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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Team Mitch and Free Speech

The Daily Escape:

The Long Leg, 1935 – painting by Edward Hopper

(Blogging may be limited for the next week as Wrongo and Ms. Right spend time in Maine.)

Mitch McConnell’s “Team Mitch” thought they were being clever by posting a video of a few extreme comments by an otherwise generally peaceful crowd of protesters outside his home yesterday. Twitter didn’t like it, so @TeamMitch was put into Twitter jail. From the Lexington Courier-Journal:

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign has been thrown in Twitter jail. After sharing a video of a profanity-laced protest outside of the Kentucky Republican’s home in Louisville, the campaign Twitter account, Team Mitch, has been locked out.”

This was the second time in days that TeamMitch overreached. On Monday, they posted a picture of men in TeamMitch tee shirts groping a poster of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Here’s the picture:

The picture was posted on Facebook and then shared on Twitter.

The response by the Trump regime was swift. By Wednesday, the White House was warning that it is looking at an executive order regulating Twitter’s and the industry’s free speech:

“The White House is circulating drafts of a proposed executive order that would address allegations of anti-conservative bias by social media companies, according to a White House official and two other people familiar with the matter — a month after President Donald Trump pledged to explore ’all regulatory and legislative solutions’ on the issue.”

Apparently, none of the three WH aides would describe the contents of the order, but its existence and the deliberations surrounding it, show that the administration is taking a serious look at attempting to limit Silicon Valley’s free speech. More from Politico:

“If the internet is going to be presented as this egalitarian platform and most of Twitter is liberal cesspools of venom, then at least the president wants some fairness in the system, the White House official said. But look, we also think that social media plays a vital role. They have a vital role and an increasing responsibility to the culture that has helped make them so profitable and so prominent.”

More:

“The President announced at this month’s social media summit that we were going to address this and the administration is exploring all policy solutions, a second White House official said Wednesday when asked about the draft order.”

The order is not expected to be issued imminently.

On the surface, this may be a bluff. It is difficult to believe that even the Roberts Court would allow the government to limit the free speech rights of a corporation, particularly after the Citizens United decision. But the social media companies can’t be looking forward to an expensive, drawn-out court fight. Then again, if Twitter has the balls to actually apply the rules to Mitch McConnell, it might also apply them to Trump, and he would never allow that to happen.

This brings to mind our political double standard, the things that you just can’t do to Republicans:

– Repeat their own words back to them
– Cite empirical evidence, scientific evidence, or facts
– Point out hypocrisies
– Call them names (you know, like RACIST)
– Compare actual religious teachings to their bad behavior
– Suggest they’re not the fastest tractors on the farm
– Publicly disclose public information about which putrid candidate they publicly donated money to

(This last one was on full display when Joaquin Castro published a list of Trump’s Texas donors that he got from an already public listing.

You’ve got to remember that “Christian” American conservatives are the most persecuted minority in world history and that publishing their names is equivalent to painting targets on their backs for the Deep State and Antifa.

They think that it’s right there in the First Amendment that conservatives should never be criticized for anything that spills out of their stupid pie holes.

So, it’s looking like Trump will try to make Twitter pay for its imagined offenses to Team Mitch.

Trump says that his rhetoric unites people. Let’s hope it unites the rest of us!

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Facebook’s Fail

The Daily Escape:

Fall at Birdseye Hollow State Forest, NY – 2013 photo by seabamirum

The NYT has a long read about Facebook (FB) called “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis“. It paints a picture of a company that doesn’t know its customers, its technology or its ethics. Here is a digest of the NYT’s findings: (emphasis in all quotes by Wrongo)

In fall 2016, Mark Zuckerberg…was publicly declaring it a “crazy idea” that his company had played a role in deciding the election. But security experts at the company already knew otherwise.

They found signs as early as spring 2016 that Russian hackers were poking around the Facebook accounts of people linked to American presidential campaigns. Months later, they saw Russian-controlled accounts sharing information from hacked Democratic emails with reporters. Facebook accumulated evidence of Russian activity for over a year before executives opted to share what they knew with the public — and even their own board of directors.

The company feared Trump:

In 2015…presidential candidate Donald J. Trump called for a ban of Muslim immigrants…Facebook employees and outside critics called on the company to punish Mr. Trump. Mr. Zuckerberg considered it — asking subordinates whether Mr. Trump had violated the company’s rules and whether his account should be suspended or the post removed.

But…Mr. Zuckerberg…deferred to subordinates who warned that penalizing Mr. Trump would set off a damaging backlash among Republicans. Mr. Trump’s post remained up.

Most disturbing was FB’s disinformation and lobbying campaign:

As criticism grew over Facebook’s belated admissions of Russian influence, the company launched a lobbying campaign — overseen by Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer — to combat critics and shift anger toward rival tech firms.

Facebook hired Senator Mark Warner’s former chief of staff to lobby….Ms. Sandberg personally called Senator Amy Klobuchar to complain about her criticism. The company also deployed a public relations firm to push negative stories about its political critics and cast blame on companies like Google.

Those efforts included depicting the billionaire liberal donor George Soros as the force behind a broad anti-Facebook movement, and publishing stories praising Facebook and criticizing Google and Apple on a conservative news site.

But the lobbying and disinformation was dark and wrong. FB used a Republican opposition-research firm Definers Public Affairs, and its connections to the Anti-Defamation League to link the anti-FB movement to George Soros and claim that some criticism against FB was anti-Semitic.

  • A research document circulated by Definers claimed Soros was an “unacknowledged force” behind the widespread condemnation of Facebook.
  • A news site called NTK Network, an affiliate of Definers, also published articles that bashed Google and Apple for “unsavory business practices.”
  • The Times reports that while NTK Network did not obtain large audiences, its content was picked up by Breitbart.
  • FB also called on the Anti-Defamation League to flag a sign used to depict Zuckerberg as an octopus encompassing the globe as anti-Semitic.

There’s more. After The NYT, The Guardian and others published a joint investigation into how user information was used by Cambridge Analytica to profile American voters, Facebook executives tried to contain the damage. FB hired a new chief of lobbying to quell the bipartisan anger in Congress, Kevin Martin, a Bush administration veteran, and former FCC Chair.

Just before Sandberg’s Congressional testimony, Facebook’s lobbyists asked Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Intelligence Committee chair to limit questioning to the topic of election interference. It worked. Burr issued a stern warning to all committee members to stick to that topic.

There are three big picture take-aways from the Times article about Facebook.

First, nearly everyone in America hates the media, but without them, we wouldn’t know anything about these FB actions. We wouldn’t know that FB was willing to distribute disinformation to save its skin. So, let’s not give up on the media and journalism.

Second, America needs to learn from how Europe is fighting Google and Facebook on privacy and content, and do the same. They have created very specific rules and guidelines and have issued very expensive fines to these companies.

Third, why do these high-tech executives fail to see the big picture? Sandberg and Zuckerberg have had huge financial success, but their business is an ethical and moral failure.

The Times article shows that they value power, their egos, and their money far more than whatever good the Facebook service can deliver.

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 24, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Avoto Metro Station, St. Petersburg, RU – 2014 photo via themindcircle

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are leaving today for Russia. We will be in St. Petersburg tomorrow, and eventually wend our way to Moscow. You should expect that blogging will be light. Regular posting will resume on October 9th. One more thing: We won’t be looking for the real hackers.)

The Trump administration doesn’t lack for enemies, but it is considering adding a few more. Bloomberg reports that:

The White House is considering a draft executive order for President Donald Trump that would instruct federal antitrust and law enforcement agencies to open probes into the practices of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc., and other social media companies.

Bloomberg says that the language of the order instructs US antitrust authorities to: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws. It instructs other government agencies to recommend within a month after it’s signed, actions that could potentially “protect competition among online platforms and address online platform bias.”

Assuming that the order is signed in something like its current form, it is an escalation of Trump’s aversion to Google, Facebook, Twitter, all of whom he’s publicly accused of silencing online conservative voices and news sources. The draft order says:

Because of their critical role in American society, it is essential that American citizens are protected from anticompetitive acts by dominant online platforms….It adds that consumer harm — a key measure in antitrust investigations — could come “through the exercise of bias.”

And there you have it. Because these companies allow criticism of the Very Stable Genius, we will get one step closer to government control of what you can say on the internet.

The draft order doesn’t name any companies, but it doesn’t have to in order to intimidate Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon’s parent’s other business, The Washington Post, to suddenly insure that their coverage of Trump is a whole lot nicer.

OTOH, there is a basis for what the DOJ is thinking of doing. There have been arguments from the right and the left that Silicon Valley companies including Google and Facebook, engage in anti-competitive behavior. The companies argue they face robust competition, and that many of their products are free.

Before this, bias has not been a factor in antitrust examinations. But, according to Bloomberg:

A Pew survey earlier this year found that 72% of Americans, and 85% of Republicans, think it’s likely that social media companies intentionally censor political viewpoints that those companies find objectionable.

But there is no objective evidence that either Facebook or Google systematically discriminates, left or right.

Even among some on the right, there are misgivings about a Trump administration crackdown on the free speech rights of these firms. The libertarian groups FreedomWorks and ALEC sent a letter to AG Jeff Sessions expressing concern that his:

…inquiry will be to accomplish through intimidation what the First Amendment bars: interference with editorial judgment.

While the political bias aspect of the order is controversial, it probably won’t scare either Google or Facebook. The First Amendment bans the government from restricting or imposing speech.

Federal authorities cannot require any company to publish views it favors, but it can take crippling anti-trust actions until the companies bend their algorithms to favor Trump messaging.

The danger of such thinking is obvious, however, as the Pew survey information above shows, the vast majority of Republicans agree with Trump.

You should agree that the government ought to be paying attention to the outsized market share of these companies.

You should be very afraid of the government going after them for political revenge.

WAKE UP, AMERICA! Time for all of us to remember these words from Benjamin Franklin:

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech”.

Political revenge via government agency is the mark of an authoritarian state.

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Trump Says Google Is Against Him

(Wrongo is taking off for the rest of the week. So unless SHTF, the next post will be a Wake-Up Call on Tuesday after Labor Day. We all need a break, and late August is usually pretty slow as far as news goes. Try to enjoy the heat wave, or whatever your weather brings.)

The Daily Escape:

Detail from above the doors of Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, FR – 2008 photo by Wrongo. Strasbourg is one of Wrongo’s favorite European cities.

Remember the dog in the movie “Up” who was constantly distracted, yelling “Squirrel!, all the time? That’s the media when Trump tweets.

When he was first elected, we had the daily squirrel. Now we’ve achieved hourly squirrel. The WaPo reports that:

Early on Tuesday morning, President Trump accused Google of rigging search results for “Trump News” against “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media,” and wondered, “Illegal?” Then, he promised that the situation would be “addressed.”

This is today’s Conservatism in action: A constant search for new conspiracy theories to advance their agenda of victimhood. Trump was repeating a claim that first appeared in the conservative news site, PJ Media, which published a piece with the headline, “96% of Google Search Results for ‘Trump’ News Are from Liberal Media Outlets.”

Google, naturally, denied Trump’s accusation. According to Google, the rankings are supposed “to promote original journalism, as well as to expose users to diverse perspectives.”

Google News results are ranked on a variety of factors, and the results are personalized to an extent. Many factors contribute to their results, including the “freshness” of content, and the extent to which it contains original reporting, as opposed to commentary on the news.

Wrongo’s experience with Google shows that they constantly down rank sites by changing their algorithms.  Last year, there was a big dust-up when Google changed its algorithms to promote main stream media and demote independent outlets. “Deemed to be leftie” sites like the Wrongologist have taken traffic hits due to Google’s downgrading non-MSM sites in their search rankings.

But, Trump isn’t completely wrong.

Facebook has a partnership with the Atlantic Council to help FB work on deleting what they call “inauthentic content”. The Atlantic Council is a NATO-backed think tank. Its board includes people like Henry Kissinger, Michael Morrell, the former acting CIA Director, and Gen. Michael Hayden. It is funded by the UAE, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation, Chevron, and a long list of other corporations.

If you use Facebook, do you really want this cast of characters controlling what you see, or do not see? Do you trust them with creating your news feed?

But it could mean much more than that. No one is sure what methodology FB is using. And that could have serious First Amendment implications.

There is a lot here to argue about on both the right and the left. We’ve tumbled to the fact that in the US, companies can do much more than the government regarding censorship. Is this a strength or a weakness?

The First Amendment was originally an Anti-federalist addition to the Constitution designed to contain federal power, giving an equal chance to citizens to organize and publicize resistance to an autocratic regime.

It’s more worrisome that Facebook is working with the Atlantic Council to develop rules about what is false news than if the Atlantic Council was working with the US Government to do the same thing. Why? Because every four years, the government is subject to recall by voters.

The big question: Is the Atlantic Council/Facebook agreement a permitted form of private/government censorship? Is it a way to circumvent the First Amendment?

After all, these are private sector organizations. They can take any political perspective they want, just like FoxNews, and its parent, the News Corporation do every day. Since Citizens United, we call that the right of a corporation to Constitutionally-protected free speech.

There’s an ongoing petition at White House.gov to replace Facebook, Google, and Twitter’s “community standards” with First Amendment protections. No worries, nothing will come of that.

One way to look at this is: If you don’t like Google because you think it’s “biased”, then don’t use it. And if Trump and his fellow travelers what a search engine that always places them first, why don’t they simply build one, and see if the “market” makes it a success?

At the end of the day, the important question is how to ensure that the public cannot be forced by both private as well as public interests to find and read information from only a short list of approved providers.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 19, 2018

Everyone in the media is talking about John Brennan, who lost his security clearance this week. On the Trump side of the ledger, Brennan is an enemy of the people. On the other side, he’s America’s hero for talking truth to power.

Wrongo won’t shed any tears for Brennan.

Let’s go back in time: When Barack Obama became president, he tried to make Brennan Director of the CIA. But even Democrats in Congress were opposed to that, because, while serving under GW Bush, Brennan enabled the rendition of terror suspects to countries where they could be tortured. So, Obama made him Deputy National Security Advisor, where he created and managed Obama’s “drone kill” list.

After Obama’s reelection, Brennan was named CIA director. In that role, he ordered the CIA to spy on the Senate Intelligence Committee that was at the time, investigating CIA torture. While under oath, he lied to Congress, denying it. When it was proven that the CIA did in fact spy on Congress, he had to apologize. At the time, a WaPo editorial said: Obama should fire John Brennan, but nobody remembers any of this today.

Brennan is a hot, steaming pile of CIA shit. But, since he recognized the threat that Trump represents, suddenly we should make him America’s sweetheart? Brennan will have a long career, now that Trump has elevated him to be his foil. We shouldn’t allow Brennan to be the face of the resistance to Trump. Brennan’s a corrupt and terribly flawed messenger.

While Trump and Truth both contain 5 letters of the alphabet, they have never met:

A cartoon from the past reminds us that the priest pedophilia never ends:

After all, you can’t molest the unborn:

Who says Trump can’t unite America?

These two richly deserve being each other’s enemy:

Aretha meets St. Pete:

 

Losing Aretha unifies the country for a few days:

 

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 12, 2018

Stop feeding the troll:

Alex Jones was banned for posting “fake news”. Clay Jones, (no relation) the cartoonist who drew the above, asks how conservatives can say that private businesses like Facebook or Apple shouldn’t be able to deny Alex Jones from stating his opinions. But, conservatives also argue that the NFL must stop football players from kneeling during the National Anthem. Is holding both positions acceptable?

Just a few parallels:

As bad as Nixon was, he doesn’t hold a candle to Trump’s self-serving deceit!

First the gates, then the fort. What else protects Trump?

How will the Trumpets square these ideas with the “final frontier”?

Trump tries explaining how the fires in CA were caused:

Trump’s secret sanctions plan will bring Iran to its knees:

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 23, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Red Winged Blackbird chasing Red Shouldered Hawk, FL – photo by Lana Duncan

Wrongo and Ms. Right attended a meeting with Lynn Novick, co-producer of The Vietnam War, a 10-part, 18-hour video history of the War that aired on PBS. The series was intended to be a shared public event that sparked a national discussion about the Vietnam War and the impact it had on America.

If you haven’t seen The Vietnam War, it is streaming here.

As someone who served in the military from 1966-1969, Wrongo was on orders for Vietnam twice. That he spent his time in Germany during the war was largely good luck. Many of his Officer’s Candidate School buddies died in Vietnam.

Novick showed a short video of the first episode in the series, followed by parts of episode six and seven. The series uses no historians or talking heads. There are no onscreen interviews with polarizing boldfaced names like John Kerry, John McCain, or Jane Fonda. Instead, there are 79 onscreen interviews with ordinary people who fought or lived through the war.

Two things stand out about the series: First, that it presents the perspective of South Vietnamese, Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese, along with that of the American soldiers, a significant advancement in perception for Wrongo. Second, how little that anyone on the US side, our government, our military or our soldiers, really understood about the Vietnamese. Novick told one story that was not included in the series, about how the North Vietnamese, traveling the Ho Chi Minh trail, would find an impassible rock formation, and without dynamite, they couldn’t work around it. The solution was to expose the area to US jets, who obligingly bombed the trail, making it passable for NVA trucks.

Lynn Novick said that you could divide the War into two phases: First, from the time of Truman through Kennedy, where honorable people were trying to do the right thing, and were simply getting it wrong. Then, phase two, when it became clear that our military thought that there was less than a 30% chance that we would be victorious. Novick said that recent scholarship dates that conclusion as being presented to the White House and the generals in 1965. Yet, the war went on for another 10 years. Clearly, in this phase, the decision-makers were no longer honorable people.

From that time forward, Presidents Johnson and Nixon knew that the war was unwinnable, but like their predecessors, they were unwilling to have the War lost on their watch. Their political calculations were largely responsible for 57,797 of the 58,220 deaths in the War.

And Vietnam remains the gift that keeps on giving. As of 2013, the US is paying Vietnam veterans and their families or survivors more than $22 billion a year in war-related claims.

The war at home pitted college students and clergy against politicians and the National Guard. There were huge demonstrations, and ultimately, the deaths of four Kent State college students at the hands of the Ohio Guard in 1970. That wasn’t all. Eleven people were bayoneted at the University of New Mexico by the New Mexico National Guard, and at Mississippi’s Jackson State University, police opened fire at demonstrators, killing two students and injuring 12.

These shootings of American kids by our own government led to the first nationwide student strike in US history. Over four million students participated.

The Vietnam War is a very complex and difficult topic. Our military’s plan was to win “hearts and minds” but they also bombed villages. We backed incompetent and corrupt in-country leadership. Our military falsified the metrics to show we were having “success” on the ground.

There was inconsistent, and eventually, dishonest direction from the White House.

Novick thinks that Vietnam was the most significant event for America from the Civil War to 9/11. It had a major impact, creating divisions that still persist today. In the Q&A, it was clear that the audience expressed many of the viewpoints that you might have heard 40 years ago. Ideas like the politicians prevented the military from winning, or that there were really no atrocities on the ground.

But, the afternoon’s discussion also opened people to being receptive to a different conversation, to be thoughtful about the meaning and mistakes of the War, and how we might use that experience to inform decisions our political class is making today.

So let’s wake up, America! Watch the series. Give some thought to the carnage that was wrought in our names, both in Vietnam and at home. Now, link all of that to our current endless fight against the Global War on Terror.

See any similarities?

To help you wake up, listen to Neil Young singing “Ohio”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 2, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Wildflowers in Carrizo Plain National Monument, near San Luis Obispo, CA – March 2017 photo by George Rose

Mother Jones reports:

You might know Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation, from 2004, when it required its affiliates to air an anti-John Kerry propaganda film as a news segment and then fired one of its employees who spoke against it….Or from earlier this month, when CNN’s Brian Stelter discovered that it would be forcing its anchors to record “media bashing” promos that parallel President Donald Trump’s…complaints about the “fake news” media—”a promotional campaign,” as Stelter puts it, “that sounds like pro-Trump propaganda.”

In December, Jared Kushner admitted that the Trump campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair during the 2016 election in order to obtain more favorable coverage. Now, Sinclair is awaiting FCC approval on its proposed purchase of Tribune Media, which owns or operates 42 broadcast television stations in 33 markets. If the purchase is approved, Sinclair will be able to broadcast to at least 70% of American households.

Since the Clinton era, we thought of Fox News as the propaganda arm of the GOP. But in the Trump era, it isn’t a cable network, it’s your local network news affiliate. Lots of people (Wrongo included) never watch CNN, MSNBC or Fox News, but they watch local news to see the weather, and learn what’s going on in their communities.

This is where Sinclair comes in. Increasingly, local affiliates are part of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative far-right media conglomerate that has been buying up local affiliates of the networks, stations that you’ve watched for years.

Think Progress reports that Sinclair has always produced “must-run” segments for its stations that are typically conservative commentary running alongside their regular news coverage. Sinclair is now forcing its reporters to air pre-scripted segments about fake news media, in an attempt to undermine non-Sinclair stations in the same markets:

Seattle-based ABC affiliate KOMO-TV says its owner, the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group, is forcing its reporters to air pre-scripted segments about fake news media, in an attempt to undermine non-Sinclair stations.

In recent weeks, KOMO has begun throwing in mentions of “fake news.” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reproduces the full script:

Hi, I’m (A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…

(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces.

(A) But we’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.

(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.

(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.

(B) At KOMO it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.

(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to KOMOnews.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.

(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual… We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.

(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback.

Sinclair doesn’t say which mainstream news outlets are intentionally running false stories without first fact-checking, they just claim that certain journalists pose a threat to democracy. It should scare you that you could try to watch many different stations, and get only Sinclair’s viewpoint.

Welcome to the era of the Trump regime’s state-run media. You’re living in it, and odds are increasingly good that you and your family are getting their local news from it too.

You can only fight this by being aware it exists. If people start considering a message as propaganda, they will then start asking who it benefits.

That question is the start of getting real news back on our screens.

America’s got to wake up, or lose its democracy. To help all of us wake up here is “No News is Good News” by the punk group, New Found Glory, from their 2004 album Catalyst:

Sample Lyrics:

All along, we follow blindly,
Force-fed prime time, printed nightly,
Why would anybody leave the safety of their home?

And I can’t take much more of this,
We’re all so wrapped up, in it,
Nothing will change, but the channels,
So I turn it off.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Cambridge Analytica Edition

The Daily Escape:

Massachusetts stream after March Nor’easter – 2018 photo by Karen Randall

The New York Times and The Observer each reported on Sunday about Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook (FB) personal information for about 50 million users. The data were acquired by an external researcher who claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.

Those data were subsequently passed by the researcher to Cambridge Analytica (CA), who used it to help the Trump campaign develop very accurate psychographic profiles on each FB user. They also built a powerful software program to influence choices at the ballot box, targeting them with personalized political messages. CA then helped create websites and FB posts specifically designed to appeal to those users who followed the information, and then the most effective messages were used to either get them to vote, or to stay home.

The Observer said that the 50 million profiles represented about a quarter of potential US voters.

Cambridge Analytica was at the time, managed by Steve Bannon, and remains owned and financed by Robert Mercer. In June 2016, the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica to take over its data operations. The WSJ reported on Friday that Robert Mueller has requested that Cambridge Analytica turn over internal documents as part of its investigation.

Some detail on the FB data: In 2015, a University of Cambridge researcher Aleksandr Kogan harvested data on millions of Americans by getting them to use his FB research app, “thisisyourdigitallife,” which offered a personality prediction, and was billed on FB as “a research app used by psychologists.”

Kogan then passed the data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, who used the personal information to create psychological and political profiles, and then target them with political ads designed to work with their particular psychological makeup.

We know about this because Wylie just came forward to the Observer, which broke the story. The Observer reports that Wylie: (edits and brackets by Wrongo)

Was the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating ‘Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool’… [And they quote him saying] we ‘broke’ Facebook…

Cambridge Analytica also was used in the Brexit election campaign on the side of the “Leave” faction. And, The Hill reports that CA met with the Russian oil firm, Lukoil, three times in 2014 and 2015. Lukoil was apparently interested in how data could be used to target US voters.

When this story broke, Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its platform. But, The Guardian reports that Facebook had known about this misuse of its data for two years, doing nothing about it. Facebook acknowledges that the data were obtained legally, but that this use violates its policies

Until now, Wrongo has been agnostic about foreign meddling in the 2016 election. But finally, this may be where the Mueller investigation is heading: Collaboration by the Trump campaign (through Cambridge Analytica) and Russian operatives on the development and deployment of these robustly targeted digital advertisements. This becomes clearer since the Guardian reports that Kogan, the data gatherer, was also working for a St. Petersburg university while he was working for Cambridge and running his app. The Guardian also implies that he had funding from the Russian government.

This is at the center of everything. Russia, Facebook, Trump, Mercer, Bannon, Brexit. All of these threads run through Cambridge Analytica.

And we shouldn’t ignore FB’s culpability. They contracted with the app developer. They transferred large amounts of data to Kogan for specific purposes. FB had the opportunity and obligation to oversee and enforce that contract, and they seem to have failed to do so.

If this happened only in the US, we might not have even heard about it. Luckily for the American public, part of this arrangement appears to be subject to EU data protection rules, so more of the story will come out.

This shows why the US badly needs a data privacy and data protection regime similar to Europe’s.

It’s time to WAKE UP America! We have to get sharp! We need to dig deeper. To go beyond headlines, and develop a real understanding of the issues confronting our Republic.

Otherwise, we can be bullshitted or manipulated, and our democracy will be lost.

To help you wake up, here is English singer, Lily Allen doing her 2009 song “The Fear”:

Sample Lyrics:

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore

And I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore

And when do you think it will all become clear?

‘Cause I’m being taken over by the fear

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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What Is Free Speech In the Domain of Social Media?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise with full moon over mountains at Morillion, France – 2018 photo by osg28

Can we justify taking away a person’s First Amendment right of free speech because of its content? Suppose it is hate speech? In the US, we hear people say: “I hate what you say, but I’ll defend your right to say it“. Is that an inviolable default position?

Wrongo has been following this issue as it plays out in Europe. From the Columbia Journalism Review:

A toxic combination of misinformation, hate speech, and online harassment is pushing several European countries to take action against social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. But some believe their actions—however well-intentioned—run the risk of stifling free speech and putting dangerous restrictions on freedom of the press.

France, Germany, and the UK are all either discussing, or are already in the process of implementing requirements for social networks to take measures to remove, or block online hate speech, and/or harassment.

Germany in particular is a laboratory for these issues. The Guardian reports that social media firms must remove hate speech, or face fines under a law that went into force on January 1st. The law is known as NetzDG. Under the law, online platforms face fines of up to $60 million if they do not remove “obviously illegal” hate speech and other postings within 24 hours of receiving a notification. A New Year’s Eve tweet by a far-right politician was the first post to be taken down. From the Economist: (emphasis by Wrongo)

‘WHAT the hell is wrong with this country?’ fumed Beatrix von Storch to her 30,000 Twitter followers on December 31st: ‘Why is the official police page in NRW [North Rhine-Westphalia] tweeting in Arabic?’ The MP for the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party detected in the force’s multilingual new-year greeting a bid ‘to appease the barbaric, Muslim, rapist hordes of men’. The next day her tweet—and, for 12 hours, her entire account, vanished from Twitter.

In Germany, freedom of speech is considered an “inalienable human right”, and is protected under Article 5 (1) of the German constitution:

Everyone has the right freely to express and to disseminate his opinion by speech, writing and pictures and freely to inform himself from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by radio and motion pictures are guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.

From the Economist:

Germany’s memories of the Gestapo and the Stasi undergird its commitment to free speech. “There shall be no censorship,” decrees the constitution. Even marches by Pegida, an Islamophobic and anti-immigrant movement founded in 2014, receive police protection. But the country of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust also takes a punitive attitude to what it deems “hate speech”. Inciting hatred can carry a prison sentence of up to five years…Irmela Mensah-Schramm, a Berlin pensioner who spray-paints over swastikas and other racist graffiti, is a national hero.

The debate in Germany is whether the NetzDG law should be repealed or modified. How practical is it in an age when a tweet, Facebook post, or YouTube video can spread around the world in minutes?

But the largest question is how can countries balance the people’s legitimate right to free speech with others’ desire to be protected against harmful material? In another German case, Israeli flags were burned in Berlin in response to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the country’s capital. Even with accompanying chants of “Israel, murderer of children”, local police said the act was covered by freedom of speech legislation, and was thus protected.

But should a Muslim immigrant anti-Semite in Germany be allowed to use hate speech that a native German cannot?

Facebook and Twitter have added German-fluent moderators and a few features for flagging controversial content. They have trained their moderators to cope with the NetzDG Act.

Another question is why should the giant social media firms have to regulate free speech? Is it acceptable that private US companies act as a brake on freedom of opinion and the press in Germany?

And how do we “equalize” enforcement of the Free Speech laws in the physical and cyber domains? And where does free expression cross the line between a viewpoint and hatred and incitement to violence?

Should we be ceding control of Free Speech to poorly-paid (and possibly poorly-educated) Facebook and Twitter moderators?

Finally, how will private firms create a tool that grades how hateful a Twitter post is? Who decides that something is beyond say, a seven on the scale, has crossed into hate territory, and must be deleted?

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