Fake News

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    What do the Amish lobby, gay wedding vans and the ban of the national anthem have in common? For starters, they’re all make-believe — and invented by the same man.
    Paul Horner, the 38-year-old impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire, has made his living off viral news hoaxes for several years. He has twice convinced the Internet that he’s British graffiti artist Banksy; he also published the very viral, very fake news of a Yelp vs. “South Park” lawsuit last year.

    But in recent months, Horner has found the fake-news ecosystem growing more crowded, more political and vastly more influential: In March, Donald Trump’s son Eric and his then-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, even tweeted links to one of Horner’s faux-articles. His stories have also appeared as news on Google.


    Regardless of politics and who it benefits, it’s a sad state of our humanity. You would think the Internet would make people more educated. Turns out it’s exactly the opposite.


    An automated army of pro-Donald J. Trump chatbots overwhelmed similar programs supporting Hillary Clinton five to one in the days leading up to the presidential election, according to a report published Thursday by researchers at Oxford University.

    The chatbots — basic software programs with a bit of artificial intelligence and rudimentary communication skills — would send messages on Twitter based on a topic, usually defined on the social network by a word preceded by a hashtag symbol, like #Clinton.

    Their purpose: to rant, confuse people on facts, or simply muddy discussions, said Philip N. Howard, a sociologist at the Oxford Internet Institute and one of the authors of the report. If you were looking for a real debate of the issues, you weren’t going to find it with a chatbot.
    “They’re yelling fools,” Dr. Howard said. “And a lot of what they pass around is false news.”

    The role fake news played in the presidential election has become a sore point for the technology industry, particularly Google, Twitter and Facebook. On Monday, Google said it would ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service. Facebook also updated the language in its Facebook Audience Network policy, which already says it will not display ads in sites that show misleading or illegal content, to include fake news sites.

    In some cases, the bots would post embarrassing photos, make references to the Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry into Mrs. Clinton’s private email server, or produce false statements, for instance, that Mrs. Clinton was about to go to jail or was already in jail.

    “The use of automated accounts was deliberate and strategic throughout the election,” the researchers wrote in the report, published by the Project on Algorithms, Computational Propaganda and Digital Politics at Oxford.
    Because the chatbots were almost entirely anonymous and were frequently bought in secret from companies or individual programmers, it was not possible to directly link the activity to either campaign, except for a handful of “joke” bots created by Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, they noted.

    However, there was evidence that the mystery chatbots were part of an organized effort.

    “There does seem to be strategy behind the bots,” Dr. Howard said. “By the third debate, Trump bots were launching into their activity early and we noticed that automated accounts were actually colonizing Clinton hashtags.”

    A hashtag is used to indicate a Twitter post’s topic. By adopting hashtags relating to Mrs. Clinton, the opposition bots were most likely able to wiggle their way into an online conversation among Clinton supporters.

    After the election, the bot traffic declined rapidly, with the exception of some pro-Trump programs that gloated, “We won and you lost,” Dr. Howard said.

    Looks like the Dems lost the dirty war by a big margin.


    We have tens of millions of people in this country who get their “news” from social media, or from entirely partisan sources where fact and opinion are hopelessly intertwined and never correctly attributed. Then there’s the untold number of citizens who seemingly possess limited critical thinking skills and outright reject objective fact and scientific consensus if it’s doesn’t conform to their ideology or originate from a source they deem trustworthy. Which of course, means they’re unwittingly living in a bubble that simply endlessly reinforces a preformed opinion.

    To Vit’s point, the most shared political stories this year on social media were entirely false and originated from fake news sources. Which of course didn’t stop millions of Americans from credulously accepting them as gospel and endlessing and breathlessly sharing and discussing them with anyone who would listen. While simultaneously rejecting any challenge to those viewpoints.

    My failure was in assuming people in general were more intelligent than that. In general, I don’t find people to be all that bright, but Good Lord.

    We’re now living in a country where a significant number of citizens fervently believe that if a news story is critical of an elected official whom they support, that story must be false. Conversely, that if it’s positive of someone they do not support, that too must be incorrect. President Obama’s record of governance is a perfect example of that truism.

    For some, The New York Times and The Washington Post at best have equal value to something they found in their Facebook feed or something a conservative media figure opined in a faux news-entertainment program. At worst, objective fact is now utterly rejected and disregarded if it originates from the “wrong” source.

    How bad as it gotten? Well, we’ve just elected a blustering, proudly know-nothing reality television star to the Presidency. Nope, nothing embarrassing or highly alarming about that.

    Had the shoe been on the other foot, (I.e. Donald had been a Democrat) I would not have supported this man’s candidacy. I would have voted for, literally, any one of the other Republican candidates over Donald Trump.

    I mean it’s not as he’s the President elect of The United States and still attacking his critics via Twitter in response to every slight and the mildest provocation. Or continuing to lie to the American public in ways that can be easily shown to not be true. (See, his claims yesterday about keeping a Ford motor plant here in The United States. Ford has politely said they had no plans on moving that plant out of the country. Donald Trump, of course, is doubling down on the fiction.) Or, that he’s appointing highly partisan, highly divisive, and in some cases completely unqualified (by dint of both their lack of experience, temperament, or ideological bent) personages to some of the most critical offices in the country where their decisions can and will have life and death consequences. Better loyal than sharp, right?

    We’re in serious trouble.


    The gay wedding van story amused me because at the beginning, it seemed plausible. One can become an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church, which does not have any particular doctrine. Having a certificate from the Universal Life Church would allow one to perform a wedding. What should have immediately set off the BS alarms were: the poorly edited image of the van, the claim that the van was also used as a mobile abortion clinic, and the bogus “abcnews.com.co” domain. Generally, I think that if one sees “.co” at the end of the address and the Website is not Colombian, then one is looking at a trash “news” site.


    ADD: Did anybody else read the bio for the author of the gay wedding van story? Here it is:

    Born at an early age, Jimmy Rustling has found solace and comfort knowing that his humble actions have made this multiverse a better place for every man, woman and child ever known to exist. Dr. Jimmy Rustling has won many awards for excellence in writing including fourteen Peabody awards and a handful of Pulitzer Prizes. When Jimmies are not being Rustled the kind Dr. enjoys being an amazing husband to his beautiful, soulmate; Anastasia, a Russian mail order bride of almost 2 months. Dr. Rustling also spends 12-15 hours each day teaching their adopted 8-year-old Syrian refugee daughter how to read and write.

    I now know that I am in good company. I, too, was born at an early age!

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