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ACTION REACTION November 10, 2007

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Here is the text from our final print publication ‘The Truth Manipulation Tool Kit’. This section entitled ‘Action/Reaction’ documents our social experiment.

THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT

Welcome to the world of truth manipulation, a place where the mass media dominates the flow of information and controls what you, the public, sees and reads everyday.

We, the Truth Manipulation team, have decided that it is about time power was taken back from media conglomerates, and the voices and opinions of the public were heard.

We decided that the best way to communicate our message and educate the public about media truth manipulation was for us to create havoc! Our plan was to create false (yet topical and believable) news headlines to determine if Melbourne’s citizens would believe them just because they were presented in a media format.

We created news posters that were then placed in cages and also pasted up in a busy Melbourne street. Complementing the posters, an insert was created and placed into three hundred copies of the free afternoon newspaper Mx (Metro Express). The inserts took the form of an extra page of the newspaper and contained completely false articles under the same headlines as the posters.

We branded the mission ‘Truth Manipulator’ and created stickers to be stuck over current media advertising. This was to point out to the public the means the media will go to in order to sway opinions to align with their own agendas.The aim was to educate, generate conversation and hopefully get the public to think more about the information they are receiving from the media.

This booklet is the outcome of the social experiment and documents the results. If you flip over, you will find instructions for you to conduct your own experiment, and help raise awareness of this important issue.

Cheers, happy reading,
The Truth Manipulation Team.

THE HOT SPOT

This spot was perfect for our social experiment. It met all of the necessary criteria. The two main intersections were chosen as they suited the five different headlines we created that were targeted towards two slightly different audiences. The Bourke Street crowd are mostly female, whereas Collins Street are mostly businessmen and elderly tourists.

TARGET MARKET ANALYSIS

Collins Street can be referred to as the Rodeo Drive of the central business district in Melbourne. From real estate to law firms, doctors, surgeons, and financial offices. Collins Street attracts some of the high end businesses in Melbourne. We considered these factors as key determinants for our social experiment to take place in Spencer Street on both the Collins and Bourke Street intersections.

The response was sure to be interesting. There was great consideration given to where we positioned each false headline. The John So headline was to be positioned where bustling businessmen would be travelling on their way into work. Results were as assumed with interested smug smirks, quietly muttering under their breath with humour. Highly educated businessmen and women straight away making the assumption that this headline was sure to be a joke or political commentary.

To the happy travellers to Melbourne, Spencer Street is the main drop off point to and from the Melbourne Airport, as Southern Cross Station is the only avenue for public transport for airport travellers. There is always something exciting happening in Melbourne, such as the Spring Racing Carnival (hence our headline ‘Spring Racing Carnival Cancelled’) in which case, what better way to capture the attention of those travellers who have come to Melbourne for that very reason, and to then read that the festival has been cancelled. Shoppers at the new DFO complex
were also shocked to see the news.

DOCUMENTATION OF OUR ACTION DAY

We followed up our ‘action night’ (see video for details) by starting the following day observing members of the public interacting with our paste-ups. We hit Spencer Street at 8am in order to take advantage of peak-hour foot traffic in our ‘Hot-Spot’. We documented two key areas; the corner of Bourke and Spencer Streets and the corner of Collins and Spencer Streets. We noticed that many businessmen tended to look at the headlines, despite being in a hurry to reach their place of work. We spotted a pair of colleagues having a chuckle at the ‘John So for Prime Minister’ poster. They laughed and then we overheard them discussing the possibility of the idea. Another pair was seen observing ‘Australia withdraws all troops from Iraq’, discussing the possibility then consulting their newspaper to confirm (or in this case disprove) the story’s authenticity.

The ‘Britney pregnant’ headline caught peoples eyes but was dismissed easily as it was believable, and many people are sick of hearing about the pop star. The headline was attractive primarily to women and there seemed to be an equal mix of disbelief or disgust and laughter. The majority of passers by who noticed the headline were women. The ‘John So’ headline did not seem to be taken seriously by many and was perceived as a Melbourne ‘in-joke’ causing many people to smile.

The false news headlines contained in the cages were even more effective than those that were pasted up. We believe this is due to the public perceiving any headlines presented in a newsagents cages to be true simply by default. Many members of the public were observed getting right up close to the cages to read the headline, many even bending or crouching down to get a good look. Some of the viewers noticed the ‘Truth Manipulation’ link on the posters, confirming in their mind that the information was false.

Our news cages were strategically attached to traffic light poles, so people had more time to read them and ponder upon the issues. The responses are more serious and deeply thought about. The general consensus was that they wished the news was true. At first, most of the viewers thought they were reading real news, and they were happy to hear it. Some of the audience thought that the headlines were part of the pre-election campaigns. Those observers who we spoke to, claimed that at first glance they believed the issues to be true, or at least hoped that the more serious headlines were true (in particular the ‘Iraq’ and ‘Kyoto Protocol’ ones).

Subconsciously, people tended to absorb the news information that appealed to them. The ‘fashion crowd’ outside DFO were attracted to the ‘Spring Racing Carnival’ headline, the war veterans and elderly read the ‘Australia withdraws all troops from Iraq’ and young women noticed the ‘Britney’ paste-ups. Our minds have been trained to filter the mass media flow of information. It’s about picking and sorting news that is relevant to us, things that will affect our individual world or comfort zone. This is why news such as Dafur genocide, drought in WA, things that happen in far away places do not register fully in our heads. Not because people are self-absorbed, it may be our natural survival instinct. Therefore, effective communication always triggers personal emotion, such as fear and aspiration to make it relevant
to a person, to a community.

SURVEY RESULTS

We created a hard-copy and online survey in order to document and record the public’s reaction to our fake news headlines and articles.

REACTIONS TO OUR NEWS HEADLINES

“I remembered reading an article in a US mag about a publication that writes outrageous stuff like this. It’s funny not evil.” – Female, 35

“I thought it was real, which made me happy, then looked closer and saw the ‘Truth Manipulation’ website. I wished the news about Iraq and Kyoto was true. These issues are very topical.” – Female, 30

“I saw ‘Australia Signs Kyoto Protocol’ and my reaction was, here begins the pre-election one-up-manship between Howard and Rudd. I checked in the paper later to try and locate an article, and when I didn’t find one I saw that the joke was on me.” – Male, 45

“Oh gosh, Britney Spears is a skank!” – Female, 18

“Humorous” – Male, 23

“I did a double take. I thought ok… that’s News! Because they were in the news cages, it was believable. But I was unsure because it was just too good to be true. I then thought is this part of the pre-election last minute attempt of trying to get the public’s vote?” – Male, 28

“I thought it was a pre-election last attempt to get my vote. But I was happy, as the boys are coming home.” – Male, 35

“If only it was true. I looked and then discussed the issue of withdrawing all Australian troops from Iraq with my colleague” – Male, 52

“I had a good laugh, but to see people were actually convinced it was real, just like many believe the Da Vinci Code is real, is appalling.” – Female, 15

ANSWERS TO THE QUESTION: Are you aware that the media tends to manipulate the truth to push its own social and political agendas?

“Everyone truth manipulates, for example poetry. People might believe it but they don’t care unless it directly affects them. It is easily forgotten.” – Male, 30

“It’s because of the capitalist system that we are in, and services are only run if they make a profit, and the aim is minimal cost with maximum gain. We do not really live in a democratic country, but it is a dictatorship in most cases and the only democracy you have is once every four years and the choice is one idiot or another. I would like to have more information on this organization, and would like the final statistics once the survey is finished.” – Male, 15

“Well, sometimes they just drill it into you, I try to watch non-mainstream media. Like ABC and SBS, sometimes it can get about tough though watching serious stuff like that all the time. Sometimes the truth is just too much to handle. I just want to go home and relax with a glass of wine when I get home. But it’s good that you guys are poking fun at it. It becomes more ‘digestible’.” – Female, 25

“By telling half truths and concealing information they do not wish to disclose” – Male, 27

“The CEOs of media conglomerates wield a lot of power over their employees and journalists and they exercise it.” – Female, 21

“By directing people to sources owned by the same people. By emphasising only one side of any issues. By cutting and pasting others media work.” – Female, 52

“They are all coming from one channel like the Murdochs. They own about half of the media channels around the globe. And Rupert himself, is a known supporter for the right wing Republican party, that says something in itself, doesn’t it? And most of the media don’t carry any weight. It’s just a play on words, hardly any credential in it.” – Male,32

“Restriction of journalistic freedom.” – Male 35

“By dodging facts and attempting to brainwash us with mindless drivel.” – Female, 22

“I don’t know whether I would use the term ‘Manipulation’, or say that they are doing it to push their own political agenda. If it were that obvious I think the public would be aware of it and not purchase that media outlet. I think that the media’s choice of which stories to give prominence to, is driven by the desire to gain the biggest market share, so they choose stories that they think people will be interested in. As opposed to a cynical view of them trying to ‘brainwash’ us with their agendas.” – Female, 25

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