Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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What happens when QAnon seeps from the web to the offline world

The New York Times reports: A city council member in California took the dais and quoted from QAnon, a pro-Trump conspiracy theory about “deep state” traitors plotting against the president, concluding her remarks, “God bless Q.” A man spouting QAnon beliefs about child sex trafficking swung a crowbar inside a historic Catholic chapel in Arizona, damaging the altar and then fleeing before being arrested. And outside a Trump campaign rally

The billion-dollar disinformation campaign to reelect Trump

McKay Coppins writes: One day last fall, I sat down to create a new Facebook account. I picked a forgettable name, snapped a profile pic with my face obscured, and clicked “Like” on the official pages of Donald Trump and his reelection campaign. Facebook’s algorithm prodded me to follow Ann Coulter, Fox Business, and a variety of fan pages with names like “In Trump We Trust.” I complied. I also

Social media was a cesspool of toxic Iowa conspiracy theories last night. It’s only going to get worse

Margaret Sullivan writes: Nature abhors a vacuum. And so does Twitter. As it became obvious late Monday night that a technical glitch would dramatically hold up the results of the long-anticipated Iowa caucuses, social media exploded with dark ideas about what had happened. The hashtag “MayorCheat” was trending, a nasty shot at Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg promoted by Mike Cernovich, the rabble-rousing pro-Trump media personality, who tweeted out his conspiracy

The next big privacy hurdle? Teaching AI to forget

Darren Shou writes: When the European Union enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) a year ago, one of the most revolutionary aspects of the regulation was the “right to be forgotten”—an often-hyped and debated right, sometimes perceived as empowering individuals to request the erasure of their information on the internet, most commonly from search engines or social networks. Since then, the issue of digital privacy has rarely been far

As coronavirus spreads, so do misinformation and xenophobia

Frankie Schembri writes: In a reversal of its decision last week, the World Health Organization on Thursday officially declared the spread of a novel coronavirus a global health emergency. The virus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of December, has according to the WHO been confirmed in 7,818 cases globally, though China itself has reported higher numbers. Most infections reported by the WHO — 7,736

Twitter bans Zero Hedge for doxing Chinese scientist it falsely accused of creating the coronavirus

BuzzFeed reports: A popular pro-Trump website has released the personal information of a scientist from Wuhan, China, falsely accusing them of creating the coronavirus as a bioweapon, in a plot it said is the real-life version of the video game Resident Evil. On Wednesday, far-right news site Zero Hedge claimed without evidence that a scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology created the strain of the virus that has led

The conservatives trying to ditch fake news

McKay Coppins writes: Jonah goldberg, the conservative author and longtime fixture at National Review, used to have a go-to metaphor he’d deploy whenever he found himself defending one of his noisier compatriots in the right-wing media. “I had this whole spiel about how the conservative movement is like a symphony,” he told me in a recent interview. “You need the fine woodwinds like Yuval Levin or Irving Kristol, but you

One year inside Trump’s monumental Facebook campaign

The Guardian reports: As the Democratic candidates for president spent 2019 battling each other in early voting states, Donald Trump’s re-election campaign built a sophisticated social media machine to communicate with conservative voters, grow its email list and fine-tune its messaging. Over the course of 2019, the Trump campaign spent nearly $20m on more than 218,000 different Facebook ads, a new Guardian analysis shows. Among the ads were some of

Trump’s digital advantage is freaking out Democratic strategists

Thomas B. Edsall writes: In a blog post published in November, a year before the 2020 election, Brian Burch, the president of CatholicVote.org, a socially conservative advocacy group, announced that in Wisconsin alone his organization had identified 199,241 Catholics “who’ve been to church at least 3 times in the last 90 days.” Nearly half of these religiously observant parishioners, Burch wrote, “91,373 mass-attending Catholics — are not even registered to

Tech giants led by Amazon, Facebook and Google spent nearly half a billion on lobbying over the past decade

The Washington Post reports: Ten years ago, Google executives rarely spoke to Congress. Amazon employed just two of its own registered lobbyists in Washington. And Facebook had only recently graduated to a real office after running its D.C. operation out of an employee’s living room. Since then, though, these technology companies have evolved into some of the most potent political forces in the nation’s capital, a Washington Post analysis of

Sanders supporters have weaponized Facebook to spread angry memes about his Democratic rivals

The Washington Post reports: A Democrat in Michigan scrolled through a surge of nasty Facebook memes about Sen. Elizabeth Warren last week before fixing on one that captured his growing dislike of the candidate. It depicted her smiling face as a mask. Behind it was Hillary Clinton. Matt Walters, 64, a retired factory worker and supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), shared the image onward to eight Facebook groups and

Trump’s greatest ally in the coming election? Facebook

John Harris writes: If you want to know why the worst president in US history currently stands a very good chance of winning again, consider a few facts. Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is already in full flow, brimming with cash, drenching social media with targeted ads, and reaping oceans of data on voters. The impeachment drama is, predictably enough, the perfect opportunity to put out material that plays to the

Which tech companies are really doing the most harm?

Jonathan L. Fischer writes: Maybe it was fake news, Russian trolls, and Cambridge Analytica. Or Travis Kalanick’s conniption in an Uber. Or the unmasking of Theranos. Or all those Twitter Nazis, and racist Google results, and conspiracy theories on YouTube. Though activists, academics, reporters, and regulators had sent up warning flares for years, it wasn’t until quite recently that the era of enchantment with Silicon Valley ended. The list of

How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy

Vox reports: No matter how President Trump’s impeachment trial plays out in the Senate, one thing is certain: Despite the incontrovertible facts at the center of the story, the process will change very few minds. Regardless of how clear a case Democrats make, it seems likely that a majority of voters will remain confused and unsure about the details of Trump’s transgressions. No single version of the truth will be

Fresh Cambridge Analytica leak ‘shows global manipulation is out of control’

The Observer reports: An explosive leak of tens of thousands of documents from the defunct data firm Cambridge Analytica is set to expose the inner workings of the company that collapsed after the Observer revealed it had misappropriated 87 million Facebook profiles. More than 100,000 documents relating to work in 68 countries that will lay bare the global infrastructure of an operation used to manipulate voters on “an industrial scale”

How to survive the internet in 2020

Farhad Manjoo writes: The new year is here, and online, the forecast calls for several seasons of hell. Tech giants and the media have scarcely figured out all that went wrong during the last presidential election — viral misinformation, state-sponsored propaganda, bots aplenty, all of us cleaved into our own tribal reality bubbles — yet here we go again, headlong into another experiment in digitally mediated democracy. I’ll be honest