The late Beetle George Harrison was prophetic in the title track from his last album.
“They brainwashed my great uncle/Brainwashed my cousin Bob/They even got my grandma/When she was working for the mob,” goes his song Brainwashed, released a year after his death in 2001.
The notion of “brainwashing” comes from claims in the 1950s that communist China used mind-bending techniques on captured soldiers in Korea. But nowadays the phrase “You’re being brainwashed” is commonly used to “discredit opposition viewpoints,” Scott Selisker, author of Human Programming: Brainwashing, Automatons and American Unfreedom, told Futurity.org. He links the increased usage “with the phenomenon of social media ‘bubbles’ where users often see largely the views of those who agree with them ideologically,”
Harrison was not aware of modern social media when he wrote his song. Blogging had yet to have much impact. Facebook wasn’t created until February 2004 nor Twitter until March 2006. Yet, he seemed to see the future.
“Brainwashed by computer/Brainwashed by mobile phones/Brainwashed by the satellite/Brainwashed to the bone.”
Social media has taken the phenomenon of groupthink, characterized by irrational and dysfunctional decision-making, to stratospheric levels. Researchers have demonstrated how easily social media can be used to manipulate ideas, especially with the use of “bots” – automatic response algorithms.
Relentless bias and falsehoods pushed on social media have turned Americans against each other, often with great fervor, often splitting families. And, with our borders wide open to digital infiltration, foreign enemies have weaponized social media to exacerbate these divisions.
The FBI has documented efforts to sow disinformation on social media to “confuse, trick, or upset the public” by operatives in Russian, China, North Korea and Iran.The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence revealed Russian actions to “polarize Americans” based on societal, ideological, and racial differences. “Masquerading as Americans, these operatives used targeted advertisements, intentionally falsified news articles, self-generated content, and social media platform tools to interact with and attempt to deceive tens of millions of social media users in the United States.
“The primary objective is not to create a particular version of the truth but rather cloud the truth and erode our ability to find it, creating a sentiment that no narrative or news source can be trusted at all,” David Porter, an assistant section chief with the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force, told the Associated Press.
Nowhere is the impact of disinformation and groupthink more dangerous to our nation than in the current COVID crisis. Even in Mississippi.
“We’re going to watch people needlessly die over the next month of two for no good reason,” state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said last week. “There is a mountain of lies and disinformation being promulgated by a relatively small number of misinformed, disillusioned people.” He attributed this to “anti-science Nazis on social media,” reported Mississippi Today.
“I don’t believe anything coming out of government and the news media anymore. They are all lying when their lips are moving,” said one vaccine skeptic.
Harrison’s only hope to deter brainwashing and thought manipulation was for God to intercede.
“God, God, God/Won't You lead us through this mess.”
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding” – Proverbs 3:5.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.