Trump Tweets While We Burn

I used to think that tweeting was just for fun.  You really don’t have to think too hard and if you can learn all the abbreviations and other Twitter short-cuts, you can really pack a lot of thoughts (?) in those 140/280 characters.  I never really thought you could become president of the United States by doing this?  Well I guess I am wrong again.  I suppose we have all been “trumped,” at least those of us who may have voted for another candidate in last year’s election.  You know who you are.

Trump has used his Twitter account since March 2009.  He has tweeted more than 36,000 times and has 41.7 million followers. Trump has credited his use of social media as among one of the main reasons he was elected.  “You have to keep people interested also.  You know, you have to keep people interested.”  Twitter also serves as one of Trump’s main tools for deflecting criticisms and attacks.  He has said, “When somebody says something about me, I am able to go bing, bing, bing, and I take care of it.”  Trump’s Twitter account was deactivated for 11 minutes Thursday night by a company employee on his last day on the job. Maybe he/she was just trying to exert some type of “executive privilege.”

Or perhaps he/she was just trying to fact check some of  Trump’s tweets, in which case the “fake facts” just overloaded the system.

Ray Myers

Advertisements

Fighting Against Trumpism and Racism – Not a War of Words

It’s just too easy.  We can write blogs, tweet our anger about the state of affairs in the U.S. today, but do you often wonder about who is really listening or who really cares. It is all so easy and self-satisfying to let people know how angry and upset we are.  But at the same time, do we really begin to ask ourselves whether this is all having any impact?  Mere words may not be enough.  

I think the Bully-in-Charge (a.k.a, the so-called president) really has the upper hand.  He uses Twitter to communicate with all his adoring fans, and they really like it.  Nothing is really complicated – just listen to my harangues and we will all feel a lot better.  He will lead us in making America Great Again.  Just read and believe!  He is tweeting while “Rome burns,” and very few seem to really care.  I am sure we can all write statements in opposition to all this “fake rhetoric” but what have we really accomplished?  Many worry that ceaseles statement -writing is sucking us dry.

In a New York Times’ opinion piece on Sunday Tiya Miles wrote: “I doubt my own courage and wonder each day whether I could deploy my body beyond the relative safety of marches approved by permits.  But I am certain of this: The change we seek to make won’t be accomplished by words alone.”

Ray Myers

Social Media Becomes Hate Media

So how did all this happen?  We have gone from “fake news” to hate mongering on social media sites such as Facebook.  A student was recently stabbed to death at a bus stop on the University of Maryland campus.  I guess those Russian hackers really paved the way for co-opting our technological prowess and turning it in to a tool for disinformation and now, tragically, a tool for hate and deadly crime.  This is NOT what was supposed to happen.

This slaying sparked national outcry after police announced that they were investigating the accused murder’s connection to a Facebook page called Alt-Reich.  University of Maryland Police have said that the content from that page was full of racist and inflammatory material.  University police also said that drugs and alcohol may have played a role in the case.  What a deadly combination!

And what can the so-called president do to help social media be more social and less hateful?  One suggestion: stop tweeting about how “right” he always is, attacking any opposition on a personal (ad hominem) basis.

Ray Myers


Russia Targets U.S. Military Community with Facebook and Twitter

It just keeps getting “curiouser and curiouser” as Alice once said while traveling through Wonderland.  But you really don’t have to go to Wonderland to have this feeling.  I think I am having that feeling right here in the U.S.A. as we discover more about the Russian interference in last year’s election with every passing day.  Social media has become political media and our comrades in Russia are showing us how it’s done.  So maybe this is how you really achieve world dominance after all.  Here is how it was reported in The Washington Post on October 10 by Craig Timberg.

Russian trolls and others aligned with the Kremlin are injecting disinformation into streams of online content flowing to American military personnel and veterans on Twitter and Facebook, according to an Oxford University study released Monday.

The researchers found fake or slanted news from Russian-controlled accounts are mixing with a wide range of legitimate content consumed by veterans and active-duty personnel in their Facebook and Twitter news feeds. These groups were found to be reading and sharing articles on conservative political thought, articles on right-wing politics in Europe and writing touting various conspiracy theories.

In some cases, the disinformation reached the friends and families of military personnel and veterans as well, the researchers said. But it was not always clear who was creating the content. Twitter, for example, makes it easy for users to hide their true identities.

“The social networks mapped over Twitter and Facebook include both genuine accounts created by U.S. military organizations, by service personnel and veterans themselves, and by groups seeking to influence those users,” the report says. “Some of the accounts are pro-Putin accounts pushing out significant amounts of Russian-oriented content.”

The report by Oxford’s Project on Computational Propaganda, which has been studying ways that fake news and propaganda reached Americans during the 2016 election and its aftermath, is the first in which the group sought to explore the spread of disinformation on both Twitter and Facebook, and also how links are shared back and forth across these platforms.

Facebook and Twitter both declined to comment on the report, advanced copies of which were shared with the companies by the researchers.

To examine the kind of information that reaches military personnel and veterans, the researchers analyzed content between April 2 and May 2 on Twitter including popular hashtags such as #GoArmy or #Iraq to determine what users of these hashtags posted. In some cases, said Philip N. Howard, an Oxford professor who co-authored the report, known Russian trolls were using those hashtags to draw attention to content they were promoting.

They researchers also tracked information on several military-themed websites and used the traffic to these sites — along with the Twitter data — to determine what Facebook accounts promoted similar content on publicly available pages. That yielded maps of online interaction showing, for example, that accounts that linked frequently to veterans and military issues also in many cases linked to content related to Russia.

Russian trolls and others aligned with the Kremlin are injecting disinformation into streams of online content flowing to American military personnel and veterans on Twitter and Facebook, according to an Oxford University study released Monday.

The researchers found fake or slanted news from Russian-controlled accounts are mixing with a wide range of legitimate content consumed by veterans and active-duty personnel in their Facebook and Twitter news feeds. These groups were found to be reading and sharing articles on conservative political thought, articles on right-wing politics in Europe and writing touting various conspiracy theories.

In some cases, the disinformation reached the friends and families of military personnel and veterans as well, the researchers said. But it was not always clear who was creating the content. Twitter, for example, makes it easy for users to hide their true identities.

“The social networks mapped over Twitter and Facebook include both genuine accounts created by U.S. military organizations, by service personnel and veterans themselves, and by groups seeking to influence those users,” the report says. “Some of the accounts are pro-Putin accounts pushing out significant amounts of Russian-oriented content.”

The report by Oxford’s Project on Computational Propaganda, which has been studying ways that fake news and propaganda reached Americans during the 2016 election and its aftermath, is the first in which the group sought to explore the spread of disinformation on both Twitter and Facebook, and also how links are shared back and forth across these platform.

To examine the kind of information that reaches military personnel and veterans, the researchers analyzed content between April 2 and May 2 on Twitter including popular hashtags such as #GoArmy or #Iraq to determine what users of these hashtags posted. In some cases, said Philip N. Howard, an Oxford professor who co-authored the report, known Russian trolls were using those hashtags to draw attention to content they were promoting.

The researchers also tracked information on several military-themed websites and used the traffic to these sites — along with the Twitter data — to determine what Facebook accounts promoted similar content on publicly available pages. That yielded maps of online interaction showing, for example, that accounts that linked frequently to veterans and military issues also in many cases linked to content related to Russia.

The kind of information shared by and with veterans and active-duty personnel span a wide range, with liberal political content also common, though not as common as conservative political content. The online military community, the researchers found, also shared links about sustainable agriculture, mental health issues such as addiction, and conspiracy theories.

No one subject dominated the online content flowing among these communities, but the largest individual categories dealt with military or veteran matters. Russian disinformation was a smaller but significant and persistent part of the overall information flow.

“The very idea that there’s aggressive campaigns to target military personnel with misleading content on national security issues is surprising. It’s disappointing,” Howard said. “Because they’re opinion leaders, they get more attention from governments and people who spread misinformation.”

The other authors of the report, titled “Junk News on Military Affairs and National Security: Social Media Disinformation Campaigns Against US Military Personnel and Veterans,,” were John D. Gallacher, also of Oxford, and Vlad Barash and John Kelley of Graphika, which uses social media data to analyze online relationships and influence.

Ray Myers

Russian-linked Accounts Bought $270,000 of Twitter Ads During Election 

First, it was all about Facebook and how the Russians used it, but wait, Twitter was part of this propaganda master plan as well. Perhaps the sworn enemies of capitalism know how our system works better than we do?  Maybe we really do like “fake news” over the real thing after all, and that’s the scary part.  Or we just have an insatiable appetite for any news that’s instantaneous and never really fact-checked.  We see it on our mobile devices and we believe.  No time to analyze or scrutinize!  And maybe the saddest part is that we like it that way.  Here’s the latest.

Twitter has released a statement explaining how accounts affiliated with Russia Today paid to promote news stories, which may have been attempts to influence the election.

The company has turned details over to Congress.

Senator Mark Warner, who is leading inquiries into Russian election interference, said he was “deeply disappointed” with Twitter’s presentation.

Twitter sold more than $270,000 of ads to Russia-linked accounts during the 2016 election, the company said Thursday, further detailing the extent of potential foreign influence that’s spurred Senate investigations and calls for greater regulation.

Twitter accounts affiliated with Russia Today, an outlet with “strong links” to the Russian government,” promoted more than 1,800 tweets that “definitely or potentially targeted the U.S. market,” the company said in a statement.

Twitter also said that it found Twitter accounts for 22 of the 450 Russia-linked accounts that Facebook said had bought ads on Facebook during the election. It also found 179 more accounts linked to those 22. Twitter has suspended all those accounts.

Thursday Twitter turned over “a round-up of ads” from Russia-linked accounts targeted to the U.S. market, the statement said.

“We are concerned about violations of our Terms of Service and U.S. law with respect to interference in the exercise of voting rights,” the statement said. “During the 2016 election, we removed Tweets that were attempting to suppress or otherwise interfere with the exercise of voting rights, including the right to have a vote counted, by circulating intentionally misleading information.”

Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia who has been helping to lead inquiries into how Russia tried to influence the election via American social media, was not impressed with Twitter’s presentation.

He said the Twitter briefing was mostly derivative of a presentation earlier this month given by Facebook and lacked thoroughness. “Their response was, frankly, inadequate on almost every level,” Warner told reporters.

Ray Myers


More on Facebook and Russia

Here is some more information on the investigation into Russian influence on the U.S. presidential election last year.  As posted on Monday, Facebook has finally come to the realization (admission) that it had been duped, but had also been rewarded handsomely by the fake news vendors.

“Facebook has now disclosed that fake accounts and pages had paid the social media giant over $100,000 during the 2016 presidential election cycle. These accounts purchased 3,000 ads, largely for the purpose of spreading false information about Hillary Clinton. The ad purchasers were, as expected, Russian. Now Robert Mueller has reportedly obtained a search warrant for records of the fake accounts that Facebook claims to have shut down earlier this month.

Wall Street Journal was the first to report on this issue, “Facebook Inc. has handed over to special counsel Robert Mueller detailed records about the Russian ad purchases on its platform that go beyond what the company shared with Congress last week, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, says reports that special counsel Robert Mueller got a search warrant for Facebook content could be “the biggest news” related to since the raid on Paul Manafort’s home. Knowing now that not only did Facebook comply with Mueller’s warrant, but that the company turned over more detailed information than that which they turned over to Congress is excellent news.

There are still obstinate deniers that Russia interfered with the 2016 president election, all of the intelligence to the contrary. Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Sean Spicer have done everything they can to frame this investigation as equal parts conspiracy theory fodder and media bullying. The more information Russia can get that directly supports Russian interference, whether through making deals or disseminating false information propaganda-style.

There are some who simply will not be convinced. After all, an astonishing number of Republicans still believe former president Obama was not born in the United States.”

Ray Myers

Summer Reruns – Trump’s the One:  “Twitter King of Insults is Now President of the United States” (Originally Posted on November 11, 2016)

Ain’t democracy great?   You too can become President of the United States.  Just get yourself a Twitter account and start hurling insults at whomever you like and, if you are running for President, just direct most of them at your opponents and see what happens.   If you saw my Twitter/blog post of October 26th, you may remember my commentary on the two pages of the “A” section of The NY Times that was devoted to cataloging some of Mr. Trump’s insults/lies directed at political opponents.  Of course, Hillary was his primary target, almost exclusively during the last two months of the campaign.   Why spend all that money on political campaigning?    Twitter can help you “reach out” to all of your eager followers.  Tech has made it so.

Is this what technology is all about?   The ability to say anything you want in 140 characters, and not worry about the accuracy or veracity of what you say.  Someone else can do that if they want, but maybe that is the most dangerous part of all.  Why take the time?  Tell your followers what they want to hear, and make it quick.   And the more you tweet, the more they want to hear.  I also think it has a very addictive appeal.  They can take a glance at their mobile devices, and get a quick fix of pithy put-downs of any opposing view or person.  In this case, go on the attack against your political rival who is trying to explain her future plans and priorities as President of the United States in a more comprehensive (traditional) way.

May we never see a campaign like this again.   But maybe it’s all about free speech, but I don’t think so.  We all have a reponsibilty to be truthful in whatever communication mode we choose.   And that includes messages of 140 characters on your Twitter account.

Ray Myers

P.S.   I will be posting “Summer Reruns” through the remainder of the summer months.  And if you are a big fan of the so-called President and his family, please continue to follow.  I also think that the “real or fake news” (take your pick) about the Trump family will be very interesting over the next few months.


Faked Out by Fake News

Oh, those automated algorithms!  One day they are riding high as our anointed saviors from being duped by fake news and exposed to gory live streaming, and the next day we are not quite so sure (see my post on May 3).  So what is Mark Zuckerberg and others to do?  I guess they will have to hire more humans or, as they are called in the business, “screeners.”  So how many for how long?  And why are we so gullible, and so intrigued by gory spectacles we can watch on demand.  Sounds like the old days of the Roman Empire when they threw the Christians to the lions.  Only now you can watch it at any time and any place thanks to technology.  Not to mention reading the fake news to fill in your spare time.  Can Mark Zuckerberg or anybody really solve this problem

Despite Zuckerberg’s pledge to do a better job in screening content, many Facebook users did not seem to believe that much would change.  Hundreds of commenters on his post related personal experiences of reporting inappropriate content to Facebook that the company declined to remove.  So who are these reviewers and what standards do they apply?  Most of them are low-paid contractors overseas who spend an average of just a few seconds on each post.  A National Public Radio investigation last year found that they inconsistently apply Facebook’s standards, echoing previous  research by other outlets.  Hmmmm, I wonder if some of these same people work in those famous “call centers” that American companies have established abroad?

Sounds to me that we may be “faked out” for a long time to come.

Ray Myers

P.S.  I will not be posting on Friday.  Busy weekend ahead.  Enjoy yours.  Back on Monday.



Tech Tackles Fake News

What’s all this about fake news? (remember Rosenne Rosanadana, TV’s Saturday Night Live).  I just read the other day that computer experts are using sophisticated algorithms and online data to spot misinformation.  So now it seems that we have “machine learning” tools that use artificial intelligence to combat fake news.  A growing number of technology experts worldwide are now harnessing their skills to tackle misinformation online.  Calls for combating fake news have focused on some of the biggest online players, including American giants like Facebook and Google.  Why did we have to wait for this call until after a U.S. Presidential election?  Does fake news really have more readers than real news?

I am not really a conspiracy theorist, and maybe the technology and needed algorithms were not fully developed in time for last year’s election, but perhaps it’s just another example of “timing being everything.”  Technology still seems to hold a revered place as our best hope for discerning fact from fiction.  But many Europeans are not so optimistic.  With fake news already swirling around their forthcoming elections, analysts also worry that technology on its on may not be enough to combat the threat.  

Remember the old adage, “All I know is what I read in the newspapers.”  I guess it’s time to rethink that old saw, or maybe we should literally start reading (and listening) again with a more critical perspective.  We must never think that technology can do all this for us.

Ray Myers

From Social Media to Political Media

I guess Mr. Trump (our “so-called President”) started it all when he learned to tweet and use it as a tool for political propaganda, but it seems that he has also created some unintended consequences.  American students at all levels have come to learn more about “fake news” and the importance of recognizing it when you see it.  Let’s look at one example.   An outraged students found found a news article that President Obama had awarded himself the Medal of Honor, which he never did.  So this particular “news item” became a teachable moment for a classroom in Topeka, Kansas.

Their teacher, Mr. Raines, appreciated that at this time in our political history it was most important to rely on the old-fashioned notion that it was most important to disagree without being disagreeable.  He added that his students are seeking direction on how we get back to that point.  They are seeking some reassurance in an age of bifurcation and rancorous disagreement.  Some teachers see a note a note of hope in all of this.  “It’s seeing students wake up to their citizenship, to the fact that citizenship is not passive, or shouldn’t be.  Regardless of how you feel about everything that’s going on, it’s thrilling for teachers to see that shift happen on a teenager, to see the world get wider.”

Protest politics in which all are welcome to participate, online or in real time!  I think we all realize how important it is to do both (or more).

Ray Myers


It’s News to Me, Fake or Real?

As reported in the New York Times, Google and Facebook “stroll to the starting line.”  I am not talking about a foot race here, but rather the rate of responsiveness in their efforts to vett or block the reporting of fake news on their websites.     Here is one account of what these two companies have been doing:  “Google and Facebook have been taking steps to curb the number  of false news articles propagated across their sites.  On Wednesday, the Silicon Valley companies showed that they were still in the early stages of their battle to limit misinformation online.”

Just this week, these tech giants announced that recent updates to their sites will help prevent hoaxes and fake news from being posted.  Still, industry watchdogs remain skeptical about the effectiveness of these moves.  Some experts remain unconvinced: “Nothing drives clicks better than when the headline is exactly what people want to hear or believe. . . without significant changes to the economies and the technology of online ads, banning individual sites would not produce change in the long run.”  In many ways, these efforts showed how the fight against fake news remains a work in progress.

So I guess it all comes back to the individual reader of the news.  Whether it’s digital or print, what we choose to believe may all still be in the “eye of the beholder.”

Ray Myers


All the News, All Fake, All the Time!

Who really wants to read a factual news story any more? I guess we have come to a time when Americans would rather read fiction over fact, but we are talking about news reporters, not novelists. Just make it up and see who buys it?  The “reporters” at the Liberty Writers News are doing exactly that, and being paid handsomely for it. They are making the average American’s yearly salary in one month.  Why not fake it.  Is the truth really that important?   Well after the recent Presidential election here in the States, I am starting to wonder myself.

Don’t trust the mainstream media.  Just read what you like or want to hear.   It’s more entertaining and you can make up your own stories, and make money doing it while print newspapers keep losing readership and revenue. The news media now encompasses the digital news that doesn’t seem to need facts as much as a vivid imagination. This explosion of fake news has further eroded the media landscape.

Even Mark Zuckerberg is perplexed.  Facebook is trying to find the “right place” between censorship and propagating dangerous untruths.  My advice is to work hard on finding those dangerous untruths.  I wouldn’t call it censorship. Let’s say “fact checking.”

Ray Myers

Happy Thanksgiving!