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by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Is it a fact that dictionaries define words like “violence”, “assault”, or “vandalism” as “Legitimate Political Discourse?”
Of course not!
Yet that’s exactly what the Republican National Committee declared in a voice vote taken on February 4, 2022, to censure Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their participation in the investigation of the deadly January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. Political violence is violence perpetrated to achieve political goals. Whether or not such violence is legitimate is a separate judgment call on which two sides may not agree. The larger question is how did we come to the point where one of our major political parties thinks violence is a legitimate means to settle political differences? How did we become so divided? One explanation is that we are seeing the cumulative impact of a sustained, covert, global cyber-war being waged against democracy. (For the record, I’m still in favor of having an equal say in government, and may the majority rule!)
We are under constant attack by the enemies of the world’s democratic societies. It is being waged through military-grade propaganda and disinformation campaigns using every means of mass communication. Make no mistake… it is organized, purposeful, and well-funded. The goal is to replace governments of the people with authoritarian rule and crony, unfettered capitalism.
Disinformation attacks take direct aim at our perceptions and feelings. They bypass normal filters and influence our subconscious. We feel these attacks when we read or hear something scandalous or shocking in the news that may not sound entirely true but still makes us feel extremes of anger towards the government, democratic institutions, opposing politicians, or neighbors. Our initial skepticism fades as these fictions stories are endlessly echoed over multiple media sources and from our online community of friends, some of whom may be fake accounts. We feel the effects of these attacks when we become uncharacteristically unsure about what to believe or who to trust. We become casualties in the cyber-war, or unwitting participants when we engage in verbal or physical attacks against friends, family, or strangers. We are casualties of war when our long-held belief systems are overturned in a relatively short time span. When friends or loved ones get upset and tell us we changed, we need to listen instead of justifying our feelings. They are in a better position to judge what is happening to us. There are very few internal warning signs when our perceptions and worldview are altered when under attack. It feels like we are still making our own choices when in fact we are being manipulated by targeted disinformation.
We must all learn more about cyber-warfare, how it works and how to recognize it. We must inoculate ourselves against it. There is a good article below on how Russia conducts its cyber-warfare, but they aren’t the only enemy of democracy. It is also helpful to reinforce our understanding of some basic terms about knowing when facts are true.
Many impasses in our fraught discussions boil down to completely different sets of facts between us and others. It’s like living in different universes. We need to state our facts, but we need to know how we sort fact from fiction. Under fire in an argument, folks who don’t share the same facts cause us to conflate terms like information, misinformation, and disinformation. They begin to would like roughly equivalent terms. When people under the influence of disinformation are confronted with verifiable facts, they may argue that all facts are really just someone’s opinion. That is a slippery slope towards chaos and disorder. When under pressure to produce data sources to verify their facts, people who are under the influence of propaganda strongly resist or refer you to their favorite websites instead of original source materials. Their denialism becomes apparent.
Here then are some defining terms and their relationship to what we believe to be true in the real world.
In an article published January 2020 in the British Journal of Sociology, Martin Innes defined disinformation this way:
“Disinformation can be defined as “deviant information.” For where information is imparted to enhance awareness, insight, and understanding, disinforming communications blend intent and action to distort, deceive, and dissemble.”
Disinformation – At its source, disinformation is a subset of propaganda. It is deliberately false information that is spread to deceive and cause harm. Also known as black propaganda, it is sometimes confused with misinformation. Disinformation may be comprised of knowingly false or fabricated data, intentionally biased, misleading, or fictitious rendering of the underlying data, or information devoid of any factual basis. Disinformation is never a real description of objects, people, or events in the world. It is, however, often embedded in truthful information to trick us into accepting it as true. Even misinformation can become disinformation when it is willfully represented as true even after it is known to be false. This is often the case on social media when individuals repost statements that they know to be misinformation. Disinformation is always intentionally harmful and corrosive to human understanding.
How is knowledge and understanding of the real world supposed to take place? It starts with data.
Data – Data are fundamental units of information about the real world. They are like the pixels that create a picture in a flat-screen TV. They are even more like sensory input from our eyes, or ears that our brain must then sort out and interpret. In a technical sense, data are a set of values of qualitative or quantitative variables about one or more persons or objects. They are building blocks of “facts” that can be transformed into information when viewed within a larger context. The expression, “check your facts” is a request to reexamine the underlying data for errors, omissions, faulty analysis, bias, etc. There are many ways that data can be in error, which includes intentional falsification.
Fact – A fact is a verbal statement of something that exists or happens in the natural world. It can be a single datum, or it can emerge from a coherent set of data pertaining to the real world. Either way, a fact must contain a high degree of certainty. If a statement of fact is later proven false it is no longer a fact. Facts can be thought of as subunits of information. They are assertions of confidence that its underlying data is accurate. Facts can be verified, replicated, observed by others, or logically derived. Facts cannot be metaphysical, hypothetical, To be a fact, it must accurately or fairly represent the current state of its underlying data. It must be testable in this regard. But that doesn’t mean must be durable over time. Facts must be true to the underlying data, but they may not represent absolute truth. Data evolves. It may progress, improve, or grow in unexpected directions over time. This drift of the underlying data requires altering the overlying facts. This can be a frustrating exercise for many people seeking certainty, including some scientists for whom this is a familiar feature.
Information – Information, in the everyday use of the word, is a verbal representation of an aspect or event in the world based on processed, organized, and structured sets of data-verified facts. Information conveys cognitive meaning within the context of our highest, most durable perception of natural reality. It provides a coherent contextual framework to understand the facts that emerge from very large sets of data. The information enables the type of higher-level decision-making of which we humans are capable. Information is usually more durable than facts or data because the overall picture can be correct even when some of the facts are less than certain.
Misinformation – Misinformation contains unintended errors of fact. It can result from faulty, misleading, or unintentionally omitted data, wrong assumptions, clerical errors, translational errors, measurements errors, etc. Misinformation is different from rumors which are purely speculative. Even if later retracted or corrected, misinformation can continue to influence the actions and memories of others. The outcomes of misinformation can be very harmful, so care must be taken to avoid misinformation. The diligence required to avoid misinformation should be at least proportional to the potential harm it could cause. Misinformation is an inevitable but correctable part of our understanding of the world.
Just keeping these concepts in mind as we consume content on social media or other media sources may help us our skepticism about what we see or read. Rather than surrender to those who push disinformation into our public discourse, we need to be proactive in checking our facts and stating them clearly, out loud, or in writing. This isn’t likely to change the mind of the person to whom you are responding, but many more impressionable online views need to see both sides of every argument. Do it for them. Not responding at all to propaganda and disinformation is tantamount to surrendering the battlefield to the enemies of truth and democracy.
By Brian T. Lynch, MSW
On April 21, 2018, the Chicago Tribune reported that Mayor Rahm Emanuel added $1.7 million to his campaign in a single day. The explanation that followed encapsulates what’s wrong with our campaign finance laws. As in other states, the Illinois campaign donation system is set up like a board game, specifically a corporate board game.
If you are an actual carbon based person in Illinois you cannot donate more than $5,600 to a political campaign, unless you own a business. If you own a business you can contribute twice that amount on behalf of your business. And if you register as a political action group you can donate nearly 10 times the individual contribution limit, up to $55,400. These campaign limits are entirely lifted if one candidate in a race decides to give their campaign $100,000 of their own money.
That’s what happened in Chicago. Emanuel’s Republican opponent, Willie Wilson, boosted his campaign with $100,000 of his own money. Twenty-four hours later the Mayor added a million dollars to his campaign from just three wealthy donors plus another $700,000 from other donors.
In the Citizen’s United decision the US Supreme Court said, in effect, that money is a form of free speech. This may be true in some intellectual perspective of the court, but if true in the real world, how can there be a $5,600 free speech limit on voters? How can there be any limits at all?
In our Republic we have this bedrock principle that says, “One person, One vote.” Everyone has an equal say in who represents their interests. Corporate governance operates on a different principle that says, “One share, One vote.” You get one vote with every share of the company you buy. The bigger your financial stake is, the greater your say is within the company. Wealthy shareholders like this system because their voting power is proportional to their financial power.
The concept of one person, one vote is an anathema to them in our democracy. They feel their greater financial stake in the economy should also entitle them to a greater political say in our government. This is why they have rigged the campaign finance system.
As a thought experiment, try imposing the “One person, One vote” principle to campaign financing. One person’s donation limit in Illinois is $5,600. That means one vote is equal to that amount or less, mostly less. Most voters don’t contribute to political campaigns. Even if they do, the individual donation limit may be well beyond their means. The median income for a family of four is close to $56,000 a year, so a maximum political donation would cost them 10% of their annual income. Even a 1% donation would be well beyond their means. One tenth of one percent of their income, or $56 dollars, might be feasible for most voters, and this amount is 100 times the current limit.
If you go with the “$5,600 limit equals one vote” rule, then being a business owner gives you three votes, one personal vote and two votes for your business. Join another business owner to form a political action committee you get eight votes, five votes for your half of the PAC, three for your business and one personal vote.
Then Willie Wilson upsets the apple cart in Chicago by donating $100k to his campaign. Now just three wealthy donors get a total of 180 votes or more for Mayor Emanuel’s campaign. The actual impact on how a candidate might responds to donors is enhanced by the fact that tens of thousands of voters contribute nothing. Additionally, because individual donor limits are 100 times what the average voter can afford, the impact of those three big donors in the mayor’s race is more like 180,000 votes. So, if you are Rahn Emanuel, who are you going to listen to?
Money is not free speech. Money is power.
If we agreed to pair the power of money to the power of the vote, then one voting share should have the same price tag for every eligible voter. It should not favor businesses or the wealthy as it does now in our corporate governance style of campaign finance. This also means only eligible voters should be able to donate; No PACs or businesses. If a businessman or organization wants to lobby for a special interest, they should lobby directly with the people to gain influence rather than lobbying our politicians. It would mean that fair share campaign finance limits would either be equal and affordable for everyone, or without donation limits but with maximum transparency so every voter can see exactly which candidates the big donors are buying.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
I liked this humorous bit (below) because it highlights the fact that racism is used to maintain the growing income and wealth gap enjoyed by the wealthy. If poor whites and poor minorities joined in common cause it would spell trouble for wealthy elite. They would be forced to share more of their wealth.
Dr. ML King came to understand this before he was murdered. He was never a greater threat to the established order than when he began his work to unite the races in a fight against poverty and the wealthy elite who structure societies to favor themselves.
There is only one source of social power in human society, and that is the power of coordinated actions. Whether you are building a house, a business, a movement or a government, it is the coordinated actions of people that get things done.
The converse is true when powerful interests want to block the competing interests of others. They block others by disrupting the ability to organize. They disrupt the ability of others to coordinate their actions. They diminish us by subversion, by creating or exploiting divisions among us, by creating distractions or confusion, by disparaging or arresting our protest leaders, by isolating us, by restricting our access to resources or by force of arms if necessary.
Forming social divisions is part of our human nature, but so is forming alliances and overcoming differences for mutual benefit. If the ability to work together was not greater than our tendency to “take care of our own,” we would still be a society of hunter gatherers, if not an already extinct species. Powerful people use their power to stay in power. They thwart our attempts to organize, to unionize, to communicate, to affiliate, to overcome our differences and even to vote in this republic.
And now a new layer has been added. Hostile foreign powers have infiltrated our government at the highest levels. They are using their military to conduct mass media propaganda attacks against us, attacks designed to disunite us as a nation. Their goal is to establish a global kleptocracy with unlimited powers to extract our wealth and control our behavior.
Against these coordinated attacks on America and our power of self-determination we must come together, unite in common cause and overcome the differences between us that they magnifying and exploit. It’s time to unite against all odds and move in unison against the forces that are pulling us apart.
Here, on Martin Luther King Day, are a few quotes and his last address before being assassinated.
“God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.”
“A second evil which plagues the modern world is that of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, it projects its nagging, prehensile tentacles in lands and villages all over the world. Almost two-thirds of the peoples of the world go to bed hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed, and shabbily clad. Many of them have no houses or beds to sleep in. Their only beds are the sidewalks of the cities and the dusty roads of the villages. Most of these poverty-stricken children of God have never seen a physician or a dentist.”
“The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’”
Most people think about Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech today, but I want to leave this topic with another of his speeches: ” The last major speech Dr. King delivered, four days before his assassination, was on poverty at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Poverty
The full text of Dr. King´s sermon entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” containing the quotes below can be read here:
“There is another thing closely related to racism that I would like to mention as another challenge. We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. Two-thirds of the people of the world go to bed hungry tonight. They are ill-housed; they are ill-nourished; they are shabbily clad. I’ve seen it in Latin America; I’ve seen it in Africa; I’ve seen this poverty in Asia.
I remember some years ago Mrs. King and I journeyed to that great country known as India. And I never will forget the experience. It was a marvelous experience to meet and talk with the great leaders of India, to meet and talk with and to speak to thousands and thousands of people all over that vast country. These experiences will remain dear to me as long as the cords of memory shall lengthen.
But I say to you this morning, my friends, there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes God’s children sleeping on the sidewalks at night? In Bombay more than a million people sleep on the sidewalks every night. In Calcutta more than six hundred thousand sleep on the sidewalks every night. They have no beds to sleep in; they have no houses to go in. How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of more than five hundred million people, some four hundred and eighty million make an annual income of less than ninety dollars a year. And most of them have never seen a doctor or a dentist.
As I noticed these things, something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh no!” Because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation. And I started thinking of the fact that we spend in America millions of dollars a day to store surplus food, and I said to myself, “I know where we can store that food free of charge-in the wrinkled stomachs of millions of God’s children all over the world who go to bed hungry at night.” And maybe we spend far too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.
Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. I have seen them here and there. I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia. I have just been in the process of touring many areas of our country and I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying.
I was in Marks, Mississippi, the other day, which is in Whitman County, the poorest county in the United States. I tell you, I saw hundreds of little black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear. I saw their mothers and fathers trying to carry on a little Head Start program, but they had no money. The federal government hadn’t funded them, but they were trying to carry on. They raised a little money here and there; trying to get a little food to feed the children; trying to teach them a little something.
And I saw mothers and fathers who said to me not only were they unemployed, they didn’t get any kind of income-no old-age pension, no welfare check, no anything. I said, “How do you live?” And they say, “Well, we go around, go around to the neighbors and ask them for a little something. When the berry season comes, we pick berries. When the rabbit season comes, we hunt and catch a few rabbits. And that’s about it.”
And I was in Newark and Harlem just this week. And I walked into the homes of welfare mothers. I saw them in conditions-no, not with wall-to-wall carpet, but wall-to-wall rats and roaches. I stood in an apartment and this welfare mother said to me, “The landlord will not repair this place. I’ve been here two years and he hasn’t made a single repair.” She pointed out the walls with all the ceiling falling through. She showed me the holes where the rats came in. She said night after night we have to stay awake to keep the rats and roaches from getting to the children. I said, “How much do you pay for this apartment?” She said, “a hundred and twenty-five dollars.” I looked, and I thought, and said to myself, “It isn’t worth sixty dollars.” Poor people are forced to pay more for less. Living in conditions day in and day out where the whole area is constantly drained without being replenished. It becomes a kind of domestic colony. And the tragedy is, so often these forty million people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich. Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor.
Jesus told a parable one day, and he reminded us that a man went to hell because he didn’t see the poor. His name was Dives. He was a rich man. And there was a man by the name of Lazarus who was a poor man, but not only was he poor, he was sick. Sores were all over his body, and he was so weak that he could hardly move. But he managed to get to the gate of Dives every day, wanting just to have the crumbs that would fall from his table. And Dives did nothing about it. And the parable ends saying, “Dives went to hell, and there were a fixed gulf now between Lazarus and Dives.”
There is nothing in that parable that said Dives went to hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. It is true that one day a rich young ruler came to him, and he advised him to sell all, but in that instance Jesus was prescribing individual surgery and not setting forth a universal diagnosis. And if you will look at that parable with all of its symbolism, you will remember that a conversation took place between heaven and hell, and on the other end of that long-distance call between heaven and hell was Abraham in heaven talking to Dives in hell.
Now Abraham was a very rich man. If you go back to the Old Testament, you see that he was the richest man of his day, so it was not a rich man in hell talking with a poor man in heaven; it was a little millionaire in hell talking with a multimillionaire in heaven. Dives didn’t go to hell because he was rich; Dives didn’t realize that his wealth was his opportunity. It was his opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus. Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. Dives went to hell because he maximized the minimum and minimized the maximum. Indeed, Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.
And this can happen to America, the richest nation in the world-and nothing’s wrong with that-this is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.
In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect. We are going to bring those who have come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. We are going to bring children and adults and old people, people who have never seen a doctor or a dentist in their lives.
We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.
We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.
Why do we do it this way? We do it this way because it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.
Great documents are here to tell us something should be done. We met here some years ago in the White House conference on civil rights. And we came out with the same recommendations that we will be demanding in our campaign here, but nothing has been done. The President’s commission on technology, automation and economic progress recommended these things some time ago. Nothing has been done. Even the urban coalition of mayors of most of the cities of our country and the leading businessmen have said these things should be done. Nothing has been done. The Kerner Commission came out with its report just a few days ago and then made specific recommendations. Nothing has been done.
And I submit that nothing will be done until people of goodwill put their bodies and their souls in motion. And it will be the kind of soul force brought into being as a result of this confrontation that I believe will make the difference.
Yes, it will be a Poor People’s Campaign. This is the question facing America. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. America has not met its obligations and its responsibilities to the poor.
One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we’ve done. Yes, we will be able to say we built gargantuan bridges to span the seas, we built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies. Yes, we made our submarines to penetrate oceanic depths. We brought into being many other things with our scientific and technological power.
It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, “That was not enough! But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me. And consequently, you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness. If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me.” That’s the question facing America today.
I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” The world must hear this. I pray God that America will hear this before it is too late, because today we’re fighting a war.
I am convinced that it is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement in the war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military-industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation. It has put us against the self-determination of a vast majority of the Vietnamese people, and put us in the position of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor.
It has played havoc with our domestic destinies. This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.”
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
What if Presidential candidates could identify the exact swing districts, to the precinct, that they need to win state elections? Imagine how concentrated their campaigns efforts and resources would be, including the ad buys and how those ads are tailored to the voters in those districts.
Welcome to the modern political campaign. The ability to do exactly this grows greatly every election cycle. Highly detailed voting information has not only allowed candidates to geographically concentrate their resources, it has given unscrupulous party operatives a map to devise voter suppression strategies, vote tampering schemes and gerrymandered districts that give their party structural advantages.
This much is well known by the savvy readers here, even if it remains under appreciated by the many voter. Less well understood are the new information technology weapons that were employed in the last election.
Into the” big data” world of our modern political campaigns came a whole set of newly developed propaganda technologies that can exploit a campaigns massive knowledge base. Explaining how just one of these new, information technology weapons work, one called micro-targeting, we can see how the dots are connected in the Russia election scandal now unfolding.
Here is a step by step plan to use modern information technologies to micro-target individual voters in swing districts to manipulate their vote.
Step 1. CREATE BIO-PSYCHO-SOCIAL PROFILES ON POTENTIAL VOTERS: All the publicly shared Facebook and Twitter information voluntarily provided by individual users has unwittingly created the most massive database ever imagined. Marketing companies can use this database to target ads to those most likely to buy certain products. But in politics, companies like Cambridge Analytica can use this data to creates highly accurate bio-psycho-social profiles (BPS profile) on millions of American adults, and use that information to manipulate voting behavior. The ability to create these very accurate, highly predictive individual profiles using a meta-analysis techniques is well established. Researchers have estimated that just 150 “likes” on Facebook, along with self-reported biographical information, can produce a BPS profile for individuals that better predicts their behavior than what their own spouse could predict. These profiles can even predict which words or phrases will elicit specific emotional reactions in a person. Of this profiling data, Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a Swiss mathematician, said, “People just don’t understand the power of this data and how it can be used against them.”
For those who don’t know, Cambridge Analytica is a election data analysis company founded by Robert Mercer, an American billionaire with some very radical ideas. The company was lead by Breitbart’s Steve Bannon until he joined the Trump administration. Cambridge Analytica was contracted by the Trump campaign to utilize the company’s extensive voter profiles to help get Donald Trump elected in 2016.
Information that Facebook or Twitter does not uniformly obtain is the current voter registration status of users or their voting history. This type of information is only kept in state or county voter registration databases spread throughout the country. For a political campaign to get this type of information they would need to hack into many state and county databases, and do it in a way that doesn’t easily trace back to the campaign.
Step 2. HACK SPECIFIC VOTER REGISTRATION FILES: Micro-targeting voters is a huge undertaking requiring a massive amount of computing. It also requires connecting an individual’s BPS profile with their current voter registration status and voting history. Micro-targeting voters cannot happen without this information. There is currently no national source for voter registration information, but one has been proposed by Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission of Election Integrity.
Not having a national voter registration system is probably a good thing. A hack of a single database would be far more damaging, and is less likely to be detected. Hacking dozens or hundreds of smaller databases increases the odds of getting caught. Hacks of voter registration files should therefore be limited in number, and the hacks must therefore be targeted at just the right swing districts where micro-targeting has the best odds of changing voting behaviors. The people with the best idea of which voting districts to hack are those within the campaign. The same internal polling numbers used to direct ad buys are the same numbers needed to direct voter registration hacks.
One way to assure that hacking activity can’t easily be traced back to a candidate’s campaign is to covertly employ third parties to conduct the hacks and supply the stolen information to the data analysis companies. If micro-targeting of voters took place during the 2016 elections, as a growing body of evidence suggests, then there has to be a connection between the micro-targeting and the Russian hacks of voter registration files that took place in 22 states. Some information sharing between the campaign and third party hackers would be required to assure that the information to be obtained is useful.
It is still highly speculative, but not unreasonable, to investigate the connections between the Trump campaign and Russian hacking of the voter registration databases. It is also reasonable to investigate whether any of the stolen information ended up in the databases of companies such as Cambridge Analytica.
Step 3. IDENTIFY INDIVIDUALS IN SWING DISTRICT WHOS VOTING BEHAVIOR CAN BE INFLUENCED BY MICRO-TARGETED MESSAGING: Once a voter’s registration information and voting history is matched up with his or her BPS profile, it is a relatively straight forward step to distinguish implacable voters from casual or inconsistent voters. BPS profile characteristic can be used to identify a voters political leanings and the issues they might care about. Another characteristic that micro-targeting requires is that the target must be engaged in social media.
Step 4. BOMBARD TARGETED VOTERS ON THEIR SOCIAL MEDIA WITH SPECIALLY DESIGNED MESSAGES: In the final phase of the operation the object is to create an alternative social media landscape for the targeted voter by bombarding them with fake news stories, tweet storms and biased commentary designed to alter their perceptions of the political environment. These messages are tailored to elicit specific emotional reactions in the subjects. The messages are delivered by a virtual army of trolls (Russia has internet troll farms) and automated bots using fake Facebook or Twitter accounts. If the targeted voter ever shared any doubts about Hillary Clinton on social media, for example, the content of their micro-targeted messages might be designed to amplify those doubts and raise new ones. The purpose is to lessen the likelihood of that voter voting for Hillary. If a person ever “liked” a story about building the border wall, targeted messages might contain outrageous immigration stories to heighten fear and loathing toward immigrants, and to strengthen the voters motivation to vote for Donald Trump. By BPS profiling and micro-targeting people, it is the targeted voters who get manipulated, not the voting machines or the voting process itself.
RESULTS: The psychological and emotional impact of targeted propaganda messaging on individual voters will motivate some to go to the polls and vote for a candidate when they might have otherwise stayed home. Or the messaging may dispirit some voters and cause them to stay home when they would have otherwise cast their ballot. Researchers tell us that people manipulated by these technologies generally don’t realize they are being manipulated. Because of the massive computing power available to these election data companies, and the unprecedented social media databases, identifying and targeting voters susceptible to targeted propaganda messaging is capable of directing these attacks on many thousands of voters just before an election. Flipping whole election through this process may be possible. Did micro-targeting flip the 2016 Presidential election to Donald Trump’s win? No one knows yet, in part because it is so difficult to prove.
It is my belief that the state voter registration hacks were not done to disenfranchise voters at the polls, but to supplement data needed in order to identify and to micro-target low malleable voters with propaganda messaging. I also suspect targeting information was provided to the Russian hackers who broke into the state voter registration files. I don’t know if these are crimes. I certainly hope they are, and I hope the Justice Department Probe is pursuing this line of investigation.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
The mainstream media is finally starting to get it. They haven’t yet declared that we are at war with both foreign and domestic adversaries bent on dismantling our democracy, but they are starting to report on the outlines of the cognitive warfare raging against us in the media universe.
A New York Times editorial piece today broadens awareness of the means by which Russia influenced our 2016 election.
“But as a startling investigation by Scott Shane of The New York Times, and new research by the cybersecurity firm FireEye, now reveal, the Kremlin’s stealth intrusion into the election was far broader and more complex, involving a cyberarmy of bloggers posing as Americans and spreading propaganda and disinformation to an American electorate on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.”
And a New York Times Op-Ed piece today by Siva Vaidhyanathan provides further insight into how Facebook allowed (and continues to allow) Russia to influence American politics.
“On Wednesday, Facebook revealed that hundreds of Russia-based accounts had run anti-Hillary Clinton ads precisely aimed at Facebook users whose demographic profiles implied a vulnerability to political propaganda. It will take time to prove whether the account owners had any relationship with the Russian government, but one thing is clear: Facebook has contributed to, and profited from, the erosion of democratic norms in the United States and elsewhere.”
Here is another rather scary quote from this Op-Ed:
” We are in the midst of a worldwide, internet-based assault on democracy. Scholars at the Oxford Internet Institute have tracked armies of volunteers and bots as they move propaganda across Facebook and Twitter in efforts to undermine trust in democracy or to elect their preferred candidates in the Philippines, India, France, the Netherlands, Britain and elsewhere. We now know that agents in Russia are exploiting the powerful Facebook advertising system directly.”
Even if there was no direct collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the last electionD, there is strong evidence that the rogue interests of certain Western billionaires and Russian oligarchs have converged. Breaking down the economic barriers that keep wealth and power in check under civilian controlled democracies and the goal of undermining the strength and unity of Western democracies to strengthen Vladimir Putin’s global influence are essential aligned.
The Facebook, Twitter and alt-right media assaults on public perceptions during the 2016 election were not only parallel, but closely coordinated to produce the surprising outcome of Donald Trump winning the Presidency. The proof of this is slowly emerging.
What is even less appreciated now is the ongoing media assaults aimed at Trump’s supporters to maintain their loyalty and their perception that he is saving America from a “deep state” takeover of our government, or from radical Islamist trying to establish Sharia law, etc.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Charlottesville isn’t so much a turning point as a tipping point where a long standing social problem became a passionate social issue for the rest of us, as it should have been sooner. The media’s periodic stories of hate crimes and hate groups over the years just didn’t catch our attention.
Back when this latest iteration of white supremacy started growing again during the 1980’s, it was financed by bank robberies and break-in’s with the proceeds being shared around the country with various other hate group chapters.
Think about that for a moment.
The oxygen needed to organize and grow these hate groups is the same as for any other enterprise. It takes money… lots of it.
So how much money does it take to sustain and operate this huge national, in fact global, white supremacy movement today? Who provided the cash to pay for all those tiki torches,the military equipment and the uniforms worn by so many alt-right protesters? Who provides the money to support the targeted alt-right media campaigns required to convert, recruit and motivate so many young white men? Who coordinated and subsidized the transportation needed to get everyone there and back, and where did the money come from to pay for it all? Who would want to harm our country and paralyze our politics so much that they would provide tens of millions of dollars to sustain this sick movement?
I don’t have answers, but these are among the questions we should be asking. Since it is obvious the movement is being funded by bank robberies these days, and since it is a global movement with strong elements in Great Britain, Germany, France and Italy (to name a few), it is likely that funding for this movement is coming from wealthy sources that what to diminish or control Western democratic countries like ours.
I suspect foreign sources are ultimately behind the growth of hate groups here and abroad. You might think I’m crazy, but if I’m correct, this is just another aspect of the new type of warfare raging against us.Power and control are behind this movement. The haters themselves are only brainwashed pawns in a much larger game.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Does it seem like supporters of Donald Trump are out of touch with reality? Why are they so dismissive of claims that Russia attacked us? Even in the face of truly damning information about how the Donald Trump Jr. colluded with Russian’s to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, the far right and their Representatives in Congress seem unmoved. Why?
|Map of cyber activity by Right-wing websites during the 2016 election to counter mainstream media advantage.|
Recognizing that computer algorithms currently use by social media keep me from viewing the conversations of those who don’t share my views, I began reading conservative websites such as Breitbart and Info Wars for clues. I forced myself to listened to broadcasts of the Alex Jones Radio Show on Info Wars. For those who don’t know him, Alex Jones is a popular right-wing talk show host. He has millions of listeners and claims those numbers are growing as Fox News numbers decline. He is also the manager or owner of a number of conservative media outlets.
You probably are familiar with Breitbart. It was initially financed by recluse billionaire, Robert Mercer. Steve Bannon was the man in charge there until after this past last election.
As I browsed through these websites, one particular radio show caught my attention. I listened in detail (took notes) to a radio broadcast of Alex Jones on July 12, 2017 (http://rss.infowars.com/20170712_Wed_Alex.mp3). Using this as a starting point, and having sampled other content on both Breitbart and Infor Wars, some patterns emerged that I want to share.
First, the verbiage of Alex Jones’ show can’t be easily unpacked. It is dense with disinformation, oblique references, inflammatory innuendos and repetitive conservative and nativist memes. The overall narrative establishes and affirms an alternative frame of reference for his conservative listeners. The broadcasts contain a blitz of buzz words and references to long debunked Obama era scandals, as I would characterize them, woven into a story line that alters the context of current events. The content is clearly intended to evoke elicit emotions in the listener.
But the biggest insight was that these conservative sites ring exactly the same alarm bells about democracy under attack and a pending authoritarian takeover that those on the left worry about. Info Wars also points to the same means and methods used to attack America as do the rest of us do, such as media disinformation and internet propaganda. But these conservative websites substitute Islamic jihadists for Russian oligarchs, and they substitute “Marxist” liberals for rightwing nationalists.
In effect, this counter narrative creates two American world views that are mirror images. It unites us in our worst fears for American democracy while irreconcilably dividing us politically. We agree that we are at war conducted through information warfare, but we have different enemies waging this war and different ideas on what are foreign enemies trying to accomplish. We can’t come to any mutual understanding because we have an entirely different framework and different sets of facts.
For factual confirmation of the conservative world view listeners are referred to other conservative websites, such as understandingthethreat.com. Here is what the site says about its founder:
John Guandolo is the Founder of UnderstandingtheThreat.com, an organization dedicated to providing strategic and operational threat-focused consultation, education, and training for federal, state and local leadership and agencies, and designing strategies at all levels of the community to defeat the enemy.
That enemy is radical Islam. Guandolo’s website promotes the view that the real threats to America originates from Middle East terrorist organizations. The site has been active since June of 2012 and appears to be hosted in Montreal, Canada, according to its domain registration data.
On the other side, Rachael Maddow had Michael Carpenter on her show recently. He was a U.S. Deputy Assistant Director of Defense before retirement. His take on our strategic threats places Russia at the center of the attacks on our democracy. From what he saw in the past, the cyber operations during the last election are consistent with what Russia has employed in places like the Ukraine. Typically, Russia seeks proxies and allies in the foreign countries they attack to help carry out their cyber operations. They try to penetrate the networks of insurgent political groups seeking power within a foreign county. They do this, and help support those groups, to have influence as those groups gain power. He has no doubt that this has included infiltrating far rightwing groups in America and, by extension, the GOP.
For Alex Jones, his constellation of media outlets continue to create and maintaining this alternative world view focused on terrorists as the existential to America democracy. Those how believe this are convinced the investigations of the Trump Administration are witch hunts and that the allegations of Russian interference are smokescreens by the “deep state” to conceal a leftist takeover of America. They point to their universe of alternate facts, theories and political conspiracies to prove there is an unholy alliance between the liberal elites and Islamist Jihadists seeking to impose Sharia Law on America. They deny the DNC was hacked by Russia, claiming there is no evidence. They see the accusation itself is proof of “deep state” preparations for a coup against Donald Trump. Even more moderate Republicans are held in suspicion. One commenter on Alex Jones’ show said, “The GOP establishment hates Trump more than MSNBC.” In other words, the Republican establishment is complicit with the liberal elites in working with Hamas and other Islamic groups to bring about an authoritarian state and Sharia Law in America. The CIA, NSA and FBI are all in on it and can’t be trusted.
The Goal of Islamic radicals, according to Alex Jones, is to create chaos in America; to destabilize us so that out of the chaos the jihadists can bring about a radical leftwing revolution, an authoritarian state and implementation of Sharia Law. Rodger Stone, a guest on his show, said, The elite have to assume there will be no elections in the future, but a global takeover. An authoritarian state in America.”
Alex Jones defines Sharia Law as total warfare against our culture, social institutions, political systems, military systems, our media and our American way of life. According to Jones, these jihadists are experts in political influence operations. Note that this is just what our Intelligence community is saying about Russia.
These are the alt-right media voices that conservative GOP members in the House and Senate are hearing . These are the sentiments reflected in their core constituents, their power base. Is it any wonder they hardly react to the US Intelligence community’s warning about Russia? The men and women of the GOP are just as patriotic as any of us, but they are straddling two very different world views. They have to know that both worlds can’t be true. Either the Russians are undermining our democracy in league with ultra conservatives oligarchs to divided America, or it is the Islamic extremists doing the same thing in league with liberal Democrats and the deep state (i.e., our Intelligence community).
Since even the most conservative GOP members aren’t ranting in the halls of Congress about jihadists destroying American democracy, I assume they know which scenario is more likely. They also know how to stay in power. Even if a Republican lawmaker doesn’t share their constituents world, they can’t challenge their base without losing their seat. The GOP is, in fact, compromised.
I said earlier that the content of Alex Jones’ show is densely packed with disinformation. In fairness, his listeners have no problem understanding his messages. If they were to watch Chris Hayes or Rachael Maddow, they would have the same critique as me of his show. We really do have two different perceptual realities. The forces creating this schism have to be well organized, well funded and very entrenched to pull this off. It’s time to uncover everyone involved in the media warfare that is tearing us apart. It’s time to fight back, reunite and restore civil democracy in America.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
“World War III will be a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” – Marshall McLahun
I noticed it during the 2016 election. My Twitter and Facebook accounts were awash in anti-Hillary comments. Many comments seemed to piggy-back on my own reservations about her. Other comments were wildly inaccurate and mean-spirited.
I was a Bernie supporter and not happy with the way the DNC and Democratic leadership conducted the primaries. Still, Hillary Clinton was clearly a normal candidate while, in my view, Donald Trump was not normal on many levels. I could never be persuaded to vote for Donald Trump.
When anti-Hillary messages mirrored my concerns I sometimes “liked” the comments or added my own in support of my views. When outrageously false anti-Hillary claims were posted I mostly ignored them, but sometimes took issue. This would often lead to a running debate with some implacable troll on social media. I debated them, not to change their minds (impossible), but to make sure others reading these posts would be exposed to a more reasonable set of facts and opinions.
During these social media debates I noticed a lot of others respondents chiming in with “likes” or retweets opposing my views. The longer I pressed the debate, the greater the number of these mostly silent opposition supporters grew Sometimes as many as 20 or 30 different respondents would like, share or retweet my opponent’s posts, even days after the conversation ended. Some of these follow-on’s appeared to bolster randomly stupid or meaningless statements made by the Hillary hater.
That’s when I realized something unusual was happening. My assumption was that all these respondents were part of a coordinated system of trolls. I resisted the feeling that I was in the minority, because my independent research confirmed that I held majority views. But I did get the feeling that somehow I was talking to myself.
Suddenly, after the election, all these feverish Twitter and Facebook respondents disappeared. Did you also notice that?
Only now, through my curiosity and continuing review of articles on internet propaganda, am I beginning to realize the full horror of what I experienced during the election. I was under a sophisticated psychological attack.
Propaganda as we commonly think of it today involves what spies call “active measure” used to demoralize or destabilize civilian populations in times of war. Dropping fliers from airplanes, broadcasting news on Radio Free Europe, writing op-ed pieces under pseudonyms or stealing classified documents and releasing them publicly to embarrass adversaries are examples that come to mine. More recent examples include false flag attacks or leaking fake information that appears to be damaging but then proving it is wrong when your opponent tries to use it against you. This technique damages the credibility of your opposition instead.
The Russian connection to the DNC email hacks and subsequent Wikileaks publication appears to be the next generation of “active measures” propaganda. Gallons of ink have been used exploring these events to prove that Russia interferred in our elections. And they did. This is all well and good. but at its root the only thing new about this sort of propaganda is the sophisticated hacking used to steal the documents. Otherwise, it is old style propaganda. Media attention to it only serves as a distraction to the whole new world of electronic propaganda unleashed on us during the election. These are new, covertly developed military grade techniques never used on this scale before a few years ago (in the BREXIT, Vote Leave Campaign, Read the first article in the bibliography below.).
COGNITIVE WARFARE: Cognitive warfare is a toolbox of cyber propaganda techniques that both models mass populations and profiles individuals to change their beliefs or attitudes. It has many aspects and methods that utilize super-computers, massive databases and sophisticated computer algorithms to weaponize information gathered from our digital footprints to use against us. Some techniques model and manipulate whole societies to bring about social change while other techniques profile and manipulate individuals or groups to alter a person’s attitudes and behavior. These methods go by names such as Bio-psycho-social profiling, Recoding (of mass consciousness), Strategic drowning (of mainstream media content, for example), micro-targeted propaganda, etc. These propaganda techniques can be highly effective and operate on an emotional level without our specific awareness.
So where to begin? The amount of information needed to fully explain the new propaganda is way beyond the scope of this blog post. It is honestly beyond the scope of my own understanding at this point as well. This article can only serve as an introduction to the topic. At the conclusion I will point you to several lengthy articles that go into more detail.
ALGORITHMS: To understand the basics of cognitive warfare methods we must start with computer algorithms. These are sets of computer code instructions that allow a computer to analyze huge amounts of data and automatically make complex decisions for further action based on their continuous analysis. Algorithms can be simple or mind-bendingly complex, as their use in modern day financial trading illustrates. In the area of financial investments algorithms monitor the markets and social media sites (like Twitter, to see what’s trending) and then make split-second decisions on buying and selling stocks. It is estimated that over 70% of all stock trades are computer generated transactions.
But algorithms are ubiquitous in social media as well. From Google’s search engine to Twitter’s suggestions as to who to follow, algorithms have become our window on the world. As such they have an enormous impact on our outlook. Each of us who searches a term on Google may receive different information in a different order, depending on our digital footprint on the internet. This impacts our thinking. Robert Epstein, of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology says,”.. these personalized results impact our opinions and behavioral patterns without our awareness.” Of Google he writes, “We are talking about the most powerful mind-control machine ever invented in the history of the human race. And people don’t even notice it.”
There is much more we need to know about these algorithms running in the background of the cyber world, but for our purposes here it is sufficient to know that a knowledge of them and how to manipulate and exploit them is the basis on which cognitive warfare operates.
BIO-PSYCHO-SOCIAL PROFILING: When I type “Daily Record” into my iPhone search, my local newspaper site come up. Years ago this wasn’t the case. I would get a newspaper with that name in Scotland. We don’t think much about the convenience built into our media systems that allows computers to make assumptions about us. These assumptions are based on our digital profile, where we live, where we are presently located, what we have looked up in the past and other such personal information kept in a database about us somewhere. This is the friendly face of social profiling.
Advances in data storage and retrieval systems, sophisticated algorithms, and methods to analyze and manage massive amounts of data allow media platforms to develop comprehensive profiles on us. This allows them to deliver the content we most want to see. Formerly, the level of detail was based on some grouping we fit into, but increasingly it is based on who we are as individuals. This has been a boon to commercial marketing but it has a very powerful dark side as well.
In the case of Facebook profiles, for example, scientists found that profiles can be correlated across millions of people to produce remarkably accurate individual profiles. When results are combined with data generated by the “like” button people click on approve certain content, the individual profile gets ever more perfect. With just 150 “likes” our profile can predict personality better than our own spouses can, and with 300 likes it knows a person better they know themselves.
Of this profiling data, Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a Swiss mathematician, said, “People just don’t understand the power of this data and how it can be used against them.” This level of understand our personality allows those in control of our profiles to send micro-targeted messages to us that subtlety manipulate our feelings and the association with which our emotions are evoked. For example, if a person is on the fence over how to vote in an election, the people behind the propaganda machines know this about you and can custom tailor messages to that will influence you to vote one way or the other. This technique is called micro-targeted propaganda. There is evidence that this type of propaganda was used in the 2016 election to help elect Donald Trump.
STRATEGIC DROWNING: This is another tool in the Cognitive Warfare arsenal used to influence public discourse and alter our mass consciousness. While bio-psycho-social profiling targets individuals, this technique targets certain segments of the population or even the whole population at once. The idea behind this technique it to flood the cyber-media network with specific alternative messages that drown out conventional news and information. It exploits the algorithms used by media platforms that bring desired content to us. So, for example, if you type “Jews are” into Google search, it will return answers like, “Why do people hate Jews” I just did the experiment as I write this and the picture below shows the top results.
Clearly these are unexpected results for most people who might enter the search terms. (Try it yourself, and don’t be surprised if your results differ from mine based on your profile.) The result over-represent hate groups and the proliferation of these results are the work of nefarious operators who flood the “media ecosystem.”
Cyber media would normally be dominated by conventional information sources such as The New York Times, Fox News, MSNBC etc., but these sources are swamped with hundreds of thousands of links from much smaller alternative information sites. These links to alternative information are intended to exploit the structure of Google secret algorithms to bring these articles to the top of the search results. This has a psychological impact on us personally and gives a false impression about public consensus in America. It blurs the question as to what is really true.
The operational structure for strategic drowning includes a coordinated network of alternative information websites, referred to as micro-propaganda machines, or MPM’s. Each MPM controls a vast warehouse of “bots” which are bogus Facebook and Twitter accounts, etc. These fake accounts exist by the hundreds of thousands. Some are always active to drive public dialogue while some are “sleeper bots.” These are held in reserve and triggered en mass by propagandists to overwhelm news cycles or cover up information unfavorable to their goals. It is also used to create trends and alter public discourse, or change public attitudes.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Jonathan Albright is an assistant professor of communications at Elon University in North Carolina. He analyzed the activity of these MPM’s during the 2016 election and was able to create “spatial map” of that activity. The picture created shows the relative dominance of traditional information sources in the media ecosystem, as he calls it, and the impact on that system by MPM’s during the election. The red nodes are alternative information (propaganda) websites and the red lines radiating from them are links or activity of these sites.
In effect, what you see here is the cognitive warfare battlefield during the last election. This new propaganda arms race is between pro-democracy advocates and their adversaries. It is a war still being waged here and in other Western democracies. It is being waged by both foreign attackers and billionaire Western oligarchs who share converging interests. It is being waged by Russia, who just announced the creation of a new branch of their military calling them “information warfare troops”.
“… Russians have moved into an offensive posture that threatens the very international order.” said Ben Rhodes of the Obama Administration last year.
The propaganda war is also being waged by billionaire controlled corporations specializing in this field, companies like Cambridge Analytica. This is essentially a propaganda company featuring Steve Bannon on its board of directors.
This outline of Cognitive Warfare attacks we were subjected to, and are still experiencing as an attack on our journalism institutions, helps make sense of my social media experiences during the election. I see now how I was being stroked, on one hand (micro-targeted), to fan my discontent with Hillary while being made to feel my views were in the minority (strategic drowning) on the other hand. I know now that many of the trolls I encountered were really computer generated cyberbots. All this has caused be to completely rethink my own on-line presence.
I have presented a great deal of information here and a number of quotes and facts without specific attribution. That is because virtually all of the quotes and many of the fact are from the remarkable work of Carole Cadwalladr, published by The Guardian in London. I have vetted her information by going to her original source and found them to be accurate. If you have stayed with me to this point, I urge you to read Ms. Cadwalladr’s two article for even more background information. She also outlines the connections between the companies providing propaganda services for the wealthy ideologues funding them and the Trump administration.
Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage Carole Cadwalladr, 26 February, 2017
Google, democracy and the truth about internet search https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/04/google-democracy-truth-internet-search-facebook Carole Cadwalladr, 4 December, 2016
The #Election2016 Micro-Propaganda Machine https://medium.com/@d1gi/the-election2016-micro-propaganda-machine-383449cc1fba#.gl16j8e9c Jonathan Albright, 18 November, 2016
And for further reading from my blog on algorithms,
Algorithms Hidden Impact on How We Think http://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2017/02/algorithms-hidden-impact-on-how-we-think.html?spref=tw …
Brian T. Lynch, 9 February, 2016
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
With all the talk of “fake news” in the news lately, people are starting to look around for guidance on how to judge news worthiness. Some folks are all to happy to supply it, which has led to some homegrown efforts to make sense of news bias and the wildly tossed around accusation of “fake news”. Below is a graphic that recently turned up on the internet to classify news, and quasi-news outlets.
This graphic, which attempts to depict the quality and bias of news media outlets, appeared on Facebook. It may look interesting, but it is really misleading on many levels. The creator of this work is unknown That is enough to dismiss all credibility. Furthermore, nothing is known about what criteria the graph maker used or how vigorously those criteria were applied?
The very premise behind this depiction is flawed as well. The editorial leanings of a news outlet is an independent variable. It isn’t directly related to journalistic accuracy. Accuracy is a less subjective measure than political leanings. It is also objectively measurable, unlike the idea of quality, as the term is used on the Y axis. It would be a mistake to assume, for example, that the Wall Street Journal has biased or poor quality reporting just because it has a conservative editorial board. Some conservative bias is evident in its editorials and also in what it covers or considers newsworthy. But the choice of content is a bias that is present in every news outlet. In fact, the choice and treatment of content are the leading criteria for judging a news site as conservative or liberal. This bias, however, does not render the content false or inaccurate. Any two witnesses of any event will give different accounts. This doesn’t mean they are lying or making it up. It is only when obviously important facts or events are intentionally ignored, as in a news blackout, that the omission becomes an egregious bias error.
There are also sites included above, like The Daily Kos, that aren’t strictly news sites. It has a very left-leaning following for sure. Some of the writing on this site comes from professional journalists, or freelance professionals, but a lot of often accurate reporting comes from non-professional journalists as well. Hybrid information websites like The Daily Kos blur the line between professional journalism and citizen journalism. This blurring of the line between the professional and citizen journalist is happening more broadly as well. Amanda Harper’s article, Citizen Journalism vs. Professional Journalism, is a good primer on this topic.
Why does it matter if a journalist is a professional or not?
The theoretical distinction is sharp, even if the practical distinction is sometime blurry. A profession, any profession, is characterized as a field of employment requiring specialized skills where members abide by a common set of standards and moral principles that are monitored and enforced by peer review and peer pressure. To be a profession there must be an organizational structure to review , refine, promulgate and enforce standards among its members. Being a member of a profession is a broader obligation than being an employee of any particular business or agency. Professionals are obligated to push back against employers or clients who would compromise their professional principles or standards.
So even, if I, as a blogger, hold myself to the same high standards as professional journalists, I am still not a professional journalist. I am not subject to the same journalistic peer review and enforcement procedures. I am not under editorial supervision and I am not under a news agency’s employment. I am merely a citizen journalist. I am on my own.
So is it OK to call myself a citizen journalist? I think so, providing I am aware that there are serious caveats. The question brings up a very tricky point worth exploring. Do “civilian journalists” have the same constitutional protections as other working journalists? Specifically, are bloggers protected by their states shield law?
Shield laws allow the public press limited ability to protect the anonymity of its sources. This protection is a constitutional interpretation of what a “free press” implies. Some form of shield law exists in every state with the exception of Wyoming. If there was not respect for the confidentiality of their sources, journalists could be reduced to law enforcement snitches. That would severely hamper their ability to gather the news. In fact, without this protection the press could not serve as a check on government power. It is because of this freedom that the press is sometimes referred to as the fourth estate. Regardless of how you feel about the press, their ability to protect their sources is really the last barricade between the us and government tyranny.
While the courts may show some deference to citizen journalists on a case by case bases, as a class they do not have the same constitutional standing. Specifically, there are currently no shield law to protect a blogger’s sources in the United States. This is partly because they cannot be held to the same high standards as professional journalist who work in a peers group within a recognized news outlet. The editorial supervision and peer milieu help to challenge and reinforce professional standards.
While I may hold myself to the same high standard as professional journalist, you have no reason to believe me. I am not subject to the same peer review and peer pressures. And governments, have some reasons to draw a bright line between professional journalists and current events bloggers. It would cause chaos if every person engaged in shady dealings could simply start a blog and claim journalistic privileges as a way to thwart law enforcement. That said, all of us have significant constitutional protections of free speech, free association and unreasonable searches and seizures. So if I respectfully videotape police publicly arresting someone on the street, for example, I can’t be forced to stop videotaping to to destroy the recording.
On the other hand, if you are a whistle blower and want to assure anonymity you had better talk to a professional journalists. You might first want to check on the shield laws in your state as well.
Given the changing nature of society, the internet and the press, it may be time to rethink ways to strengthen protections for citizen journalist who increasingly provide invaluable news reporting to the more traditional news organizations. As financial constraints continue to shrink the size of news bureaus around the country, citizen journalism have become an increasingly important supplement. Who knows? Maybe in the future citizen journalists might be trained and licensed to establish their integrity. Until then it’s reader beware.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
The following excerpt is from a recent Huffington Post article:
by Ryan Grim and Daniel Marans
The national survey of more than 1,600 registered voters, conducted by Gravis Marketing two days before the general election, found that Sanders would have received 56 percent of the vote while Trump would have won 44 percent. The poll was commissioned and financed by outgoing Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, a Democrat who endorsed Sanders in the presidential primary.
The last election result that decisive was Ronald Reagan’s victory over Democrat Walter Mondale in 1984.
Of the result validity of these poll results I have no doubt. Bernie Sanders was to the Democratic Party what Ronald Reagan once was to the Republicans, except the DNC didn’t allow a fair contest between him and their establishment pick. Instead the DNC made sure that the most establishment candidate the Democrats had would run against the most anti-establishment Republican candidate in history.
The twin phenomena of Trump and Bernie movements screamed its warning about the mood of the people, but the DNC thought it knew better. And if you think Hillary lost because she wasn’t progressive enough, or effective enough, or because she was a woman, or because of the emails and FBI mess, then you still don’t get it. Her problem isn’t with her. It’s much bigger.
Our government is far more broken than most of us are ready to admit. Many of the folks who voted for Trump know this in their heart. They feel it every day. They just don’t know why government is broken and they have been lied to about it for years. Their frustration and anger was exploited by this demagogue who goes around blaming the wrong causes for our brokenness in order to divide us and gain power for himself.
We, the People, have long been disempowered. We have been rendered irrelevant by the wealthy elite and corporate power. This is the source of our broken government, and the road back to a healthy Republic just got a lot longer.
I do not disparage Hillary supporters at all. I love them for their ideals and courage. While I have differences of opinion with her, I respect Hillary Clinton as a person and a candidate. I agree she was the most qualified candidate on paper. Most of the terrible things people have said about her are nasty lies. I’ve been saying that for years now.
That said, she was still the wrong candidate to face Donald Trump this year. The difference between her and Bernie Sanders is not just by degrees of progressive policies. The real difference between them is a whole paradigm shift in governance. It is a paradigm that empowers citizens over businesses, power and wealth. This is what the pundits missed. This is what many Hillary supporters couldn’t see. (New paradigms are difficult to imagine when our thinking is rooted in the context of an older paradigm).
One more point, if I may. A lot of Democrats defend the early actions of the DNC’s loyalty to Hillary Clinton. They say she came so close the first time and deserved a second shot. But four years is a long time, and things change. It’s like when military generals base their planning on the last war.
More importantly, loyalty is the opposite of democracy. Party loyalty to a “chosen” candidate is critical for a successful a presidential campaign, but democracy is still essential in choosing the right party candidate. That’s why it is critical that the DNC always remain neutral and equitably support all candidates. Their role in the primary phase is to conduct a fair and free primary campaign, to let the people speak.
The DNC failed our party and we lost, not just the Presidency but many down ticket races. In fact, Democrats have been losing election cycle after cycle at every level because the DNC has been interfering in party democracy to effect a result that fits their ideology and keeps like-minded Democrats in power.
In short, the Republicans allowed a democratic process and nominated the democratically elected candidate, for which they have been rewarded. The Democratic Party interfered with democracy within the party and have been punished. The DNC’s loyalty to Hillary Clinton was grossly premature.