Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

Trump may be digging himself into a ‘shithole’ — Self-inflicted wounds not helping

January 14, 2018

By Michael Goodwin

New York Post

 AP Photo

As President Trump nears his  first anniversary in office, he  faces an unforgiving political  landscape. Every word he says and every action he takes will either help him keep a Republican Congress or hand control to Democrats.

And if Dems get the gavel, impeachment could be the result.

This is the binary world Trump inhabits, and seen through that lens, the uproar over the president’s disparaging remarks about Haiti and other poor countries helps Dems in their goal of hobbling if not ending his presidency.

Despite his denial that he used the words “shithole countries,” most of the media instantly branded him a racist. After a few days of saturation coverage, polls will show a disapproving public and the ritual beatdown will be complete.

Then we’ll be on to the next ­crisis because this is life with Trump in the White House. He and we are always on the razor’s edge because that’s who he is.

That’s been the pattern for a year, and the president has managed to keep his head above water. But past performance is not a guarantee of future results — ­especially in an election year when passions against him are already overheating.

Consider that a potty-mouth president is hardly a new phenomenon. John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon said far worse things, not to mention the words Bill Clinton must have used during his Oval Office trysts. But Trump is in a unique position.

Not because of what he says or does, but because of the reaction to it. With over half the country needing no more reason than his election to demand his removal, and with many Democrats promising impeachment if they gain power, every mistake is potentially fatal.

Each one gives the anti-Trump media license to go from zero to DEFCON 1, signifying an extreme national emergency.

Yet while a biased media hyperventilating is no virtue, Trump’s great flaw is that he keeps giving them ammunition. One minute he’s riding high, the next he’s running for his life.

The “shitthole” storm is a perfect case in point.

Still basking in the afterglow of getting tax reform passed, Trump confidently convened a bipartisan group of congressional members for a televised meeting Wednesday on the “Dreamers” and related ­immigration issues.

The president presided in such CEO fashion that even CNN — yes, CNN — declared the meeting remarkable and Trump’s leadership commendable.

The next day, the president boasted about the compliments — and then acted as if he were ­beloved from sea to shining sea. At a follow-up meeting, he unleashed the furies with his derogatory ­remarks.

Did he forget that Democrats are out for his blood? Didn’t he learn anything from the torrent of White House leaks that bedeviled his early months?

For my money, “shithole countries” is not by itself a racist remark. It’s certainly crude and shouldn’t be said by a president, but those countries are a total mess. Central America is the murder capital of the world, and Haitians have been fleeing their country for years because they’ve given up hope it can be fixed.

And the context matters: Trump and Congress were bargaining over the fact that Haitians, El Salvadorans and people from African countries who were admitted years, and in some cases decades ago, after emergencies were allowed to stay indefinitely.

You don’t have to be a racist to conclude that isn’t sound immigration policy, and that America should pick the immigrants who can contribute to its prosperity and security. Indeed, there is a growing bipartisan consensus on that point, which is why chain ­migration and the visa lottery were on the table.

That was then. Now Trump has made it more difficult, and maybe impossible, to move the needle in that direction. Getting funding for the wall will be doubly difficult.

Even a “Dreamers” deal may be a bridge too far, with the open-borders movement gleefully using the uproar to demand even more “love” than the president was prepared to offer. That will force moderate Dems to play hardball and Republicans will fold, as is their wont when Trump embarrasses them.+

This, then, is shaping up as ­another moment where style beats substance, and identity politics ­determines policy.

As I have said, Trump has an impressive list of achievements, and his presidency marks an important course correction for America. The expanding economy, as reflected in job and wage growth and stock-market exuberance, remains Exhibit A on his promises-kept list.

But the job isn’t done. To have a successful presidency, Trump needs to finish what he started and that means keeping a Republican Congress for four years. For that to happen, he must start behaving as if his future depends on every word he says every day.

Because it does.

And if he needs to blow off steam without blowing the lid off his presidency, he ought to remember the sage advice often attributed to President Harry ­Truman.

If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.

Deb leaves Them cold

The early days of Mayor de Blasio’s second term are shocking without being surprising. “Let them eat cake” would be an improvement over the crumbs of progressive symbolism he is feeding downtrodden New Yorkers.

With thousands of tenants suffering through the bitter cold without heat, the mayor showed no compassion or passion. Perhaps that’s because they were his tenants — people living in the city’s Housing Authority.

If only it were private landlords who had failed to provide basic services, de Blasio would have trotted out the usual tropes of greed and cruelty and brought the power of government down on their heads.

But when government is the problem, we get excuses followed by crickets.

That’s not to say the mayor was entirely missing in action during the icy weather. He filed a lawsuit against the five largest oil companies, aiming to make them responsible for damage to the city from climate change.

That won’t provide heat to shivering tenants or get the lead out of their apartments, but it does make the mayor look good to national progressives.

And really, isn’t that the whole point of his second term?

Long over ‘dues’

New York state workers could be in line for a huge tax cut, courtesy of the US Supreme Court.

A report from the Empire Center says that if SCOTUS overturns an Illinois law saying many public employees must pay union dues even if they don’t want to join a union, a similar law in New York could also crumble. In that case, government workers who opt out of dues could save more than $110 million.

Let it be so.

IRS waste is taxing

Your government at work.

The New York Times reported that the IRS paid private companies $20 million to collect $6.7 million from tax scofflaws.

The proposed solution from the agency is predictable: Give us more money.

“No” is the right response.


Facebook to prioritise friends over firms in news feed overhaul

January 13, 2018





Latest update : 2018-01-12

Facebook on Thursday announced a major update that will put friends and family above pages or celebrities in a user’s news feed — and likely result in people spending less time on the leading social network.

The change to the way Facebook ranks posts will put more weight on social interactions and relationships, according to News Feed product manager John Hegeman.

“This is a big change,” Hegeman told AFP.

“People will actually spend less time on Facebook, but we feel good about that because it will make the time they do spend more valuable, and be good for our business in the end.”

For example, a family video clip posted by a spouse will be deemed more worthy of attention than a snippet from a star or favorite restaurant.

“We think people interaction is more important than passively consuming content,” Hegeman said.

“This will be one of the more important updates that we have made.”

Facebook co-founder and chief Mark Zuckerberg has said that bringing people together and strengthening communities in the real world are priorities.

The news feed ranking update, which is set to roll out globally in the coming weeks, is expected to support that goal.

“As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media,” Zuckerberg said in a post at his Facebook page.

“And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

Google, Twitter and Facebook have come under fire for allowing the spread of bogus news — some of which was directed by Russia — ahead of the 2016 US election and in other countries.

Facebook has introduced a series of changes intended to address the problem.

“We are doing a ton of work to reduce the frequency of bad content on Facebook,” Hegeman said.

“This update is more about amplifying the things people value.”

He cited academic research indicating that interacting with loved ones is crucial to a person’s wellbeing, while reading news articles or watching shared videos may not be.

“There is really no silver bullet here to determine what is most meaningful, but we are trying to mine the signals to get the best representation that we can,” Hegeman said.

Known for setting annual personal goals ranging from killing his own food to learning Mandarin, Zuckerberg’s stated mission for this year is to ‘fix’ the social network, including by targeting abuse and hate, and making sure visiting Facebook is time well spent.

“I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions,” Zuckerberg said Thursday.


How Facebook and Google threaten public health – and democracy

Social Media Is Making Us Dumber. Here’s Exhibit A. (Tribal allegiances are replacing shared empirical understandings of the world.) — Facebook and Google threaten public health – and democracy

January 12, 2018


The New York Times
JAN. 11, 2018

Harvard University Professor Steven Pinker Credit Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg, via Getty Images

This week, a video surfaced of a Harvard professor, Steven Pinker, which appeared to show him lauding members of a racist movement. The clip, which was pulled from a November event at Harvard put on by Spiked magazine, showed Mr. Pinker referring to “the often highly literate, highly intelligent people who gravitate to the alt-right” and calling them “internet savvy” and “media savvy.”

The clip went viral. The right celebrated; the left fumed. The neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website ran an article headlined, in part, “Harvard Jew Professor Admits the Alt-Right Is Right About Everything.” A tweet of the video published by the self-described “Right-Wing Rabble-Rouser” Alex Witoslawski got hundreds of retweets, including one from the white-nationalist leader Richard Spencer.

“Steven Pinker has long been a darling of the white supremacist ‘alt-right,’” noted the lefty journalist Ben Norton. “And he returns the favor.” Others reacted to the rumor with simple exasperation: “Christ on a crutch,” said the liberal commentator and biologist PZ Myers, who also wrote a blog post denouncing Mr. Pinker for this supposed alliance.

The idea that Mr. Pinker, a liberal, Jewish psychology professor, is a fan of a racist, anti-Semitic online movement is absurd on its face, so it might be tempting to roll your eyes and dismiss this blowup as just another instance of social media doing what it does best: generating outrage.

But it’s actually a worthwhile episode to unpack, because it highlights a disturbing, worsening tendency in social media in which tribal allegiances are replacing shared empirical understandings of the world. Or maybe “subtribal” is the more precise, fitting term to use here. It’s one thing to say that left and right disagree on simple facts about the world — this sort of informational Balkanization has been going on for a while and long predates Twitter. What social media is doing is slicing the salami thinner and thinner, as it were, making it harder even for people who are otherwise in general ideological agreement to agree on basic facts about news events.

That’s because the pernicious social dynamics of these online spaces hammer home the idea that anyone who disagrees with you on any controversial subject, even a little bit, is incorrigibly dumb or evil or suspect. On a wide and expanding range of issues, there’s no such thing as good-faith disagreement.

The online anger aimed at Mr. Pinker provides a perfect case study.

The clip was deeply misleading. If you watch the whole eight-minute video from which it was culled, it’s clear that Mr. Pinker’s entire point is that the alt-right’s beliefs are false and illogical — but that the left needs to do a better job fighting against them.

The clip begins with Mr. Pinker saying he agrees with the other panelists (two journalists and a lawyer) that “political correctness has done an enormous amount of harm in the sliver of the population that might be — I wouldn’t want to say ‘persuadable,’ but certainly whose affiliation might be up for grabs.” This problem presents itself when it comes to “the often highly literate, highly intelligent people who gravitate to the alt-right: internet savvy, media savvy, who often are radicalized in that way, who ‘swallow the red pill,’ as the saying goes, the allusion from ‘The Matrix.’”

Mr. Pinker goes on to argue that when members of this group encounter, for the first time, ideas that he believes to be frowned upon or suppressed in liberal circles — that most suicide bombers are Muslim or that members of different racial groups commit crimes at different rates — they are “immediately infected with both the feeling of outrage that these truths are unsayable” and are provided with “no defense against taking them to what we might consider to be rather repellent conclusions.”

That’s unfortunate, Mr. Pinker argues, because while someone might use these facts to support bigoted views, that needn’t be the case, because “for each one of these facts, there are very powerful counterarguments for why they don’t license racism and sexism and anarcho-capitalism and so on.”

He then goes on to carefully explain those counterarguments: For example, while at the moment it’s true that, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the homicide rate is higher for blacks than for whites, that doesn’t really tell us anything about a group of people since at different times in history, different groups have had elevated crime rates — at one point Irish-Americans did. By that same token, he says, “the majority of domestic terrorism is committed by right-wing extremist groups,” not Muslims.

It would be impossible for a reasonable person to watch the eight-minute video and come away thinking Mr. Pinker’s point is to praise the alt-right rather than to make a psychological argument about political correctness, alt-right recruitment and how to better fight that movement’s bigoted ideas

Now, maybe you disagree with certain parts of this argument — I do, in that I think Mr. Pinker overstates the intensity of campus political correctness — but it’s hard to have that debate in the first place when such a wildly skewed version of Mr. Pinker’s point is spreading like wildfire on the internet.

Steven Pinker will be O.K. A fleeting Twitter blowup isn’t going to bruise his long and successful career as a public intellectual. But this is happening more and more — and in many cases to people who don’t have the standing and reputation he does.

It’s getting harder and harder to talk about anything controversial online without every single utterance of an opinion immediately being caricatured by opportunistic outrage-mongers, at which point everyone, afraid to be caught exposed in the skirmish that’s about to break out, rushes for the safety of their ideological battlements, where they can safely scream out their righteousness in unison. In this case: “Steven Pinker said the alt-right is good! But the alt-right is bad! We must defend this principle!”

This is making us dumber.

Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) is a contributing writer for New York magazine and is working on a book about why social-science ideas go viral.


How Facebook and Google threaten public health – and democracy

Iranians Turn to Tech Tools to Evade Internet Censors — Iran’s new offensive against social media is showing signs of backfiring

January 9, 2018

A crackdown aimed at helping stamp out protests could weaken Tehran’s control of information online

People protested in Tehran on Dec. 30.Photo: Reuters


Iran’s new offensive against social media is showing signs of backfiring.

Authorities in Tehran have ratcheted up their policing of the internet in the past week and a half, part of an attempt to stamp out the most far-reaching protests in Iran since 2009.

But the crackdown is driving millions of Iranians to tech tools that can help them evade censors, according to activists and developers of the tools. Some of the tools were attracting three or four times more unique users a day than they were before the internet crackdown, potentially weakening government efforts to control access to information online.

Here’s what could be next for Iran and what the unrest means for more than 80 million Iranians. Video: Karan Deep Singh / Photo: Getty Images

“By the time they wake up, the government will have lost control of the internet,” said Mehdi Yahyanejad, executive director of NetFreedom Pioneers, a California-based technology nonprofit that largely focuses on Iran and develops educational and freedom of information tools.

An official at Iran’s United Nations mission didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In recent days, Iran has said it has contained days of public demonstrations against the regime. Protesters used social media to spread the word about, or bear witness to, the protests, as people did during the Green Movement in 2009.

Iran blocked major social-media sites, such as Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc., in 2009.

This time around, encrypted social-media app Telegram, which is widely used in Iran, became one of the key communication tools among protesters. Iranians have used Telegram to share information about demonstrations and videos of gatherings.

Iran moved to block Telegram in late December. In response, Iranians are flocking to a number of popular so-called circumvention tools. Downloads of such tools surged after the government move, according to data gathered by ASL19, a Toronto-based research and tech lab that helps people in Iran access information.

“When Telegram got blocked, we got a big push,” said Michael Hull, co-founder of Psiphon Inc., a Toronto-based firm that makes one such app. Psiphon said the number of unique users a day in Iran jumped from about 3 million to more than 10 million on Jan. 1 and 2, amid the protests, and remains around 8 million.

“When governments do this stuff, they are our best marketing tool,” he said.

The Psiphon app works in part by redirecting and camouflaging user traffic through cloud-service providers.

Adam Fisk, founder of Lantern, another popular app that had been primarily used in China, announced last week that it would remove all data caps for users in Iran—allowing them to browse banned sites and use banned services without limits. Its global number of mobile users grew fourfold after Telegram was blocked, with almost all the growth from Iran, said Mr. Fisk, whose firm, Brave New Software Project Inc., is based in Los Angeles.

Circumvention tools—some of which have received funding from U.S. government programs dating back as far as the early 2000s—have been increasing in sophistication in recent years. That has set up an arms race with authorities amid government crackdowns by countries including China and Turkey.

Governments are usually reluctant to shut off all domestic access to the internet, but authorities can order internet-service providers to cut off domestic access to some services. They can block or limit access to specific addresses or slow download speeds to impractical rates—essentially making the internet impossible to use.

Circumvention tools use various methods to get around the blocking of specific services. One popular technique is to redirect users’ internet traffic bound for banned addresses via foreign cloud-service providers or content-delivery networks that are used to boost download speeds, making traffic harder to spot.

A regime could still block individual cloud-service providers, but that would end up blocking lots of other traffic from local businesses and residents.

Another technique is to encrypt and camouflage data—making a Telegram message look like an email, for example.

Problems with internet service can still crop up. One Twitter user posted on Dec. 31 that the internet had slowed and Psiphon for a short time was constantly getting disconnected. “My access to domestic websites, however, has not changed at all,” wrote the user, who said they were posting from Tehran.

Still, the new tools are giving users access to Telegram, activists say. And they can also expose users to other blocked apps and websites.

“People are using circumvention tools to access Telegram who might not normally use them,” said Collin Anderson, a Washington, D.C.-based researcher who studies internet infrastructure and human rights. “And that is giving them access to a much wider internet.”

—Asa Fitch contributed to this article.

Write to Sam Schechner at

Social media messaging battle rages during Protests in Iran

January 8, 2018

BBC News

An Iranian man shows his social media page which doesn't work, in a office, in Tehran, Iran, 2 January 2018An Iranian user tries and fails to access Telegram after the government blocked the messaging app. EPA

Iran has been rocked by a rare wave of protests over economic hardship and lack of civil liberties for the past week, but streets are not the only battleground between the Islamic Republic and its critics.

A cyber battle on several fronts is being fought between the two sides on social media platforms.

In 2009 – the last time Iran saw demonstrations of such scale – social media was dominated by pro-opposition users and reformists who used Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to share images of the Green Movement to the outside world.

Today, messaging apps are used by a significantly higher percentage of the population and the government is better prepared to confront its opponents on digital media.

Many senior hardline politicians and activists use a variety of platforms on a daily basis – despite some being officially blocked – and boast hundreds of thousands of followers sympathetic to their cause.

After the Stuxnet computer worm hit Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2010, the country invested heavily in cyber capabilities and set up a team of trained hackers known as the Iranian Cyber-Army.

Media captionIran protests: Why people have taken to the streets

In the absence of independent news outlets and state TV’s typically one-sided coverage, citizens took to social media to share photos and videos of the demonstrations with the aim of disseminating their message and inviting more local residents to join the crowds.

Telegram – which has an estimated 40 million users in Iran, equivalent to almost half the population – has been the platform of choice for the protestors.

In response, the officials “temporarily” blocked Telegram and Instagram. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been banned since 2009.

‘Nothing going on’

But proponents of the Islamic Republic did not leave the social media battleground to the critics this time.

One of the notable tactics used was the creation of dozens of Twitter bots whose job ranged from calling widely shared videos of rallies fake to discouraging potential protesters from joining rallies.

A social bot automatically generates content and followers, mostly to support a wider campaign.

Most of these accounts have unusual profile names and pictures, and were created during the protests.

The accounts have no more than a handful of followers, which happen to be similar bot accounts.

In a seemingly coordinated campaign, a group of bot accounts attempt to play down the scale of unrest and dissuade further protesters from joining ralliesImage copyrightTWITTER
Image captionIn a seemingly co-ordinated campaign, a group of bot accounts attempt to play down the scale of unrest and dissuade further protesters from joining rallies

“I just arrived here, there is nothing going on,” posted one account in response to a video about an alleged protest in Rasht, Gilan province.

“Why are you lying? No-one is here,” said another.

The exact same messages by the same accounts can be seen below many videos shared between 1 and 4 January.

While clearly co-ordinated, there is no evidence that these accounts were created by official authorities or security services.

Presentational grey line

Bot-spotting tips

The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL) offers social-media users tips for spotting a bot:

Frequency: Bots are prolific posters. The more frequently they post, the more caution should be shown. The DFRL classifies 72 posts a day as suspicious, and more than 144 per day as highly suspicious.

Anonymity: Bots often lack any personal information. The accounts often have generic profile pictures and political slogans as “bios”.

Amplification: A bot’s timeline will often consist of re-tweets and verbatim quotes, with few posts containing original wording.

Common content: Networks of bots can be identified if multiple profiles tweet the same content almost simultaneously.

The full list of tips on spotting bots can be found here.

Presentational grey lineImage copyright ALAMY

Hashtag wars

At the same time, hardline users began an initiative to enlarge and highlight the faces of protesters captured in videos and pictures, calling for the intelligence agencies to identify and arrest them. Tasnim news agency, affiliated to the powerful Revolutionary Guards, was among those joining the initiative on Twitter.

The protesters hit back immediately. They set up a Twitter account sharing the alleged names and details of security personnel confronting the demonstrators. In addition, they identified the accounts highlighting individual protesters and repeatedly reported them to Twitter.

The protests in Iran attracted an usually large number of tweets from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab worldImage copyrightTWITTER
Image captionThe protests in Iran attracted an usually large number of tweets from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world in favour of the demonstrators

The hashtag mostly associated with the recent events in Iran, #nationwide_protests, has been used more than 470,000 times so far.

But an analysis of the hashtag shows a large number of posts in favour of the demonstrations from Saudi Arabia.

Some supporters of the Islamic Republic and conservative agencies have been using their own hashtag, #nationwide_riots.

An analysis of the main hashtag of the protests shows a large number of tweets from Saudi ArabiaImage copyrightSPREDFAST
Image captionAn analysis of the main hashtag of the protests shows a large number of tweets originating from Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia

Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran are regional rivals and have been involved in proxy wars in the Middle East, notably in Syria and Yemen.

An Arabic hashtag, #happening_now_in_Iran, has been used more than 66,000 times since the first day of the protests.

By BBC UGC and Social News Team

Will Mark Zuckerberg Sacrifice Billions in Revenue to Save Facebook?

January 7, 2018

Facebook’s chief has signaled he will do what it takes to curb Facebook’s negative effects—but how far will he go?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with entrepreneurs and innovators at a round-table discussion in St. Louis on Nov. 9, 2017.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with entrepreneurs and innovators at a round-table discussion in St. Louis on Nov. 9, 2017. PHOTO: JEFF ROBERSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

When scientists started linking cigarettes to cancer, the tobacco industry silenced them—only acknowledging the extent of the truth decades later, under legal duress.

Imagine if, instead, they had given these researchers license to publish papers, or even taken the information to heart and crippled their own money-making machines for the good of their addicted users.

No one has accused Facebook FB 1.37% of causing cancer, but Mark Zuckerberg now stands at a similar crossroads.

In the face of pressure brought by a growing roster of Facebook Inc. investors and former executives, many of whom have publicly stated that Facebook is both psychologically addictive and harmful to democracy, the Facebook founder and chief executive has pledged to “fix” Facebook, by doing a number of things including “making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.”

Mr. Zuckerberg has also recently told investors he wants his company “to encourage meaningful social interactions,” adding that “time spent is not a goal by itself.”

Facebook researchers have acknowledged that while direct sharing between individuals and small groups on Facebook can have positive effects, merely scrolling through others’ updates makes people unhappy.
Facebook researchers have acknowledged that while direct sharing between individuals and small groups on Facebook can have positive effects, merely scrolling through others’ updates makes people unhappy. PHOTO:ISTOCK

So here’s the multibillion-dollar question: Is Mr. Zuckerberg willing to sacrifice revenue for the well-being of Facebook’s two billion-plus users?

Mr. Zuckerberg has already said the company will hire so many content moderators to deal with fake news and Russian interference that it will hurt profits, but whether he will go further and change the basic fabric of Facebook’s algorithms in the name of users’ mental health, he has yet to say.

Clearly, Facebook, a company Mr. Zuckerberg started when he was in college, has changed so much that even its creator is playing catch-up to the reality of its globe-spanning power.

In June he changed the company’s mission from “connecting” the world to bringing the world closer together. He said he used to think giving people a voice would make the world better on its own, “but our society is still divided. Now I believe we have a responsibility to do even more.”

In December, Facebook researchers surveyed the scientific literature and their own work and publicly acknowledged that while direct communication and sharing between individuals and small groups on Facebook can have positive effects, merely lurking and scrolling through others’ broadcasted status updates makes people unhappy.

In a survey conducted in early 2017, the Royal Society for Public Health asked 1,500 young people to evaluate the five biggest social networks, to measure whether they are good or bad for mental health. The results showed all but one service had a negative effect on mental health. Facebook, Twitter , Snapchat and the Facebook-owned Instagram all pushed survey participants to contrast their lives with others, a phenomenon known as social comparison. The exception was YouTube, in part because the dynamic is usually one-to-many communication, with person-to-person socializing happening in comments.

Researchers in a survey of young people early last year found four of the five biggest social networks—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat—prompted users to engage in social comparison, contrasting their own lives with others’. Shown, Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel, in Cannes, France, in June 2015.
Researchers in a survey of young people early last year found four of the five biggest social networks—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat—prompted users to engage in social comparison, contrasting their own lives with others’. Shown, Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel, in Cannes, France, in June 2015. PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS

Another study, conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University, also established that Facebook can cause people to feel their own lives don’t measure up to those of others. Interestingly, the effect is especially pronounced in young people, but diminishes with age: It was virtually nonexistent in those over age 30, says Ohad Barzilay, one of the researchers.

Social networks can also make us miserable by convincing us that whenever we’re away from our friends, we’re missing out on social bonding occurring among them, says Jacqueline Rifkin, a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University who collaborated on a study of the “fear of missing out,” or FOMO. The misery can kick in even if what we are experiencing—an awesome vacation, perhaps—is objectively better than what our friends are up to.

Ms. Rifkin’s work indicates that FOMO isn’t about envy but something far more primal: If our kith and kin are bonding without us, we may soon find ourselves left out of the tribe.

A screenshot of a vacation post on Instagram. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM

Studies suggest that how much you use social media is at least as significant as how you use it. This has of course been true of everything humans consume for all of history, so it’s hardly a surprise.

“Let’s pretend that one of the findings that comes out of this research is that the best thing for people would be to batch their Facebook use and only look at it once a week,” says Robert Kraut, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has studied online communities for more than 20 years and has collaborated with researchers at Facebook, publishing work derived from Facebook’s own data. “What would be the business consequence if the research came to that conclusion?”

We may soon find out. Facebook likely has the power to push us away from harmful ways of using the service—if it wants to. Facebook already uses some of the most sophisticated artificial intelligence known to humanity to stimulate us to “engage” with its product and advertisements. Facebook’s public statements indicate it thinks it can use those same tools to keep users from overindulging.

Facebook is already taking steps to reform parts of its service—primarily the News Feed, the beating heart of Facebook’s success since its introduction in 2006. As outlined in the recent blog post by the company’s chief researcher, those steps include things that Facebook itself believes will reduce engagement on the service, including hiding clickbait and fake news and promoting posts from friends.

Conveniently, Facebook is now pushing the aspects of its services that it and others argue are better for our mental health. As users continue to share less of their own lives on Facebook, the social network is pushing them to join and use its Groups function. The company is also showing more ads in its Messenger app, one of the places where the person-to-person communication it suddenly favors takes place.

Facebook is built on the idea of connecting the world, as its mission statement so boldly pronounces. The irony that Mr. Zuckerberg must confront is that the very means of that connection—what the company euphemistically calls engagement but which a growing chorus of experts say is more accurately described as addiction—appears to be detrimental to the humans whose thriving he seems earnestly to want to promote. Unlike CEOs who in the past were confronted with the harms of their products, Mr. Zuckerberg seems more ready to acknowledge them.

Facebook may well live up to Mr. Zuckerberg’s stated goals. Or, it could bow to economic logic: In first nine months of 2017 alone, the company’s “engaging” News Feed algorithm has helped drive revenue up 47%.

Write to Christopher Mims at

Trump calls talks between North and South Korea ‘a good thing’

January 4, 2018


WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Donald Trump said Thursday that high-level talks set for next week between North and South Korea are “a good thing,” while also seemingly taking credit for them.

“With all of the failed ‘experts’ weighing in, does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total ‘might’ against the North,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Fools, but talks are a good thing!”

Earlier this week, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, was much more reserved about the talks.

 Image may contain: 1 person
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in

“We won’t take any of the talks seriously if they don’t do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea,” she said Tuesday.

South Korea is preparing for proposed high-level talks with North Korea next week to discuss “matters of mutual interest,” including the North’s participation in next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

North Korea has rattled the international community in recent months with multiple missile launches and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test — purportedly of a hydrogen bomb.

It has shrugged off a raft of new sanctions and heightened rhetoric from Washington as it drives forward with its weapons program, which it says is meant to defend against US aggression.

But the new year has begun on a more positive note with the two Koreas on Wednesday restoring a cross-border hotline that had been shut down since 2016, after North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un offered to send a team to the  Winter Olympics hosted by the South in February.

The Olympic offer prompted Seoul to respond with proposing talks on Tuesday — the first since 2015.

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Protests in Iran fanned by exiled journalist, messaging app

December 31, 2017

The Telegram app closed a channel run by Roohallah Zam after Iranian authorities complained that it was inciting violence, just hours before the government shut down the app entirely on Sunday. (AP)
DUBAI: As protests over Iran’s faltering economy rapidly spread across the country, a channel on a mobile messaging app run by an exiled journalist helped fan the passions of some of those who took to the street.
The Telegram app closed a channel run by Roohallah Zam after Iranian authorities complained that it was inciting violence, just hours before the government shut down the app entirely on Sunday. Zam, who denies the allegations, meanwhile launched new channels to spread messages about upcoming protests and share videos from demonstrations.
What happens next could influence the future course of the largest protests Iran has seen since 2009.
It’s hard to overstate the power of Telegram in Iran. Of its 80 million people, an estimated 40 million use the free app created by Russian national Pavel Durov. Its clients share videos and photos, subscribing to groups where everyone from politicians to poets broadcast to fellow users.
While authorities ban social media websites like Facebook and Twitter and censor others, Telegram users can say nearly anything. In the last presidential election, the app played a big role in motivating turnout and spreading political screeds.
Telegram touts itself as being highly encrypted and allows users to set their messages to “self-destruct” after a certain period, making it a favorite among activists and others concerned about their privacy. That too has made it a worry of Iranian authorities.
Zam has used the app to share news and information published by his AmadNews website. Posts included times and locations for protests, as well as videos of demonstrators shouting inflammatory chants, including those targeting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.
Officials have meanwhile targeted Telegram in recent remarks, with prosecutors going as far as filing criminal charges against Durov.
On Saturday, Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Mohammed Javad Azari Jahromi wrote to Durov on Twitter, complaining AmadNews was “encouraging hateful conduct, use (of) Molotov cocktails, armed uprising and social unrest.”
Durov responded by saying Telegram suspended the account.
“A Telegram channel (Amadnews) started to instruct their subscribers to use Molotov cocktails against police and got suspended due to our ‘no calls for violence’ rule. Be careful — there are lines one shouldn’t cross.” Durov tweeted.
Zam, who has said he fled Iran after being falsely accused of working with foreign intelligence services, denied inciting violence on Telegram.
Telegram’s decision drew criticism from free Internet advocates and Iranians. Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who exposed US government surveillance programs in 2013, said Telegram should instead be working on how to make the service accessible after a potential government ban.
“Telegram will face increasing pressure over time to collaborate with the Iranian government’s demands for this or that,” Snowden wrote on Twitter.
He added: “You can’t keep an independent, destabilizing service from being blocked in authoritarian regimes, you can only delay it.”
Those words proved prophetic Sunday, as Durov himself wrote on Twitter that Iran blocked the app “for the majority of Iranians after our public refusal to shut down … peacefully protesting channels.” Iranian state television later quoted an anonymous official as saying the app would be temporarily limited as a safety measure.
It also marks a setback for Zam, the son of cleric Mohammad Ali Zam, who once served in a government policy position in the early 1980s. The cleric wrote a letter published by Iranian media in July in which he said he wouldn’t support his son over AmadNews’ reporting and messages on its Telegram channel.
“I found that you crossed the red line,” the cleric wrote, referring to comments the channel circulated about Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Our red line is the supreme leader, but you passed the red line.”
Zam did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday from The Associated Press, though he published a video late on Saturday on the channel being blocked.
“Unfortunately the Amadnews was blocked,” Zam said in a message to his followers. A new channel “will continue its work as hard as before and with the help of God, we will become millions again.”
At least 1.7 million people have viewed the first message on the new channel, according to Telegram. It called for protests on Sunday at sites across Iran before the government ordered the app shut down.

After Trump Hammers China for Oil Sales To North Korea — China Denies any Illicit Oil Products Selling — “Don’t believe those U.S. pictures…”

December 29, 2017


BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China on Friday denied reports it has been illicitly selling oil products to North Korea, after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was not happy that China had allowed oil to reach the isolated nation.

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Trump said on Twitter the previous day that China had been “caught” allowing oil into North Korea and that would prevent “a friendly solution” to the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program.

“I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war,” Trump said in a separate interview with The New York Times.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper this week quoted South Korean government sources as saying that U.S. spy satellites had detected Chinese ships transferring oil to North Korean vessels about 30 times since October.

U.S. officials have not confirmed details of this report.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters she had noted recent media reports including suggestions a Chinese vessel was suspected of transporting oil to a North Korean vessel on Oct. 19.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying

“The Chinese side has conducted immediate investigation. In reality, the ship in question has, since August, not docked at a Chinese port and there is no record of it entering or leaving a Chinese port,” Hua said.

She said she was not aware if the vessel had docked at the port in other countries but the relevant media reports “did not accord with facts”.

“China has always implemented U.N. Security Council resolutions pertaining to North Korea in their entirety and fulfils its international obligations. We never allow Chinese companies and citizens to violate the resolutions,” Hua said.

“If, through investigation, it’s confirmed there are violations of the U.N. Security Council resolutions, China will deal with them seriously in accordance with laws and regulations.”

In the New York Times interview, Trump explicitly tied his administration’s trade policy with China to its perceived cooperation in resolving the North Korea nuclear crisis.

“When I campaigned, I was very tough on China in terms of trade. They made — last year, we had a trade deficit with China of $350 billion, minimum. That doesn’t include the theft of intellectual property, O.K., which is another $300 billion,” Trump said, according to a transcript of the interview.

“If they’re helping me with North Korea, I can look at trade a little bit differently, at least for a period of time. And that’s what I’ve been doing. But when oil is going in, I‘m not happy about that.”

An official of the U.S. State Department said the U.S. government was aware of vessels engaged in such activity involving refined petroleum and coal.

“We have evidence that some of the vessels engaged in these activities are owned by companies in several countries, including China,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United States says the full cooperation of China, North Korea’s neighbor and main trading partner, is vital to the success of efforts to rein in North Korea, while warning that all options are on the table, including military ones, in dealing with it.

China has repeatedly said it is fully enforcing all resolutions against North Korea, despite suspicion in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo that loopholes still exist.


South Korea said on Friday it had seized a Hong Kong-flagged ship suspected of transferring oil to North Korea in defiance of the sanctions.

A senior South Korean foreign ministry official said the ship, the Lighthouse Winmore, was seized when it arrived at a South Korean port in late November.

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“It’s unclear how much oil the ship had transferred to North Korea for how long and on how many occasions, but it clearly showed North Korea is engaged in evading the sanctions,” the official told Reuters.

South Korea’s customs service concluded that the Lighthouse Winmore had loaded about 14,000 tons of Japanese refined petroleum products in South Korea on Oct. 11, reportedly bound for Taiwan, the official said.

But instead, it transferred as much as 600 tons to the North Korea-flagged Sam Jong 2 on Oct. 19 in international waters between China and the Korean peninsula, on the order of its charterer, Billions Bunker Group Corp., based in Taiwan, the ministry official said.

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The United States Treasury Department said that these images show the transfer of refined petroleum between the Lighthouse Winmore and the North Korean ship Rye Song Gang 1

It was not immediately possible to find contact information for the company.

Of the 25 people aboard, 23 were of Chinese nationality and two from Myanmar, according to the customs office.

Employees at the office of Lighthouse Ship Management, the ship’s registered manager, in the Chinese port city of Guangzhou, declined to comment and said they had no knowledge of the situation.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said she did not have any information about the matter.

Both ships were among 10 vessels that the United States had proposed that the U.N. Security Council should blacklist for transporting banned items from North Korea, documents seen by Reuters this month showed.

China and Russia subsequently asked for more time to consider the U.S. proposal.

Ship tracking data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that the Lighthouse Winmore has mainly been doing supply runs between China and Taiwan since August.

Prior to that, it was active between India and the United Arab Emirates. In October, when it allegedly transferred petroleum products to the North Korean ship, the Lighthouse Winmore had its tracking transponder switched off.

The Trump administration has led a drive to step up global sanctions on North Korea in response to its efforts to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States.

The U.N. Security Council last week unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea for a recent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, seeking to further limit its access to refined petroleum products and crude oil.

The U.S.-drafted U.N. resolution seeks to ban nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum exports to North Korea by capping them at 500,000 barrels a year.

It also caps crude oil supplies to North Korea at 4 million barrels a year and commits the Security Council to further cuts if North Korea conducts another nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile test.

In September, the Security Council put a cap of 2 million barrels a year on refined petroleum products exports to North Korea.

Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel



An undated photo of the Lighthouse Winmore, a Hong Kong-flagged vessel suspected of transferring oil to North Korea in violation of United Nations sanctions. Credit Iwan Afwan/MarineTraffic

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has seized a Hong Kong-flagged oil tanker accused of transferring 600 tons of refined oil to a North Korean ship in October in violation of United Nations sanctions, South Korean officials said on Friday.

The officials revealed that they had impounded the 11,253-ton Hong Kong tanker, the Lighthouse Winmore, and questioned its crew. The revelation came a day after President Trump accused China of letting fuel oil flow into North Korea through illicit ship-to-ship transfers on international waters.

But there was no immediate evidence of Chinese involvement in the Lighthouse Winmore’s dealings with the North Koreans. The ship was being leased by the Taiwanese company Billions Bunker Group Corporation, South Korean Foreign Ministry officials told reporters on Friday.

The Lighthouse Winmore docked at the South Korean port of Yeosu on Oct. 11 to load refined petroleum from Japan, they said. Four days later, it departed Yeosu, saying it was headed for Taiwan. Instead, it transferred the refined oil to four other ships on international waters, including 600 tons transferred to a North Korean ship on Oct. 19, officials said.

That transfer between the Lighthouse Winmore and the North Korean ship Rye Song Gang 1 was captured in satellite photos released by the United States Treasury Department on Nov. 21, although the department did not release the Lighthouse Winmore’s name at the time.

The Lighthouse Wimore was seized and its crew members questioned by the South Korean authorities when it revisited Yeosu on Nov. 24. It remains in South Korean custody, officials said on Friday.

United Nations sanctions resolutions require nations to inspect and impound any vessel in their ports that was suspected of illegally transporting goods to North Korea.

Word of the seizure emerged after Mr. Trump used a tweet and an interview to accuse China of letting oil flow into North Korea in defiance of United Nations sanctions, warning that there will be no “friendly solution” until this stops.

A petrol station in Pyongyang, North Korea, in July. Washington has called on the United Nations to blacklist 10 ships for circumventing sanctions intended to limit fuel shipments to North Korea. Credit Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Trump’s accusation came amid deepening suspicions in Washington and among its allies that Chinese oil tankers were secretly transferring petroleum to North Korean ships on the high seas despite United Nations sanctions that prohibit such trade. China insists that there was no sanctions violation.

“Caught RED HANDED — very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea,” Mr. Trump wrote in a Twitter post Thursday. “There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!”

The United Nations Security Council has ramped up its efforts to squeeze North Korea’s oil supplies after the country conducted its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3 and followed it with the launching of an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, on Nov. 29.

The United Nations sanctions resolutions call for capping annual exports of refined petroleum to North Korea at a half-million barrels, an 89 percent cut from previous annual shipments. They also call for freezing crude oil shipments at four million barrels a year, committing the Security Council to further reductions if North Korea conducts another nuclear or ICBM test.

But the impact of sanctions depends largely on how faithfully they are enforced by China, which handles 90 percent of North Korea’s external trade, including nearly all of its oil imports, analysts say. If the reports of ship-to-ship oil transfers are true, it could mean that much more oil is flowing secretly into North Korea than allowed under United Nations sanctions, with or without the Chinese authorities’ knowledge.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly urged President Xi Jinping to use China’s economic leverage to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. But analysts warn that Beijing is unlikely to push North Korea to the brink of collapse, still cherishing its neighbor as a buffer against the influence of the United States and its closest allies in the region, Japan and South Korea.

In an interview with The New York Times published Thursday night, Mr. Trump explicitly said for the first time that he has “been soft” on China on trade in the hopes that its leaders will pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. He hinted that his patience may soon end, signaling his frustration with the reported oil shipments.

“Oil is going into North Korea. That wasn’t my deal!” he exclaimed, raising the possibility of aggressive trade actions against China. “If they don’t help us with North Korea, then I do what I’ve always said I want to do.“

Despite saying that Mr. Xi “treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China” when he visited in November, Mr. Trump said Thursday that “they have to help us much more.”

The United States Treasury Department said that these images show the transfer of refined petroleum between the Lighthouse Winmore and the North Korean ship Rye Song Gang 1 in October. Credit U.S. Department of Treasury

“We have a nuclear menace out there, which is no good for China,” he said.

When it blacklisted several Chinese trading companies and North Korean shipping companies and their vessels in November, the United States Treasury Department said that North Korea was “known to employ deceptive shipping practices, including ship-to-ship transfers,” a practice banned under a United Nations sanctions resolution adopted on Sept. 11.

Mr. Trump’s criticism of China came after the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, quoting anonymous sources, reported that American spy satellites have spotted 30 ship-to-ship transfers of oil and other products since October in international waters between North Korea and China.

The report said the “smuggling” took place between North Korean vessels and ships believed to be from China.

In its latest sanctions, adopted on Dec. 22, the Security Council expressed concern that North Korea was “illicitly exporting coal and other prohibited items through deceptive maritime practices and obtaining petroleum illegally through ship-to-ship transfers.”

Washington has called on the Security Council to blacklist 10 ships — including the Lighthouse Winmore — for circumventing sanctions by conducting ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products to North Korean vessels or transporting North Korean coal, Reuters reported, citing United Nations documents. China and Russia subsequently asked for more time to consider the proposal, it said.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry refused to confirm the Chosun report, saying that the matter was being discussed at the Security Council’s sanctions committee.

But Chinese officials disputed the news media reports.

“I would like to know whether the relevant media could specify which ship or ships were involved in the situation?” Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said on Wednesday. “What made them conclude that these ships violated the Security Council resolutions? Any solid evidence?”

Ms. Hua insisted that China has been “comprehensively, accurately, faithfully and strictly implementing” the United Nations sanctions.

Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry, was more categorical in denial: “The situation you have mentioned absolutely does not exist,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Barack Obama tells Prince Harry: Leaders must strive to keep internet a safe ‘common space’ — “We can lead people to be radicalised.” — Swipe at Donald Trump?

December 27, 2017

Barack Obama warning over social media use in Prince Harry interview interpreted as veiled swipe at Donald Trump

Urged world leaders to promote responsible use of the technology.

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Leaders must ‘recreate a common space on the internet’ while fighting back against extremism and bullying, former President says

By Jon Sharman
The Independent

Barack Obama has warned that social media can leave people “cocooned” in alternate realities and urged world leaders to promote responsible use of the technology.

His words have been interpreted as a veiled reference to Donald Trump, his successor as US President, whose use of Twitter has kept diplomats, reporters and even his political allies on their toes.

Speaking to Prince Harry in an interview broadcast by the BBC, Mr Obama said that “all of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the internet”.

If intended as a nod in Mr Trump’s direction, the line was gentler and more oblique than the 44th President’s previous interventions in which he has told the billionaire he needs “an edit function” and to “think before you tweet”.

He has also joked that more women should be elevated to positions of power because men “seem to be having some problems these days”.

Asked by Harry whether he could have used the White House to prevent the problems of “trolling, extremism, fake news and cyber bullying” online, Mr Obama said: “Most of this is happening outside of government and in the United States in particular we have a very strong First Amendment.

“I am, as a former constitutional lawyer, pretty firm about the merits of free speech.

“The question, I think, really has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn’t lead to a Balkanisation of our society, but rather continues to promote ways of finding common ground?

“I’m not sure government can legislate that, but what I do believe is that all of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the internet.”

Mr Obama, 56, admitted that in US politics “there’s just a perpetual campaigning taking place”, adding he had developed “a very thick skin” after years of criticism of his actions.

He emphasised the importance of being offline and meeting people face-to-face.

He said: “One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be just cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.

“One of the things that I think I discovered even back in 2007, 2008, is a good way of fighting against that is making sure that online communities don’t just stay online.

“Social media is a really powerful tool for people of common interests to convene and get to know each other and connect. But then it’s important for them to get offline, meet in a pub, meet in a place of worship, meet in a neighbourhood and get to know each other, because the truth is that on the internet everything is simplified.

“When you meet people face-to-face it turns out they’re complicated. There may be somebody who you think is diametrically opposed to you when it comes to their political views but you root for the same sports team. Or you notice that they’re really good parents.

“You find areas of common ground because you see that things aren’t as simple as had been portrayed in whatever chatroom you’d been in.

“It’s also, by the way, harder to be as obnoxious and cruel in person as people can be anonymously on the internet.”

Facebook and Twitter have faced repeated calls to tackle abuse and extremism on their platforms.

Before Christmas representatives were hauled before Parliament’s home affairs committee where chairman Yvette Cooper accused them of “grooming and radicalisation”.

“Once people go on one slightly dodgy thing, you are linking them to an awful lot of other similar things” through algorithms, she said.

YouTube’s representative said it was limiting recommendations to prevent people being trapped in a “bubble of hate”.

Simon Milner, of Facebook, denied its algorithms were themselves radicalising users but admitted there was a “shared problem on how we address a person going down a channel that may lead them to be radicalised”.

While Twitter has made a “sea change” in how it responds to abuse, its public policy head told MPs, Ms Cooper said it had failed to take down racist posts flagged by politicians.