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Daily Archives: October 26th, 2018


Fact-checking the Trump administration’s claims about the caravan
Drew Harwell, Tony Romm, Craig Timberg 8 hrs ago. Washington Post
The migrant caravan in Mexico and the attempted mail bombings of major political figures this week have unleashed torrents of false and misleading reports on social media, testing the limits of costly efforts by Silicon Valley to combat disinformation ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
Despite hiring thousands of employees and investing in teams dedicated to quelling phony information two years after the problem emerged during the 2016 presidential election, the country’s most influential tech companies have struggled to respond.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have resisted demands to remove some of the viral conspiracy theories and extremist content — a reflection both of the gravity of the task and of their belief that they should not serve as arbiters of truth.
The attempted pipe-bomb attacks, which targeted former president Barack Obama and others who have been critical of President Trump, were almost immediately characterized in widely shared Facebook and Twitter posts as a conspiracy engineered by Democrats to undermine the conservative cause. Michael Flynn Jr., the son of the president’s former national security adviser, said in tweets to his roughly 98,000 followers that the bombs amounted to a “political stunt.”
Claims that the bombs were a hoax and slurs against one of the bombs’ targets, liberal philanthropist George Soros, also proliferated widely on the Facebook-owned photo-sharing giant Instagram. Social media researcher Jonathan Albright said the Instagram posts amplified conspiracy theories and “some of the worst hate speech, Hillary Clinton memes and violently anti-Semitic messages I’ve seen to date.”
The caravan, a potent symbol of the brewing migrant crisis at the U.S. border, was portrayed by some prominent conservative figures as a violent horde mobilized for invasion, including through the sharing of falsely labeled images showing a bloodied Mexican policeman that was in fact taken elsewhere in the country in 2012.
That image, first posted early Sunday, spread virally on Facebook and Twitter, including through a post by Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist who is the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
The hoaxes were amplified by accounts known to echo Kremlin propaganda, according to researchers who say the hoaxes are a form of manipulation they have detected repeatedly on controversial topics since the 2016 election. But the largest sources of disinformation on the caravan and the attempted bombings have come from domestic sources, researchers say.
The continued spread of misinformation this week shows how the sites continue to waver on even the most incendiary views related to potentially real-world violence.
“This is an example of where social media companies have a responsibility not to amplify propaganda that is demonstrably false,” Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democratic lawmaker who represents a part of Silicon Valley, said in a statement. “A newspaper or television station would never claim that the pipe bombs are fake, and they wouldn’t give that perspective the time of day. Similarly, social media companies need to have basic third-party verification so they are not allowing false claims to be retweeted or shared.” An investigation is underway after explosive devices were reportedly sent to the Clintons, the Obamas, and a host of other liberal and media figures.
The flood of misinformation has infuriated regulators, who have remained vigilant after other spurious users — including agents of the Russian government — stoked social and political unrest online with divisive messages of their own. To that end, lawmakers are especially wary that these hoaxes and conspiracy theories are resonating, and possibly intensifying, with the 2018 midterm elections less than two weeks away.
The tech industry has struggled to balance calls for combating misinformation with concerns about protecting free speech, especially at a time when conservatives have blasted Silicon Valley for a supposed pro-liberal bias.
“On one side, they are in the position where they really have to be thinking about protecting the public interest. And on the other side, they don’t want to tick off huge constituencies,” said Dipayan Ghosh, a former policy adviser at Facebook and in the Obama White House who is now a fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. The leading social media platforms are “far more hesitant to do anything because they’re afraid, they’re very afraid of the backlash they could get from conservatives in this country.”
“We have taken action,” Facebook said in a statement Thursday. “We’ve demoted stories rated false by fact-checkers, like content about police brutality by migrants and pipe bombs, and we’re removing content that violates our policies, like hate speech or support for the bombing attempts.”
Instagram, which belongs to Facebook, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Twitter said it relies on truthful tweets to correct and neutralize false information on its platform, unless messages break its rules, such as threatening violence. “Accounts that deliberately attempt to disrupt the public conversation, including sharing the same content repeatedly or trying to game trending topics, will face enforcement action pursuant with our policies,” a Twitter spokesman said.
Companies have moved more aggressively than in the past to shut down accounts acting in coordinated, deceptive and “inauthentic” ways while also dramatically stepping up the monitoring of disinformation. Facebook, for example, created a heavily publicized “war room” at its sprawling Menlo Park, Calif., campus to underscore its intensified efforts. It is also developing artificial intelligence that could flag false content or fake accounts, but the wide deployment of such technology is still years away.
But the companies still have difficulty in handling instances of Americans’ using social media to spread their political viewpoints, even when they are rendered in sensationalized ways that may include misleading information. Claims that survivors of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., were “crisis actors” being paid to build support for gun control spread virally on social media, including climbing near the top of YouTube’s “Trending” list.
Although managing multiple accounts, using fake personas or employing automation can get users suspended from some platforms, the posting of demonstrable falsehoods generally will not. More often, platforms will limit the spread of misinformation if it detected or reported, as opposed to deleting it.
Jonathon Morgan, chief executive of New Knowledge, a security company that tracks online disinformation, said the social media companies have shown some recent success at tackling professional campaigns from state intelligence agencies and terrorist groups. But they have shown little progress or interest in tackling the domestic conspiracy theories and extremist rhetoric that often follows major news events.
“They don’t consider it their responsibility, and even if they did . . . it would be incredibly difficult to police,” Morgan said.
On Thursday, sites such as Twitter remained awash with content suggesting that the pipe bombs had been mailed as part of a “false flag” attack to benefit Democrats. Memes spread on Facebook through shares and likes. A popular right-leaning Twitter user, Candace Owens, questioned the timing of the bombs’ delivery. “Caravans, fake bomb threats — these leftists are going ALL OUT for midterms,” she said in a tweet shared more than 8,700 times. By Thursday afternoon, the tweet had been deleted.
Twitter did not suspend many of the accounts sharing such messages or limit the reach of their content, saying they did not break the platform’s rules.
Still, Twitter accounts known for pushing Russian propaganda appeared to popularize some of the conspiracy theories. On Wednesday and Thursday, accounts aligned with the Kremlin’s views — tracked by Hamilton 68, a project of the German Marshall Fund that monitors social media for Russian ma­nipu­la­tion — frequently promoted hashtags including “fakebombgate,” “fakebombs” and “bombhoax.”
Bret Schafer, a social media analyst for the group’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, said these accounts typically “hop on an existing bandwagon” to help boost the reach of hot-button political issues.
Social media posts about the migrant caravan have been particularly rife with misinformation. The network analysis firm Graphika studied 14,000 Twitter accounts that frequently posted about the caravan and found a high level of false and misleading information and images, including of the bloodied policeman. It also found that 22 percent of the posters showed signs of being bots, a term describing accounts that use automation software with minimal human control, signaling an unusually high level of manipulation of the caravan narrative.
“It’s a fantastic wedge issue that’s very close to the midterms and very easy to manipulate,” said Camille François, research and analysis director for Graphika
The Graphika analysis also showed that many accounts are spreading misleading information about the caravan and the attempted bomb attacks, often by using such popular hashtags as “jobsnotmobs,” popularized within the past week by President Trump.
Twitter suspended some accounts over the image of the bloodied policeman because of the coordinated efforts to spread it, the company said Wednesday, and Facebook made it less likely to spread on the platform after the fact-checking website Snopes labeled it misleading. The account of Thomas, who did not respond to requests for comment, remained active but the post was removed.
Albright, the research director for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, traced the origin of false allegations about Soros’s funding the caravan to a number of tweets in March and early April. But just in the past few days, multiple posts have used identical language — “Well, now we know who is funding the caravan” — in pushing the claims about Soros.
Compared with disinformation spread by Russian operatives and others in 2016, Albright said, misleading information about the caravan is far more likely to spread among closed networks of influential social media accounts. Often, they use the same words and images copied repeatedly instead of targeting entire groups of people by demographic characteristics, as the Russians did.
“The method here is quite a bit more subversive,” Albright said. “It’s harder to pinpoint and take down.”
drew.harwell@washpost.com
tony.romm@washpost.com
craig.timberg@washpost.com
Andrew Ba Tran contributed to this report.

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TRUMP – Pinocchio to infinity. MA
Maria Pasquini, People 13 hours ago
On Wednesday, Donald Trump condemned the attempted pipe bomb attacks against multiple Democratic political figures and CNN headquarters and called for national unity. But so far the president has failed to take responsibility for the way his own words have a history of stirring up public resentment.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Trump traded in the combative language he normally directs at his political sparring partners to ask both sides of the nation’s political divide to come together against “these despicable acts.”
“I just want to tell you that in these times we have to unify,” he said. “We have to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”
But the next day, Trump blamed the media for the surge of potentially dangerous mailings — saying the press was at fault for creating divisions in American society.
“A very big part of the anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the mainstream media that I refer to as fake news,” he tweeted. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream media must clean up its act, fast!”
One week earlier, Trump remarked during a campaign rally in Iowa that Democrats are “really evil people” who “want to destroy people.” During the same event, he also called the press “the enemy of the people.”
Echoing comments made by many on social media, Sen. Jeff Flake criticized the president for his many attacks on the press, saying they’ve had a negative influence on the public.
“What the president says matters, and if he were to take a more civil tone, it would make a difference,” Flake told CNN. “Civility can’t wait until after an election. The president shouldn’t refer to the press as the ‘enemy of the people.’ . . . People hear that and they follow it.”
On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president and also took aim at the press.
“The president has condemned violence in all forms, has done that since Day 1, will continue to do that. But certainly feels that everyone has a role to play. But certainly feels that everyone has a role to play,” Sanders told reporters.
Asked whether the president regretted some of the strong words he’s used against his political adversaries, Sanders didn’t directly answer the question, instead remarking, “We should call out despicable acts, which is exactly what he has done over the last 24 hours.”
However, when asked by a CNN reporter about the president going so far as to call his opponents “evil,” she claimed that “it’s a word people have used on your network a number of times.
“You guys continue to focus only on the negative. There is a role to play,” she added. “Yesterday, the very first thing that the President did was come out and condemn the violence. The very first thing your network did was come out and accuse the president of being responsible for it. That is not okay. The first thing should have been to condemn the violence.”
So far, a total of at least 10 suspicious packages have been found, as a manhunt is underway for the sender. Previous packages have contained piped bombs packed with shards of glass, authorities have said. All have been disabled by police without any reported injuries.
Here’s a look at all of the ways Trump has insulted the Democrats who were targeted by pipe bombs this week.
Robert De Niro
The liberal actor and the president made headlines earlier this year for their mutual dislike of one another.
In March, during Trump’s first official trip to Los Angeles since his inauguration, the Goodfellas actor called Trump an “idiot” who “lacks any sense of humanity or compassion.”
Two days after the actor got a standing ovation at the Tony Awards for saying “f— Trump,” the president made it clear that the disdain was mutual.
Admitting to having watched the actor’s onstage appearance, Trump called De Niro “a very Low IQ individual” who had received too many “shots to the head by real boxers in movies.”
“I watched him last night and truly believe he may be ‘punch-drunk,’ ” Trump added.

Donald J. Trump
✔ @realDonaldTrump

Robert De Niro, a very Low IQ individual, has received too many shots to the head by real boxers in movies. I watched him last night and truly believe he may be “punch-drunk.” I guess he doesn’t…
4:40 AM – Jun 13, 2018

Barack Obama
Trump frequently attempts to place the blame for current political problems on his predecessor’s shoulders, and was also a leader of the “birther movement” to delegitimize the former president, but finally admitted — with little fanfare — in September that Obama was born in the U.S.
While his days in office may be over, Obama, 57, continues to advocate for Americans to vote for Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections this November.
“Even if you don’t agree with me or Democrats on policy, even if you agree with more libertarian economic views, even if you are an evangelical and the position on social issues is a bridge too far,” he said last month. “I’m here to tell you that you should still be concerned and should still want to see a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government.”
Trump and Biden, who may be facing each other in 2020, have a long history of trading insults.
Among his other criticisms, Biden has called the president a “joke” and called the Trump era “one of the most dangerous times in modern history.”
Trump has happily hit back. After Biden said he would have “beat the hell out of” Trump in high school for disrespecting women, Trump retaliated by calling Biden “crazy” and saying the former vice president would “go down fast and hard” in a fight.
Hillary Clinton
While on the campaign trail, Trump took every opportunity he could to criticize Clinton, whom he nicknamed “Crooked Hillary,” often leading crowds at rallies in a “Lock Her Up” chant.
Although Trump went on to defeat Clinton in the presidential election and the former secretary of state has not expressed a desire to run against him in 2020, he continues to rail against her. In fact, according to a January report from the Daily Beast, it was estimated that Trump mentioned Clinton “at least 229 times since taking office.”
Former Attorney General Eric Holder
Holder, who served as Obama’s Attorney General, drew criticism from Trump after remarking at a campaign event that when Republicans go low, “we kick them.”
Trump went on to call the comment “dangerous,” telling Fox News “he better be careful what he’s wishing for,” the Washington Examiner reported.
Former CIA Chief John Brennan
While Trump frequently rails against CNN on Twitter, the package containing a bomb that was found at the Time Warner Center, home to CNN’s N.Y.C. headquarters, was addressed to former CIA director John Brennan.
In one of his many tweets against Brennan, Trump tweeted out a quote he heard on Fox and Friends that claimed Brennan was a liar.
“John Brennan, no single figure in American history has done more to discredit the intelligence community than this liar. Not only is he a liar, he’s a liar about being a liar,” the tweet read.
Brennan, an analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, but not CNN, went on to slam Trump’s response to the pipe bombs. “Stop blaming others. Look in the mirror. Your inflammatory rhetoric, insults, lies, & encouragement of physical violence are disgraceful,” he remarked during an event in Texas on Wednesday, CNN reported.
George Soros

Donald J. Trump
✔ @realDonaldTrump

The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love! #Troublemakers
8:03 AM – Oct 5, 2018

The liberal philanthropist, who declared he thought Trump’s administration is “a danger to the world” in January, most recently drew criticism from Trump after two sexual assault survivors confronted Sen. Jeff Flake in an elevator, urging him to oppose the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Without proof, the president claimed Soros had “paid for” the protest. “The very rude elevator screams are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it!” Trump wrote on an inflammatory Twitter message.
Maxine Waters
The Democratic congresswoman, 80, and the president share an extremely antagonistic relationship.
In June, amid increased political unease stemming from Trump’s immigration policies, Waters encouraged constituents to confront “anybody” from the Trump administration if they were spotted in public, CNN reported. She also claimed that her criticism of Trump had resulted in death threats made against her.
In response, Trump christened her “Crazy Maxine Waters, said by some to be one of the most corrupt people in politics.”

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