Europeans are less likely to share fake news. Here’s why

PRI reports: If you picked up a newspaper in the UK on Monday, you might have encountered an unusual advertisement offering tips on how to spot “false news.”

Facebook published the full-page ads in major newspapers — including the Guardian and the Times of Londn — ahead of the country’s general elections next month. Last month, it published the same ads in Germany and France, ahead of elections in those countries.

“People want to see accurate information on Facebook and so do we. That is why we are doing everything we can to tackle the problem of false news,” Simon Milner, Facebook’s Director of Policy for the UK, wrote in a statement.

Research indicates that Internet users in some European countries are less likely than Americans to share fake news online. Still, Facebook and other social media companies have been facing mounting pressure from European leaders to address fake news, as well as other hateful, racist and violent posts.

“I think Europe has within living memory much more understanding of the consequences of letting hateful propaganda spread,” said Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina who studies the effect of technology on politics and society. “They lived through World War I and World War II, and they have a deeper visceral reaction to the consequences of letting hate speech, incitement to violence, misinformation, propaganda — the whole range of things that we see online today — going unchecked.” [Continue reading…]

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Technology doesn’t make us better people

Nicholas Carr writes: Welcome to the global village. It’s a nasty place.

On Easter Sunday, a man in Cleveland filmed himself murdering a random 74-year-old and posted the video on Facebook. The social network took the grisly clip down within two or three hours, but not before users shared it on other websites — where people around the world can still view it.

Surely incidents like this aren’t what Mark Zuckerberg had in mind. In 2012, as his company was preparing to go public, the Facebook founder wrote an earnest letter to would-be shareholders explaining that his company was more than just a business. It was pursuing a “social mission” to make the world a better place by encouraging self-expression and conversation. “People sharing more,” the young entrepreneur wrote, “creates a more open culture and leads to a better understanding of the lives and perspectives of others.”

Earlier this year, Zuckerberg penned another public letter, expressing even grander ambitions. Facebook, he announced, is expanding its mission from “connecting friends and family” to building “a global community that works for everyone.” The ultimate goal is to turn the already vast social network into a sort of supranational state “spanning cultures, nations and regions.”

But the murder in Cleveland, and any similar incidents that inevitably follow, reveal the hollowness of Silicon Valley’s promise that digital networks would bring us together in a more harmonious world.

Whether he knows it or not, Zuckerberg is part of a long tradition in Western thought. Ever since the building of the telegraph system in the 19th century, people have believed that advances in communication technology would promote social harmony. The more we learned about each other, the more we would recognize that we’re all one. In an 1899 article celebrating the laying of transatlantic Western Union cables, a New York Times columnist expressed the popular assumption well: “Nothing so fosters and promotes a mutual understanding and a community of sentiment and interests as cheap, speedy, and convenient communication.”

The great networks of the 20th century — radio, telephone, TV — reinforced this sunny notion. Spanning borders and erasing distances, they shrank the planet. Guglielmo Marconi declared in 1912 that his invention of radio would “make war impossible, because it will make war ridiculous.” AT&T’s top engineer, J.J. Carty, predicted in a 1923 interview that the telephone system would “join all the peoples of the earth in one brotherhood.” In his 1962 book “The Gutenberg Galaxy,” the media theorist Marshall McLuhan gave us the memorable term “global village” to describe the world’s “new electronic interdependence.” Most people took the phrase optimistically, as a prophecy of inevitable social progress. What, after all, could be nicer than a village?

If our assumption that communication brings people together were true, we should today be seeing a planetary outbreak of peace, love, and understanding. Thanks to the Internet and cellular networks, humanity is more connected than ever. Of the world’s 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to a mobile phone — a billion and a half more, the United Nations reports, than have access to a working toilet. Nearly 2 billion are on Facebook, more than a billion upload and download YouTube videos, and billions more converse through messaging apps like WhatsApp and WeChat. With smartphone in hand, everyone becomes a media hub, transmitting and receiving ceaselessly.

Yet we live in a fractious time, defined not by concord but by conflict. Xenophobia is on the rise. Political and social fissures are widening. From the White House down, public discourse is characterized by vitriol and insult. We probably shouldn’t be surprised. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey just banned Wikipedia, labeling it a ‘national security threat’

The Washington Post reports: If you try to open Wikipedia in Turkey right now, you’ll turn up a swirling loading icon, then a message that the server timed out.

Turkey has blocked Wikipedia. If you’re inside the country, you can only access the online encyclopedia through a virtual private network connection to a system outside the country.

Turkish officials reportedly asked the online encyclopedia to remove content by writers “supporting terror.”

Wikipedia “has started acting as part of the circles who carry out a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena, rather than being cooperative in fight against terror,” ministry officials said, according to Al Jazeera. It tried to show Turkey “at the same level and in cooperation with terror groups.”

The Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications told the Daily Sabah, a pro-government newspaper, that Wikipedia was blocked for “becoming an information source acting with groups conducting a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena.” The ministry did not cite specific examples of offending content. Officials also said the site would not be unblocked until Wikipedia opened an office in the country and started paying taxes. [Continue reading…]

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Congress is trying to give even more power to Hollywood

Mike Masnick writes: On March 23rd, Reps. Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers introduced a controversial bipartisan bill with over 100 years of history behind it, though you wouldn’t know it from its boring name and seemingly boring topic. It’s called the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017 — the key part is that it makes the Register of Copyright a political position appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. That’s in contrast to the current state of affairs, which has been in existence since the creation of the Copyright Office in 1897.

Right now, the Copyright Office is a part of the Library of Congress, and the head of the office — known as the Register of Copyrights — is appointed by the Librarian of Congress, who, in turn is appointed by the president, and approved by the Senate.

Who cares? Well, you should. This seemingly small change could have a big impact on a variety of different issues concerning how the internet functions. The simple version is that the music and movie industries have always had an uneasy relationship with the internet, and they worry that the Library of Congress might appoint a Register of Copyrights who thinks expanding copyright protections might not be the best thing for the public or individual creators. And one of the best ways to prevent that from happening is to have much more control over who will be in charge of the Copyright Office. The new bill gives the copyright industry the means to do that by lobbying the president and Congress directly.

The long version is a fascinating glimpse at the collision of politics, the internet, and history. [Continue reading…]

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The government is demanding to know who this Trump critic is. Twitter is suing to keep it a secret

The Washington Post reports: Twitter filed a lawsuit Thursday against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, asking the court to prevent the department from taking steps to unmask the user behind an account critical of the Trump administration.

The tech company said that allowing DHS access to that information would produce a “grave chilling effect on the speech of that account,” as well as other accounts critical of the U.S. government. The case sets up a potential showdown over free speech between Silicon Valley and Washington.

According to Twitter’s court filings, Homeland Security is “unlawfully abusing a limited-purpose investigatory tool” to find out who is behind the @ALT_USCIS account. Its Twitter feed has publicly criticized the administration’s immigration policies, particularly the actions of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) division of Homeland Security. [Continue reading…]

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Don’t get fooled again by bogus links, bots and pure bunk. Here’s how

Margaret Sullivan writes: Roger Daltrey of the Who sang it with a full-throated scream in 1971: “We don’t get fooled again!”

And yet, we still do. Oh, do we ever.

Remember this one from the presidential campaign? The “news story” that spread the lie that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump for president? It was shared more than a million times. Or recall the faked report that the leader of the Islamic State was urging American Muslims to vote for Hillary Clinton.

With the proliferation of hoaxes, conspiracy theories, doctored photos and lies that look like news, it’s inevitable: We’re all chumps sometimes.

For those who are tired of it, along comes the first International Fact-Checking Day — which arrived, appropriately, on Sunday, just after April Fools’ Day.

Think of it as a global counterpunch on behalf of truth.

“It’s not about being killjoys, shaking a finger at everyone, so we’re trying to do it with a sense of fun,” said Alexios Mantzarlis, the 28-year-old director of the International Fact-Checking Network, based at the Poynter Institute in Florida. [Continue reading…]

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Congress’s vote to eviscerate Internet privacy could give the FBI massive power

Paul Ohm writes: Many are outraged about congressional efforts to eviscerate Internet privacy regulations set by the Federal Communications Commission under President Barack Obama. But a frightening aspect to the bill remains underappreciated: If signed, it could result in the greatest legislative expansion of the FBI’s surveillance power since 2001’s Patriot Act.

Don’t believe anyone who suggests that the law merely returns us to the state of the world before the FCC finalized its landmark privacy rules in October. The obvious reason Internet service providers burned through time, money, political capital and customer goodwill to push for this law was to ask for a green light to engage in significantly more user surveillance than they had ever before had the audacity to try.

This must be the reason, because on paper, the law accomplishes little. President Trump’s handpicked choice to head the FCC, Ajit Pai, already began work to roll back these rules in a more orderly fashion. Make no mistake: ISPs aren’t just asking for relief from a supposedly onerous rule; they want Congress’s blessing. Once Trump signs the bill, diminishing the FCC’s power to police privacy online, ISPs will feel empowered — perhaps even encouraged — by Republicans (no Democrats voted for this measure) to spy on all of us as they never have before. And spy they will. [Continue reading…]

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The future of free speech, trolls, anonymity and fake news online

Pew Research Center: The internet supports a global ecosystem of social interaction. Modern life revolves around the network, with its status updates, news feeds, comment chains, political advocacy, omnipresent reviews, rankings and ratings. For its first few decades, this connected world was idealized as an unfettered civic forum: a space where disparate views, ideas and conversations could constructively converge. Its creators were inspired by the optimism underlying Stuart Brand’s WELL in 1985, Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web and Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow’s 1996 “Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace.” They expected the internet to create a level playing field for information sharing and communal activity among individuals, businesses, other organizations and government actors.

Since the early 2000s, the wider diffusion of the network, the dawn of Web 2.0 and social media’s increasingly influential impacts, and the maturation of strategic uses of online platforms to influence the public for economic and political gain have altered discourse. In recent years, prominent internet analysts and the public at large have expressed increasing concerns that the content, tone and intent of online interactions have undergone an evolution that threatens its future and theirs. Events and discussions unfolding over the past year highlight the struggles ahead. Among them:

To illuminate current attitudes about the potential impacts of online social interaction over the next decade, Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted a large-scale canvassing of technology experts, scholars, corporate practitioners and government leaders. Some 1,537 responded to this effort between July 1 and Aug. 12, 2016 (prior to the late-2016 revelations about potential manipulation of public opinion via hacking of social media). [Continue reading…]

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The House just voted to wipe away the FCC’s landmark Internet privacy protections

The Washington Post reports: Congress sent proposed legislation to President Trump on Tuesday that wipes away landmark online privacy protections, the first salvo in what is likely to become a significant reworking of the rules governing Internet access in an era of Republican dominance.

In a party-line vote, House Republicans freed Internet service providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast of protections approved just last year that had sought to limit what companies could do with information such as customer browsing habits, app usage history, location data and Social Security numbers. The rules also had required providers to strengthen safeguards for customer data against hackers and thieves.

The Senate has voted to nullify those measures, which were set to take effect at the end of this year. If Trump signs the legislation as expected, providers will be able to monitor their customers’ behavior online and, without their permission, use their personal and financial information to sell highly targeted ads — making them rivals to Google and Facebook in the $83 billion online advertising market.

The providers could also sell their users’ information directly to marketers, financial firms and other companies that mine personal data — all of whom could use the data without consumers’ consent. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission, which initially drafted the protections, would be forbidden from issuing similar rules in the future. [Continue reading…]

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Alex Jones apologizes for promoting ‘Pizzagate’ hoax

The New York Times reports: Alex Jones, a prominent conspiracy theorist and the host of a popular right-wing radio show, has apologized for helping to spread and promote the hoax known as Pizzagate.

The admission on Friday by Mr. Jones, the host of “The Alex Jones Show” and the operator of the website Infowars, was striking. In addition to promoting the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, he has contended that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were inside jobs carried out by the United States government and that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax concocted by those hostile to the Second Amendment.

The Pizzagate theory, which posited with no evidence that top Democratic officials were involved with a satanic child pornography ring centered around Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in Washington, grew in online forums before making its way to more visible venues, including Mr. Jones’s show.

The prominence of the hoax drew attention to the proliferation of false and misleading news, much of it politically charged, that circulated on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. [Continue reading…]

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Information wars: A window into the alternative media ecosystem

Kate Starbird writes: For more than three years, my lab at the University of Washington has conducted research looking at how people spread rumors online during crisis events. We have looked at natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes as well as man-made events such as mass shootings and terrorist attacks. Due to the public availability of data, we focused primarily on Twitter — but we also used data collected there (tweets) to expose broader activity in the surrounding media ecosystem.

Over time, we noted that a similar kind of rumor kept showing up, over and over again, after each of the man-made crisis events — a conspiracy theory or “alternative narrative” of the event that claimed it either didn’t happen or that it was perpetrated by someone other than the current suspects.

We first encountered this type of rumor while studying the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. We noticed a large number of tweets (>4000) claiming that the bombings were a “false flag” perpetrated by U.S. Navy Seals. The initial spread of this rumor involved a “cascade” of tweets linking to an article on the InfoWars website. At the time, our researchers did not know what InfoWars was, but the significance of that connection became clear over time. [Continue reading…]

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FBI’s Russian-influence probe includes a look at far-right news sites

McClatchy reports: Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role last year in a Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories — some fictional — that favored Donald Trump’s presidential bid, two people familiar with the inquiry say.

Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as “bots,” to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, these sources said.

The bots’ end products were largely millions of Twitter and Facebook posts carrying links to stories on conservative internet sites such as Breitbart News and InfoWars, as well as on the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News, the sources said. Some of the stories were false or mixed fact and fiction, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the bot attacks are part of an FBI-led investigation into a multifaceted Russian operation to influence last year’s elections.

Investigators examining the bot attacks are exploring whether the far-right news operations took any actions to assist Russia’s operatives. Their participation, however, wasn’t necessary for the bots to amplify their news through Twitter and Facebook.

The investigation of the bot-engineered traffic, which appears to be in its early stages, is being driven by the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, whose inquiries rarely result in criminal charges and whose main task has been to reconstruct the nature of the Kremlin’s cyber attack and determine ways to prevent another.

An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the inquiry into the use of bots.

Russia-generated bots are one piece of a cyber puzzle that counterintelligence agents have sought to solve for nearly a year to determine the extent of the Moscow government’s electronic broadside.

“This may be one of the most highly impactful information operations in the history of intelligence,” said one former U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. [Continue reading…]

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Wilders, Russia and Twitter bots: How social media is serving Dutch populism

Financial Times reports: Follower numbers are a commonly recognised indicator of social media influence. Snapshot counts of Twitter and Facebook followers reveal that, in contrast to most other party leaders, Mr Wilders’ personal social media following dwarfs that of his party’s accounts by a ratio of 330:1 on Twitter and 133:1 on Facebook. By comparison, sitting prime minister Mark Rutte’s followers are outnumbered by those of his party, VVD, by 1.5:1 on Twitter and 3.4:1 on Facebook. 

However, an examination of the rate of growth of Dutch party leaders’ Twitter followings reveals Mr Wilders’ to be growing comparatively slowly — which is to be expected given that hisis the largest among party leaders’ followings. More intriguing are the bumps in the growth rate of the Wilders following, several of which coincide with specific news events. In particular, Mr Wilders’ conviction for race-related discrimination offences on December 9 last year and the terrorist attack in which a truck was driven into a Berlin crowd on December 19 boosted Mr Wilders’ following, which may suggest a reactive component to the motivations of people following Mr Wilders on Twitter.

The accusations of election interference in France made by the campaign of Mr Macron prompted a denial by RT, which said in a statement that it “adamantly rejects any and all claims that it has any part in spreading fake news in general and in relation to Mr Macron and the upcoming French election in particular.” The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, however, asserted in a January report that RT and Sputnik functioned as part of a Russian “state-run propaganda machine” that was deployed in an attempt to influence the outcome of the US election.

FT Data calculated the frequencies with which a random sample of 100,000 of Mr Wilders’ Twitter followers mentioned the accounts of RT and Sputnik (@RT_com and @SputnikInt), along with those of the top five Dutch news outlets over a six-month period. We compared these to a sample of the same size taken from followers of the office of the Dutch prime minister (@MinPres), a non-partisan governmental account.

Although Mr Wilders himself did not disproportionately share content from either outlet, his followers were 12 times more likely to mention Sputnik and almost eight times more likely to mention RT than followers of Mr Rutte, prime minister. Notably, Mr Wilders’ followers mentioned RT more frequently than they did the Dutch national broadcaster NOS (@NOS). [Continue reading…]

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Pro-Trump media sets the agenda with lies. Here’s how traditional media can take it back

Margaret Sullivan writes: To save Tinkerbell, all you had to do was clap your hands and really, really believe in fairies.

To send a conspiracy theory on its vicious way around the world, you need to do more than just believe. You need help.

Luckily for those who wanted to elect Donald Trump, that help was available during the presidential campaign, and still is. It comes from a collection of new right-wing hyperpartisan media outlets that are having a huge effect on politics.

Consider, for example, one outlandish idea from just last week: that the CIA hacked the Democratic National Committee’s emails, gave them to WikiLeaks and then framed Russia.

Business Insider traced it: from replies to the WikiLeaks Twitter account, through conservative radio and then Breitbart News, and out into the semi-mainstream — Sean Hannity on Fox News — all within 48 hours.

Similarly, the right-wing radio host Mark Levin may have started the evidence-free idea that President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of now-President Trump. It made its way quickly through the media ecosystem, after Trump saw it, apparently on Breitbart News.

Once the president tweets it, it’s undeniably news, picked up everywhere and re-amplified — especially by right-wing sites.

Derek Thompson of the Atlantic called this a “conspiracy-theory feedback loop.” And a very effective one it is.

A major new study, published in Columbia Journalism Review, detailed just how influential the new media ecosystem has become, calling it a determining factor in Trump’s election. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s Twitter feed is a gateway to authoritarianism

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Seemingly prompted by Trump’s Twitter outburst — where, to be clear, the current president accused the former president of committing a crime — the White House has now called for a full investigation into whether its own unsubstantiated allegations are true.


Needless to say, Trump’s critics are unimpressed.

“This may come as a surprise to the current occupant of the Oval Office, but the president of the United States does not have the authority to unilaterally order the wiretapping of American citizens,” said Josh Earnest, a former White House press secretary under Obama. He accused the Trump administration of trying to distract from the controversy surrounding its alleged contacts with Russian officials.

“We know exactly why President Trump tweeted what he tweeted,” said Earnest to the Post. “There is one page in the Trump White House crisis management playbook, and that is simply to tweet or say something outrageous to distract from a scandal. And the bigger the scandal, the more outrageous the tweet.”

Earlier this year, George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at the University of California, Berkeley, crafted a “taxonomy” of how Trump uses Twitter to shift the conversation from unwelcome reports and subsume the news cycle with his own agenda. [Continue reading…]

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Mar-a-Lago serves as stage for showing off the spectacle of Trump’s presidency

The New York Times reports: Trump appears to enjoy presenting the spectacle of his presidency to those at his privately held club, where members pay $200,000 to join. While the club is not open to the public, Mr. Trump’s dinner with Mr. Abe was in the club’s dining room, where any member or their guests were likely to be.

Individual club members can invite guests, submitting a list of names of table guests for security clearance to officials ahead of time.

In addition to the pictures of the North Korea conversation, Mr. DeAgazio also posted pictures of himself standing with a person he described as Mr. Trump’s military aide responsible for carrying the nuclear “football” — the briefcase with codes for launching nuclear weapons. [Continue reading…]

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