The State Department has been funding trolls. I’m one of their targets

Jason Rezaian writes:

Even after spending a year and a half in prison in Tehran, I knew that if I wanted to go on writing about Iran, I would be a target for plenty of public attacks despite the abuse I had suffered at the hands of the Islamic Republic. And so it has been.

But I never imagined the U.S. State Department would be funding my attackers.

Last week, several astute Iran watchers drew attention to a series of inflammatory tweets associated with the Iran Disinformation Project, a State Department-funded initiative that its website claims “brings to light disinformation emanating from the Islamic Republic of Iran via official rhetoric, state propaganda outlets, social media manipulation and more.” [Continue reading…]

Greta Thunberg slams presidents, celebrities, politicians, CEOs, and journalists for ignoring climate crisis

Neither Congress nor the press did enough to tell the American people what they needed to know about the Mueller report

Quinta Jurecic writes:

Mueller has remained silent for two years, and his first public statement was always going to be a significant event. Likewise, the underlying information communicated in both Mueller’s remarks and the report itself is appalling—and further discussion of its meaning can only be good. The question is why it took so long to happen.

The difficulty in communicating the substance of the Mueller report began even before the report itself was released. When Barr first released his letter describing Mueller’s top-line conclusions weeks before the report itself became public, the press struggled to respond to the spin campaign mounted by the president and his allies. Some publications reported uncritically on the president’s claims of “Complete and Total EXONERATION,” though Barr’s letter stated that Mueller had not exonerated Trump. The New York Times and The Washington Post both said a “cloud” had been lifted from over the White House.

This was weeks before any members of Congress or the press had seen the actual text of the report—which differed dramatically from the relatively rosy version of events communicated by Barr. The attorney general, it soon became clear, had plucked supposedly exonerating phrases from the report while leaving out often-damning context. Barr’s summary gave the president and his allies two crucial weeks to portray the contents of the report in the most favorable light.

The report, when it arrived, was a forbidding 448 pages and dense with legal terminology. It was not user-friendly. And so, perhaps predictably, a CNN poll from early May indicated that 75 percent of Americans have not read the report at all; 24 percent said they had read some of its contents, and only 3 percent said they had reviewed the entire document. The result is that most people, lacking the time to pore through almost 450 pages of text, were dependent on the press and on political figures to communicate the significance of the document.

But the reaction to Mueller’s press conference suggests that those institutions have fallen down on the job. [Continue reading…]

The U.S. media is in the crosshairs of the new Assange indictment

Jack Goldsmith writes:

I have written a lot on how hard it is to distinguish WikiLeaks from the New York Times when it comes to procuring and publishing classified information. One implication of the comparison is that any successful prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would have adverse implications for mainstream U.S. news publications efforts to solicit, receive and publish classified information. The May 23 indictment of Assange makes clear that these concerns are real. As Susan Hennessey said, “[I]t will be very difficult to craft an Espionage Act case against him that won’t adversely impact true journalists.” I don’t think this is an accident. I think the government’s indictment has the U.S. news media squarely in its sights.

The first sentence of the indictment reads:

To obtain information to release on the WikiLeaks website, ASSANGE encouraged sources to (i) circumvent legal safeguards on information; (ii) provide that protected information to WikiLeaks for public dissemination; and (iii) continue the pattern of illegally procuring and providing protected information to WikiLeaks for distribution to the public.

This is exactly what national security reporters and their news publications often ask government officials or contractors to do. Anytime a reporter asks to receive information knowing it is classified, that person encourages sources to circumvent legal safeguards on information. The news organizations’ encouragement is underscored by the mechanisms they provide for sources to convey information securely and anonymously. [Continue reading…]

Latest charges against Assange are an assault on press freedom

Brian Barrett writes:

On Thursday, the Department of Justice unsealed new charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Unlike the previous indictment—which focused narrowly on an apparent offer to help crack a password—the 17 superseding counts focus instead on alleged violations of the Espionage Act. In doing so, the DOJ has aimed a battering ram at the freedom of the press, whether you think Assange is a journalist or not.

The indictment, which you can read in full below, alleges that Assange published classified information over a dozen times, an act expressly forbidden by the Espionage Act, which Congress first passed in 1917. But the Espionage Act has only rarely, and never successfully, been applied to the recipient of a leak. “For the first time in the history of our country, the government has brought criminal charges against a publisher for the publication of truthful information,” says Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “This is an extraordinary escalation of the Trump administration’s attacks on journalism, and a direct assault on the First Amendment.”

The Trump administration’s position that the Espionage Act should apply here would have immediate and broadly-felt repercussions far beyond WikiLeaks. Because however you personally care to classify Assange, the acts at the heart of this latest indictment mirror those made by journalists every day. They’re the reason US citizens know about PRISM, and the Pentagon Papers, and any number of other revelations around abuses of power and governmental impropriety. [Continue reading…]

Amend the Espionage Act: Public interest defenses must be allowed

In an editorial, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says:

It has been almost 102 years since the Espionage Act was signed into law by Woodrow Wilson.

Initially conceived as a means by which to “punish acts of interference with the foreign relations,” the act has since become a tool of suppression, used to punish whistleblowers who expose governmental wrongdoing and criminality. It is time that the law be amended to accommodate those who share information vital to the public interest.

Daniel Everette Hale, a 31-year-old former intelligence analyst, become the latest target of the weaponized Espionage Act with his recent arrest. Mr. Hale is accused of leaking classified documents between 2013 and 2015 regarding the Obama administration’s drone program.

The leaked information revealed details about the secret legal system used by the Obama administration to create lists of people to kill, including American citizens who had not been formally charged with crimes. It also revealed that the drone program is dangerously inaccurate, killing the wrong target as often as 90% of the time.

This information is clearly of substantive value to the public. The American people have a right to know who its government is killing and how it makes such decisions. Transparency ensures due process and ethical decision-making.

But Mr. Hale has been charged under the Espionage Act and, as a result, will be denied the right to make a “public interest defense.”

Sadly, Mr. Hale’s situation is not unique. He is the fourth individual to be charged by the Trump administration under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information to journalists. Terry Albury (FBI) and Reality Winner (NSA) are already serving prison sentences for their actions, while Joshua Schulte (CIA) has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. Only the Obama administration prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act — a total of eight people. [Continue reading…]

In a popular mobile game, players are given the goal of killing a journalist

The Washington Post reports:

The mission is called Breaking News. It’s the seventh mission in the game, and it comes after you’ve upgraded your sniper rifle to shoot at a distance of nearly 1,000 feet with accuracy.

By now, you’ve already taken out, among others, a gunman who allegedly killed several people at a pizzeria last year, someone who stole a backpack from a tourist, a sniper who (without a trace of irony) is killing innocent people, and three men who were guarding a gang’s weapon arsenal.

Breaking News has a clear goal: kill a reporter.

“A journalist bribed a cop and will pick up a briefcase from the cop,” the mission says. “The briefcase is full of sensitive documents. Make him famous in a different way.” (In reality, journalists’ codes of ethics ban them from paying sources for information or material. There would certainly be no bribing.)

Sniper 3D Assassin is a mobile game available on iOS and Android. It has a rating of about 4½ stars, with a combined 12 million reviews on both platforms. The app launched in 2014 and reached 10 million downloads in the first month, according to the developer, TFG, which is based in Brazil. In 2016, the developer claims it was the most-downloaded game in the App Store.

“Take your sniper, aim and start shooting your enemies,” the game description reads. [Continue reading…]

American journalism is suffering from ‘truth decay’

Quentin Fottrell writes:

American journalism is losing its objectivity.

That’s according to a new analysis on news discourse by the RAND Corporation. In the study, released Wednesday, researchers found a major shift occurred between 1989 and 2017 as journalism expanded beyond traditional media, such as newspapers and broadcast networks, to newer media, including 24-hour cable news channels and digital outlets. “Notably, these measurable changes vary in extent and nature for different news platforms,” it found. RAND is a nonprofit nonpartisan think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif.

“Our research provides quantitative evidence for what we all can see in the media landscape,” said Jennifer Kavanagh, a RAND senior political scientist and lead author of the report, the second in a series on the phenomenon of “Truth Decay,” the declining role of facts and analysis in civil discourse and its effect on American life. “Journalism in the U.S. has become more subjective and consists less of the detailed event- or context-based reporting that used to characterize news coverage.”

The analysis — carried out by a RAND text-analytics tool previously used to scan for support for and opposition to Islamic terrorists on social media — scanned millions of lines of text in print, broadcast and online journalism from 1989 (the first year such data were available via Lexis Nexis) to 2017 to identify usage patterns in words and phrases. Researchers were then able to measure these changes and compare them across all digital, media and print platforms.

Researchers analyzed content from 15 outlets representing print, television and digital journalism. The sample included the New York Times, Washington Post and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Politico, the Blaze, Breitbart, Buzzfeed Politics, the Daily Caller and the Huffington Post. They found a “gradual and subtle shift” between old and new media toward a more subjective form of journalism. [Continue reading…]

Should the media sever their ties to Facebook?

Mathew Ingram writes:

With all that has transpired between Facebook and the media industry over the past couple of years—the repeated algorithm changes, the head fakes about switching to video, the siphoning off of a significant chunk of the industry’s advertising revenue—most publishers approach the giant social network with skepticism, if not outright hostility. And yet, the vast majority of them continue to partner with Facebook, to distribute their content on its platform, and even accept funding and resources from it.

Given that Facebook has not only helped hollow out newsrooms across the country but arguably lowered the overall quality of civic discussion, repeatedly flouted laws around privacy in ways that have served the needs of foreign actors like the Russian government, and played a key role in fomenting violence in countries like Myanmar and India, it’s worth asking: Is it enough to be skeptical? Or is there an ethical case to be made that media companies, and the journalists who work for them, should sever their ties to Facebook completely?

The argument in favor of staying on Facebook is obvious: the social network has immense reach—2 billion monthly active users—, which provides publishers with the potential to increase their readership. Facebook also has billions of dollars to spread around, whether it’s through advertising revenue sharing, or by funding journalism initiatives, to which it recently committed a total of $300 million over the next three years. Together, Facebook, Twitter, and Google have become the biggest journalism funders in the world, a sad irony given their effects on the business. [Continue reading…]

Major media outlets’ Twitter accounts amplify false Trump claims on average 19 times a day, study finds

Media Matters reports:

Major media outlets failed to rebut President Donald Trump’s misinformation 65% of the time in their tweets about his false or misleading comments, according to a Media Matters review. That means the outlets amplified Trump’s misinformation more than 400 times over the three-week period of the study — a rate of 19 per day.

The data shows that news outlets are still failing to grapple with a major problem that media critics highlighted during the Trump transition: When journalists apply their traditional method of crafting headlines, tweets, and other social media posts to Trump, they end up passively spreading misinformation by uncritically repeating his falsehoods.

The way people consume information in the digital age makes the accuracy of a news outlet’s headlines and social media posts more important than ever, because research shows they are the only thing a majority of people actually read. But journalists are trained to treat a politician’s statements as intrinsically newsworthy, often quoting them without context in tweets and headlines and addressing whether the statement was accurate only in the body of the piece, if at all. When the politician’s statements are false, journalists who quote them in headlines and on social media without context end up amplifying the falsehoods. [Continue reading…]