As America sleeps, Donald Trump seethes on Twitter

The New York Times reports: The tweets started around 3:20 a.m. on Friday. Inside Trump Tower, a restless figure stirred in the predawn darkness, nursing his grievances and grabbing a device that often lands him in hot water.

On his Android phone, Donald J. Trump began to tap out bursts of digital fury: He mocked Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe and a popular Latin American actress, as a “con,” the “worst” and “disgusting.”

In a final flourish, before the sun came up, the Republican presidential nominee claimed — without offering any evidence — that she had appeared in a “sex tape.”

The tirade fit a pattern. It is when Mr. Trump is alone with his thoughts, and untethered from his campaign staff, that he has seemed to commit his most self-destructive acts.

“There has always been this dangerous part of him that will go too far and do something that backfires,” said Michael D’Antonio, the author of “The Truth About Trump,” a new biography of the real estate mogul.

“His worst impulses,” he added, “are self-defeating.” [Continue reading…]


Donald Trump’s online trolls turn on their ‘god emperor’

The Daily Beast reports: One of Donald Trump’s most ardent fringe message boards appeared to turn on its candidate of choice during Monday night’s debate, saying he “got played” and that “this was not supposed to happen.”

4chan, the alt-right forum that Trump and his campaign surrogates have mined for memes and image macros to repurpose on campaign Twitter accounts as recently as two weeks ago, devolved into arguments about whether the usually uniformly pro-Trump website had been overrun by “shills” or if the candidate had simply lost the debate.

“I watched it with family mixed Democrat/Republican,” wrote one user. “Every single person on both sides thought Trump looked horrible.” [Continue reading…]


Palmer Luckey: The Facebook near billionaire secretly funding Trump’s meme machine

The Daily Beast reports: A Silicon Valley titan is putting money behind an unofficial Donald Trump group dedicated to “shitposting” and circulating internet memes maligning Hillary Clinton.

Oculus founder Palmer Luckey financially backed a pro-Trump political organization called Nimble America, a self-described “social welfare 501(c)4 non-profit” in support of the Republican nominee.

Luckey sold his virtual reality company Oculus to Facebook for $2 billion in 2014, and Forbes estimates his current net worth to be $700 million. The 24-year-old told The Daily Beast that he had used the pseudonym “NimbleRichMan” on Reddit with a password given to him by the organization’s founders.

Nimble America says it’s dedicated to proving that “shitposting is powerful and meme magic is real,” according to the company’s introductory statement, and has taken credit for a billboard its founders say was posted outside of Pittsburgh with a cartoonishly large image of Clinton’s face alongside the words “Too Big to Jail.”

“We conquered Reddit and drive narrative on social media, conquered the [mainstream media], now it’s time to get our most delicious memes in front of Americans whether they like it or not,” a representative for the group wrote in an introductory post on Reddit. [Continue reading…]


With Facebook’s flaws in the spotlight, Mark Zuckerberg’s silence is deafening

Espen Egil Hansen writes: In every TV studio where Facebook’s powerful position is being debated, one chair remains empty. In every newspaper article, every blogpost and every Facebook thread that challenges the company, one participant is missing.

Where is Mark Zuckerberg? A man now more powerful than most state leaders.

When I wrote an open letter to Zuckerberg earlier this month, I had three objectives.

First and foremost, Aftenposten wanted to stop Facebook’s censorship of the documentary photo The Terror of War. We did – but our victory was only symbolic. It just made Facebook see what everybody else is seeing: this picture is a documentation of the horrors of war – not nudity.

My second objective was to encourage debate on Facebook’s ever more powerful role as the world’s most important distributor of news and content. We succeeded in this as well, and I am pleased to see that the debate was international.

Most conspicuous, however, is the deafening silence from Facebook. Yes, they distribute written statements, which are dutifully read out by news anchors at the end of reports, but real participation is more the exception than the rule. Here in Scandinavia, Facebook has even gone so far as to leave it to a Swedish PR company to answer inquiries from the media. This company in turn will tell the press to quote “a spokesperson for Facebook”. [Continue reading…]


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…]


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…]


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, 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…]


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…]


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…]


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…]


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…]


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…]