Friday, October 27, 2017

Cruising the Web

It seems that the Russians were more focused on being disruptive than supporting one candidate over the other. For example, here is this story of a Russian attempt to stir things up.
A Russian internet farm used a now-suspended Instagram account to push anti-Dakota pipeline propaganda during the 2016 election, according to Russian outlet RBC.

The account with the handle @Native_Americans_United shared political pictures relating to various Native American topics of debate, including the oil pipeline through North Dakota that was under construction in 2016, according to BuzzFeed on Monday. The account was one of several the Russian troll farm Internet Research Agency (IRA) used to drive Americans apart politically, such as the @Ten_GOP Twitter account that posed as a representative of the Tennessee Republican Party.
Here is another example from BuzzFeed that demonstrates that the Russians were more interested in sowing discord than helping any one candidate.
People believed to be Russians meddling in American politics swiftly chose a new target in the days after the 2016 election: trying to organize anti-Trump rallies, according to private messages from a page aimed at black civil rights activists that has been linked to a wider Russian effort.

“We’re holding a protest against Trump on Saturday,” read a message obtained by BuzzFeed from the BlackMattersUS Facebook page to an activist who’d spoken at a previous rally organized by the group in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The BlackMatters page also sent a poster for the “Charlotte Against Trump” rally on Nov. 19, 2016, and a now-unavailable link to a Facebook event.

The page was identified in a bombshell investigation by RBC, a Russian outlet, as one of 180 social media accounts created by a St. Petersburg “troll farm.” BuzzFeed News reported last week that its activities extended well beyond trolling, to luring unsuspecting American activists into events and propaganda opportunities apparently aimed at seizing on and exploiting U.S. domestic conflicts across the political spectrum....

The pivot to an anti-Trump message was in keeping with the page’s broader strategy of piggybacking on an existing social movement to exploit divisions in American society. But it also offers a glimpse at a Russian campaign that was not simply aimed at American elections, but also at deepening rifts in American society that echoes century-old Soviet exploitation of domestic American injustice, and lines up more with the idea that Russian interference campaigns were about highlighting and deepening tensions in the West, rather than outright supporting Donald Trump.

The source who shared the messages with BuzzFeed News said they didn’t respond to them, after becoming skeptical the group was really invested in the cause of racial justice because of an earlier, disorganized rally BlackMattersUS had put on: a protest after the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, a black North Carolina man, in October 2016.

But the post-election rally did take place, and at least two activists who spoke at that October rally were also present for the “Charlotte Against Trump” protest, according to fliers for the events posted with the BlackMatters watermark and cross-referenced with a report from the Charlotte Observer.

Kimberly Owens, one of the speakers at the November 2016 event, told BuzzFeed News that she wasn’t contacted by the group and the protest had an open invitation for speakers (anyone could speak). After learning a group believed to be backed by Russians promoted the event, she said she wouldn’t be surprised, noting how disorganized the protest was.
That's why I find it totally believable that the Russians could have gleefully leaked information to make both Clinton and Trump look bad. And once Trump won, they were happy to amplify anti-Trump gatherings to deepen already existing divisions in this country. And look how they succeeded seemingly without a heavy expenditure of money. That is why it is so important to expose all these efforts on both sides, whether it was Russian-backed bots promoting bits of news to help Trump or working to arrange anti-Trump rallies. I'm not saying that all the divisions existing within the country are due to Russian interference, just that they have found a way to exacerbate those tensions. And the last thing we need is for divisions to be exacerbated at this unsettling time.

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Wired looks at how the Chinese government has weaponized
their control of the internet in their country to compile a score that evaluates whether individuals are making approved purchases or watching approved videos to compile a score that can be used to determine whether citizens get a job they want or get into the school they want to.
Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills and taxes you pay (or not). It's not hard to picture, because most of that already happens, thanks to all those data-collecting behemoths like Google, Facebook and Instagram or health-tracking apps such as Fitbit. But now imagine a system where all these behaviours are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school - or even just your chances of getting a date.

A futuristic vision of Big Brother out of control? No, it's already getting underway in China, where the government is developing the Social Credit System (SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance "trust" nationwide and to build a culture of "sincerity". As the policy states, "It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility."
Yeah, right. Can you imagine if the government had access to everything you did on the internet and used that to designate a citizenship score for you?
Under this system, something as innocuous as a person's shopping habits become a measure of character. Alibaba admits it judges people by the types of products they buy. "Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person," says Li Yingyun, Sesame's Technology Director. "Someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility." So the system not only investigates behaviour - it shapes it. It "nudges" citizens away from purchases and behaviours the government does not like.

Friends matter, too. The fifth category is interpersonal relationships. What does their choice of online friends and their interactions say about the person being assessed? Sharing what Sesame Credit refers to as "positive energy" online, nice messages about the government or how well the country's economy is doing, will make your score go up.
Think of the possibilities for tyranny. What if you're friends with someone with a low score? Will that lower your own score. Right now it's supposedly in the pilot phase, but it's supposedly going to be mandated countrywide in 2020.
Sesame Credit already offers tips to help individuals improve their ranking, including warning about the downsides of friending someone who has a low score. This might lead to the rise of score advisers, who will share tips on how to gain points, or reputation consultants willing to offer expert advice on how to strategically improve a ranking or get off the trust-breaking blacklist.

Indeed, Sesame Credit is basically a big data gamified version of the Communist Party's surveillance methods; the disquieting dang'an. The regime kept a dossier on every individual that tracked political and personal transgressions. A citizen's dang'an followed them for life, from schools to jobs. People started reporting on friends and even family members, raising suspicion and lowering social trust in China. The same thing will happen with digital dossiers. People will have an incentive to say to their friends and family, "Don't post that. I don't want you to hurt your score but I also don't want you to hurt mine."

This is how universities target conservatives. It seems so natural to some schools that they don't even notice that they're violating students' rights.
What in the name of Abraham Lincoln is Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville thinking?

The administration at the taxpayer-funded institution has perhaps the most blatantly unconstitutional speech policy I’ve ever seen, and it’s surprising that only now are SIUE students suing to secure their constitutional rights.

The Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on behalf of the College Republicans chapter Wednesday, with the goal of overturning the almost limitless authority of campus bureaucrats to regulate and block their speech.

According to the alliance, SIUE requires students to get advanced permission to use the 905-square-foot free speech zone on campus.

They must give 90 days’ notice before holding “major” events (including “political figures [and] religious gatherings”) anywhere else on campus, and they must get official approval – with no “written criteria” to judge requests – before “anyone can hand out any type of literature at any time,” the alliance says.

It’s almost as if SIUE designed its policies to privilege the personal preferences of campus bureaucrats, who can extract a pretty penny in approving speech requests:

I fear for our nation's knowledge of civics is this is what the chairman of the DNC, Tom Perez, thinks about the Constitution.
"The Electoral College is not a creation of the Constitution," Perez said during a lecture at Indiana University Law School. "It doesn’t have to be there."
This is a many who went to Harvard Law School and has a Master of Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Yet somehow, in all that time, he never read the Constitution. He can sit in on my AP Government class next week as my students will be reading the Constitution.


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Is this how the Art of the Deal works?
President Trump said Wednesday changes to retirement savings accounts could still be included in the Republican tax plan, backing away from his previous insistence they not be touched.

“Maybe it is and maybe we’ll use it as negotiating,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
Is that the artistic deal-making technique - to announce ahead of time that he's taking a position just to negotiate it away?

Guy Benson is not impressed with President Obama's recent speech decrying divisive politics. Conservatives like Benson remember all the divisiveness that Obama was responsible for.
(1) Obama's (successful) re-election campaign ran ads against Mitt Romney featuring explicitly "otherizing" messaging, telling voters in Ohio that the Republican nominee wasn't "one of us." The media's 'dog whistle' pearl-clutching if the GOP had said the same of Obama would have been a sight to behold (here's a small taste). Obama's SuperPAC -- which was formed after he opined that SuperPACs were a "threat to our democracy" -- basically (and falsely) accused a cruel, heartless Romney killing a woman with cancer.

(2) In demagoguing Paul Ryan's efforts to bring federal spending under control and reining in a long-term, entitlement-driven debt crisis, Obama torched a field of straw men, suggesting the Wisconsin Republican was promoting pollution and worker abuse. His party also endlessly lied about Ryan's proposals, wrongly fear-mongering that it would devastate senior citizens, tearing through nursing homes "like a tornado."

(3) The Obama campaign repeatedly accused Republicans of waging a "war" on women ("binders!" "vote like your lady parts depend on it," etc), shattering pro-conscience assurances issued to secure the passage of Obamacare....

(4) Obama's team explicitly gave former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid permission to baselessly smear Romney as a tax evader, a claim he advanced from the Senate floor, with zero evidence. Years later, Reid effectively admitted that he was lying at the time, touting Romney's eventual loss as the positive end by which his slanderous means were justified. (Links in original)
The list goes on and on. Sure, Republicans united in opposition to Obama's policies and some jerks (we know who was their leader) chased conspiracy theories about where Obama was born. But Democrats exhilarated in their opposition that many called Bush-Hitler (Here's an example). And Obama and his supporters were often quite ugly in their divisiveness. So don't lecture us as if you're above it all. Benson concludes,
Perhaps ex-president Barack Obama has come to believe that "division doesn't work," but the words and actions of candidate and President Barack Obama tell a very different story. As a political figure, Obama was an incessant impugner of motives, a habitual practitioner of division, and an enthusiastic abuser of (and beneficiary of) identity politics -- which is fundamentally and necessarily divisive. Granted, Donald Trump is an eager and instinctual divider in his own right, and a shameless demagogue. His zeal for gutter tactics is unprecedented in modern presidential history. And yes, the Republican Party indisputably sows seeds of calculated acrimony, and the right wing has embraced its own form of identity politics. But it's exhausting and exasperating to sit through another self-unaware, hollow lecture about togetherness delivered by a cynical politician whose contributions to our national debates frequently betrayed his fraudulent posture as a pragmatic, unifying post-partisan. Obama was a voracious demagogue, whose schismatic rhetoric was smoother and more sophisticated than Trump's ham-fisted, divisive forays. And he was too often an arrogant, petulant and dishonest actor who loathed dissent, and whose self-serving and sophomoric conception of "unity" has always conveniently required Americans to either "support...his partisan cause" or be complicit in "the problem" ("that's not who we are," he is insufferably fond of saying). Physician, heal thyself. And in the meantime, spare us.