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Every day we are deluged with messages and memes through cable and the internet.  These messages can influence us in ways we may not realize, and the source of the information may not be what we assume.

If you are a Facebook user, the news feed content you’re being sent each day arrives through algorithmic adjustments, and according to Facebook is “designed to show you stories most relevant to you,” and ranks the stories “so that what’s most important to each person shows up highest in their news feeds.”  Many of these news feeds come from unlikely places.

US Uncut, a left-leaning Facebook page and website, is run by 36-year-old Mark Provost, out of his apartment in Philadelphia. He was a long-term college student, tried stock picking to support himself, and after years of personal unemployment became involved in the Occupy movement.  His website feeds content into Facebook, and now has more than 1.5 million followers (about as many as MSNBC) with headlines such as “Bernie Delegates Want You to See This DNC Scheme to Silence Them.”

Make America Great Today was the source of the July 31 Facebook story, “No Media Is Telling You About the Muslim Who Attacked Donald Trump, So We Will…. The article was written by a husband and wife team in the Philippines, one of many subcontractors all over the world who write stories for the site.  Adam Nicoloff, a 35-year-old who worked in restaurants and provided web services before starting the site in August 2015, now makes what he calls a ‘doctor’s salary – more than $20,000 a month – posting articles and memes from his home outside St. Louis.

Even Russia has learned what a powerful tool an information campaign can have on the hearts and minds of people.  Sweden, considering a military partnership with NATO, was recently deluged with false reports of secret nuclear weapons being stockpiled on Swedish soil, and NATO soldiers who could rape Swedish women without fear of criminal charges.  The information flow started with internet posts and spread to mainstream media, alarming voters.  Preventing NATO expansion is a focus of Putin, and while the source of the false reports could not be pinned down, evidence gathered by European and American intelligence pointed to Russia.

Before politics became the focus, the Great Recession was source material for information campaigns.  Articles about the failure of our monetary system and gold as a reliable source of wealth protection were written by individuals and companies who profited, behind the scenes, in selling gold and currency investment plans that were promoted in the same articles.

Because many stories on social media are prepared and promoted by organizations that don’t have to disclose their sources or the author who wrote them, they are not subject to the same fact-checking and scrutiny that traditional media outlets must withstand.  As they’re passed on to other individuals who are already sympathetic to their point of view, aided by algorithms and the natural human tendency to share with our “tribe,” they become accepted as facts that have been hidden from us by people who don’t want us to know, creating a cascade of distrust of traditional news sources, our financial markets and our government.

The next time you find yourself reading an article and are about to hit the ‘share’ button, pause for a moment.  Ask yourself who wrote it, what their motivation might be, and whether or not the article is based in fact……and maybe just turn off your computer and go for a walk without being ‘under the influence.’