Quotulatiousness

May 19, 2017

Common Sense Soapbox #1: Fake News is Old News

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 18 May 2017

The term “Fake News” gets thrown around all the time, but what is it?

Sometimes it’s just a phrase people use to to discredit information or sources they don’t like. But there are also people who spread misinformation to further their own agenda. So how do you avoid getting stuck in a bubble without being a victim of misinformation?

We give you 5 helpful tips on how to spot Fake News, and use a skeptical eye to assess information.

Written by Seamus Coughlin & Sean W. Malone
Animated by Seamus Coughlin

Check out FEE.org: https://fee.org/articles/fake-news-is-old-news/

March 6, 2017

Origins of the Tea Party movement

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The Z Man provides a thumbnail sketch of the start of the Tea Party early in Barack Obama’s first term in office:

Back in Obama’s first months on the throne, Rick Santelli, a TV personality, was “reporting” from the floor of the stock exchange. He responded to a question about Obama’s housing plan with a rant about socialism, finishing it off with a call for a new Tea Party. Whether it was spontaneous or choreographed is hard to know, but at the time people took it to be entirely spontaneous. Santelli is a carny barker prone to getting carried away on the air and his rant had the feel of an old fashioned stem winder.

Regardless of the intent or the execution, the rant went viral and the Tea Party Movement was born. Middle America was ready to be pissed off due to the terribleness of the Bush years, so Obama’s poor start put the normies in a fighting mood. Before long people were showing up at town hall meetings, dressed as Samuel Adams, giving their congressman the business about reckless government behavior that had made a hash of things. Since the Democrats were the majority, they got the brunt of the abuse.

It did not take long for the moonbats to declare the whole thing a racist conspiracy cooked up by the twelfth invisible Hitler in league with the eternal cyclops of the KKK. This was when the fake hate crime stuff got its start as a daily phenomenon. It was also when it became apparent to a lot of people that the news is mostly fake. The increasingly deranged Nancy Pelosi, slurring about “Astroturf” was so weird, it begged a challenge, but the news people carried on like it was manifestly true.

The claim that middle aged suburbanites, dressed in tricorne hats, were paid agents of a nefarious conspiracy was so nutty that the response from the press should have been laughter and then derision. After all, it has been known for decades that the Left uses rent-a-mobs. They pay people to show up and hold signs. Unions have been doing this since the days of Jimmy Hoffa. For the Democrats to clutch their pearls and call the Tea Party inauthentic should have been too much of a farce for even the very liberal press corp.

“What could possibly account for that growth? Statistical fakery so fake that a Vegas bookie would weep”

Filed under: Media, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Daniel Greenfield on how to hoax the media into reporting on a burgeoning anti-Muslim movement in the United States:

“Huge Growth in Anti-Muslim Hate Groups During 2016: SPLC Report,” wails NBC News. “Watchdog: Number of anti-Muslim hate groups tripled since 2015,” FOX News bleats. ABC News vomits up this word salad. “Trump cited in report finding increase in US hate groups for 2nd year in a row.”

The SPLC stands for the Southern Poverty Law Center: an organization with slightly less credibility than Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, and without the academic degree in greasepaint.

And you won’t believe the shameless way the SPLC faked its latest Islamophobia crisis.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s latest “hate group” sightings claims that the “number of anti-Muslim hate groups increased almost three-fold in 2016.”

That’s a lot of folds.

And there is both bad news and good news from its “Year in Hate and Extremism.”

First the good news.

Casa D’Ice Signs, the sign outside a bar in K-Mart Plaza in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, is no longer listed as a hate group. The sign outside the bar had been listed as a hate group by the SPLC for years. The owner of Casa D’Ice had been known for putting politically incorrect signs outside his bar. So the SPLC listed the “signs” as a hate group. (Even though there was only one sign.) Not the bar. That would have made too much sense.

Since then Casa D’Ice was sold and the SPLC has celebrated the defeat of another hate group. Even if the hate group was just a plastic sign outside a bar.

But the bad news, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is that anti-Muslim hate groups shot up from only 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016.

What could possibly account for that growth? Statistical fakery so fake that a Vegas bookie would weep.

March 2, 2017

Words & Numbers: The Problem with Alternative Facts

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 1 Mar 2017

I this week’s episode, Antony & James talk about alternative facts and how false, partisan data skews important discussions about public policy.

Update: For some reason the original post link was taken private, so I’m reposting to the current version.

March 1, 2017

The different “flavours” of propaganda

Filed under: China, Media, Politics, Russia, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow on the various types of propaganda in use around the world:

Jonathan Stray summarizes three different strains of propaganda, analyzing why they work, and suggesting counter-tactics: in Russia, it’s about flooding the channel with a mix of lies and truth, crowding out other stories; in China, it’s about suffocating arguments with happy-talk distractions, and for trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos, it’s weaponizing hate, outraging people so they spread your message to the small, diffused minority of broken people who welcome your message and would otherwise be uneconomical to reach.

Stray cites some of the same sources I’ve written about here: Tucker Max’s analysis of Yiannopoulos’s weaponized hate and The Harvard Institute for Quantitative Science team’s first-of-its kind analysis of leaked messages directing the activities of the “50-cent army, which overwhelms online Chinese conversation with upbeat cheerleading (think of Animal Farm‘s sheep-bleating, or Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s quackspeak).

But I’d never encountered the work he references on Russian propaganda, by RAND scholar Christopher Paul, who calls Russian disinformation a “firehose of falsehood.” This tactic involves having huge numbers of channels at your disposal: fake and real social media accounts, tactical leaks to journalists, state media channels like RT, which are able to convey narrative at higher volume than the counternarrative, which becomes compelling just by dint of being everywhere (“quantity does indeed have a quality all its own”).

Mixing outright lies with a large dollop of truth is key to this tactic, as it surrounds the lies with a penumbra of truthfulness. This is a time-honored tactic, of course: think of the Christian Science Monitor‘s history of outstanding international coverage, accompanied by editorials about God’s ability to heal through prayer; or Voice of America‘s mixture of excellent reporting on (again) international politics and glaring silence on US crises (see also: Al Jazeera as a reliable source on everything except corruption in the UAE; the BBC World Service‘s top-notch journalism on everything except UK complicity in disasters like the Gulf War, etc).

In addition to this excellent taxonomy of propaganda, Stray proposes countermeasures for each strain: for Russia-style “firehoses of falsehood,” you have to reach the audience first with an alternative narrative; once the firehose is on, it’s too late. For Chinese quackspeak floods, you need “organized, visible resistance” in the streets. For pathetic attention-whores like Yiannopoulos, Stray says Tucker Max is right: you have to ignore him.

February 13, 2017

“[M]ost of what journalists know about radioactivity came from watching Godzilla

Filed under: Japan, Media, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charlie Martin explains why the “news” out of Fukushima lately has been mostly unscientific hyperventilation and bloviation:

On February 8, Adam Housley of Fox News reported a story with a terrifying headline: “Radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Reactor Is Now at ‘Unimaginable’ Levels.” Let’s just pick up the most exciting paragraphs:

    The radiation levels at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant are now at “unimaginable” levels.

    [Housley] said the radiation levels — as high as 530 sieverts per hour — are now the highest they’ve been since 2011 when a tsunami hit the coastal reactor.

    “To put this in very simple terms. Four sieverts can kill a handful of people,” he explained.

The degree to which this story is misleading is amazing, but to explain it, we need a little bit of a tutorial.

The Touhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, along with all the other damage they caused, knocked out the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi (“plant #1”) and Daini (“plant #2”) reactors. Basically, the two reactors were hit with a 1000-year earthquake and a 1000-year tsunami, and the plants as built weren’t able to handle it.

Both reactors failed, and after a sequence of unfortunate events, melted down. I wrote quite a lot about it at the time; bearing in mind this was early in the story, my article from then has a lot of useful information.

[…]

So what have we learned today?

We learned that inside the reactor containment at Fukushima Daini, site of the post-tsunami reactor accident, it’s very very radioactive. How radioactive? We don’t know, because the dose rate has been reported in inappropriate units — Sieverts are only meaningful if someone is inside the reactor to get dosed.

Then we learned that the Fukushima accident is leaking 300 tons of radioactive water — but until we dig into primary sources, we didn’t learn the radioactive water is very nearly clean enough to be drinking water. So what effect does this have on the ocean, as Housley asks? None.

The third thing we learned — and I think probably the most important thing — is to never trust a journalist writing about anything involving radiation, the metric system, or any arithmetic more challenging than long division.

February 2, 2017

The genesis of Fake News

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Victor Davis Hanson on the modern-day phenomenon of “fake news”:

… all politicians fib and distort the truth — and they’ve been doing so since the freewheeling days of the Athenian ekklesia. Trump’s various bombastic allegations and claims fall into the same realm of truthfulness as Obama’s statement “if you like your health plan, you can keep it” — and were thus similarly cross-examined by the media.

Yet fake news is something quite different. It is not merely a public figure’s spinning of half-truths. It is largely a media-driven, and deliberate attempt to spread a false narrative to advance a political agenda that otherwise would be rejected by a common-sense public. The methodology is to manufacture a narrative attractive to a herd-like progressive media that will then devour and brand it as fact — and even lobby for government redress.

Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen has never been to Prague to negotiate quid pro quo deals with the Russians. Trump did not watch Russian strippers perform pornographic acts in the bedroom that Barack Obama once stayed in during a visit to Moscow. Yet political operatives, journalists, and even intelligence officers, in their respective shared antipathy to Trump, managed to lodge these narratives into the public consciousness and thereby establish the “truth” that a degenerate Trump was also a Russian patsy.

No one has described the methodology of fake news better than Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor for Barack Obama and brother of the president of CBS News, David Rhodes. Ben Rhodes cynically bragged about how the Obama administration had sold the dubious Iran deal through misinformation picked up by an adolescent but sympathetic media (for which Rhodes had only contempt). As Rhodes put it, “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

Translated, that meant that Rhodes and his team fed false narratives about the Iran Deal to a sympathetic but ignorant media, which used its received authority to report those narratives as “truth” — at least long enough for the agreement to be passed before its multitudinous falsehoods and side-agreements collapsed under their own weight. “We created an echo chamber,” Rhodes bragged to the New York Times: “They [reporters] were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

December 27, 2016

When New York Times articles “switch to passive voice, they are covering up a lie”

Filed under: Media, Russia — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Robert Graham has a handy tip for understanding newspaper stories, the New York Times in particular:

Here’s a trick when reading New York Times articles: when they switch to passive voice, they are covering up a lie. An example is this paragraph from the above story [*]:

    The Russians were also quicker to turn their attacks to political purposes. A 2007 cyberattack on Estonia, a former Soviet republic that had joined NATO, sent a message that Russia could paralyze the country without invading it. The next year cyberattacks were used during Russia’s war with Georgia.

Normally, editors would switch this to the active voice, or:

    The next year, Russia used cyberattacks in their war against Georgia.

But that would be factually wrong. Yes, cyberattacks happened during the conflicts with Estonia and Georgia, but the evidence in both cases points to targets and tools going viral on social media and web forums. It was the people who conducted the attacks, not the government. Whether it was the government who encouraged the people is the big question — to which we have no answer. Since the NYTimes has no evidence pointing to the Russian government, they switch to the passive voice, hoping you’ll assume they meant the government was to blame.

It’s a clear demonstration that the NYTimes is pushing a narrative, rather than reporting just the facts allowing you to decide for yourself.

December 20, 2016

The pursuit of “fake news” may lead to unexpected destinations

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At the Adam Smith Institute blog, Tim Worstall looks at the ginned-up outrage over “fake news” in the media:

The comment page of The Guardian is a useful place to watch the latest alarum and mass delusion to which we humans are distressingly subject take form. The one so taking form at present being the outcries over the false news which so obviously won the election for Trump (or Brexit, The Italian referendum, Beppe to be, Le Pen and, well, select from whatever will annoy those who write the Guardian‘s comment pages).

The truly astonishing thing about it all being the alarming lack of self knowledge on display. Because of course fake news is nothing new at all, indeed it’s been a standard tactic of various on the left for some time now.

[…]

And closer to home here think of the UK Uncut saga. The story about Vodafone and the £6 billion tax bill. There never was such a bill, there was no deal to cut it and yet that isn’t what our media has been telling us, is it? Richard Brooks, the originator of the story in Private Eye, has actually explained to us how the figure was reached. If tax law was different then more money would have been owed. We’re sure that’s true but there’s a certain promulgation of not quite an entire and whole truth to move from that to an insistence that £6 billion was owed, no? Or the campaign about Boot’s tax avoidance, something they achieved while obeying every jot and tittle of the law about what people should not do to avoid tax.

At least one of the perpetrators of that little, umm, piece of truthiness, has openly agreed that it was all about creating the narrative, exact details were not the point.

Or even the continued wails that inequality is rising to unprecedented levels. Global inequality is falling and within country inequality is nothing at all like the levels of the historical past – we’ve welfare systems explicitly designed to make sure that it isn’t. The spread of food banks – is this evidence, as claimed, of massive need? Or evidence of an always extant need now finally being met?

We’re going on a length here because this is an important issue. Yes, indeed, there is fake news out there. But what is going to be uncomfortable for a lot of those complaining about it is that a close examination of “truth” is going to leave an awful lot of supposedly established facts about our modern world looking terribly exposed.

December 1, 2016

Rolling Stone calls out the Washington Post for shoddy journalism

Filed under: Media, Politics, Russia, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:21

Pot, I’d like to introduce you to Kettle. Kettle, please meet Pot.

However, that’s not to say that Rolling Stone is wrong about this:

Last week, a technology reporter for the Washington Post named Craig Timberg ran an incredible story. It has no analog that I can think of in modern times. Headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” the piece promotes the work of a shadowy group that smears some 200 alternative news outlets as either knowing or unwitting agents of a foreign power, including popular sites like Truthdig and Naked Capitalism.

The thrust of Timberg’s astonishingly lazy report is that a Russian intelligence operation of some kind was behind the publication of a “hurricane” of false news reports during the election season, in particular stories harmful to Hillary Clinton. The piece referenced those 200 websites as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.”

The piece relied on what it claimed were “two teams of independent researchers,” but the citing of a report by the longtime anticommunist Foreign Policy Research Institute was really window dressing.

The meat of the story relied on a report by unnamed analysts from a single mysterious “organization” called PropOrNot – we don’t know if it’s one person or, as it claims, over 30 – a “group” that seems to have been in existence for just a few months.

It was PropOrNot’s report that identified what it calls “the list” of 200 offending sites. Outlets as diverse as AntiWar.com, LewRockwell.com and the Ron Paul Institute were described as either knowingly directed by Russian intelligence, or “useful idiots” who unwittingly did the bidding of foreign masters.

Forget that the Post offered no information about the “PropOrNot” group beyond that they were “a collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”

Forget also that the group offered zero concrete evidence of coordination with Russian intelligence agencies, even offering this remarkable disclaimer about its analytic methods:

“Please note that our criteria are behavioral. … For purposes of this definition it does not matter … whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria, they are at the very least acting as bona-fide ‘useful idiots’ of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.”

What this apparently means is that if you published material that meets their definition of being “useful” to the Russian state, you could be put on the “list,” and “warrant further scrutiny.”

QotD: Victim mentality and “white rage”

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The media is always fretting that ginning up “white rage” will produce “backlash” — violence — against minority communities.

Okay, let’s say I accept that’s a possibility.

Is it not also a possibility that ginning up minority rage over agrievements, both those that can be characterized as possibly real as well of those of the #FakeNews contrived paranoia variety, can spur non-whites into their own “backlash” mode?

If not, why not? Are whites singularly evil in this world? Are they alone the only race capable of being whipped up into a hateful, violent lather by racial paranoia and racial grievances?

[…]

If it’s dangerous for a strain of white identity politics to nurture a fear and hatred of “The Other” — different races — and that such a strain of grievance-mongering and paranoia may result in the murders or assaults of minorities, why is it (as the media and mediating institutions seem to believe) not dangerous at all for minority ethnic groups to gin up their own fear, paranoia, and hatred against whites or society in general?

Will the media or any government official ever address this, given the weekly assassinations of police, and the newest barbarism committed against OSU students due to one lunatic steeping in the hatreds of identity politics?

Ace, “Jim Geraghty: OSU Jihadi Proves That the Progressives’ Victim Mentality Kills”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2016-11-30.

April 18, 2015

BBC radio finds two of the only people who have never seen Star Wars

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

… and one of them is Godfrey Elfwick, who runs a parody Social Justice Warrior twitter account:

Listeners of the BBC World Service’s World Have Your Say programme were treated to a bizarre analysis of the Star Wars franchise today by a caller who claimed that “Dark Raider” was a “racial stereotype” who listened to rap music and “the only female character ends up in a gold space bikini chained to a horny space slug.”

Godfrey Elfwick is a student from Sheffield who regularly fools observers with his parody Twitter account, an off-the-deep-end “social justice warrior” persona that tweets bizarrely and hilariously about racism, sexism, misogyny and other favoured topics of the political Left.

Elfwick attracted the attention of the BBC World Service today, when he tweeted that he had never seen Star Wars. A World Service presenter who was producing a segment in the wake of the recently-released trailer for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Force Awakens took the bait, inviting him onto the programme.

Because of course the BBC can’t tell the difference between an outlandish, obviously fake social-justice obsessed parody account and a normal member of the public.

November 30, 2014

Medium.com goes all “Rathergate” on a 1970s LEGO letter

Filed under: Business, Europe, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

I managed to miss the initial controversy about a typographical hoax that might not have been so hoax-y:

According to the website of the Independent newspaper, LEGO UK has verified the 1970s ‘letter to parents’ that was widely tweeted last weekend and almost as widely dismissed as fake. Business as usual in the Twittersphere — but there are some lessons here about dating type.

Lego Letter to Parents circa 1970

‘The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and girls.’ It’s a sentiment from the 1970s that’s never been more relevant. Or was it?

Those of us who produce or handle documents for a living will often glance at an example and have an immediate opinion on whether it’s real or fake. That first instinct is worth holding on to, because it comes from the brain’s evolved ability to reach a quick conclusion from a whole bunch of subtle clues before your conscious awareness catches up. It’s OK to be inside the nearest cave getting your breath back when you start asking yourself what kind of snake.

But sometimes you will flinch at shadows. Why did this document strike us as wrong when it wasn’t?

First, because the type is badly set in exactly the way early consumer DTP apps, and word processor apps to this day (notably Microsoft Word), set type badly — at least without the intervention of skilled users. I started typesetting on an Atari ST, the poor man’s Mac, in 1987. The first desktop publishing program for that platform was newly released, running under Digital Research’s GEM operating system. It came with a version of Times New Roman, and almost nothing else. Me and badly set Times have history.

In the LEGO document, the kerning of the headline is lumpy and the word spacing excessive. The ‘T’ seems out of alignment with the left margin, even after allowing for a lack of optical adjustment. The paragraph indent on the body text has been applied from the start, contrary to modern British typesetting practice; the first line should be full-out. The leading (vertical space between lines of text) is not quite enough for comfort, more appropriate to a dense newspaper column than this short blurb.

There’s also an error in the copy: ‘dolls houses’ needs an apostrophe. Either before or after the last letter of ‘dolls’ would be fine, depending on whether you think you mean a house for a doll or a house for dolls. But it definitely needs to be possessive.

It wasn’t just that the type looked careless. It was that it stank of the careless use of tools that shouldn’t have been available to its creators.

March 28, 2014

China’s “fake news” problem

Filed under: Business, China, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:36

The WSJ‘s China Real Time section discusses a recent announcement that the government will be cracking down on “fake news”:

According to the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, such a phenomenon “seriously damages the image of news workers, corrodes the credibility and authoritative nature of the news media, is strongly opposed by all sectors of society, and bitterly detested by the people.” Nine government departments will be involved in the crackdown on such activity, the newspaper said.

By extortion, the government was referring to the practice in which people presenting themselves as journalists — real or not — threaten to report negative information on sources unless they pay them. While it didn’t explicitly spell out what it meant by “fake news,” the government has in recent years been cracking down on the dissemination of rumors or thinly sourced reports that it says contribute to social instability.

[…]

Late last year, in one particularly high-profile case, a Chinese newspaper journalist confessed to accepting hundreds of thousands of yuan in exchange for producing stories defaming a large construction-equipment maker. (Chinese reporters routinely accept hongbao, or small packets of money, when attending press events.) Meanwhile, deal-cutting among IPO candidates faced with media extortionists — in which many companies pay for advertisement space to avoid negative coverage — is common, according Caixin Magazine.

March 27, 2014

Remembering “the war on Dungeons and Dragons

Filed under: Gaming, History, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:31

First, the comment that @FakeTSR linked to:

It was never a fair fight between fundamentalist Christianity and D&D. One was a dangerous system full of dark mysticism and threats to warp a young mind beyond repair, and the other was a tabletop RPG.

And then, the article by Annalee Newitz:

Thirty years ago, a war raged between the dorks who played Dungeons & Dragons, and the conservative parent groups who believed that gaming was debauched at best and Satanic at worst. Lives were ruined. People died. And now that war is over. I still can’t believe we won.

[…]

Still, unlike my fantasy of being a hot half-elf, the Christians actually had some control over our lives. My best friend got kicked out of Catholic school for playing D&D, which we counted as a win because it meant she could come to our shitty public school and play D&D with us. Outside our southern California town, however, D&D players weren’t getting off so easily. They were ostracized by their peers, kicked out of public schools, and sent to glorified reeducation camps by parents who feared their children were about to start sacrificing babies to Lolth the spider demon.

Dungeons and Dragons moral panic

Update, 28 March: Techdirt‘s Timothy Geigner sorrowfully points out that even though this particular moral panic eventually came to a happy end, the lessons of each significant outbreak of hysteria are not carried forward and the next professional pants-wetting politician or “concerned parent group” does not get the scrutiny they deserve.

As the article says, looking back from the vantage point of a world where entertainment is strewn with the fantasy genre, it’s stunning to see the propaganda that had been unleashed. Unsurprisingly, said propaganda has since been eviscerated, with all the common tales of kids killing themselves being shown to be completely unrelated to anything having to do with children’s games. Still, this kind of thing propagated like hell-fire. For all the normal, non-Satan-worshipping kids out there that were just trying to have a little fun, it must have seemed like insanity would rule the day. Fortunately, it didn’t.

[…]

Winners who are now all grown up and who have moved on to their next moral panic, be it violent video games, drill gangster rap, or any number of the next thing the younger generations will come up with. The cycle repeats. Every generation was young, became old, and feared the new young again. That’s too bad, but for those of us still reveling in our youth, real or imagined, it’s nice to know that the moral panic over video games, like all those before it, will eventually subside.

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