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

Advertisements

Trump Attacks NFL and Russians Hack Facebook

What a week!  Trump raises the stakes on how patriotic NFL football fans should be, i.e., let’s all stand for the national anthem. You really don’t have to stand, as explained in my commentary yesterday.  And then we find out that Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook had been hacked by the Russians last year and conceivably played an dominant role in insuring Trump’s presidential victory.  I think Maureen Dowd’s column in yesterday’s NY Times explains all this much better than I ever could, please see below “Will Zuck ‘Like’ This Column?”

Ray Myers

Maureen Dowd, New York Times, 9/24/17
WASHINGTON — The idea of Mark Zuckerberg running for president was always sort of scary.  But now it’s really scary, given what we’ve discovered about the power of his little invention to warp democracy.

All these years, the 33-year-old founder of Facebook has been dismissive of the idea that social media and A.I. could be used for global domination — or even that they should be regulated.

Days after Donald Trump pulled out his disorienting win, Zuckerberg told a tech conference that the contention that fake news had influenced the election was “a pretty crazy idea,” showing a “profound lack of empathy” toward Trump voters.

But all the while, the company was piling up the rubles and turning a blind eye as the Kremlin’s cyber hit men weaponized anti-Hillary bots on Facebook to sway the U.S. election. Russian agents also used Facebook and Twitter trolls, less successfully, to try to upend the French election.

Finally on Thursday, speaking on Facebook Live, Zuckerberg said he would give Congress more than 3,000 ads linked to Russia. As one Facebooker posted: “Why did it take EIGHT MONTHS to get here?”

Hillary is right that this $500 billion company has a lot to answer for in allowing the baby-photo-sharing site to be turned into what, with Twitter, The Times’s Scott Shane called “engines of deception and propaganda.”

Robert Mueller’s team, as well as House and Senate investigators, are hotly pursuing the trail of Russian fake news. On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security told 21 states, including Wisconsin and Ohio, that Russian agents had tried to hack their elections systems during the campaign.

As Vanity Fair pointed out, Mueller’s focus on social media during the campaign could spell trouble for Jared Kushner, who once bragged that he had called his Silicon Valley friends to get a tutorial in Facebook microtargeting and brought in Cambridge Analytica — Robert Mercer is a big investor — to help build a $400 million operation for his father-in-law’s campaign.

Some lawmakers suspect that the Russians had help in figuring out which women and blacks to target in precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Senator Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee looking into Russia’s intervention in 2016, has a suspect in mind. “Paul Manafort made an awful lot of money coming up with a game plan for how Russian interests could be pushed in Western countries and Western elections,” Heinrich told Vanity Fair.

ProPublica broke the news that, until it asked about it recently, Facebook had “enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of ‘Jew hater,’ ‘How to burn jews,’ or, ‘History of “why jews ruin the world.”’”

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s C.O.O., apologized for this on Wednesday and promised to fix the ad-buying tools, noting, “We never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way — and that is on us.”

The Times’s Kevin Roose called this Facebook’s “Frankenstein moment,” like when Mary Shelley’s scientist, Victor Frankenstein, says, “I had been the author of unalterable evils, and I lived in daily fear lest the monster whom I had created should perpetrate some new wickedness.”

Roose noted that in addition to the Russian chicanery, “In Myanmar, activists are accusing Facebook of censoring Rohingya Muslims, who are under attack from the country’s military. In Africa, the social network faces accusations that it helped human traffickers extort victims’ families by leaving up abusive videos.”

The Sandberg admission was also game, set and match for Elon Musk, who has been sounding the alarm for years about the danger of Silicon Valley’s creations and A.I. mind children getting out of control and hurting humanity. His pleas for safeguards and regulations have been mocked as “hysterical” and “pretty irresponsible” by Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg, whose project last year was building a Jarvis-style A.I. butler for his home, likes to paint himself as an optimist and Musk as a doomsday prophet. But Sandberg’s comment shows that Musk is right: The digerati at Facebook and Google are either being naïve or cynical and greedy in thinking that it’s enough just to have a vague code of conduct that says “Don’t be evil,” as Google does.

As Musk told me when he sat for a Vanity Fair piece: “It’s great when the emperor is Marcus Aurelius. It’s not so great when the emperor is Caligula.”

In July, the chief of Tesla and SpaceX told a meeting of governors that they should adopt A.I. legislation before robots start “going down the street killing people.” In August, he tweeted that A.I. going rogue represents “vastly more risk than North Korea.” And in September, he tweeted out a Gizmodo story headlined “Hackers Have Already Started to Weaponize Artificial Intelligence,” reporting that researchers proved that A.I. hackers were better than humans at getting Twitter users to click on malicious links.

(Musk also tweeted that it was a cautionary tale when Microsoft’s chatbot, Tay, had to be swiftly shut down when Twitter users taught her how to reply with racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic slurs, talking approvingly about Hitler.)

Vladimir Putin has denied digital meddling in the U.S. elections. But he understands the possibilities and threat of A.I. In a recent address, the Russian president told schoolchildren, “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Musk agreed on Twitter that competition for A.I. superiority would be the “most likely cause of WW3.”

On Thursday, touring the Moscow tech firm Yandex, Putin asked the company’s chief how long it would be before superintelligent robots “eat us.”

Zuckerberg scoffs at such apocalyptic talk. His project this year was visiting all 50 states, a trip designed by former Obama strategist David Plouffe, which sparked speculation that he might be the next billionaire to seek the Oval Office.

As Bloomberg Businessweek wrote in a cover story a few days ago, Zuckerberg has hired Plouffe, other senior Obama officials and Hillary’s pollster. He has said he is no longer an atheist and he changed Facebook’s charter to allow him to maintain control in the hypothetical event he runs for office.

Yep. Very scary.

Melania Speaks Out Against Bullying – Wait, What?

Just two days ago, I commented on the bullying tactics of so-called President Trump.  He has become masterful in using social media to taunt and berate friends and foes alike.  Here is what I wrote:  “Over the weekend, the president of the United States retweeted to his 38 million Twitter followers a video clip doctored to show him driving a golf ball off the tee and between the shoulder blades of Hillary Clinton – ‘Crooked Hillary’ in the tweet – knocking the former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee to the ground. Eighty-four thousand people ‘liked’ this violent takedown of Trump’s former opponent (Milbank, Washington Post, 9/20/17).”

Now the so-called President’s First Lady has launched a crusade against bullying, and in particular, cyber bullying.  The first lady’s speech made no mention of her husband as she urged the world to “ensure that our children’s future is bright.”  So please help me figure this all out.  If you are a man and the so-called President, you can bully and/or cyber bully anyone you want, any time, but now Melania is telling all young boys and girls (around the world?) that they should not follow her husband’s example. She plans to follow up with social media leaders and educators on this topic.

Maybe it’s time for the Trumps to coordinate their “messaging.”  But I doubt if that is ever going to happen.  After all, he is the “Bully-in-Chief.”

Ray Myers


Abuser of Twitter and of Women Too

So I may be digressing from my usual commentary here about how technology’s advances and empowerment have made the internet a powerful tool for free expression, but Trump has also managed to make it a tool of oppression.  For example, “Over the weekend, the president of the United States retweeted to his 38 million Twitter followers a video clip doctored to show him driving a golf ball off the tee and between the shoulder blades of Hillary Clinton – ‘Crooked Hillary’ in the tweet – knocking the former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee to the ground.  Eighty-four thousand people ‘liked’ this violent takedown of Trump’s former opponent.

A woman has been Speaker of the House (and proved substantially more effective than the two men who succeeded her), another came within a whisker of the presidency, and others (Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine) wield the decisive votes on health-care and other legislation.  But recent events make it feel as if we’re in an earlier time, when a woman’s job in politics was simple: sit down and shut up.  This no doubt is the work of a president who, by word and deed, make sexism safe again, giving license to shed ‘political correctness and blame troubles on minorities, immigrants and women (Milbank, Washington Post, 9/20/17).”

Unfortunately, it looks like there will not be a second chance for Hillary, but her recent book sale numbers may portend what the future may bring.  “What Happened” is now the No. 1 best-selling book in America.

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.


Twitter King of Insults is Now President of the United States

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 I 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 you Twitters account.

Ray Myers




Bug Bounty – Hackers for Hire

Oh, the irony.  “Apple, which has been criticized in recent years for failing to pay outside hackers who report bugs in its products, said on Thursday that it would begin offering a so-called bug bounty to technologists who alert the company to flaws.”  As you might remember, the lack of an Apple bug bounty program made headlines earlier this year  when the F.B.I. announced that it had paid hackers more than $1 million for a back-door into Apple’s iPhone.  If you are a hacker you may be happy to learn that Apple will pay as much as $200,000 to flag critical problems.  I know that’s down from the $1 million that they paid to solve the iPhone problem, but maybe there are just more hackers out there now to make it a more competitive?

Hackers have now entered the political arena.  “Hackers for Hillary” recently held a fund-raiser where tickets were going from $100 to $2,700.  According to event organizers, the fund-raiser focused on “cyber policy issues the next administration faces.”  A number of researchers recently suggested that the Democratic National Committee was hacked by two Russian intelligence groups in what they believed was a campaign aimed at hurting Mrs. Clinton’s presidential candidacy.

I guess you could call all this “hacking for dollars” or “hacking for political power.”  But this hacking of our tech industry and our political processes has enormous consequences world-wide. 

Ray Myers



Caught in the Digital Divide!

Now if we can just put presidential politics aside for a few moments, let’s talk about how you can really screw up when you are running for President, and are still a neophyte in protecting your online privacy in the digital world.  Yes, I am talking about Hillary, and I am not going to defend her, but “someone” should have known better.  Perhaps the only real lesson is that people on her staff while she was at the State Department just didn’t want to say “NO.”  Please trust me on this one!  We (bureaucrats and political appointees alike) all want to stay on the good side of the powers to be in DC.  Exceptions can be found.  I know it’s not suppose to be that way but a government bureaucracy is a big business and the people looking for advancement still want to keep the boss happy until the next one comes along (it may be a little tricky, but there are many career employees who are masterful at it).

So maybe all Hillary needed was some good tech support that could have made it all happen the way she wanted it too? But let’s be honest, trying to navigate between the best advice of techies and politicos in today’s hyper political seas will put you in some some uncharted waters.  Man the lifeboats!  

Technology and mastering its power to inform or misinform will be our most obvious challenge in the years ahead. Unfortunately, I think we are also creating “virtual environments” or worlds where reality doesn’t seem to matter.  I suppose we can also choose to live in these worlds of our own creation.  We then are not really caught in the digital divide, but are creating it!

Ray Myers