Opinion | I Spoke to a Scholar of Conspiracy Theories and I’m Scared for Us – By Farhad Manjoo – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

“Lately, I have been putting an embarrassing amount of thought into notions like jinxes and knocking on wood. The polls for Joe Biden look good, but in 2020, any hint of optimism feels dangerously naïve, and my brain has been working overtime in search of potential doom.

I have become consumed with an alarming possibility: that neither the polls nor the actual outcome of the election really matter, because to a great many Americans, digital communication has already rendered empirical, observable reality beside the point.

If I sound jumpy, it’s because I spent a couple of hours recently chatting with Joan Donovan, the research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Donovan is a pioneering scholar of misinformation and media manipulation — the way that activists, extremists and propagandists surf currents in our fragmented, poorly moderated media ecosystem to gain attention and influence society.

Donovan’s research team studies online lies the way crash-scene investigators study aviation disasters. They meticulously take apart specific hoaxes, conspiracy theories, viral political memes, harassment campaigns and other toxic online campaigns in search of the tactics that made each one explode into the public conversation.”

“. . . . Donovan worries about two factors in particular. One is the social isolation caused by the pandemic. Lots of Americans are stuck at home, many economically bereft and cut off from friends and relatives who might temper their passions — a perfect audience for peddlers of conspiracy theories.

Her other major worry is the conspiracy lollapalooza known as QAnon. It’s often short-handed the way Savannah Guthrie did at her town hall takedown of Donald Trump last week — as a nutty conspiracy theory in which a heroic Trump is prosecuting a secret war against a satanic pedophile ring of lefty elites.

But that undersells QAnon’s danger. To people who have been “Q-pilled,” QAnon plays a much deeper role in their lives; it has elements of a support group, a political party, a lifestyle brand, a collective delusion, a religion, a cult, a huge multiplayer game and an extremist network.

Donovan thinks QAnon represents a new, flexible infrastructure for conspiracy. QAnon has origins in a tinfoil-hat story about a D.C.-area pizza shop, but over the years it has adapted to include theories about the “deep state” and the Mueller probe, Jeffrey Epstein, and a wild variety of misinformation about face masks, miracle cures, and other hoaxes regarding the coronavirus. QAnon has been linked to many instances of violence, and law enforcement and terrorism researchers discuss it as a growing security threat.

“We now have a densely networked conspiracy theory that is extendible, adaptable, flexible and resilient to take down,” Donovan said of QAnon. It’s a very internet story, analogous to the way Amazon expanded from an online bookstore into a general-purpose system for selling anything to anyone.”

David Lindsay: Thank you Farhad Manjoo. We need to bring back the Fairness Doctrine as the law of the land.  Here is the most popular comment which I endorse:

Matthew L.,   Chicago1h ago,   Times Pick

“Stopping Coughlin’s hate took a concerted effort, involving new regulations for radio broadcasters…” “Media manipulation” used to be called propaganda. The FCC revoking of the Fairness Doctrine during the Reagan administration opened the door first for conservative talk radio and then for Fox News to flourish as propaganda media for the far right, with no responsibility to truth or objectivity. With the rise of QAnon to political prominence we are now seeing even uglier consequences of the reluctance to regulate either broadcast media or the internet. After 40 years of government-is-the-problem deregulation, does America even remember that yes government can serve the needs of the common good? Do we even believe in a common American good anymore? We had better start. What was once deregulated can be regulated again.

8 Replies408 Recommended

Digital Revenue Exceeds Print for 1st Time for New York Times Company – The New York Times

“Over a three-month period dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and a slowdown in advertising, The New York Times Company for the first time reported quarterly revenue that owed more to digital products than to the print newspaper.

As much of its staff worked remotely, The Times brought in $185.5 million in revenue for digital subscriptions and ads during the second quarter of 2020, the company announced on Wednesday. The number for print revenue was $175.4 million.

The company added 669,000 net new digital subscribers, making the second quarter its biggest ever for subscription growth. The Times has 6.5 million total subscriptions, a figure that includes 5.7 million digital-only subscriptions, putting it on a course to achieve its stated goal of 10 million subscriptions by 2025.

In a statement, Mark Thompson, the chief executive, called the company’s shift from print revenue to digital “a key milestone in the transformation of The New York Times.” “

Opinion | I Have Cancer. Now My Facebook Feed Is Full of ‘Alternative Care’ Ads. – By Anne Borden King – The New York Times

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Ms. Borden King is an advocate working to prevent the spread of medical misinformation.

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CreditCredit…Erik Carter

“Last week, I posted about my breast cancer diagnosis on Facebook. Since then, my Facebook feed has featured ads for “alternative cancer care.” The ads, which were new to my timeline, promote everything from cumin seeds to colloidal silver as cancer treatments. Some ads promise luxury clinics — or even “nontoxic cancer therapies” on a beach in Mexico.

There’s a reason I’ll never fall for these ads: I’m an advocate against pseudoscience. As a consultant for the watchdog group Bad Science Watch and the founder of the Campaign Against Phony Autism Cures, I’ve learned to recognize the hallmarks of pseudoscience marketing: unproven and sometimes dangerous treatments, promising simplistic solutions and support. Things like “bleach cures” that promise to treat everything from Covid-19 to autism.

When I saw the ads, I knew that Facebook had probably tagged me to receive them. Interestingly, I haven’t seen any legitimate cancer care ads in my newsfeed, just pseudoscience. This may be because pseudoscience companies rely on social media in a way that other forms of health care don’t. Pseudoscience companies leverage Facebook’s social and supportive environment to connect their products with identities and to build communities around their products. They use influencers and patient testimonials. Some companies also recruit members through Facebook “support groups” to sell their products in pyramid schemes.

Through all this social media, patients begin to feel a sense of belonging, which makes it harder for them to question a product. Cancer patients are especially vulnerable to this stealth marketing. It’s hard to accept the loss of control that comes with a cancer diagnosis. As cancer patients, we are told where to go, how to sit and what to take. It can be painful and scary and tiring — and then all our hair falls out. During the pandemic, many of us are also isolated. Our loved ones can’t come to our appointments or even visit us in the hospital. Now, more than ever, who is there to hold our hand?”

Opinion | When a Critic Met Facebook: ‘What They’re Doing Is Gaslighting’ –  Charlie Warzel with Rashad Robinson – The New York Times

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Mr. Warzel is an Opinion writer at large.

Credit…Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call, via Getty Images

“Facebook’s long-awaited civil rights audit is now public and it isn’t flattering. The 100-plus-page report laid bare many of the issues facing the platform — that Facebook does not fully understand how its algorithms drive hate, that anti-Muslim speech is “rampant,” that Facebook’s reforms never fix the problem — and warned the company may “driving people toward self-reinforcing echo chambers of extremism.”

The very existence of the audit is the work of civil rights and civil society activists, who’ve pressured the company for years to remove hateful content. Rashad Robinson, the head of the civil rights group Color of Change, has been one of the leaders of this push as well as one of the vocal backers of Facebook’s recent advertiser boycott. In recent months he’s met numerous times with Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, over the company’s inability to reign in bigotry and misinformation on the platform and its failure to diversify its work force.

I spoke to Mr. Robinson after his recent meeting with Mr. Zuckerberg about the audit, about whether Facebook can be reformed and about his nightmare scenarios for Election Day. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.”

Opinion | Facebook Flunks New Audit on Civil Rights and Hate Speech – By Greg Bensinger – The New York Times

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Mr. Bensinger is a member of the editorial board.

Image  Credit…Dado Ruvic/Reuters

“It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to really start listening.

Civil rights and good government groups and users have been shouting from the rooftops for years for real change at the world’s most powerful social media company. Facebook, they say, has helped enable misinformation about the coronavirus, elections, political repression — as well as incite actual violence. Critics have long warned about President Trump’s spread of misinformation on the platform, where hate groups like white supremacists have also found a cozy home.

Far too often Mr. Zuckerberg has chosen to allow posts spewing bigotry and lies to remain on Facebook in the name of free speech. Now, a thorough and damning audit of the company, two-years in the making and solicited by Facebook, confirms those fears.

“With each success the auditors became more hopeful that Facebook would develop a more coherent and positive plan of action that demonstrated, in word and deed, the company’s commitment to civil rights,” wrote the auditors in their 100-page report, a prepublication draft of which was obtained by The New York Times. “Unfortunately, in our view Facebook’s approach to civil rights remains too reactive and piecemeal.”

“Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement where they implored the company to do more to advance equality and fight discrimination, while also safeguarding free expression,” the auditors wrote.”

Facebook Decisions Were ‘Setbacks for Civil Rights,’ Audit Finds – By Mike Isaac – The New York Times

“SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook has not done enough to fight discrimination on its platform and has made some decisions that were “significant setbacks for civil rights,” according to a new independent audit of the company’s policies and practices.

In a 100-page prepublication report, which was obtained by The New York Times, the social network was repeatedly faulted for not having the infrastructure for handling civil rights and for prioritizing free expression on its platform over nondiscrimination. In some decisions, Facebook did not seek civil rights expertise, the auditors said, potentially setting a “terrible” precedent that could affect the November general election and other speech issues.

“Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement where they implored the company to do more to advance equality and fight discrimination, while also safeguarding free expression,” wrote the auditors, Laura W. Murphy and Megan Cacace, who are civil rights experts and lawyers. They said they had “vigorously advocated for more and would have liked to see the company go further to address civil rights concerns in a host of areas.”

The report, which was the culmination of two years of examination of the social network, was another blow for the Silicon Valley company. Facebook has been under pressure for allowing hate speech, misinformation and other content that can go against people’s civil rights to fester on its site. While rivals like Twitter, Snap and Reddit have all taken action in recent weeks to label, downplay or ban such content, Facebook has said it will not do so because it believes in free speech.

 

That has spurred civil rights groups to organize a “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign aimed against the social media company. More than 300 advertisers like Coca-Cola and North Face recently agreed to pause their spending on Facebook because it had failed to curtail the spread of hate speech and misinformation on its platform.

On Tuesday, civil rights leaders met with Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, with 10 demands, including appointing a civil rights executive. But those who attended said the Facebook executives did not agree to many of their requests and instead spouted “spin.”

DL: Social Media does not have to follow the same rules as newspapers, and that has to change.

What’s Facebook’s Deal With Donald Trump? – By Ben Smith -The New York Times

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“Last Nov. 20, NBC News broke the news that Mark Zuckerberg, Donald Trump and a Facebook board member, Peter Thiel, had dined together at the White House the previous month. “It is unclear why the meeting was not made public or what Trump, Zuckerberg and Thiel discussed,” the report said.

That was it. Nothing else has emerged since. Not the date, not who arranged the menu, the venue, the seating, not the full guest list. And not whether some kind of deal got done between two of the most powerful men in the world. The news cycle moved on, and the dinner became one of the unsolved mysteries of American power.

But I was able to pry some of those details loose last week from White House officials along with current and former senior Facebook employees and people they speak to. Most said they would only talk on the condition their names not be used, since the company is not eager to call attention to Mr. Zuckerberg’s relationship with the president.

Their accounts painted a picture of an unusual gathering — something in between a high-stakes state dinner between the leaders of uneasily allied superpowers and the awkward rehearsal dinner before a marriage that has both families a little rattled.”

Opinion | Can a Facebook Oversight Board Push Back the Ocean? – By Kara Swisher – The New York Times

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Ms. Swisher covers technology and is a contributing Opinion writer.

Credit…Richard Drew/Associated Press

“So, big surprise, I have not been asked to be on Facebook’s Supreme Court of content. I was all ready to do an anti-Sherman if called: I will accept if nominated and will serve if elected.

Half of its members were finally announced on Wednesday morning, including four co-chairs, one of whom is Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former prime minister of Denmark. She is clearly aces in terms of reputation and credibility, one of a slate of 20 members who scream global, fancy résumés, diverse and politically balanced.

Together, the independent organization, which is funded by the social media giant by a trust it cannot mess with, will judge appeals from users on material that has been taken down from the platform by the company, and it will review policy decisions that the company has submitted to the board.

The group selected so far — there are 20 more names to come — is qualified to do all that and a bag of chips. There is a former judge and vice president of the European Court of Human Rights (Andras Sajo), the former editor in chief of The Guardian (Alan Rusbridger), a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who promoted free speech in Yemen during the Arab Spring (Tawakkul Karman), a vice chancellor of the National Law School of India University (Sudhir Krishnaswamy), the former director general of the Israeli Ministry of Justice (Emi Palmor) and the leader of Africa’s Internet Without Borders (Julie Owono).

Impressively impressive no doubt, and designed to be that way, which is why it is also nonoffensively nonoffensive.

As yet, there are no loudmouths, no cranky people and, most important, no one truly affected by the dangerous side of Facebook. I asked in a press call on Wednesday morning, for example, why there were no board members like the parents of the Sandy Hook victims, who were terrorized by the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on the platform until he was finally tossed off. I also asked whether we could find out who turned down an offer to be on the oversight board.”

David Lindsay:

After the 2016 election, I learned that Facebook, confronted with the fact that Russian and Republican bullies and scoundrels had promoted fake news on Facebook, and helped it go viral with trolls and bots. Facebook refused to do anything about this disastrous misuse of thier now major news platform. It became clear to me that Facebook had to be broken up and  regulated, like all news organizations.

Here is the most popular comment, which I support:

Paul Mc
Cranberry Twp, PA

If our Justice department still had an anti-trust division, worthy of the name, Facebook would have been broken up long ago, or regulated and held accountable for it’s content, as are (most) other legitimate media organizations.

6 Replies127 Recommended

Opinion | How Joe Biden Can Defeat Trump From His Basement – By Lis Smith – The New York Times

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Ms. Smith advised campaigns by Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Cuomo and Barack Obama.

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“If Joe Biden plays his cards right, the death of the traditional presidential campaign will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The 77-year-old Mr. Biden, whom the president derisively calls “Sleepy Joe,” can become the hottest bad boy and disrupter in the media game.

It seems likely that social distancing will force the presidential campaign to be played out entirely on our screens. That will free Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, of the burden of running a grueling, expensive campaign involving incessant travel.

Instead, he can be digitally omnipresent — at a small fraction of the cost and physical toll — and create a new paradigm for how presidential campaigns communicate in the press for years to come.

Mr. Biden’s greatest asset as a campaigner is his palpable empathy. Politicians can learn a lot of tricks — talking points, debate and interview strategies — but personal warmth is something that cannot be taught. It also happens to be a trait that translates well on TV.”

Why Zoom Is Terrible – By Kate Murphy – The New York Times

“Last month, global downloads of the apps Zoom, Houseparty and Skype increased more than 100 percent as video conferencing and chats replaced the face-to-face encounters we are all so sorely missing. Their faces arranged in a grid reminiscent of the game show “Hollywood Squares,” people are attending virtual happy hours and birthday parties, holding virtual business meetings, learning in virtual classrooms and having virtual psychotherapy.

But there are reasons to be wary of the technology, beyond the widely reported security and privacy concerns. Psychologists, computer scientists and neuroscientists say the distortions and delays inherent in video communication can end up making you feel isolated, anxious and disconnected (or more than you were already). You might be better off just talking on the phone.

The problem is that the way the video images are digitally encoded and decoded, altered and adjusted, patched and synthesized introduces all kinds of artifacts: blocking, freezing, blurring, jerkiness and out-of-sync audio. These disruptions, some below our conscious awareness, confound perception and scramble subtle social cues. Our brains strain to fill in the gaps and make sense of the disorder, which makes us feel vaguely disturbed, uneasy and tired without quite knowing why.

Jeffrey Golde, an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School, has been teaching his previously in-person leadership class via Zoom for about a month now and he said it’s been strangely wearing. “I’ve noticed, not only in my students, but also in myself, a tendency to flag,” he said. “It gets hard to concentrate on the grid and it’s hard to think in a robust way.”