Is Trump Duping Putin?

Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to think that he has been using his strategically incompetent American counterpart to advance his ends. In fact, Donald Trump has dragged everyone into his reality-TV world, in which sensation, exaggeration, and misinformation all serve his only true goal: to be the center of attention.

But the truth is that neither Democrats nor the media have actually had much success in reining in Trump. As for the Republicans, who control both houses of the US Congress, even once-vocal opponents – such as Senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz – now lick Trump’s boots. With Trump having bullied his party into submission, it seems unlikely that his failure to deliver for Putin can be blamed on others.

The more likely explanation for Trump’s betrayal of Putin is that his warm rhetoric was, like everything else that comes out of his mouth, driven by his desire for ratings, not any actual interest in – let alone commitment to – helping the Kremlin. Consider how Trump’s early overtures to another strongman, Chinese President Xi Jinping, gave way to a full-blown trade war against that country, which Trump now portrays as America’s enemy.

.. Of course, the world has come to expect broken promises and capriciousness from Trump. What is surprising is how Putin has misread the situation so badly. How could such a keen observer of the US, whose former career as a spy honed his ability to decipher people’s motives and intentions, fail to recognize the falseness of Trump’s promises?

.. If anyone knows that actions speak louder than words, it is Putin, whose words often include transparent denials of documented wrongdoing, from meddling in the US election to violating treaties. Yet Putin continues to ignore Trump’s actions and seeks for more meetings “to touch base” with the ever-complimentary US president, such as at this month’s World War I centenary in Paris or the G20 summit in Argentina.

Putin seems to think that he has been using the strategically incompetent Trump to advance his ends. In fact, Trump has dragged everyone into his reality-TV world, in which sensation, exaggeration, and misinformation all serve his only true goal: to be the last “survivor” on the island. By the time Putin finally realizes that he has been duped, the world will probably have paid a high price in terms of political stability, strategic security, and environmental damage. And Putin will have to pay it, too.

How 9 “Art of the Deal” quotes explain the Trump presidency

  • On a daily schedule: “I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.”
  • On flexibility: “I never get too attached to one deal or one approach. For starters, I keep a lot of balls in the air, because most deals fall out, no matter how promising they seem at first.”
  • On the press: “One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better. It’s in the nature of the job, and I understand that. The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.
  • On exaggeration: “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration, and a very effective form of promotion.”
  • On fighting back: “[W]hen people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard. The risk is you’ll make a bad situation worse, and I certainly don’t recommend this approach to everyone. But my experience is that if you’re fighting for something you believe in — even if it means alienating some people along the way — things usually work out for the best in the end.”
  • On results: “You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”
  • On competing: “I’m the first to admit that I am very competitive and that I’ll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win. Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition.”

At the Fox News Site, a Sudden Focus on Women as Sex Offenders

Instances of female teachers sexually abusing male students are rare. But stories on the subject have lately taken up a lot of space at FoxNews.com.

.. The new focus started on June 30, when FoxNews.com published an article on “the apparently increasing frequency of female teachers having sex with their young male students.” Over the next six months the site posted some 98 articles on instances of sexual abuse allegedly committed by women, most of them teachers.

.. Tales of the unusual suit the tabloid aesthetic of much of the site’s content. What was noteworthy was the spike in coverage of the subject, which began a few weeks after Noah Kotch, a former producer at NBC’s “Today” show, became the site’s editor in chief. It also came in the aftermath of numerous sexual harassment scandals at Fox News.

Mr. Kotch, 43, said the articles were “of extremely high interest to readers.”

Sex crimes committed by women make up a small share of sexual offenses in the United States, according to the available evidence. But FoxNews.com readers could have been excused for holding the impression that the nation was in the middle of an epidemic of female teachers sexually abusing male pupils.

.. “We don’t cover sex crimes like statisticians. We cover what’s interesting to the reader.”

.. Nearly 30 percent of the articles posted under FoxNews.com’s “Sex Crimes” category between July and December were focused on female teachers, with many of them promoted near the top of the site’s home page.

.. Fewer than 9 percent of reported episodes of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by women

.. Much of the FoxNews.com coverage coincided with the rise of the #MeToo movement

.. Mr. Kotch, the website editor, was reportedly recruited personally by Rupert Murdoch, who has been the acting chief executive officer of Fox News since Mr. Ailes’s dismissal

It’s up to us to kill false information. Good luck.

Individuals bear much of the blame for fake news. The study found that false rumors travel the Internet much more rapidly and widely than facts. These untruths get their velocity and reach not from celebrity influencers but from ordinary citizens sharing among their networks.

Evidently, we humans have a strong preference for novelty and sensationalism over scrupulous reality.

.. “Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information,” the MIT scientists concluded after examining more than 125,000 stories shared by more than 3 million Twitter users. The most viral lies, they found, involved “false political news.”

.. Politics is tribal. It is a way of organizing conflict.

.. We are inclined to credit anything we hear from our allies and to believe the worst of our foes. In politics we see information as potential ammunition; we evaluate it for its potency and lethality rather than its strict veracity.

.. the Internet smokes out our self-deceptions and shows us as we really are.

Gambling and porn flourish on the Internet. Reasoned civil discourse, not so much.

.. This is a profound blow to idealists of the marketplace of ideas. From Adam Smith to Friedrich Hayek to James Surowiecki, the author of “The Wisdom of Crowds,” wise thinkers have emphasized the positive economic effects of dispersed power. A great many people, free to pursue the wisdom of their experiences and the perspectives from their vantage points, will arrive — as if moved by an invisible hand — at better results than any single mind or central planning bureaucracy could achieve.

.. But it turns out that the crowd is wise only when it is asking the right questions. A crowd determined to get the best value on flat-screen televisions will soon discover the proper price; but a crowd swept up by tulips or cryptocurrency may find itself pricing euphoria instead of value.

 What we see from Twitter and other platforms clearly signals that too many people are asking the wrong questions
.. our ability to spread our careless and malign thinking is brand-new. Of all the digital-age jargon, perhaps none is more apt than “going viral,” because the contagion of bad information is a matter of individuals passing germs from host to host with geometric speed. Only disciplined digital hygiene can halt the epidemic.

How YouTube Drives People to the Internet’s Darkest Corners

Google’s video site often recommends divisive or misleading material, despite recent changes designed to fix the problem

YouTube engineered its algorithm several years ago to make the site “sticky”—to recommend videos that keep users staying to watch still more, said current and former YouTube engineers who helped build it. The site earns money selling ads that run before and during videos.

The algorithm doesn’t seek out extreme videos, they said, but looks for clips that data show are already drawing high traffic and keeping people on the site. Those videos often tend to be sensationalist and on the extreme fringe, the engineers said.

.. The same search in YouTube and Google can produce strikingly divergent results.

.. Google spokeswoman Crystal Dahlen said that Google improved its algorithm last year “to surface more authoritative content, to help prevent the spread of blatantly misleading, low-quality, offensive or downright false information,” adding that it is “working with the YouTube team to help share learnings.”

.. In October, YouTube tweaked its algorithm to return more mainstream sources on breaking-news queries after searches about the deadly Las Vegas shooting yielded videos claiming the government was involved.

.. Since then, the Journal’s tests show, news searches in YouTube return fewer videos from highly partisan channels.

Facebook to Rank News Sources by Quality to Battle Misinformation

Tech giant will rely on user surveys of trustworthiness to try to preserve objectivity

Facebook Inc. plans to start ranking news sources in its feed based on user evaluations of credibility, a major step in its effort to fight false and sensationalist information that will also push the company further into a role it has long sought to avoid—content referee.
The social-media giant will begin testing the effort next week by prioritizing news reports in its news feed from publications that users have rated in Facebook surveys as trustworthy, executives said Friday. The most “broadly trusted” publications—those trusted and recognized by a large cross-section of Facebook users—would get a boost in the news feed, while those that users rate low on trust would be penalized.
.. This shift will result in news accounting for about 4% of the posts that appears in users’ feeds world-wide, down from the current 5%
.. About 45% of U.S. adults get news from Facebook
.. Mr. Zuckerberg said the change—which will be tested leading up to the 2018 U.S. midterm elections—is necessary to address the role of social media in amplifying sensationalism, misinformation and polarization. “That’s why it’s important that News Feed promotes high quality news that helps build a sense of common ground,” he wrote in his post... He compared the approach with Facebook’s reliance on third-party fact-checkers to determine whether or not an article is completely fabricated.

.. On Friday, some publishers and media observers expressed concern about the ranking change, which, like other Facebook news-feed changes may have a significant and unpredictable impact on news publishers that rely on the site for traffic, including the Journal.

.. Facebook’s trust score would boost the news-feed presence of well-known and widely trusted publications even if users disagree with the content or aren’t avid readers.