Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Contesting the Right to Deliver Disinformation

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Eric Singerman reports on a recent conference titled: Understanding and Addressing the Disinformation Ecosystem.

He summarizes the conference saying:

The problem of mis- and disinformation is far more complex than the current obsession with Russian troll factories. It’s the product of the platforms that distribute this information, the audiences that consume it, the journalist and fact-checkers that try to correct it – and even the researchers who study it.

In mid-December, First Draft, the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and the Knight Foundation brought academics, journalists, fact-checkers, technologists and funders together in a two-day workshop to discuss the challenges produced by the current disinformation ecosystem. The convening was intended to highlight relevant research, share best-practices, identify key questions of scholarly and practical concern and outline a potential research agenda designed to answer these questions.

In preparation for the workshop, a number of attendees prepared short papers that could act as starting points for discussion. These papers covered a broad range of topics – from the ways that we define false and harmful content, to the dystopian future of computer-generated visual disinformation.

Download the papers here.

Singerman points out the very first essay concedes that “fake news” isn’t anything new. Although I would read Schudson and Zelizer (authors of the first paper) with care. They contend:


Fake news lessened in centrality only in the late 1800s as printed news, particularly in Britain and the United States, came to center on what Jean Chalaby called “fact-centered discursive practices” and people realized that newspapers could compete with one another not simply on the basis of partisan affiliation or on the quality of philosophical and political essays but on the immediacy and accuracy of factual reports (Chalaby 1996).

I’m sorry, that’s just factually incorrect. The 1890’s were the age of “yellow journalism,” a statement confirmed by the Digital Library of America‘s resource collection: Fake News in the 1890s: Yellow Journalism:

Alternative facts, fake news, and post-truth have become common terms in the contemporary news industry. Today, social media platforms allow sensational news to “go viral,” crowdsourced news from ordinary people to compete with professional reporting, and public figures in offices as high as the US presidency to bypass established media outlets when sharing news. However, dramatic reporting in daily news coverage predates the smartphone and tablet by over a century. In the late nineteenth century, the news media war between Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal resulted in the rise of yellow journalism, as each newspaper used sensationalism and manipulated facts to increase sales and attract readers.

Many trace the origin of yellow journalism to coverage of the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898, and America’s entry in the Spanish-American War. Both papers’ reporting on this event featured sensational headlines, jaw-dropping images, bold fonts, and aggrandizement of facts, which influenced public opinion and helped incite America’s involvement in what Hearst termed the “Journal’s War.”

The practice, and nomenclature, of yellow journalism actually predates the war, however. It originated with a popular comic strip character known as The Yellow Kid in Hogan’s Alley. Created by Richard F. Outcault in 1895, Hogan’s Alley was published in color by Pulitzer’s New York World. When circulation increased at the New York World, William Randolph Hearst lured Outcault to his newspaper, the New York Journal. Pulitzer fought back by hiring another artist to continue the comic strip in his newspaper.

The period of peak yellow journalism by the two New York papers ended in the late 1890s, and each shifted priorities, but still included investigative exposés, partisan political coverage, and other articles designed to attract readers. Yellow journalism, past and present, conflicts with the principles of journalistic integrity. Today, media consumers will still encounter sensational journalism in print, on television, and online, as media outlets use eye-catching headlines to compete for audiences. To distinguish truth from “fake news,” readers must seek multiple viewpoints, verify sources, and investigate evidence provided by journalists to support their claims.

You can see the evidence relied upon by the DPLA for its claims about yellow dog journalism here: Fake News in the 1890s: Yellow Journalism.

Why Schudson and Zelizer thought Chalaby, J. “Journalism as an Anglo-American Invention,” European Journal of Communication 11 (3), 1996, 303-326, supported their case isn’t clear.

If you read the Chalaby article, you find it is primarily concerned with contrasting the French press with Anglo-American practices, a comparison in which the French come off a distant second best.

More to the point, the New York World, the New York Journal, nor yellowdog journalism appears anywhere in the Chalaby article. Check for yourself: Journalism as an Anglo-American Invention.

Chalaby does claim the origin of “fact-centered discursive practices” in the 1890’s but the absence of any mention of journalism that lead to the Spanish-American war, casts doubt on how much we should credit Chalaby’s knowledge of US journalism.

I haven’t checked the other footnotes of Schudson and Zelizer, I leave that as an exercise for interested readers.

I do think Schudson and Zelizer capture the main driver of concern over “fake news” when they say:

First, there is a great anxiety today about the border between professional journalists and others who through digital media have easy access to promoting their ideas, perspectives, factual reports, pranks, inanities, conspiracy theories, fakes and lies….

Despite being framed as a contest between factual reporting and disinformation, the dispute over disinformation/fake news is over the right to profit from disinformation/fake news.

If you need a modern example of yellow journalism, consider the ongoing media frenzy over Russian “interference” in US elections.

How often do you hear reports of context that include instances of US-sponsored assassinations, funded and armed government overthrows, active military interference with both elections and governments, by the US?

What? Some Russians bought Facebook ads and used election hashtags on Twitter? That compares to overthrowing other governments? The long history of the U.S. interfering with elections elsewhere. (tip of the iceberg)

The constant hyperbole in the “Russian interference” story is a clue that journalists and social media are re-enacting the roles played by the New York World and the New York Journal, which lead to the Spanish-American war.

Truth be told, we should thank social media for the free distribution of disinformation, previously available only by subscription.

Discerning what is or is not accurate information, as always, falls on the shoulders of readers. It has ever been thus.

Covering Human Trafficking … Gulf Arab States (@GIJN)

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

Guide to Covering Human Trafficking, Forced Labor & Undocumented Migration in Gulf Arab Countries by Migrant-Rights.org.

From the post:

Over 11 million migrant workers work in the six Middle Eastern countries — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman — that make up the political and economic alliance known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Migrants comprise an extraordinary 67 percent of the labor force in these countries. Reforms in labor laws, adopted by just a few Gulf countries, are rarely implemented.

Abuse of these workers is widespread, with contract violations, dangerous working conditions and unscrupulous traffickers, brokers and employers. Media outlets, both local and international, have generally not covered this topic closely. Journalists attempting to investigate human trafficking and forced labor in the region have faced a lack of information, restrictions on press freedom and security threats. Some have faced detention and deportation.

For these reasons, GIJN, in collaboration with human rights organizations, is launching this first bilingual guide to teach journalists best practices, tools and steps in reporting on human trafficking and forced labor in the Gulf region…

If you are reporting on any aspect of these issues, see also the GINJ’s global Reporting Guide to Human Trafficking & Slavery.

Be aware that residence in a Gulf Arab State isn’t a requirement for reporting on human trafficking.

The top port of entry for human trafficking in the United States is shown on this excerpt of a Google Map:

That’s right, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Despite knowing their port of entry, Hartsfield-Jackson has yet to make an arrest for human trafficking. (as of May 3, 2017)

Schemes such as Hartsfield-Jackson Wants Travelers to Be the ‘Eyes and Ears’ Detecting Sex Trafficking, may explain their lack of success. Making it everyone’s responsibility means it’s no one’s responsibility.

Improvements aren’t hard to imagine. Separating adults without minors from those traveling with minors would be a first step. Separating minors from their accompanying adults, with native speakers who can speak with the minors privately, plus advertised guarantees of protection in the United States, would be another.

Those who could greatly reduce human trafficking have made a cost/benefit analysis and chosen to allow it to continue. In both the Gulf Arab States, the United States and elsewhere.

I’m hopeful you will reach a different conclusion.

Supporting GIJN, Migrate-Rights.org, your local reporters, are all ways to assist in combating human trafficking. Data wranglers of all levels and hackers should volunteer their efforts.

Working with The New York Times API in R

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

Working with The New York Times API in R by Jonathan D. Fitzgerald.

From the post:

Have you ever come across a resource that you didn’t know existed, but once you find it you wonder how you ever got along without it? I had this feeling earlier this week when I came across the New York Times API. That’s right, the paper of record allows you–with a little bit of programming skills–to query their entire archive and work with the data. Well, it’s important to note that we don’t get the full text of articles, but we do get a lot of metadata and URLs for each of the articles, which means it’s not impossible to get the full text. But still, this is pretty cool.

So, let’s get started! You’re going to want to head over to http://developer.nytimes.com to get an API Key. While you’re there, check out the selection of APIs on offer–there are over 10, including Article Search, Archive, Books, Comments, Movie Reviews, Top Stories, and more. I’m still digging into each of these myself, so today we’ll focus on Article Search, and I suspect I’ll revisit the NYT API in this space many times going forward. Also at NYT’s developer site, you can use their API Tool feature to try out some queries without writing code. I found this helpful for wrapping my head around the APIs.

A great “getting your feet wet” introduction to the New York Times API in R.

Caution: The line between the New York Times (NYT) and governments is a blurry one. It has cooperated with governments in the past and will do so in the future. If you are betrayed by the NYT, you have no one but yourself to blame.

The same is true for the content of the NYT, past or present. Chance is not the deciding factor on stories being reported in the NYT. It won’t be possible to discern motives in the vast majority of cases but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. Treat the “historical” record as carefully as current accounts based on “reliable sources.”

Wikileaks Has Sprung A Leak

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

In Leaked Chats, WikiLeaks Discusses Preference for GOP over Clinton, Russia, Trolling, and Feminists They Don’t Like by Micah Lee, Cora Currier.

From the post:

On a Thursday afternoon in November 2015, a light snow was falling outside the windows of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, despite the relatively warm weather, and Julian Assange was inside, sitting at his computer and pondering the upcoming 2016 presidential election in the United States.

In little more than a year, WikiLeaks would be engulfed in a scandal over how it came to publish internal emails that damaged Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and the extent to which it worked with Russian hackers or Donald Trump’s campaign to do so. But in the fall of 2015, Trump was polling at less than 30 percent among Republican voters, neck-and-neck with neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and Assange spoke freely about why WikiLeaks wanted Clinton and the Democrats to lose the election.

“We believe it would be much better for GOP to win,” he typed into a private Twitter direct message group to an assortment of WikiLeaks’ most loyal supporters on Twitter. “Dems+Media+liberals woudl then form a block to reign in their worst qualities,” he wrote. “With Hillary in charge, GOP will be pushing for her worst qualities., dems+media+neoliberals will be mute.” He paused for two minutes before adding, “She’s a bright, well connected, sadistic sociopath.”

Like Wikileaks, the Intercept treats the public like rude children, publishing only what it considers to be newsworthy content:


The archive spans from May 2015 through November 2017 and includes over 11,000 messages, more than 10 percent of them written from the WikiLeaks account. With this article, The Intercept is publishing newsworthy excerpts from the leaked messages.

My criticism of the Intercept’s selective publication of leaks isn’t unique to its criticism of Wikileaks. I have voiced similar concerns about the ICIJ and Wikileaks itself.

I want to believe the Intercept, ICIJ and Wikileaks when they proclaim others have been lying, unfaithful, dishonest, etc.

But that wanting/desire makes it even more important that I critically assess the evidence they advance for their claims.

Selective release of evidence undermines their credibility to be no more than those they accuse.

BTW, if anyone has a journalism 101 guide to writing headlines, send a copy to the Intercept. They need it.

PS: I don’t have an opinion one way or the other on the substance of the Lee/Currier account. I’ve never been threatened with a government missile so can’t say how I would react. Badly I would assume.

Russian Influence! Russian Influence! Get Your Russian Influence Here!

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Twitter deleted 200,000 Russian troll tweets. Read them here. by Ben Popken (NBC News)

From the post:

NBC News is publishing its database of more than 200,000 tweets that Twitter has tied to “malicious activity” from Russia-linked accounts during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

These accounts, working in concert as part of large networks, pushed hundreds of thousands of inflammatory tweets, from fictitious tales of Democrats practicing witchcraft to hardline posts from users masquerading as Black Lives Matter activists. Investigators have traced the accounts to a Kremlin-linked propaganda outfit founded in 2013 known as the Internet Research Association (IRA). The organization has been assessed by the U.S. Intelligence Community to be part of a Russian state-run effort to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential race. And they’re not done.

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 US midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday.

Wow!

What’s really amazing is that NBC keeps up the narrative of “Russian influence” while publishing data to the contrary!

No, I confess I haven’t read all 200K tweets but then neither has NBC, if they read any of them at all.

Download tweets.csv. (NBC link) (Don’t worry, I’ve stored a copy elsewhere should that one disappear.)

On Unix, try this: head -100 tweets.csv | awk -F "," '{ print $8 }' > 100-tweets.txt

The eight field of the csv file containing the text in each tweet.

Walk with me through the shadow of Russian influence and see how you feel:

  1. “RT @LibertyBritt: He’s the brilliant guy who shoots himself in the foot to spite his face. And tries to convince us to do it too. https:/…”
  2. “RT @K1erry: The Marco Rubio knockdown of Elizabeth Warren no liberal media outlet will cover https://t.co/Rh391fEXe3”
  3. “Obama on Trump winning: ‘Anything’s possible’ https://t.co/MjVMZ5TR8Y #politics”
  4. “RT @bgg2wl: Walmart
  5. “it’s impossible! #TexasJihad”
  6. “RT @LibsNoFun: Who will wave the flag? #DayWithoutImmigrants https://t.co/Cn6JKqzE6X”
  7. “Bewaffnete attackieren Bus mit koptischen Christen #Islamisten #ISIS
  8. “”
  9. “The bright example of our failing education https://t.co/DgboGgkgVj”
  10. “@sendavidperdue How are they gonna protect us if they just let a bunch of terrorist walk the cities of our city? #StopIslam #IslamKills”

Only ten “Russian influence” tweets and I’m already thinking about vodka. You?

Let’s try another ten:

  1. “FC Barcelonas youth academy! La Masia doin work! Double tap for these little guys! https://t.co/eo1qIvLjgS”
  2. “When I remember it’s #Friyay https://t.co/yjBTsaFaR2”
  3. “RT @Ladydiann2: Remove these Anti Americans from America enough is enough abuse American freedoms how dare you low lives https://t.co/G44E6…”
  4. “RT @BreitbartNews: This week’s “”Sweden incident.”” https://t.co/EINMeA9R2T”
  5. “RT @alisajoy331: Prayer sent Never stop fighting💔 https://t.co/B9Tno5REjm”
  6. “RT @RossMoorhouse: #ItsRiskyTo
  7. “”
  8. “RT @RedState: The KKK Says A&E Producers Tried to Stage Fake Scenes for Cancelled Documentary https://t.co/HwaebG2rdI”
  9. “RT @hldb73: Bryan or Ryan Adams #whenthestarsgoblue #RejectedDebateTopics @WorldOfHashtags @TheRyanAdams @bryanadams https://t.co/wFBdne8K…”
  10. “RT @WorldTruthTV: #mutual #respect https://t.co/auIjJ2RdBU”

Well comrade. Do you feel any different about the motherland? I don’t. Let’s read some more of her tweets!

  1. “tired of kids how to get rid #SearchesGoogleIsAshamedOf”
  2. “RT @crookedwren: “”Praise be to the Lord
  3. “RT @deepscreenshots: https://t.co/1IuHuiAIJB”
  4. “Kareem Abdul Jabber #OneLetterOffSports @midnight #HashtagWars”
  5. “#God can be realized through all paths. All #religions…”
  6. “RT @RawStory: ‘Star Wars’ Han Solo movie to begin production in January https://t.co/bkZq7F7IkD”
  7. “RT @KStreetHipster: Hamner-Brown is already on its way here. It’s been on it’s way for billions of years. #KSHBC https://t.co/TQh86xN3pJ”
  8. “RT @TrumpSuperPAC: Obama’s a Muslim & this video from @FoxNews proves it! Even @CNN admits Obama’s training protesters/jihadists! #MAGA htt…”
  9. “RT @schotziejlk: .@greta Who is your #SuperBowl favorite?”
  10. “RT @LefLaneLivin: @trueblackpower As Black People we need to Support

I’m going to change my middle name to Putin out of respect for our glorious leader!

Is it respectful to get a Putin tatoo on your hiney?

(Recovers from Russian influence)

This is NBC’s damning proof of Russian influence. Like I said at the beginning, Wow!

As in Wow! how dumb.

OK, to be fair, any tweet set will have a lot of trash in it and grepping for Clinton/clinton and Trump/trump returns 20,893 for Clinton and 49,669 for Trump.

I haven’t checked but liberals talking about Clinton/Trump pre-election ran about 2 1/2 times more mentions of Trump than Clinton. (Odd way to run a campaign.)

So, the usual grep/head, etc. and the first ten “Clinton” tweets are:

  1. “Clinton: Trump should’ve apologized more
  2. “RT @thomassfl: Wikileaks E-Mails:  Hillary Clinton Blackmailed Bernie Sanders https://t.co/l9X32FegV6.”
  3. “Clinton’s VP Choice: More Harm Than Good https://t.co/iGnLChFHeP”
  4. “Hillary Clinton vows to fight
  5. “RT @Rammer_Jammer84: I don’t know about Hilary Clinton having a body double but it’s super weird that she came out by herself considering s…”
  6. “RT @Darren32895836: After Hillary Clinton Caught 4attempting 2take advantage of Americans hardships &tears changes Strat #PrayForFlorida ht…”
  7. “RT @steph93065: Hillary Clinton: Donald Trump’s Veterans Press Conference ‘Disgraceful’ – Breitbart https://t.co/CVvBOrTJBX”
  8. “RT @DianeRainie1: Hey @HillaryClinton this message is for you. Pack it up & go home Hillary
  9. “”
  10. “”RejectedDebateTopics””

and the first ten “Trump” tweets are:

  1. “Clinton: Trump should’ve apologized more
  2. “RT @AriaWilsonGOP: 3 Women Face Charges After Being Caught Stealing Dozens Of Trump Signs https://t.co/JjlZxaW3JN https://t.co/qW2Ok9ROxH”
  3. “RT @America_1st_: CW: “”The thing that impressed me was that Trump is always comfortable in own skin
  4. “Dave Chappelle: “”Black Lives Matter”” is the worst slogan I’ve ever heard! How about “”enough is enough””? VotingTrump! https://t.co/5okvmoQhcj”
  5. “Obama on Trump winning: ‘Anything’s possible’ https://t.co/MjVMZ5TR8Y #politics”
  6. “RT @TrumpSuperPAC: Obama’s a Muslim & this video from @FoxNews proves it! Even @CNN admits Obama’s training protesters/jihadists! #MAGA htt…”
  7. “Deceitful Media caught on act when trying to drive the “”Donald Trump is racist”” rhetoric.
  8. “”
  9. “RT @Veteran4Trump: A picture you will never see on @CNN or @MSNBC #BlacksForTrump Thumbs up for Trump 👍#MakeAmericaGreatAgain #Blacks4Trump…”
  10. “RT @steph93065: Hillary Clinton: Donald Trump’s Veterans Press Conference ‘Disgraceful’ – Breitbart https://t.co/CVvBOrTJBX”

That’s a small part of NBC’s smoking gun on Russian influence?

Does it stand to reason that the CIA, NSA, etc., have similar cap-gun evidence?

Several options present themselves:

  • Intelligence operatives and their leaders have been caught lying, again. That is spinning tales any reasonable reading of the evidence doesn’t support.
  • Intelligence operatives are believing one more impossible thing before breakfast and ignoring the evidence.
  • Journalists have chosen to not investigate whether intelligence operatives are lying or believing impossible things and report/defend intelligence conclusions.

Perhaps all three?

In any event, before crediting any “Russian influence” story, do take the time to review at least some of the 200,000 pieces of “evidence” NBC has collected on that topic.

You will be left amazed that you ever believed NBC News on any topic.

Establishment is Gaslighting Us [Begging Bowl/Reduced Rates Ahead]

Monday, February 12th, 2018

How Establishment Propaganda Gaslights Us Into Submission by Caitlin Johnstone.

The dynamics of the establishment Syria narrative are hilarious if you take a step back and think about them. I mean, the Western empire is now openly admitting to having funded actual, literal terrorist groups in that country, and yet they’re still cranking out propaganda pieces about what is happening there and sincerely expecting us to believe them. It’s adorable, really; like a little kid covered in chocolate telling his mom he doesn’t know what happened to all the cake frosting.

Or least it would be adorable if it weren’t directly facilitating the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people.

I recently had a pleasant and professional exchange with the Atlantic Council’s neoconservative propagandist Eliot Higgins, in which he referred to independent investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley as “bonkers” and myself as “crazy,” and I called him a despicable bloodsucking ghoul. I am not especially fond of Mr. Higgins.

You see this theme repeated again and again and again in Higgins’ work; the U.S.-centralized power establishment which facilitated terrorist factions in Syria is the infallible heroic Good Guy on the scene, and anyone who doesn’t agree is a mentally deranged lunatic.

If you want to see more journalism that you forward to others, post to Facebook, etc., then donate to Consortiumnews.com.

I should be begging for money for myself, blah, blah, blah, but considering the ongoing fail of the complicit mainstream media, donation to Consortiumnews.com will do more good than donating to me.

If you hire me for research, standards editing or semantic/topic maps work, discount rates are available for donors to Consortiumnews.com.

Collaborative Journalism Projects (Collaboration Opportunities for the Public?)

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

Database: Search, sort and learn about collaborative journalism projects from around the world

From the post:

Over the past several months, the Center for Cooperative Media has been collecting, organizing and standardizing information about dozens and dozens of collaborative journalism projects around the world. Our goal was to build a database that could serve as a hub of information about collaborative journalism, something that would be useful to journalists, scholars, media executives, funders and others seeking information on the how such projects work, who’s doing them and what they’re covering.

We worked with Melody Kramer to build the first iteration of the database, which you can find below. It is a work in progress, and you’ll see that it’s still incomplete as we continue to add to it. So far for this soft launch, we’ve input information on 94 news collaborations between more than 800 organizations and 151 people.

But this is just the beginning. We need your help.

Is your project listed? If not, tell us about it. Is the information about your project incorrect? Let us know; email Melody at melodykramer@gmail.com. Are there fields missing you’d like to see us add, or other ways to sort that you think would be useful? Email the Center at info@centerforcooperativemedia.org. We’re using Airtable right now, but are still considering what the best way will be to display the treasure trove of data we’re collecting.

Some notes on navigating the database: First, it’s easier to see the whole picture on desktop than on mobile, although both work well. To see the full record for any particular project, click on the little blue arrow that appears to the left of the project name when you hover over it. You can sort by column as well.

Collaborative journalism is a great way to avoid duplication of effort and to find strength in numbers. This resource is a big step towards encouraging journalist to journalist collaboration.

Opportunities for members of the public to collaborate with journalists?

Suggestions?

A [Selective] Field Guide to “Fake News” and other Information Disorders

Friday, January 12th, 2018

New guide helps journalists, researchers investigate misinformation, memes and trolling by Liliana Bounegru and Jonathan Gray.

Recent scandals about the role of social media in key political events in the US, UK and other European countries over the past couple of years have underscored the need to understand the interactions between digital platforms, misleading information and propaganda, and their influence on collective life in democracies.

In response to this, the Public Data Lab and First Draft collaborated last year to develop a free, open-access guide to help students, journalists and researchers investigate misleading and viral content, memes and trolling practices online.

Released today, the five chapters of the guide describe a series of research protocols or “recipes” that can be used to trace trolling practices, the ways false viral news and memes circulate online, and the commercial underpinnings of problematic content. Each recipe provides an accessible overview of the key steps, methods, techniques and datasets used.

The guide will be most useful to digitally savvy and social media literate students, journalists and researchers. However, the recipes range from easy formulae that can be executed without much technical knowledge other than a working understanding of tools such as BuzzSumo and the CrowdTangle browser extension, to ones that draw on more advanced computational techniques. Where possible, we try to offer the recipes in both variants.

Download the guide at the Public Data Lab’s website.

The techniques in the guide are fascinating but the underlying definition of “fake news” is problematic:


The guide explores the notion that fake news is not just another type of content that circulates online, but that it is precisely the character of this online circulation and reception that makes something into fake news. In this sense fake news may be considered not just in terms of the form or content of the message, but also in terms of the mediating infrastructures, platforms and participatory cultures which facilitate its circulation. In this sense, the significance of fake news cannot be fully understood apart from its circulation online. It is the register of this circulation that also enables us to trace how material that starts its life as niche satire can be repackaged as hyper-partisan clickbait to generate advertising money and then continue life as an illustration of dangerous political misinformation.

As a consequence this field guide encourages a shift from focusing on the formal content of fabrications in isolation to understanding the contexts in which they circulate online. This shift points to the limits of a “deficit model” approach – which might imply that fabrications thrive only because of a deficit of factual information. In the guide we suggest new ways of mapping and responding to fake news beyond identifying and fact-checking suspect claims – including “thicker” accounts of circulation as a way to develop a richer understanding of how fake news moves and mobilises people, more nuanced accounts of “fakeness” and responses which are better attuned to the phenomenon.
… (page 8)

The means by which information circulates is always relevant to the study of communications. However, notice that the authors’ definition excludes traditional media from its quest to identify “fake news.” Really? Traditional media isn’t responsible for the circulation of any “fake news?”

Examples of traditional media fails are legion but here is a recent and spectacular one: The U.S. Media Suffered Its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages and Now Refuses All Transparency Over What Happened by Glenn Greenwald.

Friday was one of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, and countless pundits, commentators, and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened.

The spectacle began Friday morning at 11 a.m. EST, when the Most Trusted Name in News™ spent 12 straight minutes on air flamboyantly hyping an exclusive bombshell report that seemed to prove that WikiLeaks, last September, had secretly offered the Trump campaign, even Donald Trump himself, special access to the Democratic National Committee emails before they were published on the internet. As CNN sees the world, this would prove collusion between the Trump family and WikiLeaks and, more importantly, between Trump and Russia, since the U.S. intelligence community regards WikiLeaks as an “arm of Russian intelligence,” and therefore, so does the U.S. media.

This entire revelation was based on an email that CNN strongly implied it had exclusively obtained and had in its possession. The email was sent by someone named “Michael J. Erickson” — someone nobody had heard of previously and whom CNN could not identify — to Donald Trump Jr., offering a decryption key and access to DNC emails that WikiLeaks had “uploaded.” The email was a smoking gun, in CNN’s extremely excited mind, because it was dated September 4 — 10 days before WikiLeaks began promoting access to those emails online — and thus proved that the Trump family was being offered special, unique access to the DNC archive: likely by WikiLeaks and the Kremlin.

There was just one small problem with this story: It was fundamentally false, in the most embarrassing way possible. Hours after CNN broadcast its story — and then hyped it over and over and over — the Washington Post reported that CNN got the key fact of the story wrong.

This fundamentally false story does not qualify as “fake news” for this guide. Surprised?

The criteria for “fake news” also excludes questioning statements from members of the intelligence community, which includes James Clapper, a self-confessed and known liar, who continues to be the darling of mainstream media outlets.

Cozy relationships between news organizations and their reporters with government and intelligence sources are also not addressed as potential sources of “fake news.”

Limiting the scope of a “fake news” study in order to have a doable project is understandable. However, excluding factually false stories, use of known liars and corrupting relationships, all because they occur in mainstream media, looks like picking a target to tar with the label “fake news.”

The guides and techniques themselves may be quite useful, so long as you remember they were designed to show social media as the spreader of “fake news.”

One last thing, what the authors don’t offer and I haven’t seen reports of, is the effectiveness of the so-called “fake news” with voters. Taking “Pope Francis Endorses Trump,” as a lie, however widely spread that story became, did it have any impact on the 2016 election? Or did every reader do a double-take and move on? It’s possible to answer that type of question but it does require facts.

Secrets to Searching for Video Footage (AI Assistance In Your Future?)

Friday, January 12th, 2018

Secrets to Searching for Video Footage by Aric Toler.

From the post:

Much of Bellingcat’s work requires intense research into particular events, which includes finding every possible photograph, video and witness account that will help inform our analysis. Perhaps most notably, we exhaustively researched the events surrounding the shoot down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over eastern Ukraine.

The photographs and videos taken near the crash in eastern Ukraine were not particularly difficult to find, as they were widely publicized. However, locating over a dozen photographs and videos of the Russian convoy transporting the Buk anti-aircraft missile launcher that shot down MH17 three weeks before the tragedy was much harder, and required both intense investigation on social networks and some creative thinking.

Most of these videos were shared on Russian-language social networks and YouTube, and did not involve another type of video that is much more important today than it was in 2014 — live streaming. Bellingcat has also made an effort to compile all user-generated videos of the events in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017, providing a database of livestreamed videos on platforms like Periscope, Ustream and Facebook Live, along with footage uploaded after the protest onto platforms like Twitter and YouTube.

Verifying videos is important, as detailed in this Bellingcat guide, but first you have to find them. This guide will provide advice and some tips on how to gather as much video as possible on a particular event, whether it is videos from witnesses of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. For most examples in this guide, we will assume that the event is a large protest or demonstration, but the same advice is applicable to other events.

I was amused by this description of Snapchat and Instagram:


Snapchat and Instagram are two very common sources for videos, but also two of the most difficult platforms to trawl for clips. Neither has an intuitive search interface that easily allows researchers to sort through and collect videos.

I’m certain that’s true but a trained AI could sort out videos obtained by overly broad requests. As I’m fond of pointing out, not 100% accuracy but you can’t get that with humans either.

Augment your searching with a tireless AI. For best results, add or consult a librarian as well.

PS: I have other concerns at the moment but a subset of the Bellingcat Charlottesville database would make a nice training basis for an AI, which could then be loosed on Instagram and other sources to discover more videos. The usual stumbling block for AI projects being human curated material, which Bellingcat has already supplied.

Leaking Resources for Federal Employees with Ties to ‘Shithole’ Countries

Friday, January 12th, 2018

Trump derides protections for immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries by Josh Dawsey.

From the post:

President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to several people briefed on the meeting.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.

The EEOC Annual report for 2014 reports out of 2.7 million women and men employed by the federal government:

…63.50% were White, 18.75% were Black or African American 8.50% were Hispanic or Latino, 6.16% were Asian, 1.49% were American Indian or Alaska Native, 1.16% were persons of Two or More Races and 0.45% were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander…(emphasis added)

In other words, 27.25% of 2.7 million people working for the federal government, or approximately 794,000 federal employees have ties ‘shithole’ countries.

President Trump’s rude remarks are an accurate reflection of current U.S. immigration policy:

The United States treats other countries ‘shitholes’ but it is considered impolite to mention that in public.

Federal employees with ties to ‘shithole’ countries are at least as loyal, if not more so, than your average staffer.

That said, I’m disappointed that media outlets did not immediately call upon federal employees with ties to ‘shithole’ countries to start leaking documents/data.

Here are some places documents can be leaked to:

More generally, see Here’s how to share sensitive leaks with the press and their excellent listing of SecureDrop resources for anonymous submission of documents.

If you have heard of the Panama Papers or the Paradise Papers, then you are thinking about the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. They do excellent work, but like the other journalists mentioned, are obsessed with being in control of the distribution of your leak.

Every outrage, whether a shooting, unjust imprisonment, racist remarks, religious bigotry, is an opportunity to incite leaking by members of a group.

Not calling for leaking speaks volumes about your commitment to the status quo and its current injustices.

The Watchdog Press As Lapdog Press

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

When Intelligence Agencies Make Backroom Deals With the Media, Democracy Loses by Bill Blunden.

From the post:

Steven Spielberg’s new movie The Post presents the story behind Katharine Graham’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in The Washington Post. As the closing credits roll, one is left with the impression of a publisher who adopts an adversarial stance towards powerful government officials. Despite the director’s $50 million budget (or, perhaps, because of it), there are crucial details that are swept under the rug — details that might lead viewers towards a more accurate understanding of the relationship between the mainstream corporate press and the government.

The public record offers some clarity. Three years after Graham decided to go public with the Pentagon Papers, Seymour Hersh revealed a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program called Operation CHAOS in The New York Times. Hersh cited inside sources who described “a massive, illegal domestic intelligence operation during the Nixon Administration against the antiwar movement and other dissident groups in the United States.” Hersh’s article on CIA domestic operations is pertinent because, along with earlier revelations by Christopher Pyle, it prompted the formation of the Church Commission.

The Church Commission was chartered to examine abuses by United States intelligence agencies. In 1976, the commission’s final report (page 455 of Book I, entitled “Foreign and Military Intelligence”) found that the CIA maintained “a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda” and that “approximately 50 of the [Agency] assets are individual American journalists or employees of US media organizations.”

These initial findings were further corroborated by Carl Bernstein, who unearthed a web of “more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.” Note that Bernstein was one of the Washington Post journalists who helped to expose the Watergate scandal. He published his piece on the CIA and the media with Rolling Stone magazine in 1977.

Show of hands. How many of you think the CIA, which freely violates surveillance and other laws, has not continued to suborn journalists, up to and including now?

Despite a recent assurance from someone whose opinion I value, journalists operating on a shoe-string have no corner on the public interest. Nor is that a guarantee they don’t have their own agendas.

Money is just one source of corruption. Access to classified information, pretige in the profession, deciding whose newsworthy and who is not, power over other reporters, are all factors that don’t operate in the public interest.

My presumption about undisclosed data in the possession of reporters accords with the State of Georgia, 24-4-22. Presumption from failure to produce evidence:

If a party has evidence in his power and within his reach by which he may repel a claim or charge against him but omits to produce it, or if he has more certain and satisfactory evidence in his power but relies on that which is of a weaker and inferior nature, a presumption arises that the charge or claim against him is well founded; but this presumption may be rebutted.

In short, evidence you don’t reveal is presumed to be against you.

That has worked for centuries in courts, why would I apply a different standard to reporters (or government officials)?

Fact Forward: Fact Free Assault on Online Misinformation

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Fact Forward: If you had $50,000, how would you change fact-checking?

From the post:

The International Fact-Checking Network wants to support your next big idea.

We recognize the importance of making innovation a key part of fact-checking in the age of online misinformation and we are also aware that innovation requires investment. For those reasons, we are opening Fact Forward. A call for fact-checking organizations and/or teams of journalists, designers, developers or data scientists to submit projects that can represent a paradigmatic innovation for fact-checkers in any of these areas: 1) formats, 2) business models 3) technology-assisted fact-checking.

With Fact Forward, the IFCN will grant 50,000 USD to the winning project.

For this fund, an innovative project is defined as one that provides a distinct, novel user experience that seamlessly integrates content, design, and business strategy. The innovation should serve both the audience and the organization.

The vague definition of “innovative project” leaves the impression the judges have no expertise with software development. A quick check of the judges credentials reveals that is indeed the case. Be forewarned, fluffy pro-fact checking phrases are likely to outweigh any technical merit in your proposals.

If you doubt this is an ideological project, consider the implied premises of “…the age of online misinformation….” Conceding that online misinformation does exist, those include:

1. Online misinformation influences voters:

What evidence does exist, is reported by Hunt Allcott, Matthew Gentzkow in Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election, the astract reads:

Following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, many have expressed concern about the effects of false stories (“fake news”), circulated largely through social media. We discuss the economics of fake news and present new data on its consumption prior to the election. Drawing on web browsing data, archives of fact-checking websites, and results from a new online survey, we find: (i) social media was an important but not dominant source of election news, with 14 percent of Americans calling social media their “most important” source; (ii) of the known false news stories that appeared in the three months before the election, those favoring Trump were shared a total of 30 million times on Facebook, while those favoring Clinton were shared 8 million times; (iii) the average American adult saw on the order of one or perhaps several fake news stories in the months around the election, with just over half of those who recalled seeing them believing them; and (iv) people are much more likely to believe stories that favor their preferred candidate, especially if they have ideologically segregated social media networks.

Or as summarized in Don’t blame the election on fake news. Blame it on the media by Duncan J. Watts and David M. Rothschild:


In addition, given what is known about the impact of online information on opinions, even the high-end estimates of fake news penetration would be unlikely to have had a meaningful impact on voter behavior. For example, a recent study by two economists, Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow, estimates that “the average US adult read and remembered on the order of one or perhaps several fake news articles during the election period, with higher exposure to pro-Trump articles than pro-Clinton articles.” In turn, they estimate that “if one fake news article were about as persuasive as one TV campaign ad, the fake news in our database would have changed vote shares by an amount on the order of hundredths of a percentage point.” As the authors acknowledge, fake news stories could have been more influential than this back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests for a number of reasons (e.g., they only considered a subset of all such stories; the fake stories may have been concentrated on specific segments of the population, who in turn could have had a disproportionate impact on the election outcome; fake news stories could have exerted more influence over readers’ opinions than campaign ads). Nevertheless, their influence would have had to be much larger—roughly 30 times as large—to account for Trump’s margin of victory in the key states on which the election outcome depended.

Just as one example, online advertising is routinely studied, Understanding Interactive Online Advertising: Congruence and Product Involvement in Highly and Lowly Arousing, Skippable Video Ads by Daniel Belanche, Carlos Flavián, Alfredo Pérez-Rueda. But the IFCN offers no similar studies for what it construes as “…online misinformation….”

Without some evidence for and measurement of the impact of “…online misinformation…,” what is the criteria for success for your project?

2. Correcting online misinformation influences voters:

The second, even more problematic assumption in this project is that correcting online misinformation influences voters.

Facts, even “correct” facts do a poor job of changing opinions. Even the lay literature is legion on this point: Facts Don’t Change People’s Minds. Here’s What Does; Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds; The Backfire Effect: Why Facts Don’t Win Arguments; In the battle to change people’s minds, desires come before facts; The post-fact era.

Any studies to the contrary? Surely the IFCN has some evidence that correcting misinformation changes opinions or influences voter behavior?

(I reserve this space for any studies supplied by the IFCN or others to support that premise.)

I don’t disagree with fact checking per se. Readers should be able to rely upon representations of fact. But Glenn Greenwald’s The U.S. Media Suffered Its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages and Now Refuses All Transparency Over What Happened makes it clear that misinformation isn’t limited to appearing online.

One practical suggestion: If $50,000 is enough for your participation in an ideological project, use sentiment analysis to identify pro-Trump materials. Anything “pro-Trump” is, for some funders, “misinformation.”

PS: I didn’t vote for Trump and loathe his administration. However, pursuing fantasies to explain his victory in 2016 won’t prevent a repeat of same in 2020. Whether he is defeated with misinformation or correct information makes no difference to me. His defeat is the only priority.

Practical projects with a defeat of Trump in 2020 goal are always of interest. Ping me.

Source Community Call | January 11, 2018 | Thursday @ 12pm ET – GMT 5pm – 9am PDT

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

A resource sponsored by OpenNews, which self-describes as:

At OpenNews, we believe that a community of peers working, learning and solving problems together can create a stronger, more representative, and ascendant journalism. We organize events and community supports to strengthen and sustain this ecosystem.

  • In collaboration with writers and developers in newsrooms around the world, we publish Source, a community site focused on open technology projects and process in journalism. From features that explore the context behind the code to targeted job listings that help the community expand, Source presents the people, projects, and insights behind journalism code.

    We also hold biweekly Source community calls where newsroom data and apps teams can share their work, announce job openings, and find collaborators.

On the agenda for tomorrow:

  • Reporting on police shootings – Allison McCann
  • Accessibility on the web – Joanna Kao

Call Details for Jan. 11, 2018..

Archive of prior calls

Mark your calendars!: Every-other Thursday @ 12pm ET – GMT 5pm – 9am PDT

Email Spam from Congress

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

Receive an Email when a Member of Congress has a New Remark Printed in the Congressional Record by Robert Brammer.

From the post:

Congress.gov alerts are emails sent to you when a measure (bill or resolution), nomination, or member profile has been updated with new information. You can also receive an email after a Member has new remarks printed in the Congressional Record. Here are instructions on how to get an email after a Member has new remarks printed in the Congressional Record….

My blog title is unfair to Brammer, who isn’t responsible for the lack of meaningful content in Member remarks printed in the Congressional Record.

Local news outlets reprint such remarks, as does the national media, whether those remarks are grounded in any shared reality or not. Secondary education classes on current events, reporting, government, where such remarks are considered meaningful, are likely to find this useful.

Another use, assuming mining of prior remarks from the Congressional Record, would be in teaching NLP techniques. Highly unlikely you will discover anything new but it will be “new to you” and the result of your own efforts.

From the Valley of Disinformation Rode the 770 – Opportunity Knocks

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

More than 700 employees have left the EPA since Scott Pruitt took over by Natasha Geiling.

From the post:

Since Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt took over the top job at the agency in March, more than 700 employees have either retired, taken voluntary buyouts, or quit, signaling the second-highest exodus of employees from the agency in nearly a decade.

According to agency documents and federal employment statistics, 770 EPA employees departed the agency between April and December, leaving employment levels close to Reagan-era levels of staffing. According to the EPA’s contingency shutdown plan for December, the agency currently has 14,449 employees on board — a marked change from the April contingency plan, which showed a staff of 15,219.

These departures offer journalists a rare opportunity to bleed the government like a stuck pig. From untimely remission of login credentials to acceptance of spear phishing emails, opportunities abound.

Not for “reach it to me” journalists who use sources as shields from potential criminal liability. While their colleagues are imprisoned for the simple act of publication or murdered (as of today in 2017, 42).

Governments have not, are not and will not act in the public interest. Laws that criminalize acquisition of data or documents are a continuation of their failure to act in the public interest.

Journalists who serve the public interest, by exposing the government’s failure to do so, should use any means at their disposal to obtain data and documents that evidence government failure and misconduct.

Are you a journalist serving the public interest or a “reach it to me” journalist, serving the public interest when there’s no threat to you?

A/B Tests for Disinformation/Fake News?

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

Digital Shadows says it:

Digital Shadows monitors, manages, and remediates digital risk across the widest range of sources on the visible, deep, and dark web to protect your organization.

It recently published The Business of Disinformation: A Taxonomy – Fake news is more than a political battlecry.

It’s not long, fourteen (14) pages and it has the usual claims about disinformation and fake news you know from other sources.

However, for all its breathless prose and promotion of its solution, there is no mention of any A/B tests to show that disinformation or fake news is effective in general or against you in particular.

The value proposition offered by Digital Shadows is everyone says disinformation and fake news are important, therefore spend money with us to combat it.

Alien abduction would be important but I won’t be buying alien abduction insurance or protection services any time soon.

Proof of the effectiveness of disinformation and fake news is on a par with proof of alien abduction.

Anything possible but spending money or creating policies requires proof.

Where’s the proof for the effectiveness of disinformation or fake news? No proof, no spending. Yes?

Russians? Nation State? Dorm Room? Mirai Botnet Facts

Saturday, December 16th, 2017

How a Dorm Room Minecraft Scam Brought Down the Internet by Garett M. Graff.

From the post:

The most dramatic cybersecurity story of 2016 came to a quiet conclusion Friday in an Anchorage courtroom, as three young American computer savants pleaded guilty to masterminding an unprecedented botnet—powered by unsecured internet-of-things devices like security cameras and wireless routers—that unleashed sweeping attacks on key internet services around the globe last fall. What drove them wasn’t anarchist politics or shadowy ties to a nation-state. It was Minecraft.

Graff’s account is mandatory reading for:

  • Hackers who want to avoid discovery by the FBI
  • Journalists who want to avoid false and/or misleading claims about cyberattacks
  • Manufacturers who want to avoid producing insecure devices (a very small number)
  • Readers who interested in how the Mirai botnet hype played out

Enjoy!

IndonesiaLeaks [Leak early, Leak often]

Friday, December 15th, 2017

IndonesiaLeaks: New Platform for Whistleblowers and Muckrakers

From the post:

Ten media houses and five civil society organizations in Indonesia announced a collaboration this week to form a digital platform for whistleblowers.

IndonesiaLeaks will allow the public a platform to anonymously and securely submit information, documents and data sets related to the public interest. The information received by IndonesiaLeaks will then be vetted and verified for use in investigative reports by the ten affiliated media organizations.

The secure online platform is crucial in Indonesia due to the lack of whistleblower protection schemes. Those who take risks leaking information on offenses happening in their institutions are often prosecuted and intimidated.

“IndonesiaLeaks is designed as a collaborative platform between ten media houses to share tasks, responsibilities and resources, as well as risks,” said Wahyu Dhyatmika, the editor of IndonesiaLeaks member publication Tempo.co, at the platform’s launch in Jakarta on Thursday. “By creating this partnership, we hope the impacts of investigative journalism will be bigger and spread widely.”

A welcome surprise as a hard year for the media draws to a close. The chest pounding antics of the American President aren’t the only woes for the media in 2017, but they have been some of the most visible.

IndonesiaLeaks promises to give the sordid side of government (is there another side?) greater visibility. This collaboration will provide strength in numbers and resources for its participants, furthering their ability to practice investigative journalism.

I don’t read Indonesian but the website is attractive and focuses on the secure submission of documents. I rather like that, clean, focused, and to the point.

The collaboration partners to date:

Support these collaborators and other investigative journalists at every opportunity. You never know when one of their stories will impact your reporting on a frothing, tantrum throwing, press hater closer to the United States.

Journocode Data Journalism Dictionary

Friday, December 8th, 2017

Journocode Data Journalism Dictionary

From the webpage:

Navigating the field of data journalism, a field that borrows methods and terms from so many disciplines, can be hard – especially in the beginning. You need to speak the language in order to collaborate with others and knowing which words to type into a search engine is the first step to learning new things.

That’s why we started the Journocode Data Journalism Dictionary. It aims to explain technical terms from fields like programming, web development, statistics and graphics design in a way that every journalist and beginner can understand them.

Fifty-one (51) definitions as of today, 8 December 2017, and none will be unfamiliar to data scientists.

But, a useful resource for data scientists to gauge the terms already known to data journalists and perhaps a place to contribute other terms with definitions.

Don’t miss their DDJ Tools resource page while you visiting.

Don’t trust NGOs, they have their own agendas (edited)

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

The direct quote is “Don’t trust NGOs, they may have their own agendas.”

I took out the “may” because NGOs are committed to themselves and their staffs before any cause or others. That alone justifies removing the “may.” They have their own agendas and you need to keep that in mind.

Wildlife Crimes: Focus On The Villain, Not The Victim by Ufrieda Ho, says in part:

Ease up on the blood shots, ditch the undercover ploys and think crime story, not animal story.

These are top tips from Bryan Christy, author, investigative journalist and National Geographic Society Fellow. He says environmental trafficking and smuggling should be treated like a “whodunnits” rather than yet another depressing tale of gore and horror.

Christy, a panelist at this morning’s GIJN session on Environmental Crime and Wildlife Smuggling, says: “We need to stop telling the rhino-victim story and start thinking about the trafficker-villain story.”

Christy says shifting the editorial telling of stories in this way is a tool to fight “sad story” fatigue. It trains the audience to follow the trail of a villain through plot-driven action rather than to be turned off by feeling hopeless and despairing in the face of another climate change story or another report on a butchered elephant.

“The criminal plot is also a pack horse – it can pack in a lot of information,” says Christy, understanding that the nature of environmental investigations on smuggling and trafficking is about exploring intricate webs.

That sounds like a data mining/science angle to wildlife crime to me!

There will be people in the field but connecting all the dots will require checking shipping, financial, even the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers for potential connections and leads.

Neo4j Desktop Download of Paradise Papers [It’s Not What You Hope For, Disappointment Ahead]

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Neo4j Desktop Download of Paradise Papers

Not for the first time, Neo4j marketing raises false hopes among potential users.

When you or I read “Paradise Papers,” we quite naturally think of the reputed cache of:

…13.4 million leaked files from a combination of offshore service providers and the company registries of some of the world’s most secretive countries.

Well, you aren’t going to find those “Paradise Papers” in the Neo4j Desktop download.

What you will find is highly processed data summarized as:


Data contained in the Paradise Papers:

  • Officer: a person or company who plays a role in an offshore entity.
  • Intermediary: go-between for someone seeking an offshore corporation and an offshore service provider — usually a law-firm or a middleman that asks an offshore service provider to create an offshore firm for a client.
  • Entity: a company, trust or fund created in a low-tax, offshore jurisdiction by an agent.
  • Address: postal address as it appears in the original databases obtained by ICIJ.
  • Other: additional information items.

Make no mistake, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) does vital work that isn’t being done by anyone else. For that they merit full marks. Not to mention the quality of their data mining and reporting on the data they collect.

However, their hoarding of primary source materials deprives other journalists and indeed the general public of the ability to judge the accuracy and fairness of their reporting.

Using data derived from those hoarded materials to create a teaser database such as the “Paradise Papers” distributed by Neo4j only adds insult to injury. A journalist or member of the public can learn who is mentioned but is denied access to the primary materials that would make that mention meaningful.

You can learn a lot of about Neo4j from the “Paradise Papers,” but about the people and transactions mentioned in the actual Paradise Papers, not so much.

Imagine this as a public resource for citizens and law enforcement around the world, with links back to the primary documents.

That could make a difference for the citizens of entire countries, instead of for the insiders journalists managing the access to and use of the Paradise Papers.

PS: Have you thought about how you would extract the graph data from the .AppImage file?

The Motherboard Guide to Avoiding State Surveillance [Where’s Your Security Cheat Sheet?]

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

The Motherboard Guide to Avoiding State Surveillance by Sarah Jeong.

From the post:

In the wake of September 11th, the United States built out a massive surveillance apparatus, undermined constitutional protections, and limited possible recourse to the legal system.

Given the extraordinary capabilities of state surveillance in the US—as well as the capabilities of governments around the world—you might be feeling a little paranoid! It’s not just the NSA—the FBI and even local cops have more tools at their disposal to snoop on people than ever before. And there is a terrifying breadth of passive and unexpected surveillance to worry about: Your social media accounts can be subpoenaed, your emails or calls can be scooped up in bulk collection efforts, and your cell phone metadata can be captured by Stingrays and IMSI catchers meant to target someone else.

Remember, anti-surveillance is not the cure, it’s just one thing you can do to protect yourself and others. You probably aren’t the most at-risk person, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice better security. Surveillance is a complicated thing: You can practice the best security in the world, but if you’re sending messages to someone who doesn’t, you can still be spied on through their device or through their communications with other people (if they discuss the information you told them, for instance).

That’s why it’s important that we normalize good security practices: If you don’t have that much to be afraid of, it’s all the more important for you to pick up some of these tools, because doing that will normalize the actions of your friends who are, say, undocumented immigrants, or engaged in activism. Trump’s CIA Director thinks that using encryption “may itself be a red flag.” If you have “nothing to hide,” your use of encryption can actually help people at risk by obfuscating that red flag. By following this guide, you are making someone else safer. Think of it as herd immunity. The more people practice good security, the safer everyone else is.

The security tips provided earlier in this guide still apply: If you can protect yourself from getting hacked, you will have a better shot at preventing yourself from being surveilled (when it comes to surveilling iPhones, for instance governments often have few options besides hacking the devices). But tech tools don’t solve all problems. Governments have a weapon in their hands that criminal hackers do not: the power of the law. Many of the tips in this section of the guide will help you not only against legal requests and government hacking, but also against anyone else who may be trying to spy on you.

You don’t have to turn yourself into a security expert. Just start thinking about your risks, and don’t be intimidated by the technology. Security is an ongoing process of learning. Both the threats and the tools developed to address them are constantly changing, which is one of the reasons why privacy and security advice can often seem fickle and contradictory. But the tips below are a good starting point.

Jeong writes a great post but like most of you, what I need is a security cheat sheet so I start off everyday with the same standard security practices.

Read Jeong’s post but think about creating a personalized security cheat sheet that requires your initials at the start of each day and note any security fails on your part for that day.

At the end of each week, review your security fails for patterns and/or improvements.

What’s on your security cheat sheet?

New York Times (on Dark Web)

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

Have you tried the New York Times (Dark Web) Site Map? AKA spiderbites.nytimes3xbfgragh.onion

Navigation has the usual Tor overhead, but not bad unless you expect an instance response. 😉

What’s your experience like?

I first saw this in the Hunchly Daily Hidden Services Report for 2017-11-01.

Data Hoarding Journalists and Information Security

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

A Study of Technology in Newsrooms

From the post:

We face a global media landscape rife with both uncertainty and excitement. The need to understand this new digital era — and what it means for journalists — has never been more urgent. That’s why we at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) launched the first-ever global survey on the adoption of new technologies in news media.

More than 2,700 newsroom managers and journalists, from 130 countries, responded to our survey, which was conducted in 12 languages. Storyful, Google News Lab and SurveyMonkey supported the research. ICFJ worked with Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture, and Technology (CCT) program to administer and analyze the survey, conducted using SurveyMonkey.

One highlight from the report:

Perhaps data hoarding journalists aren’t as secure as they imagine.

Considering they are hoarding stolen data for their own benefit, what would be their complaint if the data was liberated from them?

I’ve heard the “we act in the public interest” argument but unless and until the public can compare the data to their reports, it’s hard to judge such claims.

Notice I said “the public” and not me. There are entire areas of no interest to me or in which I lack the skills to judge the evidence. Interests and skills possessed by other members of the public.

I’m not interested in access to hoarded information until everyone has access to the same information. To exclude anyone from access is to put them at a disadvantage in any ensuing discussion. I’m not willing to go there. Are you?

Human Trafficking Resources (@gijn)

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

The Global Investigative Journalism Network, @gijn, has created three guide for investigative reporters covering human trafficking:

  1. Human Trafficking Resources: Data.
  2. Human Trafficking Resources: Stories.
  3. Human Trafficking Resources: Best Practices in Reporting.

It’s a tough subject this close to the holidays but the victims of human traffickers don’t enjoy holidays, 365 days out of the year.

What I missed in “Best Practices” was mention of the use of data science to combat human trafficking.

On that score, a starter set of three resources:

Data science can help us fight human trafficking by Renata Konrad and Andrew C. Trapp.

Combating Human Trafficking Using Data Science (Booz Allen whitepaper)

How Data Analytics Is Helping to Fight Human Trafficking by Alex Woodie.

It’s unlikely that human traffickers are more cyber secure than your average corporation or government agency, so there is a role for hackers to breach information systems used by human traffickers.

If you have resources on human trafficking to suggest, contact @gijn.

New Maltese Investigative News Website – Security Suggestions

Friday, November 10th, 2017

Three Experienced Maltese Journalists Open Investigative News Website by Tim Diacono.

From the post:


“The vile execution of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is a wakeup call for civic action, to stop the greed and the rot and to assert the power of the pen over the might of criminals who want us to remain silent as they pile up their profits,” the journalists wrote in their first editorial. “It was nothing short of a declaration of war on our serenity and freedom to stand up to be counted.”

“We have come together to create The Shift months ago thinking that there could not have been a better time for a nonpartisan voice with a clear agenda for good governance, which speaks its truth to power respectfully but firmly, keeping a distance from economic and partisan agendas. We never could have anticipated that our country would descend into this nightmare,” they added.

“We have decided to take the plunge now because we also want to contribute to the civic awakening which followed the brutal elimination of a journalist who spoke her truths to power. We do not seek to step in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s shoes and our style and approach is very different. But we promise to honour the best part of her legacy, that of being a thorn in the side… of whoever is in power.”

To the extent The Shift can be “…a thorn in the side… of whoever is in power,” I’m all for it.

On the other hand, the organizers of The Shift should consider working with an umbrella organization that provides basic security.

The Shift organizers should retain their independence but among the more glaring flaws of their current site:

  1. http:// instead of https://
  2. No PGP key for encrypted email
  3. No secure drop box for leaks
  4. No advice on secure contacts
  5. Contact form requires name and email?
  6. … others I’m sure…

The Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) maintains a great list of Digital Security resources.

Even if someone else in your organization is tasked with digital security, have a nodding acquaintance with the GIJN resources and revisit them on a regular basis.

Don’t be a passive consumer of security services.

Passive consumers of security services are also known as “victims.”

Open Ownership Project

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Open Ownership Project

From about page:

OpenOwnership is driven by a steering group composed of leading transparency NGOs, including Global Witness, Open Contracting Partnership, Web Foundation, Transparency International, the ONE Campaign, and the B Team, as well as OpenCorporates.

OpenOwnership’s central goal is to build an open Global Beneficial Ownership Register, which will serve as an authoritative source of data about who owns companies, for the benefit of all. This data will be global and linked across jurisdictions, industries, and linkable to other datasets too.

Alongside the register, OpenOwnership is developing a universal and open data standard for beneficial ownership, providing a solid conceptual and practical foundation for collecting and publishing beneficial ownership data.

I first visited the Open Ownership Project site following two (of four) posts on verifying beneficial ownership.

What we really mean when we talk about verification (Part 1 of 4) by Zosia Sztykowski and Chris Taggart.

From the post:

This is the first of a series of blog posts in which we will discuss the critical but tricky issue of verification, particularly with respect to beneficial ownership.

‘Verification’ is frequently said to be a critical step in generating high-quality beneficial ownership information. What’s less clear is what is actually meant by verification, and what are the key factors in the process. In fact, verification is not one step, but three:

  1. Ensuring that the person making a statement about beneficial ownership is who they say they are, and that they have the right to make the claim (authentication and authorization);

  2. Ensuring that the data submitted is a legitimate possible value (validation);

  3. Verifying that the statement made is actually true (which we will call truth verification).

Another critical factor is whether these processes are done on individual filings, typically hand-written pieces of paper, or their PDF equivalents, or whole datasets of beneficial ownership data. While verification processes are possible on individual filings, this series will show that that public, digital, structured beneficial ownership data adds an additional layer of verification not possible with traditional filings.

Understanding precisely how verification takes place in the lifecycle of a beneficial ownership datum is an important step in knowing what beneficial ownership data can tell us about the world. Each of the stages above will be covered in more detail in this series, but let’s linger on the final one for a moment.

What we really mean when we talk about verification: Authentication & authorization (Part 2 of 4)

In the first post in this series on the principles of verification, particularly relating to beneficial ownership, we explained why there is no guarantee that any piece of beneficial ownership data is the absolute truth.

The data collected is still valuable, however, providing it is made available publicly as open data, as it exposes lies and half-truths to public scrutiny, raising red flags that indicate potential criminal or unethical activity.

We discussed a three-step process of verification:

  1. Ensuring that the person making a statement about beneficial ownership is who they say they are (authentication), and that they have the right to make the claim (authorization);

  2. Ensuring that the data submitted is a legitimate possible value (validation);

  3. Verifying that the statement made is actually true (which we will call truth verification).

In this blog post, we will discuss the first of these, focusing on how to tell who is actually making the claims, and whether they are authorized to do so.

When authentication and authorization have been done, you can approach the information with more confidence. Without them, you may have little better than anonymous statements. Critically, with them, you can also increase the risks for those who wish to hide their true identities and the nature of their control of companies.

Parts 3 and 4 are forthcoming (as of 9 November 2017).

A beta version of the Beneficial Ownership Data Standard (BODS) was released last April (2017). A general overview appeared in June, 2017: Introducing the Beneficial Ownership Data Standard.

Identity issues are rife in ownership data so when planning your volunteer activity for 2018, keep the Open Ownership project in mind.

The Great Wall of Journalistic Secrecy – Paradise Papers

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

At time mark 21:20, you learn the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is absolutely committed to being The Great Wall of Journalistic Secrecy between you and the Paradise Papers.

Even secrecy-before-effectiveness agencies of the U.S. government, the CIA, the FBI and the NSA, among others, pay more lip service to the idea of transparency than the ICIJ.

The ICIJ claim its secrecy protects the privacy of some while its members profit from violating the privacy of others, sounds more like the current US president than a credible news organization.

What were the conditions under which the ICIJ was entrusted with this leak? How are the interests of the leaker advanced by the ICIJ’s handling of this leak? Those are are only two questions the public will never have answered if the ICIJ has any say in the matter. Numerous others will occur to you.

Perhaps the ICIJ should have some preliminary period of exclusive access to the leaked materials, say 3 years from the first published report based on the leaked materials. But thirty-six months is more than long enough for the public to wait to confirm for itself the claims and stories published by ICIJ members.

If transparency is important for government, it is even more important for watchdogs of government.

Scoop Mainstream Media on “… 6 Russian Government Officials Involved In DNC Hack”

Friday, November 3rd, 2017

You have read US Identifies 6 Russian Government Officials Involved In DNC Hack or similar coverage on Russian “interference” with the 2016 presidential election.

Here’s your opportunity to scoop mainstream media on the identities of the “…6 Russian Government Officials Involved In DNC Hack.”

Resources to use:

Russian Political Directory 2017

The Russian Political Directory is the definitive guide to people in power throughout Russia. All the top decision-makers are included in this one-volume publication, which details hundreds of government ministries, departments, agencies, corporations and their connected bodies. The Directory is a trusted resource for studies and research in all matters of Russian government, politics and civil society activities. Government organization entries contain the names and titles of officials, postal and e-mail addresses, telephone, fax numbers plus an overview of their main activities.

Truly comprehensive in scope, and listing all federal and regional government ministries, departments, agencies, corporations and their connected bodies, this directory provides a uniquely comprehensive view of government activity.

For playing “…guess a possible defendant…,” $200 is a bit pricey but opening to a random page is a more principled approach than you will see from the Justice Department in its search for defendants.

If timeliness isn’t an issue, consider the Directory of Soviet Officials: Republic Organizations:

From the preface:

The Directory of Soviet Officials identifies individuals who hold positions in selected party, government, and public organizations of the USSR. It may be used to find the incumbents of given positions within an organization or the positions of given individuals. For some organizations, it serves as a guide to the internal structure of the organization.

This directory dates from 1987 but since Justice only needs Russian sounding names and not physical defendants, consider it a backup source for possible defendants.

For the absolute latest information, at least those listed, consider The Russian Government. The official site for the Russian government and about as dull as any website you are likely to encounter. Sorry, but that’s true.

Last but be no means least, check out Johnson’s Russia List, which is an enormous collection of resources on Russia. It has a 2001 listing of online databases for Russian personalities. It also has a wealth of Russian names for your defendant lottery list.

When Justice does randomly name some defendants, ask yourself and Justice:

  1. What witness statements or documents link this person to the alleged hacking?
  2. What witness statements or documents prove a direct order from Putin to a particular defendant?
  3. What witness statements or documents establish the DNC “hack?” (It may well have been a leak.)
  4. Can you independently verify the witness statements or documents?

Any evidence that cannot be disclosed because of national security considerations should be automatically excluded from your reporting. If you can’t verify it, then it’s not a fact. Right?

Justice won’t have any direct evidence on anyone they name or on Putin. It’s strains the imagination to think Russian security is that bad, assuming any hack took place at all.

No direct evidence means Justice is posturing for reasons best know to it. Don’t be a patsy of Justice, press for direct evidence, dates, documents, witnesses.

Or just randomly select six defendants and see if your random selection matches that of Justice.

Russians Influence 2017 World Series #Upsidasium (Fake News)

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Unnamed sources close to moose and squirrel, who are familiar with the evidence, say Russians are likely responsible for contamination of 2017 World Series baseballs with Upsidaisium. The existence and properties of Upsidaisium was documented in the early 1960s. This is the first known use of Upsidaisium to interfere with the World Series.

Sports Illustrated has photographic evidence that world series baseballs are “slicker” that a “normal” baseball, one sign of the use of Upsidaisium.

Unfortunately, Upsidaisim decays completely after the impact of being hit, into a substance indistinguishable from cowhide.

Should you obtain more unattributed statements from sources close to:

By Source, Fair use, Link

or,

By Source, Fair use, Link

Please add it in the comments below.

Thanks!

Journalists/Fake News hunters: Part truth, part fiction, just like reports of Russian “influence” (whatever the hell that means) in the 2016 presidential election and fears of Kasperkey Lab software.

Yes, Russia exists; yes, there was a 2016 presidential election; yes, Clinton is likely disliked by Putin, so do millions of others; yes, Wikileaks conducted a clever ad campaign with leaked emails, bolstered by major news outlets; but like Upsidaisim, there is no evidence tying Russians, much less Putin to anything to do with the 2016 election.

A lot of supposes, maybes and could have beens are reported, but no evidence. But US media outlets have kept repeating “Russia influenced the 2016” election until even reasonable people assume it is true.

Don’t do be complicit in that lie. Make #Upsidasium the marker for such fake news.