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“Alt Right” Assange, the Facebook “Virtual Panopticon” and the Victory of the Trumpenkampfverbande

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Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel

COMMENT: In numerous programs, we have discussed WikiLeaks and its fascist nature and associations. We have also highlighted Assange’s coming out of the woodwork, so to speak, to aid the Trumpenkampfverbande via Roger Stone, Trump’s dirty tricks operator.

We have also noted the position of Peter Thiel as: a major largest stockholder in Facebook (as well as Palantir), the capitalizer of Ron Paul’s super PAC and as a supporter of Donald Trump. He is now part of Trump’s transition team.

Two recent articles explore the fascist nature of WikiLeaks and the role of Facebook in the elevation of Donald Trump.

“Inside the Paranoid, Strange World of Julian Assange” by James Ball; BuzzFeed; 10/23/2016.

. . . . Spending those few months at such close proximity to Assange and his confidants, and experiencing first-hand the pressures exerted on those there, have given me a particular insight into how WikiLeaks has become what it is today.

To an outsider, the WikiLeaks of 2016 looks totally unrelated to the WikiLeaks of 2010. . . .

Now it is the darling of the alt-right, revealing hacked emails seemingly to influence a presidential contest, claiming the US election is “rigged”, and descending into conspiracy. Just this week on Twitter, it described the deaths by natural causes of two of its supporters as a “bloody year for WikiLeaks”, and warned of media outlets “controlled by” members of the Rothschild family – a common anti-Semitic trope. . .

“Donald Trump Won Because of Facebook” by Max Read; New York Magazine; 11/09/2016.

A close and — to pundits, journalists, and Democrats — unexpected victory like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s is always overdetermined, and no one particular thing pushed Trump over the edge on Tuesday night. His chosen party’s lately increasing openness to explicit white nationalism, the still-recent global-scale failure of the liberal economic consensus, the apparently deep-seated misogyny and racism of the American electorate, Hillary Clinton’s multiple shortcomings as a candidate, or even the last-minute intervention of FBI director James Comey might each have been, on its own, sufficient to hand the election to a man who is, by any reckoning, a dangerous and unpredictable bigot.

Still, it can be clarifying to identify the conditions that allowed access to the highest levels of the political syste a man so far outside what was, until recently, the political mainstream that not a single former presidential candidate from his own party would endorse him. In this case, the condition was: Facebook.

To some extent I’m using “Facebook” here as a stand-in for the half-dozen large and influential message boards and social-media platforms where Americans now congregate to discuss politics, but Facebook’s size, reach, wealth, and power make it effectively the only one that matters. And, boy, does it matter. At the risk of being hyperbolic, I think there are few events over the last decade more significant than the social network’s wholesale acquisition of the traditional functions of news media (not to mention the political-party apparatus). Trump’s ascendancy is far from the first material consequence of Facebook’s conquering invasion of our social, cultural, and political lives, but it’s still a bracing reminder of the extent to which the social network is able to upend existing structure and transform society — and often not for the better.

The most obvious way in which Facebook enabled a Trump victory has been its inability (or refusal) to address the problem of hoax or fake news. Fake news is not a problem unique to Facebook, but Facebook’s enormous audience, and the mechanisms of distribution on which the site relies — i.e., the emotionally charged activity of sharing, and the show-me-more-like-this feedback loop of the news feed algorithm — makes it the only site to support a genuinely lucrative market in which shady publishers arbitrage traffic by enticing people off of Facebook and onto ad-festooned websites, using stories that are alternately made up, incorrect, exaggerated beyond all relationship to truth, or all three. (To really hammer home the cyberdystopia aspect of this: A significant number of the sites are run by Macedonian teenagers looking to make some scratch.)

All throughout the election, these fake stories, sometimes papered over with flimsy “parody site” disclosures somewhere in small type, circulated throughout Facebook: The Pope endorses Trump. Hillary Clinton bought $137 million in illegal arms. The Clintons bought a $200 million house in the Maldives. Many got hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of shares, likes, and comments; enough people clicked through to the posts to generate significant profits for their creators. The valiant efforts of Snopes and other debunking organizations were insufficient; Facebook’s labyrinthine sharing and privacy settings mean that fact-checks get lost in the shuffle. Often, no one would even need to click on and read the story for the headline itself to become a widely distributed talking point, repeated elsewhere online, or, sometimes, in real life. (Here’s an in-the-wild sighting of a man telling a woman that Clinton and her longtime aide Huma Abedin are lovers, based on “material that appeared to have been printed off the internet.”)

Profit motive, on the part of Macedonians or Americans, was not the only reason to share fake news, of course — there was an obvious ideological motivation to lie to or mislead potential voters — but the fake-news industry’s commitment to “engagement” above any particular political program has given it a terrifyingly nihilistic sheen that old-fashioned propagandists never displayed. (Say what you will about ratfuc king, dude, at least it’s an ethos.) And at the heart of the problem, anyway, is not the motivations of the hoaxers but the structure of social media itself. Tens of millions of people, invigorated by insurgent outsider candidates and anger at perceived political enemies, were served up or shared emotionally charged news stories about the candidates, because Facebook’s sorting algorithm understood from experience that they were seeking such stories. Many of those stories were lies, or “parodies,” but their appearance and placement in a news feed were no different from those of any publisher with a commitment to, you know, not lying. As those people and their followers clicked on, shared, or otherwise engaged with those stories — which they did, because Trump drives engagement extremely bigly — they were served up even more of them. The engagement-driving feedback loop reached the heights of Facebook itself, which shared fake news to its front page on more than one occasion after firing the small team of editorial employees tasked with passing news judgment. Flush with Trump’s uniquely passionate supporter base, Facebook’s vast, personalized sewer system has become clogged with toxic fatbergs.

And it is, truly, vast: Something like 170 million people in North America use Facebook every day, a number that’s not only several orders of magnitude larger than even the most optimistic circulation reckonings of major news outlets but also about one-and-a-half times as many people as voted on Tuesday. Forty-four percent of all adults in the United States say they get news from Facebook, and access to to an audience of that size would seem to demand some kind of civic responsibility — an obligation to ensure that a group of people more sizable than the American electorate is not being misled. But whether through a failure of resources, of ideology, or of imagination, Facebook has seemed both uninterested in and incapable of even acknowledging that it has become the most efficient distributor of misinformation in human history.

Facebook connected those supporters to each other and to the candidate, gave them platforms far beyond what even the largest Establishment media organizations might have imagined, and allowed them to effectively self-organize outside the party structure. Who needs a GOTV database when you have millions of voters worked into a frenzy by nine months of sharing impassioned lies on Facebook, encouraging each other to participate?

Even better, Facebook allowed Trump to directly combat the hugely negative media coverage directed at him, simply by giving his campaign and its supporters another host of channels to distribute counterprogramming. This, precisely, is why more good journalism would have been unlikely to change anyone’s mind: The Post and the Times no longer have a monopoly on information about a candidate. Endless reports of corruption, venality, misogyny, and incompetence merely settle in a Facebook feed next to a hundred other articles from pro-Trump sources (if they settle into a Trump supporter’s feed at all) disputing or ignoring the deeply reported claims, or, as is often the case, just making up new and different stories.

Discussion

4 comments for ““Alt Right” Assange, the Facebook “Virtual Panopticon” and the Victory of the Trumpenkampfverbande”

  1. With all the much needed focus on the ongoing degradation of the American media landscape via fake news websites built with partisan motives (primarily right-wing partisan motives), it’s probably worth noting that a number of leading right-wing media personalities don’t actually think there’s a fake news problem. Or at least are faking that view:

    Media Matters

    Conservatives Downplayed Fake News. Yesterday It Almost Had A Body Count.

    While Right-Wing Media Dismiss Fake News, “Alt-Right” White Nationalists And Misogynists Use It To Harass
    Research ››› December 5, 2016 11:01 AM EST ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    An armed shooter opened fire at a Washington, D.C., pizzeria in order to “self-investigate” a false conspiracy about the restaurant pushed by fake news websites and spread by fringe right-wing media outlets. Yet right-wing media figures have dismissed and downplayed the impact of fake news, calling it “satire and parody that liberals don’t understand,” saying it is “in the eye of the beholder,” and claiming that concerns about fake news are “silly” and “nonsense.”

    Fake News Just Caused An Active Shooter Situation In D.C.

    A Fabricated Story Claiming That A D.C. Pizzeria Is A Child-Trafficking Hub Led To A Man With Gun Opening Fire In The Restaurant. Fake news articles alleging that the Washington, D.C., restaurant Comet Ping Pong was a hub for child trafficking were widely shared on social media after the pizzeria was mentioned in hacked emails from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, that were released by WikiLeaks. As The New York Times reported, “The articles appeared on Facebook and on websites such as The New Nationalist and The Vigilant Citizen, with one headline blaring: ‘Pizzagate: How 4Chan Uncovered the Sick World of Washington’s Occult Elite.’” As a result, the owner of the restaurant and the staff started receiving a torrent of threats via social media, including one message that said, “I will kill you personally.” On December 4, a man walked into the restaurant with an assault rifle and fired “one or more shots,” which did not hit anyone, because he was trying to “self-investigate” the conspiracy theory. [The New York Times, 11/21/16; Media Matters, 11/22/16; The Washington Post, 12/4/16]

    Conspiracy Spread Due To “Alt-Right” And Fringe Right-Wing Media. The Daily Beast noted that the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory “began proliferating on websites like 4chan and Reddit, especially a Reddit forum frequented by Trump supporters and the alt-right,” which is a movement made up of white nationalists and misogynists, along with the right-wing media website Breitbart. The outlet also noted that the shooter on “his Facebook account … likes both InfoWars and its host Alex Jones,” who “published innumerable stories about Pizzagate.” [The Daily Beast, 12/4/16; Media Matters, 8/25/16]

    Yet Right-Wing Media Figures Have Dismissed And Misrepresented Concerns About Fake News

    Radio Host Rush Limbaugh: Fake News Is Simply “Satire And Parody That Liberals Don’t Understand.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that fake news has “been so blown out of proportion,” claiming it “largely” is “satire and parody that liberals don’t understand because they don’t have a sense of humor.” From the November 28 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show:

    RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): Now, this fake news business. Let me tell you why it’s even a factor, let me tell you why — it’s the same thing I said here at the opening of the program, I don’t know what to believe in the mainstream media anymore. My instinct is to not believe any of it. And it’s their fault, they got this ball rolling.

    [….]

    I really — fake news has been so blown out of proportion anyway. What it largely is, is satire and parody that liberals don’t understand because they don’t have a sense of humor, particularly if it’s about them. You can’t laugh at them, you can’t mock them, you can’t make fun of them like they can laugh at and mock and make fun of everybody else. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/28/16]

    MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough: Media Looks “Silly” For Reporting On Fake News When They Wrongly Said Trump Couldn’t Win. MSNBC co-host Joe Scarborough called media “silly” for “talking about all these stories about fake news on Facebook.” Scarborough falsely conflated fake news with reporting from legitimate news organizations during the campaign that suggested Trump would not win the election, saying such reporting “looks like fake news because it was fake news.” From the November 29 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe:

    MIKE BARNICLE: There’s a reason why people are going to Facebook for news, unfortunately. I really regret saying that, but you can’t ignore the facts.

    JOE SCARBOROUGH (CO-HOST): And Willie, how silly does the media look after the election talking about all these stories about fake news on Facebook, which drive me crazy —

    MIKA BRZEZINSKI (CO-HOST): And doing a cross-country tour on how they got it wrong.

    SCARBOROUGH: Despite the fact that, for most of America, the mainstream media has been reporting fake news over the past year and a half, because they have read every single day, “Donald Trump can’t win.” The best and the brightest in the media profession, “Donald Trump can’t win, he’s got a one percent chance of winning the nomination” —

    BRZEZINSKI: “There’s no way.”

    SCARBOROUGH: “Donald Trump can’t win, he’s got a five percent peak, he can’t get above 20 percent. Donald Trump can’t win because of this. Donald Trump can’t win because of that.” Now, that’s the message they have read every day and seen on TV every day from the mainstream media, and to them, going up, following up on Mike’s point, that looks like fake news because it was fake news. They were wrong from the beginning. Their assumptions were wrong from the very beginning, and their assumptions polluted their reporting. [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 11/29/16]

    Fox’s Sean Hannity: Concerns About Fake News Are “Nonsense.” On his radio show, Fox’s Sean Hannity criticized “nonsense” concerns about fake news, listing examples of alleged media bias against Trump to argue that established media outlets are “not news organizations,” but rather are the ones actually creating fake news. From the November 30 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Sean Hannity Show:

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): All right, so fake news. Would fake news be a, quote, “news organization” feeding questions to Hillary? Would fake news be, let’s see, a news organization going to the [Democratic National Committee] to question the other side like Donald Trump? Would fake news be allowing one candidate access to articles by The New York Times and Politico before they’re actually sent out publicly to give them an opportunity to fix it the way they like it? Yeah, that’s fake news. Would fake news be somebody moderating a debate, and then when Trump wins, they’re crying on national television? “He won; I can’t believe it.” Would fake news be John Harwood consulting the [Hillary] Clinton campaign, and he’s a moderator, then brags how he got under Trump’s skin in one of the debates? Yeah that’s fake news. All this fake news nonsense. That’s fake news. They’re not news organizations. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 11/30/16]

    Fox’s Steve Doocy: Fake News Is “In The Eye Of The Beholder.” In a segment on tools for identifying fake news, Fox co-host Steve Doocy asked, “What is fake news?” claiming, “It’s in the eye of the beholder.” Guest co-host Pete Hegseth claimed the election showed people do not want to be told “who the credible source is” and that they want to “go find” news sources on their own. From the December 2 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    STEVE DOOCY: (CO-HOST): What is — so many people — a couple of weeks ago, they said the reason that Hillary lost was because there was so much fake news put out there by the Trump supporters online. What is fake news?

    KURT KNUTSSON: Well, that’s at the heart of the question, right?

    DOOCY: It’s in the eye of the beholder.

    KNUTSSON: Right, it is.

    […]

    KNUTSSON: Here’s the end of all of this. At the end of the day, it’s going to boil down to, Facebook, everybody else, is going to have to make the decision that says, “You know what? We know who to trust. We know that these particular media organizations are credible,” and you’ll start to see the Fox Newses of the world really populate Facebook.

    PETE HEGSETH (CO-HOST): But is that not what this election is about? Don’t tell me who the credible source is? Let me go find — and it’s interesting, as you pointed out, I don’t know if we can put the elements on the screen. A lot of left-wing sites are not being labeled as biased. Of course they pass right-wing sites —

    KNUTSSON: This isn’t a left or right issue. I’ll tell you what it is, 7,000 Stanford students right now in a study, 80 to 90 percent of them could not identify a credible news story online. Hello. Wake up call right there. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/2/16]

    But Right-Wing Media Have Pushed Fake News Themselves

    ABC News: Fox’s Megyn Kelly Was Forced To Apologize For Repeating A Fake Story That Claimed Clinton Called Sanders Supporters A “Bucket Of Losers.” A fake news website attributed a fabricated quote to Clinton in October, claiming that she had called supporters of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) a “bucket of losers” in a Goldman Sachs speech. The claim spread to Fox News, where Megyn Kelly reported the fake story and was later forced to apologize. Days later, Fox media analyst Howard Kurtz also attributed the fake quote to Clinton on his Sunday show, MediaBuzz. The false claim, noted ABC News, “is yet another example of fake news making real news headlines.” From the November 29 article:

    When Marco Chacon first saw the phrase “bucket of losers” trending online, he said he “freaked out.”

    It came from a story he had posted on his website about a supposed “secret transcript” of a Hillary Clinton speech given inside a Goldman Sachs boardroom, which claimed Clinton had called Bernie Sanders supporters a “bucket of losers.” Once posted, the story quickly went viral and was even picked up on Fox News.

    It would have been the scoop of a lifetime, but the problem was Chacon had made the whole thing up.

    “My hands were shaking, I was like, ‘This is ridiculous,’” he said. “I was thinking that, that had gone way too far.”

    Fox News issued an on-air apology for reporting it.

    Chacon’s story, posted on his website RealTrueNews.org, is yet another example of fake news making real news headlines. [ABC News, 11/29/16; Media Matters, 10/9/16]

    NY Times: Conservative Blogs Like Gateway Pundit Promoted Fake News Story, Falsely Claiming That Paid Protesters Were Being Bused To Demonstrate Against Trump. Fake news websites spread a false claim from a Twitter user named Eric Tucker, who wrote after the election that “paid protesters” were “being bused to demonstrations against President-elect Donald J. Trump,” according to The New York Times. The Times noted that Tucker’s tweet spread on fake news websites and then right-wing media like Gateway Pundit and “throughout the conservative blogosphere.” President-elect Trump then “joined in promoting” the false claim. From the November 20 article:

    Eric Tucker, a 35-year-old co-founder of a marketing company in Austin, Tex., had just about 40 Twitter followers. But his recent tweet about paid protesters being bused to demonstrations against President-elect Donald J. Trump fueled a nationwide conspiracy theory — one that Mr. Trump joined in promoting.

    Mr. Tucker’s post was shared at least 16,000 times on Twitter and more than 350,000 times on Facebook. The problem is that Mr. Tucker got it wrong. There were no such buses packed with paid protesters.

    […]

    A user on Free Republic, a conservative discussion forum, linked to the Reddit thread about Mr. Tucker’s post, increasing the attention and spreading it further into the online world. Later, Facebook pages like Robertson Family Values, which is named for but not affiliated with the stars of “Duck Dynasty,” and Donald Trump Commander in Chief 2020, linked to the Free Republic discussion. Those posts were shared more than 5,000 times each, and more than 300,000 Facebook users have linked to the Free Republic thread.

    […]

    Around 6 p.m., the conservative blog Gateway Pundit posted a story using Mr. Tucker’s images under the headline “Figures. Anti-Trump Protesters Were Bussed in to Austin #FakeProtests.” The post, which included a mention of “Soros money,” has been shared on Facebook more than 44,000 times, according to statistics on the website.

    The story line became a prominent one throughout the conservative blogosphere, with other sites incorporating Mr. Tucker’s tweet into posts about paid protesters, referring to him as an eyewitness in Austin. [The New York Times, 11/20/16]

    Fortune: Data Journalism Expert Found Breitbart And Daily Caller Were Major Distributors Of Fake News. Data journalism professor Jonathan Albright “created a network map or topology that describes the landscape of the fake-news ecosystem” and found that some of the “prominent destinations” “that propel a lot of the traffic involving fake news” include right-wing media “sites like Breitbart News [and] DailyCaller,” according to Fortune. From the November 28 article:

    Jonathan Albright, a professor at Elon University in North Carolina, is an expert in data journalism who has worked for both Google and Yahoo. He specializes in media analytics and social networks, and he has created a network map or topology that describes the landscape of the fake-news ecosystem.

    […]

    Next Albright did what he called a “medium-scale data analysis,” crawling and indexing 117 websites that are known to be associated with fake news. In a follow-up post, entitled The #Election2016 Micro-Propaganda Machine, he mapped the connections between those sites and plotted them as dots, based on the strength of their connections.

    Albright subsequently expanded his sample to include more than 300 sites, including some prominent distributors such as Breitbart News. In total, he collected and analyzed the incoming and outgoing traffic of more than 1.3 million URLs.

    More than anything, the impression one gets from looking at Albright’s network map is that there are some extremely powerful “nodes” or hubs that propel a lot of the traffic involving fake news. And it also shows an entire universe of sites that many people have probably never heard of.

    Two of the largest hubs Albright found were a site called Conservapedia—a kind of Wikipedia for the right wing—and another called Rense, both of which got huge amounts of incoming traffic. Other prominent destinations were sites like Breitbart News, DailyCaller and YouTube (the latter possibly as an attempt to monetize their traffic). [Fortune, 11/28/16]

    “I really — fake news has been so blown out of proportion anyway. What it largely is, is satire and parody that liberals don’t understand because they don’t have a sense of humor, particularly if it’s about them. You can’t laugh at them, you can’t mock them, you can’t make fun of them like they can laugh at and mock and make fun of everybody else. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/28/16]”

    Yes, according to Rush Limbaugh, the audiences for fake news are all treating it like The Onion and it’s all just satire that no one takes seriously. LOL!

    It’s also worth recalling that the ‘everyone knows these aren’t real news sites’ excuse was sort of the same excuse the National Republican Congressional Committee used in 2014 in defense of its own fake news website campaign:

    The Los Angeles Times

    GOP campaign arm launches fake news sites against Democrats

    By Marianne LeVine
    August 14, 2014, 3:39 PM

    At first glance, the “Central Valley Update,” the “Augusta Update” and the “Aurora Update” appear to be doing what any news site would do: hold local candidates accountable.

    Problem is, they’re not real news sites.

    The National Republican Congressional Committee has launched more than 20 of these fake news sites to attack Democrats running for Congress, creating a media uproar and drawing protest from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the NRCC’s counterpart.

    “If anyone was wondering why voters don’t trust Congress, look no further than the NRCC’s brand new voter outreach strategy—fake news sites,” said Josh Schwerin, national press secretary for the DCCC, in a statement.

    The layouts are designed to resemble news websites, with photos and headlines. “Enyart Breaks Promises, Plays Politics With Military” reads a site calling itself the “Southern Illinois Update.” The “story” questions the candidate’s record on various issues.

    As with legitimate news sites, readers can tweet about the article or recommend it to Facebook friends. There is even a “most viewed” link, which takes readers to a video attack ad.

    Readers only discover who is behind the website by scrolling to the bottom of the page, where a box indicates the NRCC is the sponsor, an FEC requirement for all political committee websites.

    “One of our country’s greatest strengths is freedom of the press,” said Jason Bresler, a spokesman for Rep. Bill Enyart (D-Ill.), in a statement. “For the Republicans to mock that—it’s offensive.”

    In spite of criticism from Democrats and the news media, Daniel Scarpinato, national press secretary for the NRCC, denies the websites are misleading.

    “These are real attack websites,” he said. “They are not meant to look like news websites nor do they look like news sites, nor has anyone in the country who is not a news reporter brought that up.”

    Scarpinato describes the websites as “hugely successful,” saying they are generating more traffic than other digital programs. But he would not specify numbers because he does not want to “broadcast how successful [the websites] are to the Democrats.”

    “These are real attack websites…They are not meant to look like news websites nor do they look like news sites, nor has anyone in the country who is not a news reporter brought that up.”

    Bwah! Keep in mind that these websites are still in the Wayback Machine. And as you can see when you go there, they very much did have the look and feel of a news site. A crappy news site, sure, but unless you scrolled down to the bottom and saw the NRCC disclaimer it wouldn’t be at all obvious that this was a wing of the Republican Party’s official propaganda…unless you read the articles which were clearly right-wing junk opinion pieces under the guise a journalist raising pointed questions about a Democratic candidate. And that’s part of what’s so sad about this situation: in 2014 we have the GOP going from experimenting with GOP fake news sites that at least were simply promoting GOP propaganda under the veil of journalism. And just two years later we have a full-spectrum right-wing embrace of completely fake news that pushes completely false facts. Not questionable opinions but blatantly false facts. And an aggressive defense of the practice.

    So that’s where we are.

    And in other news, it turns out the sources providing websites for the “Russian propaganda blacklist” that the Washington Post published about websites allegedly pushing Kremlin propaganda appears to include people tied to to Ukrainian neo-Nazis and far-right CIA-connected think-tanks.

    So that’s also where we are.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 8, 2016, 4:30 pm
  2. Apple, ComCast, Microsoft, etc have always wanted to control what people upload. You can download as much as you want but uploading is not allowed or is made difficult from your iphone or laptop, by design. I see this fake news issue as laying the foundation for censorship of what “news” is allowed to be uploaded to facebook. Just saying, beware.

    Posted by May | December 22, 2016, 12:09 am
  3. Paul Carr over at Pando had a rather troubling observation during the anti-Trump Woman’s March. It was an observation about Facebook’s coverage of the Million Woman March in its news feed. Specifically, his observation that he was unable to observe any news on Facebook about the historic march at all:

    Pando

    Hundreds of thousands of women march in protest against Trump: Facebook News tries to silence them all

    By Paul Bradley Carr
    written on January 21, 2017

    We don’t usually post on Pando at the weekend, but this is too topical and too shameful to wait until Monday.

    As you certainly know, today is the day of the Women’s March on Washington in protest of Donald Trump. The main event is in DC, where something close to 500,000 protesters of all genders and ages have packed the streets — but there are also major protests in Chicago, New York and around the world. Including Antarctica.

    You certainly know this because the protest march is the top story on every major news outlet, and because updates and photos from the event are flooding your Twitter and Facebook feeds.

    And yet, here’s what Facebook’s trending news feed looked like at the height of the march…
    [see image of Carr’s news feed]
    And here’s its trending politics feed…
    [see image of trending politics fee]
    Notice anything missing?

    Like, say, a half million women.

    In case you think I’m seeing something different from the rest of the world, be assured I’m not….

    @paulbradleycarr wow. just looked. very poor. i have one mention (for chicago march) under politics— Rachel Clarke (@rachelclarke) January 21, 2017

    @rachelclarke @paulbradleycarr I don't see any in top trends OR politics… and I'm in Chicago so I thought it might show up— Aesha (@heyitsaesh) January 21, 2017

    …Facebook’s trending news feed really has obliterated the entire Women’s March in favor of stories about pastry chefs and professional wrestlers.

    I’ve written plenty (most recently this) about Facebook’s increasing coziness with Donald Trump, and there’s plenty more to be written about the growing unhappiness inside the company with the right-ward direction that senior management are taking in an attempt to please (/avoid conflict with) the incoming administration. Stay tuned.

    For now, I’ve contacted Facebook to ask if the trending news feed is yet another example of that attempt, or if there’s some mystery glitch that has caused the voices of hundreds of thousands of women to be silenced in favor of stories that, by Facebook’s own numbers, only a thousand or so people are talking about. I’ll update this post if I hear back.

    Update: A Facebook spokesperson responded to me on Tuesday afternoon, insisting that “some number” of the following terms “began trending on Saturday.”

    #whyimarch

    #WomensMarch

    Women’s March on Boston

    Women’s March on Los Angeles

    Women’s March on Chicago

    Sundance Women’s March

    He was unable to provide supporting evidence for which of the terms trended when, and who might have seen them. “Trending is algorithmically driven based on conversations on the platform,” he explained.

    I also asked whether it was accurate that Facebook is staffing up its policy team with right-wingers or others sympathetic to Donald Trump. The spokesperson declined to comment on the record.

    Update II:

    Facebook announces it is “updating how topics are identified as trending on Facebook”

    “I’ve written plenty (most recently this) about Facebook’s increasing coziness with Donald Trump, and there’s plenty more to be written about the growing unhappiness inside the company with the right-ward direction that senior management are taking in an attempt to please (/avoid conflict with) the incoming administration. Stay tuned.”

    So was Facebook intentionally suppressing the Women’s March or is this is a case of an algorithmic hiccup that, for whatever reason, concluded that Paul Carr wouldn’t care about such things. Well, according to the article below, the number of people unable to find any trace of the Women’s March in their trending news feed wasn’t limited to Carr. But it also wasn’t limited to suppressing the Women’s March in trending news feeds either since others reported that they were seeing the Women’s March in their news feed but no mention of Trump’s inauguration. So while it’s unclear what cause the numerous reports of major stories not reaching some users’ news feeds but not other feed, it’s pretty clear that relying on Facebook for your news is probably bad news (which shouldn’t be news to anyone):

    Social Media Week

    People Want to Know Why the Women’s March Was Absent from Facebook Trending News

    Some people are questioning why the Women’s March was absent from Facebook’s Trending news section on Jan. 21. Other users say they failed to see the Inauguration on the list the day prior.

    Katie Perry
    Mon, January 23rd, 2017

    Journalists and onlookers are seeking answers as to why Saturday’s Women’s March—fueled by some 3 million participants in dozens of cities and towns worldwide—failed to appear on Facebook’s Trending topics list for some users during the height of the event.

    According to Facebook, Trending news items are determined algorithmically based on engagement, timelines, location and Page like data. Those topics appear on the right-rail of the Facebook home screen and link to popular articles and posts that are relevant to each item. These articles generally line up with the top news stories of the day, as determined and reported on by more traditional news outlets.

    But something puzzling happened on Jan. 21. Despite the Women’s March capturing mainstream and local media attention and spurring a flood of photos and commentary from those who marched, some users noted that the event was nowhere to be found within Facebook’s Trending topics list. For Pando reporter Paul Bradley Carr, it didn’t even appear within the Political sub-section of Trending topics.

    Other onlookers seem to have verified Carr’s finding; however, some people did see limited coverage (within the Political sub-section, for example). So far, Facebook has declined to comment, which has left room for rampant speculation as to whether this was a mere technological glitch or something more deliberate. Note: By Sunday evening Jan. 22, the march had made its way to my News Feed.

    What’s also interesting is that many people reported not seeing the Inauguration as a Trending topic the day before. Scrolling through public commentary and screenshots shared on Twitter, the situation gets even murkier. Some users saw the Women’s March trending but not the Inauguration. Others saw the opposite. The thing about a personalized “front page” is that absent a large pool of data, it’s tough to know what really went on behind the scenes.

    So, why is what appears in Trending so important? As was oft-discussed during and after the last Election cycle, Americans are increasingly relying on social media as their leading source of news. A Pew study from 2015 found that 40 percent of U.S. Facebook users primarily view it as a destination for news-gathering. Among users age 34 and younger, 60 percent say social platforms like Facebook and Twitter are “the most or an important way” to get news.

    For critics of Trending and its influence on the political landscape, there are two issues at play. The first involves the alleged interference of human editors in what has been positioned as an algorithmic curation by Facebook. The second debate is more philosophical in nature, as it questions the so-called “bubbles” that an algorithmic editor naturally creates.

    In fairness, right now there is limited data available to prove that the Women’s March was absent in a universal capacity. That said, anecdotally, it appears that many people who should have seen the march did not. Drawing some assumptions, it would have made sense that a tech reporter living in a major metropolitan area would be exposed to news of the march—perhaps even in an over-indexed capacity—given that it’s likely he or she would have known people participating.

    Other journalists noted that it seemed strange for Twitter to be showing the march on its own curated news list, but not Facebook.

    I think Twitter deserves the win for the coverage around Women's March today. Facebook? Hmm…suspect w/no mention in trending topics.— Ken Yeung (@thekenyeung) January 22, 2017

    In May 2016, Vox published an article which claimed that “Facebook has more influence over Americans than any media company in history.” Whether curated content, such as what appears in Trending, has been skewed by users’ personal data or directionally manipulated by human editors, the net effect is significant: “So many people spend so much time on Facebook that even a small shift in the platform’s approach could have a big impact on what people read online,” says Vox’s Timothy B. Lee.

    “In fairness, right now there is limited data available to prove that the Women’s March was absent in a universal capacity. That said, anecdotally, it appears that many people who should have seen the march did not. Drawing some assumptions, it would have made sense that a tech reporter living in a major metropolitan area would be exposed to news of the march—perhaps even in an over-indexed capacity—given that it’s likely he or she would have known people participating.”

    Yep, it’s a bit of a mystery. But now that Facebook just announced that it’s totally changing its news feed algorithm, and now everyone in the same region will see the same trending news it’s also a bit of a moot mystery going forward. Sure, it’s not an entirely moot mystery since it would still be nice to know if Facebook was somehow using its algorithm as an excuse to suppress very negative news for Trump. But at least it sounds like there will be new and different reasons for Facebook’s crappy news feeds going forward:

    Nation Public Radio

    Facebook Tweaks Its ‘Trending Topics’ Algorithm To Better Reflect Real News

    Laura Sydell
    January 25, 2017 5:36 PM ET

    An article in an online publication accusing Facebook of suppressing the Women’s March in its trending topics caused a little tempest on social media over the weekend. Facebook says it did not intentionally block any story and is revealing a new way its trending-topics algorithm will now operate.

    Paul Bradley Carr, writing for online outlet Pando, on Saturday posted what he said were screen shots of his Facebook pages at the height of the worldwide marches, which brought more than a million people into the streets around the globe to protest the agenda of the Trump administration.

    Despite images and stories from the marches filling many people’s personal Facebook feeds and the day’s media coverage, Carr’s screenshots showed no signs of the march in Trending Topics — a feature supposed to reflect popular discussed topics.

    And Carr says he discovered he was not the only one who didn’t see the Women’s March reflected on Trending Topics, accusing Facebook of trying to cozy up to the Trump administration. A very unscientific poll by this reporter found that among people in my Facebook and Twitter network most did see the Women’s March or something related trending on their page. However, a few did not.

    According to Facebook, the Trending Topics — seen to the right of the main news feed on desktop and in search on mobile — are “based on a number of factors including engagement, timeliness, Pages you’ve liked and your location.” (Facebook pays NPR and other leading news organizations to produce live video streams.)

    Facebook representatives told NPR that the reason why some people did not see the march as trending had to do with the algorithm behind the feature. Although it took into account major news events and what’s popular on the site, it also accounted for the preferences of each person. It’s possible that Carr’s algorithmic profile indicated he wouldn’t be interested in the Women’s March.

    In addition, some people may have seen trending topics they didn’t realize were about the Women’s March. For example, Ashley Judd and Madonna were trending — both women gave speeches at the main march in Washington, D.C.

    And, Facebook says, none of this will happen in the future.

    As of Wednesday, the company has once again changed its trending algorithms. Personal preferences are now out of the equation. “Facebook will no longer be personalized based on someone’s interests,” Facebook says in a press release. “Everyone in the same region will see the same topics.” For now, a region is considered a country, so everyone in the U.S. should see the same topics.

    The latest algorithm changes are part of Facebook’s ongoing effort to curtail the spread of fake news. Some fabricated stories show up in Trending Topics, despite often originating on sites with no history of visitors and getting no coverage from legitimate news media. It’s a lucrative business, explored by NPR in November, when we tracked down one notorious fake-news creator.

    The new algorithm would make hoax articles less likely to trend because it will look at “the number of publishers that are posting articles on Facebook about the same topic,” accounting for coverage by multiple news outlets, Facebook says.

    The company says the changes are not a response to complaints about trending during the Women’s March. Facebook says they have been in the works because its users — like Carr — actually expect and want to see trending topics related to the most talked-about real-world events.

    Of course, algorithms are programs. While Facebook may hope that its new approach will appease critics such as Carr, the proof will be what happens in the real world of people’s Facebook pages.

    “I do give them credit for acknowledging, at least, users’ concerns over this,” says Carr, who called Facebook’s change “a positive step.” But, he added, “we’ll see how it works in practice.”

    “As of Wednesday, the company has once again changed its trending algorithms. Personal preferences are now out of the equation. “Facebook will no longer be personalized based on someone’s interests,” Facebook says in a press release. “Everyone in the same region will see the same topics.” For now, a region is considered a country, so everyone in the U.S. should see the same topics.”

    No more personalized reality bubbles for Facebook users. Now it’s regional reality bubbles. That’s progress! Maybe. It’s unclear. Especially since the new head of Facebook’s news division is a right-winger with close ties to Trump’s new education secretary:

    BuzzFeed

    Facebook’s New Head Of News Has Close Ties To Conservative Politics

    Campbell Brown, a former TV news anchor and education reform activist, has personal and professional links to Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary.

    Molly Hensley-Clancy
    BuzzFeed News Reporter
    posted on Jan. 6, 2017, at 2:05 p.m.

    Facebook has chosen Campbell Brown, a former television news anchor who worked most recently as an education reform activist, as its head of news partnerships, tasked with rebuilding relationships with news outlets in the wake of a wave of fake news stories that dominated the site during the presidential election.

    Brown has longstanding ties not just to the traditional news media, but also to conservative politics, although she describes herself as a political independent. She is a close personal friend of Betsy DeVos, the Republican megadonor who is Donald Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, and is married to Dan Senor, a former top advisor to Mitt Romney who also served as spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

    But she, and Senor, were central to the losing battle against Donald Trump inside the Republican Party. Last June, in a closed-door interview with Paul Ryan, she grilled the House Speaker on his decision to back Trump, asking him how he would justify his decision to a small child. She had earlier blamed the news media for aiding Trump’s rise. “He is not a politician. He is not a leader. He is a supreme narcissist,” wrote in December, 2015, criticizing TV networks for their saturation coverage of the then-candidate. “You can deprive him of the one thing that keeps him going—airtime.”

    At Facebook, she will work to navigate the social network’s sometimes fraught role as a central player in the news industry. She won’t, however, be making editorial or content-related decisions, such as deciding what stories get play on Facebook, the company said.

    “Right now we are watching a massive transformation take place in the news business – both in the way people consume news and in the way reporters disseminate news,” Brown wrote in a Facebook post Friday. “Facebook is a major part of this transformation.”

    In the wake of the election, Facebook has weathered criticism over its inability to stem a tide of fake political news stories. It has also scrambled to mend ties with conservative publications after reports claimed its trending news team suppressed stories from conservative news outlets.

    In her post-media career as an education activist, Brown founded an advocacy group, the Partnership for Educational Justice, whose donors she chose to keep secret, that frequently battles with teachers’ unions. And she has worked in favor of charter school expansion, a pet project of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

    And alongside her mainstream media experience, Brown is familiar with the world of non-traditional news outlets springing up online. In 2014, she founded a nonprofit news site, The 74, which bills itself as nonpartisan but which critics have said functions as advocacy journalism, tilted in favor of charter schools and against teachers’ unions.

    The site was launched with money from donors including the foundation run by DeVos, Trump’s proposed Education Secretary. When the nomination was announced, Brown said she would recuse herself from The 74’s coverage of DeVos.

    Earlier this year, The 74 published an undercover sting video made by conservative activist James O’Keefe, who posed undercover as a teacher and filmed union representatives advising him on how to handle a hypothetical assault of a child.

    “Brown has longstanding ties not just to the traditional news media, but also to conservative politics, although she describes herself as a political independent. She is a close personal friend of Betsy DeVos, the Republican megadonor who is Donald Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, and is married to Dan Senor, a former top advisor to Mitt Romney who also served as spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

    A right-wing journalist who also happens to be a close personal friend of Betsy DeVos and who also happened to start a pro-charter school. On top of that, Campbell Brown’s the74 website was pushing videos by James O’Keefe, one of the most notorious creators of fake news in the modern era. Oh joy.

    So that’s where we are: after criticism of Facebook’s personalized news feed algorithm, we hear that Facebook is going to be switching to a regional news feed algorithm in the hopes that this will avoid the creation of a hyper-personalized news echo chamber. And then we also learn that Facebook’s new head of news is a right-winger close to one of Trump’s cabinet officials.

    But note that at least it doesn’t sound like Brown is going to be involved with any direct news curation:

    At Facebook, she will work to navigate the social network’s sometimes fraught role as a central player in the news industry. She won’t, however, be making editorial or content-related decisions, such as deciding what stories get play on Facebook, the company said.

    So that’s sort of a relief. Although Facebook didn’t say that no one would be making these content-related decisions, just that Brown wouldn’t be doing it. Hopefully we’ll get some follow up reports on how exactly this new Facebook news overhaul is going to work. Especially after reports that the guy just hired as the new Facebook Communications Director who will be focused on product communications, specifically on the news feed, is Tucker Bounds:

    Axios

    Axios AM

    By Mike Allen ·Jan 16, 2017

    Good Monday morning! Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a perfect time to reflect on historic days for our country, as we head into Inauguration Week. It’s three days and a wake-up till President Trump.

    Scoop … Facebook adds a well-known operative: Tucker Bounds — co-founder of Sidewire, the online conversation platform — is stepping away from his operational role and returning to Facebook, where he was director of corporate communications from 2011 to 2014. Tucker, who’ll keep his seat on the Sidewise board, starts Jan. 30 as Communications Director, focused on product communications, specifically on News Feed.

    “Scoop … Facebook adds a well-known operative: Tucker Bounds — co-founder of Sidewire, the online conversation platform — is stepping away from his operational role and returning to Facebook, where he was director of corporate communications from 2011 to 2014. Tucker, who’ll keep his seat on the Sidewise board, starts Jan. 30 as Communications Director, focused on product communications, specifically on News Feed.”

    Just to be clear, this is the same Tucker Bounds who was John McCain’s former adviser and a spokesperson for the McCain/Palin 2008 campaign. And now he’s going to be a Facebook Communications Director focused on the News Feed. What exactly that means is unclear. Maybe he’ll just be talking about the News Feed as opposed to shaping its content. But it’s ignore the fact that Facebook’s apparent battle with ‘fake news’ – something that helped propel Donald Trump into the Oval Office – appears to involve hiring a bunch of conservatives to overhaul and manage Facebook’s new news.

    So that’s all pretty disturbing. And the worst part of all: none of this is fake news.

    Stay tuned.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 31, 2017, 9:27 pm
  4. Fun fact: those Facebook personality test that allegedly let you learn things about what make you tick allows whoever set up that test learn what makes you tick too. And since it’s done through Facebook they can identify your test results with your real identity. It’s a rather obvious fun fact.

    Here’s a less obvious fun fact: if the Facebook personality test in question happens to report your “Ocean score” (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism), that means the test your taking was created by Cambridge Analytica, a company with one of Donald Trump’s billionaire sugar-daddies, Robert Mercer, as a major investor. And it’s Cambridge Analytica that gets to learn all those fun facts about your psychological profile too. And Steve Bannon sat on its board:

    The New York Times

    The Secret Agenda of a Facebook Quiz

    By McKENZIE FUNK
    NOV. 19, 2016

    Do you panic easily? Do you often feel blue? Do you have a sharp tongue? Do you get chores done right away? Do you believe in the importance of art?

    If ever you’ve answered questions like these on one of the free personality quizzes floating around Facebook, you’ll have learned what’s known as your Ocean score: How you rate according to the big five psychological traits of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. You may also be responsible the next time America is shocked by an election upset.

    For several years, a data firm eventually hired by the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, has been using Facebook as a tool to build psychological profiles that represent some 230 million adult Americans. A spinoff of a British consulting company and sometime-defense contractor known for its counterterrorism “psy ops” work in Afghanistan, the firm does so by seeding the social network with personality quizzes. Respondents — by now hundreds of thousands of us, mostly female and mostly young but enough male and older for the firm to make inferences about others with similar behaviors and demographics — get a free look at their Ocean scores. Cambridge Analytica also gets a look at their scores and, thanks to Facebook, gains access to their profiles and real names.

    Cambridge Analytica worked on the “Leave” side of the Brexit campaign. In the United States it takes only Republicans as clients: Senator Ted Cruz in the primaries, Mr. Trump in the general election. Cambridge is reportedly backed by Robert Mercer, a hedge fund billionaire and a major Republican donor; a key board member is Stephen K. Bannon, the head of Breitbart News who became Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman and is set to be his chief strategist in the White House.

    In the age of Facebook, it has become far easier for campaigners or marketers to combine our online personas with our offline selves, a process that was once controversial but is now so commonplace that there’s a term for it, “onboarding.” Cambridge Analytica says it has as many as 3,000 to 5,000 data points on each of us, be it voting histories or full-spectrum demographics — age, income, debt, hobbies, criminal histories, purchase histories, religious leanings, health concerns, gun ownership, car ownership, homeownership — from consumer-data giants.

    No data point is very informative on its own, but profiling voters, says Cambridge Analytica, is like baking a cake. “It’s the sum of the ingredients,” its chief executive officer, Alexander Nix, told NBC News. Because the United States lacks European-style restrictions on second- or thirdhand use of our data, and because our freedom-of-information laws give data brokers broad access to the intimate records kept by local and state governments, our lives are open books even without social media or personality quizzes.

    Ever since the advertising executive Lester Wunderman coined the term “direct marketing” in 1961, the ability to target specific consumers with ads — rather than blanketing the airwaves with mass appeals and hoping the right people will hear them — has been the marketer’s holy grail. What’s new is the efficiency with which individually tailored digital ads can be tested and matched to our personalities. Facebook is the microtargeter’s ultimate weapon.

    The explosive growth of Facebook’s ad business has been overshadowed by its increasing role in how we get our news, real or fake. In July, the social network posted record earnings: quarterly sales were up 59 percent from the previous year, and profits almost tripled to $2.06 billion. While active users of Facebook — now 1.71 billion monthly active users — were up 15 percent, the real story was how much each individual user was worth. The company makes $3.82 a year from each global user, up from $2.76 a year ago, and an average of $14.34 per user in the United States, up from $9.30 a year ago. Much of this growth comes from the fact that advertisers not only have an enormous audience in Facebook but an audience they can slice into the tranches they hope to reach.

    One recent advertising product on Facebook is the so-called “dark post”: A newsfeed message seen by no one aside from the users being targeted. With the help of Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Trump’s digital team used dark posts to serve different ads to different potential voters, aiming to push the exact right buttons for the exact right people at the exact right times.

    Imagine the full capability of this kind of “psychographic” advertising. In future Republican campaigns, a pro-gun voter whose Ocean score ranks him high on neuroticism could see storm clouds and a threat: The Democrat wants to take his guns away. A separate pro-gun voter deemed agreeable and introverted might see an ad emphasizing tradition and community values, a father and son hunting together.

    In this election, dark posts were used to try to suppress the African-American vote. According to Bloomberg, the Trump campaign sent ads reminding certain selected black voters of Hillary Clinton’s infamous “super predator” line. It targeted Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood with messages about the Clinton Foundation’s troubles in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Federal Election Commission rules are unclear when it comes to Facebook posts, but even if they do apply and the facts are skewed and the dog whistles loud, the already weakening power of social opprobrium is gone when no one else sees the ad you see — and no one else sees “I’m Donald Trump, and I approved this message.”

    While Hillary Clinton spent more than $140 million on television spots, old-media experts scoffed at Trump’s lack of old-media ad buys. Instead, his campaign pumped its money into digital, especially Facebook. One day in August, it flooded the social network with 100,000 ad variations, so-called A/B testing on a biblical scale, surely more ads than could easily be vetted by human eyes for compliance with Facebook’s “community standards.”

    On Monday, after a similar announcement from Google, Facebook said it would no longer allow fake-news websites to show ads, on their own sites, from Facebook’s ad network — a half-step that neither blocks what appears on your newsfeed nor affects how advertisers can microtarget users on the social network.

    There are surely more changes to come. Mr. Zuckerberg is young, still skeptical that his radiant transparency machine could be anything but a force for good, rightly wary of policing what the world’s diverse citizens say and share on his network, so far mostly dismissive of Facebook’s role in the election. If Mr. Zuckerberg takes seriously his oft-stated commitments to diversity and openness, he must grapple honestly with the fact that Facebook is no longer just a social network. It’s an advertising medium that’s now dangerously easy to weaponize.

    A Trump administration is unlikely to enforce transparency about who is targeted by dark posts and other hidden political ads — or to ensure that politicians take meaningful ownership of what the ads say. But Facebook can.

    For several years, a data firm eventually hired by the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, has been using Facebook as a tool to build psychological profiles that represent some 230 million adult Americans. A spinoff of a British consulting company and sometime-defense contractor known for its counterterrorism “psy ops” work in Afghanistan, the firm does so by seeding the social network with personality quizzes. Respondents — by now hundreds of thousands of us, mostly female and mostly young but enough male and older for the firm to make inferences about others with similar behaviors and demographics — get a free look at their Ocean scores. Cambridge Analytica also gets a look at their scores and, thanks to Facebook, gains access to their profiles and real names.”

    Yes, Cambridge Analytica, a consulting company know for its counterterrorism “psy ops” work and Steve Bannon sitting on its board, wants to learn about you. Intimately. Whether or not you take their online personality tests:

    In the age of Facebook, it has become far easier for campaigners or marketers to combine our online personas with our offline selves, a process that was once controversial but is now so commonplace that there’s a term for it, “onboarding.” Cambridge Analytica says it has as many as 3,000 to 5,000 data points on each of us, be it voting histories or full-spectrum demographics — age, income, debt, hobbies, criminal histories, purchase histories, religious leanings, health concerns, gun ownership, car ownership, homeownership — from consumer-data giants.

    It also wants to influence you. Intimately. And anonymously:


    One recent advertising product on Facebook is the so-called “dark post”: A newsfeed message seen by no one aside from the users being targeted. With the help of Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Trump’s digital team used dark posts to serve different ads to different potential voters, aiming to push the exact right buttons for the exact right people at the exact right times.

    Imagine the full capability of this kind of “psychographic” advertising. In future Republican campaigns, a pro-gun voter whose Ocean score ranks him high on neuroticism could see storm clouds and a threat: The Democrat wants to take his guns away. A separate pro-gun voter deemed agreeable and introverted might see an ad emphasizing tradition and community values, a father and son hunting together.

    In this election, dark posts were used to try to suppress the African-American vote. According to Bloomberg, the Trump campaign sent ads reminding certain selected black voters of Hillary Clinton’s infamous “super predator” line. It targeted Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood with messages about the Clinton Foundation’s troubles in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Federal Election Commission rules are unclear when it comes to Facebook posts, but even if they do apply and the facts are skewed and the dog whistles loud, the already weakening power of social opprobrium is gone when no one else sees the ad you see — and no one else sees “I’m Donald Trump, and I approved this message.”

    “Federal Election Commission rules are unclear when it comes to Facebook posts, but even if they do apply and the facts are skewed and the dog whistles loud, the already weakening power of social opprobrium is gone when no one else sees the ad you see — and no one else sees “I’m Donald Trump, and I approved this message.””

    So what do we know about Robert Mercer, the man who first backed Ted Cruz in the 2016 race and then quickly switched to Trump? Well, there reportedly isn’t very much known about his politics…except that he’s a libertarian who backed Donald Trump after backing Ted Cruz. Which is pretty much all we need to know to know that he’s up to no good:

    The Atlantic

    What Does the Billionaire Family Backing Donald Trump Really Want?

    The Mercers are enjoying more influence than ever with their candidate in the White House—but no one seems to know how they intend to use it.

    Rosie Gray
    Jan 27, 2017

    She owns a cookie store. He loves model trains. They both hate the Clintons. And beyond that, not much is clear about the motivations of the Mercer father-daughter duo of Republican megadonors who have become two of the most powerful people in the country over the last 18 months.

    Hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah were among the earliest and strongest backers of Donald Trump while other elite donors still disdained him. It turned out to be a good investment. But now, with their favored candidate freshly installed as president of the United States, it remains unclear what they believe, or what they hope their investment will yield.

    The Mercers have been a quiet but constant presence in the background of Republican politics since the beginning of the 2016 cycle. They started the campaign as backers of Ted Cruz, pouring millions into one of the main super PACs supporting his candidacy. Their data firm, Cambridge Analytica, was hired by the Cruz campaign. They switched to support Trump shortly after he clinched the nomination, and he eventually hired Cambridge Analytica, as well. Their top political guru is Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart News chairman and White House chief strategist. They’re close, too, with Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who also has a senior role in the White House. They never speak to the press and hardly ever even release a public statement. Like Trump himself, they’ve flouted the standard playbook for how things are done in politics.

    Clues to their policy preferences can be found in their family foundation’s pattern of giving. For example, they have given more than once to groups questioning climate-change science. But their donations have flown to groups all over the conservative political map, ranging from libertarian organizations to movement conservative groups to the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners Action Fund to Breitbart. That scattershot approach suggests the family has some ideological flexibility.

    No one seems to know what motivates the Mercers or what policies they want to see enacted, even people who have worked closely with them or for projects funded by them. While they’ve poured money into conservative causes, they’ve also invested in projects explicitly aimed at overturning the modern conservative movement, like Breitbart News, in which they reportedly invested $10 million, and Trump himself. And the mystery of their ideological motivations is made all the more striking by their success in helping Trump reach the White House. A recent Wall Street Journal story on the Mercers concluded: “It isn’t clear what specific policies or positions, if any, the Mercers are seeking for their support of Mr. Trump.”

    “All I can take away is that they just want to be power players,” said a former Breitbart News staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a non-disclosure agreement. “I don’t know what their principles are. I don’t know how you switch from Ted Cruz to Donald Trump so quickly.”

    “Most of these people I think I understand,” said a Republican operative who has been engaged on several Mercer-led efforts. (Like most people quoted in this story, the operative declined to be identified for fear of legal or professional consequences for speaking publicly about the Mercers.) “I don’t understand the Mercers.”

    Rebekah Mercer “talks business. She talks data, she talks trends, she talks messaging,” said another Republican operative who has worked with the Mercers. “I have never really been in her presence where she’s talked policy.”

    Asked to describe what’s motivating them, Bannon himself was vague.

    “Really incredible folks,” Bannon said in an email. “Never ask for anything. Very middle class values as they came to their great wealth late in life.”

    * * *

    Robert Mercer got his start at IBM, working there for over 20 years. He went to Renaissance Technologies in 1993. It’s there that Mercer, already well into middle age, became wealthy. Renaissance, based in East Setauket, Long Island, includes three hedge funds managing over $25 billion in assets, as well as the mysterious Medallion Fund, an employees-only fund that has made its investors unimaginably rich. Mercer’s co-CEO is Jim Simons, a major donor to Democrats; one Republican operative with connections to the Mercers who spoke on condition of anonymity joked that the pair were trying to “hedge the political system.”

    Rebekah, known as Bekah, is one of Bob and Diana Mercer’s three daughters. Along with her sisters Heather Sue and Jennifer (“Jenji”), she owns Ruby et Violette, a cookie store in New York (the cookies are now sold exclusively online). Rebekah, 43, is married to a French Morgan Stanley executive, Sylvain Mirochnikoff, with whom she has four children. Mercer did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

    Bob Mercer, 70, is an enigmatic figure who has a reputation for rarely speaking publicly. Nearly everyone spoken to for this story used some variation of the word “brilliant” to describe him. There’s a touch of eccentricity, too; “I know a couple things you can bond with Bob Mercer over is he hates the Federal Reserve and loves model trains,” said one Republican operative who has worked on Mercer-backed initiatives. (Mercer once sued a model train manufacturer, alleging that he was overcharged for a model train set installed in Owl’s Nest, his expansive Long Island estate).

    Whatever her actual beliefs, there’s one thing upon which people who have worked with Rebekah Mercer agree: She has a keen understanding of politics and likes to be involved in the day-to-day running of projects she’s involved in. Many donors like to play strategist, much to the annoyance of the actual strategists in their employ. But Mercer appears to be more successful at it than most.

    “Almost all donors want to pretend they’re Karl Rove. They all want to play political mastermind,” said one of the Republican operatives who has worked on Mercer-funded projects. But “I would say that Rebekah is as smart at politics as you could be without ever having been at the grunt level.”

    “Her political instincts were always on the money,” said Hogan Gidley, a former Mike Huckabee aide who served as spokesman for the Make America Number One PAC which became the Mercers’ pro-Trump vehicle during the general election. “We would be talking about how a certain ad should look or changes we should make to an ad, and she would just offer an idea that would just elicit instantaneous agreement. It wasn’t because they were largely funding the PAC, it was because she was right.”

    Gidley said Mercer was on every conference call related to the super PAC’s operations. Even so, he didn’t get a clear sense of Mercer or her father’s ideology.

    “They’re libertarians who understand that they might have to make compromises with social conservatives,” said one person in the non-profit world who is a recipient of multiple Mercer grants. “They’re just as at home at the Cato Institute as they would be at the Heritage Foundation on general issues.”

    The Mercers, the non-profit activist said, appeared to have two goals this election cycle: “They’ve been fighting the Clintons forever, and they wanted to back the winning horse.”

    That first goal has been clear for some time. The Mercers have for years had their hands in the cottage industry of anti-Clinton activity in and around the conservative movement. According to tax records from the Mercer Family Foundation, they gave nearly $3.6 million to Citizens United between 2012 and 2014, which sued for access to Clinton Foundation-related emails last year and whose president David Bossie also got a senior job on the Trump campaign. They’ve also invested in the Government Accountability Institute, which publishes the conservative author Peter Schweizer. Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash was an influential source of talking points for Trump allies during this election cycle, providing fodder for one of Trump’s early salvos against Clinton in a speech in June and regularly populating the pages of Breitbart. Bannon co-founded GAI with Schweizer; Rebekah Mercer has sat on the board.

    The Mercers’ activities during the election cycle are among the clearest public evidence of how their beliefs, whatever they might be, translate into action.

    At first, the Mercers went in for Cruz. They backed Keep the Promise 1, one of the main super PACs supporting Cruz, to the tune of $11 million. Like other campaigns with which the Mercers have been involved, including Trump’s, the Cruz campaign engaged the Mercers’s data firm Cambridge Analytica. Cruz campaign officials clashed with Cambridge over the particulars of the contract and lodged complaints about the product itself, according to multiple sources familiar with what happened; in one instance, the Cruz campaign was paying for a database system, RIPON, that had not been built yet, leading to a contentious argument. They also caught wind of work Cambridge had done for the Ben Carson campaign; working on more than one primary campaign is a no-no for vendors. Elsewhere in Mercer-world, there were other signs of trouble when it came to Cruz. In January, before the primaries had even begun, Breitbart News began attacking Cruz, insinuating that he was ineligible to be president because of his Canadian birth (a line also in heavy use by Trump at the time). Meanwhile, the Mercers were still publicly behind Cruz.

    “Cambridge Analytica’s data science team had an excellent relationship with the Cruz campaign: we were part of the campaign starting from day one and all the way through the primaries and caucuses until the final day, and we continue to work with many of the principals from the campaign,” a spokesman for Cambridge Analytica said. On the work they had done for the Carson campaign, the spokesman said “Cambridge Analytica is large enough to work on more than one campaign at any given time, and we take FEC firewall regulations very seriously. We would not work with multiple clients if we did not have the scale to provide devoted resources to ensure full compliance with firewalling procedures.” And on RIPON, the Cambridge Analytica spokesman said “Ripon was being used by many senatorial and gubernatorial candidates in the 2014 mid-terms. Some bespoke modifications were requested by the Cruz campaign and we were of course happy to make those for them.”

    The Breitbart stories were troubling to Cruz staff, who had seen Breitbart as an ally and who didn’t think they had any reason to doubt the Mercers’ loyalty.

    What Cruz’s staff may not have taken into account was the behind-the-scenes influence of Steve Bannon.

    “I don’t think [the Mercers are] as nationalistic as Steve,” said a Republican operative who has worked for the Mercers. “Steve is an unapologetic nationalist. I don’t think the Mercers are as much.” But “they share a real disdain for elitism. That’s what sort of binds them together.”

    Another of the Republican operatives described Bannon as the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” to Rebekah Mercer, and a third was even more pointed: “Svengali.” Bannon is “really, really, really influential” with Mercer, said the former Breitbart employee. The Mercers, the former employee said, made their wishes known through Bannon, who would sometimes cite the company’s financial backers as a reason for Breitbart not to do a story. Bannon didn’t respond to a request for comment about this.

    That highlights a third apparent goal, which became clearer over the course of the campaign: dismantling the establishment.

    ““They’re libertarians who understand that they might have to make compromises with social conservatives,” said one person in the non-profit world who is a recipient of multiple Mercer grants. “They’re just as at home at the Cato Institute as they would be at the Heritage Foundation on general issues.””

    So Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah fit the classic Peter Thiel-ish/Koch brothers ‘libertarian billionaires willing to team up with the socially conservative rubes to gain power and wealth’ model. How unorthodox of them.

    And look who’s described as Rebekah’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi”:

    Another of the Republican operatives described Bannon as the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” to Rebekah Mercer, and a third was even more pointed: “Svengali.” Bannon is “really, really, really influential” with Mercer, said the former Breitbart employee. The Mercers, the former employee said, made their wishes known through Bannon, who would sometimes cite the company’s financial backers as a reason for Breitbart not to do a story. Bannon didn’t respond to a request for comment about this.

    But, of course, they’d rather you think they were “anti-elite” and “anti-establishment”. And would also prefer that you don’t recognize that these billionaires aren’t in fact the embodiment of the contemporary establishment and out to consolidate their grip on it. No, no, they actually want to “dismantle the establishment”. Uh huh.

    It’s too bad the “Ocean” score doesn’t rate you on gullibility. That might actually make it useful for someone other than the establishment.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 3, 2017, 4:20 pm

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