Facebook and Google promote politicized fake news about Las Vegas shooter

Facebook and Google promoted false news stories claiming that the shooter who killed more than 50 people in Las Vegas was a Democrat who opposed Donald Trump. The misidentification spread rapidly from dark corners of the internet to mainstream platforms just hours after hundreds were injured at a festival near the Mandalay Bay casino, the latest example of fake news polluting social media amid a breaking news story.

The flow of misinformation on Monday illustrated a particularly grim trend that has increasingly dominated viral online propaganda during US mass shootings – hyper-partisan trolls battling to blame the tragedy on opposing political ideologies.

On 4chan, the anonymous message board and a favorite platform of the “alt-right”, some noted that Danley was a registered Democrat. Soon after, Gateway Pundit, a conspiracy-laden blog that earned White House credentials under Trump, published an evidence-free story headlined, “Las Vegas Shooter Reportedly a Democrat Who Liked Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.org and Associated with Anti-Trump Army”. The piece was based on a review of Facebook “likes”.

Despite the fact that the claims were unproven and coming from non-credible sources, Facebook’s “Safety Check” page, which is supposed to help people connect with loved ones during the crisis, ended up briefly promoting a story that said the shooter had “Trump-hating” views, along with links to a number of other hoaxes and scams, according to screenshots. At the same time, Google users who searched Geary Danley’s name were at one point directed to the 4chan thread filled with false claims.

The rightwing users’ successful manipulation of social media algorithms to politicize a tragedy speaks to a relatively new pattern of online abuse. While users of Twitter and Reddit memorably misidentified the suspect behind the Boston marathon bombing in 2013, fake news during global tragedies and terrorist attacks over the last year has increasingly gone beyond careless reporting and retweeting to overt exploitation and targeted disinformation campaigns.

“It’s getting more polarized. There’s this mad scramble to paint the guy as a Democrat or a Republican, so they can cheer,” Brooke Binkowski, managing editor of fact-checking website Snopes.com, said in an interview. “A lot of this is pushed by trolls deliberately to muddy the conversation.”

False content can quickly move from social media to legitimate news sources, she added: “People are putting out crap information on purpose … It’s really easy to get shit into the news cycle by being on Twitter.”

On the flipside, some conservatives on Twitter have theorized that leftwing social media users have attempted to falsely paint Paddock as a rightwing individual. Some have speculated that liberals are posing as white nationalists and Trump supporters and following a Twitter account that has the same name as the suspect, in hopes of proving he is a conservative.

In reality, the suspect had no known “affiliations” that could explain the massacre, according to one of his brothers, who spoke out on Monday.

Beyond the politically charged fake news, a wide range of hoaxes and irresponsible reporting clouded social media on Monday. A number of viral tweets posted fake accounts of missing victims, according to BuzzFeed.

Some celebrities were also quick to spread unverified claims before police had offered any official confirmation of the basic facts of the shooting. Sia, a pop singer and songwriter with 3.2 million followers on Twitter, posted that 20 people were dead before police had released details on the number of casualties, adding, “take cover there are multiple shooters on the loose”.

Police have said there were no other suspects.

Source: This Guardian newspaper article.

 

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What machines can tell from your face

machine facial recognition on punzhu puzzles

We are now living our lives in the age of facial recognition, and each new technology comes with its own pro’s and con’s.

THE human face is a remarkable piece of work. The astonishing variety of facial features helps people recognise each other and is crucial to the formation of complex societies. So is the face’s ability to send emotional signals, whether through an involuntary blush or the artifice of a false smile. People spend much of their waking lives, in the office and the courtroom as well as the bar and the bedroom, reading faces, for signs of attraction, hostility, trust and deceit. They also spend plenty of time trying to dissimulate.

Technology is rapidly catching up with the human ability to read faces. In America facial recognition is used by churches to track worshippers’ attendance; in Britain, by retailers to spot past shoplifters. This year Welsh police used it to arrest a suspect outside a football game. In China it verifies the identities of ride-hailing drivers, permits tourists to enter attractions and lets people pay for things with a smile. Apple’s new iPhone is expected to use it to unlock the homescreen (see article).

Set against human skills, such applications might seem incremental. Some breakthroughs, such as flight or the internet, obviously transform human abilities; facial recognition seems merely to encode them. Although faces are peculiar to individuals, they are also public, so technology does not, at first sight, intrude on something that is private. And yet the ability to record, store and analyse images of faces cheaply, quickly and on a vast scale promises one day to bring about fundamental changes to notions of privacy, fairness and trust.

The final frontier

Start with privacy. One big difference between faces and other biometric data, such as fingerprints, is that they work at a distance. Anyone with a phone can take a picture for facial-recognition programs to use. FindFace, an app in Russia, compares snaps of strangers with pictures on VKontakte, a social network, and can identify people with a 70% accuracy rate. Facebook’s bank of facial images cannot be scraped by others, but the Silicon Valley giant could obtain pictures of visitors to a car showroom, say, and later use facial recognition to serve them ads for cars. Even if private firms are unable to join the dots between images and identity, the state often can. China’s government keeps a record of its citizens’ faces; photographs of half of America’s adult population are stored in databases that can be used by the FBI. Law-enforcement agencies now have a powerful weapon in their ability to track criminals, but at enormous potential cost to citizens’ privacy.

The face is not just a name-tag. It displays a lot of other information—and machines can read that, too. Again, that promises benefits. Some firms are analysing faces to provide automated diagnoses of rare genetic conditions, such as Hajdu-Cheney syndrome, far earlier than would otherwise be possible. Systems that measure emotion may give autistic people a grasp of social signals they find elusive. But the technology also threatens. Researchers at Stanford University have demonstrated that, when shown pictures of one gay man, and one straight man, the algorithm could attribute their sexuality correctly 81% of the time. Humans managed only 61% (see article). In countries where homosexuality is a crime, software which promises to infer sexuality from a face is an alarming prospect.

Keys, wallet, balaclava

Less violent forms of discrimination could also become common. Employers can already act on their prejudices to deny people a job. But facial recognition could make such bias routine, enabling firms to filter all job applications for ethnicity and signs of intelligence and sexuality. Nightclubs and sports grounds may face pressure to protect people by scanning entrants’ faces for the threat of violence—even though, owing to the nature of machine-learning, all facial-recognition systems inevitably deal in probabilities. Moreover, such systems may be biased against those who do not have white skin, since algorithms trained on data sets of mostly white faces do not work well with different ethnicities. Such biases have cropped up in automated assessments used to inform courts’ decisions about bail and sentencing.

Eventually, continuous facial recording and gadgets that paint computerised data onto the real world might change the texture of social interactions. Dissembling helps grease the wheels of daily life. If your partner can spot every suppressed yawn, and your boss every grimace of irritation, marriages and working relationships will be more truthful, but less harmonious. The basis of social interactions might change, too, from a set of commitments founded on trust to calculations of risk and reward derived from the information a computer attaches to someone’s face. Relationships might become more rational, but also more transactional.

In democracies, at least, legislation can help alter the balance of good and bad outcomes. European regulators have embedded a set of principles in forthcoming data-protection regulation, decreeing that biometric information, which would include “faceprints”, belongs to its owner and that its use requires consent—so that, in Europe, unlike America, Facebook could not just sell ads to those car-showroom visitors. Laws against discrimination can be applied to an employer screening candidates’ images. Suppliers of commercial face-recognition systems might submit to audits, to demonstrate that their systems are not propagating bias unintentionally. Firms that use such technologies should be held accountable.

Read the complete article on The Economist magazine web site.

 

Big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media

Robert Mercer in New York in 2014. Photograph: DDP USA/Rex Shutterstock

With links to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Nigel Farage, the rightwing US computer scientist Robert Mercer is at the heart of a multimillion-dollar propaganda network. Photograph: DDP USA/Rex Shutterstock

Carole Cadwalladr wrote this article on Robert Mercer, who funds a large propaganda network, for The Guardian newspaper. This is her story.

Just over a week ago, Donald Trump gathered members of the world’s press before him and told them they were liars. “The press, honestly, is out of control,” he said. “The public doesn’t believe you any more.” CNN was described as “very fake news… story after story is bad”. The BBC was “another beauty”.

That night I did two things. First, I typed “Trump” in the search box of Twitter. My feed was reporting that he was crazy, a lunatic, a raving madman. But that wasn’t how it was playing out elsewhere. The results produced a stream of “Go Donald!!!!”, and “You show ’em!!!” There were star-spangled banner emojis and thumbs-up emojis and clips of Trump laying into the “FAKE news MSM liars!”

Trump had spoken, and his audience had heard him. Then I did what I’ve been doing for two and a half months now. I Googled “mainstream media is…” And there it was. Google’s autocomplete suggestions: “mainstream media is… dead, dying, fake news, fake, finished”. Is it dead, I wonder? Has FAKE news won? Are we now the FAKE news? Is the mainstream media – we, us, I – dying?

I click Google’s first suggested link. It leads to a website called CNSnews.com and an article: “The Mainstream media are dead.” They’re dead, I learn, because they – we, I – “cannot be trusted”. How had it, an obscure site I’d never heard of, dominated Google’s search algorithm on the topic? In the “About us” tab, I learn CNSnews is owned by the Media Research Center, which a click later I learn is “America’s media watchdog”, an organisation that claims an “unwavering commitment to neutralising leftwing bias in the news, media and popular culture”.

Another couple of clicks and I discover that it receives a large bulk of its funding – more than $10m in the past decade – from a single source, the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. If you follow US politics you may recognise the name. Robert Mercer is the money behind Donald Trump. But then, I will come to learn, Robert Mercer is the money behind an awful lot of things. He was Trump’s single biggest donor. Mercer started backing Ted Cruz, but when he fell out of the presidential race he threw his money – $13.5m of it – behind the Trump campaign.

It’s money he’s made as a result of his career as a brilliant but reclusive computer scientist. He started his career at IBM, where he made what the Association for Computational Linguistics called “revolutionary” breakthroughs in language processing – a science that went on to be key in developing today’s AI – and later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.

One of its funds, Medallion, which manages only its employees’ money, is the most successful in the world – generating $55bn so far. And since 2010, Mercer has donated $45m to different political campaigns – all Republican – and another $50m to non-profits – all rightwing, ultra-conservative. This is a billionaire who is, as billionaires are wont, trying to reshape the world according to his personal beliefs.

Robert Mercer very rarely speaks in public and never to journalists, so to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he channels his money: a series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m model train set; climate change denial (he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute); and what is maybe the ultimate rich man’s plaything – the disruption of the mainstream media. In this he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his media plays. There are other bigger, and even more deliberate strategies, and shining brightly, the star at the centre of the Mercer media galaxy, is Breitbart.

It was $10m of Mercer’s money that enabled Bannon to fund Breitbart – a rightwing news site, set up with the express intention of being a Huffington Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo Yiannopoulos and his like, regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands after an activist campaign. It has been phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. It’s bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than PornHub. It’s the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter.

Prominent rightwing journalist Andrew Breitbart, who founded the site but died in 2012, told Bannon that they had “to take back the culture”. And, arguably, they have, though American culture is only the start of it. In 2014, Bannon launched Breitbart London, telling the New York Times it was specifically timed ahead of the UK’s forthcoming election. It was, he said, the latest front “in our current cultural and political war”. France and Germany are next.

But there was another reason why I recognised Robert Mercer’s name: because of his connection to Cambridge Analytica, a small data analytics company. He is reported to have a $10m stake in the company, which was spun out of a bigger British company called SCL Group. It specialises in “election management strategies” and “messaging and information operations”, refined over 25 years in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In military circles this is known as “psyops” – psychological operations. (Mass propaganda that works by acting on people’s emotions.)

Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump campaign and, so I’d read, the Leave campaign. When Mercer supported Cruz, Cambridge Analytica worked with Cruz. When Robert Mercer started supporting Trump, Cambridge Analytica came too. And where Mercer’s money is, Steve Bannon is usually close by: it was reported that until recently he had a seat on the board.

Last December, I wrote about Cambridge Analytica in a piece about how Google’s search results on certain subjects were being dominated by rightwing and extremist sites. Jonathan Albright, a professor of communications at Elon University, North Carolina, who had mapped the news ecosystem and found millions of links between rightwing sites “strangling” the mainstream media, told me that trackers from sites like Breitbart could also be used by companies like Cambridge Analytica to follow people around the web and then, via Facebook, target them with ads.

On its website, Cambridge Analytica makes the astonishing boast that it has psychological profiles based on 5,000 separate pieces of data on 220 million American voters – its USP is to use this data to understand people’s deepest emotions and then target them accordingly. The system, according to Albright, amounted to a “propaganda machine”.

A few weeks later, the Observer received a letter. Cambridge Analytica was not employed by the Leave campaign, it said. Cambridge Analytica “is a US company based in the US. It hasn’t worked in British politics.”

Which is how, earlier this week, I ended up in a Pret a Manger near Westminster with Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s affable communications director, looking at snapshots of Donald Trump on his phone. It was Wigmore who orchestrated Nigel Farage’s trip to Trump Tower – the PR coup that saw him become the first foreign politician to meet the president elect.

Wigmore scrolls through the snaps on his phone. “That’s the one I took,” he says pointing at the now globally famous photo of Farage and Trump in front of his golden elevator door giving the thumbs-up sign. Wigmore was one of the “bad boys of Brexit” – a term coined by Arron Banks, the Bristol-based businessman who was Leave.EU’s co-founder.

Cambridge Analytica had worked for them, he said. It had taught them how to build profiles, how to target people and how to scoop up masses of data from people’s Facebook profiles. A video on YouTube shows one of Cambridge Analytica’s and SCL’s employees, Brittany Kaiser, sitting on the panel at Leave.EU’s launch event.

Facebook was the key to the entire campaign, Wigmore explained. A Facebook ‘like’, he said, was their most “potent weapon”. “Because using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be other people in their network who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you follow them. The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring.”

It sounds creepy, I say.

“It is creepy! It’s really creepy! It’s why I’m not on Facebook! I tried it on myself to see what information it had on me and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ What’s scary is that my kids had put things on Instagram and it picked that up. It knew where my kids went to school.”

They hadn’t “employed” Cambridge Analytica, he said. No money changed hands. “They were happy to help.”

Why?

“Because Nigel is a good friend of the Mercers. And Robert Mercer introduced them to us. He said, ‘Here’s this company we think may be useful to you.’ What they were trying to do in the US and what we were trying to do had massive parallels. We shared a lot of information. Why wouldn’t you?” Behind Trump’s campaign and Cambridge Analytica, he said, were “the same people. It’s the same family.”

There were already a lot of questions swirling around Cambridge Analytica, and Andy Wigmore has opened up a whole lot more. Such as: are you supposed to declare services-in-kind as some sort of donation? The Electoral Commission says yes, if it was more than £7,500. And was it declared? The Electoral Commission says no. Does that mean a foreign billionaire had possibly influenced the referendum without that influence being apparent? It’s certainly a question worth asking.

In the last month or so, articles in first the Swiss and the US press have asked exactly what Cambridge Analytica is doing with US voters’ data. In a statement to the Observer, the Information Commissioner’s Office said: “Any business collecting and using personal data in the UK must do so fairly and lawfully. We will be contacting Cambridge Analytica and asking questions to find out how the company is operating in the UK and whether the law is being followed.”

Cambridge Analytica said last Friday they are in touch with the ICO and are completely compliant with UK and EU data laws. It did not answer other questions the Observer put to it this week about how it built its psychometric model, which owes its origins to original research carried out by scientists at Cambridge University’s Psychometric Centre, research based on a personality quiz on Facebook that went viral. More than 6 million people ended up doing it, producing an astonishing treasure trove of data.

These Facebook profiles – especially people’s “likes” – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. Michal Kosinski, the centre’s lead scientist, found that with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. “Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves,” says Kosinski.

But there are strict ethical regulations regarding what you can do with this data. Did SCL Group have access to the university’s model or data, I ask Professor Jonathan Rust, the centre’s director? “Certainly not from us,” he says. “We have very strict rules around this.”

A scientist, Aleksandr Kogan, from the centre was contracted to build a model for SCL, and says he collected his own data. Professor Rust says he doesn’t know where Kogan’s data came from. “The evidence was contrary. I reported it.” An independent adjudicator was appointed by the university. “But then Kogan said he’d signed a non-disclosure agreement with SCL and he couldn’t continue [answering questions].”

Kogan disputes this and says SCL satisfied the university’s inquiries. But perhaps more than anyone, Professor Rust understands how the kind of information people freely give up to social media sites could be used.

Read the other half of her story in The Guardian newspaper site here.

 

I, narcissist – vanity, social media, and the human condition

Is social media turning a relatively modest species into a pack of publicity-hungry narcissists? Or were we already inherently self-absorbed?

The Guardian newspaper article examines these questions. Below is a smidgeon of snippets from The Guardian newspaper article.

In the US, diagnoses of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have risen sharply over the past 10 years: the rate of increase is comparable to the rise in the rate of obesity.

Numerous studies claim to have made direct links between the increase in NPD and the ubiquity of social media. Behaviours such as attempting to attract more followers, wanting to tell followers about your life, and the need to project a positive image at all times have been described by researchers as examples of exhibiting narcissistic personality traits on social media. A direct link has also been found between the number of Facebook friends a person has and the prevalence of socially disruptive traits commonly associated with narcissism.

NPD gained prominence in the 1960s and official criteria for diagnosis were created in 1980. Characteristics of NPD include a deep need for admiration, an inflated sense of one’s own importance, and a lack of empathy for others. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, other diagnostic criteria of narcissistic personality disorder include dreaming of unlimited success; craving attention from other people, but showing few warm feelings in return; and choosing friends based on their prestige and status rather than personal qualities. As an observer, it’s easy to draw parallels between the way people behave on social media and narcissistic traits.

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site here.

One way to beat the heat

A man found one way to try and beat the heat in Vancouver, BC; he created his own Facebook page – Hotandsweaty Invancouver. My friend who discovered the Facebook page thought the ad might be from a man, but the post doesn’t mention writer being a male or a female.

The Facebook post includes an image of a beautiful inground pool;

swimming Pool

The Facebook page has the following post:

Hot senior seeking woman any age with own home and inground swimming pool.

I will supply my own towel, own bathing suit (optional at request of respondent), and intelligent conversation. Reply in strictest confidence.

Note: Please reply with image of your pool.

Contact hot-and-sweaty-in-vancouver@shaw.ca

I don’t know if anyone has replied to the email address, but as of this writing no Facebook member has replied to the post on Facebook.

I’m tired of reading about your low book or ebook sales. Do something about it.

crying cat

I want all you new authors out there who aren’t selling any books or ebooks worth a darn and are whining about your low or non-existent sales on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or other online locale to stop crying about it everywhere as the only sympathy you’re going to get is from your mom or your dog.

“I published BLAH BLAH BLAH on This Site or That Site or This Place and That Place and haven’t sold any. They are useless.”

“Blah Blah Blah is useless. I published there months ago and haven’t sold one book. Don’t use them.”

“My book (or substitute with ‘ebook’) took years to write and I haven’t sold one copy. Self-publishing is a waste of time.”

MAYBE YOUR BOOK SUCKS?

A few questions for all authors of low and non-existent sales:

If you published your work through companies like Smashwords or Amazon did you market links of your works on Smashwords and its affiliate retailers or Amazon on your web site or blog or Facebook or anywhere?

You did? Did you market it just a few times and then sit back waiting for the royalties to pile up in your bank account?

No? Oh, so you promoted your work everywhere and every day along with the millions of other authors promoting their works everywhere and everyday just like it was suggested by marketing pros and other authors on Linkedin (or some other social site). Good idea. Nothing like filling up social media sites with promotions for ebooks nobody reads.

Stop flooding social media sites with ebook or book promotions. Members of those sites are sick and tired of seeing them all the time.

Market yourself, make viewers interested in you, your viewpoint, your pictures, something, anything but just BLAH BLAH BLAH BUY MY BOOK. Or something similarly barf-worthy as “I just got another 5-stars for BLAH BLAH BLAH”. Okay, so who cares? Do you really think telling the world your work got 5 stars is going to convince people to buy your book, let alone even click on the link to see the review? Thousands of authors get 5 star reviews. Some authors even buy them or use phony names when writing a glowing review of their own work.

But you say even your Author Page or author blog doesn’t get much traffic? Gee, who would have guessed that hundreds, thousands, or millions of people wouldn’t flock to a site about a book and author nobody knows about or has heard about.

I hate to tell you this, but Author Pages or author blogs or anything similar only work worth a damn once you have an audience; a significantly large audience. Sure, you might get 50 -200 visitors a week or month to your author page or blog, but those visitors may have just landed there by mistake. Think about it. If you’re not selling any books then who is visiting your site? And if viewers are visiting your site and you’re still not selling any books or ebooks then perhaps there is a lesson there?

Lots of authors whine about low sales. Maybe it was a crappy book in the first place, maybe it had lousy editing, maybe you were charging $9.95 for something people felt was far overpriced, or maybe the ebook cover or description turned off readers.

Instead of whining about low sales or no sales on Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, Barnes & Noble, CreateSpace or elsewhere you should stand back and look at your work with fresh eyes and see why it didn’t sell.

Then fix it so it stands a chance to catch a reader and hold their attention long enough to part with their hard earned money.

Here is an idea, and it won’t cost you a cent (unless – shameless plug coming – you want to own your own copy of Buy This Book. Make Me A Millionaire available at all major online retailers for only $0.99)……. WALK IN THE OTHER PERSONS SHOES!

When marketing your work write the promo as you would want to read it. Think of the hundreds of times you bypassed a promo for an ebook and then remember what it was about the promo that caught your eye and held your attention long enough to click on the link to the promo item.

You’re a writer, goddam it, so write interesting marketing blurbs and tweets. And quit whining about your lousy sales because no one cares, probably not even your mom and especially not your dog.

New report shows NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’

XKeyscore map

XKeyscore is a top secret National Security Agency program which allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden and reported in The Guardian.

“I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”.

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden’s assertion: “He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA’s “widest reaching” system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”, including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.

Analysts can also use XKeyscore and other NSA systems to obtain ongoing “real-time” interception of an individual’s internet activity.

KS1

KS2

KS55edit

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site here.