Search Engine Optimization: Content Misinformation Is the New Norm

May 5, 2020

Jacque Ellul wrote Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes in the early 1960s. Ellul was a theologian and a close observer of social behavior. Propaganda remains an important book, and it is more important than ever in our era of fake news. I am not sure that the Global Disinformation Index will be sufficient to deal with today’s content realities.

Ellul did not live to experience the wonders of free Web search engines, funded by advertisers. However, his insights provide a number of useful touchstones for anyone trying to determine if there are ways to remediate the present situation in the era of technology monopolies.

He observed:

When there is propaganda, we are no longer able to evaluate certain questions or even to discuss them.

Today content engines generate massive amounts of information. The volume of Facebook posts, Tweets, live streams, and other digital emissions are so massive, that the numbers used to convey the scale of the content flows are meaningless. Are you able to convert the estimate for the the World Economic Forum explains the data in terms of zettabytes and 2020 will output 44 zettabytes of information. Here’s a zettabyte in plain old numbers:

1000000000000000000000

Yottabytes are next.

The options for publishing and disseminating digital content continue to expand. Unhappy with Facebook, there’s Mastodon. Don’t like Google Blogger. There’s WordPress. Don’t like Twitch. There’s Periscope.

Not surprisingly search engine optimization experts have seized upon these rich, real time digital distribution systems to create “content marketing.”

The idea is simple. Write, podcast, or video a statement, fictional tale, or “news” program and distribute the information. The single story can be diffused with Tweets, Instagram posts, updates to a Facebook page, and maybe a 30 second TikTok video.

In the world of SEO, there are some individuals who operate with a moral compass aimed at verifiable information, facts, and what might be called “old fashioned ethical behavior.” With the tools plentiful and almost no editorial control, other individuals find a way to use content to deliver “shaped” information. This “shaping” has long been a part of public relations and marketing.

DarkCyber has been exploring the world of digital propaganda, and there are numerous examples. These range from Covid19 information to less high profile manipulations; for example, a member of Nextdoor, a local information service, pitching used dining room chairs; for example, “perfect, no scratches.” Of course, perfect.

One interesting explanation of content marketing appears in the YouTube video called “How to Generate Leads Through Content Marketing – How We Get 300+ Leads Every Month.” The video appeared as part of a YouTube channel called “Hustle.” Content was discontinued one year ago. The reasons are not clear, but it appears that the content marketing expert lost interest or the methods set forth in the programs failed.

Let’s take a look at the content marketing information conveyed by a person (Christian Arriola), a self-professed SEO expert (SEO is the acronym search engine optimization experts created for the propaganda mechanism.

The video begins with the question, “How does one get leads from content marketing?” The idea is that if one generates one’s own leads, the leads are not shared with anyone else. Control is a strong idea in sales. At about the 45 second mark, the “content” of the YouTube video is information about Mr. Arriola’s consulting business. Thus, the initial message is: “This is an infomercial.” After the commercial the video states, “I am not trying to get anything out of this video…. I am not looking to do anything in particular with you. I am just trying to help you.” At the 90 second mark, Mr. Arriola defines content as “all this information you create that provides value to someone.” The content captures attention and builds a relationship when someone needs the content. Content marketing means a person does not have to buy advertising. Content marketing can give you a strategy, asserts Mr. Arriloa. At the 2.42 mark, Mr. Arriola hopes his video has helped.

This is an example of content marketing, and I think it reveals several characteristics of content marketing:

  • It is propaganda. Talking about content marketing becomes difficult as Ellul pointed out decades ago.
  • The “content” of content marketing does not have to have substance. Writing something is what’s important and then writing more. Quantity equals quantity seems to be the message.
  • The free Web indexing systems ingest “content marketing” and match ads to key words. Clicks are what matter.

To sum up, content marketing is public relations, marketing, sales, and messages. Hustle is an excellent way to describe Mr. Arriola’s approach to faux information value.

SEO is a unregulated discipline. Fraud is highly likely. The quest for clicks is now essential to the survival of a business. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Content marketing is tailor made for today’s business climate. For more on this subject, see “SEO: Let Us Hustle Everyone.

Stephen E Arnold, May 5, 2020

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