THANKS TO GLOBE-SPANNING SOCIAL PLATFORMS like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, misinformation (any wrong information) and disinformation (intentional misinformation like propaganda) have never been able to spread so rapidly or so far, powered by algorithms and automated filters. But misinformation expert Joan Donovan, who runs the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, says social media platforms are not the only ones who play a critical role in perpetuating the misinformation problem. Journalists and media companies also do, Donovan says, because they often help to amplify misinformation when they cover it and the bad actors who create it, often without thinking about the impact of their coverage.
There is clearly more misinformation around than in previous eras, Donovan tells CJR in a recent interview on our Galley discussion platform, because there’s just a lot more media, and therefore a lot more opportunity to distribute it. “But quantity never really matters unless there is significant attention to the issue being manipulated,” she says. “So this is where my research is fundamentally about journalism and not about audiences. Trusted information brokers, like journalists and news organizations, are important targets for piggybacking misinformation campaigns into the public sphere.”
Donovan’s research looks at how trolls and others—whether they are government-backed or freelance—can use techniques including “social engineering” (lying to or manipulating someone to achieve a specific outcome) and low-level hacking to persuade journalists and news outlets of the newsworthiness of a specific campaign. “Once that story gets picked up by a reputable outlet, it’s game time,” she says. Donovan and other misinformation experts warned that the Christchurch shooter’s massive essay about his alleged justification for the incident in April was clearly designed to get as much media attention as possible, by playing on certain themes and popular topics, and they advised media outlets not to play into this strategy by quoting from it.
Before she joined the Shorenstein Center at Harvard last year, Donovan was a member of the research group Data & Society, where she led the Media Manipulation Initiative, mapping how interest groups, governments, and political operatives use the internet and the media to intentionally manipulate messages. Data & Society published an extensive report on the problem last year, written by Syracuse University media studies professor Whitney Phillips, entitled “The Oxygen of Amplification,” with advice on how to cover topics like white supremacy and the alt-right without giving them more credibility in the process.
“Sometimes, I want to throw my hands in the air and grumble, ‘We know what we know from history! Journalists are not outside of society. In fact, they are the most crucial way the public makes sense of the world,” Donovan writes in her Galley interview. “When journalists pay attention to a particular person or issue, we all do… and that has reverberating effects.’” As part of her postdoctoral research, Donovan looked at racial violence and media coverage in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Ku Klux Klan was active. “The Klan had a specific media strategy to cultivate journalists for positive coverage of their events,” Donovan says. “As journalists pivoted slowly to covering the civil rights movement with a sympathetic tone, Klan violence rises—but also public spectacles, torch marches, and cross burnings. These acts are often done with the potential for media coverage in mind.”
Sometimes, I want to throw my hands in the air and grumble, ‘We know what we know from history! Journalists are not outside of society. In fact, they are the most crucial way the public makes sense of the world.
While mass shootings are clearly newsworthy, Donovan says, the internet introduces a new dynamic where all stories on a topic are instantly available to virtually anyone anywhere around the globe. And the fact that they are shared and re-shared and commented on via half a dozen different social networks means that “journalists quickly lose control over the reception of their work,” she says. “This is why it is even more crucial that journalists frame stories clearly and avoid embedding and hyperlinking to known online spaces of radicalization.” Despite this kind of advice from Donovan and others, including sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, a number of media outlets linked to the Christchurch shooter’s writings, and at least one even included a clip from the live-streamed video of his attack.
When it comes to what the platforms themselves should do about mitigating the spread of misinformation and the amplification of extremists, Donovan says the obvious thing is that they should remove accounts that harass and use hate speech to silence others. This “would go a long way to stamping out the influencers who are providing organizing spaces for their fans to participate in networked harassment and bullying,” she says. On YouTube, some would-be “influencers” use hate speech as a way to attract new audiences and solicit donations, Donovan says, and these attempts are aided by the algorithms and the ad-driven model of the platforms. “These influencers would not have grown this popular without the platform’s consent,” she says. “Something can be done and the means to do it are already available.”
On the topic of the recent Christchurch Call—a commitment to take action on extremism signed by the governments of New Zealand, France, Canada, and a number of other nations, along with tech platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter—Donovan says that until there are tangible results, the agreement looks like just another pledge to do better. “These companies apologize and make no specific commitments to change. There are no benchmarks to track progress, no data trails to audit, no human rights abuses accounted for.” Something the Christchurch Call also doesn’t address, Donovan says, are the fundamental incentives behind how hate groups are financed and resourced online, “thanks to access to payment processIng and broadcast technologies at will.”
Redirect it to emergency response programs that don’t kill black people.
The only way we’re going to stop these endless cycles of police violence is by creating alternatives to policing. Because even in a pandemic where black people have been disproportionately killed by the coronavirus, the police are still murdering us.
On Monday, a worker at a store in Minneapolis called 911, claiming that George Floyd had used counterfeit money. The incident ended with a police officer suffocating Mr. Floyd to death, despite his and bystanders’ pleas for mercy. Protests have since erupted across the country while the police respond with military-style violence.
As the case of George Floyd makes clear, calling 911 for even the slightest thing can be a death sentence for black people. For many marginalized communities, 911 is not a viable option because the police often make crises worse. These same communities, who often need emergency services the most, are forced to make do without the help.
More training or diversity among police officers won’t end police brutality, nor will firing and charging individual officers. Look at the Minneapolis Police Department, which is held up as a model of progressive police reform. The department offers procedural justice as well as trainings for implicit bias, mindfulness and de-escalation. It embraces community policing and officer diversity, bans “warrior style” policing, uses body cameras, implemented an early intervention system to identify problematic officers, receives training around mental health crisis intervention, and practices “reconciliation” efforts in communities of color.
George Floyd was still murdered. The focus on training, diversity and technology like body cameras shifts focus away from the root cause of police violence and instead gives the police more power and resources. The problem is that the entire criminal justice system gives police officers the power and opportunity to systematically harass and kill with impunity.
The solution to ending police violence and cultivating a safer country lies in reducing the power of the police and their contact with the public. We can do that by reinvesting the $100 billion spent on policing nationwide in alternative emergency response programs, as protesters in Minneapolis have called for. City, state and federal grants can also fund these programs.
Municipalities can begin by changing policies or statutes so police officers never respond to certain kinds of emergencies, including ones that involve substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness or mental health. Instead, health care workers or emergency response teams would handle these incidents. So if someone calls 911 to report a drug overdose, health care teams rush to the scene; the police wouldn’t get involved. If a person calls 911 to complain about people who are homeless, rapid response social workers would provide them with housing support and other resources. Conflict interrupters and restorative justice teams could mediate situations where no one’s safety is being threatened. Community organizers, rather than police officers, would help manage responses to the pandemic. Ideally, people would have the option to call a different number — say 727 — to access various trained response teams.
The good news is, this is already happening. Violence interruption programs exist throughout the country and they’re often led by people from the community who have experience navigating tricky situations. Some programs, like one in Washington, D.C., do not work with the police; its staff members rely instead on personal outreach and social connections for information about violence that they work to mediate and diffuse. We should invest in these programs, which operate on shoestring budgets, so they have their own dedicated dispatch centers outside of 911.
Dallas is pioneering a new approach where social workers are being dispatched to some 911 calls that involve mental health emergencies. The program has shown success, and many of the people receive care that they would never have gotten in jails or overcrowded hospitals.
In California, the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective deals with child sexual abuse without the police. The collective develops pods — groups of people including survivors, bystanders or people who have harmed in the past — that each pod-member feels they can turn to for support when needed.
Here’s another idea: Imagine if the money used to pay the salaries of police officers who endlessly patrol public housing buildings and harass residents can be used to fund plans that residents design to keep themselves safe. The money could also pay the salaries of maintenance and custodial workers; fund community programs, employment and a universal basic income; or pay for upgrades to elevators and apartment units so residents are not stuck without gas during a pandemic, as some people in Brooklyn were. The Movement for Black Lives and other social movements call for this kind of redirection of funds.
We need to reimagine public safety in ways that shrink and eventually abolish police and prisons while prioritizing education, housing, economic security, mental health and alternatives to conflict and violence. People often question the practicality of any emergency response that excludes the police. We live in a violent society, but the police rarely guarantee safety. Now more than ever is the time to divest not only from police resources, but also the idea that the police keep us safe.
“We are women who have known Brett Kavanaugh for more than 35 years and knew him while he attended high school between 1979 and 1983. For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect,” read the letter, from women who attended schools including Visitation, Stone Ridge and Holton-Arms.
.. “It was just a horrible culture,” she said. “I never married, I don’t have kids, and I trace it all back to those parties.”
All of the women interviewed for this story took pains to point out that not all of the students at the all-boys schools took part in this culture. But the problem was widespread and toxic, they said.
“There were lots of teenage boys I knew at Prep and Gonzaga who were not sexually assaulting girls, but they were in an environment where that was seen as acceptable,”
.. “The story that Dr. Ford told, that doesn’t surprise me at all.”
.. A 1980 Visitation graduate recalls politely asking a Georgetown Prep football player and his friends to leave a party that had ended at her friend’s house. The boys didn’t want to go and said so, asking the woman how she was going to make them leave. One took a step in her direction. She cracked the Heineken bottle from which she had been drinking against the wall and pointed the jagged edge at him. The boy walked away, muttering obscenities. They weren’t friends before, and certainly not after. The woman watched as the man steadily became a pillar of society. She doubts he remembers.
.. “The boys were really unable to regard young women as intellectual, social equals, and it was really infuriating to me. It’s so jarring to feel like you’re a competent, confident person, and then boys can’t treat you like a human.”
Several Georgetown Prep graduates interviewed for this story who attended during the 1980s say they have fond memories of the school and the lifetime friendships they forged there. But they also corroborate the impression that alcohol was an integral part of the school’s identity at the time and that heavy drinking and disregard or mistreatment of women were widely accepted.
The Constitution gives the president nearly unlimited power to grant clemency to people convicted of federal offenses, so Mr. Trump can pardon Mr. Arpaio. But Mr. Arpaio was an elected official who defied a federal court’s order that he stop violating people’s constitutional rights. He was found in contempt of that court. By pardoning him, Mr. Trump would show his contempt for the American court system and its only means of enforcing the law, since he would be sending a message to other officials that they may flout court orders also... (Both also spent years promoting the lie that President Barack Obama was born outside the United States.).. Both men built their brands by exploiting racial resentments of white Americans. While Mr. Trump was beginning his revanchist run for the White House on the backs of Mexican “rapists,” Mr. Arpaio was terrorizing brown-skinned people across southern Arizona, sweeping them up in “saturation patrols” and holding them in what he referred to as a “concentration camp” for months at a time... It was this behavior that a federal judge in 2011 found to be unconstitutional and ordered Mr. Arpaio to stop. He refused, placing himself above the law and the Constitution that he had sworn to uphold... would also go against longstanding Justice Department policy, which calls for a waiting period of at least five years before the consideration of a pardon application and some expression of regret or remorse by the applicant. Mr. Arpaio shows no sign of remorse; to the contrary, he sees himself as the victim. “If they can go after me, they can go after anyone in this country,” he told Fox News on Wednesday. He’s right — in a nation based on the rule of law, anyone who ignores a court order, or otherwise breaks the law, may be prosecuted and convicted... What’s remarkable here is that Mr. Trump is weighing mercy for a public official who did not just violate the law, but who remains proud of doing so. The law-and-order president is cheering on an unrepentant lawbreaker. Perhaps that’s because Mr. Arpaio has always represented what Mr. Trump aspires to be: a thuggish autocrat who enforces the law as he pleases, without accountability or personal consequence.
The legend of the Confederate leader’s heroism and decency is based in the fiction of a person who never existed.
The strangest part about the continued personality cult of Robert E. Lee is how few of the qualities his admirers profess to see in him he actually possessed.
.. The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.
There is little truth in this. Lee was a devout Christian, and historians regard him as an accomplished tactician. But despite his ability to win individual battles, his decision to fight a conventional war against the more densely populated and industrialized North is considered by many historians to have been a fatal strategic error.But even if one conceded Lee’s military prowess, he would still be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in defense of the South’s authority to own millions of human beings as property because they are black... Then there are those whose reverence for Lee relies on replacing the actual Lee with a mythical figure who never truly existed... Jack Kerwick concluded that Lee was “among the finest human beings that has ever walked the Earth.” John Daniel Davidson, in an essay for The Federalist, opposed the removal of the Lee statute in part on the grounds that Lee “arguably did more than anyone to unite the country after the war and bind up its wounds.”.. In the letter, he describes slavery as “a moral & political evil,” but goes on to explain that:
I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.
.. emancipation must wait for divine intervention. That black people might not want to be slaves does not enter into the equation; their opinion on the subject of their own bondage is not even an afterthought to Lee.
.. “Lee ruptured the Washington and Custis tradition of respecting slave families,” by hiring them off to other plantations, and that “by 1860 he had broken up every family but one on the estate, some of whom had been together since Mount Vernon days.” The separation of slave families was one of the most unfathomably devastating aspects of slavery, and Pryor wrote that Lee’s slaves regarded him as “the worst man I ever see.”
.. “in their eyes, the work of emancipation was incomplete until the families which had been dispersed by slavery were reunited.”
.. Lee’s heavy hand on the Arlington plantation, Pryor writes, nearly led to a slave revolt, in part because the enslaved had been expected to be freed upon their previous master’s death, and Lee had engaged in a dubious legal interpretation of his will in order to keep them as his property
.. When two of his slaves escaped and were recaptured, Lee either beat them himself or ordered the overseer to “lay it on well.” Wesley Norris, one of the slaves who was whipped, recalled that “not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.”
Every state that seceded mentioned slavery as the cause in their declarations of secession. Lee’s beloved Virginia was no different, accusing the federal government of “perverting” its powers “not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.” Lee’s decision to fight for the South can only be described as a choice to fight for the continued existence of human bondage in America—even though for the Union, it was not at first a war for emancipation.
.. During his invasion of Pennsylvania, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia enslaved free blacks and brought them back to the South as property. Pryor writes that “evidence links virtually every infantry and cavalry unit in Lee’s army” with the abduction of free black Americans, “with the activity under the supervision of senior officers.”
.. Soldiers under Lee’s command at the Battle of the Crater in 1864 massacred black Union soldiers who tried to surrender.
.. The presence of black soldiers on the field of battle shattered every myth the South’s slave empire was built on: the happy docility of slaves, their intellectual inferiority, their cowardice, their inability to compete with whites. As Pryor writes, “fighting against brave and competent African Americans challenged every underlying tenet of southern society.” The Confederate response to this challenge was to visit every possible atrocity and cruelty upon black soldiers whenever possible, from enslavement to execution.
.. Nor did Lee’s defeat lead to an embrace of racial egalitarianism. The war was not about slavery, Lee insisted later, but if it was about slavery, it was only out of Christian devotion that white southerners fought to keep blacks enslaved.
.. that unless some humane course is adopted, based on wisdom and Christian principles you do a gross wrong and injustice to the whole negro race in setting them free.
.. Lee had beaten or ordered his own slaves to be beaten for the crime of wanting to be free, he fought for the preservation of slavery, his army kidnapped free blacks at gunpoint and made them unfree—but all of this, he insisted, had occurred only because of the great Christian love the South held for blacks. Here we truly understand Frederick Douglass’s admonition that “between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.”..Lee told Congress that blacks lacked the intellectual capacity of whites and “could not vote intelligently,”..To the extent that Lee believed in reconciliation, it was between white people, and only on the precondition that black people would be denied political power and therefore the ability to shape their own fate... his life as president of Washington College (later Washington and Lee) is tainted as well. According to Pryor, students at Washington formed their own chapter of the KKK, and were known by the local Freedmen’s Bureau to attempt to abduct and rape black schoolgirls from the nearby black schools... There were at least two attempted lynchings by Washington students during Lee’s tenure, and Pryor writes that “the number of accusations against Washington College boys indicates that he either punished the racial harassment more laxly than other misdemeanors, or turned a blind eye to it,” adding that he “did not exercise the near imperial control he had at the school, as he did for more trivial matters, such as when the boys threatened to take unofficial Christmas holidays.” In short, Lee was as indifferent to crimes of violence toward blacks carried out by his students as he was when they were carried out by his soldiers... The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866; there is no evidence Lee ever spoke up against it... The most fitting monument to Lee is the national military cemetery the federal government placed on the grounds of his former home in Arlington... There are former Confederates who sought to redeem themselves—one thinks of James Longstreet, wrongly blamed by Lost Causers for Lee’s disastrous defeat at Gettysburg, who went from fighting the Union army to leading New Orleans’s integrated police force in battle against white supremacist paramilitaries... But there are no statues of Longstreet in New Orleans... Lee was devoted to defending the principle of white supremacy; Longstreet was not. This, perhaps, is why Lee was placed atop the largest Confederate monument at Gettysburg in 1917, but the 6-foot-2-inch Longstreet had to wait until 1998 to receive a smaller-scale statue hidden in the woods that makes him look like a hobbit riding a donkey. It’s why Lee is remembered as a hero, and Longstreet is remembered as a disgrace... The white supremacists who have protested on Lee’s behalf are not betraying his legacy. In fact, they have every reason to admire him. Lee, whose devotion to white supremacy outshone his loyalty to his country, is the embodiment of everything they stand for. Tribe and race over country is the core of white nationalism, and racists can embrace Lee in good conscience.
The question is why anyone else would.
Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi (Arabic: محمد البوعزيزي; 29 March 1984 – 4 January 2011) was a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, in response to the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he said was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides. This act became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolutionand the wider Arab Spring, inciting demonstrations and riots throughout Tunisia in protest of social and political issues in the country. Simmering public anger and sporadic violence intensified following Bouazizi’s death, leading then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down on 14 January 2011, after 23 years in power.
.. He supported his mother, uncle, and younger siblings, including paying for one of his sisters to attend university, by earning approximately US$140 per month selling produce on the street in Sidi Bouzid
.. A close friend of Bouazizi said he “was a very well-known and popular man [who] would give free fruit and vegetables to very poor families”
.. According to friends and family, local police officers had allegedly targeted and mistreated Bouazizi for years, including during his childhood, regularly confiscating his small wheelbarrow of produce; but Bouazizi had no other way to make a living, so he continued to work as a street vendor. Around 10 p.m. on 16 December 2010, he had contracted approximately US$200 in debt to buy the produce he was to sell the following day. On the morning of 17 December, he started his workday at 8 a.m. Just after 10:30 a.m., the police began harassing him again, ostensibly because he did not have a vendor’s permit
.. Similarly, two of Bouazizi’s siblings accused authorities of attempting to extort money from their brother, and during an interview with Reuters, one of his sisters stated, “What kind of repression do you imagine it takes for a young man to do this? A man who has to feed his family by buying goods on credit when they fine him…and take his goods. In Sidi Bouzid, those with no connections and no money for bribes are humiliated and insulted and not allowed to live.”
.. Bouazizi’s family claims he was publicly humiliated, that a 45-year-old female municipal official, Faida Hamdi, slapped him in the face, spat at him, confiscated his electronic weighing scales, and tossed aside his produce cart. It was also stated that she made a slur against his deceased father. Bouazizi’s family says her sex made his humiliation worse.
.. Faida Hamdi and her brother claimed in interviews that she did not slap Bouazizi or otherwise mistreat him. An eyewitness referred to by Asharq Al-Awsat claimed not to have seen Hamdi slap Bouazizi
Both Bouazizi’s mother and the eyewitness who spoke with Asharq Al-Awsat stated that Hamdi’s aides had kicked and beaten him after confiscating his fruit cart. Faida Hamdi states it might have happened and Asharq Al-Awsat denies it did.
.. Bouazizi, angered by the confrontation, went to the governor’s office to complain and to ask for his scales back. The governor refused to see or listen to him, even after Bouazizi was quoted as saying, “If you don’t see me, I’ll burn myself.” Bouazizi then acquired a can of gasoline from a nearby gas station and returned to the governor’s office. While standing in the middle of traffic, he shouted, “How do you expect me to make a living?” He then doused himself with the gasoline and set himself alight with a match at 11:30 a.m. local time, less than an hour after the altercation.
.. Bouazizi was visited in the hospital by then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. According to Bouazizi’s mother, Ben Ali promised to send him to France for medical treatment, but no such transfer was ever arranged. Bouazizi died at the Ben Arous Burn and Trauma Centre 18 days after the immolation, on 4 January 2011, at 5:30 p.m. local time.
.. According to Bouazizi’s mother, Bouazizi chose to take this action because he had been humiliated, not because of the family’s poverty.“It got to him deep inside, it hurt his pride,” she said, referring to the police harassment
One of Bouazizi’s sisters stated during an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat that their family intends to take legal action against all involved, “whether this is the municipal officers that slapped and insulted him, or the mayor [who] refused to meet him.”