Disconnection from Reality 3

Few British institutions are as respected as the country’s health care provider, the National Health Service, and a pledge to divert money to it helped convince Britons to vote for withdrawal from the European Union.

But that claim was long ago debunked.... ...
That [popular support for the NHS] explains the potency of the pledge, made by Brexit supporters in a 2016 referendum, to divert 350 million pounds — $465 million — a week from Britain’s annual payments to the European Union to the health service. The figure (which was based on gross, rather than net, contributions to the organization) was later described by Britain’s statistics agency as “a clear misuse” of official data. ...
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, a highly regarded research institute, noted that the government had already accepted an analysis suggesting that Brexit would weaken public finances by about $20 billion a year. ...
“The Brexit dividend tosh was expected,” wrote Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the health and social care parliamentary select committee, on Twitter, “but treats the public as fools.”
- Stephen Castle, ‘Brexit Dividend’ for N.H.S.? British Leader Revives a Pledge, NYT, June 18, 2018

Simon Adler takes us down a technological rabbit hole of strangely contorted faces and words made out of thin air. And a wonderland full of computer scientists, journalists, and digital detectives forces us to rethink even the things we see with our very own eyes.
- Simon Adler, Breaking News, Radiolab, July 27, 2017

Adobe is in the early stages of developing its own program, called Adobe VoCo, which would be able to mimic someone's speech based on text. The company pitched it as Photoshop for audio. ...
"I don't think it's an overstatement to say that it is a potential threat to democracy," said Hany Farid, the chair of computer science at Dartmouth College.
- Tim Mak, Can You Believe Your Own Ears? With New 'Fake News' Tech, Not Necessarily, NPR, April 4, 2018

Using a tool like FakeApp (an app that uses deep learning to make face-swap videos), pretty much anyone can gather images and make a video without a lot of computational skill. Very swiftly we have moved from the crude superimposing of faces in movies and video games, to sophisticated AI tools that give the average citizen means for doctoring visual content, and limited help in discerning this doctored material.
In a world of fake news, anyone can write a story that seems reliable; soon generating fake videos will become as commonplace. ...
These technologies will become increasingly sophisticated over a very short period of time, making it more and more difficult for average consumers to be able to recognize deceptive tactics.

Nazism made things better for the people Mayer interviewed, not (as many think) because it restored some lost national pride but because it improved daily life. Germans had jobs and better housing. ... The blessings of the New Order, as it was called, seemed to be enjoyed by “everybody.”
Even in retrospect Mayer’s subjects liked and admired Hitler. They saw him as someone who had “a feeling for masses of people” and spoke directly in opposition to the Versailles Treaty, to unemployment—to all aspects of the existing order. They applauded Hitler for his rejection of “the whole pack”—“all the parliamentary politicians and all the parliamentary parties”—and for his “cleanup of moral degenerates.” The bank clerk described Hitler as “a spellbinder, a natural orator. I think he was carried away from truth, even from truth, by his passion. Even so, he always believed what he said.” ...
The killing of six million Jews? Fake news. Four of Mayer’s subjects insisted that the only Jews taken to concentration camps were traitors to Germany, and that the rest were permitted to leave with their property or its fair market value. The bill collector agreed that the killing of the Jews “was wrong, unless they committed treason in wartime. And of course they did.” He added that “some say it happened and some say it didn’t,” and that you “can show me pictures of skulls…but that doesn’t prove it.” In any case, “Hitler had nothing to do with it.” The tailor spoke similarly: “If it happened, it was wrong. But I don’t believe it happened.”
With evident fatigue, the baker reported, “One had no time to think. There was so much going on.” His account was similar to that of one of Mayer’s colleagues, a German philologist in the country at the time, who emphasized the devastatingly incremental nature of the descent into tyranny and said that “we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.” The philologist pointed to a regime bent on diverting its people through endless dramas (often involving real or imagined enemies), and “the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise.” In his account, “each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’” that people could no more see it “developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.”
- Cass R. Sunstein, It Can Happen Here, New York Review of Books, JUNE 28, 2018

Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!
- Donald Trump, quoted in Michael D. Shear and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Trump Derides Border Security, but Calls Plan to Add Immigration Judges ‘Crazy’, NYT, June 19, 2018

In March, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published a study showing that misinformation is endemic to Twitter. Falsehoods on the service “diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information,” they wrote.
- Farhad Manjoo, Employee Uprisings Sweep Many Tech Companies. Not Twitter., NYT, July 4, 2018

Yet the more I spoke to experts, the more convinced I became that propaganda bots on Twitter might be a growing and terrifying scourge on democracy. Research suggests that bots are ubiquitous on Twitter. Emilio Ferrara and Alessandro Bessi, researchers at the University of Southern California, found that about a fifth of the election-related conversation on Twitter last year was generated by bots. Most users were blind to them; they treated the bots the same way they treated other users. ...

Because they operate unseen, bots catalyze the news: They speed up the process of discovery and dissemination of particular stories, turning an unknown hashtag into the next big thing. A trending hashtag creates a trap for journalists who cover the internet: Even if they cover a conspiracy theory only to debunk it, they’re most likely playing into what the propagandists’ want.

Finally, in a more pernicious way, bots give us an easy way to doubt everything we see online. In the same way that the rise of “fake news” gives the president cover to label everything “fake news,” the rise of bots might soon allow us to dismiss any online enthusiasm as driven by automation. Anyone you don’t like could be a bot; any highly retweeted post could be puffed up by bots.
- Farhad Manjoo, How Twitter Is Being Gamed to Feed Misinformation, NYT, May 31, 2017

Britain is in this mess principally because the Brexiteers — led largely by Mr. Johnson — sold the country a series of lies in the lead up to the June 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union. ...
Because Mr. Johnson and Mr. Gove were confident that the Leave campaign was a hopeless cause, they were free to make ridiculous claims that they had no expectation of ever having to fulfill. They said that Brexit would make Britain both richer and more independent, with more money for the National Health Service, much greater control of immigration and continued friction-free trade with Europe.
Every earnest warning from the other side — about how any Brexit would damage trade, business and jobs — was dismissed airily by the Brexiteers. There were no costs or downsides in this vision of the future.
This casual dishonesty has had devastating consequences.

In the two years since the Leave campaign unexpectedly won, nobody, from the prime minister to Mr. Johnson to the Labour Party, has been able to come up with a plan for exiting the European Union that can satisfy both a majority in Parliament and the expectant public. Why? Because fulfilling the false promises peddled by Mr. Johnson during the campaign is impossible. ...
It is petrifying that the deliberate deceptions and wild ego of one man can so mislead a nation. (Americans know all about that.)
- Jenni Russell, Boris Johnson Has Ruined Britain, NYT, July 10, 2018

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