Why does Donald Trump tell so many lies?

The more lies Donald Trump tells, the larger the frustration grows — the greater the sense that Trump continues lying because he’s being allowed to get away with it.

The New York Times says:

Mr. Trump relies on social media to spread his views. This is convenient because there’s no need to respond to questions about his fabrications. That makes it imperative that other forms of media challenge him.

Instead, as Mr. Trump stays at the top of the Republican field, it’s become a full-time job just running down falsehoods like the phony crime statistics he tweeted, which came from a white supremacist group.

Yet Mr. Trump is regularly rewarded with free TV time, where he talks right over anyone challenging him, and doubles down when called out on his lies.

This isn’t about shutting off Mr. Trump’s bullhorn. His right to spew nonsense is protected by the Constitution, but the public doesn’t need to swallow it. History teaches that failing to hold a demagogue to account is a dangerous act. It’s no easy task for journalists to interrupt Mr. Trump with the facts, but it’s an important one.

MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell says “Donald Trump lies because he knows he can get away with it.”

O’Donnell also says Trump exploits the politeness of his interviewers and that they are afraid of challenging him because they are afraid he won’t show up for future interviews.

Trump’s antics are boosting the ratings of both supporters and critics in the media.

But I don’t think Trump continues lying simply because he can get away with it, or because the media is too polite to call him a liar, or because since he is a pathological liar he just can’t stop lying.

The reason he keeps on lying is because, paradoxically, among his supporters it reinforces his image as a truth-teller.

Since Trump supporters think that “the media” and “media lies” are synonyms, and since in a polls have shown “liar” (at least until recently) was a phrase more commonly linked to Hillary Clinton than Trump, and since the political establishment is widely viewed as being filled with liars, it matters much less to Trump that he is being called a liar than it does who is calling him that.

If each time Trump gets called a liar and Trump’s base see his accusers themselves as liars, the accusation not only loses its sting — it ends up looking like a vindication, proof that Trump is rocking the establishment.

What’s the solution?

For a start, the media needs to stop giving Trump so much free airtime. And that means refraining from following the currently irresistible impulse to profit from his notoriety.

A presidential election should be about issues, not antics, and it’s up to the media to cover the issues.


The endless recurrence of the clash of civilizations narrative

Marc Lynch writes: Jihadists have always sought to use terrorism to polarize politics, spread their ideas, discredit moderates and advance their preferred narrative of clashing civilizations. They have not always been so successful [as they are now] in winning mainstream acceptance for their narrative.

I would highlight three possible explanations. One part of the answer may be the pervasive effects of social media. By this I do not mean the Islamic State’s use of social media for recruitment and propaganda, as impressive and interesting as this phenomenon has been. Instead, I mean the ways in which social media itself is structured, creating new openings for extreme ideas to gain traction with the broader public. Social media networks typically tend to encourage ideological clustering, in which self-selected communities of the like-minded cultivate shared narratives, identities and arguments. Today’s pervasive social media is organically interwoven with broadcast media and more traditional print publications in ways that facilitate the movement of these narratives from isolated clusters into the mainstream. The 9/11 attacks took place at a moment when blogs had only just begun to reshape the American political public sphere, but the Islamic State’s rise has occurred in an era of near complete social mediation of information and opinion. Such an environment seems highly conducive to the cultivation and nurturing of radical fringe ideas – and their transmission into the broader public arena.

A second strand is the absence of George W. Bush. For all his other foreign policy struggles, Bush was staunchly opposed to the demonization of Islam, and frequently argued — as Hillary Clinton does today — that America was not at war with Islam. He understood the importance of denying the al-Qaeda narrative of a clash of civilizations. Bush’s stance acted as a check on the anti-Islamic impulses of the right wing base. That obstacle has long since passed from the scene. President Obama’s invocation of the same themes invites the opposite response. The right wing now can be unified against this rhetoric, without Bush to restrain them. Meanwhile, the waning of the Obama presidency has encouraged a large portion of the policy community to position themselves against the outgoing administration, which typically means adopting more hawkish and interventionist positions. By the old political math, the majority of Democrats combined with the Bush Republicans to block the anti-Islamic trend. By the new political math, the vast majority of Republicans combines with enough Democrats to push the “center” well to the right.

A third factor is the real changes within the Islamist landscape, far beyond the Islamic State itself. Syria has generated a wide variety of jihadist groups, which often position themselves against the Islamic State. Local insurgencies that once took on the al-Qaeda label now embrace the Islamic State’s franchise. Above all, the 2013 Egyptian military coup and subsequent repressive campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood severely weakened one of al-Qaeda’s traditionally most powerful competitors. The destruction and demonization of the Brotherhood has likely contributed to eroding the idea of a mainstream Islamism buffering the jihadists. The political push by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to label the Brotherhood a terrorist organization has reshaped the politics of the issue as well. Propaganda from the region against the Muslim Brotherhood then refracts through the Western public discourse. Old debates revolving around the Brotherhood’s role as a firewall against extremism are now far less relevant, with its organization shattered and ideology of peaceful participation discredited. Analysts who follow Islamism closely are now in uncharted territory, creating openings for those peddling simple, well-rehearsed narratives about Islam. [Continue reading…]


New ISIS video threatening New York City uses stock images

The fact that a new ISIS video threatening New York City uses snippets from commercial videos available on YouTube, does not mean that the threat can be dismissed.

It does, nevertheless, indicate that the imagery in this video should not be taken at face value. This is not footage that was filmed on the ground by would-be attackers.

It’s reasonable to assume that ISIS produced the sections of the video showing a bomb being assembled, but they have then spliced these together with stock footage in a slick piece of editing that creates the appearance of a single production.

In one snippet of the ISIS video, we see a tracking shot showing taxis stopped at an intersection next to a Gap store:


This comes from a video made by StockFootage.com “Fast tracking shot of crowded street in nyc.“:


The ISIS video shows a TGI Friday’s:


This comes from another StockFootage.com video, “Panning shots of signs in Times Square New York City“:



Can a bunch of hackers really take on ISIS?

writes: For John Chase, the breaking point came on Jan. 7, when al Qaeda-linked militants gunned down 12 people at the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo. Subsequent attacks by a gunman affiliated with the Islamic State would take five more lives. Watching triumphant jihadi messages bounce across Twitter, the 25-year-old Boston native was incensed. They needed to be stopped.

Although Chase’s formal education ended with high school, computers were second nature to him. He had begun fiddling with code at the age of 7 and freelanced as a web designer and social media strategist. He now turned these skills to fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Centralizing other hacktivists’ efforts, he compiled a database of 26,000 Islamic State-linked Twitter accounts. He helped build a website to host the list in public view and took steps to immunize it against hacking counterattacks by Islamic State sympathizers. He even assumed an appropriately hacker-sounding nom de guerre, “XRSone,” and engaged any reporter who would listen. In doing so, Chase briefly became an unofficial spokesman for #OpISIS — and part of one of the strangest conflicts of the 21st century.

For more than a year, a ragtag collection of casual volunteers, seasoned coders, and professional trolls has waged an online war against the Islamic State and its virtual supporters. Many in this anti-Islamic State army identify with the infamous hacking collective Anonymous. They are based around the world and hail from every walk of life. They have virtually nothing in common except a passion for computers and a feeling that, with its torrent of viral-engineered propaganda and concerted online recruiting, the Islamic State has trespassed in their domain. The hacktivists have vowed to fight back.

The effort has ebbed and flowed, but the past nine months have seen a significant increase in both the frequency and visibility of online attacks against the Islamic State. To date, hacktivists claim to have dismantled some 149 Islamic State-linked websites and flagged roughly 101,000 Twitter accounts and 5,900 propaganda videos. At the same time, this casual association of volunteers has morphed into a new sort of organization, postured to combat the Islamic State in both the Twitter “town square” and the bowels of the deep web.

Chase, who has since shifted his focus to other pursuits, boasts a story typical of those volunteers who work to track and counteract the Islamic State’s online propaganda apparatus. Few of these hacktivists are hood-wearing, network-cracking, Internet savants. Instead, they are part-time hobbyists, possessed of a strong sense of justice and a disdain for fundamentalists of all stripes. Many, but not all, are young people — some are more seasoned, former military or security specialists pursuing a second calling. The oldest is 50. These hacktivists speak of a desire to “do something” in the fight against the Islamic State, even if that “something” may sometimes just amount to running suspicious Twitter accounts through Google Translate.

This is something new. Anonymous arose from the primordial, and often profane, underground web forums to cause mischief, not to take sides in real wars. The group gained notoriety for its random, militantly apolitical, increasingly organized hacking attacks during the mid-2000s. Its first “political” operation was an Internet crusade against the Church of Scientology following its suppression of a really embarrassing Tom Cruise video.

In time, however, Anonymous operations became less about laughs and more about causes, fighting the establishment and guaranteeing a free and open Internet. [Continue reading…]


ISIS has a new favorite social media network: Telegram

The Fiscal Times reports: Terror Jihadi groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda are now shifting much of their social media propaganda, recruiting and fund transferring from mainstream social media sites like Twitter to a service called Telegram, according to a new report by the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC).

ISIS and other militant groups have been jumping from one social media service to another in their attempts to avoid anti-terrorism programs by governments and corporations. They appear to have settled on Telegram. “The Jihadis’ struggle to keep up with the relentless suspensions and removal of jihadi social media content may have finally run its course,” says Veryan Khan, the Editorial Director at TRAC. “The new frontier of jihadi communication is taking place on a recently launched tool, in a messaging platform that has revolutionized the social media sphere.”

Telegram was launched in August 2013 by the two Russian brothers, Nicolay and Pavel Durov, as a free encrypted instant messaging service. While reports of terror groups using Telegram surfaced months ago, a new feature called “Channels” was launched in September to let users broadcast to other members of the service. It quickly turned Telegram into the favorite social media hub of ISIS and other terror groups.

“It is this new feature that has been enthusiastically embraced by many militant groups, becoming an underground railroad for distributing and archiving jihadi propaganda materials,” the TRAC report says.

As of Nov. 2, TRAC has recorded more than 200 major jihadi channels. Half of them belong to ISIS. Other major players in the jihadi world, from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to Jabhat al-Nusra to Ansar al-Sharia in Libya to Jaysh al-Islam, are increasingly creating their own channels. The rate of membership growth for the channels has been staggering, quickly climbing to about 150,000 total members, the report concludes.

“The sheer scale and momentum of the Telegram migration is hard to fathom,” says Brian Watts, an author of the TRAC report. “The force of the numbers using Telegram channels is staggering, watching hundreds of new members in an hours’ time; thousands coming on in over a few days is commonplace for many channels.” [Continue reading…]


The dangerous consequences of routinized venomousness in public life

Pankaj Mishra writes: In the guise of hyper-patriotism, trash talk has gone mainstream in the world’s two biggest democracies. Donald Trump, the leading candidate in Republican primaries, set a new low in public discourse by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists.” The Hindu nationalist chief minister of one of India’s richest states recently underscored the deterioration in India’s political culture by declaring Muslims could only live in the country if they stopped eating beef.

One hopes that a dignified retort of the kind that defused the menace of McCarthyism — “Have you no decency, sir?” — terminates this season of demagogues. But public support for them suggests that a disturbingly broad assault is underway on democratic values — indeed, on civility itself.

People foaming at the mouth with hate and malice have become a common sight on both traditional and social media. Mobs in India and mass shooters in America have thrived in this climate of irrationalism. Many people, it seems, can think only in the categories of friends and foes, group loyalty or treason; their preference for abuse kills all possibilities of reasoned debate. [Continue reading…]


ISIS’s online recruitment strategy

J.M. Berger writes: Observers have focused, rightly, on the quality and quantity of Islamic State propaganda as a factor in its success, but passive material can only take the typical radicalization so far. Therefore, the organization deploys a wide variety of tailored online interventions to bring their targets into the fold.

Sometimes referred to as “grooming,” these interventions are conducted by small teams of prolific social media users who lavish attention on potential recruits in order to shape their worldview and encourage direct action in support of the Islamic State, ranging from lone wolf–style terrorist attacks to migration to Islamic State territories. Some interveners are more formally affiliated with the Islamic State while others appear to be informal volunteers.

Online interventions are more prevalent in countries where the social climate offers few opportunities to safely discuss an interest in the Islamic State in a face-to-face setting, but even in such environments, many cases incorporate activity that crosses over from online to real-world interactions. [Continue reading…]


How pro-Kremlin tweeps are framing the Syrian debate

RFE/RL reports: Support among Russians for military intervention in Syria has more than doubled, to 31 percent in early October from 14 percent in September, according to independent pollster Levada Center.

The increase comes with coverage of air strikes filling Russian state airwaves, press, and the Internet, and social-media salvoes fired from both sides of the debate.

On social networks like Twitter, expressions of support for Moscow’s air raids appear to fit into three distinct categories: perceived cultural and historical affinities between Syria and Russia; purported Western helplessness in the face of the continuing Syrian crisis; and the conflation of any armed forces opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime under the “terrorist” banner. [Continue reading…]


When you develop the habit of distraction, it becomes harder and harder to think deeply

Huffington Post spoke to Nicholas Carr who five years ago wrote in his book, The Shallows: How The Internet Is Changing Our Brains, about the way technology seemed to be eroding our ability to concentrate:

Are you optimistic about any of the ways we currently seem to be adapting [to the constant flow of information through digital devices]?

No. It’s the ease with which we adapt that makes me most nervous. It doesn’t take long for someone to get used to glancing at their smartphone 200 times a day. We’re creatures of habit mentally and physically.

When you develop that habit of distraction, it becomes harder and harder to back away and engage our minds in deeper modes of thinking.

Is there anything we can do to keep our mental faculties intact, or is it pretty much hopeless at this point?

Well, you can use the technology less and set aside your phone and spend a good part of your day trying to maintain your focus and not be interrupted. The good thing about that — because of the plasticity of our brains — is that if you change your habits, your brain is happy to go along with whatever you do.

What makes me more pessimistic is that we’re kind of building our personalities and our entire societies around this new set of norms and expectations that says you need to be constantly connected. As long as we continue going down that path it’s going to be ever harder for us to buck the status quo. [Continue reading…]


The Red Web: Russia and the Internet

Steven Aftergood writes: The Internet in Russia is a battleground between activists who would use it as a tool of political and cultural freedom and government officials who see it as a powerful instrument of political control, write investigative journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan in their new book The Red Web. For now, the government appears to be winning the battle.

Soldatov and Borogan trace the underlying conflict back to official anxiety in the Soviet era about the hazards of freedom of information. In the 1950s, the first Soviet photocopy machine was physically destroyed at the direction of the government “because it threatened to spread information beyond the control of those who ruled.”

With the introduction of imported personal computers in the 1980s and a connection to the Internet in 1990, new possibilities for free expression and political organizing in Russia seemed to arise. But as described in The Red Web, each private initiative was met by a government response seeking to disable or limit it. Internet service providers were required to install “black boxes” (known by the acronym SORM) giving Russia’s security services access to Internet traffic. Independent websites, such as the authors’ own agentura.ru site on intelligence matters, were subject to blocking and attack. Journalists’ computers were seized.

But the struggle continued. Protesters used new social media tools to organize demonstrations. The government countered with new facial recognition technology and cell phone tracking to identify them. Large teams of “trolls” were hired to disrupt social networks. A nationwide system of online filtering and censorship was put in place by 2012, and has been refined since then. [Continue reading…]


How GCHQ tracks web users’ online identities

The Intercept reports: There was a simple aim at the heart of the top-secret program: Record the website browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.”

Before long, billions of digital records about ordinary people’s online activities were being stored every day. Among them were details cataloging visits to porn, social media and news websites, search engines, chat forums, and blogs.

The mass surveillance operation — code-named KARMA POLICE — was launched by British spies about seven years ago without any public debate or scrutiny. It was just one part of a giant global Internet spying apparatus built by the United Kingdom’s electronic eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ.

The revelations about the scope of the British agency’s surveillance are contained in documents obtained by The Intercept from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Previous reports based on the leaked files have exposed how GCHQ taps into Internet cables to monitor communications on a vast scale, but many details about what happens to the data after it has been vacuumed up have remained unclear.[Continue reading…]


The web has become a hall of mirrors, filled only with reflections of our data

By mc schraefel @mcphoo, University of Southampton

The “digital assistant” is proliferating, able to combine intelligent natural language processing, voice-operated control over a smartphone’s functions and access to web services. It can set calendar appointments, launch apps, and run requests. But if that sounds very clever – a computerised talking assistant, like HAL9000 from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey – it’s mostly just running search engine queries and processing the results.

Facebook has now joined Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon with the launch of its digital assistant M, part of its Messaging smartphone app. It’s special sauce is that M is powered not just by algorithms but by data serfs: human Facebook employees who are there to ensure that every request that it cannot parse is still fulfilled, and in doing so training M by example. That training works because every interaction with M is recorded – that’s the point, according to David Marcus, Facebook’s vice-president of messaging:

We start capturing all of your intent for the things you want to do. Intent often leads to buying something, or to a transaction, and that’s an opportunity for us to [make money] over time.

Facebook, through M, will capture and facilitate that “intent to buy” and take its cut directly from the subsequent purchase rather than as an ad middleman. It does this by leveraging messaging, which was turned into a separate app of its own so that Facebook could integrate PayPal-style peer-to-peer payments between users. This means Facebook has a log not only of your conversations but also your financial dealings. In an interview with Fortune magazine at the time, Facebook product manager, Steve Davies, said:

People talk about money all the time in Messenger but end up going somewhere else to do the transaction. With this, people can finish the conversation the same place started it.

In a somewhat creepy way, by reading your chats and knowing that you’re “talking about money all the time” – what you’re talking about buying – Facebook can build up a pretty compelling profile of interests and potential purchases. If M can capture our intent it will not be by tracking what sites we visit and targeting relevant ads, as per advert brokers such as Google and Doubleclick. Nor by targeting ads based on the links we share, as Twitter does. Instead it simply reads our messages.

[Read more…]


Mapping the situation in Syria

Der Spiegel reports: Islamic State fighters have conquered Rahabi in Iraq. They control the Libyan coast near Sirt. In Syria, they just lost Tall Abyad to the Kurds, but are spreading out in the center of Palmyra. Thomas van Linge is keeping an eye on their movements. The 19-year-old wears a hoodie and, although he only just graduated from high school, he already knows better than most people where the Jihadists are heading, which areas they are occupying and where they’ve been beaten back. That’s because van Linge makes some of the world’s best maps of chaotic war zones from the desk of his childhood bedroom in Amsterdam. He has never been to Syria, Iraq or Libya, and he learned Arabic on YouTube.

The young Dutchman isn’t just keeping an eye on Islamic State and its “caliphate,” he also knows what the rebels of the Free Syrian Army, al-Nusra Front and Lebanon’s Hezbollah are doing. In Libya he’s monitoring the Zintan Brigades, in Nigeria he’s watching Boko Haram, in Eastern Ukraine he’s keeping an eye on the separatists. “All places where people are rising up,” he says.

His maps have been used by CNN, the New York Times and even SPIEGEL. The question is: Why is a 19-year-old interested in the situation at Syrian front lines? And how does he manage to depict these conflicts so precisely, with more details than almost any other professional cartographer? [Continue reading…]


Facebook expands in politics, and campaigns find much to like

The New York Times reports: “Facebook is going to be the advertising monster of 2016,” said Zac Moffatt, a co-founder of Targeted Victory, a Republican technology firm that ran Mitt Romney’s 2012 digital effort. “They have the largest audience, a dominant set of tools for advertising, and the most aggressive approach to allowing campaigns to leverage their data to maximize efficiency and minimize waste.”

Campaigns can now include what Facebook describes as a “call to action” at the end of their videos — in most cases, a link that allows users to donate to the campaign or sign a petition.

Video represents a tremendous growth area generally. When Facebook announced its new video capacities in September 2014, it had one billion video views a day. Now, the site gets four times as many.

Another innovation allows a campaign to upload its voter file — a list of those they hope will turn out to vote or can be persuaded to do so — directly to Facebook, where it can target those users. Integrating this deep and rich source of information about voters also allows campaigns to find and reach other Facebook users who resemble, in behavior and interests, those in their existing voter file.

The emphasis on reaching increasingly segmented voters reflects the narrowing of the electorate, in which campaigns are devoting more and more money and effort to finding their supporters and turning them out on Election Day, rather than trying to win over uncommitted voters. [Continue reading…]


MIT report: Giving government special access to data poses major security risks

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab: In recent months, government officials in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries have made repeated calls for law-enforcement agencies to be able to access, upon due authorization, encrypted data to help them solve crimes.

Beyond the ethical and political implications of such an approach, though, is a more practical question: If we want to maintain the security of user information, is this sort of access even technically possible?

That was the impetus for a report — titled “Keys under doormats: Mandating insecurity by requiring government access to all data and communications” — just published by security experts from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), alongside other leading researchers from the U.S. and the U.K.

The report argues that such mechanisms “pose far more grave security risks, imperil innovation on which the world’s economies depend, and raise more thorny policy issues than we could have imagined when the Internet was in its infancy.” [Continue reading…]