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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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