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Culture war games: draw a larger circle

Tyranny’s new trick: in Hungary, a government wages war on liberalism
By Nick Cohen

When their enemies win, liberals ought to examine their faults, the better to avoid future defeats. During the attacks on the Central European University, Fidesz propagandists insisted that intellectual freedom was a mirage in a west where safe spaces, trigger warnings and the banning of speakers suppressed free speech and free inquiry. If western liberals censor universities, why can’t the Hungarian state? The question libelled Ignatieff, who has a principled and consistent commitment to intellectual freedom. Yet who can deny that the worst of the Anglo-American academic left is providing ammunition to, and justifications for, the far right? Now, as always, the similarities are as striking as the differences.

Lessons from a century of communism
By Ilya Somin

Democracy requires effective opposition parties. And in order to function, such parties need to be able to put out their message and mobilize voters, which in turn requires extensive resources. In an economic system in which all or nearly all valuable resources are controlled by the state, the incumbent government can easily strangle opposition by denying them access to those resources. Under socialism, the opposition cannot function if they are not allowed to spread their message on state-owned media, or use state-owned property for their rallies and meetings. It is no accident that virtually every communist regime suppressed opposition parties soon after coming to power.

On the other side of the political spectrum, there are disturbing similarities between communism and various newly popular extreme right-wing nationalist movements. Both combine authoritarian tendencies with disdain for liberal values and a desire to extend government control over large parts of the economy.

Today’s dangerous tendencies on both right and left are not yet as menacing as those of a century ago, and need not cause anywhere near as much harm. The better we learn the painful lessons of the history of communism, the more likely that we can avoid any repetition of its horrors.

What Millennials Should Know About the Soviet Union
By Chelsea Follett

Research suggests that the number of unnatural deaths wrought by communism may be upward of eighty million—a number so high that the violence of Tsarist Russia, the Spanish Inquisition, and “Bloody” Mary’s English counterreformation pale in comparison. Today, seven out of ten Americans underestimate the number of lives that communism extinguished. Perhaps that explains part of communism’s continued appeal. But if your friends could travel back in time to the Stalin era, they would see that literal class warfare benefits no one except opportunistic tyrants like Stalin.

Garry Kasparov: What Should Trump Read?
By Adam Rubenstein

… Trump should read Luke Harding’s A Very Expensive Poison, which uses the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London with a radioactive isotope as a lens to expose the criminal and murderous nature of the Putin regime. Harding was a reporter in Moscow for years and was himself pressured by the Putin government and knows his subjects very well. Unlike many Western reporters (and politicians), he doesn’t let a deluded desire to “show both sides” obscure the difference between good and evil.

Litvinenko was granted asylum in the United Kingdom for whistleblowing on some of Putin’s horrific crimes against the Russian people he supposedly protects, especially the 1999 apartment bombings that were blamed on Chechen rebels. (David Satter’s recent book, The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep, focuses on these and is also excellent.)

That a prominent defector, to use that old word, could be assassinated, and so spectacularly, so dangerously, in the center of London, showed both that Putin had no respect for international borders or laws, and also that the Western governments that thought to make friends with him were terribly naive. Pathetically, the investigation into the nuclear murder of a U.K. citizen by Russian assassins in London was delayed and buried by several administrations so as not to complicate relations with Russia. What message does that send to Putin and other dictators?

How To Kill A Country
By Samantha Power

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has famously argued that no functioning democracy has ever suffered a famine, because democratic governments “have to win elections and face public criticism, and have strong incentive to undertake measures to avert famines and other catastrophes.” Like Pol Pot’s Cambodia and Mao’s China, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe shows what can happen when political elites operate with no fear of being taken to task.

Mugabe has done virtually everything conceivable to ruin his country, but one finds signs of a redoubtable spirit everywhere. Graffiti has sprung up at city bus stops, reading, “Zvakwana!,” or “It’s enough!” Despite arrest and torture, opposition activists remain brazen in their dissent. Displaced farm workers now survive by growing vegetables in grass patches beside bus stops. The destitute wait patiently in line to cast ballots in elections they know will be stolen. White farmers spend what’s left of their savings suing for the return of their land in courts presided over by a government whose officials occupy their farmhouses. All say the same thing: Yes, Zimbabwe has been the continent’s latest example of how not to govern. But the mounting severity of Mugabe’s crackdown is a testament to his frustration with the resilience of civil society, which simply refuses to go away. If Mugabe were to give up power, Zimbabweans insist, the country would quickly show how liberated citizens can mend a shattered land. The effect, they say, could be contagious.

Why Weinstein Held On For So Long and Fell So Fast
By Virginia Postrel

Q: How is the Harvey Weinstein scandal like the fall of European communism?

A: Communism was considered invincible. Then the fall of the Berlin Wall started a domino effect that brought down six Soviet satellites in quick succession, and soon after the Soviet Union itself. Though communism’s failures were widely understood, no one thought it vulnerable to street demonstrations. In East Berlin in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968, it had demonstrated a willingness to crush dissent brutally. Moreover, for decades on end, the members of communist-ruled societies had displayed a remarkable tolerance for tyranny and inefficiency. They remained docile and even outwardly supportive of the status quo.

For all this submissiveness, it turned out that millions had been willing to revolt all along — if enough others would also revolt and they felt sufficiently sure of escaping punishment. But no one knew exactly what needed to happen to set off a successful uprising. In retrospect, all it took was a few thousand demonstrators calling for more freedom and a regime that signaled that it was afraid of overreacting. People standing on the sidelines suddenly found the courage to join in, and the East German revolt started feeding on itself.

Before long, fear changed sides. People who had never criticized communism publicly were now afraid to be caught defending it. Genuine supporters of communism (they, too, numbered in the millions) joined the opposition. They took to pretending to have been falsifying their political preferences out of fear, like their compatriots who had genuinely felt oppressed.

The early Soviet images that foreshadowed fake news
By Fiona Macdonald

A series of snapshots conveys a chilling timeline: in the first photo, Stalin is seen surrounded by four of his comrades; in the next, dated 23 years later, three have disappeared; in the third, he stands alone in a postcard portrait. Those in the leader’s inner circle who fell out of favour were simply erased from official images: photographic manipulation was key for rewriting Soviet history. “It is one of our concerns today – images are very convincing, but they are also very easily manipulated,” says Gale.

He sees parallels between some of the photos on display and the 21st-Century meme. “The relationship between these ways of censoring people from history and the Photoshopped image is very telling, and a warning to us in this day and age. It shows the power of images, and, in a way, part of the story behind this history that we’re drawing out… is exactly that, to look at the power of images in the public space, and what sorts of information they convey.”

In the Soviet Union, that purpose became conveying a Party-backed message – a message that, according to Gale, could “shift radically and unexpectedly… people who were in power suddenly fell from power and had to be removed. So the blanking out of people’s faces in an incredibly sinister way shows both the power of the image but also the importance of politics as the driver behind the production of this material.” These shifts applied as much to artists as politicians: in 1938, Gustav Klutsis – who had used photomontage in politically charged designs for posters and street displays – was arrested on false charges and executed. His wife Valentina Kulagina, another artist, was subsequently classed as an ‘enemy of the people’ and was no longer given official commissions.

Taylor Swift Should Apologize for Being Apolitical: Fashion Mag
By Nick Gillespie

As former Reason scribe Charles Paul Freund (read his masterpiece “In Praise of Vulgarity: How Commercial Culture Liberates Islam—and the West“) was fond of saying, nothing bothered Soviet cultural commissars more than American pop tunes about puppy love and driving aimlessly around in cars. More than Elvis and Little Richard, who at least freaked out the older generation, Paul Anka and Neil Sedaka were perceived as bigger threats to the USSR precisely because they represented a complete absence of revolutionary potential. In a society in which everything was about politics and ideology, the most revolutionary act was to simply ignore politics and ideology, if only for a few minutes.

And so it is in the contemporary United States, where, to paraphrase George W. Bush’s much-derided statement after the 9/11 attacks, you’re either with us or against us (Bush himself was paraphrasing one of Jesus’ most-dualistic statements in the New Testament). For the entirety of the 21st century, it seems, more and more parts of our lives are being infected by partisanship of the dumbest and rankest form. Marie Claire is hardly the only or even the worst outlet when it comes to insisting that Taylor Swift join the barricades or STFU, but it’s always worth pointing out that very few people want to live in a world where every goddamned thing is drafted for political purposes. The Kiss Army is right to remain neutral.

Why Don’t Sanders Supporters Care About the Russia Investigation?
By David Klion

… Russian meddling in American politics is, in fact, the product of a long series of bipartisan policy failures. Democrats and Republicans alike supported trade policies that facilitated the rise of plundered fortunes in countries like Russia and China. For instance, in the 1990s, both the Bush and Clinton administrations encouraged the aggressive privatization of the Russian economy, which resulted in collapsing living standards, a new class of robber barons and a backlash against liberal democracy that Mr. Putin exploits to this day.

Brexit is the new low point of British democracy
By Nick Cohen

For all that, it is telling that strongmen still want to pose as democrats. Viktor Orban, who has so corrupted Hungary that he is a de facto dictator, says he is ‘illiberal’ but a democrat. Putin likewise says his enemy is liberalism not democracy, and goes to considerable trouble to rig elections to give himself a spurious legitimacy. But in the democratic heartlands faith is dwindling, as polls in France, Australia and the United States show. It is too easy to blame disillusion on democratic decisions, such as Brexit and the Trump election, alienating the young – who are on every measure the most disillusioned of all.

Democracy has a lie at its heart. It is meant to be an egalitarian system in which every vote is equal. Yet the power to influence decision-making is as unequal as in a Romanov court. Traditionally, when this case is made writers point to the ability of rich special interests to get their way. I don’t want to discourage them. The defining moment of the last decade was the taxpayer bailing out the banks without seeing the government requiring a single banker go to prison or hand back a penny of his or her bonuses. For every member of the US Congress in 2011, there were 23 lobbyists trying to twist their arms. Back in Britain, Rupert Murdoch has commanded the governments of Thatcher, Blair and Cameron to favour his business interests. Indeed if you view the careers of Tony Blair or George Osborne as a whole, their time in Parliament appears to be an internship or an audition for the lucrative corporate posts they moved on to. I could go on, but you get the point and know the argument.

The Tragedy of Liberalism
By Patrick J. Deneen

Our society is increasingly defined by economic winners and losers, with winners congregating in wealthy cities and surrounding counties, while losers largely remain in place, literally and figuratively, swamped by a global economy that rewards the highly educated cognitive elite while offering bread crumbs to those left in “flyover country.” Trends observed decades ago by Robert Reich and Christopher Lasch, among others, who decried the growing phenomenon of “the secession of the successful” or the “revolt of the elite,” are today institutionalized, especially through family, neighborhood, and schools, and replicated by generational succession. Children of the successful receive the requisite preparation and entry into the ruling class, while those who lack those attainments are much less capable of affording, much less being even sufficiently knowledgeable about, the basic prerequisites needed to push their way into the upper echelon.

Trump Diary 13: Kill the Poor
By David Auerbach

When it comes to poor white Trump-voting areas, the right wants these communities to die out because they’re economically worthless and unproductive. The left wants them to die out because they’re racist, sexist, and morally backwards.

For both Republican and Democratic elites, a vote for Trump has come to be seen as a civic disqualifier. Two political contentions—(1) Trump voters were motivated not by economics but by racism; and (2) there is no such thing as a “good” Trump voter—have become articles of faith among the intelligentsia on both sides.

These contentions echo Williamson’s argument: nothing happened to them. What’s unusual, however, is that the left rejects superstructural Marxist arguments that view individual beliefs as a consequence of macrohistorical currents (racial, economic, or otherwise). Rather, both right and left have embraced a Protestant individualism, seeing the 2016 election as a test of one’s soul.

This shift, from a structural to an ethical view of human agency, is one of the most important shifts in leftist discourse in recent decades, shifting away from theories of radical change and toward the policing of individual human souls. I analyzed it in depth in #JeNeSuisPasLiberal: Entering the Quagmire of Online Leftism

Low growth and increasing automation will result in many, many more human lives becoming economically negligible. The long-term goal of Pruner Republican tactics is to “discourage” the propagation of “negative [human] assets” and ease these existing negative assets into death—by cutting their benefits and lifelines.

This, however, does set the stage for populist demagogues to appeal to pure resentment (racial or otherwise). Trump is a false prophet in this regard, as he is happy to go along with the Pruners’ plans, but also serves as a troubling augur—specifically, that Republican voters may continue to vote the wrong way in primaries. Which is yet another reason why the more visionary Pruner elites see it as increasingly urgent, via mechanisms such as the tax bill and court-packing, to kill the poor.

In Eastern Europe, Populism Lives, Widening a Split in the E.U.
By Steven Erlanger

“A significant segment of the population in each of these countries feels that they have been robbed of something, been misled and cheated,” he said.

But while Americans may resent its loss of dominance and the rise of China, and Britain the end of the glory days of empire, he said, “the resentments in the former Soviet bloc are the missed opportunities of the freedom they received in 1989.”

No one regrets the disappearance of communism, Mr. Davies said, but “they do resent the way the new order was founded and where the benefits went, mostly to a narrow elite.”

Our dismal leaders make me mourn the decline of the professional politician
By Nick Cohen

Much though many on the right do not want to admit it, they are the elite now: the people in power who are running Britain and America. Right-wingers can, if they must, deplore liberal elites in the arts or Hollywood, but the elites that matter, the elites which stand above all others in the Anglo-American world, are the supporters of Brexit and Trump.

To put it another way, the men and women who clawed their way to the top by denouncing the political class are the new political class. Ours is a time of proudly amateur political leaders, and look at the mess they are leaving us. After the dismal displays of Patel and Johnson, perhaps the ‘next big thing’ will be the return of professional politicians. They may not have answers to your problems. But then the professional surgeon who operates on you may not cure your sickness. That’s no reason to prefer a quack instead.

She Warned of ‘Peer-to-Peer Misinformation.’ Congress Listened.
By Sheera Frenkel

Through one account she created to monitor anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, she quickly realized she was being pushed toward other anti-vaccine accounts, creating an echo chamber in which it appeared that viewpoints like “vaccines cause autism” were the majority.

Soon, her Facebook account began promoting content to her on a range of other conspiratorial ideas, ranging from people who claim the earth is flat to those who believe that “chem trails,” or trails left in the sky by planes, were spraying chemical agents on an unsuspecting public.

“So by Facebook suggesting all these accounts, they were essentially creating this vortex in which conspiratorial ideas can just breed and multiply,” Ms. DiResta said.

Google to ‘derank’ Russia Today and Sputnik
By BBC News

Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt said the search giant needed to deal with the spread of misinformation.

RT has been described by US intelligence agencies as “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine”.

The publications said the move was a form of censorship.

Speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum, Mr Schmidt said: “We’re well aware of this one, and we’re working on detecting this kind of scenario you’re describing and deranking those kinds of sites.”

He then named two of Russia’s biggest media outlets: RT, a TV and online news organisation, and Sputnik, an online media network.

“I am strongly not in favour of censorship. I am very strongly in favour of ranking. It’s what we do,” he added. “It’s a very legitimate question as to how we rank, A or B, right? And we do the best we can in millions and millions of rankings every day,” said Mr Schmidt.

Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by the Tech Giant
By Kenneth P. Vogel

In the hours after European antitrust regulators levied a record $2.7 billion fine against Google in late June, an influential Washington think tank learned what can happen when a wealthy tech giant is criticized.

The New America Foundation has received more than $21 million from Google; its parent company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt; and his family’s foundation since the think tank’s founding in 1999. That money helped to establish New America as an elite voice in policy debates on the American left and helped Google shape those debates.

But not long after one of New America’s scholars posted a statement on the think tank’s website praising the European Union’s penalty against Google, Mr. Schmidt, who had been chairman of New America until 2016, communicated his displeasure with the statement to the group’s president, Anne-Marie Slaughter, according to the scholar.

Apple, Google CEOs Bring Star Power as China Promotes Censorship
By Bloomberg News

“The theme of this conference — developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits — is a vision we at Apple share,” Cook said. “We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace.”

Cook’s comments come at a pivotal point for the company’s future in China, which is now its biggest market outside of North America. It relies on the sale of hardware and services in the world’s most populous country to propel revenue and profit growth. But the efforts required to stay in China’s good graces are causing tensions with civil libertarians and politicians at home.

Apple has come under fire for cooperating with Chinese authorities in removing apps that give users there uncensored communications. In November, Apple complied with government orders to pull Microsoft Corp.’s Skype phone and video service from the Chinese version of its popular app store. Cook used an earnings call with investors to justify such moves, saying it obeyed the laws of the markets where it operates.

“Much has been said of the potential downsides of AI, but I don’t worry about machines thinking like humans. I worry about people thinking like machines,” he said. “We all have to work to infuse technology with humanity, with our values.”

10 Ways to Think Different – Inside Apple’s Cult-Like Culture
By Steve Tobak

Concepts like conventional wisdom and status quo don’t exist at Apple headquarters in Cupertino. From the beginning, employees learn the Apple way: Think Different. It’s not written anywhere and there are few processes to follow, but they learn it, just the same. And it works, bigtime.

Apple’s Diversity Chief Is Leaving After Only 6 Months
By Jonathan Vanian

She had irked some critics in May when she commented during a conference, “There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blonde men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation.” Her comments were seen by some as insensitive to people of color, women, and members of the LGBT community, who have long faced an uphill battle in the workplace.

Denise Young Smith later apologized for her comments, saying that they “were not representative of how I think about diversity or how Apple sees it.”

Google is locking people out of documents, and you should be worried
By Monica Chin

A Google spokesperson claims that the lockouts were an error, and that the company has fixed the problem.

“This morning, we made a code push that incorrectly flagged a small percentage of Google docs as abusive, which caused those documents to be automatically blocked,” the company told Mashable. “A fix is in place and all users should have access to their docs.”

Google added, “We apologize for the disruption and will put processes in place to prevent this from happening again.”

Still, the incident raises important questions about the control Google Docs users have over their own content.

Google collects Android users’ locations even when location services are disabled
By Keith Collins

The practice is troubling for people who’d prefer they weren’t tracked, especially for those such as law-enforcement officials or victims of domestic abuse who turn off location services thinking they’re fully concealing their whereabouts. Although the data sent to Google is encrypted, it could potentially be sent to a third party if the phone had been compromised with spyware or other methods of hacking. Each phone has a unique ID number, with which the location data can be associated.

The revelation comes as Google and other internet companies are under fire from lawmakers and regulators, including for the extent to which they vacuum up data about users. Such personal data, ranging from users’ political views to their purchase histories to their locations, are foundational to the business successes of companies like Facebook and Alphabet, built on targeted advertising and personalization and together valued at over $1.2 trillion by investors.

History proves how dangerous it is to have the government regulate fake news
By Flemming Rose and Jacob Mchangama

This is problematic for several reasons. First, there is a huge amount of empirical data from different countries throughout history that make it clear that even democratic governments tend to use this kind of power to silence opponents and shut down speech they don’t like. During the French Revolution, for example, policing the truth resulted in the execution of those who were accused of disseminating false news, which included anyone critical of those behind the Reign of Terror. In 1798, the U.S. Congress passed the Sedition Act in order to punish false statements about the government made with malicious intent. It was used to suppress opinion with which the Federalist administration of President John Adams disagreed. This is one of the reasons why prosecution for lies about the government are outlawed in the U.S. and why this kind of speech is protected by the First Amendment.

Interestingly, President Donald Trump has suggested that libel laws be changed to cover what he categorizes as “fake news” about himself by mainstream media outlets, such as The New York Times. Apparently, Trump has some support for this unconstitutional idea. Asked in an Economist/YouGov poll whether courts should be able to “shut down” media outlets for “publishing or broadcasting stories that are biased or inaccurate,” 45 percent of Republicans were in favor, and 55 percent of Republicans favored fining such “biased or inaccurate” media outlets. But, the First Amendment stands in the way of Trump restricting journalism that is critical of his person and policies.

She flipped off President Trump — and got fired from her government contracting job
By Petula Dvorak

“I wasn’t even at work when I did that,” Briskman said. “But they told me I violated the code-of-conduct policy.”

Her bosses at Akima, who have not returned emails and calls requesting comment, showed her the blue-highlighted Section 4.3 of the firm’s social-media policy when they canned her.

“Covered Social Media Activity that contains discriminatory, obscene malicious or threatening content, is knowingly false, create [sic] a hostile work environment, or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct will not be tolerated and will be subject to discipline up to an [sic] including termination of employment.”

Facebook censored me. Criticize your government and it might censor you too.
By James Bovard

Facebook instructs its employees that “we will not censor content unless a nation has demonstrated the political will to enforce its censorship laws.” But in such cases, Facebook happily teams up with heavy-handed politicians to crush dissent and suppress heretical notions.

In Turkey, India, Pakistan and Morocco, Facebook routinely suppresses comments from regime opponents. Facebook cooperates closely with the Israeli government and “Palestinian groups are blocked so often that they have their own hashtag, #FbCensorsPalestine.”

In June, German police raided dozens of homes across the nation suspected of offensive social media postings and “conducted home searches and interrogations,” according to the New York Times. Facebook is deleting 15,000 posts a month in Germany but the government is threatening a $50-million-plus fine unless Facebook suppresses far more comments. Judith Bergman of the Gatestone Institute commented on the German mandate: “When employees of social media companies are appointed as the state’s private thought police … free speech becomes nothing more than a fairy tale. Or is that perhaps the point?” Other European nations are jumping on the suppression bandwagon. British Prime Minister Theresa May last month called on Facebook to remove purportedly extremist content within two hours of a government demand.

Governments in 30 countries manipulated media online to silence critics, sow unrest or influence elections
By Tony Romm

“While the online environment in the United States remained vibrant and diverse, the prevalence of disinformation and hyperpartisan content had a significant impact,” Freedom House found.

“When trying to combat online manipulation from abroad, it is important for countries not to overreach,” said Sanja Kelly, who oversees the production of the Freedom of the Net report, in a statement.

“The solution to manipulation and disinformation lies not in censoring websites but in teaching citizens how to detect fake news and commentary,” Kelly continued. “Democracies should ensure that the source of political advertising online is at least as transparent online as it is offline.”

George Takei’s Facebook Empire strains under sexual harassment allegations
By Kelsey Sutton

In more recent years, Takei has used his fan base as a lucrative business opportunity, offering publishers access to his social media fan base for a fee. Publishers pay for their content to be shared by people like Takei, and in exchange have their articles and videos shared. On Takei’s page, those posts are often accompanied with jokes, puns or other quips.

Takei is one of many celebrities and influencers who are part of influencer networks. But Takei was one of the early trailblazers of the emerging model. Takei relies on the help of the company the Social Edge to promote certain publishers’ content for a fee, and the Social Edge uses Takei’s success as a model. The audience from Takei’s page remains a major lever for the Social Edge.

The Social Edge founder and COO Jay Kuo wrote in a Medium post in May that one publisher working with Takei generally yields more than 2 million views per post.

Tim Berners-Lee on the future of the web: ‘The system is failing’
By Olivia Solon

The financial incentive drove Macedonian teenagers with “no political skin in the game” to generate political clickbait fake news that was distributed on Facebook and funded by revenue from Google’s automated advertising engine AdSense.

“The system is failing. The way ad revenue works with clickbait is not fulfilling the goal of helping humanity promote truth and democracy. So I am concerned,” said Berners-Lee, who in March called for the regulation of online political advertising to prevent it from being used in “unethical ways”.

Since then, it has been revealed that Russian operatives bought micro-targeted political ads aimed at US voters on Facebook, Google and Twitter. Data analytics firms such as Cambridge Analytica, which builds personality profiles of millions of individuals so they can be manipulated through “behavioural micro-targeting”, have also been criticised for creating “weaponised AI propaganda”.

“We have these dark ads that target and manipulate me and then vanish because I can’t bookmark them. This is not democracy – this is putting who gets selected into the hands of the most manipulative companies out there,” said Berners-Lee.

Key trends in social and digital news media
By Kristen Bialik and Katerina Eva Matsa

Americans have low trust in information from social media. Just 5% of web-using U.S. adults have a lot of trust in the information they get from social media, nearly identical to the 4% who said so in 2016. This level of trust is much lower than trust in national and local news organizations, and in information coming from friends and family. In fact, in a separate study focusing on science news about twice as many social media users distrust science posts on social media as trust them (52% compared with 26%, 21% of social media users do not see any science posts).

Can you distinguish between a bot and a human?
By Jamie Bartlett

This new world of pseudonyms, virals, and digital public opinion is becoming murky. It’s not always easy to tell humans and bots apart, because some bots behave like humans; and some humans behave like bots. One academic report earlier this year tried to measure Labour bots during the election. It estimated that any account which tweets over 50 times a day on a single hashtag is a bot. Myself and colleagues at Demos took a closer look at this – and it turned out that many of these ‘bots’ were in fact fanatic Labour supports who were tweeting so frenetically they looked machines. Equally, improvements in machine learning mean bots are looking more and more human. Soon, it will be very difficult to tell them apart.

Russia’s ‘Evidence’ That the U.S. Is Helping ISIS Is Footage From a 2015 Computer Game
By Damien Sharkov

Russians following the ministry on social media were quick to note that one of the stills was identical to computer-generated footage from a game, uploaded on YouTube two years ago. The clip from AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron subsequently started receiving dozens of sarcastic comments.

The ministry’s crop of the image even contained parts of the disclaimer text in the top right-hand corner, presumably left by the developer, which read: “Development footage. This is a work in progress. All content subject to change.” The ministry later deleted the images.

Simpler Explanations Are Usually Correct. Even on Russia.
By Leonid Bershidsky

The obvious propaganda and disinformation campaign Russia has been conducting throughout the West, and in the U.S. in particular, shouldn’t make investigators and journalists lose their cool. The campaign succeeds by making them paranoid; as conspiracy theories flower, they start jumping at shadows. Healthy skepticism and the judicious use of Occam’s razor are necessary to protect Western institutions and their credibility in the rest of the world, including Russia.

Hey, Mark Zuckerberg: My Democracy Isn’t Your Laboratory
By Stevan Dojcinovic

We journalists bear some responsibility for this, too. Using Facebook to reach our readers has always been convenient, so we invested time and effort in building our presence there, helping it become the monster it is today.

But what’s done is done — a private company, accountable to no one, has taken over the world’s media ecosystem. It is now responsible for what happens there. By picking small countries with shaky democratic institutions to be experimental subjects, it is showing a cynical lack of concern for how its decisions affect the most vulnerable.

YouTube and Facebook Are Removing Evidence of Atrocities, Jeopardizing Cases Against War Criminals
By Avi Asher-Schapiro

For some who post on social media to document ongoing atrocities, the takedowns seem, at best, a destruction of evidence — and, at worst, complicity in atrocities. “Three years of documentation, just gone, in a moment,” Obayda Abo-Al Bara, a manager at the Idlib Media Center, said. Mohammad Anwar, one of the Rohingya activists whose posts were deleted by Facebook, told The Intercept that “I did feel that Facebook was colluding with the Myanmar regime in the Rohingya genocide.”

Facebook declined to address that statement directly, but said through a spokesperson that it is now making exceptions to its community standards for that conflict, working with NGOs, and conceded some mistakes in its handling of posts from Myanmar after they were brought to light by the Daily Beast in September.

In the tribunals of the future, investigators imagine a constellation of evidence — social media content will be introduced alongside traditional materials, such as eyewitness testimony or official documents to build stronger, more durable, cases against war criminals. Social media will never replace flesh-and-blood witnesses or old-fashioned forensics. But such evidence is clearly growing in importance — and is uniquely concentrated on the servers of Silicon Valley corporations.

“These platforms are now essentially privately owned evidence lockers,” said Christoph Koettl, a senior analyst at Amnesty International.

“But they are not in the business of being a human rights evidence locker; that work is not included in their business model.”

Matt Taibbi on the Death of Edward Herman
By Matt Taibbi

When Manufacturing Consent was written the major problem was that Americans across the entire political spectrum were being sold a range of myths about the beneficence of American power and government policy.

Today it is not clear who is actually dictating to whom. Is the state dictating to the media, or are global distribution firms dictating the narrative to states?

We can make a few deductions about the new “manufactured consent.” The thrust of modern media isn’t as simple as cheerleading for the flag and ignoring atrocities, although we clearly still do that.

There seems also to be a massive emphasis on political division as a route to profit. Since getting people to discuss and argue is how companies like Facebook get paid, driving us toward ever more divisive media is an obvious imperative. But to what end?

Herman and Chomsky’s work was a great gift to a generation of thinkers trying to make sense of how power in the West sold itself to populations. The late Herman should be honored for that critical contribution he made to understanding American empire.

Genocide-denying charlatans have poisoned the Left
By Oliver Kamm

Ratko Mladic was sentenced yesterday to life imprisonment for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Under his military command, Bosnian Serb forces massacred 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995. Mladic’s paramilitaries also laid siege to Sarajevo for longer than the Nazis blockaded Leningrad, and shelled and shot the city’s civilians as they struggled for the very means of subsistence.

It would surely be inconceivable to find anyone offering extenuation for such depravities outside the racist and anti-Muslim far right. That would be to reckon, however, without the defection of parts of the purportedly anti-imperialist left to irrationalism and rampant xenophobia. Edward Herman, an academic at Pennsylvania University, was an extreme example of this phenomenon and stands as a terrible warning about the influence of bad ideas.

Herman died last week at the age of 92. Though he received a kid-glove obituary in the Washington Post, he was hardly a well-known name. He was, however, a longstanding co-author of a very famous intellectual figure indeed, the linguist Noam Chomsky, and he exemplifies a perverse phenomenon on the Left. Herman’s animus against the United States was so great that, from his study in Philadelphia, he assiduously whitewashed the crimes of the worst thugs and dictators in the post-war world provided only that they defined themselves against America.

America Wasn’t Built for Humans
By Andrew Sullivan

How do you live peacefully for years among fellow citizens and then find yourself suddenly engaged in the mass murder of humans who look similar to you, live around you, and believe in the same God, but whose small differences in theology mean they must be killed before they kill you? In the Balkans, a long period of relative peace imposed by communism was shattered by brutal sectarian and ethnic warfare, as previously intermingled citizens split into unreconcilable groups. The same has happened in a developed democratic society — Northern Ireland — and in one of the most successful countries in Africa, Kenya.

Tribal loyalties turned Beirut, Lebanon’s beautiful, cosmopolitan capital, into an urban wasteland in the 1970s; they caused close to a million deaths in a few months in Rwanda in the 1990s; they are turning Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, into an enabler of ethnic cleansing right now in Myanmar. British imperialists long knew that the best way to divide and conquer was by creating “countries” riven with tribal differences. Not that they were immune: Even in successful modern democracies like Britain and Spain, the tribes of Scots and Catalans still threaten a viable nation-state. In all these places, the people involved have been full citizens of their respective nations, but their deepest loyalty is to something else.

Bill Clinton: Americans Must Decide Who We Really Are
By Bill Clinton

All too often, tribalism based on race, religion, sexual identity and place of birth has replaced inclusive nationalism, in which you can be proud of your tribe and still embrace the larger American community. And too often resentment conquers reason, anger blinds us to answers and sanctimony passes for authenticity. These trends are fueled by our Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook worlds, in which the attention span for issues on television news is only a few seconds, and the very survival of newspapers depends upon retweets of headlines from their online editions. Too many social media sites are fever swamps of extremist foreign and domestic invaders. Such resolute efforts to abolish the line between fact and fiction, truth and lies, can offset all the benefits of our interconnectedness. When trust vanishes and knowledge is devalued as an establishment defense of the status quo, anything can happen. We already see citizens being disenfranchised by the millions, targeted by race, ethnicity and age not because they are ineligible to vote, but because they favor inclusive, not tribal, nationalism.

Who wins in this kind of environment? Those who already have it made; they’ll make more. The least responsible members of the political media, who will prosper covering each new controversy and outrage. And the enemies of democracy, who feed the discord and hope that Americans will finally concede that informed self-government no longer works — and perhaps is no longer even possible — in the modern world.

Liberals Need to Take Their Fingers Out of Their Ears
By Thomas B. Edsall

Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard, observes that “believers in liberal democracy have unilaterally disarmed in the defense of the institution” by agreeing in many cases with the premise of the Trump campaign: “that the country is a hopeless swamp.” This left Democrats “defenseless when he proposed to drain it.”

Where, Pinker asks,

are the liberals who are willing to say that liberal democracy has worked? That environmental regulations have slashed air pollutants while allowing Americans to drive more miles and burn more fuel? That social transfers have reduced poverty rates fivefold? That globalization has allowed Americans to afford more food, clothing, TVs, cars, and air-conditioners? That international organizations have prevented nuclear war, and reduced the rate of death in warfare by 90 percent? That environmental treaties are healing the hole in the ozone layer?

Pinker remains confident:

Progress always must fight headwinds. Human nature doesn’t change, and the appeal of regressive impulses is perennial. The forces of liberalism, modernity, cosmopolitanism, the open society, and Enlightenment values always have to push against our innate tribalism, authoritarianism, and thirst for vengeance. We can even recognize these instincts in ourselves, even in Trump’s cavalier remarks about the rule of law.

Pinker continues:

Over the longer run, I think the forces of modernity prevail — affluence, education, mobility, communication, and generational replacement. Trumpism, like Brexit and European populism, are old men’s movements: support drops off sharply with age.

Pinker is optimistic about the future. I hope he is right.

Students Against Free Speech, Political Correctness Run Amok, and Other Findings from Cato’s New Survey
By Robby Soave

Democrats and Republicans are both intolerant, but in different ways. Conservatives often castigate liberals—especially young liberals—as delicate snowflakes who are easily offended. The college outrage beat provides plenty of support for this view, since students all over the country are frequently involved in efforts to derail conversations that make them uncomfortable. But as Sarah Ruger argued in a recent Inside Higher Ed piece, conservatives are also keen to shut down offensive speech, a version of political correctness that Cato’s Alex Nowrasteh has called “patriotic correctness.”

Cato’s data provide plenty of evidence of this. Republicans are wildly in favor of National Football League teams firing players who refuse to stand for the national anthem (65 percent). Similarly, 54 percent of Republicans think a business executive should lose his job if he burns the American flag. Majorities of Democrats disagreed with both of these positions; instead, 58 percent of Democrats said employers should fire employees who make insensitive comments on Facebook.

The Intolerant Left
By Adrienne LaFrance

Goldberg: One of the many interesting things about you is your intolerance or impatience for jargon and groupthink and you periodically get into a kind of useful trouble by speaking your mind. It’s fair to say that you’re associated with a liberal worldview, but you seem to be a little bit frustrated lately in sort of this—I don’t know what you would call it—Darwinian process of winnowing out people who sound heterodoxical. Is that fair?

Adichie: The problems in the left interest me more because I just think that there’s an increase in—“intolerance” is maybe putting it simply—but there’s a feeling that you’re supposed to conform. It is no longer in my opinion actually liberal. There’s language you’re supposed to use. There’s an orthodoxy you’re supposed to conform to, and if you don’t, you become a bad, evil person, and it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past or what you stand for. You just become evil and you’re demonized, and it makes me uncomfortable because I think it’s problematic in so many ways. I think people are frightened of saying what they think, and I think that’s a bad thing for society.

It’s the Kultur, Stupid
By Timothy Garton Ash

In a poll conducted in spring 2016 for the Freedom Index of the John Stuart Mill Institute in Heidelberg, only 57 percent of respondents said they felt that “one can freely express one’s political opinion in Germany today.”

It’s therefore encouraging to see a growing number of German intellectuals advocating John Stuart Mill’s own response. Take on these arguments in free and open debate. Subject them to vigorous and rigorous scrutiny. Separate the wheat from the chaff. For as Mill famously argued, even a false argument can contain a sliver of truth, and the good sword of truth can only be kept sharp if constantly tested in open combat with falsehood. Otherwise the received opinion, even if it is correct, will only be held “in the manner of a prejudice.”

Free Speech, Personified
By Peter Salovey

“The right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable,” as the Woodward Report states, is essential to fulfilling the university’s dual missions of education and research. As a scholar who spent much of her life as both student and teacher, Murray would surely have appreciated the inseparable relationship between free expression and intellectual discovery.

“I intend to destroy segregation by positive and embracing methods,” Murray wrote in the magazine Common Ground when she was 35 years old. “When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them. Where they speak out for the privileges of a puny group, I shall shout for the rights of all mankind.”

Pauli Murray drew that circle large enough to include even the hate-spewing governor of Alabama, a man who denied everything she stood for and threatened the principles to which she had dedicated her life.

After graduating from Yale, Murray continued her life of activism and public service. She pioneered legislation and litigation strategies used to combat discrimination against minorities and women, and she helped Betty Friedan found the National Organization for Women. At the age of 67, she became the first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest.

Last month, Yale proudly dedicated a new residential college named for Pauli Murray. Murray’s prescient words — and her lifetime of action — speak forcefully to us about the essential freedoms at the heart of all struggles for equality and dignity. As she taught us, our responsibility to protect freedom of expression is all the more vital if we are to overcome the hatred and division that have characterized our nation for far too long.

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