Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for a 29-year-old woman activist for crimes such as chanting slogans at a protest. Beheading a woman is unprecedented in the kingdom. Meanwhile, Facebook has sprung into action to protect Riyadh’s back by initiating a crackdown on hundreds of accounts posting anti-Saudi content.
Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for five activists with non-violent charges.
All of the activists belong to the kingdom’s historically oppressed Shia minority. One is a woman.
Facebook has coincidentally begun removing anti-Saudi accounts under the guise of fighting “Iranian interference.”
A private cybersecurity firm with ties to the US military tipped off Facebook to the accounts.
Apparently not satisfied with access to its users’ call history, text messaging data, and online conversations, Facebook has reportedly asked major Wall Street firms like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo to hand over their customers’ sensitive financial data as part of the social media giant’s ongoing attempt to become “a platform where people buy and sell goods and services.”
And according to the Wall Street Journal—which first reported on Facebook’s plans on Monday—the social media behemoth isn’t the only tech company that wants access to Americans’ financial data. Google and Amazon have also “asked banks to share data if they join with them, in order to provide basic banking services on applications such as Google Assistant and Alexa,” the Journal pointed out, citing anonymous sources familiar with the companies’ ambitions. Continue reading →
Facebook’s long-awaited change in how it handles political advertisements is only a first step toward addressing a problem intrinsic to a social network built on the viral sharing of user posts.
The company’s approach, a searchable database of political ads and their sponsors, depends on the company’s ability to sort through huge quantities of ads and identify which ones are political. Facebook is betting that a combination of voluntary disclosure and review by both people and automated systems will close a vulnerability that was famously exploited by Russian meddlers in the 2016 election.
The company is doubling down on tactics that so far have not prevented the proliferation of hate-filled posts or ads that use Facebook’s capability to target ads particular groups. Continue reading →
Spring break. It’s a vacation I am getting used to now that I have school-age children. I figure I’ve got 10 good years before my older daughter will start college and spending spring break with me will be the last thing she’ll want to do. We visited Disneyland—along with what felt like a million other people—and I realized the place is really a series of terminally long lines. Standing in those lines gives you an opportunity to listen to languages and accents from all over the world.
It made me appreciate just how tourist-dependent many entertainment attractions in this country are. Continue reading →
“It’s not just Indian Country that would feel the extreme disconnect in a Facebook-less scenario. The entire Indigenous world would reel from its absence.” Photo: Sacred Stone Camp/Facebook
In the last 48 hours, I’ve seen several people turn to one social network, Twitter, to vent their frustrations about another one: Facebook.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which data from over 50 million Facebook profiles were secretly mined for voter insights, it sparked what some have called a #DeleteFacebook movement.
Human rights advocates projected abusive tweets and a message to Twitter founder Jack Dorsey on the company’s headquarters Tuesday night to call attention to Twitter’s inadequate protections for women on the platform. (Photo: Amnesty International)
The human rights group Amnesty International accused Twitter of creating a toxic atmosphere for women on its platform in a report on Wednesday—saying the company fails to enforce clear restrictions banning abuse, and leaves users without a clear sense of its rules and their rights.
The study detailed death threats and rape threats, as well as misogynist, racist, transphobic, and homophobic abuse targeting women. The women who detailed their experiences of abuse included prominent politicians in the UK, journalists, and women’s rights activists. Continue reading →
In an article published on Thursday, Folha—which has over 5.7 million followers on Facebook—noted that over the past several months it had begun to detect a sharp decline in interactions not just with its own Facebook posts, but with those of other major Brazilian newspapers as well. (Photo: Legal Loop)
Accusing Facebook of discriminating against “quality” content and accelerating the spread of “fake news” with its newly-unveiled algorithm, Brazil’s largest newspaper Folha de S. Paulo—which boasts a print and online subscriber base of 285,000 people—has announced that it will no longer publish its articles on the social media platform.
“In effectively banning professional journalism from its pages in favor of personal content and opening space for ‘fake news’ to proliferate, Facebook became inhospitable terrain for those who want to offer quality content like ours,” Sérgio Dávila, Folha’s executive editor, said in a statement. Continue reading →
Freedom of speech advocates are calling a new Department of Homeland Security rule “chilling,” as the department will begin collecting social media communications and data of all immigrants.
The rule, added last week to the Privacy Act of 1974, would allow the DHS to gather “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results” of people with immigration files, as well as “publicly available information from the internet.”
Generally speaking, people can be lumped into three main categories. The first category consists of the typical apathetic, celebrity-idol worshiping citizen who watched Miley Cyrus twerk on stage at the VMA Awards in 2013 and gossiped with his or her friends for a straight week afterward. This group buys this sort of nonsense as a source of entertainment. The second category is comprised of self-proclaimed academics who wrote overly-crafted opinion pieces claiming Miley Cyrus’ twerking – as one commentator put it – either “drew criticism from feminists for degrading her sex and from some pundits for ‘picking the pocket of black culture.’”
Then you have the third category – a lone, isolated group of individuals who pay zero attention to the celebrity world and realize that at the same time Miley Cyrus’ VMA stunt took full swing in the media, the Obama administration was attempting to bomb another sovereign nation into complete submission over unfounded allegations of chemical weapons attacks. As we now know, this military strike plan actually involved taking out Syria’s air defenses and air force, a strategy that would have required approximately 70,000 U.S. troops and led to countless Syrian deaths. Continue reading →
News consumers today face a flood of fake news and information. Distinguishing between fact and fiction has become increasingly challenging.
In the past, news organizations sifted through information to try to determine its validity and veracity. Being trusted for what they reported became an important part of journalists’ reputations.
But that was then.
You are part of the problem
Now the gatekeeping role that the legacy media newspapers and network television news once played falls to all of us. Today, everyone assumes the position of publisher. Technology has democratized the process of making, or making up, news.
Journalists no longer decide what goes public. Information flows unimpeded and unchecked through the internet, filling a multitude of websites, blogs and tweets.
All of it flows through social media streams and into our laptops, tablets and smartphones. Everyone who posts, or reshares, a news story on Facebook or retweets a link takes on a role once held by only a powerful few media executives. The problem that emerges today stems from the fact that most social media “publishers” fail to consider the responsibility for what they post.
And it’s not that the old gatekeepers were infallible or consistently apolitical. But in today’s technological world, we’re in the midst of an informational perfect storm. The equation I might offer would be: Velocity + Volume = Volatility. All the news on the internet moves so fast, and assaults us with so much, that the outcome becomes unpredictably dangerous.
Some people who use social media check what they publish. Others repost or retweet information without reading it carefully, much less doing any due diligence for accuracy. That plays into what those who produce fake news hope to accomplish. While some believe they hope to deceive people, press critic Tom Rosenstiel asserts, “The goal of fake news is not to make people believe the lie. It is to make them doubt all news.”
Some may think that young people, with their social media savvy, might be better able to assess the information they consume.
A Stanford University study found it shocking that many of them couldn’t “evaluate the credibility of that information.” The study noted that more than 80 percent of middle schoolers saw “sponsored content” as actual news. High school students didn’t verify photos. Most college students failed to suspect potential bias in an activist group’s tweet.
Step up your game
So what are news consumers to do? How can they act as their own gatekeepers, intent on vigilance and verification like the best journalists and publishers of old?
Here’s how to begin.
#1. Check out the source. This may seem basic, but it’s easy to read headlines without paying attention to who wrote it. Writers and websites operate with their own perspective. Some want to offer a balanced view. Some advocate a point of view. Others hope to deceive you.
Know the “who” or the “what” of the source. Is the source, website, Twitter handle or blog familiar to you? Have you read them before? Read other work they have done. See if writers you trust link to them.
Read the “About” section of the writer/website. Use search engines to track the name. Sometimes such sites as Linkedin or Facebook turn up basic background information. The key is to know where they are coming from.
#2. Check out the information. Do other sources corroborate what you’re reading, viewing or hearing? Have you used verification sites such as Snopes, Politifact and FactCheck.org?
Dick Grefe, a senior reference librarian at Washington and Lee University, alerted me that two professors at the University of Washington have proposed teaching a course “Calling Bullshit: In the Age of Big Data.” The course would “focus on bullshit that comes clad in the trappings of scholarly discourse.” What’s fake isn’t limited to news.
#3. Be aware of your biases. Remember that we tend to read, listen to and watch news with our own built-in prejudices. We evaluate information based on whether it supports what we already believe. It can be easy to discount that which upsets or challenges our worldview. Reports about “confirmation bias” abound. As studies and writers have noted, we basically believe what we want to believe.
Battle your own confirmation bias by expanding the sources of information you seek. Be open to thinking about different points of view. Read widely. Read counterpoints. Watch for innovations from the media. For example, one recent study published on MarketWatch placed different news sources on the “truthiness” scale. Another, older piece on businessinsider.com could help you identify the ideology underlining your favorite source of news.
There’s no need to close the gate, but be sure you know what’s flowing in. It matters.