Homeland Security Plans To Compile Database Of Journalists and Bloggers

The Department of Homeland Security wants to start monitoring “media influencers” according to a report at Bloomberg Law:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to monitor hundreds of thousands of news sources around the world and compile a database of journalists, editors, foreign correspondents, and bloggers to identify top “media influencers.”

It’s seeking a contractor that can help it monitor traditional news sources as well as social media and identify “any and all” coverage related to the agency or a particular event, according to a request for information released April 3.

The data to be collected includes a publication’s “sentiment” as well as geographical spread, top posters, languages, momentum, and circulation. No value for the contract was disclosed.

“Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers,” according to the statement. DHS agencies have “a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach federal, state, local, tribal, and private partners,” it said.

The DHS wants to track more than 290,000 global news sources, including online, print, broadcast, cable, and radio, as well as trade and industry publications, local, national and international outlets, and social media, according to the documents. It also wants the ability to track media coverage in more than 100 languages including Arabic, Chinese, and Russian, with instant translation of articles into English.

This  might be yet another over-reaction to the Russia hysteria. Forbes add:

DHS says the “NPPD/OUS [National Protection and Programs Directorate/Office of the Under Secretary] has a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach Federal, state, local, tribal and private partners.” Who knows what that means, but the document also states the NPPD’s mission is “to protect and enhance the resilience of the nation’s physical and cyberinfrastructure.”

That line makes it sound as if the creation of this database could be a direct response to the rampant allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — though President Donald Trump, who has normalized the term “fake news,” can’t seem to decide whether that’s even an issue or not.

There is no word as to what they plan to do with this information, but this appears to be a far greater threat to our democracy than the lame Facebook ads purchased by Russians.

Mike Allen Provides Clue Regarding Mueller Investigation Which Further Casts Doubt On Democratic Conspiracy Theories About Election

As was revealed in Shattered, within twenty-four hours of losing the election, Hillary Clinton decided to blame others such as Russia for her loss to Donald Trump. Polls such as a recent YouGov survey show that a strong majority of Democrats continue to believe the claims of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Russia which altered the election despite the lack of any evidence for this after over a year of investigations. The evidence available so far suggests that the investigation is moving in a different direction. Mike Allen of Axios posted A huge clue about Mueller’s endgame:

Axios has learned that special counsel Robert Mueller has focused on events since the election — not during the campaign — in his conversations with President Trump’s lawyers. The top two topics that Mueller has expressed interest in so far: the firings of FBI director James Comey and national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Why it matters: That suggests a focus on obstruction of justice while in office, rather than collusion with Russia during the campaign. But both sagas are interwoven with Russia: Trump himself has linked Comey’s firing to Russia, and Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition.

This has actually been clear for quite a while. Mueller’s indictments have primarily involved matters such as money laundering, tax fraud, and obstruction of justice. The only indictments which related to the 2016 election campaign involved indictments of Russians for violation of federal election finance laws and identify theft. The indictments did not involve actions which either altered the election results or which indicated any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Those indictments involved social media activities which did not appear to have any meaningful impact on the election results.

Many others, such as here and here, have also been writing, contrary to the hysteria coming from cable news, that this scandal is primarily about financial crimes and their cover-up, not altering the election results. Michael Wolf, author Fire and Fury, has also said that the scandal is about money laundering, not collusion with Russia regarding the election. It is significant that Axios has added to his. That is because Mike Allen is well-connected, and  his voice will carry weight with many in the mainstream media. This could be the start of a trend towards looking at the scandal more objectively by others in the press.

Throughout the investigation there have been signs of the direction Mueller is going, including in his indictments and the types of attorneys he has hired. Other evidence goes along with Allen’s view that his focus is on “obstruction of justice while in office, rather than collusion with Russia during the campaign.” While this is still somewhat speculative, I wonder, based upon the recent request for business documents from the Trump Organization, if the focus on events since the election could also include the unprecedented conflicts of interest between Trump’s role as president and his business dealings, including his dealings with Russian oligarchs.

Rational Voices In Response To Recent Charges Of Russian Assassination By Poisoning And Infiltration Of The Power Grid

Before the 2016 election I feared that a Clinton presidency would turn Democrats into a pack of neocon warmongers and we would see attempts to limit free speech in protest. What I didn’t anticipate was that her loss would do the same thing. Democrats are spreading hysteria about Russia which is comparable to the misinformation spread about Iraq in the run up to that war. Many Democrats are spreading claims which are not supported by either the Congressional investigations or the information in Robert Mueller’s indictments. Many are adopting McCarthyist tactics to attack those who attempt to question their misinformation, failing to understand that debunking false claims about Russia no more makes one pro-Putin than debunking false claims about Iraq and WMD made one pro-Saddam. Fortunately there are still some sane voices in the world. Today I will look at responses to the Russian assassinations in London and to the reports of Russian infiltration of the power grid.

For the sake of discussion I am assuming that the accusations made regarding these two events are true, but we must keep in mind that repeatedly there have been examples of accusations being made, the claims later being retracted, yet many people continued to spread the false claims. This includes the  retracted claims of agreement by seventeen intelligence agencies agreeing when in reality all that existed was a fact-free assessment by a small number of anti-Russian individuals in the intelligence community. NBC has repeatedly raised the debunked claims of Russian hacking of our voting systems. Previous claims that the Russians infiltrated the electrical grid in Vermont were later retracted. Many Democrats act as if collusion between Trump and Russia has been established, and that Russia altered the election results, when there is no evidence of either, and no charges that this was done in any of Robert Mueller’s indictments to date.

While leaders of the Democratic Party in the United States are spreading anti-Russian hysteria, primarily to avoid responsibility for nominating a candidate so terrible that she could not even beat Donald Trump, the leader of the Labour Party in the UK sounds far more rational. Jeremy Corbyn has this op-ed in The Guardian in response to the recent poisonings in London:

As I said in parliament, the Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of the evidence, and our response must be both decisive and proportionate. But let us not manufacture a division over Russia where none exists. Labour is of course no supporter of the Putin regime, its conservative authoritarianism, abuse of human rights or political and economic corruption. And we pay tribute to Russia’s many campaigners for social justice and human rights, including for LGBT rights.

However, that does not mean we should resign ourselves to a “new cold war” of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent. Instead, Britain needs to uphold its laws and its values without reservation. And those should be allied to a foreign policy that uses every opportunity to reduce tensions and conflict wherever possible…

There can and should be the basis for a common political response to this crime. But in my years in parliament I have seen clear thinking in an international crisis overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgments too many times. Flawed intelligence and dodgy dossiers led to the calamity of the Iraq invasion. There was overwhelming bipartisan support for attacking Libya, but it proved to be wrong. A universal repugnance at the 9/11 attacks led to a war on Afghanistan that continues to this day, while terrorism has spread across the globe.

The continuing fallout from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the virtual collapse of the Russian state in the 1990s must be addressed through international law and diplomacy if we are to reverse the drift to conflict.

Right now, the perpetrators of the Salisbury attack must be identified and held to account. Only through firm multilateral action can we ensure such a shocking crime never happens again.

Just as we should work to ensure that such a crime never happens again, we should work to increase cyber-security, including security for the electrical grid. Philip Bump, who previously added some sanity to the claims that Russian altered the election by using social media, now is looking at the facts regarding the electrical grid. He wrote a column entitled Why Russian hackers aren’t poised to plunge the United States into darkness:

The natural question that emerges is: How serious is this hacking? The idea of Russian hackers having access to the control switches of America’s power infrastructure is particularly unnerving, raising the idea of waking up one morning to learn that the United States has simply been switched off.

Several experts who spoke with The Washington Post, though, explained that this is not only oversimplistic but also that it is almost certainly impossible. The effects of infiltration of America’s power grid would be much more geographically limited thanks to the distributed, redundant nature of the system.

In fact, it’s more than a little like another alert issued by the government about Russian infiltration efforts: the one on Oct. 7, 2016, warning about Russian efforts to tamper with state voting systems.

That announcement came from the director of national intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security and indicated that Russian hackers were “scanning and probing” election-related systems. The message, one of the few public responses to Russian interference from the Obama administration, didn’t get as much play as it might have, given that it came out the same day as The Post published the “Access Hollywood” tape.

Meaning that the caveats in the announcement — that our voting mechanisms were protected by being disconnected from the Internet during the election, by being distributed throughout thousands of counties and by having after-the-fact statistical checks on accuracy — weren’t really absorbed. The idea that Russian hackers might have significantly altered election results in 2016 persists out of a misunderstanding of how remarkably hard it would be to subvert the process, particularly without being noticed…

…this damage would be localized. Perhaps, Bauch said, a hacker who’d gained access to a regional power provider or generation system might be able to knock out power to tens or hundreds of thousands of people at a time. That would be significant, but it’s not taking out the whole grid. Attacking multiple providers across the country at specific times of vulnerability — like on a hot day in the west when power supplies are strained — could multiply those effects. But it would require a significant amount of planning, coordination and access to have an impact on a massive scale…

Thanks to the distributed nature of our elections and the barriers to changing votes, hacking our elections is trickier than most people realize. Thanks to the distributed and often disconnected nature of our electrical system and the barriers to accessing it, the same can be said of hacking the grid…

It’s a serious situation, warranting the sort of dramatic response we saw from the government on Thursday. But do not expect to wake up some day soon and learn that Russian President Vladimir Putin now controls the flow of electricity to your house. Real life, as always, is less dramatic than the movies.

Bump has a lot more detail in his full article, including the belief that Russian hackers gained access through spear-phishing. While there is controversy over whether the DNC’s email was released to Wikileaks due to hacking or a leak from the inside, the possibility has also been raised that access to the DNC’s email was through spear-phishing. We would be much safer if the media and politicians spent half the time they spend on misleading stories about Russia to better educate the public about how to respond to such attempts to gain access to our computer systems.

Editor Of Politico Magazine Expresses Skepticism Over Russiagate Conspiracy

Since the “Russiagate” investigations began, there has been evidence of money laundering and other financial crimes by Donald Trump and his cronies. There has been evidence of attempts to cover this up. There has been evidence of Russians violating federal election laws and even identity theft in the latest indictments. The one thing there has been no evidence of, and some evidence contradicting, have been the claims from many Democrats that the 2016 election results were changed due to collusion between Donald Trump and Russia.

There have been multiple false media stories, such as the one discussed here, suggesting that far more has gone on than there is evidence for. FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) has even criticized MSNBC for their coverage of Russia. There has also been evidence, such as with the Trump Tower meeting that Trump (or at least members of his family) were willing to collude with Russia, but no evidence of actual collusion occurring.

With so much of the media feeding into the Russia hysteria, it is good to see that there have been major exceptions. I’ve previously noted some here and here. Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury, has also been arguing against this conspiracy theory.  Blake Hounshell, editor in chief of Politico Magazine has posted another, entitled Confessions of a Russiagate Skeptic–Why I have my doubts about whether Trump colluded with Moscow. Here is an excerpt:

I keep coming back the slapdash nature of Trump’s 2016 operation, and the chaos and dysfunction that everyone who covered that campaign saw play out each day. Like the Trump White House, the Trump campaign was a viper’s nest of incompetence and intrigue, with aides leaking viciously against one another almost daily. So much damaging information poured out of Trump Tower that it’s hard to believe a conspiracy to collude with Moscow to win the election never went public. If there was such a conspiracy, it must have been a very closely guarded secret.

Then there’s the Trump factor to consider. Here’s a man who seems to share every thought that enters his head, almost as soon as he enters it. He loves nothing more than to brag about himself, and he’s proven remarkably indiscreet in the phone calls he makes with “friends” during his Executive Time—friends who promptly share the contents of those conversations with D.C. reporters. If Trump had cooked up a scheme to provide some favor to Putin in exchange for his election, wouldn’t he be tempted to boast about it to someone?

And there are aspects of the Russia scandal, too, that don’t quite add up for me. Take Flynn’s plea bargain. As Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted after the deal became public, prosecutors usually prefer to charge participants in a conspiracy with charges related to the underlying crime. But Flynn pleaded guilty only to lying to the FBI, which Bharara surmised suggests might mean Mueller didn’t have much on him. It certainly seems unlikely that any prosecutor would charge Flynn for violating the 219-year-old Logan Act, a constitutionally questionable law that has never been tested in court, for his chats with the Russian ambassador. It’s not even clear if the (stupid) idea of using secure Russian communications gear, as Flynn and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly considered doing, would have been a crime.

Then there is Papadopoulos, the hapless campaign volunteer who drunkenly blabbed to the Australian ambassador to London that the Russians were sitting on loads of hacked emails. He, likewise, confessed only to lying to the FBI. Papadopoulos desperately tried to arrange meetings between Trump or top Trump officials and Russians, which apparently never happened. Papadopoulos has been cooperating with Mueller for months, but how much does he really have to offer? He seems like an attention-seeking wannabe—the kind who puts “Model U.N. participant” on his resume.

Speaking of attention-seeking wannabes, Carter Page was another volunteer campaign adviser who was enthusiastic about collaborating with Russia. His writings and comments suggest he has been a Putin apologist for years. But anyone who has seen Page’s TV interviews or read through his congressional testimony can tell that there’s something not quite right about him. He’s apparently broke, doesn’t have a lawyer, and has issued lengthy, bizarre statements comparing himself to Martin Luther King, Jr. Back in 2013, when a Russian agent tried to recruit Page, he described him as too much of an “idiot” to bother with. This is the mastermind of the Russia scandal?

As for Manafort and Gates, the charges against them are serious and detailed. They stand accused of failing to register as foreign agents for their overseas work, as well as various offenses related to money laundering. But Mueller has yet to charge them with any crimes related to their work on the Trump campaign. Gates is reportedly working out a cooperation deal with Mueller’s team—perhaps he has stories to tell. And we can’t rule out the idea that Mueller is prepared to file superseding charges against either or both of the two men. But so far, their alleged crimes seem unrelated to 2016.

As Hounshell noted, “Papadopoulos desperately tried to arrange meetings between Trump or top Trump officials and Russians, which apparently never happened.” If Trump and Putin were colluding together, why would there have been the need to arrange such a meeting? Hounshell also noted the attempts by Flynn and Jared Kushner to open back channel communications with Russia after the election. If the Trump campaign and Russia were colluding, wouldn’t there have already been some method for them to communicate before the election?

Elsewhere in the article, in a different context, Hounshell noted when Trump quipped,  “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” While this indicates a rather flippant attitude towards colluding with Russia, this again raises the question of whether Trump would have had a better way to make a request of Putin if the two were already colluding together.

It is impossible to prove a negative, and we don’t know what information will come out in the future. However, over a year since some Democrats started claiming that it was a fact that the election was stolen from Hillary Clinton due to collusion between Trump and Putin, with Clinton denying the legitimacy of the election, no evidence of this has yet to be provided. On the other hand, there is evidence that Hillary Clinton decided within twenty-four hours of the election to blame others such as Russia in an attempt to escape the blame for her loss. It was also revealed that Clinton and the DNC had funded the Steele Dossier, which was previously used as a reason for the investigation, and attempted to cover up their roles.

Department of Homeland Security Verifies That NBC’s Report Of Russian Hacking Was False And Irresponsible

Last week NBC and MSNBC continued to spread hysteria about Russia by both misrepresenting Congressional testimony regarding Russia and falsely labeling misinformation from several months ago as breaking news. The Department of Homeland Security has issued a statement verifying that the criticism written by many in the media, which I also discussed in this post. DHS called the report from NBC News incorrect and irresponsible reporting. The statement also stressed that, “we have no evidence – old or new – that any votes in the 2016 elections were manipulated by Russian hackers.” It was stated during the Congressional testimony that the action was primarily scanning of computer systems, which is done by both the United States and Russia.

The statement from DHS follows:

“Recent NBC reporting has misrepresented facts and confused the public with regard to Department of Homeland Security and state and local government efforts to combat election hacking. First off, let me be clear: we have no evidence – old or new – that any votes in the 2016 elections were manipulated by Russian hackers. NBC News continues to falsely report my recent comments on attempted election hacking – which clearly mirror my testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last summer – as some kind of “breaking news,” incorrectly claiming a shift in the administration’s position on cyber threats. As I said eight months ago, a number of states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure. In the majority of cases, only preparatory activity like scanning was observed, while in a small number of cases, actors were able to access the system but we have no evidence votes were changed or otherwise impacted.

“NBC’s irresponsible reporting, which is being roundly criticized elsewhere in the media and by security experts alike, undermines the ability of the Department of Homeland Security, our partners at the Election Assistance Commission, and state and local officials across the nation to do our incredibly important jobs. While we’ll continue our part to educate NBC and others on the threat, more importantly, the Department of Homeland Security and our state and local partners will continue our mission to secure the nation’s election systems.

“To our state and local partners in the election community: there’s no question we’re making real and meaningful progress together. States will do their part in how they responsibly manage and implement secure voting processes. For our part, we’re going to continue to support with risk and vulnerability assessments, offer cyber hygiene scans, provide real-time threat intel feeds, issue security clearances to state officials, partner on incident response planning, and deliver cybersecurity training. The list goes on of how we’re leaning forward and helping our partners in the election community. We will not stop, and will stand by our partners to protect our nation’s election infrastructure and ensure that all Americans can have confidence in our democratic elections.”

While this does show the need for increased cybersecurity,  it does not justify the hysteria spread by NBC and repeated by many Democrats.

The misrepresentation of the facts made by NBC and MSNBC has often been cited by Democrats who have greatly exaggerated the threat, falsely seeing this as an unprecedented one-sided attack on our country, as opposed to the type of activity which has been commonplace by both the United States and Russia for many years. This has led to the totally unfounded belief by many Democrats that the 2016 election was stolen from Hillary Clinton. This gives the Democratic establishment excuses to avoid making necessary changes as their policies have lost step with voters, and much of the party base, leading to repeated electoral losses. Democrats need to accept that circumventing party rules to give the nomination to a candidate as terrible as Hillary Clinton was one of the worst blunders in political history, along with being an unethical act showing a total disregard for democratic principles.

This unfounded hysteria also feeds into the anti-Russian views of neoconservative interventionists who desire regime change in Russia, and has led to considerable McCarthyism from many Democrats who see legitimate criticism of the party from the left as originating from Russia. Rather than protecting democracy, anti-Russia hysteria is being used as an excuse to oppose dissent, leading to increased risk of censorship, including on social media.

This was only one of multiple examples of claims regarding Russia being made by the news media and later retracted. I listed this and other examples here, and The Nation has also debunked the irresponsible media coverage of claims about Russia. As I noted earlier in the year, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) has  criticized the coverage of Russia by Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

Update:

Editor Of Politico Magazine Expresses Skepticism Over Russiagate Conspiracy

NBC News Revives Debunked Claim Of Russia Hacking Voter Databases

I always find it ridiculous when CNN repeatedly calls news stories throughout the day “breaking news,” but NBC has taken this much further. NBC is taking a debunked claim of Russia hacking voter databases from several months ago, and labeled this “breaking news.” That would be like starting a news cast with a claim such as “Breaking News. There are Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq requiring military action.”

This claim was first made months ago, with the Department of Homeland Security subsequently reporting during Congressional testimony that all that occurred was routine scanning of computer systems, with it commonplace for Russia and the United States to routinely scan each other’s computer systems. The same is true of much of “Russiagate” with it being common for both Russia and the United States to meddle in the elections of each other and other countries, with no evidence of any actions in 2016 which altered the election results. After months of investigations, there has been evidence of money laundering and obstruction of justice by Donald Trump, but no evidence of any collusion between Trump and Putin which affected the election, despite repeated claims from Democrats.

For whatever it might mean, some states have also accused the Department of Homeland Security of trying to hack into their system.

Glenn Greenwald discussed this story here.  This was only one of multiple examples of claims regarding Russia being made by the news media and later retracted. I listed this and other examples here, and The Nation has also debunked the irresponsible media coverage of claims about Russia.

Despite the claims in this story being both old news and false information, NBC and MSNBC continued to spread this false claim, which was subsequently picked up by other media outlets. As I noted earlier in the year, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) has  criticized the coverage of Russia by Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

There very likely are vulnerabilities in our election systems which can be exploited. The proper response is to improve cyber-security. There is no place for the hysteria being spread by NBC and MSNBC, or for the McCarthyism and war mongering by some Democrats in response. It is dangerous to exaggerate Russian actions to place the blame for Clinton’s loss on a nuclear power such as Russia. This also leads to many Democrats failing to accept the real reasons why Hillary Clinton lost to a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, reducing the chances that the Democrats will fix the problems which have resulted in multiple losses over the past decade.

Russia is hardly led by a band of boy scouts, but there are far more serious threats to our democracy. This includes Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, Republican voter suppression, Democratic McCarthyism and rigging of the nomination system to exclude more liberal and progressive viewpoints, and even, as I discussed yesterday, Facebook censorship of alternative opinions. In the scheme of things, Russia is minor threat which has been greatly exaggerated, distracting from our more serious problems.

Facebook “Techno-Fascism” Is Killing Everything From Independent News To Comedy On The Internet

Facebook is bringing communities together–and deciding what we might say and read. This includes both outright Facebook censorship in which posts are taken down and people are placed in “Facebook Jail,” to new algorithms which limit what we see on our timeline. The new algorithms have greatly reduced traffic to many outside sources harming blogs, the independent media, and even internet comedy.

Antimedia writes that Facebook Begins Killing the Independent News Industry. While Facebook has had considerable impact on internet traffic for years, the problem became more severe with the spread of anti-Russia hysteria based on highly exaggerated claims regarding the role of social media on the results of the 2016 election. The response from Facebook has to fight “fake news,” which, as Glenn Greenwald has warned, is often used as an excuse for censorship. Presumably the writings of those of us who warned about the dubious arguments for the Iraq war, along with the revelations of the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam war, would have been classified as “fake news” by the mainstream in the past. Today alternative views on both the left and right are being restricted. Anti-Media saw the turning point as when Barack Obama spoke with Mark Zuckerberg about battling “fake news.”

…Zuckerberg has slowly been chipping away at “fake news” sites even when he previously believed that they were not even a particular issue. Following the infamous PropOrNot report barely a week later, which effectively labelled every single site that criticizes U.S. foreign policy as a Russian agent, alternative media has faced a slow and inevitable decline.

In September last year, acclaimed writer Chris Hedges of Truthdig wrote:

“In the name of combating Russia-inspired ‘fake news,’ Google, Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Agence France-Presse and CNN in April imposed algorithms or filters, overseen by ‘evaluators,’ that hunt for key words such as ‘U.S. military,’ ‘inequality’ and ‘socialism,’ along with personal names such as Julian Assange and Laura Poitras, the filmmaker. Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president for search engineering, says Google has amassed some 10,000 ‘evaluators’ to determine the ‘quality’ and veracity of websites. Internet users doing searches on Google, since the algorithms were put in place, are diverted from sites such as Truthdig and directed to mainstream publications such as The New York Times. The news organizations and corporations that are imposing this censorship have strong links to the Democratic Party. They are cheerleaders for American imperial projects and global capitalism. Because they are struggling in the new media environment for profitability, they have an economic incentive to be part of the witch hunt.”

At first, it was corporate gate-keepers like the Guardian who were begging for donations in the age of Trump, as they had lost all credibility in keeping up with the needs and interests of the people. Now, we are all asking for donations, as Facebook’s algorithms are cutting off close to 100 percent of our Facebook audiences…

This has nothing to do with combating “fake news.” I have written over 400 articles online, and close to 100 percent of my sources are from mainstream outlets like Reuters, the New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC, the Washington Post, and others. Why should we be censored for referencing the very news outlets that people like Obama want us to trust in the first place?

We are being censored because we look for the paragraphs in those reports which need highlighting, or the hidden reports that go overlooked, and we broadcast it to millions of people on a daily basis.

Many other sites on both the left and right are reporting similar difficulties. As Hedges pointed out, this has often been pushed by the establishment wing of the Democratic Party. Supporters of Hillary Clinton have been especially aggressive in filing bogus complaints with Facebook regarding those who disagree with them, and Clinton has outright attacked sources such as Wikileaks, while using what she claims is “fake news” critical of her (even when it is often true) as justification for censorship. Donald Trump has taken a position similar to Clinton’s in backing censorship.

While not true of all, many of us in the blogosphere and alternative press also frequently use mainstream news outlets as a major source of information, even if we do highlight key facts which are often ignored by the talking heads who try to tell us what to think on cable and broadcast news. Articles coming from a small site such as this typically are backed up with multiple references from major media sources, but Facebook algorithms now hide what we write.

The alternative press is probably suffering the most, but Funny or Die also complains about How Facebook Is Killing Comedy:

The whole story is basically that Facebook gets so much traffic that they started convincing publishers to post things on Facebook. For a long time, that was fine. People posted things on Facebook, then you would click those links and go to their websites. But then, gradually, Facebook started exerting more and more control of what was being seen, to the point that they, not our website, essentially became the main publishers of everyone’s content. Today, there’s no reason to go to a comedy website that has a video if that video is just right on Facebook. And that would be fine if Facebook compensated those companies for the ad revenue that was generated from those videos, but because Facebook does not pay publishers, there quickly became no money in making high-quality content for the internet…

Facebook is essentially running a payola scam where you have to pay them if you want your own fans to see your content. If you run a large publishing company and you make a big piece of content that you feel proud of, you put it up on Facebook. From there, their algorithm takes over, with no transparency. So, not only is the website not getting ad revenue they used to get, they have to pay Facebook to push it out to their own subscribers. So, Facebook gets the ad revenue from the eyeballs on the thing they are seeing, and they get revenue from the publisher. It’s like if TheNew York Times had their own subscriber base, but you had to pay the paperboy for every article you wanted to see.

The worst part is that as an artist, it feels like your own fault. We’re used to a world where if you put something out there that’s good, people see it and share it. But that’s just not true in this world. Someone can make something really good, and just because of some weird algorithmic reasons, or if it’s not designed specifically for Facebook, it doesn’t do well. And then it becomes impossible to know what a good thing to make is anymore…

Facebook says that they are building communities, but really they’re fracturing us. We are all on our own little news bubbles and on our own little islands. It’s also fracturing our own creative projects. The internet has turned into a place where you can’t have many different people speaking as one entity and expect those people to make a living. And to me, those are the most exciting, rewarding projects, and I can’t make those now. I am looking at the past with rose-colored glasses, but you can say categorically that the internet was a better place 3-4 years ago. It used to be fruitful, but it’s like a desert now.

It looks like we have been warned about this. Back in 2015, Mark Carrigan warned about Mark Zuckerberg’s philosophy of techno-fascism.

Donald Trump Attacks Free Press With Fake News Awards

Donald Trump has issued his fake news awards. Besides being seen as an attack on the First Amendment, it is rather absurd for Trump to be criticizing anyone for fake news (even in the cases where the media did get it wrong) considering the vast amount of misinformation put out in his speeches and tweets. This is, after all, the administration, which from the start was plagued by alternative facts.

Trump’s first choice was a rather strange one: “The New York Times’ Paul Krugman claimed on the day of President Trump’s historic, landslide victory that the economy would never recover.” Yes, Trump is right in saying that the Dow has hit a record high, but the credit for much of the economic growth in the past year is due to inheriting a healthy economy. Regardless, even if Paul Krugman was wrong in a prediction in an opinion piece, this is not the same as the media getting the facts wrong in news reporting. Krugman even retracted his own prediction three days later, saying that the problems he predicted would not be immediate.

To be fair to Trump, he is correct about some of the other items he listed. As I (and others) have pointed out, the media has made huge mistakes in its coverage of Russia, and has retracted multiple false reports. Fairness And Accuracy in Reporting has criticized the Russia hysteria at MSNBC more than once (although CNN received the brunt of Trump’s attacks).  I suspect that many journalists who predicted that Clinton would win easily fell for the Russian conspiracy theories spread by Clinton and the DNC, blaming Russia for the loss to rationalize their own erroneous predictions.

There were also errors by the media on other matters, including some which were quickly retracted. How many of Trump’s errors have been retracted? Vox went through the awards and pointed out where the media made mistakes in the Russia coverage and elsewhere.

The more serious problem is the attack on the press and First Amendment rights. As I noted in December, the number of journalists in prison around the world is at a historical high. The Committee To Protect Journalists has attributed the increase to Donald Trump’s attacks on the free press.

Two Republican Senators criticized Trump for his attacks on the press. Jeff Flake gave a Senate floor speech comparing Trump to Stalin with his attacks on the press as being enemies of the people:

It was a year in which a daily assault on the constitutionally protected free speech was launched by the same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. The enemy of the people was how the president of the United States called the free press in 2017. Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase “enemy of the people,” that even [Soviet leader] Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of “annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader. This alone should be the source of great shame for us in this body.

Especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements and of course the president has it precisely backward. Despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy.

When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him fake news, it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press. I dare say that anyone who has had the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of “fake news” are dubious at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas all around the globe encounter members of US-based media who risk their lives and sometimes lose their lives reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.

John McCain had an op-ed in The Washington Post entitled Mr. President, stop attacking the press:

…While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit. The phrase “fake news” — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens. CPJ documented 21 cases in 2017 in which journalists were jailed on “fake news” charges.

Trump’s attempts to undermine the free press also make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable. For decades, dissidents and human rights advocates have relied on independent investigations into government corruption to further their fight for freedom. But constant cries of “fake news” undercut this type of reporting and strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent.

We cannot afford to abdicate America’s long-standing role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world. Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression…

Ultimately, freedom of information is critical for a democracy to succeed. We become better, stronger and more effective societies by having an informed and engaged public that pushes policymakers to best represent not only our interests but also our values. Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely. Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.

Washington Post Columnist Debunks Claims Of Russia Affecting Election Result Despite Many Other Misleading Articles At The Post On Russia

The Washington Post has been spreading a lot of false stories which increase hysteria about Russia, similar to stories about fictitious WMD in Iraq prior to the Iraq war. However, despite the general fallacious editorial view of the newspaper, one columnist actually got matters right recently, debunking claims that Russian ads on social media affected the election results.

Glenn Greenwald once again criticized the coverage in The Washington Post yesterday in an article entitled  WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived:

In the past six weeks, the Washington Post published two blockbuster stories about the Russian threat that went viral: one on how Russia is behind a massive explosion of “fake news,” the other on how it invaded the U.S. electric grid. Both articles were fundamentally false. Each now bears a humiliating editor’s note grudgingly acknowledging that the core claims of the story were fiction: The first note was posted a full two weeks later to the top of the original article; the other was buried the following day at the bottom.

The second story on the electric grid turned out to be far worse than I realized when I wrote about it on Saturday, when it became clear that there was no “penetration of the U.S. electricity grid” as the Post had claimed. In addition to the editor’s note, the Russia-hacked-our-electric-grid story now has a full-scale retraction in the form of a separate article admitting that “the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility” and there may not even have been malware at all on this laptop.

But while these debacles are embarrassing for the paper, they are also richly rewarding. That’s because journalists — including those at the Post — aggressively hype and promote the original, sensationalistic false stories, ensuring that they go viral, generating massive traffic for the Post (the paper’s executive editor, Marty Baron, recently boasted about how profitable the paper has become).

After spreading the falsehoods far and wide, raising fear levels and manipulating U.S. political discourse in the process (both Russia stories were widely hyped on cable news), journalists who spread the false claims subsequently note the retraction or corrections only in the most muted way possible, and often not at all. As a result, only a tiny fraction of people who were exposed to the original false story end up learning of the retractions.

Baron himself, editorial leader of the Post, is a perfect case study in this irresponsible tactic. It was Baron who went to Twitter on the evening of November 24 to announce the Post’s exposé of the enormous reach of Russia’s fake news operation, based on what he heralded as the findings of “independent researchers.” Baron’s tweet went all over the place; to date, it has been re-tweeted more than 3,000 times, including by many journalists with their own large followings:

But after that story faced a barrage of intense criticism — from Adrian Chen in the New Yorker (“propaganda about Russia propaganda”), Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone (“shameful, disgusting”), my own article, and many others — including legal threats from the sites smeared as Russian propaganda outlets by the Post’s “independent researchers” — the Post finally added its lengthy editor’s note distancing itself from the anonymous group that provided the key claims of its story (“The Post … does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings” and “since publication of the Post’s story, PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list”)…

Greenwald proceeded to provide many more examples of poor media coverage. Of course misleading coverage is not limited to The Washington Post as I described here. There have been multiple examples of various news sources posting material on Russia which was later retracted as false. Then there is the hysterical coverage at MSNBC.

Despite the overall misleading coverage, there is a recent exception at The Washington Post. Philip Bump wrote, There’s still little evidence that Russia’s 2016 social media efforts did much of anything. This overlaps with the material  I previously posted here, but includes some additional facts worth reading. As I previously noted, the information released after the Congressional investigations showed that material from Russian pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook.

Bump discussed the false narrative that Russia was responsible for Clinton’s loss, and wrote:

All of that, though, requires setting aside what we actually know about the Russian activity on Facebook and Twitter: It was often modest, heavily dissociated from the campaign itself and minute in the context of election social media efforts.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released a series of examples of the sorts of ads purchased by the Russians in November. Many, as The Washington Post reported, focused on highlighting divisive cultural issues, like the Black Lives Matter movement and immigration.

Of the 30 ads shared by the Democrats, six, viewed 1.2 million times in total, ran in 2015. Only seven ran in the last month of the campaign, totaling about 340,000 views. The ads targeted none of the four closest states in the election — New Hampshire, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — specifically; most were national ad buys. States that were targeted specifically included Texas and New York, neither of which was considered a swing state.

A little-noticed statement from Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, detailed how unsophisticated the Russian ad targeting actually was in the context of the election. Among the points he made:

  • Maryland was targeted by nearly five times as many ads as was Wisconsin (262 to 55).
  • Thirty-five of the 55 ads targeting Wisconsin ran during the primary.
  • More ads targeted DC than Pennsylvania.
  • A total of $1,979 was spent in Wisconsin — $1,925 of it in the primary.
  • The spending in Michigan and Pennsylvania were $823 and $300, respectively.
  • More of the geographically targeted ads ran in 2015 than in 2016.

Facebook’s own public numbers hint at how the ads were weighted relative to the campaign. Ten million people saw ads run by the Russian agents — but 5.6 million of those views were after the election.

Bump also debunked the claims regarding Twitter:

Just before Election Day in 2016, Twitter announced 1 billion tweets had been sent from August 2015 through that point. Even assuming all 202,000 of those tweets from the Russian accounts were in that period, it means they constituted 0.02 percent of the election-related tweets. On Election Day itself, there were another 75 million election-related tweets. If all of the Russian-linked tweets had been dropped on Election Day — closer to the point at which they would have directly helped suppress or boost turnout — they would still only have constituted 0.27 percent of the tweets that day. But they weren’t.

Perhaps, one might argue, there is classified information about Russia’s meddling that suggests a more dramatic problem. Perhaps. On Thursday morning, though, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) of the House intelligence committee told CNN he hadn’t seen much evidence of any criminal collusion the American people weren’t already aware of. (There’s also the argument that, in an election as close as that of 2016, even small efforts by Russian actors might have had an outsized effect. This is true, but it is also true of hundreds of other small things that happened (and didn’t) in the closing days of the presidential race.)

As it stands, the public evidence doesn’t support the idea that the Russians executed a savvy electoral strategy on social media to ensure Trump’s victory. In fact, it seems less the case that they did so now than seemed might be possible back in July.

In other words, while there is evidence of Donald Trump acting to cover-up crimes such as money laundering, the evidence disputes Clinton’s claims of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Russia which altered the election results.

Study Casts Doubt On Fake News Affecting Election Results

Fake news was probably the most over-used word of 2016-7. This was used to refer to both false information (as if this was a brand new problem) and subsequently used to refer to any material people did not like, regardless of its veracity. Hillary Clinton has used claims that fake news affected the election to support censorship. Facebook has been censoring legitimate news in their overreaction to fake news. While I don’t think that anyone doubts that the internet is full of false information, the more important question is whether people are actually fooled by it. While providing no definitive answer, The New York Times reported on a study which presents reasons to question whether fake news had a significant effect on the 2016 election results.

Not surprisingly fake news is widespread, and more widespread in conservative circles.  The study found that, “the most conservative 10 percent of the sample accounted for about 65 percent of visits to fake news sites.” That comes as little surprise after the 2016 election. There were both factual and totally fictitious reasons spread in 2016 as to vote against Hillary Clinton. In contrast, while some attacks on Donald Trump might have had some minor errors, the case against him was generally based upon reality. Plus there is a long history of false information coming from conservative sites, such as the Birther claims when Obama was president, and much of what is on Fox every night. (Unfortunately MSNBC is now acting increasingly like Fox).

From the description of the study:

In the new study, a trio of political scientists — Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College (a regular contributor to The Times’s Upshot), Andrew Guess of Princeton University and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter — analyzed web traffic data gathered from a representative sample of 2,525 Americans who consented to have their online activity monitored anonymously by the survey and analytic firm YouGov.

The data included website visits made in the weeks before and after the 2016 election, and a measure of political partisanship based on overall browsing habits. (The vast majority of participants favored Mr. Trump or Hillary Clinton.)

The team defined a visited website as fake news if it posted at least two demonstrably false stories, as defined by economists Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow in research published last year. On 289 such sites, about 80 percent of bogus articles supported Mr. Trump.

A key finding was that, “false stories were a small fraction of the participants’ overall news diet, regardless of political preference: just 1 percent among Clinton supporters, and 6 percent among those pulling for Mr. Trump. Even conservative partisans viewed just five fake news articles, on average, over more than five weeks.”

Most of the people reading fake news were both intensely partisan, probably making them unlikely to change their minds based upon fake claims, and obtained information from a variety of sources (hopefully making them more likely to see through fake news):

“For all the hype about fake news, it’s important to recognize that it reached only a subset of Americans, and most of the ones it was reaching already were intense partisans,” Dr. Nyhan said.

“They were also voracious consumers of hard news,” he added. “These are people intensely engaged in politics who follow it closely.”

Given the ratio of truth to fiction, Dr. Watts said, fake news paled in influence beside mainstream news coverage, particularly stories about Mrs. Clinton and her use of a private email server as secretary of state. Coverage of that topic appeared repeatedly and prominently in venues like The New York Times and the Washington Post.

Of course many Democratic partisans are likely to see the email scandal as fake news. As I noted at the start of this post, fake news has increasingly been used to refer to material people do not like, regardless of whether it is factual.

It was not terribly surprising to see that, “Facebook was by far the platform through which people most often navigated to a fake news site.” However the article does not compare this to the amount of factual information which is also navigated to through Facebook. Regardless, Facebook is hardly the best way for people to get their news, as this post at Mashable pointed out.

This data does not say definitely whether fake news affected the election result. Is possible that some people did vote against Clinton based upon false information in the battleground states which cost her the election. However, considering what the study shows about the readers of fake news, it is more likely that economic conditions in the rust belt, along with Clinton’s many mistakes while campaigning, as opposed to reading some of the more outlandish fake stories about Hillary Clinton, cost her the election. It is doubtful that fake news had any more impact than the rather insignificant Russian ads on social media.