Thursday, March 22, 2018

Cruising the Web

Ross Douthat nails it in his discussion of the outrage over how Facebook's data of users has been used politically. First of all, he's not impressed with all the outrage.
But the liberal establishment’s fixation on Facebook’s 2016 sins — first the transmission of fake news and now the exploitation of its data by the Trump campaign or its appendages — still feels like a classic example of blaming something new because it’s new when it’s the old thing that mattered more. Or of blaming something new because you thought that “new” meant “good,” that the use of social-media data by campaigns would always help tech-savvy liberals and not their troglodytic rivals — and the shock of discovering otherwise obscures the more important role that older forms of media played in making the Trump era a reality.
Given how the Obama team bragged about how they used data to micro-target voters using their data, it doesn't surprise me that other organizations were finagling ways to manipulate social media to sell their services to political campaigns. If Cambridge Analytica did something that violated their contract with Facebook, let them pay the consequences. But people who think that they're not being targeted by ads and their political feeds on social media, then they're dangerously naive.

Douthat makes the strong argument that it was old media that helped Trump, not new media. Remember that people knew him because of his starring role on "The Apprentice" that painted him like a competent and dynamic executive. That reality show helped convince people that he knew how to get things done. It was all phony, but we live in a world where people think a reality show is actually reality. But he was also helped by the decades of media attention that made him such a familiar figure to voters.
Step two was the use of his celebrity to turn news channels into infomercials for his campaign. Yes, his fame also boosted him on social media, but there you can partially blame algorithms and the unwisdom of crowds; with television news there were actual human beings, charged with exercising news judgment and inclined to posture as civic-minded actors when it suits them, making the decision to hand day after day of free coverage to Donald Trump’s rallies, outrages, feuds and personal attacks.

Nothing that Cambridge Analytica did to help the Trump campaign target swing voters (and there’s reason to think it didn’t do as much as it claimed) had anything remotely like the impact of this #alwaysTrump tsunami, which probably added up to more than $2 billion in effective advertising for his campaign during the primary season, a flood that drowned all of his rivals’ pathetic tens of millions. And as cynical as I believe the lords of Silicon Valley to be, the more important cynicism in 2016 belonged to those television execs who were fine with enabling the wild Trumpian takeover of the G.O.P., because after all Republicans deserved it and Hillary was sure to beat him in the end.
I'll always hold the networks responsible for all the attention that they gave him during the primaries so that other candidates just couldn't break through the Trump fog. Douthat is exactly right to point out all the help that networks gave him by their constant coverage during the election. Trump knew just how to exploit the media's desire for whatever was hot and would get people to tune in even if they were giving airtime day after day to people who should never been given this national platform.
In 2016 this polarization didn’t just mean that Fox became steadily more pro-Trump as he dispatched his G.O.P. rivals; it also meant that a network like CNN, which thrives on Team Red vs. Team Blue conflict, felt compelled to turn airtime over to Trump surrogates like Jeffrey Lord and Corey Lewandowski and Kayleigh McEnany because their regular stable of conservative commentators (I was one of them) simply wasn’t pro-Trump enough.

The depth and breadth of Trump skepticism among right-wing pundits was a pretty solid indicator of his unfitness for high office. But especially once he won the nomination this skepticism was often filtered out of cable coverage, because the important thing was to maintain the partisan shouting-match model. This in turn encouraged a sense that this was just a typical right-versus-left election, in which you should vote for Trump if you usually voted for Republicans … and in the end that’s what most G.O.P. voters did.

My own CNN experiences were positive; I admire the many fine journalists who work in television news. But it was clear enough being in that orbit in 2016, as it should be clear to anyone who watched Trump’s larger relationship to his television coverage, that the business model of our news channels both assumes and heightens polarization, and that it was ripe for exploitation by a demagogue who was also a celebrity.
It was a media perfect storm. Both candidates were unbelievably unpopular. Clinton just deceived herself that the country would never reject her no matter how unappealing she could be. Douthat also points out that the voters whom Trump won over were the sorts of people who were most persuadable by TV coverage rather than social media.
It’s also clear — as the economists Levi Boxell, Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro wrote in these pages late last year — that among older white Americans, the core demographic where first the primaries and then the general election were decided, television still far outstrips the internet as the most important source of news. And indeed, the three economists noted, for all the talk about Breitbart’s influence and Russian meddling and dark web advertising, Trump only improved on Mitt Romney’s showing among Americans who don’t use the internet, and he “actually lost support among internet-using voters.” In a sense, you could argue, all those tweets mattered mainly because they kept being quoted on TV.

Jim Geraghty also reminds us
of how ubiquitous Trump was on the media even before he jumped in the race.
Beyond The Apprentice, it’s worth remembering that for most of the Bush and Obama presidencies, Donald Trump was a regular featured guest on news programs and not touted as a partisan Republican, hate-monger, or ranting fool. NBC’s Today show regularly had him on to promote The Apprentice and let him vent about whatever else was on his mind. CNN’s Larry King would regularly have him on and ask about the news of the day, like what the U.S. government should be doing about Somali pirates — as if Trump was some sort of naval-warfare expert. On Fox News, Greta Van Susteren asked him how he would negotiate a deal to avoid a government shutdown. He was a frequent guest of Regis Philbin. Barbara Walters declared him one of her “most fascinating” people of 2011, alongside Kim Kardashian.

Even publications like the Guardian did quasi-admiring can-you-believe-this-character profiles. Rolling Stone was happy to interview him. The smallest bits of news from Trump-world generated positive coverage in the biggest publications: In 2010, the New York Times’ advertising section did a profile of Melania unveiling, “a line of jewelry and watches bearing her name and available exclusively through QVC, the home shopping network, and its Web site.”

Not even the Birther theories made Donald Trump persona non grata on these programs; it just made him more interesting and unpredictable and good for ratings.

By autumn 2016, the argument from Democrats and their allies in the media was that Donald Trump represented a menace to democracy and American values — a not-so-subtle xenophobe and racist, a demagogue, full of authoritarian instincts and petty vendettas, ignorant and erratic. But television had never before invited white supremacists to host Saturday Night Live, welcomed raging demagogues to laugh with Jimmy Fallon on the couch of The Tonight Show, or invited authoritarians to 30 Rock to do softball interviews on morning shows. Donald Trump, megalomaniacal threat to democracy? He gave directions to Kevin in Home Alone 2! . He did cameos in The Little Rascals and Bobby Brown music videos! Trump had enjoyed the pop-culture and big-media seal of approval for decades!

Television’s coverage of Donald Trump from the 1980s to early 2015 portrayed Trump as a phenomenal business success, endlessly knowledgeable and fascinating, insightful, shrewd, entertaining, and funny — a larger-than-life character. Why are so many baffled that Trump managed to turn that image into a path to the presidency?


Douthat points to an article by Michael Brendan Dougherty about the real goal behind the freak-out about Russia, Trump and social media. Dougherty argues that the real goal is to make sure that the big social media companies help progressives and limit the reach of conservatives.
Silicon Valley is working with its media and governmental critics to limit the damage to the center-Left going forward. You can see the dynamic in the way that the media generates a moral panic out of stories about how Brexit and the Trump election happened, and the way Silicon Valley responds. Fake news becomes a problem, and Silicon Valley responds by hiring progressive journalists as censors. I mean “fact-checkers.” You can see it in the demonetization of YouTube videos. Or in the new sets of regulation being imposed in European countries that deputize the social-media networks themselves as an all seeing social censor.
Dougherty points to how Obama's campaign was so very proud of how it used social media to find ways to contact persuadable voters through their "friends" on Facebook. And Facebook didn't mind one bit that it was being used by the Obama campaign.
How did Facebook react to the much larger data harvesting of the Obama campaign? The New York Times reported it out, in a feature hailing Obama’s digital masterminds:
The campaign’s exhaustive use of Facebook triggered the site’s internal safeguards. “It was more like we blew through an alarm that their engineers hadn’t planned for or knew about,” said [Will] St. Clair, who had been working at a small firm in Chicago and joined the campaign at the suggestion of a friend. “They’d sigh and say, ‘You can do this as long as you stop doing it on Nov. 7.’ ”
In other words, Silicon Valley is just making up the rules as they go along. Some large-scale data harvesting and social manipulation is okay until the election. Some of it becomes not okay in retrospect. They sigh and say okay so long as Obama wins. When Clinton loses, they effectively call a code red.

At the macro level, mass broadcast media was a boon to the Left and center-Left. It allowed a new class of people to shape public opinion as never before. But the appearance of social media represented the return of the repressed. It allowed common conservatives and populists to broadcast their own views, and in some sense legitimate them within their social circle. The efforts to criminalize conservative groups who use social media, and legally suppress citizens’ openly sharing unapproved views, are an attempt to put the new class filter back on.


Robert Tracinski writes about how social media replaced blogs and, in the end, that is hurting conservatives. THese big companies can work to hurt conservatives by limiting their access to their platforms.
Was social media a mistake? Two recent events crystallized my answer to this question. First, conservative comedian Steven Crowder had his Twitter account suspended for a week because he posted a video on YouTube that was critical of “gender fluidity” and used a Bad Word. The video was also pulled from YouTube, which you might not think of as a social media platform, even though it definitely is.

Then Brandon Morse noticed Twitter was preventing him from tweeting a link to an article by a controversial conservative columnist. This follows stories of Google-owned YouTube “demonetizing” videos by conservatives, unplugging them from the ability to make money from ads, and Facebook and Google targeting conservative sites for hilariously inaccurate and tendentious “fact checks.” It’s becoming clear that the big social media companies are targeting ideas and thinkers on the Right, and not just the far-out provocateurs and trolls like Milo Yianopoulos, but everyone.

What strikes me most is the contrast between this and the Internet era before social media, before Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube swallowed up everything. I’m talking about the 2000s, the great era of the blogs. Do you remember what that blog era was like? It felt like liberation.

The era of blogging offered the promise of a decentralized media. Anybody could publish and comment on the news and find an audience. Guys writing in their pajamas could take down Dan Rather. We were bypassing the old media gatekeepers. And we had control over it! We posted on our own sites. We had good discussions in our own comment fields, which we moderated. I had and still have an extensive e-mail list of readers who are interested in my work, most of which I built up in that period, before everybody moved onto social media.

But then Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube came along and killed the blogs.
Well ahem, some people still write blogs. Maybe I'm a fuddy duddy, but I never felt the lure of the other platforms. I enjoy using Twitter, but I'm more of a lurker than a contributor. I rather enjoy the varied entries I have on my feed of which politics is just a small part. I spend more time with following sports tweets and cute animals. I like how, when I miss a game from one of the teams I follow, I can go on Twitter and people have been sure to post all sorts of clips of the action and commentary on how my team did. I find interesting links to stories I want to read. Sometimes I find material for this blog. But my reach with this blog is pretty small. Some of the major bloggers are still going strong, but I don't know what their reach is these days compared to a decade or so ago. But Tracinski is correct about how there have been blatant efforts by these social media platforms to target conservatives in ways that aren't used against liberals.


Ben Shapiro also comments
on the manipulation by social media groups to help liberals.
This isn’t particularly shocking. In 2012, The Guardian reported that President Obama’s reelection team was “building a vast digital data operation that for the first time combines a unified database on millions of Americans with the power of Facebook to target individual voters to a degree never achieved before.”

What, exactly, would Obama be doing? According to The Guardian, Obama’s new database would be gathered by asking individual volunteers to log into Obama’s reelection site using their Facebook credentials. “Consciously or otherwise,” The Guardian states, “the individual volunteer will be injecting all the information they store publicly on their Facebook page — home location, date of birth, interests and, crucially, network of friends — directly into the central Obama database.”
Facebook had no problem with such activity then. They do now. There’s a reason for that. The former Obama director of integration and media analytics stated that, during the 2012 campaign, Facebook allowed the Obama team to “suck out the whole social graph”; Facebook “was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing.” She added, “They came to [the] office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”

Not so with Trump. As soon as Facebook realized that Cambridge Analytica had pursued a similar strategy, they suspended the firm.
Shapiro thinks that all this is part of the Democrats' efforts to find some explanation for why Trump won that exculpates their party for nominating the only person who could lose to Trump. Now they're working hard to pressure Facebook and the other groups to make sure that Trump can't win again.
The result of Facebook’s algorithmic changes: conservatives have been slammed. And that’s the point. A study from The Western Journal found that conservative sites have lost an average of 14 percent of their Facebook traffic; leftist sites saw a minor increase. Even major publications saw that effect: The New York Daily News saw a bump of 24.18 percent, while the New York Post dropped 11.44 percent.

And that’s the goal in covering Cambridge Analytica, and Russian interference on Twitter, and all the rest — even without any serious information suggesting that such interference shifted votes, the left can rest assured that its Silicon Valley allies will act to de-platform Republicans and conservatives. There’s a reason Twitter has suspended alt-right racists but continued to recommend that others follow Louis Farrakhan; there’s a reason YouTube is being sued by Prager University; there’s a reason Google used automatic fact-checking on right-wing sites but did no such thing for left-wing sites.

We’re in the midst of a radical reshifting in social media. Ironically, the people who have stumped against regulation — conservatives — are those being targeted by social media companies. If companies like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter don’t start acting like platforms again rather than like motivated left-wing outlets, Republicans likely won’t let principle outweigh practicality for long.
David Harsanyi reminds us that we shouldn't be surprised that political campaigns were targeting people. That's what advertisers did. Maybe it's because my dad was in advertising and marketing, but I just don't get all that excited to find out that advertisers are advertising.
Most of all, so what if voters were being “targeted?” Part of living in a free society means being bombarded by messages we don’t like. The entire Facebook/Russiabot scare is predicated on the notion that people don’t have free will. It’s only once we start micromanaging the information Americans consume that we begin undermining choices. Of course people shouldn’t get their news from Facebook. And a reliable Fourth Estate which reports without bias to help Americans navigate through this messy contemporary digital life would be helpful. But the Cambridge Analytica story is just another example of how it fails.

These social media sites are private companies and they can choose how they want to run their businesses. They can decide to slant their platforms to help liberals. That is their prerogative. But don't spit in our faces and then tell us it's raining. Don't pretend that you're neutral when you're clearly not.


Meanwhile John Podhoretz has some mocking news for all those innocents who think that these sites are...free. Don't people realize that companies don't expand and have thousands of employees to provide a free service?
Did you think that the energy-sucking servers holding your photos and hosting the groups dedicated to your high-school class and your neighborhood ran on good wishes?

Did you think the company that has allowed you to consume news and opinion at no cost whatsoever to you was doing so out of the goodness of its collective heart?

Did you think . . . it was free?

Did you really not know that your agreement with Facebook was that Mark Zuckerberg would provide you with hours a day of enjoyment in exchange for your personal information?

There isn’t an adult in this country who shouldn’t know better than to screech in anguish at the supposed horrifying discovery that his or her “personal data” have been gathered by social-media networks and others to earn the dough necessary to run these networks and make massive profits besides.
They're doing what media companies have been doing for decades - providing us with content in exchange in exchange for selling the opportunity to others to sell us stuff. I remember how I once made a mistake in how I filled out a magazine subscription form for Sports Illustrated. For years we would receive all sorts of unsolicited mail trying to sell us stuff with our names containing that misspelling so we knew that they our names had been bought from Sports Illustrated. Did people really think that the internet would operate without doing the same, especially a site like Facebook that would have access to all that delicious personal data that marketers and, yes, political campaigns would love to have access to?
Guess how long we’ve lived in a world in which media have been provided to us without charge because networks earned their keep selling the fact of our presence to advertisers? The first radio station to broadcast over the airwaves transmitted news about the 1920 presidential elections in Pittsburgh. That was 97 years ago, people.

From radio to broadcast TV to the Internet, the model has been the same. You sell yourself — your ears, your eyeballs, your attention — and get entertainment in exchange. The only expenses you incur are for the device that entertains you and (since the advent of cable) the wires that come into your house to provide you with unalloyed access to the entertainment....

The reason Facebook makes as much money as it does is only in part because it has so much data. It’s largely because of the promise it makes to advertisers — the promise that can separate the wheat from the chaff and serve up targeted content that will have particular meaning to particular audiences.

For example: I keep kosher. Showing me a cheeseburger is a waste of McDonald’s ad money because I’m not going to eat one. If my personal data tell Facebook about my dietary restrictions, it can help McDonald’s not waste its ad money on me or people like me. And it can maybe tell me about an offering at the local kosher supermarket if that supermarket uses Facebook to look for targeted customers.

But it can only do that by knowing things about me.

It’s possible you didn’t know. It’s possible you came to believe that Facebook was like oxygen — something you just breathed in because it was there for you to breathe in.

Or that you did pay for it because you bought your computer or your mobile device and have to pay for your home Wi-Fi or cellular data. Those are expensive! Somehow Facebook just comes with them, you thought — maybe.

The science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein said it best: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Everything has a cost. If you forgot that, or refused to see it in your relationship with Facebook, or believe any of these things, sorry, you are a fool. So the politicians and pundits who are working to soak your outrage for their own ideological purposes are gulling you. But of course you knew.

You just didn’t care . . . until you cared. Until, that is, you decided this was a convenient way of explaining away the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

You’re so invested in the idea that Trump stole the election you are willing to believe anything other than that your candidate lost because she made a lousy argument and ran a lousy campaign and didn’t know how to run a race that would put her over the top in the Electoral College — which is how you prevail in a presidential election and has been for 220-plus years.

The rage and anger against Facebook over the past week provide just the latest examples of the self-infantilization and flight from responsibility on the part of the American people and the refusal of Trump haters and American liberals to accept the results of 2016.

Honestly, it’s time to stop being fools and start owning up to our role in all this.


Monica Showalter points out that Democrats are starting to get worried that the reaction to the news about Cambridge Analytica might harm their own ability to move the public in the ways they approve of. She points to a column by Cass Sunstein urging people not to overreact to this whole story because "[a]uthorized use of that data can do a great deal of good." Hmmmm, what does he mean by that? Showalter explains,
He cites other apps that spy on Americans that can improve health care and income inequality, as well as observe congressional behavior as arguments to not shut all of the data-mining down. These are red flags all by themselves, since we all know how Democrats use health care data and what their solutions are to income inequality. But never mind that.

Obviously, as a far-left Democrat operative in the Obama inner circle, Sunstein's argument to not overreact, plus his involvement in Facebook as an adviser, which he discloses at the bottom of his piece, suggests strongly that Democrats have a stake in the spying on voters, too. As they see Cambridge Analytica get sanctioned over all the hypocritical outcry, they know that their ox is up to get gored. And they are feeling flop sweat, given their long history of manipulating social media data. ...

Sunstein in particular is worth looking at. Back in his Obama days, he led an operation called "Nudge" as a means of lightly coercing consumers to buy the kind of products the central planners wanted them to buy, viewing buyers as sheep....

So as Sunstein suddenly calls on Democrats not to overreact to Facebook's clampdown, which is the result of their hysteria, it's worth noting that his game has always been about manipulating voters himself. Obviously, he wants as much space to do it as possible. No wonder he wants Democrats to restrain themselves on their fury at Facebook.
Manipulating us for our own good. How very "progressive" that is.


And right on time, here is an example of that attitude that we, the lumpenproletariat, need our betters to force us to do what we should be doing, but are too dumb or selfish to do it ourselves.
Two-and-half-years after Australia’s Labor government offered a parental leave program for new mums and dads, only one dad for every 500 mums was taking it. In the UK, 40% of dads choose not to take the parental leave offered. And in the US (Silicon Valley excepted) the figures are worse: 76% of men take less than a week off when their baby is born and 96% are back at work after two weeks or less.
Everyone knows that men should be more involved in child rearing. We also know that women who take time off from work to stay home with children suffer professionally. But men still aren't staying home. What to do? Force those dads to stay home. After all, that's what wiser countries are doing.
That’s why the most successful paternity leave schemes, such as those in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Germany, make it mandatory for men to take a number of weeks’ leave. If they don’t, their family isn’t eligible for the full amount of leave available. Men have to take leave unless they want their kids to have less time with both parents.

Once the stigma is gone and men start taking it, more follow. When Germany legislated that of a possible 14 months parental leave, two months must be taken by fathers, the percentage of men taking paternity leave went from 3% to more than 20% – in only two years.

When Quebec introduced a similar scheme, with reserved “daddy-only” time, participation increased by more than 250%. In 2010, 80% of Quebecois dads were taking paternity leave.
Of course, the numbers increased. They were being forced to by the government.

My question is why stop there? Studies have shown that children do better if not shuffled off to day care and are, instead, taken care of by a loving family member. Why not mandate that?