Election 2016

There's Blood In The Water In Silicon Valley

[Commentary] The blinding rise of Donald Trump over the past year has masked another major trend in American politics: the palpable, and perhaps permanent, turn against the tech industry.

The new corporate leviathans that used to be seen as bright new avatars of American innovation are increasingly portrayed as sinister new centers of unaccountable power, a transformation likely to have major consequences for the industry and for American politics. People who think the money tech spends can buy protection from the political system misunderstand their dynamic: The transfers of money referred to blandly as “campaign finance” are equal parts bribery and extortion, and the system works best when the target is scared. And the political class can smell blood. That Zuckerberg campaign was, to the political world, blood in the water, a signal of a new vulnerability around his company and his industry. That’s a tough place to start before the committee.

Twitter founder: Trump presidency is product of short attention spans

President Donald Trump is a symptom of a media environment based on short attention spans that is making the world stupider, one of the founders of Twitter has said. Evan Williams, one of the co-founders of the network, said Trump’s election highlighted a wider issue about how social media platforms were helping to “dumb the entire world down” and undermining our sense of truth. Earlier in 2017 President Trump said he would not be president if it “wasn’t for Twitter”. Williams was asked whether President Trump’s prolific use of Twitter had given him pause for thought, during an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. He replied: “The much bigger issue is not Donald Trump using Twitter that got him elected, even if he says so; it is the quality of the information we consume that is reinforcing dangerous beliefs and isolating people and limiting people’s open-mindedness and respect for truth.”

Assessing a Clinton argument that the media helped to elect Trump

Many of Hillary Clinton's supporters identify one culprit more than others in the 2016 outcome: the media. Clinton herself points a finger in that direction in her new book, “What Happened,” according to an excerpt published at the Hill. “Many in the political media don’t want to hear about how these things happened and how these things tipped the election in the final days,” Clinton writes. “They say their beef is that I’m not taking responsibility for my mistakes — but I have and I do again throughout this book. Their real problem is they can’t bear to face their own role in helping elect Trump, from providing him free airtime to giving my emails three times more coverage than all the issues affecting people’s lives combined.”

The first point there is fair. By the end of the campaign, Donald Trump had been the beneficiary of the equivalent of some $5 billion in free advertising, according to the media tracking firm mediaQuant. Some of that was a function of the live coverage of Trump’s rallies, which often ran without interruption on cable news, particularly in the early days of the campaign. But much of that free coverage was also a function of online coverage, often driven by his tweets. In May 2016, as the Street notes, Trump generated nearly $200 million in free media attention — largely thanks to his weird tweet about taco bowls. It’s also worth noting that Clinton, too, was the beneficiary of free coverage. MediaQuant estimates that she was the beneficiary of $3.24 billion in free media coverage — or, as it’s known in political campaigns, earned media. Politicians work to get this free coverage. It’s part of the process. And Trump earned more than Clinton.

Facebook needs to answer these questions about the Russian campaign to influence American voters

We now know that a Russian organization spent two years trying to influence American voters using Facebook. Here are the questions Facebook has yet to answer and why it matters:
What were the demographics of the users who saw the ads, and how were they targeted?
What were the 470 accounts connected to the ad campaign?
What was in the ads, and what types of ads were they?
Was there any overlap between the content used by the Russian campaign and other known campaigns?

Russia Used Facebook Events to Organize Anti-Immigrant Rallies on US Soil

Russian operatives hiding behind false identities used Facebook’s event management tool to remotely organize and promote political protests in the US, including an August 2016 anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that the social-media giant “shut down several promoted events as part of the takedown we described last week.” The company declined to elaborate, except to confirm that the events were promoted with paid ads. (This is the first time the social media giant has publicly acknowledged the existence of such events.)

The Facebook events—one of which echoed Islamophobic conspiracy theories pushed by pro-Trump media outlets—are the first indication that the Kremlin’s attempts to shape America’s political discourse moved beyond fake news and led unwitting Americans into specific real-life action.

Sputnik, the Russian news agency, is under investigation by the FBI

The FBI recently questioned a former White House correspondent for Sputnik, the Russian-government-funded news agency, as part of an investigation into whether it is acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). As part of the probe, the bureau has obtained a thumb drive containing thousands of internal Sputnik e-mails and documents — material that could potentially help prosecutors build a case that the news agency played a role in the Russian government “influence campaign” that was waged during last year’s presidential election and, in the view of US intelligence officials, is still ongoing.

The e-mails were turned over by Andrew Feinberg, the news agency’s former White House correspondent, who had downloaded the material onto his laptop before he was fired in May. He confirmed that he was questioned for more than two hours on Sept. 1 by an FBI agent and a Justice Department national security lawyer at the bureau’s Washington field office. Feinberg said the interview was focused on Sputnik’s “internal structure, editorial processes and funding.” “They wanted to know where did my orders come from and if I ever got any direction from Moscow,” Feinberg said. “They were interested in examples of how I was steered towards covering certain issues.”

DreamHost considers fighting order to cough up info on visitors of anti-Tump website

Executives from a Los Angeles-based tech company said they are weighing whether to fight a judge's order to provide prosecutors with e-mail addresses and other information from people who visited an anti-Trump website in the months leading to Inauguration Day. The company, DreamHost, filed a motion with District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin recently requesting that he put his order on hold while they consider whether to appeal. But prosecutors, concerned that such a delay could hinder their cases against dozens charged in Inauguration Day riots, have asked the judge to force DreamHost to turn over the data immediately.

In a year where DreamHost was looking forward to celebrating its 20th anniversary, the company instead has been propelled into a high-profile privacy rights case as a result of managing the server for a website that authorities say facilitated Inauguration Day rioting. DreamHost co-founder and co-Chief Executive Dallas Kashuba said in an interview that the potential implications go beyond this case. He said there is concern among tech companies that Internet users could become fearful of visiting websites if they know government authorities can monitor such information.

Make Mark Zuckerberg Testify

[Commentary] Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg should publicly testify under oath before Congress on his company’s capabilities to influence the political process, be it Russian meddling or anything else. If the company is as powerful as it promises advertisers, it should be held accountable. And if it’s not, then we need to stop fretting so much about it. Either way, threats to entire societies should be reckoned with publicly by those very societies and not confined to R&D labs and closed-door briefings. If democracy can be gamed from a laptop, that shouldn’t be considered a trade secret.

When it comes to Facebook, Russia’s $100,000 is worth more than you think

[Commentary] Facebook revealed that during the 2016 presidential campaign it sold more than $100,000 in ads to a Kremlin-linked “troll farm” seeking to influence US voters. An additional $50,000 in ads also appear suspect but were less verifiably linked to the Russian government. In the grand — at this point, far too grand — scheme of campaign spending, $150,000 doesn’t sound like much. It’s a minor TV ad buy, perhaps, or a wardrobe makeover for one vice-presidential candidate. But in the context of Facebook, it matters quite a bit. Not just for what it might have done to the election but also for what it says about us.

Russia spent at least $100,000 on Facebook ads because of Americans’ known susceptibility to partisan division, our willingness to outsource the work of analysis to social-media algorithms and our tendency to not think too hard about what we see. No, the money isn’t minor. But the real problem is us.

Spicer, Priebus, Hicks among six current and former Trump aides Mueller has expressed interest in interviewing for Russia probe

Apparently, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has alerted the White House that his team will likely seek to interview six top current and former advisers to President Trump who were witnesses to several episodes relevant to the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Mueller’s interest in the aides, including trusted adviser Hope Hicks, ex-press secretary Sean Spicer and former chief of staff Reince Priebus, reflects how the probe that has dogged Trump’s presidency is starting to penetrate a closer circle of aides around the president.

Each of the six advisers was privy to important internal discussions that have drawn the interest of Mueller’s investigators, including his decision in May to fire FBI Director James B. Comey and the White House’s initial inaction following warnings that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had withheld information from the public about his private discussions in December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, according to people familiar with the probe. The advisers are also connected to a series of internal documents that Mueller’s investigators have asked the White House to produce, apparently.