Axios

Journalism, Disinformation & The Weakening 4th Estate

December 8, 2019

U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

For student journalists, the beats are the same but the protections are different

‘The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which documents First Amendment aggressions in the United States, has collected student journalism-based incidents at both the university and high school levels. Since its launch in 2017, the Tracker has documented five cases of high school newspapers being censored or placed under prior review for their coverage of controversial topics. At the university level, it has collected two arrests, two physical attacks and three border stop involving student journalists, as well as three cases of subpoenas or legal orders.

In recognition of the expansion of student journalism as a key source of accountability and record for their local communities, two of the Tracker’s partners—the Student Press Law Center and the Newseum—along with the Freedom Forum Institute, declared 2019 the “Year of the Student Journalist.” This year also marks the 50th anniversary of a key Supreme Court decision in favor of student First Amendment rights: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District.

While the Vietnam-era case of Tinker centered on students wearing armbands in protest, it has become the bellwether for free speech and journalism at both the high school and university levels. The 7-2 ruling iconically stated that neither “students [n]or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

While Tinker holds—for now—the state of journalism is rapidly changing. With legacy newsrooms shuttering and the number of working journalists contracting as freelancers increasing, the role of the student journalist has expanded to fill some of the void.’

Why it matters: The death of local news in America is routinely cited as one of the country’s biggest threats to democracy. With fewer opportunities in local journalism and less job security at the local level, finding talent to fill local newsrooms has become a central focus.

Even without the week’s depressing report on just how widespread is the loss of local news — 400 counties and counting, with no newspaper — let us be thankful for the people who are still out there trying to be watchdogs on local institutions. “If every American gave 30 minutes a day to an earnest and open-minded effort to stay on top of the news, we might actually find our way out of this crisis.”

AXIOS

We have to talk about technocracy, how it has driven massive sociopolitical change.

Media outfits, breaking from the high-minded, dispassionate liberalism that dominated journalism in the middle decades of the 20th century, earn enormous profits by whipping millions of viewers into a frenzy of furious anger at perceived slights and condescension. Political campaigns and even whole social movements are motivated by the perception of disrespect.

Bill Moyers:

“A democracy can die of too many lies. And we’re getting close to that terminal moment unless we reverse the obsession with lies that are being fed around the country.”

NPR

If the children are the future, the future might be very ill-informed.

That’s one implication of a new study from Stanford researchers that evaluated students’ ability to assess information sources and described the results as “dismaying,” “bleak” and “[a] threat to democracy.”

As content creators and social media platforms grapple with the fake news crisis, the study highlights the other side of the equation: What it looks like when readers are duped.

The researchers at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education have spent more than a year evaluating how well students across the country can evaluate online sources of information.

In exercise after exercise, the researchers were “shocked” — their word, not ours — by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of that information.

The students displayed a “stunning and dismaying consistency” in their responses, the researchers wrote, getting duped again and again. They weren’t looking for high-level analysis of data but just a “reasonable bar” of, for instance, telling fake accounts from real ones, activist groups from neutral sources and ads from articles.

Most middle school students can’t tell native ads from articles.

The researchers showed hundreds of middle schoolers a Slate home page that included a traditional ad and a “native ad” — a paid story branded as “sponsored content” — as well as Slate articles.

Most students could identify the traditional ad, but more than 80 percent of them believed that the “sponsored content” article was a real news story.

“Some students even mentioned that it was sponsored content but still believed that it was a news article,” the researchers wrote, suggesting the students don’t know what “sponsored content” means.

Most high school students accept photographs as presented, without verifying them.

Most college students didn’t suspect potential bias in a tweet from an activist group.

The researchers sent undergraduate students a link to a tweet by MoveOn about gun owners’ feelings on background checks, citing a survey by Public Policy Polling.

“The kinds of duties that used to be the responsibility of editors, of librarians now fall on the shoulders of anyone who uses a screen to become informed about the world,” Wineburg told NPR. “And so the response is not to take away these rights from ordinary citizens but to teach them how to thoughtfully engage in information seeking and evaluating in a cacophonous democracy.”

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/11/23/503129818/study-finds-students-have-dismaying-inability-to-tell-fake-news-from-real

 

The Public Square of Spirit & Compassion & Disinformation

November 21, 2019

Sister of Social Service Simone Campbell of Social Service Simone Campbell is an author, lawyer, poet, and Executive Director of NETWORK, an organization that lobbies on issues of economic justice, immigration reform, and healthcare.

My faith impels me into the public square. It is abundantly clear that Pope Francis is correct when he says that faith has real consequences in the world . . . and these consequences involve politics. . . . Religion/politics is at the heart of my contemplative practice. I am nourished daily by the people I meet and whose stories I hear. My heart is broken open by the truth of their hunger and hope. It is not a theoretical reality for me. My meditation has become breath, that we might see, that we might walk, and, in the process, heal our society that is famished for community and knowing that we belong to each other. . . .

No one can be left out of my care. Therefore [our] political work is anchored in caring for those whom we lobby as well as those whose cause we champion. This was illustrated for me recently when I was . . . lobbying a . . . Senator. . . . I commented on the story of a constituent and asked her how her colleagues could turn their eyes away from the suffering and fear of their people. The conversation went on a bit, and then the senator came back to my question. She said that . . . they did not get close to the candid stories of their people. In fact, some did not see these constituents as “their people.” Tears sprang to my eyes at her candor and the pain that keeps us sealed off from each other because of political partisanship. . . .

In many ways, we are a bit like the senators who close themselves off from the needs of their constituents. We could get caught in the pain of rejection and blame, fighting against an unjust judgment. But for me, the contemplative perspective leads to letting go of my desires and control while opening to the gift of the moment. My consistent learning is that behind the loss is always a surprise, opening into something new. There are prices to be paid, but they are small when compared to the hunger of our people. . . .

My prayer has led me to compassion. Compassion often leads to much more nuanced analysis. . . . The Spirit has pushed us out of our comfort zone of acceptability in order to meet the needs of people we had not known were ours. . . .

-Center for Action and Contemplation


As a platform for disinformation, it is a weapon. To be used intentionally as a platform for disinformation, it is an atomic bomb.

AXIOS

Ad targeting is how Facebook, Google and other online giants won the internet. It’s also key to understanding why these companies are being held responsible for warping elections and undermining democracy, managing editor Scott Rosenberg writes in the opening installment of our “What Matters 2020” series.

  • Critics and tech companies are increasingly considering whether limiting targeting of political ads might be one way out of the misinformation maze.
  • Giant platforms would still allow campaigns and candidates to purchase political ads — but the companies would stop (either voluntarily or by law) selling messages aimed only at narrow segments of the electorate.

How ad targeting works: Facebook and Google have somewhat different systems for targeting ads, but both allow advertisers to bid on narrowly defined demographic groups or keywords.

  • For instance, you can tell Facebook to show your message only to Southern men who don’t have a college degree and earn less than $75,000 — or ask for married suburban moms in three ZIP Codes outside Indianapolis who own SUVs and play tennis.
  • In the political ad world, these tools allow candidates and groups to exploit those populations’ anxieties and resentments, efficiently.

The link between ad targeting and misinformation … Tech platforms stand accused of multiple sins, including:

  • Improperly collecting users’ data to build massive databases of profiles.
  • Allowing politicians and their campaigns to spread lies.
  • Creating partisan “echo chambers” and “filter bubbles” that segment reality by ideology.

Facebook and Google didn’t invent these phenomena — they existed pre-internet. But by tying them together, ad targeting can kick misinformation into overdrive:

  • Data collection and profile building is what makes ad targeting possible. It’s also what keeps getting tech platforms in trouble with users and governments.
  • Campaigns have always shaded the truth and even lobbed false accusations. But in a broadcast world, it was easy for opponents and neutral third parties to witness and call out such behavior.
  • In the world of micro-targeted ads, it’s almost impossible — despite transparency efforts like Facebook’s ad library.
  • Misleading ads fuel frenzies in the closed-loop worlds of partisan echo chambers long before platforms can step in to bar them.

Banning all political ads vs. banning targeting: Many critics have urged social media platforms to bar political advertising altogether — a move both Google and Facebook have resisted, even as their smaller but politically high-profile competitor Twitter said it would embrace it.

  • Facebook argues that such a ban would harm outsider candidates and causes.
  • Twitter’s ban is significant, but its ad market share and targeting capabilities are minuscule compared to Facebook’s and Google’s.

The idea of a targeting ban has gained momentum recently, with figures like Bill Gates and FEC chair Ellen Weintraub endorsing it.

  • Defenders of the status quo argue that online targeting isn’t fundamentally different from longtime campaign practices like ZIP Code targeting of postal flyers, and they maintain that it’s a free-speech issue.

The Guardian

‘DT, hosted the Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg for a private dinner at the White House last month.

NBC News revealed that the meeting, which had not previously been disclosed, took place when Zuckerberg was in Washington being grilled by Congress over topics including Facebook’s limited steps to ban to misinformation in political advertising.

NBC (also) reported the billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel, a conservative who donated to Trump’s 2016 campaign and sits on Facebook’s board, was also present at the meeting.’

Thiel, who is the chairman of private data technology company Palantir, donated $1.25m to DT’s 2016 presidential campaign. In August a report by Mijente, a Latinx organizing not-for-profit, found that Palantir has more than $1.5bn in federal government contracts.

[According to Forbes, Thiel has a net worth of $2.5 billion.]

#PeterThiel

Huffington Post

“…an essay published in 2009, (Thiel) surprised many when he wrote that giving women the right to vote — by constitutional amendment in 1920 — was a blow to democracy.”

…”damaging to the Gospel.”

November 4, 2019

Josh Harris: Evangelical support for Trump “incredibly damaging to the Gospel”

[Josh Harris, once one of America’s most famous evangelical pastors, admitted in his first interview since renouncing Christianity that he ruined lives and marriages, so he excommunicated himself from the faith that made him famous.- AXIOS]

Asked how much of a connection he sees between the fundamentalist doctrine of fear and the current political climate, Harris replied: “Fear is easily manipulated by political leaders. The more chaotic the world is, the more people want someone to tell them what to do. And when people are afraid, they latch on to people who say, ‘I have the answers.’ […] I don’t think it’s going to end well. To have a leader like DT is part of the indictment. This is the leader you want and deserve; it represents a lot of who you are.”


 

1 year

October 2, 2019

For most of corporate America, nothing has really changed in the last year — despite initial promises and action, writes Axios’ Dan Primack.

  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is once again hosting his prized “Davos in the Desert,” which saw a rush of cancellations last year, and he wouldn’t have risked a repeat embarrassment.
  • Most big companies never stopped doing business with the Saudis. Or, in the case of Wall Street, trying to get Saudi business. That’s particularly true when it comes to deals like the upcoming Aramco IPO, which could be the largest global float of all time.

The bottom line: MBS bet that CEOs didn’t care enough. He was right.

Frontline

Season 2019 Episode 13 | 1h 54m 48s

‘A year after the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi, FRONTLINE investigates the rise of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. In a two-hour documentary, Martin Smith — who has covered the Middle East for FRONTLINE for 20 years — examines the crown prince’s vision for the future of Saudi Arabia, his handling of dissent and his ties to Khashoggi’s killing.’

https://www.pbs.org/video/crown-prince-saudi-arabia-1jt2ey/

The Media Divide

October 1, 2019

[Data: Morning Consult. Table: Axios Visuals[

News media companies make up 12 of the 15 most polarizing brands in America today, according to a new Morning Consult poll provided to Axios media trends expert Sara Fischer.

  • CNN and Fox News continue to be the most divisive news companies.
  • Why it matters: The gap between how Republicans and Democrats view national media brands like CNN and Fox News continues to widen, according to the polling, which points to an increase in America’s polarization.

Between the lines: The gap is being driven by substantial decreases in Republican approval of media brands other than Fox News.

  • The difference between how the two parties viewed CNN grew from a 66-point gap last year to an 80-point gap this year, due to a 12-point drop in net favorability among Republicans, from -13% to -25%.
  • Republicans held more negative views than Democrats of every media outlet on the list except for Fox News.
  • The difference between how the two parties view Fox News grew from a 54-point gap last year to a 74-point gap this year.

The bottom line: Even outlets that are generally considered nonpartisan, like ABC News and CNBC, rank among the most polarizing brands in America.

AXIOS

 

‘A nation without shared truth will be hard-to-impossible to govern.’ 

September 1, 2019

[AXIOS]

The occupier of the Oval Office, DT’s campaign and key allies plan to make allegations of bias by social media platforms a core part of their 2020 strategy, officials tell me.

  • Look for ads, speeches and sustained attacks on Facebook and Twitter in particular, the sources say.
  • The irony: The social platforms are created and staffed largely by liberals — but often used most effectively in politics by conservatives, the data shows.

Why it matters: DT successfully turned the vast majority of his supporters against traditional media, and hopes to do the same against the social media companies.

  • Republicans’ internal data shows it stirs up the base like few other topics.
  • “In the same way we’ve seen trust in legacy media organizations deteriorate over the past year, there are similarities with social media companies,” a top Republican operative involved in the effort told me.

Between the lines: The charges of overt bias by social media platforms are way overblown, several studies have found. But, if the exaggerated claims stick, it could increase the chances of regulatory action by Republicans.

  • “People feel they’re being manipulated, whether it’s by what they’re being shown in their feeds, or actions the companies have taken against conservatives,” the operative said.
  • “It’s easy for people to understand how these giant corporations could influence them and direct them toward a certain favored candidate.”

How tech execs see it: They know the escalation is coming, so they are cranking up outreach to leading conservatives and trying to push hard on data showing that conservative voices often outperform liberal ones.

Reality check, from Axios chief tech correspondent Ina Fried: What is real is that most of the platforms have policies against bias that some conservative figures have run afoul of.

  • Managing editor Scott Rosenberg notes that Twitter is Trump’s megaphone, while Facebook is often his favorite place to run ads.

What’s next: By the time 2020 is over, trust in all sources of information will be low, and perhaps unrecoverable.

  • A nation without shared truth will be hard-to-impossible to govern. 


MIT Management/Sloan Schools

A 4-step plan for fighting social media manipulation in elections

by Meredith Somers

Social media manipulation of voters shows no sign of abating. Two professors propose a new research agenda to fight back.

Since the 2016 presidential election, there’s been no shortage of reports about false news being shared across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter — and with the 2020 vote only a year away, the question is not when will the misinformation strike, but how can we guard against it?

MIT professor of IT and marketing Sinan Aral and associate professor of marketing Dean Eckles propose a four-step process for researchers to measure and analyze social media manipulation, and to turn that data into a defense against future manipulation.“Without an organized research agenda that informs policy, democracies will remain vulnerable to foreign and domestic attacks,” the professors write in an article for the August 30 edition of Science magazine.

1.

Catalogue exposures to manipulation 

 

To defend against manipulation, Aral and Eckles write, researchers need to index a variety of social media information:

  • What texts, images, and video messages were advertised?
  • What type of advertisement was used (organically posted, advertised, or “boosted” through paid promotion)?
  • What social platforms were these texts, images, and video messages appearing on?
  • When and how were they shared and re-shared by users (in this case, voters)?

2.

Combine exposure and voting behavior datasets

In the past, public voting records and social media accounts were compared using data like self-reported profile information. But this type of comparison can be improved by using location data already being collected by social media companies, the researchers write.

This could be something like matching voter registration with home addresses based on mobile location information — the same data used for marketing purposes by social media companies.

 

This could be something like matching voter registration with home addresses based on mobile location information — the same data used for marketing purposes by social media companies.

One challenge of studying voter behavior, Aral and Eckles write, is that the results aren’t always accurate enough to answer questions.

Social media companies already run A/B and algorithm tests, Aral and Eckles write. The same tests could be used to measure exposure effects.

3.

Calculate consequences of voting behavior changes 

 

Aral and Eckles write that measures like predicted voter behavior — with or without exposure to misinformation — should be combined with data like geographic and demographic characteristics for a particular election. This would help with vote total estimates in a particular area.

4.

Calculate consequences of voting behavior changes 

 

Aral and Eckles write that measures like predicted voter behavior — with or without exposure to misinformation — should be combined with data like geographic and demographic characteristics for a particular election. This would help with vote total estimates in a particular area.

FB’s News Tab: #manipulation

August 20, 2019

Thomas Merton:

Nothing is more empty and more dead, nothing is more insultingly insincere and destructive than the vapid grins on the billboards and the moronic beatitudes in the magazines, which assure us that we are all in bliss right now.

[AXIOS]

News Tab

Facebook executives tell me they’re hiring seasoned journalists to help curate a forthcoming “News Tab” that they hope will change how millions get news.

  • Why it matters: News Tab is an effort by Facebook to restore the sanity and credibility that’s lost in the chaos of our main feeds.
  • Facebook will personalize the News Tab, so it will need a massive amount of content, from the New York Jets to gardening.

News Tab, a personal passion of CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is also an effort by Facebook to develop a healthier relationship with publishers, many of whom have had their business models destroyed by social platforms.

  • Facebook will pay dozens of publishers to license content for News Tab, and news from many more will be included.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that the largest partners will be paid millions of dollars a year.
  • News Tab will try to give credit to the outlet that broke a story, rather than an aggregator.

Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, said: “Our goal with the News tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience … The majority of stories people will see will appear in the tab via algorithmic selection.”

  • A small team of journalists will pick stories for a Top News section.

Last year, Facebook killed Trending Topics, populated by contractors, after being accused of bias.

  • “We learned a lot from Trending,” a Facebook executive told me. “This is a completely different product.”

What’s next: A News Tab test for 200,000 users will begin in October, with a rollout to all U.S. users early next year.

Profit manipulation:

‘The Wall Street Journal reported that the largest partners will be paid millions of dollars a year.’

Gatekeeper manipulation:

‘A small team of journalists will pick stories for a Top News section.’

 

 

Deep Doo-Doo

March 9, 2019

Russian internet trolls appear to be shifting strategy to disrupt the 2020 elections, promoting divisive messages “through phony social media accounts instead of creating propaganda themselves,” Bloomberg’s Alyza Sebenius writes.

  • Russian hackers are trying to circumvent protections put in place by Facebook and Twitter after the 2016 election.
  • “Instead of creating content themselves, we see them amplifying content,” hiding behind someone else, said John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis at FireEye.

Be smart: Hacked devices “are used to create many legitimate-looking users as well as believable followers and likes for those fake users.”

[AXIOS]

Fake users combined with emerging deep video and we could be in deep doo-doo if we are not hyper-aware as news and information consumers. -dayle

“Fake videos and audio keep getting better, faster and easier to make, increasing the mind-blowing technology’s potential for harm if put in the wrong hands. Bloomberg QuickTake explains how good deep fakes have gotten in the last few months, and what’s being done to counter them.”

Votes & Virtual Views

August 28, 2017


AXIOS

8.28.17

As an effort to curb misleading information and hoaxes on its platform, Facebook announced Monday it will no longer allow pages that repeatedly share false news to advertise on Facebook.

The move is the latest in a series of steps to punish spammy publishers trying to game the system in order to spread false information or gain false traffic to sell ads. Two weeks ago, Facebook announced it will down-rank publishers that post fake videos.

Why it matters: Fake news perpetrators often took to Pages to spread misinformation during the election. With Pages, groups were able to amass huge audiences and loyal fan bases that would opt-in to receive news and information from them. Pages often represent news organizations, but also groups that exist exclusively on Facebook to drum up emotional support around political issues. Buzzfeed conducted an analysis of how Pages specifically helped drive false news and misinformation during the election.

Patience. And acceptance.

August 26, 2017

AXIOS

[posted 8.25.17]

Mattis to troops: “Hold the line” until U.S. is less divided

Defense Secretary Mattis told troops in what appeared to be an impromptu speech to “hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other.” The video was spotted by Defense One’s Kevin Baron, who said the remarks may have come during Mattis’ visit to Jordan.

Video: Mattis tells troops, “hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other”

https://www.axios.com/mattis-to-troops-hold-the-line-until-u-s-is-less-divided-2477420259.html

AXIOS

April 22, 2017

The Ultimate Megatrend

N.Y. Times Magazine’s forthcoming Climate Issue

Our Climate Future Is Actually Our Climate Present

How do we live with the fact that the world we knew is going and, in some cases, already gone?” by Jon Mooallem:

The future we’ve been warned about is beginning to saturate the present. We tend to imagine climate change as a destroyer. But it also traffics in disruption, disarray: increasingly frequent and more powerful storms and droughts; heightened flooding; expanded ranges of pests turning forests into fuel for wildfires; stretches of inhospitable heat. So many facets of our existence — agriculture, transportation, cities and the architecture they spawned — were designed to suit specific environments. Now they are being slowly transplanted into different, more volatile ones, without ever actually moving.

And in case that wasn’t enough, from the same issue

Why the Menace of Mosquitoes Will Only Get Worse:

Climate change is altering the environment in ways that increase the potential for viruses like Zika,” by Maryn McKenna:

The unpredictable weather patterns stimulated by climate change affect infectious diseases, as well as chronic ones. Warmer weather encourages food-borne organisms like salmonella to multiply more rapidly, and warmer seas foster the growth of bacteria like Vibrio that make oysters unsafe to eat. Spikes in heat and humidity have less visible effects, too, changing the numbers and distribution of the insect intermediaries that carry diseases to people.

Teachable moments in media.

April 8, 2017

7. To tell your kids 

WashPost Magazine cover story, “Colleges turn ‘fake news’ epidemic into a teachable moment: Professors focus on news literacy for a generation raised on social media,” by Kitson Jazynka: “Professors interviewed for this story are teaching students not just to identify ‘fake news’ (a label previously reserved for hoaxes), but to detect bias, missing points of view, misleading slants and economic influences.”

In his classroom at UCLA this spring, [former photojournalist] Jeff Share teaches his students … to apply the concept of triangulation to the news by searching out multiple sources and points of view to arrive as close as possible to the truth. … 

Share’s students experiment in the classroom with photography, shooting pictures from different positions to observe how shifting angles — or changes in lighting, composition and other photography techniques — can alter an image. As students start to recognize the potential for bias in photographs, they learn to read images more critically.


[George Mason University professor Beth Jannery talking to her students about media literacy. (Pete Marovich/For The Washington Post)]

“…there has been a reawakening of interest in teaching media literacy at colleges and universities. Professors interviewed for this story are teaching students not just to identify “fake news” (a label previously reserved for hoaxes), but to detect bias, missing points of view, misleading slants and economic influences. We taught everybody to read after we had the printing press and now we have to teach everybody these information-vetting skills.

[…]

The idea behind the game, is to use each news item as a jumping-off point to encourage students to make a deeper assessment of the media they consume.

[…]

The idea behind the game is to use each news item as a jumping-off point to encourage students to make a deeper assessment of the media they consume.

[…]

I’m probably more convinced now than ever that the real solution is for every 12-year-old in America to become inoculated against fake news. Every 12-year-old needs to be news literate. That should be a mantra for our country.”

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