Corporate irresponsibility, Facebook-style

From a powerful piece in today’s Guardian:

When Facebook invited journalists for a phone briefing on Tuesday evening to talk about its progress in tackling hate speech in Myanmar, it seemed like a proactive, well-intentioned move from a company that is typically fighting PR fires on several fronts.

But the publication of a bombshell Reuters investigation on Wednesday morning suggested otherwise: the press briefing was an ass-covering exercise.

This is the latest in a series of strategic mishaps as the social network blunders its way through the world like a giant, uncoordinated toddler that repeatedly soils its diaper and then wonders where the stench is coming from. It enters markets with wide-eyed innocence and a mission to “build [and monetise] communities”, but ends up tripping over democracies and landing in a pile of ethnic cleansing. Oopsie!

What’s truly revolting about Facebook is the moral infantilism of its senior executives. They’ve been warned about what was happening in Myanmar for years.

What all those US newspapers are getting wrong

George Lakoff points out what’s wrong with the hashtag they’ve adopted — #NotTheEnemy — in contesting Trump’s assertion that journalists are “the enemies of the people”.

The key lesson: when we negate a frame, we evoke the frame.

When President Richard Nixon addressed the country during Watergate and used the phrase “I am not a crook,” he coupled his image with that of a crook.

He established what he was denying by repeating his opponents’ message.

This illustrates a key principle of framing: avoid the language of the attacker because it evokes their frame and helps make their case.

Why? Because, in order to negate a frame, you have to activate it. Frames, like all other ideas, are constituted by neural circuitry in the brain. Every time a circuit is activated, its synapses get stronger. When you negate a frame, you help the other side.

Avoid repeating the charges! Instead, use your own words and values to reframe the conversation. When journalists protest that they are “Not The Enemy,” they should remember how well “I am not a crook” worked for Nixon.

The important frame here is Truth. Donald Trump despises journalists because the duty of a good journalist is to tell the truth and inform the public. Trump doesn’t like the truth – or an informed public – because the success of his anti-democratic agenda depends on lies and distractions.

This is why he has labeled journalists as “enemies.” Because Trump is an enemy of truth, and you can’t have democracy without truth.

Journalists are the courageous people we trust to #ProtectTheTruth.

Obvious, isn’t it? We had the same experience in the Brexit referendum when good people devoted endless resources to pointing out that the Leave campaign’s claim that leaving the EU would give an extra £350 a week for the NHS was incorrect. The more they corrected it, the more firmly the figure of £350m was embedded in people’s minds.

Twitter slowly gets smarter

From the New York Times

WASHINGTON — Twitter on Tuesday suspended the account of the far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for a week after he tweeted a link to a video calling for supporters to get their “battle rifles” ready against media and others, in a violation of the company’s rules against inciting violence.

The social media company followed up on Wednesday by also suspending the account for Infowars, the media website founded by Mr. Jones, for posting the same video.

The twin actions effectively prevent Mr. Jones and Infowars from tweeting or retweeting from their Twitter accounts for seven days, though they will be able to browse the service.

Charles Arthur has an astute assessment of this strategy:

Clever move by Twitter. In effect, it was waiting for Jones to make the slightest wrong move, and he fell straight into the trap. The week’s suspension isn’t quite congruent for the Jones account and the Infowars account (by a few hours, the latter is in jail longer). It’s going to be harder and harder for him not to all into Twitter jail repeatedly, and eventually get banned. And so Twitter wins, without having to go to war.

Yep.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting that Twitter’s boss, Jack Dorsey, has embarked on a major re-think.

Jack Dorsey said he is rethinking core parts of the social media platform so it doesn’t enable the spread of hate speech, harassment and false news, including conspiracy theories shared by prominent users like Alex Jones and Infowars.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday, Dorsey said he was experimenting with features that would promote alternative viewpoints in Twitter’s timeline to address misinformation and reduce “echo chambers.” He also expressed openness to labeling bots — automated accounts that sometimes pose as human users — and redesigning key elements of the social network, including the “like” button and the way Twitter displays users’ follower counts.

Good luck with that. Twitter is now oscillating between being a vast network of cesspools and an equally vast universe of echo-chambers. And it’s also the tool that has been captured by Trump.

Context, not content, is what’s needed now. And collaboration, not competition.

From a striking CJR post by Todd Gitlin:

After months of recalculation, of reappraisals agonizing and not, of euphemisms and of mea culpas loud and soft, the Times does not know with whom it is dealing. It is as if the mafia were being approached as a quaint bunch of oddballs. It’s as if oversight were the most plausible reason why the famous Rob Goldstone email addressed to Donald J. Trump, Jr., subject-lined “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential,” failed to “set off alarm bells” among the likes of Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Trump Jr. in Trump Tower—and not the far more plausible explanation that Russian cronies were nothing new at making approaches to Trumpworld. Trump’s buildings were homes away from home for all manner of criminals and Russian investors, as were his foreign ventures.

This is what journalists called “context.” Call it background, call it whatever you want. But if you ignore it, you are reporting a baseball game as if people in uniforms are running around a diamond and chasing a ball for no apparent reason at all.

Yep. This essay goes nicely with Dan Gilmor’s plea for journalists to get their acts together on reporting Trump. There’s a strange way in which the competitiveness of journalists is preventing them from collaborating to fight Trump’s campaign to sideline the First Amendment.

That means breaking with customs, and some traditions — changing the journalism, and some of the ways you practice it, to cope with the onslaught of willful misinformation aimed at undermining public belief in basic reality. You can start by looking at the public’s information needs from the public’s point of view, not just your own.

The collaboration needs to be broad, and deep, across organizations and platforms. It can be immediate — such as an agreement among White House reporters to resist the marginalizing, or banning outright, of journalists who displease the president. If a legitimate reporter is banned from an event, or verbally dismissed in a briefing or press conference, other journalists should either boycott the event or, at the very least, ask and re-ask his or her question until it’s answered. In the briefing room, show some spine, and do it together.

The trouble is: most journalists are not by instinct collaborative — which is why they find networked journalism difficult. And their employers are rarely helpful in this regard. That’s also why collaborative ventures — like the one that reported and analysed the Panama Papers — represent such a welcome change.

Preview: Trump’s first tweet after the mid-term elections go against Republicans

This from Buzzfeed’s report of the DEFCON conference:

This weekend saw the 26th annual DEFCON gathering. It was the second time the convention had featured a Voting Village, where organizers set up decommissioned election equipment and watch hackers find creative and alarming ways to break in. Last year, conference attendees found new vulnerabilities for all five voting machines and a single e-poll book of registered voters over the course of the weekend, catching the attention of both senators introducing legislation and the general public. This year’s Voting Village was bigger in every way, with equipment ranging from voting machines to tabulators to smart card readers, all currently in use in the US.

So here, just for the record, is a copy of Trump’s first tweet after the results start to come in:

Donald J Trump @realDonaldTrump 3m
FAKE VOTES! Just as we warned, voting machines were HACKED by the Democrats. Results in Michigan and Ohio are FAKE. Shocking, shocking. The mid-terms have been RIGGED. Real Americans won’t accept these fake results.

How the American dream ended

Bleak essay by Frank Rich on the national mood. Sample:

In the Digital Century, unlike the preceding American Century, the largest corporations are not admired as sources of jobs, can-do-ism, and tangible goods that might enrich and empower all. They’re seen instead as impenetrable black boxes where our most intimate personal secrets are bought and sold to further fatten a shadowy Über-class of obscene wealth and privilege trading behind velvet ropes in elite cryptocurrencies. Though only a tiny percentage of Americans are coal miners, many more Americans feel like coal miners in terms of their beleaguered financial status and future prospects. It’s a small imaginative leap to think of yourself as a serf in a society where Facebook owns and markets your face and Alphabet does the same with your language (the alphabet, literally) while paying bogus respects to the dying right to privacy.

It would be easy to blame the national mood all on Donald J. Trump, but that would be underrating its severity and overrating Trump’s role in creating it (as opposed to exacerbating it). Trump’s genius has been to exploit and weaponize the discontent that has been brewing over decades of globalization and technological upheaval. He did so in part by discarding the bedrock axiom of post–World War II American politics that anyone running for president must sparkle with the FDR-patented, chin-jutting optimism that helped propel John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to the White House. Trump ran instead on the idea that America was, as his lingo would have it, a shithole country in desperate need of being made great again. “Sadly, the American Dream is dead,” he declared, glowering, on that fateful day in 2015 when he came down the Trump Tower escalator to announce his candidacy. He saw a market in merchandising pessimism as patriotism and cornered it. His diagnosis that the system was “rigged” was not wrong, but his ruse of “fixing” it has been to enrich himself, his family, and his coterie of grifters with the full collaboration of his party’s cynical and avaricious Establishment.

Great essay. Worth reading in full.

Global Warning

I’m reading Nick Harkaway’s new novel, Gnomon which, like Dave Eggars’s The Circle, provides a gripping insight into our surveillance-driven future.

Before publication, Harkaway wrote an interesting blog post about why he embarked on the book. Here’s an excerpt from that post:

I remember the days.

I remember the halcyon days of 2014, when I started writing Gnomon and I thought I was going to produce a short book (ha ha ha) in a kind of Umberto Eco-Winterson-Borges mode, maybe with a dash of Bradbury and PKD, and it would be about realities and unreliable narrators and criminal angels in prisons made of time, and bankers and alchemists, and it would also be a warning about the dangers of creeping authoritarianism. (And no, you’re right: creatively speaking I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into.)

I remember the luxury of saying “we must be precautionary about surveillance laws, about human rights violations, because one day the liberal democracies might start electing monsters and making bad pathways, and we’ll want solid protections from our governments’ over-reach.”

Oops.

I remember the halcyon days of April 2016 when I thought I’d missed the boat and I hadn’t written a warning at all, but a sort of melancholic state of the nation, and I really did think things might get better from there. Then Brexit came – I was half expecting that – and then Trump – which I was really not – and now here we are, with the UK boiling as May’s government and Corbyn’s Labour sit on their hands and clock ticks down and the negotiating table is blank except for a few sheets of crumpled scrap paper, and the only global certainty seems to be that this US administration will try to wreck every decent thing the international community has attempted in my lifetime, with the occasional connivance of our own leaders when they aren’t busy tearing one another to bits.

And now I’m pretty sure I did write a warning after all.

He did.

Does media coverage drive populism? Or is it the other way round?

Very interesting piece of academic research. Title is: “Does Media Coverage Drive Public Support for UKIP or Does Public Support for UKIP Drive Media Coverage?”

Abstract reads:

Previous research suggests media attention may increase support for populist right-wing parties, but extant evidence is mostly limited to proportional representation systems in which such an effect would be most likely. At the same time, in the United Kingdom’s first-past-the-post system, an ongoing political and regulatory debate revolves around whether the media give disproportionate coverage to the populist right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP). This study uses a mixed-methods research design to investigate the causal dynamics of UKIP support and media coverage as an especially valuable case. Vector autoregression, using monthly, aggregate time-series data from January 2004 to April 2017, provides new evidence consistent with a model in which media coverage drives party support, but not vice versa. The article identifies key periods in which stagnating or declining support for UKIP is followed by increases in media coverage and subsequent increases in public support. The findings show that media coverage may drive public support for right-wing populist parties in a substantively non-trivial fashion that is irreducible to previous levels of public support, even in a national institutional environment least supportive of such an effect. The findings have implications for political debates in the UK and potentially other liberal democracies.

Quote of the Day

” “I stand before you tonight as an uncle, a sports nut, a CEO, a lover of the beautiful Utah outdoors, and a proud, gay American. I come to deliver a simple message that I want every LGBT person to here and to believe.”

“You are a gift to the world,” Cook said. “A unique and special gift, just the way you are. Your life matters. … My heart breaks when I see kids struggling to conform to a society or a family that doesn’t accept them. Struggling to be what someone else thinks is normal. Find your truth, speak your truth, live your truth.”

“Let me tell you,” Cook continued. “‘Normal’ just might be the worst word ever created. We are not all supposed to be the same, feel the same, or think the same. And there is nothing wrong with you.”

“I know that life can be dark and heavy, and sometimes might seem unreasonable and unbearable, but just as night turns to day, know that darkness is always followed by light. You will feel more comfortable in our own skin, attitudes will change. Life will get better and you will thrive.”

Tim Cook at the 2018 Loveloud festival

Thus spake the CEO of the world’s first trillion-dollar company.