Paltering: The Dark Art of Deception

What an appropriate Shakespearean quote to start this post on a little known form of misinformation. I found this graphic on the web at Wise Famous Quotes, in its poorly punctuated form, on a page featuring images by German photographer Norman Blume. It is undoubtedly a famous saying, a wise adage for the ages however, it’s not a quote from Shakespeare. It appears in the poem Marmion, written in 1808 by Sir Walter Scott. The Wikipedia entry for the poem even mentions the frequently misattributed maxim.

One of the most quoted excerpts from Scottish poetry[19] is derived from Canto 6, stanza 17 (although it is often erroneously attributed to Shakespeare):[20][15] “Oh, what a tangled web we weave,/ When first we practise to deceive!”

Wikipedia Entry for Marmion (poem)

If you are somewhat confused, that was my intention. Yes, I called it an “appropriate Shakespearean quote”, but I was referring to its form, language, and tone being evocative of Shakespeare. Did you assume something else? Do feel as if I misled you?

I didn’t lie. (technically)

If I had written a different opening sentence: “This quote by William Shakespeare seems an appropriate way to begin this post.” then that presents a very different scenario. That statement would be a lie if I know that the Bard hadn’t written it, or an error if I simply didn’t check for authorship and relied on erroneous “common knowledge” and the accuracy of an “image quote” meme.

Instead I was paltering, using true information to lead you to a false conclusion.

What is Paltering?

This explainer video from Psychology Unlocked gives a broad overview of Paltering.

Some may be wondering, why I’ve clambered up onto my digital soapbox to decry this obscure term?

I blame lateral reading.

I was reading the article The psychological drivers of misinformation belief and its resistance to correction and I came across the word paltering, the authors calling it one of the “subtler forms” of misinformation.

It was subtle all right.

I had never heard or read that word before, and had no idea how to use it in a sentence. That cut me deep. I pride myself on being a pithy wordsmith. So I started reading laterally to find out what paltering is and became obsessed with the concept.

I also found out why I hadn’t heard of paltering before. It only began its rise to prominence after a Harvard Business School study in 2016. Though the researchers there were focused on paltering in negotiations, their findings reached across society. Matthew Hudson put the research into layman’s terms in his Boston Globe article, ‘Paltering,’ a new way to not tell the truth where he takes on misleading talking points from “Fox and Friends” and underhanded tactics for selling a used car.

Within weeks, paltering had made it across the pond as the BBC ran an article with the mischievous headline, The devious art of lying by telling the truth. The article highlighted a key aspect of this form of self-serving and self-deluding deception. Palterers wants to be seen as and think of themselves as honest and ethical.

The Texas Standard soon reported on the BBC coverage declaring Lying While Telling The Truth Now Has A Name: Paltering. (I suppose “paltering” seemed like it would have been a British term) Their article on the subject covered new ground and brought Politifact into the discourse. They also recorded a five minute segment on paltering with Jennifer Mercieca, professor of communication at Texas A&M University.

Politics: The Art of the Palter

In their study, Is there an ideological asymmetry in the moral approval of spreading misinformation by politicians? research psychologists Jonas De keersmaecker and Arne Roets found that conservatives are more likely than liberals to tolerate politicians spreading misinformation. Their findings were detailed in the PsyPost article. They looked at:

  • Lying by Commission: telling untruths
  • Lying by Omission: leaving out vital information
  • Paltering: using the truth to create an false conclusion

Now let’s examine the case study in Advanced Paltering with former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. A Putin-supporting Russian journalist posted this on Twitter. The translation is below, along with the video he included in his tweet.

Harry Kazianis and fmr Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – Center for the National Interest

That was unaltered video, selectively edited, that was being utilized as pro-Putin propaganda in Russia and around the world. It wasn’t the only time Pompeo had nice things to say about the Russian leader, like at the 5:35 mark in this January 23, 2022 interview on Fox News Sunday. While attending the recent CPAC conference a reporter attempted to ask Pompeo about his recent comments.

Mike Pompeo questioned at CPAC 2022 about his recent Russian comments

Q: “…. Do you regret your words?”

Pompeo: “Been fighting communism since I was a teenager, I’m gonna keep fightin’ communism.”

Q: “Do you regret your words about Putin this week though?”

Pompeo: “I have worked my entire life to make sure that the United States was free of communist dictatorships. I understand my enemy. I’ll always call my enemy for what he is. We have make sure we cross the Russia…”(indiscernible)

Mike Pompeo is regarded as a pretty sharp guy. He graduated first in his class from West Point and went to Harvard Law. He knew what he was being asked, but instead of saying his remarks had been taken out of context, (which they were) he gave a non-answer answer with a bit of righteous indignation.

He paltered.

Todd Rogers, the lead researcher in the Harvard study that gave us “paltering”, was interviewed by Matthew Hutson for his 2017 Boston Globe article. He had some advice for palterers like Pompeo.

“If you ask a specific question, that specific question should be answered, not a variant of it”

Paltering Away the Planet

Once you learn about paltering, you can’t unlearn it. It starts to pop up everywhere. Sometimes it’s innocent, other times it’s deadly serious.

The new report from the IPCC came out at the end of February 2022 and the news is not good. The AP article quotes UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutterres calling the report “… an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.” Agreed. but what about the role misinformation has played?

What about paltering?

In his 2019 study, Understanding and countering misinformation about climate change, researcher John Cook contends that misinformation is a major factor in climate change denial and that paltering is a preferred technique for delivering it. He points to an example of “cherry picking” data to arrive at desired conclusion instead of the true conclusion. These false results support denier narratives and can easily spread through communities primed to accept such deception at face value.

In a recent interview titled Misleading climate ads from Big Oil explode ahead of Big Oil climate hearing John Cook also noted that fossil fuel companies engaging in “greenwashing” are paltering – making true statements that don’t tell the whole story. There are so many ads flooding social media that people may have the impression that oil companies are coming up with solutions, when in actuality they are still a huge part of the problem.

Chevron social media ad

Final thoughts…

The best way to stop the flow of misinformation is at the source. Paltering is something we shouldn’t be doing in our everyday lives, and we shouldn’t tolerate it from anyone, anywhere or anytime. I’ve included 5 memes here that you can copy and send out with a link to this post. Be a #PalterHalter!

Misinformation: The Reckoning

Misinformation Montage – PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs

These young people are inspiring and their concerns are a call to action. It’s a noble goal: ridding the world of misinformation. Unfortunately, that mission poses a few problems. There’s some “misinformation” that we love. Also, who gets to decide what is called misinformation?

There’s a free speech argument that all content should be part of a “grand marketplace of ideas.” When dealing with misinformation, I believe it comes down to the relationship between content and intent. We have reached a critical juncture in society and perhaps a trip down memory lane will reveal the path forward.

Memory Lane

I grew up on a steady diet of satire and parody. It started with cards and stickers called Wacky Packages that often mixed in a little political or social commentary within their spoofs of well-known household brands.

Wacky Packages – Topps, Inc.

I soon moved on to Mad Magazine. Mad was known for its clever wordplay and parodies of popular culture, media, politics and how those topics intersect. I didn’t always understand it, but being exposed to many cultural touchstones of the 20th century helped to make me a well-rounded individual.

Cover of Mad Magazine #155 – December, 1972
Parody of The Godfather – Mad Magazine #155 – December, 1972

This cartoon was the back cover of a 1972 issue I smuggled into grade school. It served as a grim reminder of the traumas the Vietnam war inflicted on US soldiers. The humor in Mad was irreverent and often controversial.

Mad Magazine #149 – back cover by Jack Thurston & Max Brandel – March, 1972

My life changed when this National Lampoon issue appeared on newsstands the following year; I’ve been hooked on satire ever since. For a kid coming of age and grappling with the concept of mortality, the “Death” issue of the publication was my entrance into young adulthood, albeit through a snarky and slightly sophomoric doorway.

National Lampoon cover – January, 1973

So why this trip down memory lane?

All of the examples of parody and satire from my childhood encountered opposition from certain sectors of society. Wacky Packages stickers were a little bit of innocent fun. Nevertheless, fourteen of the original Wacky Packages designs were pulled due to cease and desist letters from the companies being targeted. Mad Magazine was banned from my Catholic elementary school and the publishers clashed with LucasFilms lawyers over a parody of The Empire Strikes Back.

Mad Magazine cover #220, January 1981

Thankfully, George Lucas intervened on behalf of the magazine, thanks to his love of the publication and friendship with Mad’s Mort Drucker, who had created the movie poster for Lucas’s first Hollywood film, American Graffiti.

America Graffitti Movie Poster – Mort Drucker 1973

National Lampoon was controversial throughout its 18-year run, even settling a 30 million dollar lawsuit with Volkswagen for printing this parody of an iconic VW ad that targeted Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy after his involvement in a fatal accident in Chappaquiddick.

Authentic Volkswagen magazine ad (left) and National Lampoon parody of that ad (right)

I’ve focused on the most “benign” category on the misinformation spectrum (satire and parody) to illustrate the principle that the intent of this content is not to cause harm but to amuse and, in some cases, provoke discourse (and lawsuits!) However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, as detailed in this AFP article, republished by Yahoo, some content classified as satirical can be misinformation. According to the guide created by Claire Wardle of First Draft, we must be wary of camouflaged content in this era of Information Disorder. She stated:

“Increasingly, what is labeled as ‘‘satire” is hateful, polarizing and divisive.”

From 1619 to 1776 (and back)

There are other ways that the “misinformation” label can be used as a cudgel to suppress speech and limit the exchange of ideas. The 1619 Project is an excellent case study for this topic.

Conservatives railed against this NY Times Magazine Investigative Project and its inclusion in the curriculum of some schools, calling it a “false narrative” and claiming it taught young people to “hate America.” Atlantic staff writer Adam Serwer examines this issue in his May 2021 article: Why Conservatives Want to Cancel the 1619 Project. Serwer’s assertion on this subject is succinct.

“The idea that ugly aspects of American history should not be taught, for fear that students—white students in particular—might draw unfavorable conclusions about America, is simply an argument against teaching history at all.”

The 1619 Project became part of rightwing smear campaign against the teaching of Critical Race Theory. There is an increasing body of evidence that this disinformation is a cynical ploy for partisan advantage, a line of thinking discussed in detail in this June 2021 episode of NPR’s Fresh Air.

In addition to the misinformation sent out to the public, stoking the fire of racial animus about the 1619 Project and CRT, former President Trump appointed a commission that delivered a 45-page rebuttal to the 1619 Report and a blueprint for “patriotic education.”

A majority of historians denounced the project. An NBC News article characterized the report as “rife with false assertions,”errors, and omissions that “warp history.” The intent for this blatant misinformation is to indoctrinate young people, as with this frothy conjecture from the opening paragraph of the slavery section.

“The most common charge levelled [sic] against the founders,
and hence against our country itself, is that they were
hypocrites who didn’t believe in their stated principles,
and therefore the country they built rests on a lie. This
charge is untrue, and has done enormous damage,
especially in recent years, with a devastating effect on
our civic unity and social fabric.”

– Opening paragraph of the Slavery section from the 1776 Report

It must be true, they used the word “hence.”

Thankfully, President Biden disavowed the Federal Government’s support for this propaganda.

Content and Intent

Returning to those “thrilling days of yesteryear,” many of the original Wacky Packages cartoons mentioned earlier were drawn by a young Art Speigelman, the creator of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, Maus. Speigelman has been in the news as of late.

Maus – Art Speigelman

His most renowned book depicting his parents’ experience in a Nazi concentration camp was recently banned by the Board of Education in McMinn County, Tennessee for language (words like bitch and god damn) and nudity (of cartoon animals) CNN interviewed Speigelman soon after the unanimous decision was announced.

Maus Author Art Spiegelman on the book ban in Tennessee – CNN

David Corn, the Washington DC Bureau Chief for Mother Jones did some fine reporting on the subject, and Laurie Herzel, Senior Book Editor at Minnesota’s Star-Tribune put the story into literary and historical perspective in her piece: Let’s not mince words: Banning books like ‘Maus’ is the work of bigots.

Once again, mis/disinformation is at the at the root of the problem. There is a well-orchestrated propaganda campaign around books written by people from marginalized communities, designed to gin up anger among conservative American parents. The library should be a true “marketplace of ideas.” If we look at both the content and intent of these books it is clear that they deserve their place on library bookshelves.

It is ironic that an award-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust can be banned in the US in 2022. It demonstrates intolerance for a story about the ultimate expression of intolerance.

The Path Forward

There were a few things I realized while creating this blog post:

  • Someone’s “history” is someone else’s misinformation.
  • Someone’s lies are someone else’s “alternative facts.”
  • Someone’s journalism is someone else’s “fake news.”
  • Someone’s hate speech is someone else’s satire.

How can we rid this world of misinformation if we can’t agree on what it is?

Then I remembered the children.

The banned books, the vilification of CRT and the 1619 project, the creation of “patriotic educational materials” – all of this was allegedly done by “concerned adults” to protect the well-being of our children. That is perhaps the MOAM (mother of all misinformation.)

It was never about the children, but it should be.

About Us – the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs

As I look around the website for the PBS Student Reporting Labs, I am filled with hope. Articles like Trans teens react to passage of anti-trans bills or this report about Ethnic studies in California reflect the more inclusive world they are building. Their journalism skills will put them on the front lines in the coming War on Misinformation. They are the stakeholders in the future.

So when it comes to misinformation, the older folks may be a lost cause, but take heart.

The kids are alright.

We The Peoples

That title isn’t a typo or a slangy take on the opening line of the US Constitution. It is from the Preamble of The United Nations Charter. Misinformation is a global problem; we need a set of global solutions. That is why the United Nations should bear the ultimate responsibility for reducing misinformation and serve as the forum for developing a theoretical and practical framework for information integrity. That term was well defined in an IEEE paper as “dependability or trustworthiness of information.” The original context was around IT issues, but it certainly applies to misinformation today.

United Nations Department of Public information (1945)

Global problems…

Climate change.

The Covid-19 Pandemic.

Systemic Racism.

Distrust of Institutions.

What do these “wicked problems” all have in common?

A) They threaten our well-being (or survival)

B) They are global in scale

C) They are complicated by misinformation

D) All of the above

These are just some of the daunting items on the UN’s agenda. Unfortunately, misinformation makes these problems worse.

Global Solutions

Although misinformation has become something of a buzzword here in the US over the past few months, this country is relatively late to the party. In 2018, the European Union commissioned a study with an international panel of experts from varied disciplines (academics, fact-checkers, journalists, etc.) to look at the scale, impacts, means of transmission and amplification and possible strategies to counter misinformation. They also warned about imposing knee-jerk regulations without developing long range strategies.

The report included several recommendations that included: calling on platforms to share data, more resources set aside for increasing media literacy, and the creation of research centers throughout the EU.

The rising concern over misinformation is mirrored in countries all over the globe. Many are creating policies and tactics to counter its dissemination. To highlight these efforts, the Poynter Institute created a guide to anti-misinformation actions around the world.

The guide features an interactive map and listings of each country and the steps they are taking to combat misinformation.

Why the UN?

The World Wide Web is both worldwide and a web, an intricately interconnected system. All the efforts of individual countries to combat misinformation, no matter how well thought out and executed, depend on those other strands of the web to be equally strong and resilient. That’s why I believe the United Nations needs to spearhead these efforts and build international consensus around best practices.

A GIF of the UN Pause campaign

The UN has already done battle with misinformation around Covid-19. The Pause Campaign, stopping and checking the validity of content before you share, has been bolstered by an MIT study citing that behavior as a highly effective way to slow the spread of misinformation. The UN is the one institution in the world that has the infrastructure to tackle such a problem and bring its member nations to the negotiating table. By committing to fight misinformation, the UN will also be helping the organization make progress in the other areas as well.

Cynics may dismiss this idea as an unrealistic dream. Is it more realistic that for-profit companies will curtail activities that have made them billions of dollars? Or that governments will set aside their partisan differences and work for the common good?

This thought experiment has been informative and humbling. When I wrote the first paragraph of this post and included the term information integrity, I was unaware that the UN Development Programme had recently launched a campaign by the same name. I consider that a good omen. The United Nations may chart the path forward to deliver us from this misinformation maelstrom.

Trust, but Verify

Trust But Verify – a Russian saying used by President Ronald Reagan

Yes, the title of this blog post is a phrase commonly associated with President Ronald Reagan as he pursued disarmament and normalized relations with the Soviet Union. (Apologies to all the lefties who are roiling as I invoke “the Gipper.”) However, I believe that this saying applies to the media landscape today. 

Trust vanquishes cynicism and bias. 

Verification quells healthy skepticism and natural curiosity and provides receipts. 

So with this in mantra on my mind, and armed with The Trust Project’s List of 8 Trust Indicators, I analyzed two websites, The Arizona Mirror and The East Arizona News.

The Arizona Mirror

Screenshot of the Arizona Mirror homepage
  • Expertise: The journalist is an expert 

All the articles feature professional journalists with experience in the areas and topics covered.

Screenshot of AZMirror reporters from website

Their reports are evidence-based, with the voices of credible stakeholders helping to frame the issues.

  • Labels: The purpose of the story is clear 

The stories’ headlines match their content. Although the Arizona Mirror is a progressive organization, its reporting reflects a commitment to journalistic standards. 

Screenshot – AZ Mirror story
  • References: You can find and access the sources 

Stories are well-sourced; those sources are identified by name, with hyperlinks to relevant materials.

  • Local: The journalist uses local knowledge 

The Arizona Mirror assembled a team of exemplary professionals from around the region, and their familiarity is evident in their reportage. In the article, Rosemont Mine project in southern Arizona faces pushback over water storage, freelance journalist and Tucson resident David Abbott includes many links and points of reference for the complicated story.

Screenshot of AZ Mirror freelance journalist David Abbott biography
  • Diversity: The story brings in many kinds of people 

The staff has women and men and includes Latinx and Indigenous heritage people with a range of professional experience. The commentary section is open to the community, though this opinion content skews to the left-of-center. Stories were inclusive and intersectional, including LGBTQ topics and marginalized groups, exemplified by this article posted yesterday – U.S. House hearing on extremism toward minorities turns into ‘defund the police’ debate. Note the photo is not a stock image; it was taken by AZ Mirror’s Chloe Jones.

Screenshot of AZ Mirror article
  • Actionable Feedback: The news organization allows readers to participate 

There are boxes like this around the site for visitors to email with questions or news tips.

Screenshot of the AZ Mirror “Contact us” button.

Like most websites, readers are invited to share content via email or social media. At the bottom of its articles, the Arizona Mirror also encourages readers to republish content according to Creative Commons guidelines.

screenshot of the AZ Mirror republish button
  • Methods: We can tell the process used to make the story 

The Arizona Mirror is transparent about its methods, funders, and progressive point of view. They adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Press Photographers Association guidelines. The Rosemont Mine story, mentioned above, included this correction to a minor detail that indicates a rigorous review process.

Screenshot of AZ Mirror correction
  • Best Practices: The journalist or news organization explains their ownership and standards 

The “about” page not only includes the standards and practices that the Arizona Mirror follows, but it includes a comprehensive list of its funders and links to their recent tax filings.

Top sheet of 2020 Federal Tax Filings

AZ Mirror is part of a group of local news organizations called States Newsroom (SN). The network consists of affiliates (sites created by SN) and partners (separate business entities supported by grants from SN). The network also maintains a Washington DC bureau for news on the federal level.

Screenshot States Newsroom homepage

This model affords AZ Mirror independence while offering the benefits of collaboration and content sharing.


The Arizona Mirror is a progressive news site that upholds journalism’s standards, practices, and traditions while employing a 21st-century business model. I failed to identify any staff or content created by African-Americans, so those are voices not being heard locally on a consistent basis – an area for improvement. Their ethics and privacy policies are comprehensive and readily available on their site. Based on the Trust Project’s indicators, I would consider the Arizona Mirror a credible news outlet despite its liberal stances and framing of issues.

The East Arizona News

Screenshot of The East Arizona News homepage
  • Expertise: The journalist is an expert 

There is very little of what could be considered journalism on this website. The two political stories on the front page of this Arizona “local news outlet” are supposedly from Washington, DC. However, they originated with The West Virginia Record, a news site that matches the East Arizona News’s tone and content. These articles by that site’s editor Chris Dickerson express right-wing bias. A former sports and entertainment writer, Dickerson studied journalism, but has no expertise covering politics.

  • Labels: The purpose of the story is clear 

No, the only clear thing was the agenda of the publisher. The homepage had this photo of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin pointing to a sign.

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) on the floor of the US Senate

There was also this list of “trending stories” –

Screenshot of Trending Topics from the East Arizona News

#3: A Fox and Friends appearance by Steve Gaynor, conservative candidate for Arizona governor (generated by press release )

#2: Nationwide theft statistics under this headline –

Enforcement officers in Eagar deal with one theft of motor vehicle parts or accessories in 2020

#1: A tweet by Kari Lake, another conservative candidate for Arizona Governor that linked to her Facebook page. When they lie to our children about this great nation 

Screenshot of Kari Lake for AZ Governor’s Facebook page
  • References: You can find and access the sources 

No, since there is no original reporting, the sources are unknown.

  • Local: The journalist uses local knowledge 

All the local stories that I saw came from press releases or credited East Arizona News in the byline. 

  • Diversity: The story brings in many kinds of people 

There was no evidence of diversity in any of the stories.

  • Actionable Feedback: The news organization allows readers to participate 

The East Arizona News says that they are responsive and encourage feedback from readers, but there does not appear to be a system or practical application of that policy.

  • Methods: We can tell the process used to make the story 

The process appears to be “copy, format, and post,” as this screenshot from their Ethics tab shows. Only the image changes.

Screenshot of Ethics stories – East Arizona News

The same story is generated weekly and scrolls back to November 2020.

  • Best Practices: The journalist or news organization explains their ownership and standards

The “about us” page of East Arizona News tells how the parent company, Metric Media, LLC “fills the void” after the decline of “legacy media” to provide local information and a platform for civic discourse. It may be more accurate to call The East Arizona News a bulletin board for curated local details and a clearinghouse for conservative propaganda.


According to a November 2021 story on the Editor & Publisher website titled, Exploiting the local news desert, owner Brian Timpone has connections with many local news entities across the country and a network of funding from conservative sources. The article goes into detail about Timpone’s media empire and his past troubles with story attribution exposed by the radio program This American Life in a 2012 segment titled, Forgive Us Our Press Passes. The New York Times also took Timpone and Metric Media to task for their political ties and advertising policies in a 2020 article.

NY Times article By Davey Alba and Jack Nicas

Based on my assessment of the content on the East Arizona News website (outdated and biased) and the information I have uncovered in my research, I would label this site as deceptive and untrustworthy as a news source. It looks like news, functions as a news site, even features the odd bit of helpful information, but if the United States is a local news desert, then this is no oasis. 

It is a mirage. 


The news industry faces significant challenges and new business models must arise to meet the moment. The Arizona Mirror and the East Arizona news are each part of nationwide networks, at the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Both share content from affiliates, partners and fellow travelers, but only one is applying journalistic standards and practices. Only one is news.

This post comes full circle in a reckoning with the concept of “trust, but verify.” A cursory glance at the analyses and conclusions in this blog post could be dismissed by conservative cynics as “opinion laced with personal bias.” As if I’m doing my bit to prop up the “liberal agenda.” My leftist leanings don’t change the “facts on the ground,” just as Reagan’s political philosophy (as personally objectionable as it was to me), did not impede progress he and Gorbachev made toward ending the Cold War.

10/11/1986 President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev meet at Hofdi House during the Reykjavik Summit Iceland

The two leaders adopted a framework for our countries that afforded them assurances of good faith efforts and targeted areas for improvement. I employed objective criteria to assess the trustworthiness of these two websites and identify weaknesses.

I trusted that both websites offered valid news content, but only the Arizona Mirror ticked enough boxes of the 8 trust indicators. The East Arizona News did not.

This isn’t opinion. I have receipts. Quoting Reagan one last time:

“Facts are stubborn things.”

Dishing on Diamonds

As Valentine’s Day approaches, thoughts (and advertising) turn to all things romantic. Flowers, candies, candlelight dinners, weekend getaways, and of course, the most significant love symbol of all, diamonds. That’s why I wasn’t all that surprised when this video popped up on my Facebook feed. Subsequently, I ended up stumbling into a case study of the power and lasting effects of misinformation.

The Claims:

Social media personality Scott Frenzel claims that diamonds are not the rarest gemstone, contrary to popular belief. He asserts that their perceived value arises from clever marketing tactics rather than the gem stone’s scarcity. Although this explanation appealed to my sensibilities, I wanted to investigate these claims because it seemed improbable that one company created the diamond’s allure and elevated status in popular culture. Frenzel also has a large audience (1.5 million followers on TikTok), so if this were misinformation it would likely spread.

Screenshot Scott Frenzel TikTok homepage


The Source: First, I looked at who was making the claim, Scott Frenzel and ascertained whether I found him credible. Since the start of the COVID pandemic, Frenzel has become an overnight sensation as a content producer on TikTok. Aside from his informational content, he’s also pulled a few attention grabbing stunts, like eating a lollipop with a cricket inside.

Screenshot of Scott Frenzel Tweet – August, 2021

Despite such antics, I found him sincere and credible and found no derogatory reports about him or his content. Since Frenzel is not reporting findings of his original research, nor citing his sources, it makes this video seem like opinion or “diamond gossip.”

Are diamonds rare?

A Google search of this question yielded these top results:

Screenshot of Google search – “Are Diamonds Rare?”

There were numerous sources to investigate this claim, and to a fault, they agreed that diamonds weren’t nearly as rare as many believe. Consulting the International Gem Society website, they not only corroborated Frenzel’s claims but went point by point, dispelling other popular diamond myths. There were news sources as well. CNN had a 2018 article with the stupefying headline: A quadrillion tons of diamonds lie deep beneath the Earth’s surface. The article cited the results of a study conducted by MIT and other universities that showed perhaps 1-2% of the Earth’s mantle appears to be diamonds. CNN also created a slideshow for this story that put these numbers into perspective.

Screenshot of CNN Slideshow

So, if diamonds are quite common, their value isn’t derived from their scarcity.

Did De Beers create a diamond cartel and restrict the availability of the gemstones while conducting an unprecedented marketing campaign to increase demand?

Yes. Yes, they did.

Hundred of reputable sources confirm De Beers functioned functions as a cartel. An authoritative account of the history of De Beers since its founding in 1870 by Cecil Rhodes is detailed in the research article, The De Beers Diamond Story: Are Diamonds Forever?. Professors Donna J. Bergenstock and James M. Maskulka pull no punches in their assessment and assail De Beers’ “branding” of diamonds as another indicator of the “control” the company seeks to exert on the diamond trade and the public perceptions of value.

Screenshot De Beers Website

In addition to their control of supply, De Beers implemented a marketing strategy that amplified demand. In a 2015 article in the Atlantic titled, How an Ad Campaign Invented the Diamond Engagement Ring the magazine tracks how the brand rose to dominate the retail industry behind the iconic phrase,

A Diamond is Forever.

De Beers A Diamond is Forever magazine ad – 1948

After the widespread marketing campaign was launched, came the reinforcement throughout popular culture. From Marilyn Monroe –

To James Bond –

Diamonds became the ultimate status symbol and proof of undying love and devotion.


After researching the claims that Scott Frenzel rattled off in his TikTok video, it appears that the information he shared is corroborated by numerous authoritative sources. I think my initial skepticism arose from a distrust of Frenzel because glib, fast-talking slickness is suspect in my book. I’m glad that I investigated the origins of the modern diamond industry because it brought into focus one of the greatest scams in history – the confluence of disinformation and propaganda that built the De Beers diamond cartel and the world’s obsession with the ultimate shiny toy.

Diamonds – Wikipedia Creative Commons

Digital Platforms vs. Misinformation

Combatting misinformation needs to be job one for digital platforms. Some are making progress. Others are lagging behind the technological innovations that facilitate the spread of misinformation. I selected these two digital platforms to pursue two different lines of inquiry. I wanted to learn about a company I was less familiar with to avoid bringing my bias or personal experience to bear, so I chose LinkedIn. I also wanted to take a look at Twitter’s efforts since that is my platform of choice.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have a LinkedIn profile, but I haven’t ever been active there.

A career-oriented social media platform and the professional community that thrives there would not be generally thought of as a hotbed or target for misinformation, aside from the occasional too-good-to-be-true business opportunity or self-help regimen. However, LinkedIn fights the same battles against misinformation as the other more prominent social media platforms and a set of unique challenges that are part of the company’s unique business model and user base.

All the significant online communities share a problem: fake accounts and LinkedIn is no exception. The company reported that in the first half of 2019, more than 20 million fake profiles were either taken down or prevented from registering at the onset. Notably, 98% of those fraudulent accounts were taken down or blocked by Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.

Another area where LinkedIn can be vulnerable to exploitation, as discussed in this Newsweek article, is data harvesting by foreign intelligence agencies. LinkedIn users are professionals seeking employment or networking opportunities, readily sharing their work experience and background details. Members of the community also participate in industry-specific forums. Some users hold positions in their organizations or are current or former members of the national security apparatus. The site is a treasure trove for bad actors who can weaponize data to sow distrust, dissent, or dispute the achievements of others.

LinkedIn has committed to combatting misinformation. Their professional community policies are easy to follow and give lots of do’s and don’ts, counting on the users to police themselves and show respect toward others. They’ve also produced brief informational videos that provide an overview of guidelines and best practices.


Twitter has created an innovative approach to fight misinformation that sounds like a military operation, Birdwatch. Here users will sign up to be contributors (some might call them informants), and they will be empowered to target questionable content and attach notes that in order to provide other readers with more context. It is designed to function as a collaborative fact-checking system. Currently available on a limited basis, the pilot program launched in the second half of 2021. A related program allows users to report and classify suspected misinformation, and this feature is recently expanded into new markets worldwide.

According to the Birdwatch Guide webpage, Twitter is well aware that people will try and game the system if they can. It is important that Twitter is establishing eligibility criteria for participants so that all users will know that “Birdwatchers” have been vetted and trained to be the hall monitors on Twitter. But there is a disconnect. Why are these digital platforms, huge for-profit companies relying on the kindness and selflessness of civic-minded individuals to mind the store? Why are they setting up “neighborhood watches” with good neighbors when bad actors often have motives, resources, and technical know-how to evade well-meaning but ill-equipped civilians.

Both platforms employ AI and machine learning to do the vast majority of the misinformation detection. They also rely heavily on engaged users serving as the eyes and ears on the front lines and alerting the companies to any potential violations. Given the rapid advancements in technology used to create and disseminate misinformation, I am not sure how sustainable that solution is.

A de-aged, deep-faked Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Book of Boba Fett

This week, I watched the 6th installment of Star Wars: The Book of Boba Fett. In this remarkable episode, the world was treated to a de-aged and deepfaked Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker acting alongside the other characters. He was brought to life by a renowned deepfake artist and, while not perfect, gave a glimpse of what is rapidly becoming commonplace. Digital platforms need to make a long-term commitment to proactive strategies that will identify both the content that can be classified as misinformation and those individuals, organizations and networks that are helping it to spread. As deepfakes and other forms of manipulation continue to improve, we can only hope that the means for detecting and labeling manipulated content will keep pace.

The Misinformation Chronicles

Misinformation is not a game!

That’s my response to CNN for their breezy coverage of this critical issue. In the article, Researchers have created a ‘vaccine’ for fake news. It’s a game Jon Roozenbeek and Sander van der Linden described the development of a computer game that has users creating fake news, and they published a study based on their results. Misinformation is likened to a virus, and the game is called a vaccine. Sadly, there’s a large group of “anti-vaxxers” happily sharing misinformation every day.

That Facebook (Meta) partially sponsored the research, and Google is study-curious should surprise no one. The Public Relations department in both these companies issued statements expressing the hope of “addressing the problem,” “sharing knowledge,” and “testing the usability of technology.” These phrases are empty rhetoric reminiscent of how the big tobacco companies funded studies for 50 years to slow the pace of federal regulations and restrictions.

A US magazine advertisement from around 1950.
Credit: Granger Historical Picture Archive/Alamy

Improving media literacy around the world is crucial, and any tools that can be brought online to facilitate this should be researched, peer-reviewed, and deployed post haste. However, this does not and must not shield platforms from bearing the responsibility for the spread of misinformation, nor does it excuse media outlets for their failure to hold these companies accountable.

After reading the article, I played Bad News on my phone three times to get a feel for the accessibility and visit all the corners of the program. The experience was underwhelming. I won only once, gaining all six badges worthy of a misinformation sensei.

I also lost twice, the first time I played and the last. Admittedly, my final loss was on purpose.

Then, I handed over my phone to my fifteen year old who was equally unimpressed. I don’t think Bad News will be giving Wordle or Pokemon Arceus a run for their money anytime soon.

I know entertainment wasn’t the point, but the best “gamification implementations” present challenges or memorable sequences. All the prompts in Bad News were set up to present the same content. Only a few off-ramps led to losing the game, and even then, I was repeatedly warned that I was about to fail.

The game had a retro “Oregon Trail” feel, which left me asking – who is this tool geared toward and if I play again, is there a chance that I’ll die of dysentery?

Oregon Trail Video Game Screen Capture

All kidding aside, the information in Bad News could help to build media literacy. However, the gameplay is probably too hokey for Gen Z, a desirable target audience, and likely will have limited impact in other age groups.

Screenshot from the Colbert Report – 2005 Comedy Central

Back in 2005, during the premiere episode of The Colbert Report, Steven Colbert introduced the world to “truthiness.” He contended that truth wasn’t found in books or facts, but was found “in the gut.” This logic has become a guiding principle for a good portion of the US population. There is a cynical distrust of government and institutions that threatens to undermine the social order and our political system. Americans have turned away from scientists and academics and have taken to “doing their own research” online.

Of course “truthiness” came to mind when reading the article, Faith in ‘gut feelings’ linked to belief in fake news and I found the results of the study fell right in line with my expectations, perhaps a vivid example of confirmation bias. I believe that the methodology employed in the studies show that the results may reflect trends in the general population, but the researchers acknowledge that the data collected was self reported and possibly inconsistent due to the respondent’s misrepresentation, or in some cases, a lack of awareness. They do point out that “what people say they believe, matters.” Still, I can’t get away from truthiness. Even the way some of the research questions were phrased seemed like a questionnaire created by Steven Colbert’s writers.

Perhaps we have come to an intersection where misinformation is the coin of the realm in certain sectors of our society: weaponized and ready to be launched at political adversaries at a moment’s notice. Nothing that is said, no evidence that is presented, no studies that have been conducted, will change the minds of those cut off from reality.

Skeptical, Yet Susceptible

For as long as I can remember, my fiscally conservative stepfather has railed against “those crooks in Washington.” As a longtime CPA, he knows his way around the tax laws in the US. As a longtime Republican, he thinks taxes are too high and lazy people get free money.

Shut up and take my money meme from the TV show Futurama.
Shut up and take my money meme from the TV show Futurama.

I often overheard him commiserating with clients about the rapacious nature of the Federal government and its inability to balance a budget. Again and again, he’d return to his familiar refrain: “Forget politicians! What we need is a President who will run this country like a business!” Sometimes for emphasis, he’d punctuate that phrase by pointing at people with his lit cigar. In November 2016, my stepfather’s wish came true, but our family came undone. I blame misinformation.

Donald Trump meme - Debate with Joe Biden in October 2020
I was a business man, doing business.
Donald Trump meme – Presidential Debate with Joe Biden in October 2020

We have always had our political differences, but this is something much bigger. It is as if we live in alternate universes with so many topics out of bounds that we struggle to put sentences together into a conversation. We’ve split off into warring tribes, with an uneasy truce around holidays and special occasions. At least that’s the way it was up until Christmas Week, 2021.

An Omnicron Christmas LP album cover meme

In a family group chat on December 22, my sister announced that she would be unable to host the Christmas Eve dinner. She cited the Omicron surge, her two daughters testing positive for COVID, and her 97-year-old mother-in-law, who lives with her. I thought she made the right decision and said as much in the chat.

This did not sit well with the rest of the group.

One of our stepbrothers, who’s always doing “research” online, became unhinged and chastised my sister for being foolish, basing her decision on unfounded fears about the “fake” Omnicron Covid variant. Instead of respecting her decision and empathizing with the real concerns, they all started talking about the unnecessary precautions until our sister-in-law announced – “Well, I guess it’s Christmas Eve at my house!” My sister and I left the chat. My mother and stepfather were not in this conversation because they planned on staying in Florida over the holidays. My sister contacted them later that day to report on the rudeness of the stepbrothers.

A big group photo popped up on Facebook from the stepbrothers on Christmas Eve with the following message.

“And they tried to cancel Christmas – but they hadn’t. Perhaps Christmas means just a little bit more (grinch quotes ). Thanks for coming all!”

Three days later, all fourteen people had COVID.

Where did all this Omicron Hoax nonsense come from? As was reported on November 29 in the Washington Post article The right’s emerging hoax-ification of the omicron variant, as soon as this strain of the Coronavirus identified in South Africa, the misinformation industrial complex kicked into high gear. Like this viral image that was debunked in the Houston Chronicle.

Omicron Hoax meme Twitter Nov 27, 2021

So, you may be asking why begin this post with my stepfather’s politics and conclude with COVID misinformation. Because it is all part of the same media ecosystem and the same mindset. In early 2017 Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford and Hunt Allcott of New York University published a study on the role Social Media and fake news in the 2016 Election. In an article about the study they reported that social media was an “important, but not dominant”source of news so it is unlikely that it swung the election to Trump, but the text concludes with an ominous warning from Matthew Gentzkow about the growing power of social media platforms.

“you have a potential game-changer in terms of the degree of polarization in this country.”

That’s what happened to my family. My stepfather is defending the indefensible behavior of a corrupt ex-president. My step-brothers are spreading misinformation about Covid, Stolen Elections and Critical Race Theory.

Misinformation on Social Media has left them skeptical, yet susceptible.

My Media Diet – (With a Generous Helping of Misinformation)

Tuesday January 11, 2022

7 am: As I silenced the alarm, I saw I had one notification on Facebook. It was a message from the Marketplace for Nike sneakers that the algorithm thought “I might like.” I didn’t. I felt like Charlie Brown: I didn’t get a cheerful good morning from an old friend, or a joyful announcement from a family member, I got an ad.

8 am: Opened up Twitter, lots of people playing “Wordle.” I’m not tempted to see what all the hype is about. I only play two online games, both analog immigrants to the digital world – the card game Euchre and Sudoku – that’s enough for me. I have no time to waste, the new semester’s begun. I start listening to a lecture for my course on War and Media.

9 am: As I make myself an egg muffin, I listen to Seth Meyer’s “Closer Look” segment. He is broadcasting remotely again, having contracted Covid despite being vaccinated and boosted. He attributes his less severe symptoms to the vaccine. The rest of the segment skewered Senator Ted Cruz for backtracking on his 1/6 insurrection comments in a TV appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show.

10 am: While going through the course readings for Misinformation and Society, I came across this sentence:

“In 1977, Fisher cofounded the Manhattan Institute in the United States with George Casey, who managed Reagan’s successful 1980 presidential campaign, and later became his CIA director.”

I read this in Chapter 1 of The Disinformation Age and knew it was incorrect, so I Googled and found that the man’s name was William J Casey, who was also Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs under Richard Nixon. He was a notorious figure who I plan to look at in greater detail at a later date. I returned to my coursework.

11 am: I looked at my phone notifications and read an AP story about Myanmar and how they have imprisoned former president Aung San Su Kyi and continue adding criminal charges in the aftermath of a military coup.

12 pm: As I was heating up my lunch, I played the online card game Euchre. I use the free version, so after every round or two there is an ad to watch or click through. When an ad for a Dr. Oz sponsored diet popped up I knew I’d need to scrutinize that ad.

1 pm: Walked the dog and listened to Top Think’s 12 Simple Habits You Should Do Every Day. Then I returned to my studies

2 -5 pm: Turned off my phone to charge and set up my folders and materials for this semester on my computer, listened to lectures, took notes and continued reading until my wife and son returned home.

6 pm: Cooked stir fry and listened to the greatest hits of Yes.

7 pm: After dinner, I scrolled through Twitter and Facebook and found someone had posted Norm MacDonald’s performance at the Comedy Central Roast for the late Bob Saget. Norm bombs, on purpose in a master class of absurdist performance art, a la Andy Kaufman.

8 – 10 pm: My wife and I binge watch three episodes of the French police drama, Astrid. It is well worth the time.

11 pm – 6am: lights out – alarms set

My Twitter and Facebook feeds were relatively free of questionable content. Most of the misinformation I see daily comes from my family and friends on Facebook. My three step-brothers are right-wing anti-vaxxers who have had Covid twice and relentlessly share conspiracy theories and pro-Trump propaganda. They didn’t pop into my feed on the day I kept my log because I mute them for a month at a time whenever they post something ridiculous or offensive. (Yes, they’re usually muted) One came back into my feed today with this “delightful” meme. (Yes, he’s muted again)

It wasn’t too hard to find coverage that disputed the claims made in the Dr. Oz ad. This article from US News and World report said buyer beware, calling it a “celebrity-pitched diet.” It turns out – this isn’t even the same diet!

The Total 10 diet is from 7 years ago! In the same game where I saw the Dr. Oz diet, there was another weight loss ad, a Keto supplement with Mehmet Oz that had appeared on Shark Tank (Spoiler Alert: it hadn’t) – I was skeptical, and I found this fact check in USA Today. Now I’m not sure if this is the same product either, because when I searched “shark tank diet keto pills” on Yahoo, the search engine returned 327,000 results – including an ad for Noom and imposter sites like “ConsumeReview” which at first glance looks like Consumer Reports. Confused? In the world of misinformation that’s a feature, not a bug.

Keeping a 24-hour log of my media intake during the first week of classes showed me that I regularly spend many hours reviewing course materials and other content related to those materials. I have no problem looking up a definition or a deeper dive into the topic, occasionally taking a detour into unrelated but interesting information. I tend to choose content to engage with based on my interest in the subject and availability. I listen to humorous clips, music, or podcasts while doing daily chores. Or I might pull up a ten-minute late-night show monologue as I take a shower. In other corners of the internet, YouTube especially, I see a lot of questionable content, and later in the week, I inadvertently created some myself. 

I was up late Wednesday, binge-watching Boba Fett on Disney+ when I saw this from CNN.

I didn’t read the article. I took the headline and ran with it. People in my Twitter feed were also talking about Senator Durbin’s remarks, so I created this snarky tweet at 1 am Thursday.

Others in the media had seized on the Senator’s comments as well.

I saw the entire Durbin clip in the morning and realized that Senator Durbin wasn’t denouncing President Biden’s tough talk; he was justifying it. Later that day, CNN reframed the story.

In the wee hours of the night, I let my emotions get the better of me and created a sloppy tweet.

I’ve deleted that meme, but I feel guilty – I know better.

In times like these, I realize how lucky I am to have so few followers. 😉

Something Wiki This Way Comes!

I have to admit; I took Wikipedia for granted. Though I’m not digitally native, I’ve always considered myself tech-savvy. I have a real knack for locating, sourcing, and accessing content on the internet in just a few clicks and keystrokes. However, editing the source list on The Township Journal entry for the Wikipedia News on Wiki campaign has turned out to be a genuinely humbling online experience. Today, I have a much deeper appreciation and understanding of what it takes to get a Wikipedia article ready for prime-time. 

Screen Grab: NJ WikiProject Newspapers – Steve Martinez

The newspaper entry I chose to edit, The Township Journal, is a New Jersey-based community weekly that we’ve received at our house for the last two decades. Years ago, a delivery person would toss a rolled newspaper into our driveway; now, it arrives by mail two days after its Thursday print run. That means the local event calendar pages aren’t all that helpful for weekend planning, but at least the paper arrives dry and intact. (These days, we get that information online.) I didn’t know much about the backstory of the publication, just that it featured local news that was hard to find anywhere else and its editorial board leaned pretty far to the right, common for local papers in many rural areas. 

My research proved to be both illuminating and confounding. After overcoming my initial fear of “breaking something” on Wikipedia while making the mondotimes entry, I linked edpub to a media company directory called Medioq. None of the other pre-fab links had applicable content, so I moved on to the “fact-finding” part of my quest, and the task at hand became increasingly frustrating. I entered the address, publisher, and managing editor information from the US Newspaper Listings (USNPL) website, only to discover as I entered the hyperlinks here that some of that information is out of date. So I have submitted a form on the USNPL website and asked them to update their listing. I will monitor and see if they do.

Screen Grab: Online change request form. USNPL Website. -Steve Martinez

I linked to Geneology Bank because they utilize the Township Journal obituary archives as an “excellent source of information” when searching for deceased family and friends. I also included a story about a former editor convicted of molesting two young girls. I know I was scraping the bottom of the barrel, but I could not find other secondary sources that even mentioned the newspaper. 

Screen Grab: Township Journal search page on Genealogy Bank -Steve Martinez

It turns out that the Township Journal is part of a group of local newspapers that share stories every week with minimal variation between them. Even when one of their writers, Erika Norton, won awards for her reports on the Opioid Crisis, the papers of record were the sister publications.

Screen Grab: Straus Newspapers listing on Dun & Bradstreet – Steve Martinez

The final two facts I entered pertained to the publisher, the company’s listing on Dun & Bradstreet, and a Forbes article on hyperlocal newspapers that profiled Jeanne Straus, president of Straus News.

So, after hours of research, I’m not convinced that the Township Journal should have its own Wikipedia page. Their footprint seems relatively small, and their content is readily available on their website or the sister publications. The publisher Straus News should be listed on Wikipedia. They are a national leader in community news and recently purchased several NYC-based local newspapers. The company president, Jeanne Straus, should also have her own Wikipedia page. I’m intrigued why the Wikipedia articles about her father (the late R. Peter Straus, famed media proprietor) or her sister (the late Diane Straus, publisher of the American Prospector and Washington Monthly) don’t mention her by name. I’m pretty sure it’s this kind of curious fact that keeps editors in a “Wiki State of mind.” I know I’m hooked.