Email propaganda and digital literacy

The other day I came across one of the best examples of email propaganda I’ve seen in ages. It was a round-robin email and it was sent to me by a friend – himself a very ICT competent man in his 60’s, a senior pilot, currently working abroad teaching adults in a flight simulator environment.

He had, to my mind, done two things that are quite naive in terms of digital literacy (reminder: digital literacy = ICT competence + critical thinking + social awareness).

First, he’d forwarded a round robin email. Surely I can speak for us all in saying that this is just not done! To my mind this showed a lack of social awareness. And yet, having asked several friends and colleagues, this seems to be a frequent pastime of the over 55’s. (Why is this? Suggestions please!)

Second, he had forwarded it without noticing some interesting phrases, sentences and words that I considered to be clues that all was not as it seemed.

Take a look at the email:

This is what I thought:
“Wow, very emotive and evocative language describing her methods of rescue. Very passionate about the cause. Hang on, why mention Al Gore so rudely? Winning the Nobel Prize for a ‘slide show on global warming’? Bit harsh. Hmm, and why mention Obama’s middle name (Hussein) before having a go at his Nobel Prize?

It smelt fishy.
So I did two things: I Googled some of the key facts quoted, and I searched for any previous Web mentions of this email. And do you know what I found?

This email originated as part of a subtle email smear campaign against the Democrats during the US electoral campaign. Hence why it first appeared four years ago (the US elections) and why it’s doing the rounds again.

The story about Irena Sendler is a vehicle to get our attention, the rant about Gore and Obama is a subtle dig to influence our opinion.

In addition, the facts about Irena have been skewed with emotive language and incorrect data – perhaps to manipulate our behaviour and maximise the likelihood of a person forwarding the email.

For more info’ about Irena there’s is a film about her, called “Irena Sendler, In the Name of the Mothers” – for which the filmmaker recorded over 70 hours of interviews with Irena before her death. You can also read more about this email from another blogger (Sept 2010) here.

So what was my conclusion? This example happened to have attributes that raised my suspicions, but there have got to be loads of examples which I don’t notice. Makes you think about the power of good marketing and social influence huh.

Comments ( 3 )
    • Doug Belshaw says:

      Wow, good skills Tabetha. 🙂

    • Jean Elliott says:

      People keep sending me the email – no-one seems to question its accuracy.

      I did a lot of fact checking and was left feeling very despondent – how could anyone sink so low as the anonymous writer has done, to use the story of a truly good and wonderful woman for a personal attack on a politician whose policies he disliked?

    • Tabetha says:

      Thanks Jean, yes it is pretty shocking. I guess that is why people tend to believe it – it’s easier than imagining that someone has other motivations. Well done for checking the facts though – please spread the word! Best wishes, Tabetha

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