Propaganda, Fraud, and Small Talk

A snarky person could call the title of this post “the tagline for Facebook and Twitter.” A bitter person could expand this to mean all of media.

I’ve got a cold (it’s a bummer to end the year with a cold, but if it runs its course by January 1st I’ll be happy) so it’s been hard to concentrate this morning. Instead of working on the final draft of the Second Edition of Startup Opportunities: Know When to Quit Your Day Job (being published by Wiley in Q117) I’ve been surfing the web, looking at Twitter and Facebook, responding to email, and drinking apple cider.

I came across three articles this morning that were prompted by an email exchange about truth / fake news / exaggeration, which was stimulated by Fred Wilson’s Headlines post today.

I figured I’d be done after reading Erin Griffith’s The Ugly Unethical Underside of Silicon Valley. There’s a lot of meat in the article but Erin’s writing deserves a better, less clickbait headline. But, we know that’s not going to happen.

I then bumped into ‘How Propaganda Works’ Is a Timely Reminder for a Post-Truth Age which resulted in a one-click Amazon purchase of the book How Propaganda Works.

I still felt sick, but for another reason.

I finished my random reading off with some Garrison Keillor who always makes me happier. Our country is bitterly divided. How ’bout a little small talk? ends with a great punch line.

“They say the country is bitterly divided. Maybe so, but that’s no reason to be rude. My mailman likes to banter, and so do the guys at Lloyd’s Automotive and the cabdrivers. So what’s going on with you? Cat got your tongue? Where’d you get that sweater? What’s that product you put on your hair?”

I’m going to quit stalling and go work on two more chapters of Startup Opportunities and then take an afternoon nap. And that’s the truth.

Also published on Medium.

  • Many sites do have the metrics that approximate what Fred Wilson describes, although the are not public. For instance, at one well-known online business pub I write for sometimes, every piece gets two headlines, they A/B test them and then run the one that performs best. They analyze the results down to the atomic level and provide a curriculum to their writers on what draws clicks. They do demand that writers overpromise with the headline and then overdeliver with the content, and to a degree they are able to track that via engagement metrics: do readers read the whole piece or click away? But, of course, most sites do not care enough about anything but the click.

    I miss when newspaper headlines had to be terse and descriptive, and fit the column width (to the point of knowing an M is going to be wider than an I – measured with a pica ruler <— this proves I'm old), and occasionally you'd be granted a little leeway for some poetry in the headline, but it'd better be good. Then it was all about SEO. Gag. Now it's all about clicks.

    Any site that creates a drama or curiosity gap with the headline and then doesn't deliver with the story itself should fall to the bottom of your reading list. It's a bad tactic, and to a large degree reflects the race-to-the-bottom nature of the online ad supported media model. It the mark of desperation. Fred Wilson's suggestion of a scoring would be as useful to investors as readers, because the larger the gap between the headline and the article probably the larger the likelihood the site's economics are in freefall.

  • You know me. I love small talk. Do you remember in the Nantucket airport when I was handing out conference SWAG and having a great talk with the Baptist Minister’s Son Juuuuuunior? He was not junior.

  • Have you seen this video making the rounds by Simon Sinek and Millennials?

    • I haven’t. I’ll definitely watch it.

    • Curious what you thought of it? Seemed overly broad to me in its characterization of a large swath of people…

      • pretty hard not to be broad. I think he makes a great point about cell phones and interaction. I am taking for granted that there is a scientific double blind study that shows people get dopamine hits for “likes”, texts etc. If there isn’t, my gut feel is he is correct but I’d like to see it studied with an unbiased hypothesis etc.

        I am old enough to remember doing business without a cell phone or a computer. One of Sinek’s statements got me thinking. When I am out to dinner with my wife and she leaves the table, what do I do? I take out my cell phone until she gets back. Pre-cell phone, what did I do? I’d sit back, think and stare around the restaurant. Maybe that is better for your brain than cruising your phone? I don’t know, but I am going to try it.

        I agree that corporate leaders should be thinking about how to integrate certain feedback loops into their systems and processes to better train their employees. I have been blogging about and taking Craig Wortmann’s Coursera Sales course. ( It’s one of the best things I have done in a long time and really got me thinking about what Sinek was saying in a different way.

        • I think you’ll enjoy sitting back and looking around at the people in the restaurant. I started doing it a while ago and it connects me so much more to my environment.

          • I am so looking forward to it. Empathize with the statement on millennials feeling challenged and immediately going to some social media channel for a hit of dopamine. I went through a really really tough time and got addicted to the internet. Looking at ways to break that addiction.

        • That makes sense – I’ve read studies on dopamine activity, not specific to likes or notifications, but seems consistent.

          I’ve been doing the same thing w/my time, trying to think “what am I actually *doing* with free spaces or seemingly spaces.” It’s helped a lot with clarity of ideas and executing on projects.

          One thing that bothered me is that people characterize Millennials as this “we want it now” generation. It feels true (and it probably is, though I’d suspect that skews heavily towards upper middle class), but it’s also not automatically negative. Maybe it’s too much Twitter and small bits of info, but I get much more interesting information into my brain and work done with consistent feedback vs. any annual review I’ve ever had.

          Obviously the downside is not seeing / understanding it as a long form conversation, and not being able to connect the fragments.

  • Theres a particularly nasty cold going around Denver/Boulder. Three of my family members have had it. Lots of coughing, hard to sleep. Its takes a good two weeks to go away. My wife and I both took a Z-Pack (zithromycin) antibiotics and that seemed to help knock it down, despite the fact that it it definitely viral.

  • Joe Stech

    I’m looking forward to the second edition of Startup Opportunities!

    • I am almost done. I’m submitting it to Wiley tomorrow. Yay!