Weekend Homework: Find the Propaganda

I Love Karl Fisch! His blog, the Fischbowl, was one of the very first education related blogs that I began reading back in 2005 a few months after starting this blog. He has a great way of thinking about education that goes beyond the current didactic conversation of education that seems to be consumed with assessment and data driven learning.

However, one of this creations, the “Did You Know” video, currently in it’s 4th version, and produced with high powered collaborators like Scott McLeod, the Economist and others, has recently started getting under my skin. The original video was released in 2007, and opened with the mind blowing fact that the top 25% of the population in China with the highest IQ is greater than the population of the North American continent, which translates to the fact that they have more “honors kids” in China than we have kids period. Crazy, right?

If you’ve never seen the video before, it goes on to share all sorts of really interesting data. However, after having been subjected to the various reincarnations and version of the movie in the past 3 years, I’ve been subjected to the video dozens of times. It seems as though it’s become the “go to” video for presenters at large ed tech conferences, and quite frankly, it’s a bit tiring. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great video, and brings to light several fascinating facts. Each version of the video highlights a different set of data, from rattling many American’s pre-conceived notions of their place in the world, to just how rapidly technology is changing. The version published in 2009 happens to be focused on the media. The problem is, after you’ve seen it once or twice, it sort of loses it’s impact. Beyond a couple of viewings and it sort of just turns to brain to jelly having to sit through it again. Having watched many versions of this video, dozens of times a year for the past 3 years, I’ve actually come up with a game to make it more bearable.

I like to call the game “Find the Propaganda”. Because the “Did You Know” video now has large commercial partners and interests, it’s fun to try and see if there’s anything within the video that could be construed as misleading, fear mongering, and/or propagandized into some sort of message they want us to “buy”. I appreciate the video for it’s objective stance, presenting facts in a fun, interesting way to make the viewer think about the state of media, but what if some nefarious individual were to try and use it to bend people to their will? Let’s play a round, shall we?

Just watch the video below, and then see if you can pick out any facts and how they are being used, or perhaps how they COULD be used as a propaganda device 🙂

1. “Digital advertising is rapidly growing” – In the video we’re presented with the fact that in 2009 advertising collectively for traditional media (television, newspaper, magazines, radio) fell a combined 55.2%. The video labels it as a steep decline, which I would agree with. However, the video then goes on to purport that digital advertising (internet, mobile devices) was rapidly growing in 2009 at a combine rate of 27.3%. Now I know that kind of growth is great, and rather large, but it’s only half the growth of traditional advertising’s decline. Where’s the rest of that money going, especially since I’ve always been told that digital advertising costs a fraction of what traditional advertising does. Something just doesn’t sit right with me there.

2. “More video was uploaded to YouTube in the last 2 months than if ABC, CBS, and NBC had been airing new content 24/7/365 since 1948″ – While the amount of video uploaded to YouTube might be accurately described in this statement, the quality and source of that video isn’t addressed. How much of that video uploaded to YouTube is actually original content, and not just recycled from other videos online, or more importantly, “recycled” from the networks they’re comparing YouTube to? How much of it is actually quality content, let alone barely watchable content. Sure it’s interesting that much video is being uploaded, but what’s the significance? Are we trying to be led into believing that embeddable online video sharing is the way of the future just because it’s completely trounced traditional media in terms of raw numbers?

3. “…what used to fit in a building now fits in your pocket, what fits in your pocket now will fit inside a blood cell in 25 years” – Alright, so this one isn’t a fact, it’s a quote from Ray Kurzweil, but I had to pounce all over it. Kurzweil is also the same guy who thinks that the singularity is near, and that we will eventually be able to transfer our consciousness to machines, and theoretically live forever. I know he’s a smart guy, who went to MIT, and has done a lot of impressive things, but he’s also been quoted that he “…expressed a desire to construct a genetic copy of his late father, Fredric Kurzweil, from DNA within his grave site. This feat would be achieved by deploying various nanorobots to send samples of DNA back from the grave, constructing a clone of Fredric and retrieving memories and recollections—from Ray’s mind—of his father.” This guy is really, really out there sometimes.

And that’s all I’ve got for now. Like I said, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with these videos, and I absolutely LOVE watching each new version. It’s just fun to try and twist around some of the facts, and how they’re presented, especially in a classroom, to try and see if you can engage your students. Otherwise, it’s just one of millions of videos they’re subjected to every year, and probably aren’t phased much by it. If you want to play along, select three facts that you felt were either slightly misleading, or could be misleading if viewed from a certain perspective, then post your thoughts in the comments below. Consider it your weekend homework, so get to it 🙂


  1. Gotta confess I rarely show these anymore. Too many people already have seen them (although, apparently, not many rural Iowa teachers!). Thanks for the kind words and the clever activity to keep your mind occupied (and stretch your students something)!

    1. It really is an interesting video, and I always look forward to a new release, but like you’ve mentioned, when you’re hit over the head with it over and over again, especially from presenters that just like to show it despite it’s relevance to their presentation, it gets old fast.

      I’m not sure if my activity is any good, but I know a few teenagers that love to debate some of the questions I ask.

  2. I have to admit I love this video. I’ve sent it to lots of people I know, many who are not in education. I’d love to see a similar format with another subject, like environmental concerns. It would be a great project for a high school…

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