Sunday, September 10, 2017
Facebook trolls and the hungry MSM
Margaret Sullivan lights into Zuckerberg and Facebook today:
What a ridiculous notion, Mark Zuckerberg scoffed shortly after the election, that his social-media company — innocent, well-intentioned Facebook — could have helped Donald Trump’s win.
And, as Sullivan, notes, the mainstream media has a lot to answer for as well. This is the intro to the Harvard study:
“Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook . . . influenced the election in any way — I think is a pretty crazy idea,” he said. “Voters make decisions based on their lived experience.”
In fact, voters make their decisions based on many factors, not just their “lived experience.”
Disinformation spread on Facebook clearly was one — a big one. That was obvious in November. It was obvious in April when Facebook, to its credit, announced some moves to combat the spread of lies in the form of news stories.
It’s even more obvious now after Wednesday’s news that Facebook sold ads during the campaign to a Russian “troll farm,” targeting American voters with “divisive social and political messages” that fit right in with Donald Trump’s campaign strategy.
The news, reported Wednesday by The Washington Post, fits right in with the findings of a fascinating recent study by Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Analyzing reams of data, it documented the huge role that propaganda, in various forms, played in the 2016 campaign.
“Attempts by the [Hillary] Clinton campaign to define her campaign on competence, experience, and policy positions were drowned out by coverage of alleged improprieties associated with the Clinton Foundation and emails,” the study said.
The Trump campaign masterfully manipulated these messages. Truth was not a requirement.
And Facebook was the indispensable messenger. As the Harvard study noted: “Disproportionate popularity on Facebook is a strong indicator of highly partisan and unreliable media.”
We don’t know everything about Facebook’s role in the campaign. What we do know — or certainly ought to know by now — is to not take Facebook at its word. It always plays down its influence, trying for a benign image of connecting us all in a warm bath of baby pictures, tropical vacations and games of Candy Crush.
The company recently changed its mission statement, as John Lanchester noted in a blistering takedown in the London Review of Books, mocking the “canting pieties” of such corporate efforts. What used to be just a soft ideal of “making the world more open and connected” is now giving people “the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
The new mission statement didn’t specifically mention bringing Russia and the United States closer together. But Facebook managed to accomplish that anyway.
Here’s an undeniable fact: Facebook is about advertising. And it is so wildly successful at leveraging our eyeballs and spending power into ad dollars that it is now valued at nearly $500 billion.
But for all its power and wealth, Facebook is a terribly opaque enterprise. (It recently hired former New York Times public editor Liz Spayd, a former Post managing editor, to help with “transparency.” Let’s just say that she has her work cut out for her.)
Facebook also has never acknowledged the glaringly obvious — that it is essentially a media company, where many of its 2 billion active monthly users get the majority of their news and information. As I’ve been pointing out here for more than a year, it constantly makes editorial decisions, but never owns them.
When its information is false, when it is purchased and manipulated to affect the outcome of an election, the effect is enormous. When the information purveyors are associated with a foreign adversary — with a clear interest in the outcome of the American election — we’re into a whole new realm of power.
Would Donald Trump be president today if Facebook didn’t exist? Although there is a long list of reasons for his win, there’s increasing reason to believe the answer is no.
I don’t know how to deal with Facebook’s singular power in the world. But having everyone clearly acknowledge it — including the company itself — would be a start.
The fact that media coverage has become more polarized in general is not new, but the extent to which right-wing sites have become partisan is striking, the report says.
The study found that on the conservative side, more attention was paid to pro-Trump, highly partisan media outlets. On the liberal side, by contrast, the center of gravity was made up largely of long-standing media organizations. Robert Faris, the Berkman Klein Center’s research director, noted, “Consistent with concerns over echo chambers and filter bubbles, social media users on the left and the right rarely share material from outside their respective spheres, except where they find coverage that is favorable to their choice of candidate. A key difference between the right and left is that Trump supporters found substantial coverage favorable to their side in left and center-left media, particularly coverage critical of Clinton. In contrast, the messaging from right-wing media was consistently pro-Trump.” Conservative opposition to Trump was strongest in the center-right, the portion of the political spectrum that wielded the least influence in media coverage of the election.
In this recently-emerged universe, Breitbart stands at the center of a right-wing media ecosystem and is surrounded by sites like Fox News, the Daily Caller, the Gateway Pundit, the Washington Examiner, Infowars, Conservative Treehouse, and Truthfeed, according to the report’s analysis.
The report finds that political clickbait sites—hyperpartisan sites that frequently engage in dubious reporting—exist on both sides of the political spectrum, but these sites played a larger role on the right than the left. On the more insular and partisan right, the “fake news,” or political clickbait sites were a more integral part of the media sphere. On the left, readers gravitated towards center-left large media organizations which moderated the impact of political clickbait on the left.
This overall trend and the quantitative differences in coverage were far more consequential than the circulation of outright false stories, the analysis found. “Although fake news–fabricated and verifiably false reporting–was a phenomenon during the election, it had a minor effect on the media ecosystem of the presidential election according to our findings. A much larger concern was the misleading reporting that was propagated through partisan networks,” co-author and Media Cloud technical lead Hal Roberts stated.
The report found that the majority of mainstream media coverage was negative for both candidates, but largely followed Trump’s agenda. Immigration received more attention than any other substantive issue. However, it was eclipsed by the attention given to the scandals surrounding Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and the Clinton Foundation, which were perpetuated through the release of hacked emails. These two topics, immigration and emails, defined the public narrative around the choices for voters in the 2016 election.
The Berkman Klein study is based on an analysis of more than 2 million stories related to the election published online by approximately 70,000 media sources, between May 1, 2015, and Election Day in 2016, as well as an analysis of how often sources were linked to by other online sources and how often they were shared on Facebook or Twitter.
The study analyzed:
- Cross-linking patterns between media sources to offer a view of authority and prominence within the media world.
- Sharing of media sources by users on Twitter and Facebook, which provides a broader perspective on the role and influence of media sources among people engaged in politics through Twitter and Facebook.
- The differential media sharing patterns of Trump and Clinton supporters on Twitter, which enables a detailed analysis of the role of partisanship in the formation and function of media structures.
- Content analysis using automated tools to support the tracking of topics over time among media sources.
- Qualitative media analysis of individual case studies to enhance our understanding of media function and structure.
- The research used Media Cloud, an open-source dataset and suite of analysis tools jointly run by the Berkman Klein Center and MIT’s Center for Civic Media. An earlier version of the research appeared as a report in March in Columbia Journalism Review.
Here's one specific example of the mainstream media being willing tools of the right wing --- or, at least, equally hostile to Clinton, even in the face of that pig Trump, than they have ever been prepared to admit:
The more insulated right-wing media ecosystem was susceptible to sustained network propaganda and disinformation, particularly misleading negative claims about Hillary Clinton. Traditional media accountability mechanisms—for example, fact-checking sites, media watchdog groups, and cross-media criticism—appear to have wielded little influence on the insular conservative media sphere. Claims aimed for “internal” consumption within the right-wing media ecosystem were more extreme, less internally coherent, and appealed more to the “paranoid style” of American politics than claims intended to affect mainstream media reporting.
The institutional commitment to impartiality of media sources at the core of attention on the left meant that hyperpartisan, unreliable sources on the left did not receive the same amplification that equivalent sites on the right did.
These same standard journalistic practices were successfully manipulated by media and activists on the right to inject anti-Clinton narratives into the mainstream media narrative. A key example is the use of the leaked Democratic National Committee’s emails and her campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, released through Wikileaks, and the sustained series of stories written around email-based accusations of influence peddling. Another example is the book and movie release of Clinton Cash together with the sustained campaign that followed, making the Clinton Foundation the major post-convention story. By developing plausible narratives and documentation susceptible to negative coverage, parallel to the more paranoid narrative lines intended for internal consumption within the right-wing media ecosystem, and by “working the refs,” demanding mainstream coverage of anti-Clinton stories, right-wing media played a key role in setting the agenda of mainstream, center-left media. We document these dynamics in the Clinton Foundation case study section of this report.
They were happy to be manipulated. Eager for it.
It was a perfect storm of greed and opportunity combined with foreign propaganda, institutional bias and, frankly, sexism that created the conditions for Trump to eke out his bare electoral college win.
The mainstream media "the left" read every day still have still not reckoned with their part in this and I'd guess they never will. They are convinced that they were completely fair, treating boths sides with equal scrutiny. Even though they did this in the 10 days prior to the election and even though one of the stories was based on bullshit and one was simply false.
digby 9/10/2017 10:30:00 AM