Opinion | Welcome to the R.N.C.’s Alternate Universe – By Charlie Warzel – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Warzel is an Opinion writer at large.

Credit…Republican National Convention/Via Reuters

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned covering the daily information wars of the Trump era is that a meaningful percentage of Americans live in an alternate reality powered by a completely separate universe of news and information.

Some are armed with their own completely fabricated facts about the world while others, as the journalist Joshua Green wrote in this section in 2017, rearrange our shared facts “to compose an entirely different narrative.” There is little consensus on the top story of the day or the major threats facing the country. You will have noticed this if you’ve ever watched a congressional hearing and flipped between CNN or MSNBC and Fox News. The video feed is the same but the interpretation of events is radically different.

Personally, I’ve never seen a clearer demonstration of the Two Universes phenomenon than this week’s Republican National Convention.

For three nights, in a shameless display of loyalty to President Trump, the party has conjured up what my colleague Frank Bruni described as an “upside-down vision” of the world. Theirs is a universe in which the coronavirus pandemic is largely in the rear view (on Aug. 25, 1,136 Americans died from the virus) and where, according to Representative Matt Gaetz, radical Democrats threaten to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.” A universe where the existential dangers of climate change pale in comparison to those of cancel culture — even as the West is ravaged by blackouts and wildfires and the Gulf Coast is slammed by a devastating hurricane.

This week, my colleague Jamelle Bouie described some of what we’re seeing as the “Fox Newsification of the Republicans” by “a president who rose to political power via the cable news channel and who exists in a codependent relationship with the network.”

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The comparison is apt, as Fox News has been extremely successful in crafting and selling an alternate reality to its viewers each night for well over a decade. The trick is to evoke two dueling emotions — fear and devotion — one conspiracy theory at a time. Fox News has mastered this and so has the R.N.C.”

David Lindsay:  Yes, all too true. But there might be some solutions to this mess out there. President Ronald Reagan somehow cancelled a rule or law of the FCC that said in order to broadcast news, you had to allow equal time to the main opposing position of any postion you took or reported on. Before then, all news shows were more or less balanced. After this rule was abolished, right wing news channels like Fox went all out for spin and opinion and even lies, in the name of journalistic truth.We should bring back the fairness in reporting doctrine.

Opinion |  Mike Bloomberg Is Hacking Your Attention – by Charlie Warzel – The New York Times

“This is certainly true from a media buying standpoint. Mr. Bloomberg has blanketed the airwaves with television and radio ads, spending over $250 million since beginning his campaign in November. Online, his campaign is even more prolific — NBC News calculated that he’s spent more than $1 million a day on average during the past two weeks on Facebook. He’s spent so much that marketers suggest the flood of ads might be driving up prices for the Trump campaign and taking eyeballs away from the president’s own buckshot campaign to own voters’ news feeds.

At the heart of these tactics is a genuine shamelessness that fits perfectly not just with politics but also the internet at large. Mr. Bloomberg is unapologetic about — and unafraid to hide — the money he’s spending. That transactional approach is an excellent match for online influencer culture, where young internet celebrities aren’t often overly particular about accepting good money to endorse suspect products. In the Instagram meme influencers, the former mayor seems to have found a kindred spirit of attention economy capitalists. “I would be down — bread is bread,” a teenager who runs the meme page @BigDadWhip, told The Times’s Taylor Lorenz when asked about posting sponsored content on behalf of the candidate.

On Twitter, where some Democratic hopefuls have adopted a “they go low, we go high” mentality, Bloombergians have instead opted to wade into the mud and wrestle with Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed. The strategy plays up controversy at every available opportunity to generate attention.

After news broke that the president mocked Mr. Bloomberg’s height in a Super Bowl interview with Sean Hannity, the Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman Julie Wood fired back with a Trumpian line of her own: “The president is lying. He is a pathological liar who lies about everything: his fake hair, his obesity, and his spray-on tan.” “

Opinion | Can Democrats Compete With Trump’s Twitter Feed? – By Charlie Warzel – The New York Times

Illustration by Ricardo Santos; photographs by Joshua Lott/Reuters and Parker Michels-Boyce for The New York Times

 

 

“A long time ago, on a different internet — where Photoshopped images of “God Emperor” Donald Trump riding atop a velociraptor were just a faint glimmer in a young meme lord’s eye — the Republicans were in trouble. Barack Obama’s 2008 win over John McCain was heralded as a digital over an analog. In 2012, Mitt Romney’s technological secret weapon to track voters in real time crashed on Election Day. A 2012 profile of Mr. Obama’s digital team in The Atlantic exclaimed that the “nerds shook up an ossifying Democratic tech structure.” By 2014, the conventional wisdom was that progressives had lapped the Republican Party in the tech space. I heard rumors swirling that some of the Republican National Committee staff were scouring Silicon Valley churches for tech-company hoodies, looking for programmers to hire.

Two years later, the narrative flipped completely. Donald Trump’s 2016 victory was quickly cast as a digital triumph. The campaign successfully harnessed its candidate’s divisive, populist rhetoric to plaster Facebook with ads. The ads worked, in large part because of their incendiary messages. Mr. Trump’s grass-roots support online came from a legion of posters, message board communities and Twitter pundits who flooded the internet with memes, toxic trolling and hyperpartisan pages glorifying the candidate and vilifying his opponents. Democrats were flummoxed.

The Trump wing of the Republican Party appeared to have a structural advantage in online politics — and there was no clear lane in sight for a wonky, hopeful, progressive message. And for the past three years, as Donald Trump has governed by Twitter, Democrats have watched and winced. An unspoken question hangs over the looming presidential election: On an internet built to favor controversy, can Democrats (or anyone less controversial than Mr. Trump) win online in 2020?”

Opinion | How to Be a Whistle-Blower – By Charlie Warzel – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Warzel is an Opinion writer at large.

Credit…Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile, via Getty Images

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“Last week, at a conference in Portugal, I met John Napier Tye. He is a former State Department employee, a whistle-blower and a co-founder of Whistleblower Aid, a nonprofit law firm that represents individuals trying to expose wrongdoing. As you may have noticed, whistle-blowers are very much in the news these days, and Tye is very much in the center of that world.

Today’s newsletter is a Q. and A. with Tye. We talked about whether it’s possible to stay anonymous in 2019, how to protect your privacy like a spy, whether regular people are at risk of becoming targets and how to become a whistle-blower if you’re a witness to something troubling.

This is a condensed and edited version of our conversation:

What are the biggest threats right now to privacy for normal citizens?

It’s useful to distinguish between bulk collection and targeted surveillance. Both are threats. The average citizen is likely already caught up by bulk collection, although the proliferation of targeted surveillance technologies are increasingly threatening whistle-blowers, journalists and others that find themselves on the wrong side of unaccountable governments and security agencies.

Bulk collection affects everyone. A number of governments and companies have the goal of building databases with detailed profile information for every person on earth, or at least every internet user — including where you are at any given moment, who your friends are, what kind of messages and photos you are creating and how you think about the world. They are closer than you might expect.”

Opinion | We Talked to Andrew Yang. Here’s How He’d Fix the Internet. – By Charlie Warzel – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Warzel is an Opinion writer at large.

CreditCreditMark Makela/Reuters

“This week’s Privacy Project newsletter is a pre-debate conversation with the former entrepreneur and current presidential candidate Andrew Yang. I wanted to speak to Yang since he’s the only candidate to address data privacy as a campaign policy issue. He’s a proponent of an idea that’s somewhat controversial among privacy professionals, which is that we should own our own data.

Our short conversation turned out to be pretty sprawling, touching on subjects like data dignity, whether Facebook should be able to run political ads, whether any of us have free will and what his proposed Department of the Attention Economy might look like.

This is a condensed and edited version of our conversation:

You’re the only candidate who has decided to make privacy a campaign issue. How’d you get there?

I’m an avid user of the internet and I understand that users are completely at the mercy of tech companies in terms of what happens to our data. They pretend it’s our choice. In reality, 99.9 percent of people scroll down and hit “I agree.” The trade we’re making is for cost and convenience, but in return we’re forfeiting our data.

That data is packaged and sold and resold and we are none the wiser. We occasionally get notifications of a data breachClose X and think, “Oh, snap, should I change my password?” That’s an irritation but what’s going on with our data is much bigger than that.”

Opinion | The Fake Nancy Pelosi Video Hijacked Our Attention. Just as Intended. – The New York Times

Charlie Warzel

By Charlie Warzel

Mr. Warzel is an Opinion writer at large.

CreditJoel Saget/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Last week, a series of manipulated videos — subtly slowed down and then pitch-corrected to make it appear as if the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, was drunk or incapacitated — were published across Facebook and other social networks, including YouTube and Twitter.

The swift spread of agitation propaganda and the creep of hyperpartisanship across social media isn’t a bug, it is a feature.

The videos were viewed millions of times. They were shared by the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani (the tweet was later deleted) as well as dozens of supporters in the pro-Trump media. The president didn’t share the agitprop, but he did bang out a tweetquestioning the speaker’s well-being.

Mainstream media outlets, in an effort to debunk the viral clips, linked to the video or reposted portions of it themselves, side-by-side with the un-doctored footage of the House speaker. YouTube removed the video, but only after it amassed thousands of views. Twitter and Facebook did not remove the video (Facebook eventually added “fact check” links to the clips). Journalists and pundits debated the social networks’ decisions to leave the video up, while others lamented the rise of political misinformation, filter bubbles, the future of “deepfake” videos and the internet’s penchant to warp reality.”