Posts Tagged ‘fake news’

How Steve Bannon Rescued Roy Moore’s Campaign Against All Odds

December 11, 2017

Bloomberg

By Joshua Green

  • Alabama Senate candidate calls Bannon ‘the master strategist’
  • Polls show most Republicans now don’t believe Moore’s accusers
Steve Bannon welcomes Roy Moore onstage during a campaign rally for in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S., on Dec. 5

Photographer: Nicole Craine/Bloomberg

On the night of Nov. 14, Roy Moore’s campaign for an Alabama Senate seat looked all but finished.

After five women came forward with accounts of Moore’s alleged sexual misconduct with them as teenagers, including one who was 14 years old, the GOP candidate was abandoned by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and many Republicans in Congress, and the Republican National Committee cut off his funding.

But it was an ultimatum from Fox News host Sean Hannity, delivered on his Nov. 14 broadcast, that posed the direst threat. “For me, the judge has 24 hours,” Hannity told his viewers, after excoriating Moore. “You must immediately and fully come up with a satisfactory explanation for your inconsistencies.” He added, “If you can’t do this, then Judge Moore needs to get out of the race.” In 2017, a Republican candidate can overcome disapproval from party leaders, but losing the conservative media is usually fatal.

Four weeks later, Moore’s situation has entirely turned around: He not only survived, but leads his Democratic opponent in most polls. President Donald Trump has forcefully endorsed him. The RNC restored his funding. McConnell stopped saying he should quit and now says the people of Alabama should decide his fate. Most Republican voters there have decided the allegations are false: A CBS News poll found that 71 percent don’t believe them. Hannity, too, is back in the fold and a big reason why Moore received a hero’s welcome at a Dec. 5 barn rally in Fairhope, Alabama.

Rather than bury Moore, conservative media resurrected him — and the party followed. It did so thanks largely to the influence of the man who introduced Moore in Fairhope: Steve Bannon. “The whole thing was a setup, right?” the former White House chief strategist told the roaring crowd.

‘Master Strategist’

Through his staff at Breitbart News, his talk radio show, and his allies in politics and media — Hannity among them — Bannon has worked harder than perhaps anyone else to sow doubt about the accusations against Moore and to push the claim that his accusers are lying. In doing so, he’s illustrated the growing power of conservative media to shape the perceptions of Republican voters, something that may keep Alabama’s Senate seat in Republican hands when polls open on Tuesday.

No one appreciates Bannon’s efforts more than the candidate only recently left for dead. “He’s the counter to the ‘fake news’ — he’s been a stalwart,” says Roy Moore. “It’s helped us a lot. He’s the master strategist.”

Bannon’s efforts to save Moore from the fallout from the first Washington Post story laying out the accusations predate its publication on Nov. 9. Tipped by the Moore campaign, Breitbart News published word of its impending arrival in an article intended to undermine the charges by Leigh Corfman that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14. That did little to blunt Republican outrage in Congress or the White House. Although Trump was traveling abroad and didn’t comment, aide Kellyanne Conway said the behavior attributed to Moore “would be disqualifying for anyone in public office.”

Bannon dispatched Breitbart reporters to Alabama to discredit the Post story. He was so certain they would turn up evidence of collusion and unravel the Post story that he publicly predicted as much during a Nov. 10 speech in South Carolina. “They’re finding some collusion going on in stories about Judge Moore,” he said, while accepting the Citadel Republican Society’s Nathan Hale Patriot Award. “I think you’ll see tomorrow.”

‘Special Place in Hell’

Evidence of collusion between Moore’s accusers and the press never materialized. Instead, Moore’s situation worsened, not least because of an interview he gave to Hannity’s radio show that same day. Asked if he had pursued teenage girls as a grown man, Moore replied, “generally, no” but added that he’d “dated a lot of young ladies,” had known some of his accusers, and “if we did go on dates, then we did.” The performance didn’t help his cause. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, told the Associated Press, “There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children.”

Even so, Bannon was most alarmed by Hannity’s ultimatum to Moore and moved to intervene, according to three people familiar with his actions. Along with Breitbart’s Washington editor, Matthew Boyle, he besieged the Fox News host with phone calls and texts. Bannon, who recently told the New York Times that Hannity is “the single most important voice for the ‘deplorables’” — his term for Trump supporters — asked the Fox host not to call on Moore to withdraw and instead to let Alabama voters decide, said people familiar with Bannon’s activities.

One of the people said Hannity was skeptical, but willing to listen. The person said Hannity texted Boyle, “You pull this off it’s a f— miracle.” Hannity declined to comment on the text. Through a spokesperson, he denied that he was pressured by anyone.

Moore’s campaign also raced to convince Hannity within his 24-hour window, issuing a public memo — addressed “Dear Sean” — that sought to rebut the women’s allegations. “Sean is very important,” says Dean Young, Moore’s chief political strategist. “He’s a well-respected guy and we think he’s an honest man. Judge Moore is an honest guy, too, and wanted to be as clear as possible.”

Hannity’s Reprieve

The pressure campaign paid off. Even as three new accusers came forward, Hannity declared himself satisfied with Moore’s response. “I lived in Alabama,” he said. “I know these people. They’re smart, they’re great Americans — God, family, faith, country. I am very confident that when everything comes out, they will make the best decision for their state.”

It was Bannon’s message precisely. And it gave Moore the reprieve he desperately needed. The pressure to quit the race stopped building. “Steve has been a voice for the conservative movement in turning this around,” Kayla Moore, the judge’s wife, said backstage at the Fairhope rally.

Bannon worked to create a counter-narrative that ultimately would change many Republicans’ perception of the scandal. A former filmmaker, he’s long been captivated by the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi filmmaker, and the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein for their power to shape public sentiment. Earlier this year, Bannon told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer his 2012 anti-Obama film “The Hope and the Change,” had consciously mimicked Riefenstahl’s infamous, “Triumph of the Will.” Her film, he added, “seared into me” that unhappy voters could be influenced if they felt they were being conned.

“Riefenstahl and Eisenstein both created an image of their nation that coalesced in the minds of citizens and shaped public opinion through narratives, which is essentially what Bannon is doing in politics,” says Nadia Szold, a filmmaker and documentarian who has studied Bannon’s films and discussed his influences with him. “They all evoke emotions like nostalgia, patriotism or paranoia that strengthen a collective sentiment.”

Building a New Narrative

In the run-up to the presidential campaign, Bannon’s narrative-building energies were chiefly directed at the mainstream media. He helped conceive and produce the book “Clinton Cash” as a way of injecting negative storylines about Hillary Clinton into major outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post to discourage potential Clinton voters and grease the skids for the Republican nominee.

In Alabama, however, Bannon needed to move Republican voters, which entailed exerting a different, more direct influence. Early on, he sent two top Breitbart editors, Boyle and Aaron Klein, to attack Moore’s critics and churn out a fusillade of stories designed to raise doubts about the motives of Moore’s accusers and the mainstream reporters covering them. The general theme, Boyle explains, was that the whole thing was a Democratic ruse abetted by a compliant liberal press: “This was a missile launched at the conservative movement by the mainstream media.”

An ardent believer in the power of talk radio, Bannon turned his daily SiriusXM radio show into the broadcasting hub of the Moore counter-narrative that was fast emerging. It disseminated Breitbart’s stories across the conservative universe, parts of which remained committed to opposing Moore. “Our voters turn to the conservative media — or what people thought was conservative — because the rest of it is fake news,” says Young. “That includes Fox News, which follows Mitch McConnell’s lead. Hannity is a bright spot there, but Fox News has gotten more liberal.”

Harnessing Talk Radio

Local talk radio was especially important because it reached voters who would decide Moore’s fate. Bannon sent his reporters to appear as guests.

“Without Bannon and Breitbart, it would have been almost impossible for us to get the message out there,” says Scott Beason, a conservative radio host whose show broadcasts weekdays on the SuperStation FM 101.1 and blankets the Huntsville and Birmingham markets. “They had a big effect. They’re giving people information that’s not making it into our local reports, that gave us a reference point to refute these stories and say, ‘Here’s the part you don’t know.’ And that often flips the situation on its head and changes people’s minds. I really believe because of the work they did that that’s how Roy Moore is going to be able to get over the hump on Tuesday.”

Although support for Moore fell sharply after the sexual misconduct allegations, it has gradually returned, something Beason attributes to four weeks of steady bludgeoning that Bannon’s operation has administered to Moore’s accusers and the mainstream press. “Not everybody listens to my radio show,” he says. “It took time to get the message out so people were hearing these things. My listeners go to the gym, or the ballpark, or Sunday school, and say, ‘Did you hear what Scott said?’”

And while Moore couldn’t count on Fox News to supply laudatory coverage, his campaign found a conservative alternative, the One America Network, an upstart competitor to Fox that had multiple crews in Alabama throughout the primary. “For us, as a network that’s continuing to grow, it was very important to our leadership that we could be a serious media organization on the ground in Alabama,” says Trey Yingst, OAN’s White House correspondent.

“They’ve gained momentum down here, I heard more and more about them,” Young said of OAN. “We get treated fairly there. When we want to get the real story out, we do it through the real conservative media.” Both Moore and his wife, Kayla, were made available to OAN for interviews, while Yingst landed an exclusive interview with Bannon after the Fairhope rally.

Courting Trump

Throughout Moore’s scandal, Trump, who hadn’t weighed in, loomed as the ultimate determiner of the candidate’s fate. According to three people familiar with his actions, Bannon made calls to Trump and Nick Ayers, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, urging them to withhold public comment and let the people of Alabama decide whether Moore belonged in the Senate. The Daily Beast reported that Conway also pushed the president not to condemn Moore.

Trump, an avid consumer of conservative media, especially Hannity’s show, was willing to go much further. On Nov. 26, he attacked Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, on Twitter: “The last thing we need in Alabama and the U.S. Senate is a Schumer/Pelosi puppet who is WEAK on Crime, WEAK on the Border, Bad for our Military and our great Vets, Bad for our 2nd Amendment, AND WANTS TO RAISES TAXES TO THE SKY. Jones would be a disaster!” On Dec. 4, Trump called Moore to bestow his endorsement, then tweeted, “Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama,” adding “No to Jones, a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!”

With Trump aboard, the RNC quickly followed suit and restored funding to Moore’s campaign — news that first appeared in Breitbart. “We stand with the president,” a senior RNC official told the website.

Attacking ‘Fake News’

The next evening, rain poured down on the barn at Oak Hollow Farm, in Fairhope, where Bannon and Moore were scheduled to headline a rally. Inside, amid all the Americana, homemade signs celebrated Breitbart News (“Who’s Your News Daddy/Breitbart #1/Not Fake”), with colorful pennants devoted to Bannon and Boyle. The Chestang Bluegrass Gospel band gave way to a series of conservative speakers, who lambasted the “fake news” media to rapturous applause.

Bannon, who has toured the country delivering populist stem-winders, painted Tuesday’s election as pivotal in the battle against McConnell and the Moore’s accusers. “Don’t let them take your voice away!” he told the crowd.

As Moore began speaking, Bannon ducked backstage to sit for an interview with OAN. Then he picked up a headset and joined a live broadcast of his SiriusXM talk-radio show, fighting to be heard above the noise of the crowd. Since the scandal broke, Moore had all but vanished from TV and radio, leaving others to defend him. But as soon as he stepped off the stage, he was ushered through a door and handed a headset, so he could join Bannon’s broadcast already in progress.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-10/world-s-largest-water-diversion-plan-won-t-slake-china-s-thirst

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ABC News suspends Brian Ross for 4 weeks over erroneous Flynn story

December 3, 2017

  @oliverdarcy

CNN
December 2, 2017: 9:32 PM ET

ABC News announced Saturday that it has suspended investigative reporter Brian Ross for four weeks without pay after Ross was forced to correct a bombshell on-air report about Michael Flynn.

“We deeply regret and apologize for the serious error we made yesterday. The reporting conveyed by Brian Ross during the special report had not been fully vetted through our editorial standards process,” ABC said in a statement. “As a result of our continued reporting over the next several hours ultimately we determined the information was wrong and we corrected the mistake on air and online.”

 Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, suit
ABC NEWS – 7/18/16 – Coverage of the 2016 Republican National Convention from the Convention Center in Cleveland, Ohio, which airs on all ABC News programs and platforms. (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images) BRIAN ROSS  (2016 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.)

“It is vital we get the story right and retain the trust we have built with our audience — these are our core principles,” the statement added. “We fell far short of that yesterday.”

Citing a single anonymous source, Ross told viewers during an ABC special report on Friday morning that Flynn was prepared to testify that Donald Trump, as a candidate for president, told him to contact Russians.

During Friday’s edition of “World News Tonight,” Ross walked back his report, telling viewers that the source who had provided the initial information for his story later told him that it was as president-elect, not as a candidate, that Trump asked Flynn to contact Russians.

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn arrives at federal court in Washington, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017.

Susan Walsh | AP
Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn arrives at federal court in Washington, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017.

An ABC News tweet about the report was retweeted about 25,000 times before being deleted.

Ross’ incorrect report prompted a dramatic reaction in the financial markets, and the Dow fell more than 350 points. Stocks largely recovered later in the day.

CNN had initially reached out to ABC News early Friday afternoon to ask why Ross’ initial reporting was not included in the network’s online story about Flynn pleading guilty for lying to the FBI. Hours later, a spokesperson told CNN a correction was forthcoming.

But ABC News initially attempted to downplay the mistake, referring to its correction as a “clarification” on “World News Tonight” and then online. After a barrage of criticism, the network changed the language online from “clarification” to “correction.”

Saturday evening’s statement further ramped up the language; the network now calls it a “serious error.”

Ross commented later Saturday night. “My job is to hold people accountable and that’s why I agree with being held accountable myself,” he tweeted.

My job is to hold people accountable and that’s why I agree with being held accountable myself.

Shortly after that, President Trump weighed in, tweeting his “congratulations” to ABC News for suspending Ross.

Multiple ABC News employees, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t publicly authorized to discuss the matter, told CNNMoney on Saturday there was internal embarrassment over the blunder.

“It’s a major embarrassment,” one ABC News employee said.

“It makes me cringe,” echoed another. “This is not what any networks needs when people are so quick to say ‘fake news’ to you. It makes me sick to my stomach.”

This is not the first high-profile mistake by Ross. In a 2012 piece for which he apologized, he suggested that the Aurora shooter may have had a connection to the Tea Party.

http://money.cnn.com/2017/12/02/media/abc-news-brian-ross/index.html

Wall Street Journal Editorial: Mr. Trump Trolls Mrs. May

December 1, 2017

The President spreads fake news and damages an important ally.

President Donald Trump in Washington. Nov. 30.
President Donald Trump in Washington. Nov. 30. PHOTO: NICHOLAS KAMM/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

For all of President Trump’s tweeted thunderings about “fake news,” one could be forgiven for thinking that he enjoys spreading it himself. What other explanation can there be for Mr. Trump’s impulse to retweet three half-baked videos from the website of the U.K. fringe group Britain First?

When this sort of tweeting bubbles out of the fever swamps, hardly anyone notices anymore. Or they pass it off as an emission from Vladimir Putin’s low-rent Russian propaganda shop. But when it flows from the cellphone of the U.S. President, everyone takes note. Which is why what happened in the wake of President Trump’s videos wasn’t the least bit fake, but was instead a pretty significant crisis between the U.S. and its primary ally.

The office of British Prime Minister Theresa May called it “wrong” of Mr. Trump to elevate Britain First. As is now well established, any such critical remark triggers the third-grade playground gene in Mr. Trump, who tweeted to Prime Minister May—after a botched tweet to a woman with the same name— “don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!”

The U.S. is not doing just fine. Last month Uzbek terrorist Sayfullo Saipov drove a truck down a sidewalk of New York City, murdering eight people. The U.K. has experienced similar terrorist incidents, notably the same tactic of driving a truck on London Bridge in June to kill eight people.

The British government regards Britain First’s inflammatory video posts as part of the problem, and given the obvious seriousness of the threat and manifest difficulty containing it, we’d say they were within their rights to tell the U.S. President to butt out. His tweeted videos contributed zero to deterring the next attacks.

As to the group Mr. Trump elevated to worldwide visibility this week, while it exists as an internet magnet for the like-minded, its party leader ran for London mayor in 2016 and got 1.2% of the vote, just ahead of the Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol candidate.

Mr. Trump’s Brietbart base may revel in these Twitter dust-ups, which by now exist as indecipherable background noise to this Presidency. This one, though, could do damage to American interests that extend beyond Mr. Trump’s personality.

The baseline is that the U.K. is the indispensable ally to the U.S. in the political and economic affairs of the world, and why it’s called “the special relationship.” Right now, Prime Minister May’s leadership is on thin ice, as she struggles to negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union, which Mr. Trump supported. President Trump’s twittered mockery of Mrs. May undercuts her standing at a time when her successor, should she fail, could be far-left Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is no friend of the U.S.

A crucial element of Mrs. May’s post-Brexit strategy is the creation of a bilateral free-trade agreement with the U.S., which Mr. Trump predicted would be “very big and exciting.” Without that deal, any Brexit strategy has little chance of succeeding.

At the moment, there are widespread calls in Britain to disinvite Mr. Trump from a planned state visit, with Prime Minister May saying, “We have yet to set a date.” Should it happen, there will be massive street demonstrations in London against a visiting American President—not least because of his tweets.

Mr. Trump’s battle with the press over “fake news” is driven by his justifiable belief that he isn’t getting sufficient credit for his achievements, such as his tax bill. But he can’t on one day demand straight coverage of his Presidency, and on another day promote his own favorite fake news like Britain First. We’d advise Mr. Trump to rein himself in for the sake of his own Presidency, but by now we know that’s hopeless.

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/mr-trump-trolls-mrs-may-1512087871

Appeared in the December 1, 2017, print edition.

Social media being used to ruin democracies including Philippines

November 29, 2017
 
Social media are increasingly being used to prop up repressive regimes and undermine democracies worldwide, according to a digital diplomacy expert. File

MANILA, Philippines — There is an increasing worldwide pattern of social media use to aid repressive regimes and undermine democracy, a digital diplomacy expert said Wednesday.

Damien Spry, a digital diplomacy researcher and consultant based in Hong Kong, said things had greatly changed since the “bliss” spawned by the Arab Spring which made people see YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as vehicles that could strengthen civil society and the public sphere.

“Maybe they weren’t wrong then, but things are different now. Social media has achieved pariah status. Like Saturn, the internet revolution is devouring its children,” Spry wrote in a commentary on the Interpreter, an online publication of the Lowy Institute which is an independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Sydney, Australia.

Spry said that Freedom House’s latest Freedom on the Net report detailed declines in internet freedom for the past seven years.

Other reports have also catalogued the breadth, variety and impact of social media manipulation in different countries including the Philippines through the use of paid and unpaid online agents and automated accounts (bots) that would post, share, like, quote and re-post content to influence politics.

In its 2017 Freedom on the Net report, Freedom House discussed how an army of social media commentators were paid to manipulate the information landscape in the Philippines to support President Rodrigo Duterte.

Freedom House said that there was an increase in reports of commentators being paid to manipulate social media information from June 2016 to May 2017.

“News reports citing individuals involved said the commenters, which they characterized as part of a ‘keyboard army,’ could earn at least P500 ($10) a day operating fake social media accounts supporting President Rodrigo Duterte or attacking his detractors,” Freedom House said.

The report also noted that overall internet freedom in the country slightly worsened during the covered period.

There were also technical attacks targeting media groups such as the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines from June last year to May, according to Freedom House.

One of the bases of the Freedom House Report was an Oxford University study which found that the Duterte campaign spent around P10 million to hire trolls who would spread propaganda material online.

The study said that Duterte’s team of 400 to 500 cyber troops posted nationalistic and pro-government comments and harassed online dissenters.

According to Spry, these are just some of the main tactics used in manipulating information found on the internet.

He said that manipulators would feign grassroots support (astroturfing), smear opponents and disrupt online campaigns through distractions.

“The use of bots greatly amplifies impact: one human user can direct hundreds of bots to automatically generate thousands of posts and comments,” he wrote.

READ: Palace disowns deleted PCOO video promoting martial law

The large amount of content and interactions, Spry said, would push it to the top of the pile and would make it more likely to appear on social media feeds of others.

A common tactic in countering an anti-government hashtag campaign is by promoting alternative hashtags or by posting nonsense using the critical hashtag, he noted.

Spry said that some of the countries affected by this were Sudan through its “Cyber Jihadists,” the Philippines with its “keyboard army,” Turkey through its 6,000 trolls and Mexico with its 75,000 automated accounts known as ‘Peñabots.’

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Russia could target any foreign media under new law

November 14, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Russia Today has registered as a “foreign agent” in the US

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia would be able to list any foreign media outlet as a “foreign agent” under new measures expected to be approved Wednesday, a lawmaker said, as Moscow responds to US pressure on the Kremlin-backed RT channel.

The move comes as Washington fights what it calls a barrage of “fake news” from Russian media and online outlets aimed at interfering in US domestic politics.

Parliament is set to approve a set of amendments to an existing media bill Wednesday, meaning they could go into force as early as next week, deputy speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament Pyotr Tolstoy told Rossiya 24 channel.

“(The law) gives the relevant government institution the opportunity to classify media outlets that receive money from abroad as foreign agents,” he said, when asked which outlets are likely to be put on the list first.

Most likely the list will be maintained by the ministry of justice, which already keeps a similar database of non-governmental organisations which have been designated as “foreign agents”.

The bill is a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s move to register T&R Productions LLC, a corporation which operates US studios of state channel RT, as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Asked to clarify exactly who could be listed as a “foreign agent” in Russia, Tolstoy said “these are media outlets that receive money from foreign governments regardless of their ownership structure”.

TASS news agency however published details of more sweeping amendments, according to which the measures could apply to any media outlets receiving money “from international and foreign organisations, foreign citizens.”

Tolstoy said outlets that are put on the list will be subject to similar treatment as “foreign agent” NGOs under the law that was adopted in 2012.

Such media will “have to file the relevant reports and most likely mark its product,” he said.

The law applying to NGOs forced many organisations to close.

Others have complained that government institutions refuse to work with them following the acquisition of the “foreign agent” label, which in Russia is akin to being branded a spy.

Related:

Use of ‘keyboard armies’ to manipulate media has gone global, report says

November 14, 2017

AFP

© Freedom House | Online manipulation and disinformation tactics affected elections in at least 18 countries this year, including the US, according to the 2017 Freedom on the Net report.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-11-14

More governments are following the lead of Russia and China by manipulating social media and suppressing dissent online in a grave threat to democracy, a human rights watchdog said Tuesday.

A study of internet freedom in 65 countries found 30 governments are deploying some form of manipulation to distort online information, up from 23 the previous year.

These efforts included paid commentators, trolls, “bots” — the name given to automated accounts — false news sites and propaganda outlets, according to the 2017 “Freedom on the Net” report by human rights group Freedom House.

The report said online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries over the past year, including the United States.

“The use of paid commentators and political bots to spread government propaganda was pioneered by China and Russia but has now gone global,” said Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.

“The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating.”

Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net project, explained such manipulation is often hard to detect, and “more difficult to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking.”

The organization said 2017 marked a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, as a result of these and other efforts to filter and censor information online.

China is worst, again

Freedom House said China was the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom for a third straight year, due to stepped-up online censorship, a new law cracking down on anonymity online and the imprisonment of dissidents using the web.

Other countries also increased their efforts to censor and manipulate information, the report said.

This included a “keyboard army” of people employed and paid $10 a day by the Philippine government to amplify the impression of widespread support of a brutal drugs crackdown, and Turkey’s use of an estimated 6,000 people to counter government opponents on social media.

Meanwhile, as Russia sought to spread disinformation to influence elections in the US and Europe, the Kremlin also tightened its internal controls, the report said.

Bloggers who attract more than 3,000 daily visitors must register their personal details with the Russian government and abide by the law regulating mass media — while search engines and news aggregators are banned from including stories from unregistered outlets.

The study also found governments in at least 14 countries restricted internet freedom in a bid to address content manipulation. In one such example, Ukraine blocked Russia-based services, including the country’s most widely used social network and search engine, in an effort to crack down on pro-Russian propaganda.

“When trying to combat online manipulation from abroad, it is important for countries not to overreach,” Kelly said.

“The solution to manipulation and disinformation lies not in censoring websites but in teaching citizens how to detect fake news and commentary. Democracies should ensure that the source of political advertising online is at least as transparent online as it is offline.”

Freedom House expressed concern over growing restrictions on VPNs — virtual private networks which allow circumvention of censors — which are now in place in 14 countries.

It said internet freedom also took a hit in United States over the past year.

“While the online environment in the United States remained vibrant and diverse, the prevalence of disinformation and hyperpartisan content had a significant impact,” the report said.

“Journalists who challenge Donald Trump‘s positions have faced egregious online harassment.”

Facebook Has “Weaponized” the First Amendment, Allowed Nazi-Like Propaganda

November 13, 2017
BY JTA
 NOVEMBER 13, 2017 10:54

 

He added that the company had “weaponized” the First Amendment to “essentially absolve themselves of responsibility.”

Early Facebook investor compares site’s techniques to Nazi propaganda

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen on stage during a town hall at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California September 27, 2015.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

An early Facebook investor likened the social media site’s practices to Nazi propaganda.

Roger McNamee made the comparison Friday in an interview with the London-based Telegraph. He said Facebook has borrowed methods from Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.

“In order to maintain your attention, they have taken all the techniques of Edward Bernays and Joseph Goebbels,” said Roger McNamee, also referring to an Austrian-American public relations pioneer known for marketing cigarettes to women. “And all of the other people from the world of persuasion, and all the big ad agencies, and they’ve mapped it onto an all-day product with highly personalized information in order to addict you. We are all to one degree or another addicted.”

McNamee, who made a fortune as an early investor in the internet giant, said Facebook was creating a culture of “fear and anger” and was “lowering civil discourse.” He added that the company had “weaponized” the First Amendment to “essentially absolve themselves of responsibility.”

Two former Facebook employees recently apologized separately for helping to invent the “Like” feature, which they said gave rise to an “attention economy” that is hurting humanity.

“It is very common for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended, negative consequences,” Rosenstein told the Guardian.

Facebook has come under fire for facilitating the spread of fake news reports, which some people believe swayed the 2016 US presidential election. Representatives of Facebook, Google and Twitter were grilled under oath last month by members of Congress over the use of their platforms for this purpose by Russian agents.

In September, news reports revealed that the three internet giants allowed the sale of ads tied to antisemitic and otherwise bigoted keywords, like “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” and “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’” In both cases, all three companies apologized and said safeguards were being developed to fix the problem.

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See also:
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Facebook ‘uses techniques of Edward Bernays and Joseph Goebbels’, former investor says 
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Cairo summons European envoys for criticizing arrest of rights lawyer — Torture, forced disappearances are an internal matter

November 6, 2017

In this Feb. 12, 2016 file photo, the family of Giulio Regeni follows his coffin during the funeral service in Fiumicello, Northern Italy. (AP)

CAIROI: Egypt summoned Sunday the ambassadors of Germany, Italy and The Netherlands after they criticized the arrest of an Egyptian human rights lawyer opposed to enforced disappearances, the Foreign Ministry said.

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Authorities arrested in September Ibrahim Metwally, who is linked to the case involving murdered Italian student Giulio Regeni, as he was about to fly to Geneva for a conference on enforced disappearances.
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The lawyer, who has founded the Association for the Families of the Disappeared, was detained at Cairo airport.
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On Friday, the embassies of Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, the UK and Italy issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply concerned” over Metwally’s “ongoing detention.”
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“We are concerned at the detention conditions that Ibrahim Metwally… is reportedly enduring, and continue to call for transparency on prison conditions in Egypt,” said the statement.
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“We call on the Egyptian authorities to ensure the freedom of civil society and the protection from torture that are enshrined in the Egyptian Constitution,” it added.
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The Foreign Ministry said the summons was aimed at expressing “Egypt’s strong dissatisfaction with the statement’s blatant and unacceptable interference in its internal affairs.”
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At the time of Metwally’s arrest, prosecution officials had said Metwally was detained on suspicion of “dealing with foreign parties” and “spreading false news.”
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He was also accused of having set up an “illegal” group.
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The ministry also denied that “torture” was underway in Egyptian prisons.
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Metwally had been in touch with the legal defense team of Regeni’s family.
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Regeni, a Ph.D student, went missing in Cairo on Jan. 25, 2015. Egypt has faced accusations that one of its security services murdered the student who was researching trade unions — a sensitive topic in the country — but Cairo denied any such involvement.

Former Twitter Employee Says Fake Russian Accounts Were Not Taken Seriously — “More concerned with growth numbers than fake and compromised accounts”

November 3, 2017

In 2015, a manager discovered a trove of accounts with Russian and Ukrainian IP addresses

By Selina Wang
Bloomberg

In early 2015, a Twitter employee discovered a vast amount of Twitter accounts with IP addresses in Russia and Ukraine.  The worker, Leslie Miley, said most of them were inactive or fake but were not deleted at the time. Miley, who was the company’s engineering manager of product safety and security at the time, said efforts to root out spam and manipulation on the platform were slowed down by the company’s growth team, which focused on increasing users and revenue.

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“Anything we would do that would slow down signups, delete accounts, or remove accounts had to go through the growth team,” Miley said. “They were more concerned with growth numbers than fake and compromised accounts.”

Leslie Miley
Photographer: Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Congress grilled social media companies this week about Russian interference on their platforms in the 2016 U.S. elections. Lawmakers scolded them for how long it took to recognize the seriousness of the manipulation. Twitter has revealed that more than 36,000 Russian-linked accounts generated about 1.4 million automated, election-related Tweets. It identified almost 3,000 accounts associated with the Russian pro-Kremlin Internet Research Agency, more than 10 times the number it had disclosed a few months before. But few people believe this is a definitive tally.

Throughout Twitter’s history, security took a backseat to free speech and growth, according to ten former employees who asked not to be identified. In the early days of Twitter, which was founded in 2006, a small handful of workers manually handled requests from users to take down abusive or spam content, according to former staff. Though the number of teams and people dedicated to security dramatically increased over the years, engineering resources remained scarce.

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Twitter has rotated through more than half a dozen product chiefs in the past several years, making it difficult for the company to set a consistent strategy around user security and safety policies, they said. For many years, dealing with activity from trolls, fakers and abusers was a game of whack-a-mole — not a problem to try to prevent. Twitter declined to make simple changes that would’ve mitigated the problem — like requiring a phone number to make an account or labeling bot accounts with a digital marker, according to some of the employees. Those efforts to prevent manipulation often came up against the growth team, whose chief concern was growing the monthly active users, the most important metric for Wall Street’s valuation of Twitter. This, said Miley and other former employees, set the stage for potential interference by more malicious actors.

“For many years, Twitter has fought a high volume of spam and spam accounts originating from Russia and Ukraine. The numbers of suspensions and other enforcement actions on such accounts number in the millions per week,” a Twitter spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. Bloomberg LP is developing a global breaking news network for the Twitter service.

More recently, Twitter has doubled down on security. In its testimony, the company’s general counsel said that it was dedicating all its engineering, product and design teams to rooting out Russian manipulation on its platform. It also said it’s improved algorithms to actively block suspicious logins and spam accounts. Yet experts are less than impressed.  When Congress asked Clint Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Institute to grade how the tech companies are responding to malicious actors on its platform, he said: “All have improved in recent years. Facebook is the best based on my experience. Google is not far behind. Twitter would be last and always resists.”

Miley joined Twitter in 2013. He started the product safety and security team in 2014. In 2015 he became a manager on the accounts team where he was responsible for the infrastructure that handled user log-ins.

Miley was dismissed during a round of job cuts at the end of 2015. But as the only African-American engineer in a leadership position at Twitter, he said he had already told the company he planned to leave because of his frustrations with management and the company’s lack of diversity. He also said he declined the severance package so he could speak about his experiences at the company. Miley recently left Slack as the head of engineering to work with Venture for America, a non-profit that encourages entrepreneurship. Before Miley left Twitter, he became increasingly concerned about the proliferation of malicious accounts on the platform.

In 2015, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley approached Twitter, asking for help, Miley said. They had found that Twitter had a significant amount of fake accounts, but wanted more data to further their research. Three employees on the product safety and security team, including Miley, met with them. They declined to give the academics data, but the meeting made them curious.

Afterward, the employees ran an analysis on Twitter’s accounts. Miley said he was stunned to find that a significant percentage of the total accounts created on Twitter had Russian and Ukrainian IP addresses. According to Miley’s recollections, he brought the information to his manager, who told him to take the issue to the growth team. Miley said that he doesn’t have records of the tallies.

“When I brought the information to my boss, the response was ‘stay in your lane. That’s not your role’,” Miley said.

Miley said he advised the growth team to delete most of the accounts they had surfaced from Russia and Ukraine, since the analysis suggested that most were inactive or fake. The growth team didn’t take any action on the Russian and Ukrainian accounts after he presented the data to them, according to Miley.

Many pro-Trump bots that were active during the 2016 U.S. elections were long-dormant accounts, according to researchers. These profiles give the illusion that they’re legitimate, and not created for the sole purpose of spreading propaganda during a campaign, according to Samuel Woolley, research director of the Digital Intelligence Lab at Institute for the Future, a non-profit research organization.

During Twitter’s testimony this week, multiple congressmen pressed the company about the percentage of fake or spam accounts. Twitter says it’s less than 5 percent, while outside research has found the number to be closer to 15 percent.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-03/former-twitter-employee-says-fake-russian-accounts-were-not-taken-seriously

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What Team Obama didn’t want you to know about the al Qaeda-Iran alliance

November 3, 2017

The New York Post
Editorial Board

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CIA Director Mike Pompeo has just released hundreds of thousands of documents, long withheld by the Obama administration, that were seized in the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

There are no surprise revelations — but they more fully document the years-long extensive cooperation between al Qaeda and Iran that was still ongoing when bin Laden met his end.

And that raises even more disturbing questions about the nuclear deal Team Obama cut — and the real reason these documents weren’t disclosed until now.

Particularly a 19-page assessment by a senior jihadist of the Qaeda-Tehran ties: how Iran supplied “everything [we] needed,” including “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon,” as well safe haven for other jihadis.

Yes, there were occasional conflicts and jealousies — but not enough to sever the relationship, which bin Laden himself described as post-2001 al Qaeda’s “main artery for funds, personnel and communication.”

The Obama White House had this information for nearly five years before negotiating the nuclear deal — talks in which it refused to address Iran’s continuing sponsorship of terror even as it agreed to provide it with more than $100 billion in sanctions relief and hostage ransom payments.

Secretary of State John Kerry himself admitted that much of the money would go to supporting terrorist groups.

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And that includes al Qaeda — which, the documents show, was very much under bin Laden’s control until the moment a Navy SEAL team took him out.

To ensure passage of the nuke deal, did Obama and his CIA directors withhold anything that could undercut their claims about encouraging Iranian “moderates”?

It sure looks that way.

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