Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward







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Social media

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

Facebook says a pro-Trump media outlet used artificial intelligence to create fake people and push conspiracies

NBC News reports: Facebook took down more than 600 accounts tied to the pro-Trump conspiracy website The Epoch Times for using identities created by artificial intelligence to push stories about a variety of topics including impeachment and elections. The network was called “The BL” and was run by Vietnamese users posing as Americans, using fake photos generated by algorithms to simulate real identities. The Epoch Media group, which pushes a

The accidental book review that made Jack Kerouac famous

Ronald K.L. Collins writes: In early September 1957, Jack Kerouac achieved the dream of every writer. Around midnight he and his girlfriend, Joyce Glassman, left her brownstone apartment in New York City for a nearby newsstand at Broadway and 66th Street. They waited while the nightman cut the twine around the morning edition of the New York Times. Rifling through the paper, they found on Page 27 an expected review

Concern over rise in ‘dark tourism’ in Syria as war enters ninth year

The Guardian reports: Syria’s almost nine-year conflict is far from over but that is not stopping a new wave of western tourists from visiting. As President Bashar al-Assad tightens his grip on the remains of the opposition in the north-west, a handful of tour companies and travel bloggers catering to English-language customers have started running bespoke trips to the country to “mingle with locals while also passing destroyed villages”, visit

The collapse of the information ecosystem poses profound risks for humanity

Lydia Polgreen writes: For the last few years, scientists have argued that we’re living through a distinctly new geological age. They call it the Anthropocene: a new age characterized by humanity’s profound impact on Earth itself as evidenced by pollution, mass extinction and climate change. We are currently facing a new systemic collapse, one that has built far more swiftly but poses potent risks for all of humanity: the collapse

Why Twitter so big in Saudi Arabia

The New York Times reports: In Saudi Arabia, where a relatively closed culture leaves citizens few public forums to discuss news and politics, Twitter has become a kind of town square, the place where citizens meet to swap information and debate the latest issues. Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy has not banned the site, but it has taken extensive measures to shape the information that appears there and to silence or

Former Twitter employees charged with spying for Saudi Arabia by digging into the accounts of kingdom critics

The Washington Post reports: The Justice Department has charged two former Twitter employees with spying for Saudi Arabia in a case that raises concerns about the ability of Silicon Valley to protect the private information of dissidents and other users from repressive governments. The charges, unveiled Wednesday in San Francisco, came a day after the arrest of one of the former Twitter employees, Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. citizen who is

How Trump reduced the presidency through 11,000 tweets

The New York Times reports: In the Oval Office, an annoyed President Trump ended an argument he was having with his aides. He reached into a drawer, took out his iPhone and threw it on top of the historic Resolute Desk: “Do you want me to settle this right now?” There was no missing Mr. Trump’s threat that day in early 2017, the aides recalled. With a tweet, he could

Money talks: Facebook will allow UK election candidates to run false ads

CNN reports: A controversial policy allowing politicians to run false ads on Facebook will extend to the United Kingdom as the country prepares to vote in a historic December election, Facebook confirmed to CNN Business. The policy is being championed by Facebook executive Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom who himself once complained about “lies” spread during the 2016 Brexit referendum. The company will not

Inside the world of misinformation

David Patrikarakos writes: For centuries information was scarce. The math was simple: The higher up the societal food chain you were, the better the information you had. And it could be explosive. Information made Microsoft and it brought down Richard Nixon. It helped us navigate the globe and it feeds the Facebook algorithm. But what happens to society when information ceases to be scarce? This is the question Peter Pomerantsev

Russia tests new disinformation tactics in Africa to expand influence

The New York Times reports: Russia has been testing new disinformation tactics in an enormous Facebook campaign in parts of Africa, as part of an evolution of its manipulation techniques ahead of the 2020 American presidential election. Facebook said on Wednesday that it removed three Russian-backed influence networks on its site that were aimed at African countries including Mozambique, Cameroon, Sudan and Libya. The company said the online networks were