Posts Tagged ‘conservatives’

Facebook Subject To Attacks By Russian Facial Recognition Firms?

October 13, 2018

On the same day Facebook announced that it had carried out its biggest purge yet of American accounts peddling disinformation, the company quietly made another revelation: It had removed 66 accounts, pages and apps linked to Russian firms that build facial recognition software for the Russian government.

Facebook said Thursday that it had removed any accounts associated with SocialDataHub and its sister firm, Fubutech, because the companies violated its policies by scraping data from the social network.

“Facebook has reason to believe your work for the government has included matching photos from individuals’ personal social media accounts in order to identify them,” the company said in a cease-and-desist letter to SocialDataHub that was dated Tuesday and viewed by The New York Times.

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Facebook gave the companies until Friday to detail what data they had taken and then delete it all.

The case illustrates a new reality for Facebook. SocialDataHub and Fubutech have been around for at least four years, relying in part on Facebook data to build products that might alarm some civil-liberty advocates.

By Jack Nicas
The New York Times

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Facebook removed accounts associated with SocialDataHub and its sister firm, Fubutech. Their chief executive, Artur Khachuyan, said his companies had complied with Facebook’s policies.

As Facebook is taking a closer look at its own products amid increasing scrutiny and public outcry, it is finding more examples of companies that have been exploiting its global social network for questionable ends.

SocialDataHub and Fubutech also present another challenge because, Facebook said, at least some of their data collection occurred through web scraping.

Scraping is a rudimentary technique in which computer programmers can pull information off a website. It is difficult to detect and prevent, Facebook said. Scraping can pull any data that’s left public on a Facebook profile — and, theoretically, more private data about the user’s Facebook friends.

Artur Khachuyan, the 26-year-old chief executive of SocialDataHub and Fubutech, said in an interview Friday that Facebook had deleted his companies’ accounts unfairly.

Fubutech does build facial-recognition software for the Russian government and uses Facebook data, but it scrapes Google search results for that information — not Facebook, he said. And SocialDataHub’s main product — a system that assigns scores to Russian citizens based on their social-media profiles for insurers and banks — required permission from the users it rates, he said.


Facebook Purges Over 800 Accounts With Millions Of Followers; Prominent Conservatives Vanish

October 12, 2018

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Just in time for midterms, Facebook has removed 559 pages and 251 accounts they claim have been spreading misinformation and spam. Several of the pages however – some with millions of followers, were pro-Trump conservatives who had spent years cultivating their followings.

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Dan Dicks@DanDicksPFT

I’ve been memory holed from FaceBook! 350k followers poof gone! There is a dangerous precedent being set here where the big tech companies have appointed themselves as the gate keepers of political thought and opinion! Retweet this if you care about free-speech!

Facebook claims that “domestic actors” have been creating “fake pages and accounts to attract people with shocking political news,” reports Bloomberg.

“The people behind the activity also post the same clickbait posts in dozens of Facebook Groups, often hundreds of times in a short period, to drum up traffic for their websites,” Facebook said in a Thursday blog post. “And they often use their fake accounts to generate fake likes and shares. This artificially inflates engagement for their inauthentic pages and the posts they share, misleading people about their popularity and improving their ranking in news feed.”

Some pages Facebook removed had large followings of real and fake accounts. Nation in Distress, a conservative meme page, was followed by more than 3 million people, according to the Internet Archive, which stores historical versions of websites and other online content. –Bloomberg

Craig Silverman


Facebook has removed “559 Pages and 251 accounts” in the US “that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior.” They include:

-Nation in Distress
-Reasonable People Unite
-The Resistance
-Reverb Press
-Right Wing News

That said, not all of the accounts with large followings were conservative; Reverb Press, for example, had over 700,000 followers and constantly attacked President Trump and Republicans, who they referred to as “cheating scumbags.”

A third left-leaning page, Reasonable People Unite, posted a screen shot of a Twitter user who said, “Somewhere in America, a teenage girl is listening to her parents defend Brett Kavanaugh and she is thinking to herself, if something like that happens to me, I have nowhere to go.” –WaPo

The digital nanny state strikes again…

Jason Bermas@JasonBermas

First they came for Alex Jones and now @facebook has taken down @DanDicksPFT Press For Truth page! This is insanity, Dan has been one of the most inspirational and rational independent journalists of our era! @DewsNewz @PrisonPlanet @LeighStewy @PressForTruth

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The social media mob is a danger to society | Opinion

By Daniella Greenbaum, For the Washington Post

As an opinion columnist for Business Insider until my resignation Thursday, I had grown accustomed to strong reactions from readers when I wrote about Hamas (I’m not a fan) or the problems with accusations of cultural appropriation. But I didn’t see this one coming. Commenting on recent criticism of actress Scarlett Johansson for taking a movie role that called on her to portray a transgender man, I made the commonsensical and, I admit, not particularly original observation, that actors specialize in make-believe and ought to be allowed to take any jobs they like.

The brief online post stirred immediate fury — among some of my Business Insider colleagues. As has been reported elsewhere, several people within the organization complained to the editor, who responded by scrubbing the ScarJo post from the site and instituting a new policy of requiring “culturally sensitive” work to be reviewed by an executive editor or an editor in chief before it can be published. As the Daily Beast reported, he also suggested that writers and editors talk with a group of employees who would volunteer to be sounding boards on issues of cultural sensitivity.

Given that in these thin-skinned days just about any subject can be called “culturally sensitive,” and given that a committee would basically ensure that my column became a safe space, I had no alternative but to resign. And so I’ve had the disorienting experience of becoming one small data point in what is a disturbingly large set.

Columnists on the right and the left have known for years about the ferocious blowback that awaits the expression of unpopular ideas. But now the definition of “unpopular” has expanded so widely that reasonable views that might have seemed mainstream just a few years ago can be deemed unacceptable by self-appointed censors. Even publications that pride themselves on holding open-minded values are watching their backs.

We are slowly normalizing the policing of speech and opinion. Sometimes overtly, and sometimes through the intimidation that stops people from saying or writing or publishing what they believe because they know that the social media mob is lying in wait.

These hordes might come from the left or the right. Or from Russian bot farms. The thing to remember is that they are not the majority, not even close. They’re just louder. And they’re here to stay. The only responsible reaction must come from their would-be targets, refusing to allow the definition of what is acceptable thought to be wielded like a cudgel. Some opinion is beyond that pale and deserves to be shunned (not obliterated), but allowing the lines to be redrawn at will by those who have no interest in free speech will ultimately be poisonous for democracy.

The problem is not confined to the college campus, where conservative speakers are being shouted down or disinvited. It’s not confined to the media, where publications and television stations and their audiences seem increasingly comfortable in liberal or conservative silos where conflicting outlooks and even conflicting information are unwelcome. It’s beginning to permeate every area where we use language — every area of life.

The only way to fight it is head on. Defend the idea that more speech is always better. The best way to put bad arguments to bed is to air them out and highlight their weaknesses. Want to eliminate “unsafe” thoughts? Turn them loose in the marketplace of ideas and debate them — don’t try to silence them.

As the definition of what constitutes offensive speech grows ever wider, more and more people who are certain that their views fall somewhere in the mainstream will find themselves backed into corners. Ultimately, even the wokest of the warriors will realize that when it comes to outrunning the predatory mob they’ve created, no space is safe.

Saving liberal democracy from the extremes

September 26, 2018

Elites must recognise that mismanaged economies have helped to destabilise politics

By Martin Wolf

“Nothing to excess”. This motto, also known as “the golden mean”, was displayed in the ancient shrine of Delphi. Such restraint is particularly crucial for the preservation of liberal democracy, which is a fragile synthesis of personal freedom and civic action. Today, the balance between these two elements has to be regained.

Larry Diamond of Stanford University has argued that liberal democracy has four necessary and sufficient elements: free and fair elections; active participation of people, as citizens; protection of the civil and human rights of all citizens; and a rule of law that binds all citizens equally. The salient feature of the system is the restraints it imposes on the government and so on the majority: any victory is temporary.

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It is easy to see why this system is so fragile. Today, that truth is, alas, not theoretical. In its 2018 report, Freedom House, a well-regarded federally funded, non-profit US organisation, stated that: “Democracy is in crisis. The values it embodies — particularly the right to choose leaders in free and fair elections, freedom of the press, and the rule of law — are under assault and in retreat globally.” This “democratic recession”, as Prof Diamond has called it, is not restricted to emerging or former communist countries, such as Hungary or Poland. The commitment to norms of liberal democracy, including the right to vote and equal rights for all citizens, is in retreat even in the established democracies, including the US. Why has this happened?

In a recent book, The People vs. Democracy, and an earlier article, Yascha Mounk of Harvard University argues that both “undemocratic liberalism” and “illiberal democracy” threaten liberal democracy. Under the former, democracy is too weak: social bonds and economic security are sacrificed on the altar of individual freedom. Under the latter, liberalism is too weak: power is captured by demagogues ruling in the name of an angry majority or at least a sizeable minority, who are told they are the “real people”. Undemocratic liberalism ends in elite rule. Illiberal democracy ends in autocratic rule.

Mr Mounk’s argument, moreover, is that undemocratic liberalism, notably economic liberalism, largely explains the rise of illiberal democracy: “vast swaths of policy have been cordoned off from democratic contestation”. He points to the role of independent central banks and to the way in which trade is governed by international agreements created by secretive negotiations carried out inside remote institutions. In the US, he also notes, unelected courts have decided many controversial social issues. In such areas as taxation, elected representatives retain formal autonomy. But the global mobility of capital restricts the freedom of politicians, reducing the effective differences between established parties of the centre-left and centre-right.

How far does such undemocratic liberalism explain illiberal democracy? The answer is: it does, up to a point.

It is surely true that the liberal economy has not delivered what was hoped, the financial crisis being a particularly severe shock. One aspect of such liberalism — migration — has, as the British writer David Goodhart argues in his book, The Road to Somewhere, persuaded many “people from somewhere” — those anchored to a place — that they are losing their countries to unwelcome outsiders. Moreover, institutions that represented the bulk of ordinary people — trade unions and left-of-centre parties — have ceased to exist or ceased to do their job. Finally, politics has been taken over by “people from anywhere” — the mobile and the highly educated.

Thomas Piketty suggests that a “Brahmin left” and a “merchant right” now dominate western politics. These groups may differ sharply from each other, but both are attached to liberalism — social, in the case of the Brahmins and economic, in the case of the merchants. The public has noticed.

A big point is that if undemocratic liberalism has gone too far for the comfort of a large portion of the voting public, that liberalism is not just economic: this is not just about neo-liberalism. Moreover, little of it has to do with overmighty international institutions, with the arguable exception of the EU. Indeed, the prosperity high-income countries desire is heavily bound up with international commerce. That, in turn, necessarily involves more than one jurisdiction. A future that does not include international co-operation on cross-border regulation or taxation will not work. This, too, has to be recognised.

A view that the economic dimension of undemocratic liberalism has driven the people towards illiberal democracy is exaggerated. What is true is that poorly managed economic liberalism helped destabilise politics. That helps explain the nationalist backlash in high-income countries. Yet the kind of illiberal democracy we see in Hungary or Poland, which is rooted in their specific histories, is not an inevitable outcome in established democracies. It will be hard for Donald Trump to become a US version of Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

Yet we cannot just ignore the pressures. It is impossible for democracies to ignore widespread public anger and anxiety. Elites must promote a little less liberalism, show a little more respect for the ties binding citizens to one another and pay more tax. The alternative of letting a large part of the population feel disinherited is too dangerous. Is such a rebalancing conceivable? That is the big question.

UK: Secret plan to replace Theresa May leaked — ranks her possible successors

September 20, 2018

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An explosive internal memo suggesting Theresa May will be forced to “stand down soon after March 2019” and detailing the pros and cons of her potential successors has been leaked to The Telegraph.

The excruciating dossier is being widely circulated among Tory MPs analysing the leadership prospects of her cabinet colleagues and other contenders including leading Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

It emerged as Mrs May is desperately trying to sell her widely criticised Chequers plan to EU leaders in Salzburg on Wednesday evening. 

As a sign of the growing mutiny within the Tory party, MPs have been sharing the memo between themselves as they continue to openly discuss the Prime Minister’s…

Read the rest (paywall):

See also:

Who could replace Theresa May? The PM’s likely successors

The Problem With All Those Liberal Professors

September 18, 2018

The paucity of Republicans at many top schools hurts everyone.

A Democratic bastion.  Photographer: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Suppose that you start college with a keen interest in physics, and you quickly discover that almost all members of the physics department are Democrats. Would you think that something is wrong? Would your answer be different if your favorite subject is music, chemistry, computer science, anthropology or sociology?

In recent years, concern has grown over what many people see as a left-of-center political bias at colleges and universities. A few months ago, Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business at Brooklyn College, published a study of the political affiliations of faculty members at 51 of the 66 liberal-arts colleges ranked highest by U.S. News in 2017. The findings are eye-popping (even if they do not come as a great surprise to many people in academia).

Democrats dominate most fields. In religion, Langbert’s survey found that the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is 70 to 1. In music, it is 33 to 1. In biology, it is 21 to 1. In philosophy, history and psychology, it is 17 to 1. In political science, it is 8 to 1.

The gap is narrower in science and engineering. In physics, economics and mathematics, the ratio is about 6 to 1. In chemistry, it is 5 to 1, and in engineering, it is just 1.6 to 1. Still, Lambert found no field in which Republicans are more numerous than Democrats.

True, these figures do not include the many professors who do not have a political affiliation, either because they are not registered at all or because they have not declared themselves as Democrats or Republicans. And, true, the ratios vary dramatically across colleges.

The faculties of Wellesley, Williams and Swarthmore are overwhelmingly Democratic, with ratios at or above 120 to 1. At Harvey Mudd and Lafayette, the ratios are 6 to 1. At the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, it is 2.3 to 1; it is just 1.3 to 1 at West Point.

But despite the variability, none of the 51 colleges had more Republicans than Democrats. According to the survey, over a third of them had no Republicans at all.

For two reasons, these numbers, and others like them, are genuinely disturbing.

The first involves potential discrimination on the part of educational institutions. Some departments might be disinclined to hire potential faculty members based on their political convictions.

Such discrimination might take the form of unconscious devaluation of people whose views do not fit with the dominant perspective. For example, young historians who cast Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in a terrible light might not get a lot of job offers. And talented people might not pursue academic careers at all, because they expect that their potential professors will not appreciate their work.

The second reason is that students are less likely to get a good education, and faculty members are likely to learn less from one another, if there is a prevailing political orthodoxy. Students and faculty might end up in a kind of information cocoon. If a political-science department consists of 24 Democrats and 2 Republicans, we have reason to doubt that students will exposed to an adequate range of views.

It is true that in some fields, political affiliations do not matter. In chemistry, math, physics and engineering, students should not care about the party affiliations of their professors. Sure, it’s conceivable that Democratic chemistry professors want to hire fellow Democrats. But that would be surprising. In all likelihood, they are looking for good chemistry professors.

In fields of this kind, there is no reason to worry that political homogeneity will disserve students or undermine the exchange of ideas. If students are learning about special relativity or the physics of nuclei, partisan affiliations ought not to be relevant.

The real problems arise in subjects like history, political science, philosophy and psychology, where the professor’s political perspective might well make a difference. (The same is true of law.)

If academic hiring is skewed along ideological lines, the march toward uniformity might be self-reinforcing. Prospective professors will have an incentive to adopt the prevailing orthodoxy (or to speak and write as if they do).

It is far too simple, of course, to say that professors of history, political science, philosophy and the like should “look like America” in political terms. What matters is that they are experts in their fields, able to convey what they know. In faculty hiring, affirmative action for those with conservative political positions is not likely to serve anyone well.

Nonetheless, the current numbers make two points unmistakably clear.

First, those who teach in departments lacking ideological diversity have an obligation to offer competing views and to present them fairly and with respect. A political philosopher who leans left should be willing and able to ask students to think about the force of the argument for free markets, even if they produce a lot of inequality.

Second, those who run departments lacking ideological diversity have an obligation to find people who will represent competing views — visiting speakers, visiting professors and new hires. Faculties need not be expected to mirror their societies, but students and teachers ought not live in information cocoons.

John Stuart Mill put it well: “It is hardly possible to overrate the value … of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar. Such communication has always been, and is peculiarly in the present age, one of the primary sources of progress.”

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners

Cass R. Sunstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is the editor of “Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America” and a co-author of “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness.”

Twitter CEO admits conservative employees ‘don’t feel safe’ expressing opinions

September 15, 2018

Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey admits conservatives are afraid to speak their mind while working at the social network.

Conservative employees “don’t feel safe to express their opinions” within the company, Dorsey told the New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen in an interview published Friday on Recode.

Some Republicans in Congress have accused Twitter of shadow banning, or suppressing the reach of their opinions to followers.

“I think it’s more and more important to at least clarify what our own bias leans towards, and just express it,” Dorsey said.

The admission comes as US Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke this week about looking into whether Twitter, Google, Facebook and others are suppressing conservative viewpoints.

Dorsey said he was on a listening tour to get a broader opinion of the company and its service.


Lord Heseltine predicts Boris Johnson will become next Conservative leader

September 15, 2018

The former deputy prime minister’s comments come as Boris Johnson urges MPs to focus on “chucking Chequers” and not Theresa May.

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Lord Heseltine says recent negative headlines have not done Boris Johnson irreparable harm

Boris Johnson looks likely to become the next Conservative leader but the move will probably divide the party, Lord Heseltine has suggested.

The former deputy prime minister – who has been an outspoken critic of Mr Johnson – said a string of recent negative headlines about the former foreign secretary have not done him irreparable harm.

Lord Heseltine’s comments come as Mr Johnson urged MPs to focus on “chucking Chequers” rather than seeking to oust Prime Minister Theresa May.

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Prime Minister Theresa May

Around 50 pro-Brexit Conservative MPs spent nearly an hour plotting ways to replace Mrs May on Tuesday evening amid continued anger over the Chequers plan for Brexit.

Guto Harri, a former key adviser to Mr Johnson, said the former foreign secretary was “digging his political grave” and would be a “hugely divisive figure” if he took the top job.

He said Mr Johnson was “dragging us into a place where we think that we can joke about suicide vests and that we can be sexually incontinent”.

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The former London mayor faced a Tory backlash when he claimed Theresa May’s Brexit strategy had put the UK in a “suicide vest” and handed the detonator to Brussels.

Lord Heseltine told BBC Radio 4’s The Week In Westminster: “Has he done himself any irreparable harm? Well I don’t think he has.

“What you have to say to yourself is who the Tory Party membership of the House of Commons is going to choose to send to the activists of the Conservative Party in any leadership campaign.

“Whilst there is strong opposition to Boris, I find it difficult to think of two names that they will send that don’t include him.

“And, if he gets before the activists, my guess is that he will get the nomination.”

He added: “All that is one thing. But if you then ask a second question. Does that unify the party? Does that solve Brexit? Does it get Britain back into the centre ground.

“Those are the key questions about achieving power and my doubts and reservations are very substantial.”

Mr Harri, who was Mr Johnson’s communications director when he was London mayor, said his former boss was doing “enormous damage” to himself with his increasingly controversial use of language, which has always been “very calculated”.

He told the programme: “I fear that Boris is digging.

“Somebody needs to take the spade out of his hand or it looks to me like he’s digging his political grave.

“It’s one thing to deploy humour and charm and intellect and all these things he has in spades which he has done brilliantly in the past, not least his exquisite gift of language.

“But at the moment it is being deployed in a really destructive and self-destructive way that I think is doing enormous damage to him as well as to the country.

“People always said he shot from the hip and used language loosely or gaffed.

“It was always very calculated.

“It was just calculated in a very, very clever way in the past.

“Over a period of time, Boris did move from celebrity to statesman and did widen his appeal enormously.

“He was a huge unifying figure by the end of my time with him when the Olympics happened in London.

“There were people on left and right.

“He would not have been re-elected in a left leaning city like London if he hadn’t appealed to the left.

“Now he’s gone the other way. He’s become more tribal, and tribal within the tribe, so that he would now be – if he were to become leader – a hugely divisive figure.

“And that for somebody who is equipped to be a unifying figure, who’s equipped to create a feel-good factor, who’s equipped to take us all on whatever journey because he makes it fun, he makes it exciting and he is a true visionary.

“Unfortunately he is now dragging us into a place where we think that we can joke about suicide vests and that we can be sexually incontinent.”

When asked if he had a message for Brexiteers seeking to oust the prime minister, Mr Johnson told the Daily Telegraph: “It’s not about the leadership. It’s about the policy.

See also The Telegraph:

Boris Johnson tells Tories: Chuck Chequers, not Theresa May

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Big Tech’s double trouble: bipartisan criticism may signal a reckoning ahead

September 2, 2018

Trump’s timing of attacks on Google, Facebook and Twitter could not have been better, as the three come under scrutiny in hearings

Trump and Russia may have dominated the political discourse all summer, but last week the attention turned again to America’s internet technology giants. They had enjoyed a few months out of the spotlight following grueling congressional hearings in Washington late last year, after evidence emerged of Russia’s use of social media fake accounts to try to influence voters in the 2016 US presidential election.

But that respite ended last week after a tweet from Donald Trump that electrified the news agenda from Silicon Valley to the capital when, seemingly out of the blue – he posted a bizarre tweet. “Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD,” he tweeted. Trump went on to allege that Google was censoring right-wing voices and privileging voices from the left.

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The next day Trump doubled down, this time citing Twitter, Google and Facebook as being “unfair” to Republicans. “I think that Google and Facebook and Twitter … treat conservatives and Republicans very unfairly. I think it’s a very serious problem because they’re really trying to silence a very large part of this country, and those people don’t want to be silenced.

“It’s not right. It’s not fair. It may not be legal, but we’ll see. We just want fairness.”

And Trump’s timing could not have been better. Next week, senior figures from those three companies come under scrutiny during a new set of high-profile hearings in Washington.

Suddenly, the political heat was back on Big Tech and this time, they’re experiencing double-trouble.

Up until now most criticism of the tech giants has come from the left, aggrieved at the ease with which Russians appeared to influence the election via bots and fake accounts spreading divisive propaganda. Additionally they have been accused of toxifying public debate, exploiting people’s data and building monopolies that are distorting the US economy.

But now the tech giants face a whole new political threat. And this time there is a growing volume of voices on the right from senior Republicans who are incensed about perceived bias against conservatives.

A reckoning may be coming and the companies lining up to defend themselves this week in Washington seem to be braced for some type of regulation. And, whilst Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has declared himself open to regulation, there’s some talk of the need to go further – to break up the companies using antitrust laws.

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“The ultimate solution is really to find ways to limit the power of these companies through antitrust, to try to create the space for competitors to emerge,” says Franklin Foer, author of World Without Mind: the Existential Threat of Big Tech. “Because the real problem is that we have two or three chokeholds globally for the dissemination of information.

“We have two or three companies that are the masters of the global public sphere. That’s too much power to have invested in a small number of companies.”

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Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, plus an as yet unnamed representative from Google, will appear in Congress to give evidence on Wednesday to a Senate intelligence committee examining the way Russia was able to manipulate American voters through their platforms.

Dorsey will go a second round in the afternoon, with the House energy and commerce committee demanding answers on Twitter’s use of algorithms and content moderation.

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Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter

Republican Greg Walden, who chairs that committee, said he wants to “take complex, opaque algorithms out of the dark” and find out what systems Twitter has in place to prevent undue party political bias.

Trump, as only he can, increased the heat this week when he launched those attacks on Google, picking up conservative grievances about what they see as built-in bias and declaring a fringe conspiracy to be established fact.

By the end of the week, Trump was using an interview with Bloomberg to further raise the stakes, claiming “conservatives have been treated very unfairly” and said the companies may be in a “very antitrust situation”.

Foer, whose book is highly critical of the companies which have amassed power with little oversight, said: “When Trump raises the question about the internet and its power he manages to constantly make arguments that are bastardisations of good arguments.

“When he attacks Amazon and when he attacks Google, he is wrong in the specifics but he is spiritually correct.“

In other words, Google may not be inherently biased against conservatives, but when people search online for Trump, the algorithms will reward large media outlets over more fringe ones, partly because they are trusted, publish quickly and have large readerships.

“The problem with Google is that it’s biased against good results when it comes to a lot of questions – its algorithms are based on this whole cocktail of rationale that can often yield bad results,” Foer said.

“There is a carelessness sometimes when it comes to Google, it dresses itself in scientific pretension about what it’s doing, that its results are derived from maths, and that’s true, but its goal is to keep people engaged on its site for as long as possible.”

Google defended itself against Trump’s claims of bias, issuing a statement insisting: “Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology.”

Academic Tarleton Gillespie, author of Custodians of the Internet, who works for Microsoft Research and Cornell University, wrote in detail this week on Medium about the nature of search engines, saying of Trump’s attack “it is potent, and it’s almost certainly wrong”.

But he added, Trump’s attack came at a moment when deeper questions are being asked “about free speech, news, and how platforms subtly reshape public participation”.

Even as Trump complains, he benefits far more than most from the amplification of social media. As Kara Swisher wrote in the New York Times this week: “Trump himself is the most voluble politician ever to use digital media, and his entire existence has been amplified, echoed and re-echoed over and over again by the tools that Silicon Valley has let loose on the world over the past two decades.”

Trump appears to have short-term politics in mind – casting Google as a new enemy rigging the system against him is a useful way to anger his loyal base and get them out to vote in November’s midterms.

But the drumbeat for regulation of the tech companies is growing – and the understated Democratic Senator Mark Warner may pose a bigger threat to them than the obvious danger of a noisy skirmish with the president.

Warner, the senior Democrat on Wednesday morning’s committee, has produced a white paper of potential policy proposals for regulation of social media and technology firms, which said “each of them deserves enormous recognition” for changing the world in positive ways, but warns “these tech giants now also deserve increased scrutiny”.

He says the companies were caught repeatedly flat-footed by Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and wrote: “The speed with which these products have grown and come to dominate nearly every aspect of our social, political and economic lives has in many ways obscured the shortcomings of their creators in anticipating the harmful effects of their use.”

Warner’s proposals include policies to deal with fake and anonymous accounts. Tech companies could be made liable for defamation on their platforms, he proposes. The source of political adverts should be disclosed to stop foreign adversaries threatening democracy. Service providers could also be placed under a legal duty to protect users’ data.

The European Union has already introduced general data protection regulation to safeguard consumers so their data cannot be shared without their consent.

California has also just passed the Consumer Privacy Act, which would give consumers more control over their personal information – including the ability to have data deleted and prevent it being sold to advertisers and others.

Foer believes the California model – due to come into effect on 1 January 2020 – is the most likely route for Congress to follow nationally, although he predicts companies will try to shape and water down any federal law.

“I’m of the school that clearly we need some sort of privacy regulation, we need some data protection laws, that is screamingly obvious, it’s gobsmacking that we don’t have one,” he said.

“But I’m extremely reluctant to impose regulation either on algorithms or the way that they operate, because we see what’s happening in China. It doesn’t require any imagination to figure out how a person like Donald Trump would be able to exploit regulations for his own good.”


Sage Against the Machine: Life After Google and The Fall of Big Data

September 2, 2018

“If everyone gets supported without any kind of growing up and facing the challenges of life, then our capitalist culture would collapse.”

A leading Google critic on why he thinks the era of ‘big data’ is done, why he opposes Trump’s talk of regulation, and the promise of blockchain.

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New York

‘I rarely have an urge to whisper,” says George Gilder—loudly—as he settles onto a divan by the window of his Times Square hotel room. I’d asked him to speak as audibly as possible into my recording device, and his response, while literal, could also serve as a metaphor: Nothing Mr. Gilder says or writes is ever delivered at anything less than the fullest philosophical decibel.

Mr. Gilder is one of a dwindling breed of polymath Americans who thrive in a society obsessed with intellectual silos. As academics know more and more about less and less, he opines brazenly on subjects whose range would keep several university faculties on their toes: marriage and family, money and economics, law and regulation, and the social role of technology, a subject that engrosses him at present and the topic of his latest book, “Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy.”

Sage Against the Machine

Mr. Gilder has published 20 books, the best-known of which, “Wealth and Poverty” (1981), sold more than a million copies and made him rich. It was an impassioned defense of the morality and compassion of the free market. Ronald Reagan acknowledged that the book bolstered his confidence in supply-side economics, and he was known to be particularly beguiled by its opening line, which reads: “The most important event in the recent history of ideas is the demise of the socialist dream.”

Mr. Gilder also had a vast and avid following during the tech boom of the 1990s, when his Gilder Technology Report—an idiosyncratic subscription newsletter—shaped the investing habits of thousands around the world. Analysts spoke of a Gilder Effect, which had investors rushing to buy stock in any new company mentioned in the Report. The newsletter effectively ended, Mr. Gilder tells me, “in the months after the stock market crash of 2000, when I lost nearly all my 106,000 subscribers.”

Mr. Gilder, 78, is still immersed in the world of tech, but he doesn’t like all that he sees. Google makes him mad, as does Silicon Valley more broadly, and his ire is directed at the “new catastrophe theory” which holds “that artificial intelligence will make human minds obsolete, and that we’ll soon produce machine-learning tools and robotics that excel the capabilities of human brains.” He calls this attitude “Google Marxism”—a phrase he utters with a certain salivary distaste—“because Marx’s essential theme was that the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century had overcome all the challenges of production.” From that point on, Marx held, “human beings would focus on redistributing wealth among the classes rather than creating it.”

Marx was convinced that the steam turbine, electrification and what William Blake called “dark satanic mills” were a final stage in social evolution—“an eschaton.” Mr. Gilder loves abstruse words, and this one, which signifies a kind of climax in human attainment, is a particular favorite. “Google and the Silicon Valley people also imagine that their artificial intelligence, their machine learning, their cloud computing, is an eschaton—another ‘end of history’ moment. And it’s just preposterous.”

In truth, Mr. Gilder says, Google is at the end of its “paradigm,” which he defines as “avoiding the challenge of security across the internet by giving away most of its products for free, and financing itself with an ingenious advertising strategy.” Mr. Gilder also contends that Google believes capitalism is at an end—that “this is the winner-take-all universe,” as he puts it, “and the existing generation of capitalists are the final capitalists. That’s their vision.” And if you believe that “machines can re-create new machines in a steady cascade of greater capabilities that are beyond human comprehension and control, you really believe that’s the end of the human race.”

Mr. Gilder rejects the premise. “Machines can’t be minds,” he says. “Information theory shows that.” Citing Claude Shannon, the American mathematician acknowledged as the father of information theory, Mr. Gilder says that “information is surprise. Creativity always comes as a surprise to us. If it wasn’t surprising, we wouldn’t need it.” However useful they may be, “machines are not capable of creativity.” Human minds can generate counterfactuals, imaginative flights, dreams. By contrast, “a surprise in a machine is a breakdown. You don’t want your machines to have surprising outcomes!”

The narrative of human obsolescence, Mr. Gilder says, is giving rise to a belief that the only way forward is to provide redundant citizens with some sort of “guaranteed annual income,” which would mean the end of the market economy: “If everyone gets supported without any kind of growing up and facing the challenges of life, then our capitalist culture would collapse.”

Mr. Gilder worries deeply about the state of capitalism in America, and President Trump’s adamant focus on the trade gap irks him. “To the extent that the U.S. is the world’s leading capitalist power and welcomes foreign investment, it can’t possibly run a trade surplus.” Mr. Trump “is a politician, and his chief goal is to communicate to the unions in the Midwest that he’s on their side. Besides, it’s a lot easier to blame China than it is to really explain the widespread campaign in the colleges of this country to suppress manufacturing and industry in the United States.”

As we talk of capitalism and America’s universities, Mr. Gilder sits upright, unable to mask his indignation. “The point is that we didn’t want manufacturing in this country, and we suppressed it. All of our colleges are devoted to stopping things rather than starting them.” The “whole focus” of science in American higher education, he says, is on “the dangers and perils of technology rather than its promise.”

America’s university system, says Mr. Gilder, is “incredibly corrupt and ideological.” How did it come to be like that? Surely, I observe, it wasn’t that way when he graduated from Harvard in 1962. “It was beginning to get that way,” he says, as he revs his engines for a fresh sortie. “The rise of affluence through the 1960s created this kind of amazing irresponsibility that resulted in a whole generation losing track of reality.”

The pithy aperçu is Mr. Gilder’s forte. He tells me here that “human beings have a propensity to believe in leftism”—in the idea that government can “answer all of their problems, guarantee their future, and relieve them of the challenges of life.” The idea of a “completely providential government” arose in America, and a “whole generation of young people were given college loans in a fabulous national mistake, in which the Republicans participated.” These loans were used by the university system to “increase perks and tenured luxuries and ideological distractions”—all of which led to the “diversity campaigns and CO2 panics” that currently dominate university faculties.

The only way to undo this “vast blunder,” says Mr. Gilder, is to forgive student loans across the board and “extract the money from all the college endowments and funds that were used to just create useless departments and political campaigns.” More than $1.5 trillion in student-loan money is outstanding, according to the Federal Reserve. That money, Mr. Gilder says, “wasn’t deployed to improve education. Not a scintilla of evidence has been adduced that learning has been improved. It was used entirely to lavish on bureaucracies that, in turn, paid tribute to government and leftist nihilism.”

The impact of these loans, and of the academic ecosystem they engendered, has been catastrophic, in Mr. Gilder’s view. “The result was to destroy the entrepreneurial optimism of a whole generation of young people, to drive them toward socialism, which they now tend to favor, and to even dissuade them from marriage.” The last is a consequence of debt, “which cripples them for the future.” Any benefit that education might confer on the young is, in Mr. Gilder’s dark view, nullified by the economic burden inflicted on them, which “leaves these kids impotent in the world.”

We turn to national politics, and Mr. Gilder reaffirms his view—which he’s expressed often—that Reagan set the gold standard for the modern American presidency. “I hope Trump emulates him,” Mr. Gilder says. “I don’t know Trump, but he beat all my candidates, and he’s got something going for him. He’s a man of action, and I think too much stress is placed on his verbiage.” He credits the president with having “rolled back the climate-change cult in government to some degree. He’s appointing good justices, who can actually see through leftist claims, and he’s dismantling the reach of the administrative state.”

Although Mr. Gilder is a critic of Google, he disapproves of Mr. Trump’s talk of regulating the search engine—a prospect the president raised in a tweet describing its results as “rigged” against him and possibly “illegal.” This is no time, Mr. Gilder says, “for American conservatives to advocate an expansion of the administrative state into social networks and search engines.” If right-leaning content ranks low on Google, that shows that “conservatives still have a long way to go if they are to prevail in the opinion wars on social media. They cannot expect the government to do it for them.”

For all the gloom about Silicon Valley that appears to suffuse his new book, Mr. Gilder insists that he’s not a tech-pessimist. “I think technology has fabulous promise,” he says, as he describes blockchain and cryptocurrency as “a new technological revolution that is rising up as we speak.” He says it has generated “a huge efflorescence of peer-to-peer technology and creativity, and new companies.” The decline of initial public offerings in the U.S., he adds, has been “redressed already by the rise of the ICO, the ‘initial coin offering,’ which has raised some $12 billion for several thousand companies in the last year.”

It is clear that Mr. Gilder is smitten with what he calls “this cryptographic revolution,” and believes that it will heal some of the damage to humanity that has been inflicted by the “machine obsessed” denizens of Silicon Valley. Blockchain “endows individuals with control of their data, their identity, the truths that they want to assert, their transactions, their visions, their content and their security.” Here Mr. Gilder sounds less like a tech guru than a poet, and his words tumble out in a romantic cascade.

With the cryptographic revolution, he says, “we’re now in charge of our own information. For the first time in history, really, you don’t have to prove who you are, or what you are, before a transaction.” A blockchain allows users “to be anonymous if they wish, while also letting them keep a time-stamped record of all their previous transactions. It allows us to establish unimpeachable facts on the internet.”

That evokes trust in the internet, “without having to trust or rely on Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, or whoever the paladins of the new economy may be.” In the age of the almighty machine, Mr. Gilder believes, this is a notable victory for mankind.

Mr. Varadarajan is a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Appeared in the September 1, 2018, print edition.

The idea that Google and Twitter are rigging their platforms against Trump is patently false (Unless one asks any conservative)

August 30, 2018

Here’s the truest conundrum of the social media age: Those who complain loudest about being silenced never ever shut up.

Case in point are some tweets this week from President Trump, who wrote his umpteenth in a series of attacks on the big tech platforms.

The latest sputter — that’s a digital equivalent that falls between clearing your throat of mucus and vomiting slightly in your mouth — was aimed at Google. In an angry finger-tapping burst in two parts, Mr. Trump accused Google of skewing its search results against him:

“Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% results on ‘Trump News’ are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation — will be addressed!”

Will. Be. Addressed. Oh my. Is that a threat? I guess it might be if you were a low-rent version of a movie gangster, obsessively searching Google News over and over again in the middle of the night.

By  Kara Swisher
The New York Times

CreditCreditIllustration by Jeffrey Henson Scales, photographs by Tom Brenner for The New York Times, and Lionel Bonaventure/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But the big tech platforms should not be even slightly afraid since the threat is an empty one. The allegation is both wildly untrue and mostly easily proved false in all kinds of ways. (For example, I doubt that Mr. Trump has ever heard of page rank, since he recently showed he also cannot work a phone so well.)

Most of all, the allegation leaves out the pertinent fact that Mr. Trump himself is the most voluble politician ever to use digital media, and his entire existence has been amplified, echoed and re-echoed over and over again by the tools that Silicon Valley has let loose on the world over the past two decades. To say nothing of the widespread belief in the United States intelligence community that Russians manipulated social media in his favor.

Trump Accuses Google of Burying Conservative News in Search Results

Rather than attacking techies, he should send them a gold-embossed thank you note.

Instead, as is his way, Mr. Trump huffs and puffs away on issues that have finally bubbled up to him from the ever-growing cesspool of online anger, especially the truly ludicrous idea that Silicon Valley does not like conservatives.

I can vaguely hear the always aggrieved tones of Mr. Trump’s tech whisperer, the entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel, somewhere in there, who often goes on about having to move to … wait for it … Los Angeles to get away from the lefty groupthink in Northern California. While I am not going to be the one to tell him about those Hollywood types, it is extra rich since he became a billionaire via investing in all those supposed liberals, like those socialists over at Facebook.

That is obviously a joke, because, in fact, most tech leaders are more often lightweight versions of libertarians and largely apolitical except for backing gay and transgender rights and wanting to allow more qualified immigrants into the country to make more tech.

Otherwise, in my reporting, I have found that they love those tax cuts and adore the repatriated income and can’t get enough of deregulation. Sure, they don’t cotton to the anti-climate-change nonsense Mr. Trump spews and can’t stand the endless bullying, but let’s stop to reflect that they have handed him all the weapons in his online arsenal to do that.

So whether it’s the idea that Twitter “shadow bans” right-wing conservatives or that Facebook and YouTube have made a left-leaning decision that a vile and mendacious actor like the Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones perhaps needs to be thrown off services for his vile and mendacious behavior, it’s all codswallop.

You can look that fine word up on Google if you want to know what it means, by the way. That is also where you can also reach every single conservative, alt-right and white nationalistic site in a millisecond. And Google is just one platform of so many that have allowed every one of those voices to thrive and proliferate in untold — and in some cases, dangerous — ways.

It is certainly true that some of tech’s egregious sins — like allowing malevolent actors to use their platforms malevolently or disadvantaging smaller start-ups from innovating, which might be covered in Senate hearings next week where top Facebook, Google and Twitter leaders are expected to appear — need to be addressed by some sort of regulation to come.

But stifling even vile human speech is not one of them. It’s hard to make tech giants sympathetic, but Mr. Trump has managed to pull it off with cloddish aplomb with nearly every accusation of their being unfair in this regard.

Last week, for example, he tweeted: “Social Media Giants are silencing millions of people … People have to figure out what is real, and what is not, without censorship!”

But it’s been Mr. Trump who has led the truth-isn’t-truth team that has tried its best to obfuscate facts by using social media to unleash so many lies that it drowns out all else. And it’s probably no surprise that conservatives made such good use of digital tools, having most definitely been largely left out in the wilderness of the old media equation for decades until Fox News arrived on the scene.

Tech has, in fact, been very, very good for conservatives from the get-go and very much so for Mr. Trump and his minions, as his 2016 digital media director and current 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, well knows.

And while I kind of get Mr. Trump’s demented tirades against what he calls the “Amazon Washington Post” — largely because its chief executive and founder, Jeff Bezos, utterly ignores the goofy smacks, even as the retail giant only grows in size and power — keeping tech free to do whatever it wants is beneficial for him.

It’s certainly not good for most of the rest of us, who have to wade through the ever-growing digital muck on a daily basis to utilize what is actually good about it. (It’s pretty much down to the game Fortnite and meditation apps now.)

What’s most interesting about the coarsening of the digital media landscape, which Mr. Trump has truly been an “innoventor” of (yeah, that is a term used in Silicon Valley) — is that it has had a discernibly bad impact on the very platform that he has used so well.

That would be Twitter. And rather than being boosted by the Twit in chief and the reaction to the reaction to the reaction to him, usage on the platform has continued to fall. In its last earnings report, the company said it had lost one million monthly active users in the most recent quarter.

While that is a result of a number of management snafus that have gone on since forever, it is also about the inability to clean up all the mess it has allowed to morph. Which is to say letting a thousand flowers bloom, despite the fact that far too many of them stink and more still are troublemaking bots.

That has meant that Twitter and other social media platforms have since become so much of a toxic swamp that it is now probably impossible to clean most of it up.

As one social media executive said to me recently, with an audible sigh: “For one set, we can’t take enough down; for another set, we can’t leave up enough. One side thinks social media enabled populism, while the other thinks the opposite. There will be no fixing this.”

Which makes for a kind of digital gridlock that is perfect for Mr. Trump, even though he seems to not be in on the giant tech joke he has created.

In an interview with Mr. Trump conducted by Mark Leibovich of The New York Times about a year ago, that much was clear.

“They want to take away my voice,’’ Mr. Trump declared plaintively, even as he bragged about the 54 million he reaches directly with every tweet on his @realDonaldTrump handle (along with 23 million more on @potus). ‘‘They’re not going to take away my social media.”

No, Mr. President, they’re not.

Kara Swisher, editor at large for the technology news website Recode and producer of the Recode Decode podcast and Code Conference, is a contributing opinion writer. @karaswisher

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: A Ludicrous Attack on Big Tech.