Mark Zuckerberg accused of abusing power after Facebook deletes Vietnam War ‘napalm girl’ post

The Guardian reports: Norway’s largest newspaper has published a front-page open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, lambasting the company’s decision to censor a historic photograph of the Vietnam war and calling on Zuckerberg to recognize and live up to his role as “the world’s most powerful editor”.

Espen Egil Hansen, the editor-in-chief and CEO of Aftenposten, accused Zuckerberg of thoughtlessly “abusing your power” over the social media site that has become a lynchpin of the distribution of news and information around the world, writing, “I am upset, disappointed – well, in fact even afraid – of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society.”

“I am worried that the world’s most important medium is limiting freedom instead of trying to extend it, and that this occasionally happens in an authoritarian way,” he added.

The controversy stems from Facebook’s decision to delete a post by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland that featured The Terror of War, a Pulitzer prize-winning photograph by Nick Ut that showed children – including the naked 9-year-old Kim Phúc – running away from a napalm attack during the Vietnam war. Egeland’s post discussed “seven photographs that changed the history of warfare” – a group to which the “napalm girl” image certainly belongs.

Egeland was subsequently suspended from Facebook. When Aftenposten reported on the suspension – using the same photograph in its article, which was then shared on the publication’s Facebook page – the newspaper received a message from Facebook asking it to “either remove or pixelize” the photograph. [Continue reading…]

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The Sandy Hook hoax

Reeves Wiedeman reports: On December 14, 2012, Lenny Pozner dropped off his three children, Sophia, Arielle, and Noah, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Noah had recently turned 6, and on the drive over they listened to his favorite song, “Gangnam Style,” for what turned out to be the last time. Several hours later, while Sophia and Arielle hid nearby, Adam Lanza walked into Noah’s first-grade class with an AR-15 rifle. Noah was the youngest of the 20 children and seven adults killed in one of the deadliest shootings in American history. When the medical examiner found Noah lying face up in a Batman sweatshirt, his jaw had been blown off. Lenny and his wife, Veronique, raced to the school as soon as they heard the news, but had to wait for hours alongside other parents to learn their son’s fate.

It didn’t take much longer for Pozner to find out that many people didn’t believe his son had died or even that he had lived at all. Days after the rampage, a man walked around Newtown filming a video in which he declared that the massacre had been staged by “some sort of New World Order global elitists” intent on taking away our guns and our liberty. A week later, James Tracy, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, wrote a blog post expressing doubts about the massacre. By January, a 30-minute YouTube video, titled “The Sandy Hook Shooting — Fully Exposed,” which asked questions like “Wouldn’t frantic kids be a difficult target to hit?,” had been viewed more than 10 million times.

As the families grieved, conspiracy theorists began to press their case in ways that Newtown couldn’t avoid. State officials received anonymous phone calls at their homes, late at night, demanding answers: Why were there no trauma helicopters? What happened to the initial reports of a second shooter? A Virginia man stole playground signs memorializing two of the victims, then called their parents to say that the burglary shouldn’t affect them, since their children had never existed. At one point, Lenny Pozner was checking into a hotel out of town when the clerk looked up from the address on his driver’s license and said, “Oh, Sandy Hook — the government did that.” Pozner had tried his best to ignore the conspiracies, but eventually they disrupted his grieving process so much that he could no longer turn a blind eye. “Conspiracy theorists erase the human aspect of history,” Pozner said this summer. “My child — who lived, who was a real person — is basically going to be erased.” [Continue reading…]

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BuzzFeed regroups as media turns from words to pictures and from news to entertainment

The New York Times reports: Staff meetings at BuzzFeed are not uncommon. Jonah H. Peretti, the site’s founder and chief executive, who is based in Los Angeles, travels to the New York offices regularly and often meets with employees to answer questions or outline strategy.

But two recent meetings took on greater import, after BuzzFeed told employees two weeks ago that it was formally dividing its news and entertainment divisions. The day the reorganization was announced, Ben Smith, the editor in chief, met with the news staff to reassure them that the company was committed to its news operations. And last Wednesday, Mr. Peretti held a question-and-answer session and vowed that the company was not planning to sell its news division.

Staff members at BuzzFeed said the overhaul provoked curiosity rather than deep anxiety. Still, BuzzFeed’s reorganization seemed a transformative moment for a company staking a big bet on the future of video and entertainment.

Already, video represents more than 50 percent of BuzzFeed’s total revenue, compared with 15 percent at the end of 2014. In the next two years, BuzzFeed expects that video will generate up to 75 percent of its advertising revenue, according to a person briefed on the company’s operations.

The move also reflects a broader shift at media companies that are increasingly turning to video and entertainment news to lure a younger generation and attract online advertising dollars. In April, the website Mashable made a round of job cuts as it moved away from covering world and political news, and Mic, a site aimed at a young audience, hopes to have 60 percent of the company focused on video by year’s end. [Continue reading…]

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Facebook’s satellite went up in smoke, but its developing world land grab goes on

Emily Reynolds writes: A rocket crashing into a satellite and cutting off the internet may sound somewhat like the start of an end-of-the-world blockbuster; surely such destruction, and lack of Wi-Fi, could only be a harbinger of doom?

Fortunately, the scenario that played out last week was slightly less portentous. A SpaceX rocket, part of Elon Musk’s fevered attempts to eventually colonise Mars, exploded on Thursday as part of a failed pre-launch test fire, destroying a Facebook-owned satellite in the process.

The satellite, which cost the company around £150m, was due to be used as part of Internet.org, a project designed to bring web connectivity to areas of the world with limited internet access. Free Basics, a program developed by Facebook with six internet service providers, is an “onramp to the internet”, designed to help those without the internet get online. Its latest iteration, in Nigeria, saw the launch of 85 free online services including healthcare offerings, job listings, education portals and, of course, Facebook itself.

So far so good, right? Well, kind of. Providing access to the internet is a noble cause, particularly in parts of the world where it is severely limited or even non-existent. But should this infrastructure belong to a private company like Facebook, or should it be state-owned and maintained? Far be it from me to question the true nature of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropy, but no matter how charitable a cause Facebook is championing, its primary aim is to make money – often from monetising its users’ data. [Continue reading…]

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While Twitter chases ISIS accounts away, it allows homegrown extremists to thrive

Quartz reports: Twitter has earned a reputation for being a recruiting ground for the Islamic State, but the terror group only represents a fraction of the site’s extremist landscape.

White nationalists and self-identified Nazi supporters — who’ve been around much longer than ISIL — have grown their follower count more than six-fold over the last four years, according to a new study published by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. With ISIL’s social media tactics gaining traction in 2014, other groups have mimicked its propaganda techniques to further their reach. Currently, the white extremist accounts post tweets more often than their ISIL counterparts.

The researchers first identified the most prominent white nationalist organizations and leaders, who had a strong offline presence too. Then, they downloaded accounts following these influencers — over 25,000 of them — and scraped the 200 most recent tweets from them. In 2012, the same technique had yielded only 3,500 accounts. [Continue reading…]

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Forget ideology, liberal democracy’s newest threats come from technology and bioscience

John Naughton writes: The BBC Reith Lectures in 1967 were given by Edmund Leach, a Cambridge social anthropologist. “Men have become like gods,” Leach began. “Isn’t it about time that we understood our divinity? Science offers us total mastery over our environment and over our destiny, yet instead of rejoicing we feel deeply afraid.”

That was nearly half a century ago, and yet Leach’s opening lines could easily apply to today. He was speaking before the internet had been built and long before the human genome had been decoded, and so his claim about men becoming “like gods” seems relatively modest compared with the capabilities that molecular biology and computing have subsequently bestowed upon us. Our science-based culture is the most powerful in history, and it is ceaselessly researching, exploring, developing and growing. But in recent times it seems to have also become plagued with existential angst as the implications of human ingenuity begin to be (dimly) glimpsed.

The title that Leach chose for his Reith Lecture – A Runaway World – captures our zeitgeist too. At any rate, we are also increasingly fretful about a world that seems to be running out of control, largely (but not solely) because of information technology and what the life sciences are making possible. But we seek consolation in the thought that “it was always thus”: people felt alarmed about steam in George Eliot’s time and got worked up about electricity, the telegraph and the telephone as they arrived on the scene. The reassuring implication is that we weathered those technological storms, and so we will weather this one too. Humankind will muddle through.

But in the last five years or so even that cautious, pragmatic optimism has begun to erode. There are several reasons for this loss of confidence. One is the sheer vertiginous pace of technological change. Another is that the new forces at loose in our society – particularly information technology and the life sciences – are potentially more far-reaching in their implications than steam or electricity ever were. And, thirdly, we have begun to see startling advances in these fields that have forced us to recalibrate our expectations.[Continue reading…]

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Three days after removing human editors, Facebook is already trending fake news

The Washington Post reports: Facebook announced Friday that humans would no longer write descriptions for its Trending topics list, handing over even more responsibility to the already-powerful algorithm. But just days after the policy change, Facebook’s algorithm chose a very bad, factually incorrect headline to explain to its news-hungry users why Megyn Kelly was trending.

The headline, which was visible to anyone who hovered over Megyn Kelly’s name on the Trending list, refers to the Fox News personality as a “traitor” and claims that the cable channel has “Kick[ed] her out for backing Hillary.” (They have not.)

The article was featured prominently as the top news story on Facebook about Megyn Kelly as of Monday morning, until her name disappeared from the Trending list about 9:30 a.m. The story is far down the rabbit hole of junk information, a typo-ridden aggregation of an aggregation about a clash of personalities between Kelly and Bill O’Reilly. [Continue reading…]

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Spreading lies: A powerful Russian propaganda weapon

The New York Times reports: With a vigorous national debate underway on whether Sweden should enter a military partnership with NATO, officials in Stockholm suddenly encountered an unsettling problem: a flood of distorted and outright false information on social media, confusing public perceptions of the issue.

The claims were alarming: If Sweden, a non-NATO member, signed the deal, the alliance would stockpile secret nuclear weapons on Swedish soil; NATO could attack Russia from Sweden without government approval; NATO soldiers, immune from prosecution, could rape Swedish women without fear of criminal charges.

They were all false, but the disinformation had begun spilling into the traditional news media, and as the defense minister, Peter Hultqvist, traveled the country to promote the pact in speeches and town hall meetings, he was repeatedly grilled about the bogus stories.

“People were not used to it, and they got scared, asking what can be believed, what should be believed?” said Marinette Nyh Radebo, Mr. Hultqvist’s spokeswoman.

As often happens in such cases, Swedish officials were never able to pin down the source of the false reports. But they, numerous analysts and experts in American and European intelligence point to Russia as the prime suspect, noting that preventing NATO expansion is a centerpiece of the foreign policy of President Vladimir V. Putin, who invaded Georgia in 2008 largely to forestall that possibility. [Continue reading…]

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Understanding the role of Russian propaganda in the U.S. election

Ben Nimmo writes: It may seem strange, but the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is not backing US Presidential Republican Candidate Donald Trump. It has a bigger goal: Discrediting democracy in the United States.

The Kremlin’s main propaganda outlets in the US are the television station RT — formerly Russia Today — and the radio and online outlet Sputnik. Both are headed by Kremlin loyalists and closely mirror Russia’s foreign policy. While their effect on the presidential race is likely to be minimal, their reporting is useful for the insight it provides into the Kremlin’s intentions.

That reporting focuses on specifically attacking US Presidential Democratic Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the general nature of US democracy. As such, it appears that the Kremlin is less interested in promoting Trump than promoting discontent.

Coverage of Trump by RT and Sputnik is uncharacteristically balanced. Some recent reports have presented the Republican candidate favorably, such as when he endorsed a number of his critics for re-election “in an attempt to ease party tensions”, or accused Clinton of founding ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

Other coverage, however, was unfavorable. Some have quoted a neo-Nazi leader as backing Trump’s candidacy, and accused him of hypocrisy. One report even asked: “Is Trump an embarrassment to the [Republican Party] because he’s an incompetent, uninformed, pathological menace, or because he’s just saying out loud what most Republicans now believe?”

No such balance is apparent in the two outlets’ coverage of the other candidates.

Clinton is the most obvious target. In August of 2016 alone, RT reports covered accusations of corruption, lying, and ill health against her; accused her of launching a McCarthy-style “witch hunt” against Trump; and linked her to the use of nuclear weapons in 1945. Sputnik’s reporting called her and her team “war hawks”, accused her of wanting to “make more families suffer” the deaths of soldiers, and named her the “Queen of War”. [Continue reading…]

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Twitter suspends 235,000 more accounts over extremism

The New York Times reports: Twitter suspended 235,000 accounts that promoted terrorism over the last six months, as part of a continuing effort to keep people from using the social network for extremist causes, the company said Thursday.

“The world has witnessed a further wave of deadly, abhorrent terror attacks across the globe,” Twitter said in a statement. “We strongly condemn these acts and remain committed to eliminating the promotion of violence or terrorism on our platform.”

Twitter’s latest action brings the total number of accounts that the company has suspended to 360,000 since it began cracking down on terrorism and violent extremism in mid-2015. While Twitter has long championed free speech on the web and said that it was a “global town square,” its positioning has drawn bullies, racists and extremist groups to the service to spread their messages. That has drawn criticism from government agencies and the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, among others. [Continue reading…]

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This is what’s missing from journalism right now

Mother Jones reports: This June, we published a big story — Shane Bauer’s account of his four-month stint as a guard in a private prison. That’s “big,” as in XXL: 35,000 words long, or 5 to 10 times the length of a typical feature, plus charts, graphs, and companion pieces, not to mention six videos and a radio documentary.

It was also big in impact. More than a million people read it, defying everything we’re told about the attention span of online audiences; tens of thousands shared it on social media. The Washington Post, CNN, and NPR’s Weekend Edition picked it up. Montel Williams went on a Twitter tear that ended with him nominating Shane for a Pulitzer Prize (though that’s not quite how it works). People got in touch to tell us about their loved ones’ time in prison or their own experience working as guards. Lawmakers and regulators reached out. (UPDATE: And on August 18, the Justice Department announced that it will no longer contract with private prisons, which currently hold thousands of federal inmates — a massive policy shift.)

In the wake of our investigation, lots of people offered thoughts similar to this, from New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum:


That’s a great sentiment, and we agree! But it also takes us to a deeper story about journalism and today’s media landscape. It starts with this: The most important ingredient in investigative reporting is not brilliance, writing flair, or deep familiarity with the subject (though those all help). It’s something much simpler — time. [Continue reading…]

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How Russia dominates your Twitter feed to promote lies (and, Trump, too)

The Daily Beast reports: “Ladies and Gentlemen, We have a situation in #Turkey #Incirlik” the cry went out on Twitter last Saturday night, as news spread of the Turkish forces surrounding the U.S. airbase in Incirlik.

Thousands of armed police had reportedly surrounded the airbase amid swirling rumors of another coup attempt, according to stories tweeted within two minutes of each other on RT.com and Sputnik, the two biggest Russian state-controlled media organizations publishing in English. The stories were instantly picked up by a popular online aggregator of breaking news and prompted hours-long storm of activity from a small, vocal circle of users.

In English, the tweets soon grouped into certain patterns of similar (and sometimes identical) content. The first were panicky expressions of concern about nuclear weapons allegedly stored at Incirlik: [Continue reading…]

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