• "The Biology of #Disinformation," a paper by @rushkoff, @pesco, and @dunagan23 - @iftf


    My Institute for the Future colleagues Douglas Rushkoff, Jake Dunagan, and I wrote a research paper on the "Biology of Disinformation" and how media viruses, bots and computational propaganda have redefined how information is weaponized for propaganda campaigns. While technological solutions may seem like the most practical and effective remedy, fortifying social relationships that define human communication may be the best way to combat “ideological warfare” that is designed to push us toward isolation. As Rushkoff says, "adding more AI's and algorithms to protect users from bad social media is counterproductive: how about increasing our cultural immune response to destructively virulent memes, instead?" From The Biology of Disinformation:


    The specter of widespread computational propaganda that leverages memetics through persuasive technologies looms large. Already, artificially intelligent software can evolve false political and social constructs highly targeted to sway specific audiences. Users find themselves in highly individualized, algorithmically determined news and information feeds, intentionally designed to: isolate them from conflicting evidence or opinions, create self-reinforcing feedback loops of confirmation, and untether them from fact-based reality. And these are just early days. If memes and disinformation have been weaponized on social media, it is still in the musket stage. Sam Woolley, director of the Institute for the Future’s (IFTF) Digital Intelligence Lab, has concluded that defenders of anything approaching “objective” truth are woefully behind in dealing with computational propaganda. This is the case in both technological responses and neuro-cultural defenses. Moreover, the 2018 and 2020 US election cycles are going to see this kind of cognitive warfare on an unprecedented scale and reach.


    But these mechanisms, however powerful, are only as much a threat to human reason as the memetic material they transmit, and the impact of weaponized memetics itself on the social and political landscape. Memes serve as both probes of collective cultural conflicts, and ways of inflaming social divisions. Virulent ideas and imagery only take hold if they effectively trigger a cultural immune response, leading to widespread contagion. This is less a question of technological delivery systems and more a question of human vulnerability. The urgent question we all face is not how to disengage from the modern social media landscape, but rather how do we immunize ourselves against media viruses, fake news, and propaganda?

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  • #Americans’ complicated feelings about #socialmedia in an era of #privacy concerns


    (Busakorn Pongparnit)

    Amid public concerns over Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data and a subsequent movement to encourage users to abandon Facebook, there is a renewed focus on how social media companies collect personal information and make it available to marketers.

    Pew Research Center has studied the spread and impact of social media since 2005, when just 5% of American adults used the platforms. The trends tracked by our data tell a complex story that is full of conflicting pressures. On one hand, the rapid growth of the platforms is testimony to their appeal to online Americans. On the other, this widespread use has been accompanied by rising user concerns about privacy and social media firms’ capacity to protect their data.

    All this adds up to a mixed picture about how Americans feel about social media. Here are some of the dynamics.


    People like and use social media for several reasons


    About seven-in-ten American adults (69%) now report they use some kind of social media platform (not including YouTube) – a nearly fourteenfold increase since Pew Research Center first started asking about the phenomenon. The growth has come across all demographic groups and includes 37% of those ages 65 and older.

    The Center’s polls have found over the years that people use social media for important social interactions like staying in touch with friends and family and reconnecting with old acquaintances. Teenagers are especially likely to report that social media are important to their friendships and, at times, their romantic relationships.

    Beyond that, we have documented how social media play a role in the way people participate in civic and political activities, launch and sustain protests, get and share health information, gather scientific information, engage in family matters, perform job-related activities and get news. Indeed, social media is now just as common a pathway to news for people as going directly to a news organization website or app.

    Our research has not established a causal relationship between people’s use of social media and their well-being. But in a 2011 report, we noted modest associations between people’s social media use and higher levels of trust, larger numbers of close friends, greater amounts of social support and higher levels of civic participation.

    People worry about privacy and the use of their personal information

    While there is evidence that social media works in some important ways for people, Pew Research Center studies have shown that people are anxious about all the personal information that is collected and shared and the security of their data.

    Overall, a 2014 survey found that 91% of Americans “agree” or “strongly agree” that people have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by all kinds of entities. Some 80% of social media users said they were concerned about advertisers and businesses accessing the data they share on social media platforms, and 64% said the government should do more to regulate advertisers.


    Another survey last year found that just 9% of social media users were “very confident” that social media companies would protect their data. About half of users were not at all or not too confident their data were in safe hands.

    Moreover, people struggle to understand the nature and scope of the data collected about them. Just 9% believe they have “a lot of control” over the information that is collected about them, even as the vast majority (74%) say it is very important to them to be in control of who can get information about them.

    Six-in-ten Americans (61%) have said they would like to do more to protect their privacy. Additionally, two-thirds have said current laws are not good enough in protecting people’s privacy, and 64% support more regulation of advertisers.

    Some hope that the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which goes into effect on May 25, will give users – even Americans – greater protections about what data tech firms can collect, how the data can be used, and how consumers can be given more opportunities to see what is happening with their information.

    People’s issues with the social media experience go beyond privacy

    In addition to the concerns about privacy and social media platforms uncovered in our surveys, related research shows that just 5% of social media users trust the information that comes to them via the platforms “a lot.”


    Moreover, social media users can be turned off by what happens on social media. For instance, social media sites are frequently cited as places where people are harassed. Near the end of the 2016 election campaign, 37% of social media users said they were worn out by the political content they encountered, and large shares said social media interactions with those opposed to their views were stressful and frustrating. Large shares also said that social media interactions related to politics were less respectful, less conclusive, less civil and less informative than offline interactions.

    A considerable number of social media users said they simply ignored political arguments when they broke out in their feeds. Others went steps further by blocking or unfriending those who offended or bugged them.

    Why do people leave or stay on social media platforms?

    The paradox is that people use social media platforms even as they express great concern about the privacy implications of doing so – and the social woes they encounter. The Center’s most recent survey about social media found that 59% of users said it would not be difficult to give up these sites, yet the share saying these sites would be hard to give up grew 12 percentage points from early 2014.

    Some of the answers about why people stay on social media could tie to our findings about how people adjust their behavior on the sites and online, depending on personal and political circumstances. For instance, in a 2012 report we found that 61% of Facebook users said they had taken a break from using the platform. Among the reasons people cited were that they were too busy to use the platform, they lost interest, they thought it was a waste of time and that it was filled with too much drama, gossip or conflict.

    In other words, participation on the sites for many people is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

    People pursue strategies to try to avoid problems on social media and the internet overall. Fully 86% of internet users said in 2012 they had taken steps to try to be anonymous online. “Hiding from advertisers” was relatively high on the list of those they wanted to avoid.

    Many social media users fine-tune their behavior to try to make things less challenging or unsettling on the sites, including changing their privacy settings and restricting access to their profiles. Still, 48% of social media users reported in a 2012 survey they have difficulty managing their privacy controls.

    After National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed details about government surveillance programs starting in 2013, 30% of adults said they took steps to hide or shield their information and 22% reported they had changed their online behavior in order to minimize detection.

    One other argument that some experts make in Pew Research Center canvassings about the future is that people often find it hard to disconnect because so much of modern life takes place on social media. These experts believe that unplugging is hard because social media and other technology affordances make life convenient and because the platforms offer a very efficient, compelling way for users to stay connected to the people and organizations that matter to them.

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  • #Facebook knew #Android #callscraping would be ‘high-risk,’ new documents reveal

    Facebook knew Android call-scraping would be ‘high-risk,’ new documents reveal

    Internal emails show Facebook weighing the privacy risks of collecting call records — then going ahead anyway

    Illustration by James Bareham / The Verge

    In March, many Android users were shocked to discover that Facebook had been collecting a record of their call and SMS history, as revealed by the company’s data download tool. Now, internal emails released by the UK Parliament show how the decision was made internally. According to the emails, developers knew the data was sensitive, but they still pushed to collect it as a way of expanding Facebook’s reach.

    The emails show Facebook’s growth team looking to call log data as a way to improve Facebook’s algorithms as well as to locate new contacts through the “People You May Know” feature. Notably, the project manager recognized it as “a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective,” but that risk seems to have been overwhelmed by the potential user growth.

    Initially, the feature was intended to require users to opt in, typically through an in-app pop-up dialog box. But as developers looked for ways to get users signed up, it became clear that Android’s data permissions could be manipulated to automatically enroll users if the new feature was deployed in a certain way.

    In another email chain, the group developing the feature seems to see the Android permissions screen as a point of unnecessary friction, to be avoided if possible. When testing revealed that call logs could be collected without a permissions dialog, that option seems to have been obviously preferable to developers.

    “Based on our initial testing,” one developer wrote, “it seems that this would allow us to upgrade users without subjecting them to an Android permissions dialog at all.”

    After the story broke in March, Facebook insisted that it had not collected any call logs without permission, and that any affected users had opted in to the feature. This contradicted the experience of many Facebook users, who reported installing Messenger with the bare minimum of permissions and nonetheless having logs collected.

    Facebook’s People You May Know feature has been the source of significant controversy for the company, often identifying connections through location or other obscure data sources. Most notably, the feature inspired Facebook to create so-called “shadow profiles” for contacts who haven’t signed up for Facebook, a practice some have criticized as overly aggressive.

    Reached for comment, Facebook said it stood by its original statement. “We of course discuss the options of keeping, removing, or changing features we offer,” a representative said. “This specific feature allows people to opt into giving Facebook access to their call and text messaging logs in Facebook Lite and Messenger on Android devices. We use this information to do things like make better suggestions for people to call in Messenger and ranking contact lists in Messenger and Facebook Lite.”

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  • #Socialmedia and #tribalism


    Social media news feeds are driven by users’ profiles to reinforce their preferences and prejudices. News feeds are customised for each user. Any posts that don’t fit these profiles don’t get displayed. The result is increasing tribalism in the world. American and British intelligence agencies claim that Russian intelligence has used social media to promote divisions and manipulate public opinion in the West. Like the US and the UK, Pakistan also has ethnic, sectarian and regional fault-lines that make it vulnerable to similar social media manipulation.  It is very likely that intelligence agencies of countries hostile to Pakistan are exploiting these divisions for their own end and various pronouncements by India’s current and former intelligence and security officials reinforce this suspicion.


    Humans are born with tribal instincts. People embrace group identities based on birthplace, language, region, sect, religion, nation, school, sports team, etc to define themselves.

    Such group affiliations can give people a sense of belonging but they are sometimes also used to exclude others with the purpose of promoting hostility and violence. Social media platforms are being used both ways: To unite and to divide people.

    Powerful new media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp lend themselves for use as extensions of covert warfares carried out by intelligence agencies against nations they see as hostile.

    Social Media Platforms

    Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are powerful magnets for marketers, extremist groups and intelligence agencies. They spend a lot of time and money on such platforms to reach and manipulate their targets.

    Trolls and bots proliferate and societies become more deeply divided along political, ethnic, racial, religious, ideological and regional lines.  It is a problem that all nations in the world have to respond to.

    Developed nations in Europe and North America with stronger institutions are generally more capable of dealing with the consequences of such divisions.  But the increasing social media penetration in less capable developing nations with weak institutions cause them to sometimes descend into violent riots. In a recent piece titled “Where Countries Are Tinderboxes and Facebook is a Match“,  the New York Times has mentioned recent examples of riots and lynchings caused by social media posts in India, Indonesia, Mexico, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

    Brexit and Trump

    The unexpected result of Brexit, the British vote to leave the European Union, shocked many in the UK and Europe. It was soon followed by an even bigger shock with the unexpected election of Donald J. Trump as the President of the United States. Western intelligence agencies have now concluded that Russian intelligence agencies sponsored trolls played a major role in manipulating the public opinion in the United Kingdom and the United States.

    In February 2018, the US justice department indicted 13 Russians and three Russian entities in an alleged conspiracy to defraud the United States, including by tampering in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump and against Hillary Clinton, according to media reports.

    The US DOJ indictment identified the Internet Research Agency, a St Petersburg-based group to which millions of impostor social media accounts have been traced, as a primary offender. The indictment also charged Russian individuals who funded the alleged election tampering conspiracy or who otherwise participated in it.

    Some of the Russian social media posts were used to organise protests and counter protests in the United States on issues relating to race and religion.

    US Senator Richard Burr confirmed that two groups converged outside the Islamic Da’wah Center of Houston in 2016, the Texas Tribune reported. One had gathered at the behest of the “Heart of Texas” Facebook group for a “Stop Islamification of Texas” rally, while the other, spurred on by the “United Muslims of America” Facebook page, had organised a counter-protest to “Save Islamic Knowledge.”

    A Russian-sponsored Facebook ad appeared in late 2015 or early 2016, sources told CNN, and though it was meant to appear supportive of Black Lives Matter movement, it may also have conveyed the group as threatening to some white residents of those cities.

    Indian Trolls:

    It can be safely assumed that Russians are not alone in using social media against nations they see as hostile to them. It is also a safe bet that Indian intelligence agencies are most likely deploying their troll farms and bots to divide Pakistanis.

    India’s ruling BJP party has extensively used social media apps to spread rumours, innuendo,  fake news, outright lies and various forms of disinformation against anyone seen to be even mildly critical of their leader Narendra Modi. Their harshest abuse has been targeted at the Opposition Congress party leaders, various liberal individuals and groups, Muslims and Pakistanis.

    Swati Chaturvedi, author of I Am a Troll, has cited many instances of hateful tweets from Modi-loving Hindu trolls, including Singer Abhijeet’s lies to generate hatred against Muslims and Pakistan and BJP MP Hukum Singh’s false claim of “Hindu exodus” from Kairana in western Uttar Pradesh blaming it on Muslims.

    Vikram Sood, a former top spy in India, has elaborated on India’s covert warfare options to target Pakistan in the following words: “The media is a favorite instrument, provided it is not left to the bureaucrats because then we will end up with some clumsy and implausible propaganda effort. More than the electronic and print media, it is now the internet and YouTube that can be the next-generation weapons of psychological war. Terrorists use these liberally and so should those required to counter terrorism.”

    In a 2013 speech at Sastra University, Indian Prime Minister Modi’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval revealed his covert war strategy against Pakistan as follows:  “How do you tackle Pakistan? We start working on Pakistan’s vulnerabilities, economic, internal security, political, isolating them internationally, it can be anything, it can be defeating Pakistan’s policies in Afghanistan. You stop the terrorists by denying them weapons, funds and manpower. Deny them funds by countering with one-and-a-half times more funding. If they have 1200 crores give them 1800 crores and they are on our side, who are the Taliban fighting for? It’s because they haven’t got jobs or someone has misled them. The Taliban are mercenaries. So go for more of the covert thing (against Pakistan).”

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  • 8 facts about Americans and Facebook

    8 facts about Americans and Facebook

    Facebook is one of the most popular social media platforms among adults in the United States. At the same time, it has attracted scrutiny in recent years because of concerns over its ability to keep users’ personal information private and its role in the 2016 presidential election. Here are eight facts about Americans and Facebook, based on Pew Research Center surveys conducted in 2018:

    1 Around two-thirds (68%) of U.S. adults use Facebook, according to a survey conducted in January. That’s unchanged from April 2016, the last time the Center asked this question, but up from 54% of adults in August 2012.

    With the exception of YouTube – the video-sharing platform used by 73% of adults – no other major social media platform comes close to Facebook in terms of usage. Around a third of U.S. adults (35%) say they use Instagram, while smaller shares say they use Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter and WhatsApp.

    2 Among U.S. adults who use Facebook, around three-quarters (74%) visit the site at least once a day, according to the January survey. The share of adult users who visit Facebook at least once a day is higher than the shares who visit Snapchat (63%) and Instagram (60%) at least once a day. However, similar shares of Facebook and Snapchat users say they visit each site several times a day (51% and 49%, respectively).

    3 Facebook is popular among all demographic groups, though some adults are more likely to use it than others. Nearly three-quarters of women in the U.S. (74%) use the platform, compared with 62% of men. There are differences by community type and education level, too: Adults in urban areas are more likely to use it than those in suburban or rural areas, as are those with a college degree when compared with people who have lower levels of education.

    Around eight-in-ten (81%) of those ages 18 to 29 use Facebook – about twice the share among those 65 and older (41%). However, the share of older Americans who use the platform has doubled since August 2012, when just 20% of those 65 and older said they used it.

    4 Facebook is used by around half of America’s teens, but it no longer dominates the teen social media landscape as it once did, according to a survey of U.S. teens conducted in March and April. Today, 51% of those ages 13 to 17 say they use the platform, down from 71% in a 2014-2015 survey.

    The top sites among today’s teens include YouTube (85%), Instagram (72%) and Snapchat (69%). In the 2014-2015 survey, Facebook was the only platform used by a clear majority of teens.

    5 Lower-income teens are more likely than higher-income teens to use Facebook. U.S. teens generally use similar social media platforms regardless of their demographic characteristics. When it comes to Facebook, however, seven-in-ten teens living in households earning less than $30,000 a year say they use the platform, compared with 36% of those whose annual family income is $75,000 or more.

    6Facebook is a pathway to news for around four-in-ten U.S. adults

    Around four-in-ten U.S. adults (43%) get news from Facebook, according to a survey conducted in July and August. The share of U.S. adults who get news through Facebook is much higher than the shares who get news through YouTube (21%), Twitter (12%), Instagram (8%), LinkedIn (6%) and other platforms. Among U.S. adults who get news from Facebook, women are more likely than men to do this (61% vs. 39%), as are whites when compared with nonwhites (62% vs. 37%).

    742% of Facebook users have taken a break from the site in the past year

    Many adult Facebook users have a complex relationship with the platform. A little over half of adult Facebook users in the U.S. (54%) have adjusted their privacy settings in the past 12 months, according to a separate Center survey conducted in May and June. The survey followed revelations that former consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had collected data on tens of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge or permission.

    About four-in-ten adult Facebook users (42%) have taken a break from checking the platform for several weeks or more, and about a quarter (26%) have deleted the app from their phone at some point in the past year. Combined, 74% of adult Facebook users say they have taken at least one of these three actions.

    8 Many adult Facebook users in the U.S. lack a clear understanding of how the platform’s news feed works, according to the May and June survey. Around half of these users (53%) say they do not understand why certain posts are included in their news feed and others are not, including 20% who say they do not understand this at all.

    Just 14% of Facebook users believe ordinary users have a lot of control over the content that appears in their news feed, while twice as many (28%) say users have no control. (A 57% majority of Facebook users say they have a little control over what appears in their news feed.) Around six-in-ten Facebook users (63%) say they have not intentionally tried to influence or change the content that appears on their news feed.

    Note: This is an update of a post originally published on April 10, 2018.

    Topics: Online Communities, Social Media, Internet Activities, Technology Adoption

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  • Four in 10 consumers scroll past and no longer trust #social #ads

    Consumers are constantly distracted by digital media and content and are losing trust in brands, according to a new study.

    Consumers want to be entertained and are turning away from business-sponsored content, according to a new report from Sprout Social. Its latest social advertising report shows consumer's opinion of social media advertising is falling.

    It commissioned a study from Survata, which interviewed 1,004 online respondents between March 5, 2018 and March 6, 2018.

    Read also: Socially conscious brands have an edge with consumers according to study

    The study found that 27 percent of consumers said their opinion of social media advertising has declined in the past year. The current climate seems to be a factor in this response, with 39 percent saying recent political events have decreased their trust in social ads.

    This result shows that across social platforms, the majority of consumers scroll past brands' ads. The top reason for the drop cited by 58 percent of respondents was that they saw too many social ads overall. Other complaints were about uninteresting content (31 percent) and irrelevance (26 percent).

    So, what type of content do consumers actually want?

    Four in ten consumers scroll past, and no longer trust social ads ZDNet
    (Image: SproutSocial)

    The survey showed that 41 percent of respondents report that entertaining content makes them more likely to engage with a social ad.

    Video is one of the main formats people want to see from brands (83 percent). GIFs also tend to perform well with over half (58 percent) of people enjoying them. Amongst millennials, this figure rises to 70 percent.

    It is not all bad news for brands, though. There are still tricks to use to engage users. Across generations, 37 percent of people are more likely to engage with social ads that save them money.

    However, Baby Boomers say discounts are their top motivator, and younger social users do not want their first impression of a brand to urge them to buy immediately

    It found that a third of people are more likely to engage with social ads that teach them something, and two thirds (65 percent) of consumers will click through to learn more.

    This indicates that consumers want ads that promise further education about the product, subject matter, or an related topic.

    Most consumers do not log on to social channels to shop. They log on to seek a social experience with their connections.

    Read also: Should brands stop ad spending? Survey says yes

    Brands who want to tap into this social interactions should look to useful how-to videos that incorporate education and learning into the social experience, enable their customers to learn more, and keep the brand top-of-mind.

    Regaining trust -- especially in this era awash with fake news -- is hard.

    Brands should focus on never losing their customer trust instead of fighting to get it back.

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  • Here's How the US Became a Troll Nation: From Gamergate to the Rise of Trump

    Before “MAGA,” Gamergaters claimed harassing women online was “about ethics in video game journalism”



    1. To fish for by trolling

    2. a: to antagonize (others) online by deliverately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content
      b: to act as a troll

    — Merriam-Webster.com, 2017

    The national tragedy that was the election of 2016, in which a conspiracy theory-minded half-literate racist demagogue named Donald Trump managed to defeat the eminently qualified Hil­lary Clinton in the presidential race, created its own mini media industry asking the question why? How had this human troll, with his mugging face, orange coloring, and p**sy-grabbing ways, managed to beat someone who had a long career in public service and had clearly done her homework?

    A number of theories were floated, including claims that white working class America was reacting to poor economic circum­stances, even though the economy was far more stable than it had been when Barack Obama won in 2008 and job numbers were largely looking good. Some imagined it must have had something to do with Clinton herself, that she had somehow run a uniquely terrible campaign and was solely to blame for the loss. But the evidence for this is lean on the ground.

    The sad truth is that Trump owes his victory to a very dark turn in American conservatism. Unlike right wing ideologues of old, who at least tried to portray themselves as stabilizing and constructive, the right in the era of Trump is a movement of annihilation. They are bigoted, sexist, and mean, and often don’t even try to dress these destructive impulses up in the garb of tra­dition or religion.

    They delight in cruelty for its own sake. Building something positive has no real value in this new right wing. Pissing off per­ceived enemies, such as feminists and liberals, is the only real political goal worth fighting for.

    They are, in other words, a nation of trolls.

    Trolling is a term that started on the internet, to describe peo­ple whose main purpose online was irritating other people. It’s the sort of thing that people of all political stripes used to engage in, a casual bullying for its own sake that was low stakes. But as the boundaries between real life and internet life have broken down, and as the internet has become the primary form of polit­ical communication, trolling morphed into something of a right wing philosophy.

    No longer do those on the right feel any need to offer a partic­ularly positive vision of America. Even Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” was rarely backed up with an artic­ulated vision of what, exactly, that greatness entailed. Instead, it was an angry yelp, aimed at liberal America. It’s about tear­ing apart a new America that was becoming more feminist and racially diverse. When social progress cannot be argued against, its opponents instead turn to trolling. And Trump — ignorant, thoughtless, mean, barely literate — would be their leader.

    Trump’s election had the strangest of bellwethers: the world of video games.

    It’s hard to believe it now, but in 2014, a storm of controversy raged for months in the online world of video gamers and became the template for what has been deemed “Trumpism.” Before there was Trump, there was “Gamergate,” where the smaller but equally American community of video game players was torn apart as the same bitter white guys (and their sad suck-up female supporters) lost their minds because some women had opinions about video games.

    To most people who witnessed it at the time, Gamergate seemed like one of those incomprehensible internet wars that fades as quickly as it erupts, but in retrospect, it was an alarming portend of the rise of Trump, the alt-right and an America that now has torch-wielding white supremacists starting street fights in the name of fascism. It foretold a country where the American right has devolved into a nihilistic movement, prepared to tear down the country rather than share it fairly with women, LGBT people and people of color.

    Like many historical calamities, Gamergate began because a young man did not accept it when a woman told him no.

    In August 2014, a man named Eron Gjoni wrote a nearly 10,000 word essay about his ex-girlfriend, a video game developer named Zoë Quinn. The piece, which he posted online, was an incoherent train wreck of thwarted male entitlement, in which Gjoni obsessed about Quinn’s sex life. Calling a girl a slut online is often enough to get the internet hoards to attack her, but Gjoni’s real stroke of genius was in claiming Quinn’s professional success was not a result of her talent, but due to her trading sexual favors for good press coverage.

    The accusation, and this cannot be stated clearly enough, was flat-out false. (Quinn did date a journalist, but he never wrote about her work.) But it played off the resentment so many men feel when they see a woman who has more professional success than they do. The lie gave these men a comforting fiction to cling to, which is that women who excel aren’t really talented or inter­esting, but instead must be cheating — using sex or liberal guilt or anything but their actual talents to get ahead.

    It’s the same myth that millions would later use to convince themselves that Trump was somehow more worthy of their vote than Clinton.

    Gjoni shared his post on internet forums where a lot of young men had already gathered to complain about women who were gaining a foothold in the video game industry. The result was the stalker’s dream: Hundreds, possibly thousands of young men (and some women!) became lieutenants in Gjoni’s quest to punish Quinn for dumping him. They harassed and threatened Quinn until she was forced to leave her home.

    The campaign continued to spiral even further out of control, as the online mob expanded the circle of harassment. The targets of the Gamergate are familiar to anyone who watched the rise of Trump. While women who were viewed as uppity were the main hate objects, accusations also flew against journalists, deemed corrupt and out of touch by the Gamergaters. People who advo­cated for gender and racial equality were sneeringly dismissed as “SJWs,” short for “social justice warriors.” The vitriol was always justified by a hazy nostalgia for the good old days, when video games were supposedly simple and didn’t bother players with all this political correctness.

    Gamergaters, one could say, wanted to make video gaming “great again.”

    While the entire debacle garnered a lot of media attention, mostly from journalists—including myself—who couldn’t believe how angry so many young men were, one enterprising young writer named Milo Yiannopoulos saw an opportunity. He saw that Gamergaters were incoherent and unorganized, but with a little leadership, they could be whipped into a hard-right youth movement. Yiannopoulos got to work injecting himself into the middle of Gamergate, writing apologies for the movement on the far-right site Breitbart and riling up the harassment mobs on Twitter.

    Mainstream conservatives tend to lean on arguments of tra­dition and morality in order to undermine women’s progress. Older conservatives try to spin their sexist views in positive terms, claiming that putting restrictions on women’s reproduc­tive rights and job opportunities is about constructing a happy family life. Traditional conservatism is genteel and condescend­ing to women.

    Yiannopoulos, despite — or because — he’s both gay and Brit­ish, seemed to get why Gamergaters were different. He dispensed with the niceties of the past and embraced a politics of unvar­nished resentment. He told angry young men that they were being terrorized by “an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners, abetted by achingly politically correct Amer­ican tech bloggers,” and gave his young followers permission to embrace the politics of destruction.

    Milo didn’t pretend to be motivated by sexual morality or family values. Instead, he wallowed in foul language and bragga­docio about his sexual exploits. He told his readers that they were justified in their feeling that women had, by striving for equality, stolen something from them. He offered them an anti-femi­nism stripped of any pretense towards chivalry, instead giving them permission to embrace a politics composed of nothing but resentment and destructive urges. He let them believe that the minor bumps and bruises of young adulthood, such as career struggles or dating struggles, were the direct result of women’s efforts towards equality — and that justified harassment and cru­elty towards women in return.

    Gamergate faded, but Yiannopoulos’s star continued to rise. Mainstream media sources were fascinated by how he was selling a right wing politics that wasn’t interested in the usual justifica­tions of social order or religious faith. Milo portrayed himself as a rebel, framing destructiveness as subversion. He harnessed an army of young male supporters he cultivated by tapping their resentments towards women, and pointed their ire at targets, such as Muslim immigrants, that fit the larger Breitbart agenda of white nationalism.

    It was Yiannopoulos who really grasped, for instance, that the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters, which starred four women instead of four men, created a perfect opportunity to tap into a vein of male outrage. For every man who still can’t believe women are allowed to reject him, for every male college student angry that a girl got better grades, for every sexist still bitter that a woman got promoted over him at work, Milo offered yowling about the supposed injustice of Ghostbusters as an opportunity for revenge.

    Yiannopoulos called the movie “an overpriced self-esteem device for women betrayed by the lies of third-wave feminism.” It was a perfect distillation of his immense powers of projection. It’s his audience whose self-esteem is shattered by seeing women in the kind of comedic roles they wish to believe that only men are capable of mastering. And it’s his audience that would rather tear the Ghostbusters franchise down by its ears than have to share it with women.

    As with Gamergate, Yiannopoulos was a ringleader in the movement to destroy Ghostbusters through an online harass­ment campaign, a movement that unsurprisingly focused mostly on the one woman of color on the cast, Leslie Jones, who Yian­nopoulos called “barely literate” and “another black dude.”

    Even Trump got involved, putting out a 6-minute video where he whined, “And now they’re making Ghostbusters with only women. What’s going on?!”

    The harassment of Jones got Yiannopoulos kicked off Twitter, but his banning only seemed to reinforce the view of Yiannopou­los’s fans that they are victims of a “politically correct” culture that supposedly wishes to suppress supposed truths about race and gender through shaming and censoriousness.

    To be clear, neither Yiannopoulos nor the modern right writ large invented this idea of trolling the left as a political ideology onto itself. Plenty of right wing personalities laid the pathway for the idea that messing with liberals is a reasonable substitute for having a coherent political philosophy. Rush Limbaugh, for instance, has maintained a multi-decade career as a radio talk show host by focusing his show primarily on the subject of the alleged evils of liberals and why listeners should hate these omi­nous creatures.

    But after decades of that kind of propaganda, trolling liberals is no longer considered just a fun sport, but the ultimate purpose of conservative politics. The idea of making a positive argument in favor of conservative values has atrophied, leaving only the desire to troll in its place.

    Ultimately, Yiannopoulos’s most lasting legacy will likely be in his support for the Trump campaign, which in turn helped a generation of resentful young men believe that voting Trump, who Yiannopoulos called “Daddy,” was the ultimate way to troll the feminists and liberals they hate. That Trump had nothing positive to offer doesn’t bother Milo and his fans. If anything, that is seen as a plus: Trump is the politics of destruction, per­sonified.

    “I can put up with almost anything from Donald Trump, because of the existential threat he poses to political correctness,” Yiannopoulos told me when I interviewed him in October 2016.

    “He’d rather grab a p**sy than be one,” Yiannopoulos said after a tape was released of Trump, apparently unaware of a hot mic, bragging about how he likes to kiss and grab women “by the p**sy” without their consent. Sexual assault is of no concern to this new right. It angers feminists and puts women in their place, after all. What else do you need to know?

    Milo and his millions of supporters embody the nihilism that defines the new right under Trump. They don’t particularly care if Trump is a failure or incapable of doing or creating anything positive. He’s just a human sledgehammer to wield against a world that is starting to question whether white men are inher­ently superior to the rest of us. He’s revenge for every woman who wouldn’t fuck them, every black guy that got better grades, every younger relative who wrinkled their nose at them when they had too many drinks at Thanksgiving and let loose with a racial slur.

    “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump bragged while campaigning for the Iowa caucus.

    It’s a brag that rings true, at least for his most ardent support­ers. Depending on whom he shot, they might even cheer.

    But imagine if Trump got hit on the head and had a person­ality change that led him to declare that, in interest of rectifying hundreds of years of white supremacy, he was supporting repara­tions. Then, after all this time, his base would turn on him.

    Both Gamergate and the Yiannopoulos-led campaign against Ghostbusters have much in common with the strategy Trump used to transition out of being a reality TV star and into poli­tics: Birtherism, a widespread conspiracy theory on the right that holds that Barack Obama was an illegitimate president because he was supposedly not born in the United States.

    Trump didn’t invent birtherism, which writer Ta-Nehisi Coates calls “that modern recasting of the old American precept that black people are not fit to be citizens of the country they built.” But Trump did use his fame as a tabloid fixture and the host of The Apprentice to repeatedly inject the conspiracy theory into mainstream media spaces that used to be hostile to the kind of people who breathlessly recite racist urban legends.

    Starting in the spring of 2011, Trump appeared on Fox News, NBC, MSNBC, and CNN, claiming, falsely, that Obama was hiding his true birth certificate and that a “tape’s going to be produced fairly soon” proving Obama was born in Kenya. Even after Obama, in an effort to shut down the Trump-fueled media chatter, produced the birth certificate, Trump kept at it, declaring on Twitter that the birth certificate is “a fraud” and suggesting Obama was having people murdered to cover up the truth.

    Trump also started pushing the idea that Obama hadn’t got­ten into Columbia University and Harvard Law School honestly. Trump repeatedly claimed he would pay millions of dollars in a ransom to get copies of Obama’s transcripts, clearly implying that Obama didn’t have the grades and had cheated to get into these prestigious universities.

    Trump’s birtherism and Yiannopoulos’s campaigns around Gamergate and "Ghostbusters," are about saying, without com­ing right out and saying it, that women and people of color are inferior to white men. The implication of all these move­ments is that the success enjoyed by women or people of color is unearned and inauthentic, that people like them simply cannot actually be smart or talented or even legitimate enough to get that far. And that everyone else supposedly sees it, too, but are too cowed by the fear of being called “racist” or “sexist” to say so publicly.

    This narrative has a special appeal to men like Trump, who aren’t particularly special or intelligent. The idea that the unfit are getting elevated by “affirmative action” or “political correct­ness” allows such men to believe that they would be the stars and the much-heralded geniuses, if those undeserving inferiors weren’t sucking all the oxygen out of the room.

    Yiannopoulos himself was set to ride a narrative of white male victimization to the kind of fame and fortune that continues to elude his female or non-white peers in mediocrity. Even after he got kicked off Twitter, he secured a quarter million dollar advance on a book deal with Simon & Schuster and was starting to book high profile appearances on shows like “Real Time with Bill Maher,” where he received a convivial welcome.

    Then a video surfaced in early 2017 showing Milo decrying the “arbitrary and oppressive idea of consent” that legally and mor­ally prevents adult men from having sex with 13-year-old boys, a social more he blamed on “the left.” While celebrating Trump bragging about the sexual abuse of adult women was treated by many in both right wing and mainstream media as a joyous assault on political correctness, celebrating the sexual abuse of boys was a bridge too far. After all, most of the people in power had themselves once been a boy, vulnerable to sexual predation.

    Yiannopoulos lost his book deal and most of his mainstream media support after that. Luckily for him, the landings for the oppressed wealthy white man tend, even in 2017, to be feathery soft. Yiannopoulos self-published his book and is getting a heavy promotion schedule at Breitbart. He also has a lucrative speaking career, getting paid the big bucks by conservative groups on col­lege campuses who see booking him as a delightful way to troll the liberals.

    Milo’s career demonstrates that, in the 21st century, one doesn’t need interesting ideas or any real talents to sell yourself as a thought leader on the right. All you need is an overweening sense of white male entitlement and a gleeful sadism in defend­ing it. As long as you have both those things, nothing you can say or do, no matter how offensive or terrible, will cause an audience of bitter white men (and some women!) to pry themselves away from you.

    Ask Milo’s hero: Donald J. Trump. Or, as people now call him, “Mr. President.”

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  • Here’s How Much Bots Drive Conversation During News Events - #socialmedia #propaganda #fakenews #Twitter #Bots #socialnetworks


    Here’s How Much Bots Drive Conversation During News Events


    Casey Chin; Getty Images

    Last week, as thousands of Central American migrants made their way northward through Mexico, walking a treacherous route toward the US border, talk of "the caravan," as it's become known, took over Twitter. Conservatives, led by President Donald Trump, dominated the conversation, eager to turn the caravan into a voting issue before the midterms. As it turns out, they had some help—from propaganda bots on Twitter.

    Late last week, about 60 percent of the conversation was driven by likely bots. Over the weekend, even as the conversation about the caravan was overshadowed by more recent tragedies, bots were still driving nearly 40 percent of the caravan conversation on Twitter. That's according to an assessment by Robhat Labs, a startup founded by two UC Berkeley students that builds tools to detect bots online. The team's first product, a Chrome extension called BotCheck.me, allows users to see which accounts in their Twitter timelines are most likely bots. Now it's launching a new tool aimed at news organizations called FactCheck.me, which allows journalists to see how much bot activity there is across an entire topic or hashtag.

    Take the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh over the weekend. On Sunday, one day after the shooting, bots were driving 23 percent of the Twitter activity related to the incident, according to FactCheck.me.

    "These big crises happen, and there’s a flurry of social media activity, but it's really hard to go back and see what’s being spread and get numbers around bot activity," says Ash Bhat, a Robhat Labs cofounder. So the team built an internal tool. Now they're launching it publicly, in hopes of helping newsrooms measure the true volume of conversation during breaking news events, apart from the bot-driven din.

    "The impact of these bot accounts is still seen and felt on Twitter."

    Ash Bhat, Robhat Labs

    Identifying bots is an ever-evolving science. To develop their methodology, Bhat and his partner Rohan Phadte compiled a sample set of accounts they had a high confidence were political propaganda bots. These accounts exhibited unusual behavior, like tweeting political content every few minutes throughout the day or amassing a huge following almost instantly. Unlike automated accounts that news organizations and other entities sometimes set up to send regularly scheduled tweets, the propaganda bots that Robhat Labs is focused on pose as humans. Bhat and Phadte also built a set of verified accounts to represent standard human behavior. They built a machine learning model that could compare the two and pick up on the patterns specific to bot accounts. They wound up with a model that they say is about 94 percent accurate in identifying propaganda bots. Factcheck.me does more than just track bot activity, though. It also applies image recognition technology to identify the most popular memes and images about a given topic being circulated by both bots and humans.

    The tool is still in its earliest stages and requires Bhat and his eight-person team to pull the numbers themselves each time they get a request. Newsrooms interested in tracking a given event have to email Robhat Labs with the topic they want to track. Within 24 hours, the company will spit back a report. Reporters will be able to see both the extent of the bot activity on a given topic, as well as the most shared pieces of content pertaining to that topic.

    There are limitations to this approach. It's not currently possible to the view the percentage of bot activity over a longer period of time. Factcheck.me also doesn't indicate which way the bots are swaying the conversation. Still, it offers more information than newsrooms have previously had at their disposal. Plenty of researchers have studied bot activity on Twitter as a whole, but FactCheck.me allows for more narrow analyses of specific topics, almost in real time. Already, Robhat Labs has released reports on the caravan, the shooting in Pittsburgh, and the senate race in Texas.

    Twitter has spent the last year cracking down on bot activity on the platform. Earlier this year, the company banned users from posting identical tweets to multiple accounts at once or retweeting and liking en masse from different accounts. Then, in July, the company purged millions of bot accounts from the platform, and has booted tens of millions of accounts that it previously locked for suspicious behavior.

    But according to Bhat, the bots have hardly disappeared. They've just evolved. Now, rather than simply sending automated tweets that Twitter might delete, they work to amplify and spread the divisive Tweets written by actual humans. "The impact of these bot accounts is still seen and felt on Twitter," Bhat says.


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  • How Facebook Groups sparked a crisis in France

    How Facebook Groups sparked a crisis in France

    The Yellow Vest movement was organized on Facebook — and now it has spilled into the streets


    Over the weekend, violence broke out in France, with more than 280,000 protesters fanning out across the country in what is known as the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) movement. What started as a reaction against a hike in the country’s gasoline tax has metastasized into something uglier. More than 400 people have been injured across some 2,000 rallies, and one person was killed after being run over by a car. In CityLab, Feargus O’Sullivan attempts to describe a rather amorphous protest:

    Unusually, the Yellow Vests is a grassroots mass protest movement with no explicit wider political agenda or links to existing groups. Having organized themselves via social media since May (when the movement was sparked by an online petition), the Yellow Vests have arrived somewhat out of the blue.

    There is also no clear media consensus as to what they are protesting beyond the cost of gas. To some observers, the protesters are primarily angry about what they see as President Emmanuel Macron’s apparent indifference toward tough conditions for working people. To others, the movement is evidence of a middle-class backlash. Meanwhile, it’s not automatically easy to say whether the protest cleaves more to the left or the right.

    What commentators are saying, both inside France and out, is that the movement has been organized primarily on Facebook. The writer Frederic Filloux described some of the group’s methods:

    Two weeks ago, more than 1,500 Yellow Vests-related Facebook events were organized locally, sometimes garnering a quarter of a city’s population. Self-appointed thinkers became national figures, thanks to popular pages and a flurry of Facebook Live. One of them, Maxime Nicolle (107,000 followers), organizes frequent impromptu “lives”, immediately followed by thousands of people. His gospel is a hodgepodge of incoherent demands but he’s now a national voice. His Facebook account, featuring a guillotine, symbol of the French Revolution and the device for death penalty until 1981, was briefly suspended before being reinstated after he put up a more acceptable image. Despite surreals, but always copious lists of claims, these people appear on popular TV shows. Right now in France, traditional TV is trailing a social sphere seen as uncorrupted by the elites, unfiltered, and more authentic.

    Writing for Bloomberg (and quoting a French-language column I couldn’t read myself), Leonid Bershidsky argues that Facebook’s decision to promote posts from groups in the News Feed may have exacerbated the protests.

    There’s nothing democratic about the emergence of Facebook group administrators as spokespeople for what passes for a popular movement. Unlike Macron and French legislators, they are unelected. In a column for Liberation, journalist Vincent Glad suggested that recent changes to the Facebook algorithm – which have prioritized content created by groups over that of pages, including those of traditional media outlets – have provided the mechanism to promote these people. Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg thought he was depoliticizing his platform and focusing on connecting people. That is not what happened.

    “Facebook group admins, whose prerogatives are constantly being increased by Zuckerberg, are the new intermediaries, thriving on the ruins of labor unions, associations or political parties,” Glad wrote.

    The result has been civil unrest with few modern precedents, John Lichfield writes in the Guardian. (He’s lived in the country for 22 years.)

    I have never seen the kind of wanton destruction that surrounded me on some of the smartest streets of Paris on Saturday – such random, hysterical hatred, directed not just towards the riot police but at shrines to the French republic itself such as the Arc de Triomphe. The 12-hour battle went beyond violent protest, beyond rioting, to the point of insurrection, even civil war.

    Reading the coverage, I’m reminded of Renee DiResta’s recent essay “The Digital Maginot Line,” which I first shared here last week. In it, she writes about how liberal democracies have proven more susceptible to the fomenting of violent political outrage than more authoritarian states. She writes about the American case here, but it’s just as easy to translate to the situation in France:

    We are (rightfully) concerned about silencing voices or communities. But our commitment to free expression makes us disproportionately vulnerable in the era of chronic, perpetual information war. Digital combatants know that once speech goes up, we are loathe to moderate it; to retain this asymmetric advantage, they push an all-or-nothing absolutist narrative that moderation is censorship, that spammy distribution tactics and algorithmic amplification are somehow part of the right to free speech.

    We seriously entertain conversations about whether or not bots have the right to free speech, privilege the privacy of fake people, and have Congressional hearings to assuage the wounded egos of YouTube personalities. More authoritarian regimes, by contrast, would simply turn off the internet. An admirable commitment to the principle of free speech in peace time turns into a sucker position against adversarial psy-ops in wartime. We need an understanding of free speech that is hardened against the environment of a continuous warm war on a broken information ecosystem. We need to defend the fundamental value from itself becoming a prop in a malign narrative.

    Think about how the Yellow Vests came about. A political decision was made, and discussed on Facebook. A small group began discussing it in groups. Algorithms and viral sharing mechanics promoted the group posts most likely to get engagement into the News Feed. Over the next few months, the majority of France that uses Facebook saw a darker, angrier reflection of their country in the News Feed than perhaps actually existed. In time, perception became reality. And now Arc de Triomphe is under attack.

    And group posts, you will recall, are one of Facebook’s most highly touted solutions to the social-networks-and-democracy problem.

    Of course, at this point we lack the evidence that Facebook caused the Yellow Vests to organize. But we can say that what we saw over the weekend is consistent with other angry populist movements that we have seen around the world — many of them violent, and many of them organized on social media. And we can predict with some confidence that more such movements will appear in the world’s liberal democracies, with equally unsettling results.


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  • How on Earth do people fall for misinformation? To put it bluntly, they might not be thinking hard enough.

    Don’t Want To Fall For Fake News? Don’t Be Lazy.


    ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared an altered video of a press briefing with Donald Trump, in which CNN reporter Jim Acosta's hand makes brief contact with the arm of a White House Intern. The clip is of low quality and edited to dramatize the original footage; it's presented out of context, without sound, at slow speed with a close-crop zoom, and contains additional frames that appear to emphasize Acosta's contact with the intern.

    And yet, in spite of the clip's dubious provenance, the White House decided to not only share the video but cite it as grounds for revoking Acosta's press pass. "[We will] never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern," Sanders said. But the consensus, among anyone inclined to look closely, has been clear: The events described in Sanders' tweet simply did not happen.

    This is just the latest example of misinformation roiling our media ecosystem. The fact that it continues to not only crop up but spread—at times faster and more widely than legitimate, factual news—is enough to make anyone wonder: How on Earth do people fall for this schlock?

    To put it bluntly, they might not be thinking hard enough. The technical term for this is "reduced engagement of open-minded and analytical thinking." David Rand—a behavioral scientist at MIT who studies fake news on social media, who falls for it, and why—has another name for it: "It's just mental laziness," he says.

    Misinformation researchers have proposed two competing hypotheses for why people fall for fake news on social media. The popular assumption—supported by research on apathy over climate change and the denial of its existence—is that people are blinded by partisanship, and will leverage their critical-thinking skills to ram the square pegs of misinformation into the round holes of their particular ideologies. According to this theory, fake news doesn't so much evade critical thinking as weaponize it, preying on partiality to produce a feedback loop in which people become worse and worse at detecting misinformation.

    The other hypothesis is that reasoning and critical thinking are, in fact, what enable people to distinguish truth from falsehood, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum. (If this sounds less like a hypothesis and more like the definitions of reasoning and critical thinking, that's because they are.)

    Several of Rand's recent experiments support theory number two. In a pair of studies published this year in the journal Cognition, he and his research partner, University of Regina psychologist Gordon Pennycook, tested people on the Cognitive Reflection Test, a measure of analytical reasoning that poses seemingly straightforward questions with non-intuitive answers, like: A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? They found that high scorers were less likely to perceive blatantly false headlines as accurate, and more likely to distinguish them from truthful ones, than those who performed poorly.

    Another study, published on the preprint platform SSRN, found that asking people to rank the trustworthiness of news publishers (an idea Facebook briefly entertained, earlier this year) might actually decrease the level of misinformation circulating on social media. The researchers found that, despite partisan differences in trust, the crowdsourced ratings did "an excellent job" distinguishing between reputable and non-reputable sources.

    "That was surprising," says Rand. Like a lot of people, he originally assumed the idea of crowdsourcing media trustworthiness was a "really terrible idea." His results not only indicated otherwise, they also showed, among other things, "that more cognitively sophisticated people are better at differentiating low- vs high-quality [news] sources." (And because you are probably now wondering: When I ask Rand whether most people fancy themselves cognitively sophisticated, he says the answer is yes, and also that "they will, in general, not be." The Lake Wobegon Effect: It's real!)

    His most recent study, which was just published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, finds that belief in fake news is associated not only with reduced analytical thinking, but also—go figure—delusionality, dogmatism, and religious fundamentalism.

    All of which suggests susceptibility to fake news is driven more by lazy thinking than by partisan bias. Which on one hand sounds—let's be honest—pretty bad. But it also implies that getting people to be more discerning isn't a lost cause. Changing people's ideologies, which are closely bound to their sense of identity and self, is notoriously difficult. Getting people to think more critically about what they're reading could be a lot easier, by comparison.

    Then again, maybe not. "I think social media makes it particularly hard, because a lot of the features of social media are designed to encourage non-rational thinking." Rand says. Anyone who has sat and stared vacantly at their phone while thumb-thumb-thumbing to refresh their Twitter feed, or closed out of Instagram only to re-open it reflexively, has experienced firsthand what it means to browse in such a brain-dead, ouroboric state. Default settings like push notifications, autoplaying videos, algorithmic news feeds—they all cater to humans' inclination to consume things passively instead of actively, to be swept up by momentum rather than resist it. This isn't baseless philosophizing; most folks just tend not to use social media to engage critically with whatever news, video, or sound bite is flying past. As one recent study shows, most people browse Twitter and Facebook to unwind and defrag—hardly the mindset you want to adopt when engaging in cognitively demanding tasks.

    But it doesn't have to be that way. Platforms could use visual cues that call to mind the mere concept of truth in the minds of their users—a badge or symbol that evokes what Rand calls an "accuracy stance." He says he has experiments in the works that investigate whether nudging people to think about the concept of accuracy can make them more discerning about what they believe and share. In the meantime, he suggests confronting fake news espoused by other people not necessarily by lambasting it as fake, but by casually bringing up the notion of truthfulness in a non-political context. You know: just planting the seed.

    It won't be enough to turn the tide of misinformation. But if our susceptibility to fake news really does boil down to intellectual laziness, it could make for a good start. A dearth of critical thought might seem like a dire state of affairs, but Rand sees it as cause for optimism. "It makes me hopeful," he says, "that moving the country back in the direction of some more common ground isn’t a totally lost cause."

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  • Liberal Democrats more likely than other groups to be politically active on social media

    Liberal Democrats more likely than other groups to be politically active on social media

    (Towfiqu Photography/Getty Images)

    Many Americans have been politically active on social media, from encouraging others to take action to using issue-related hashtags. And liberal Democrats were more likely than other ideological and partisan groups to have engaged in these activities, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of survey data collected this summer.

    Liberal Democrats use social media for key civically minded activities more than other groupsLiberal Democrats are especially likely to use social media to mobilize others or find like-minded groups. Some 44% of liberal Democrats say they have used these sites in the past year to encourage others to take action on an issue that was important to them, while a similar share (43%) have taken part in a group that shares their interest in a cause, according to a survey of U.S. adults conducted May 29-June 11, 2018. These shares fall to around a third or fewer among conservative or moderate Democrats and among conservative, moderate or liberal Republicans. 

    At the time of the survey, liberal Democrats also stood out for recently looking up information about local rallies or protests on social media or using hashtags related to a political or social issue. (A separate survey conducted by the Center this summer found that liberal Democrats were far more likely than other ideological groups to report attending a political rally or event in the past year.) However, similar shares of liberal Democrats, conservative or moderate Democrats and liberal Republican say they have changed their profile picture to show support for a cause within the past year.

    Overall, two-thirds of liberal Democrats reported doing at least one of these five activities in the past year – compared with half or less of conservative or moderate Democrats (52%), moderate or liberal Republicans (48%) or conservative Republicans (44%).

    These differences are present among younger but not older groups. For example, 74% of liberal Democrats ages 18 to 49 have engaged in one or more of these activities. That is double the share of conservative Republicans in the same age range (37%). But among those 50 and older, similar shares of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans use social media in this way (55% vs. 48%). Beyond age, there are other factors – such as educational attainment or race and ethnicity – that may influence whether Americans are politically active on social media. And it is worth noting that while majorities of Republicans and Democrats use social media in one form or another, Democrats are more likely to use multiple platforms.

    There are also notable partisan differences when Americans were asked how important social media is to them personally as a venue for their own political engagement. Democrats who use social media are more likely than Republicans to say these sites are important for allowing them to find others who share their views (50% vs. 39%), getting involved with issues that are important to them (49% vs. 34%) or giving them a space to share their political views (43% vs. 33%).

    Liberal Democrats more likely to say social media is important for creating long-lasting movements – but all groups believe it helps get the eye of politiciansOne of the debates surrounding activism on social media is whether these platforms help spearhead change or if these actions have little to no impact on the political environment. The Center’s survey findings from this summer show that ideological differences extend to some attitudes about social media’s effectiveness in achieving political goals, as well as its broader impact on society. But these differences are more pronounced in some areas than in others.

    For example, close to nine-in-ten liberal Democrats (86%) believe these platforms are very or somewhat important for creating sustained social movements, compared with around seven-in-ten conservative or moderate Democrats (73%) and just over half of liberal or moderate Republicans (56%) and conservative Republicans (53%). Partisans’ views are more closely aligned when they are asked about the importance of these platforms for getting elected officials to pay attention to issues or influencing policy decisions.

    Ideological groups see both positive and negative effects of using social media for political engagementAt the same time, Democrats are more likely than their Republican counterparts to say these platforms can have a positive impact. For example, 77% of liberal Democrats say the statement “social media helps give a voice to underrepresented groups” describes these sites at least somewhat well, compared with 52% of conservative Republicans. A similar pattern exists for sentiments about social media’s ability to highlight important issues that may not get a lot of attention otherwise or make it easier to hold powerful people accountable.

    But there are fewer ideological differences when it comes to some of the potentially negative outcomes of political engagement on social media. Majorities in each of these groups feel that social media can distract people from more important issues or that these platforms make people think they are making a difference when they really are not.

    Topics: Social Media, Voter Participation, Internet Activities, 2018 Election, Political Issue Priorities

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  • Post-#Scandal, #Facebook Isn’t The Only #SocialMedia Site In A Downward Spiral

    Facebook and the shady data marketing firm Cambridge Analytica are dealing with the blowback of a recent scandal. And all of social media is feeling the heat.

    As the story broke, millions of Americans realized that by taking a simple quiz on Facebook, they had given up their personal data to feed an algorithm that was then used for political propaganda.

    While the scandal is definitely the biggest blow to Facebook’s reputation to date, it’s certainly not the first. In the past, the company had been involved in controversies over the spread of fake news, the dissemination of racist content, and the live streaming of homicides. But this time, the PR crisis had a tangible cost — $60 billion, or 11.4 percent of the company’s shares, went up in smoke in two days after the story broke.

    This massive financial loss isn’t just the consequence of scandal, it’s a symptom of a deeper crisis: investors know that the trust with which users once regarded Facebook and other social platforms cannot be restored.

    Mark Zuckerberg’s mealymouthed attempt at damage control — taking responsibility for the mishandling of user data, charting a path forward — is unlikely to regain the confidence of users, or of investors.

    The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which makes sure companies don’t violate their privacy policies, could slap Facebook with a multi-million-dollar fine if it finds it breached the protocol, Bloomberg reports. This could happen to other companies with lax privacy policies. Investors were shaking in their boots. As a result, Twitter shares tanked along with Facebook’s, dropping as much as 11 percent on Tuesday, the most since July 2017, according to Bloomberg. Snapchat’s shares also fell nearly 3.7 percent over the past five days, after a big plunge on Tuesday.

    It’s unlikely that users will drop Facebook altogether, as WhatsApp founder Brian Acton urged. Facebook is too embedded in the daily lives of billions of people. For some, going on the internet is synonymous with logging onto Facebook.

    But now people’s attitude towards social media will be different. Most users already knew a bit about the lack of privacy on social media, but up until now cybersecurity was mostly theoretical, abstract.

    Now that people know that their page likes, quiz answers, and other frivolities may have played a part in electing the president, they will take all of that more seriously. And all social media platforms, with no exception, will have to reckon with that.





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  • Social Media Bots Draw Public’s Attention and Concern

    Social Media Bots Draw Public’s Attention and Concern

    While most Americans know about social media bots, many think they have a negative impact on how people stay informed

    About two-thirds of Americans have heard about social media bots, most of whom believe they are used maliciouslySince the 2016 U.S. presidential election, many Americans have expressed concern about the presence of misinformation online, particularly on social media. Recent congressional hearings and investigations by social media sites and academic researchers have suggested that one factor in the spread of misinformation is social media bots – accounts that operate on their own, without human involvement, to post and interact with others on social media sites.

    This topic has drawn the attention of much of the public: About two-thirds of Americans (66%) have heard about social media bots, though far fewer (16%) have heard a lot about these accounts. Among those aware of the phenomenon, a large majority are concerned that bot accounts are being used maliciously, according to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted July 30-Aug. 12, 2018, among 4,581 U.S. adults who are members of Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel (the Center has previously studied bots on Twitter and the news sites to which they link). Eight-in-ten of those who have heard of bots say that these accounts are mostly used for bad purposes, while just 17% say they are mostly used for good purposes.

    To further understand some of the nuances of the public’s views of social media bots, the remainder of this study explores attitudes among those Americans who have heard about them (about a third – 34% – have not heard anything about them).

    While many Americans are aware of the existence of social media bots, fewer are confident they can identify them. About half of those who have heard about bots (47%) are very or somewhat confident they can recognize these accounts on social media, with just 7% saying they are very confident. In contrast, 84% of Americans expressed confidence in their ability to recognize made-up news in an earlier study.

    Most believe a fair amount of the news people see on social media comes from bots …When it comes to the news environment specifically, many find social media bots’ presence pervasive and concerning. About eight-in-ten of those who have heard of bots (81%) think that at least a fair amount of the news people get from social media comes from these accounts, including 17% who think a great deal comes from bots. And about two-thirds (66%) think that social media bots have a mostly negative effect on how well-informed Americans are about current events, while far fewer (11%) believe they have a mostly positive effect.

    While the public’s overall impression of social media bots is negative, they have more nuanced views about specific uses of these accounts – with some uses receiving overwhelming support or opposition. For example, 78% of those who have heard about bots support the government using them to post emergency updates, the most popular function of the nine asked about in the survey. In contrast, these Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to the use of bots to post made-up news or false information (92%). They are also largely opposed to bots being used for political purposes and are more split when considering how companies and news organizations often use bots.

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  • The #Internet #Troll Quiz: Answer these questions to find out if you’re guilty


    Some people are trolls on purpose, but any of us can be one at times if we’re not careful.

    The topic of internet “trolls” comes up fairly frequently on television shows and in movies, and we run into them often on social media. Here, I may stray a little from the strict definition of troll; my working definition is “a person who causes distress, pain, frustration, or anger through their comments for no other practical purpose than their own satisfaction.”

    Being a troll isn’t good. In real life, trolls are often bullies. When someone acts like a troll, they are making no contribution to society; rather, they make it harder for everyone else to be constructive and to enjoy life.

    Some people are trolls on purpose, but any of us can be a troll at times if we’re not careful. If you don’t want to be a troll, then before you post a negative or contradictory comment, ask yourself the following questions:

    Am I disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing?

    If this is the case, I am definitely a troll.

    What do I hope to achieve by this comment? Am I making a contribution to the conversation by providing reasons or reliable data, or am I just venting and/or seeking to get a reaction?

    If the latter is the case, I am a troll.

    Is my post disrespectful in tone, vocabulary, or content?

    If so, I am a troll.

    Did I actually read what I am commenting on (not just the title or subtitle) with an open mind, or am I reacting without really understanding the perspective of the poster? If I haven’t taken the time to read and understand the post, and am still disagreeing …

    I might be a troll. (Although I might just be lazy and superficial.)

    If my comment misrepresents and/or fails to recognize the nuances of what I am objecting to …

    I might be a troll.

    If I am disagreeing with this post on a matter of fact, have I checked my own facts? Or am I reacting with my gut, based on vague memories, general impressions, prejudices, or hearsay?

    If I can’t back up my comment with evidence, I might be a troll.

    If I am disagreeing on a matter of opinion or taste, does my comment imply that anyone with a different opinion or taste is stupid, ignorant, etc.?

    If I can’t disagree while respecting other people’s equal right to disagree (respectfully) with me, then I am a troll.

    Is my comment relevant to what is being expressed, or am I attacking something irrelevant to the content/purpose of the post?

    If my comment is negative and irrelevant, I am effectively a troll.

    Is my comment rejecting something that was never intended for me to begin with?

    If so, I am a troll.

    Do I always disagree with this person or organization’s posts, and always express that disagreement, even though nothing ever changes and no one ever engages in dialog with me?

    Then I am probably not the intended audience, and I am a troll.

    Is the tone of my posts and comments predominantly negative about everyone but myself?

    If I mostly criticize or mock others and the things they do, I’m a troll.

    It is totally possible to disagree with others, to contest their claims, to express dissatisfaction, etc., without being a troll; civilized disagreement is natural and important, and can lead to progress. The key is to be informed, respectful, relevant, factual, and objective.

    Don’t be a troll.

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  • Western Europeans Under 30 View News Media Less Positively, Rely More on Digital Platforms Than Older Adults

    Western Europeans Under 30 View News Media Less Positively, Rely More on Digital Platforms Than Older Adults

    Across eight Western European countries, adults ages 18 to 29 are about twice as likely to get news online than from TV. They also tend to be more critical of the news media's performance and coverage of key issues than older adults

    (iStock by Getty Images)
    (iStock by Getty Images)
    Younger Europeans are more critical of how the news media covers immigration

    People of all ages in Western Europe value the importance of the news media in society. Yet, younger adults – those under 30 – are less trusting of the news media and less likely to think the news media are doing a good job in their key responsibilities. And while younger adults rarely read the news in print, they often name established newspaper brands as their main source of news.

    This new analysis builds off Pew Research Center’s earlier findings about news media and political identities to understand age dynamics in eight Western European countries – Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Together, these eight European Union (EU) member states account for roughly 69% of the EU population and 75% of the EU economy.1

    Across the eight Western European countries surveyed, broad majorities in each of the three age groups say that news media are important to society. Among those under 30, the share who holds this view ranges from 75% in Italy to 94% in Sweden.

    Younger Western Europeans, however, are less approving of the news media. In five of eight countries polled, younger adults, defined here as those ages 18 to 29, are less likely to trust the news media than the oldest age group (those 50 and older). And when it comes to how the news media perform on key functions, in six countries adults under 30 give the news media lower ratings across at least three of the five performance areas measured than do those ages 50 and older.

    One issue where younger Europeans are noticeably less satisfied with the news media’s performance is coverage of immigration. In Denmark, for example, about half of those under 30 (49%) say the news media are doing a good job covering immigration, compared with 74% of those 50 and older, a gap of 25 percentage points. Similar but narrower gaps in how younger and older Europeans rate immigration coverage are evident in six of the seven other countries surveyed. Modest differences also emerge in ratings for coverage of the economy and crime, with younger adults giving the news media lower marks.

    These general patterns notwithstanding, the survey finds that Western Europeans under 30 can be more trusting of specific news outlets than older adults. For example, in the Netherlands, 59% of those ages 18-29 generally trust the news media, compared with 65% of those 30-49 and 72% of those 50 and above. Yet, about half of younger Dutch adults (53%) trust the specific newspaper De Telegraaf, compared with 36% of those 50 and older.

    Additionally, younger Europeans in these countries are almost twice as likely to get news online as they are from television. This stands in stark contrast to those 50 years and older, for whom television is the main pathway to news. At the same time, those ages 30 to 49, who bridge the gap between the youngest and the oldest age groups, also bridge the news consumption gap on these two platforms, with 61% getting news from TV and 68% getting it online. The greater appeal of digital among younger adults and television among the oldest age group is consistent across all eight countries studied, with majorities of those ages 18 to 29 getting news online daily. Within the digital realm, younger adults are also about twice as likely to get news daily through social media than those ages 50 and older.

    Younger Europeans more likely to get news online than from TVYounger Europeans also get news in print at much lower rates than those older than them. Those under 30 are about half as likely as those ages 30-49 to read print news sources on a daily basis – and the gap is even larger when compared to those 50 and older. But younger Europeans rely on – and trust – newspaper brands, suggesting that their consumption of news is more likely to be through newspaper websites or social media accounts.

    These are among the key findings of a new analysis of a Pew Research Center public opinion study that maps the media landscape in these eight Western European countries. The analysis is based on a survey of 16,114 adults across all eight countries conducted from Oct. 30 to Dec. 20, 2017, including 2,970 people under the age of 30.

    The survey also asked respondents to name the specific outlet they rely on most for news. Responses to the open-ended question vary by country, but some consistent differences by age emerge across the eight nations studied.

    Younger Europeans, for instance, are less likely than those 50 and older to name a public media outlet as their main source of news. This contrast is particularly pronounced in the three southern countries polled – France, Spain and Italy.2

    For example, in Spain, younger adults name the newspaper El País as their top main news source, while those ages 30-49 and those 50 and older name the public broadcaster RTVE. The UK is the one country surveyed where a public broadcaster (the BBC) dominates as the main news source across all age groups.

    Second, younger Europeans are much more likely to name social media and search engine sites as main sources of news. In seven of the eight countries, Facebook is named by at least 5% of younger adults. Twitter is also named as a main source by younger adults in one country (Spain), and Google is named in three countries (Spain, Germany and Italy). Across the eight countries, these sites are rarely named by those 50 and older as a main source: Just one site, Google, is named by at least 5% of this age group, and only in Italy.

    Younger Europeans are less likely than older adults to name public news media as top news source

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  • When Teens #Cyberbully Themselves

    In a study of nearly 5,600 U.S. youths ages 12 to 17, about 6 percent say they've engaged in some sort of digital self-harm. More than half in that subgroup say they've bullied themselves this way more than once.
    Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images

    During the stressful teen years, most adolescents experience emotional highs and lows, but for more than 20 percent of teenagers, their worries and sad feelings turn into something more serious, like anxiety or depression. Studies show that 13 percent to 18 percent of distressed teens physically injure themselves via cutting, burning or other forms of self-harm as a way to cope with their pain.

    Recent research and clinical psychologists now suggest that some adolescents are engaging in a newer form of self-aggression — digital self-harm. They're anonymously posting mean and derogatory comments about themselves on social media.

    She set up ghost accounts on Instagram and posted mean comments about herself, saying things like, 'I think you're creepy and gay,' and 'Don't sit next to me again.'
    Sheryl Gonzalez-Ziegler, Denver child psychologist, about her self-cyberbullying client

    Child psychologist Sheryl Gonzalez-Ziegler of Denver says it's a growing problem among teens whom she counsels. One recent client, an adolescent girl, told Gonzalez-Ziegler that she anonymously cyberbullied herself because, as a gay teen, she felt vulnerable and exposed.

    "She set up ghost accounts on Instagram and posted mean comments about herself, saying things like, 'I think you're creepy and gay' and 'Don't sit next to me again,' " Ziegler says.

    "She said these things because she feared being mocked by her peers," the psychologist explains. "She thought their teasing wouldn't be so bad if she beat them to the punch."

    According to a survey published late last year in the Journal of Adolescent Health, teens are bullying themselves online as a way to manage feelings of sadness and self-hatred and to gain attention from their friends. For the study, 5,593 middle and high school students from across the U.S., ages 12 to 17, completed a series of questionnaires that asked about their experiences with digital self-harm and cyberbullying.

    "We were alarmed to learn that 6 percent of the youth who participated in our study engaged in some form of digital self-harm," says Sameer Hinduja, co-author of the study and a professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University. He is also the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.

    Hinduja and a colleague found that more than half the teens who cyberbullied themselves had done so more than once. When asked why they had participated in this behavior, the teens said things like, "I already felt bad about myself, and I wanted to make myself feel worse" and "I wanted to see if someone was really my friend."

    Psychologists have seen inklings of this type of self-aggression before. In a smaller, 2012 study of 617 high school freshmen, researchers found that 9 percent of the teens had bullied themselves online. Teens who participated in that study reported harming themselves as a way to encourage others to worry about them, to prove how "tough" they were or to get an adult's attention.

    "Because teens' online and offline worlds overlap, digital self-harm is a concern for some youth, making online self-harm an emerging area of research," says, Susan Swearer, a professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln who also studies bullying.

    statistical analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of more than a decade's worth of emergency room visits in the U.S. suggests that since 2009, the number of girls ages 10 to 14 years who are physically harming themselves has been rising steadily.

    According to the American Psychological Association, teens who physically injure themselves often struggle with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or difficulties with emotional regulation. Not all adolescents who cyberbully themselves have a psychiatric illness, Ziegler notes, but that doesn't mean their behavior should be taken lightly.

    "Similar to teens who self-harm by cutting, kids who cyberbully themselves often suffer silently, feeling like they don't have a friend or adult to confide in," says Ziegler.

    If these teens don't receive mental health treatment, she says, their feelings of loneliness and sadness can cause them to become depressed and, in rare cases, suicidal.

    Because the advent of social media has changed the way many teens form and experience relationships, normal adolescent feelings of insecurity, anxiety and loneliness can become magnified as they scroll through their peers' social media reels. Hinduja says some teens cope with that distress by turning their angst on themselves online.

    While some parents are quick to limit a teen's social media use in response, that doesn't adequately address the problem, Hinduja says.

    "One of the best thing parents can do is to promote open, nonjudgmental lines of communication with their kids," he says. "Validating a teen's experience can encourage them to confide in adults about their distressing experiences — offline or online."

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