Washington Post

A cyberattack could disrupt Nov 8’s U.S. elections — but wouldn’t change the results

[Commentary] The biggest cyberthreats are voting disruptions, not vote stealing: U.S. history shows that it is possible, but hard, to steal an election. Because the U.S. electoral system is so dispersed and the physical evidence of votes cast is stored redundantly, it’s hard to imagine how widespread vote-stealing or vote-rigging over the Internet would go undetected. To be sure, a cyberattack on the registration or vote-reporting subsystems would be very disruptive. Fail-safe procedures like provisional ballots could seriously inconvenience voters and even disrupt polling places by slowing down voting dramatically. If the U.S. saw widespread cyberattacks, no doubt rumors would fly. And if someone maliciously used social media to spread rumors, that too could be a disruptive cyberthreat.

But simply stealing an election via the Internet would require a lot of effort for little effect. If there’s a cyberattack on the election systems, its goal would be to encourage Americans to doubt the election’s legitimacy. It might temporarily disrupt certain processes, forcing us to wait to find out who won. But it would not change the election’s results.

[Charles Stewart III is professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project. Merle King is associate professor emeritus of information systems and executive director of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University.]

When it comes to blacklisting the media, Sen Richard Burr trumps The Donald

For much of the presidential campaign, Donald Trump banned certain media outlets — including The Washington Post, Politico and BuzzFeed — from receiving press credentials at his events. That meant reporters from those news agencies could not watch rallies from designated press areas, which usually include work stations, or take advantage of shorter security lines. They had to sit and wait with everyone else. Sen Richard Burr (R-NC) is taking the blacklist to a new level. He is not merely withholding press passes from the News & Observer of Raleigh; he is refusing to even give the newspaper a schedule of events for his reelection campaign.

The move, according to News & Observer reporter Colin Campbell, is "effectively limiting the newspaper from reporting on Burr’s public appearances." It's tough to cover events you don't know about. While some are well-advertised, "there have been several events we only learned of via Twitter after they had ended," Campbell said. "The Burr campaign had been sending near-daily news releases in early October outlining where Burr would be campaigning, but The N&O stopped receiving those releases in recent weeks," Campbell reported. He said the paper received an email in which Burr's campaign explained that it had "put an embargo on sending you scheduling details until you demonstrate the ability to cover this race from a balanced point of view."

How a single Internet provider could end up making money off you several times over

AT&T's recently announced deal to acquire Time Warner reflects massive changes in media and technology. Although regulators could challenge the acquisition or slap conditions on it that may limit how AT&T can use its new assets, the purchase hints at a future where a single company can monetize the same customer multiple times over, just through the customer's routine use of the Internet. If AT&T succeeds — and that's still a big if — it will be that much closer to turning its subscribers into virtual cash machines, going to them over and over to grow its revenue base. Here are a few ways that could work:

Sell connectivity: At its core, AT&T is a network company. Its main job until now has been to sell you access to communications, such as phone or Internet service. These services act as conduits to the information or media you can find once you're hooked as a subscriber.
Sell content: On top of selling you the network, companies such as AT&T increasingly want to sell you the content that travels over those networks — including shows like “Game of Thrones” or “Westworld.”
Sell advertising: This is the big one. Advertising, particularly of the targeted variety, forms the cornerstone of the entire Internet economy. And Internet providers want a big slice of it.
Sell your data: A company, such as AT&T, could put your data to work for its own advertising business. But it could also benefit by sharing your data with marketing firms and other third parties who can use that information themselves.

Rules to improve presidential elections

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” Federalist 51 tells us. “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” So too, if men were angels we’d get better presidential candidates. But since they aren’t, some “internal controls” on candidates and elections might attend to our selection process. We consider three areas in which such controls can be increased:

Disclosure: Donald Trump has demonstrated we cannot rely on historical precedent to induce candidates’ disclosure of basic information about their financial and legal affairs.

Redo campaign finance reform: If the Supreme Court reverses Citizens United (a good possibility if Hillary Clinton is elected and gets to appoint one or more justices), which held that independent spending by third parties could not be regulated as are donations directly to candidates or political parties, there is an opportunity to enhance the power of political parties. Decades of campaign finance reform plus Citizens United has left us with the worst of all worlds: Political parties are diminished; fringe candidates can survive on the largesse of a few billionaires or special interest groups; and more money comes from sources where disclosure is not required than from parties and candidates who are required to disclose their donors.

FBI to take new ‘investigative steps’ on Clinton e-mails

Newly discovered emails found on a computer seized during an investigation of disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner thrust the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server back into the presidential campaign less than two weeks before the election. Officials said the discovery prompted a surprise announcement by FBI Director James B. Comey that the agency would once again be examining emails related to Clinton’s time as secretary of state. In a letter to lawmakers, Comey said the FBI would take “appropriate investigative steps” to determine whether the newly discovered emails contain classified information and to assess whether they are relevant to the Clinton server probe.

The emails, numbering more than 1,000, were found on a computer used by both Weiner and his wife, top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. The correspondence included emails between Abedin and Clinton. “I’m confident whatever [the emails] are will not change the conclusion reached in July,” said Clinton. “Therefore, it’s imperative that the bureau explain this issue in question, whatever it is, without any delay.” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta called it “extraordinary that we would see something like this just 11 days out from a presidential election.” Officials familiar with the inquiry said it was too early to assess the significance of the newly discovered emails. It is possible, they said, that some or all of the correspondence is duplicative of the emails that were already turned over and examined by the FBI.

Why the establishment was blindsided by Donald Trump

[Commentary] If you are reading this sentence, you participate in a minority cultural practice. You get your news by reading traditional newspapers, whether in print or online. Let some facts sink in. Barely more than a decade ago, the majority of Americans with a high school degree or above were daily readers of traditional print newspapers and their news sites. This is no longer true. Now, at best, about 40 percent of American adults “often” get their news from newspapers and their websites. In contrast, roughly 60 percent often get their news from television. Of course, television has dominated since the era of the broadcast big three. What’s new is reading’s precipitous decline.

The country’s conversational universe has split between those who primarily get their news by reading and those who primarily depend on watching and listening. I say primarily because of course few people are exclusively in one camp or the other, and many of us also participate in circulating news via social media. But where we spend most of our time matters. On that we are split. Understanding American public opinion now means discerning three things: what the conversation sounds like on TV and radio, what it sounds like in traditional text-based journalism, and how these two conversations differ. Understanding our political dynamics means spotting how those streams do or don’t mingle, and tracking the eddies, riptides and surf storms their convergences generate. In this campaign, we haven’t seen a silent majority suddenly awoken. Instead, we’ve seen a coming-of-age of a vocal minority that was nearly invisible to another vocal minority, the community of readers of traditional text-based journalism, a community dominated by the professional classes. Over the past nine months, these two minorities have been battling for the country’s soul.

[Danielle Allen is a political theorist at Harvard University]

Mike Pence’s airplane scare is a reminder of why protective press pools matter

Concerns about a frightening episode in which Mike Pence's campaign plane skidded off the runway while landing at LaGuardia Airport were quickly assuaged, as journalists aboard the aircraft reported that the Republican vice presidential nominee and all passengers were safe. Had Donald Trump's plane been the one in trouble, news might not have gotten out so fast.

Trump continues to relegate the journalists in his press corps to a separate plane, an unorthodox move for a major-party nominee. The arrangement has frustrated reporters at times, such as when Trump refused to charter a press plane for his trip to Mexico in September and when he gleefully told the crowd at a rally in New Hampshire two weeks later that journalists' flight had been delayed by about 30 minutes and that he would not wait for them to arrive. The separation also means that reporters might not be on the scene in the event of an emergency involving one of the nation's most important political figures.

Trump’s plan for a comeback includes building a ‘psychographic’ profile of every voter

In a Fifth Avenue office near Trump Tower, a company being paid millions of dollars by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign says it has developed a political weapon powerful enough to help the Republican nominee overcome his troubles and win the White House. The key is a psychological model for identifying voters that can “determine the personality of every single adult in the United States of America,” said Alexander Nix, chief executive of Cambridge Analytica. The little-known company, which has operated in the United States for four years, opened its office here only a month ago and is clearly at the center of Trump’s quest for a last-minute comeback against Democrat Hillary Clinton. New federal filings show the campaign’s payments to the firm ballooning from $250,000 in August to $5 million in September.

The reliance on Cambridge reflects a recognition by Trump’s campaign that drastic measures are required to erase a potentially irreversible disparity between Trump’s get-out-the-vote operation and Clinton’s meticulously built machinery. The firm says it can predict how most people will vote by using up to 5,000 pieces of data about every American adult, combined with the result of hundreds of thousands of personality and behavioral surveys, to identify millions of voters who are most open to being persuaded to support Trump.

Why Google Fiber is no longer rolling out to new cities

After rolling out its Fiber product in about a dozen cities, Google is hitting pause on its project to deploy superfast Internet across the country. The news may come as a disappointment to those who were hoping the search giant would bring competition and faster speeds to their area. So, what happened? Here are a few explanations:

Financial pressure from higher-ups: Like many of its siblings in the broader Alphabet family, Google Fiber is likely feeling the heat from top executives who are trying to show investors that their money is being well spent.
Not enough demand: Just like Google Glass — the company's ill-fated attempt to build an augmented-reality visor — Google Fiber may be just a little ahead of its time.
Big incumbents made Google's job harder: Google had an unenviable task in many of its chosen cities: It had to compete with large, established broadband providers who were already there or could benefit from regulations that raised the bar for new entrants.
Providing bundled TV is expensive: There was another major cost Google had to account for when offering its Fiber service. Americans love their double- or triple-play bundles, which reduce the cost of buying Internet from traditional providers.
Wireless broadband is the future: Even as Google Fiber pays lots of money to lay down cables and secure access to TV programming, a different type of technology is coming down the pike: wireless fiber.

Why you should stop obsessing about your kids’ screen time

The debate about screen time is getting more complicated. As we spend more time each day in front of a screen, concern is growing over the effect it could be having on our brains — particularly the brains of our children. Parents may be silently scolding themselves for giving their kids too much screen time, but the issue is more complicated than simply logging on to computers and other devices.

The week of Oct 17, the American Association of Pediatrics announced new guidance on how parents should think about screen time for their children. And on Oct 24, parent advisory group Common Sense Media released an in-depth look at media use among black and Latino teens, an even more complicated picture of the merits and dangers of screen time. The group decided to commission the case studies after seeing the results of a census of teen media use the group ran in 2015. That report found that teens, on average, were using media in some form for nine hours each day. It also found that minority teens, particularly black and Latino teens, were spending significantly more time with media than their white contemporaries and the overall average. It would be easy to draw some simple conclusions from that result about how socioeconomic factors may affect media use, said Common Sense research head Michael Robb. But Common Sense wanted to see if it could paint a more complex and personal picture, rather than using such a broad brush. Young people in the study also used their phones for critical communication that brings them closer to their families.