How the Chinese government fabricates social media posts for strategic distraction

The Chinese government "fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year," according to a study conducted by researchers at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of California San Diego.

The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called “50c party” posts vociferously argue for the government’s side in political and policy debates. As we show, this is also true of the vast majority of posts openly accused on social media of being 50c. Yet, almost no systematic empirical evidence exists for this claim, or, more importantly, for the Chinese regime’s strategic objective in pursuing this activity. In the first large scale empirical analysis of this operation, we show how to identify the secretive authors of these posts, the posts written by them, and their content. We estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year. In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime’s strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. We infer that the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to distract the public and change the subject, as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime.

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Alien coffins, Donald Trump, and Herman Munster

What do Charles Manson and O.J. Simpson have in common? Both plan to come back from the dead, according to this week's fact-challenged tabloids.

Mass killer Manson is "using voodoo to live again and get revenge" claims the 'Globe.' Inspired by allegations that Manson has been sticking pins in voodoo dolls of his enemies, the 'Globe' alleges that "Manson's most chilling plan is to use voodoo to turn himself into a zombie, a walking dead man, after his demise, so he could continue taking revenge on the world!"

O.J. Simpson evidently plans a more exulted route to life after incarceration. "Tell them to expect me like they're expecting Jesus to come back - because I'm coming," reports the 'National Enquirer.'

One thing is certain: If both men get to walk the Earth again it won't be long before Ryan Seacrest Productions combines them for one hell of a reality TV show. Or maybe 'Lifestyles of the Undead & Famous?'

I really need to tell any tabloid Editors out there: This word "Exclusive" - You keep using that word. It does not mean what you think it means.

Just look at that blurred, fuzzy photo purporting to be Charles Manson in a hospital bed, beneath the headline "Another Enquirer Exclusive - The Photo That No Other Publication In The World Could Get!"

It's not such a singular sensation when the 'Globe' publishes the same photo on its cover, beneath the headline "World Exclusive."

Or how about the 'Globe' offering its "Exclusive Interview & Photos" of actress Shelley Duvall living in what appears to be reduced circumstances on a ranch in Texas? Read the rest

Obviously fake "paid protester" site sets right wing media aflutter

Demand Protest, a service that bills itself as providing "deliver[ing the appearance of rage] at scale while keeping your reputation intact" purportedly pays protesters $2500/month plus $50/hour for left-wing protesters to take to the streets, and claims to have run 48 campaigns, despite having only registered its domain last month (it also displays a copyright notice that spans 2015-2017). Read the rest

What happens when your political photo goes viral in 2017

Sean Bonner's posted his share of viral images over the years, but the most recent time was a little different: he tweeted a picture of an anti-Trump political sticker he spotted in Tokyo, created by street artist 281_Anti nuke. Read the rest

A potential college course on detecting and combating bullshit in all its forms

University of Washington profs Carl T. Bergstrom (Biology) and Jevin West (Information School) have proposed a course called "Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data" that characterizes "the majority of administrative activity" as "sophisticated exercise(s) in the combinatorial reassembly of bullshit" and aims to train students to "navigate the bullshit-rich modern environment by identifying bullshit, seeing through it, and combatting it with effective analysis and argument." Read the rest

“Crooked Hillary will die in jail!” and other tabloid stunners

You pays your money and you takes your choice with this week's tabloids.

"Crooked Hillary Will Die in Jail!" screams the 'Globe' cover, with a two-page exclusive inside predicting "Hillary's Prison Death Sentence!" You have to admire the Photoshopped picture of an ashen-faced Hillary, dark bags around her eyes, care-worn face furrowed with wrinkles, clad in an orange jumpsuit behind  grey metal prison bars. It's harder to be impressed by the "new evidence that will put her away!" which supposedly will be supplied by former president Bill Clinton when he testifies before the Eastern District of New York grand jury investigating the Clinton Foundation -- testimony which he may never give. And that "death sentence"? That's simply the 'Globe' anticipating that "Bill's testimony sends her away for 20 years," and with her "killer medical ailments, even a 10-year stretch would be a death sentence."

But if you believe the 'National Enquirer' -- and who wouldn't? -- the future looks rosy for Hillary Clinton, who it forecasts could be the next Mayor of New York City. It "Could Happen" assures the 'Enquirer,' which calls her mayoral election "easy pickings."

Singer George Michael "turned to booze and drugs" after his voice was "destroyed" by pneumonia in 2011, leading to his tragic demise, reports the 'Globe.'

Or you can believe the 'Enquirer,' which insists: "Blackmail Demands Drove George To Suicide!" Supposedly Michael was "driven to suicide by sinister blackmail threats from a train of male lovers in his life." It's a typically homophobic allegation that makes little sense for a man who was openly and proudly gay, and had little to fear from exposure. Read the rest

How to think critically about news quotes from unnamed "government sources" under trumpism

As the Trump administration continues its twin trademarks of "not having press conferences" and "being at the center of gnarly scandals involving spycraft and hacking," much of the reporting on what's actually happening in the most powerful country on Earth is based on quotes attributed to anonymous government sources -- people with something to say but who won't let their names be associated with it. Read the rest

Six essays on media, technology and politics from Data & Society

danah boyd writes, "Yesterday, a group of us at Data & Society put out six essays on 'media, technology, politics.' Taken together, these pieces address different facets of the current public conversation surrounding propaganda, hate speech, and the US election. Although we only allude to specifics, we have been witnessing mis/disinformation campaigns for quite some time as different networks seek to manipulate both old and new media, shape political discourse, and undermine trust in institutions and information intermediaries. In short, we are concerned about the rise of a new form of propaganda that is networked, decentralized, and internet-savvy. We are also concerned about the ongoing development of harassment techniques and gaslighting, the vulnerability of old and new media to propagate fear and disinformation, and the various ways in which well-intended interventions get misappropriated. We believe that we're watching a systematic attack on democracy, equality, and freedom. There is no silver bullet to address the issues we're seeing. Instead, a healthy response is going to require engagement by many different constituencies. We see our role in this as to help inform and ground the conversation. These essays are our first attempt to address the interwoven issues we're seeing. Read the rest

Wall Street Journal's top editor says they won't call Trump a liar when Trump lies

On this weekend's Meet the Press, WSJ editor in chief Gerard Baker said that even when he was clear that Trump had uttered a falsehood, his paper would not call that falsehood a lie, because to do so would ascribe "moral intent" to Trump; instead, the WSJ will call Trump's lies "challengeable" and "questionable." Read the rest

Blue feed, red feed: side-by-side comparisons of social media feeds by politics

One of the most compelling data visualization projects from this year was Wall Street Journal's Blue Feed, Red Feed, which lets readers see exactly how divergent social media feeds have become, depending on someone's media diet. By coincidence, I capped an example that puts Boing Boing in their blue feed column. Read the rest

50 million people in Myanmar can now get Facebook, and they're spreading a trumpian ethnic cleansing movement

Myanmar has been a technologically backwards authoritarian state for much of the past 50 years, with less than 1% of the country connected to the net, until 2015, when the country held its first elections in decades, a moment that was swiftly followed by a relaxation in telcoms controls and widespread access to the internet via mobile devices. Read the rest

Snowden on fake news, Twitter features, and the rule of law

Edward Snowden's Periscope interview with Jack Dorsey -- hosted by the Pardon Snowden campaign ranged over a lot of territory, including the special problems of metadata surveillance (metadata can be "more intrusive" than content "because it can be understood at scale"); asymmetry in privacy (where "an increasing imbalance of power" arises between citizens, with no privacy, and officials with all the privacy: "We can't even see their tax-returns"); the problems of relying on the rule of law in a "global context" where surveillance crosses borders and jurisdictions; and fake news, which Snowden thinks can't be solved by asking Google to be a "referee" but rather when "We talk and we share and we point out what is true." Read the rest

Trump’s wild imaginings promulgated in tabloids alongside equally fact-challenged celebrity “news”

Fidel Castro confessed on his deathbed to killing JFK, Prince Harry has impregnated his American actress girlfriend, Priscilla Presley has six months to live, and President Donald Trump will save 25 million jobs.

Those are the headlines in this week’s tabloids, and it’s salutary to see Trump’s wild imaginings promulgated alongside equally fact-challenged celebrity “news.”

Does the ‘National Enquirer’ really have an unnamed “American intelligence source” with inside information about the Cuban dictator’s supposedly whispered final words? There’s about as much chance as the ‘Globe’ having a Buckingham Palace mole revealing that Prince Harry has impregnated Meghan Markle, or that Prince Charles urged his youngest son “to come to his senses and buy off the bimbo.”

Any why does Priscilla Presley have only six months to live? She’s being killed by a “toxic facelift,” claims the ‘Globe,’ inspired by photographs analyzed by its crack team of medically-trained psychic reporters. Yes, facial fillers can sometimes spark infections that in rare cases prove fatal, but saying that Presley is dying simply because she may have had cosmetic procedures is like saying that someone is dying of cancer simply because they once smoked a cigarette. And Priscilla Presley shouldn’t be allowed to die while we’re still waiting for Nick Nolte to pass away, having outlived his ‘Enquirer’ predicted demise by four months, and Cher’s promised shuffling off of her mortal coil before the New Year.

It’s that time of year when the tabloids just say WTF and fill pages with retrospectives of the past 12 months, because it’s easier than making up new stories. Read the rest

Free online course: how to write and read fake news

Mark Marino writes, "Boingers might be interested in this new free 3-week course I'm co-teaching with UnderAcademy College founder Talan Memmott: How to Write and Read Fake News: Journalism in the Age of Trump. It starts Jan. 20, of course." Read the rest

Figuring out Donald Trump's media diet by mining his tweets

Data journalists pulled 26,234 of Trump's 34,062 tweets (dating from Jun 1 2015 to Nov 17 2016) from the Twitter API and analyzed them for news-sources, producing a long, detailed analysis complemented by interactive graphics. Read the rest

Trump's presidential hires and advisors own a hell of a lot of fake news sites

Floyd Brown invented the Reagan-era Willie Horton lie, helped create the Citizens United group, and now owns Liftable Media, including sites like Conservative Tribune (50th most-trafficked site in the USA) and Western Journalism (81st), whence came fake news stories like the lie that Obama had altered the White House logo to include a white flag of surrender (the logo change came from GWB's White House); the lie that Muslims had been "ordered" to vote for Hillary; the lie that Obama had encouraged millennial non-citizen Latin@s to vote without fear of reprisals; the lie that Clinton had a Vegas "drug holiday" before the debate; the lie that Obama's birth certificate was not accepted by experts as genuine -- Brown's sites are all included in Facebook's verified news sources. Read the rest

Beyond fake news: the "constructed realities" of the polarized world

Gilad Lotan -- our favorite fake-news sleuthing data-scientist -- writes about the problem of not-quite-fake news, which is much more pernicious than mere lies: it's news that uses attention-shaping, one-sided "news" accounts that divide their readers into their own "constructed realities." Read the rest

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