The far right is dominating the information wars through "keyword signaling"

Originally published at:

Keyword Signaling

I think you might mean “Dogwhistling”



Isn’t that the revolutionary high-speed subliminal advertising technology that makes sedentary people’s heads explode?




Air-horning at this point


The spectre of Edward Bernays and his tobacco work continues to haunt American discourse. I don’t know any other way for the reality-based community to counter these manufactured terms than to expose and mock the premises they’re built on (probably via a countervailing, “Santorum”-like SEO campaign*), or by appropriating them as positive symbols (as in the case of the anti-Semitic “echo” triple-parentheses that have been largely de-fanged of their original toxic intent).

[* I’m sure that this suggestion will inspire yet more hand-wringing about civility from “moderate centrists”]


The caveat here is that it’s mostly good for preaching to the choir. Regular people won’t search those terms, only people who already are tuned into your dog whistles will hear them. So it’s not quite the same as taking over popular terms like “jews” as the article alludes.

That said, keeping your supporters compartmentalized is one thing the nationalist media is absolutely ruthlessly efficient at. You can lie to them all day and they’ll never know because the only thing they listen to is your lies. One of the biggest lies being that all other sources of information are untrustworthy (fake news) and shouldn’t be consulted. This is how you maintain an absolute floor of 40% support, enough to win a national election if you’re clever with the electoral college.


I was thinking much the same thing. This is just a minor evolution of SEO strategy. Then I caught myself about to write something breathtakingly stupid like, “surely there are plenty of people with professional SEO experience who aren’t evil.” What can I say, I haven’t had my coffee yet.


So how do they get all the far right sites and news outlets to push the new invented term of the week? Do they get the code word of the moment from the Singers of the Cities as in Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones?


Sadly, it’s just a bog-standard filtering system that starts with Chan-dwellers and incels and Nazis flinging pieces of poop at the sewer grate leading to Infowars, and so on up the line through Tucker Carlson and Fox News until that little turd has found its way into the mouth of Devin Nunes (a really effective poop can make it all the way into the discourse of the Heritage Foundation or the AEI).

If the people behind “The Good Fight”‘s Schoolhouse Rock pastiches want to keep going, this would be a good subject for a riff on “I’m Just a Bill” ("I’m just a turd, yes I’m only a turd, and I’m just in 8chan flippin’ the bird…")


I think all those right wing sites listen to each other, and feed off each other and largely have the same audience. So all it takes is one or maybe two high profile players to start pushing a meme, and if it’s catchy it will quickly reverberate around the echo chamber, and they’ll all run with it to extremes in all directions.


I know people who have been completely misled by this, and swear by their “internet research” that confirms the mainstream media is fake news, and trump is their galant savior. I wish there was some way to expose this to them which even they could not deny.


Yeah, the feedback loop here is incredibly powerful, but between this and the SEO angle, I’ve had a somewhat alarming thought.

Software companies, website designers, marketers and so forth regularly use A/B testing to experiment with site features to identify what maximizes user engagement. Once you fall into this rabbit hole, what you quickly realize is, people writ large are crazy. The test results that represent local maxima will almost always make a rational person wonder what the hell the designers were thinking. The answer is, they weren’t. They were just throwing darts blindfolded, and the mess you see is what ended up closest to the bullseye. Sometimes it’s a false signal and will regress to the mean. Often, the results are as inexplicably durable as they are baffling.

The tools to conduct tests like this at scale are well established. It would be shocking if political hacks weren’t using them to dial in their messaging. But the alarming implication is, a lot of the bullshit your craziest relative is going to be ruining Thanksgiving dinner with comes almost literally from nowhere. Not only is truth not a factor, but there’s not even an overarching agenda being served, beyond maximizing engagement. You see more crazy Hillary conspiracies not because there’s some rational evil scheme that depends on them, but merely because idiots have responded favorably to them up to now. The result is a feedback loop that trends relentlessly towards absolute madness.


How, how is it that anyone could take Devin Nunes seriously enough to bother to search for what he references in his mumbling spew?

When you finally figure it out:


The elite commentators are just a symptom of it, and most of the discourse is made by low level users.
It is not only for the converted, but it also helps to bring undecided people by building some trust.
You can pass a message that has a small time-interest window and also don’t have any counter message, so it must be true.
Repeat it a few times and the reader will trust you more and more, until you can consider it a converted.

And it is compounded by the ad targeting and content targeting algorithms of all the social media sites, and the advertising networks. If you click on one article or ad, they start showing you more of that type of article, from similar sources. The more of them you read, the more you are shown, to the exclusion of other kinds. Pretty soon you are constantly bombarded with similar, reinforcing items, with no way to say, hey, stop this, I want to see other stuff.


Small correction: no EASY or INTUITIVE way to see other stuff. You can, by various means, but the platforms are not designed to cycle material effortlessly. They are as you say, designed to be obnoxiously, bull-headedly self-reinforcing.


I think it is possible to hone an established message, but creating one from nothing cannot be done massively from a top-down approach.
However, a bottom-up works very well by generating several messages and seeing what sticks.
For example, some of the memes and also some narratives from gamer gate and other anti-SJW instances were done by it.