than competitors.

This doesn't have the impact of framing in international politics, but it points to a simple technique for seeing it. I like the AI idea, but if you filtered all the framing, it wouldn't have leave much. For a high school journalism class assignment, I estimated about 17 seconds of hard news in a typical 30 minute news broadcast.

Visual propaganda is also interesting. If 3 news video cameras cover a political figure for an hour, they have over 1/2 million images to work with. So when the politician appears in the newspaper the next day, which image do we see? It seems to be the one that fits the frame. Bush is captured with a wrinkled forehead and squinting eyes to fit the "stupid" frame, Clinton is captured with a smirk which fit his "lovable scoundrel" frame, Sharon, McDowell, and Rice appear angry, Hussein is usually smiling. For Ahern, it's a canary yellow leisure suit... Someday face emotion recognition search engines may be able to provide statistical analysis on this technique.

Posted by Brian Nitz on October 09, 2004 at 08:51 AM PDT #

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