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Disconnection from Reality 5

Donald Trump was elected because Americans watch too much television. TV has sapped their imaginations and rotted their minds. They are no longer capable of critical thinking. They cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is illusion. Too many voters honestly believe that this con-man, this failed casino owner, this TV huckster will somehow "Make America Great Again."
- Jack Connolly, Shamokin, PA 9/6/19, Comment on James Poniewozik, The Real Donald Trump Is a Character on TV, NYT, Sept. 6, 2019


Being a reality star, on the other hand, as Donald Trump was on “The Apprentice,” is also a kind of performance, but one that’s antithetical to movie acting. Playing a character on reality TV means being yourself, but bigger and louder. ...
But the first mass-market reality TV star was Richard Hatch, the winner of the first season of “Survivor” — produced by Mark Burnett, the eventual impresario of “The Apprentice”— in the summer of 2000.
Mr. Hatch won that first season in much the way that Mr. Trump would run his 2016 campaign. He realized that the only rules were that there were no rules. He lied and backstabbed and took advantage of loopholes, and he argued — with a telegenic brashness — that this made him smart. This was a crooked game in a crooked world, he argued to a final jury of players he’d betrayed and deceived. But, hey: At least he was open about it! ...
Reality TV instead encourages “getting real.” On MTV’s progressive, diverse “Real World,” the phrase implied that people in the show were more authentic than characters on scripted TV — or even than real people in your own life, who were socially conditioned to “be polite.” But “getting real” would also resonate with a rising conservative notion: that political correctness kept people from saying what was really on their minds.
Being real is not the same thing as being honest. To be real is to be the most entertaining, provocative form of yourself. It is to say what you want, without caring whether your words are kind or responsible — or true — but only whether you want to say them. It is to foreground the parts of your personality (aggression, cockiness, prejudice) that will focus the red light on you, and unleash them like weapons.
- James Poniewozik, The Real Donald Trump Is a Character on TV, NYT, Sept. 6, 2019


Mr. Cummings proved that stories and lies, allied to strategic cunning, conviction, secrecy, ruthlessness and upending convention, could be much more appealing than reason and fact. Years of studying and writing obsessively about the art of strategy, the failings of most institutions and the success of revolutionary thinkers like Otto von Bismarck had paid off.
Now this single-minded insurgent is the most powerful individual in the British government, vaulted into Downing Street as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief strategic adviser. His job is to deliver Brexit and win Mr. Johnson five years more in office, making up for the prime minister’s deficiencies as a lazy, inattentive bumbler. Mr. Cummings is deploying all the techniques that have worked for him before: disruption, deception, intimidation and an implacable willingness to alienate people.
- Jenni Russell, The ‘Political Anarchist’ Behind Britain’s Chaos, NYT, Sept. 7, 2019


James Poniewozik’s analytic description of Donald Trump as a TV character was a gift to me. It relieves me of struggling to think of him as a person. But the article also helped expand my understanding of what I see as the surrender and dissipation of our national character and culture to superficial sensation over more rational and emotionally complex gratification.
- Kate McClintic, Comment on James Poniewozik, The Real Donald Trump Is a Character on TV, NYT, Sept. 6, 2019


Responding to accusations from Mr. Trump and his allies — even to deny them — only gives them oxygen.
- Lisa Lerer and Reid J. Epstein, Biden’s Strategy for Managing the Ukraine Story, NYT, Published Sept. 25, 2019, Updated Sept. 26, 2019


Responding to the trollish world of MAGA memes is a lot like arguing with a child. To engage at all is, in some way, to lose; no matter how righteous and warranted your outrage is, you’re pulled down to their level.
- Charlie Warzel, The Violent Trump Video Is Dumb, and That’s the Point, NYT, Oct. 14, 2019


In both business and politics, Trump has often depended on lies. When reality is inconvenient or threatening, he makes up his own version. It’s worked out quite well for him thus far.
- David Leonhardt, ‘Wow. This Letter Is Bananas.’, NYT, Oct. 9, 2019


As disturbing as these specific stories are, what filled me with a creeping sense of dread were the parts of “Antisocial” that incisively describe how a Darwinian information environment has degraded to the point where it now selects for people who can command the most attention with the fewest scruples. ...
Reporting, storytelling, analysis, fact-checking — skills that were previously central to journalism have, for a number of online outlets, taken a back seat to snappy headlines. A jovial and apolitical internet entrepreneur tells Marantz he is “passionate about virality” and seems agnostic about the specific content of any idea, preferring to discuss how best to “ram it into people’s skulls.”
You don’t have to be a lofty establishmentarian to wonder if this approach — a crass reductio ad absurdum of giving people what they want — has already affected our ability to reflect and to deliberate, starving certain cognitive functions while feeding the arousal impulses of our lizard brains.
- Jennifer Szalai, In ‘Antisocial,’ How the Alt-Right Went Viral, NYT, Oct. 7, 2019, updated Oct. 10, 2019


Both the Trump and Duterte campaigns wielded controversy to drive virality. On a platform like Facebook, designed to promote engagement, their behavior creates a vicious cycle: Incendiary content means more reach, which means more effective campaign ads. More effective campaign ads increase the likelihood a campaign will spend more on Facebook ads to fund-raise.
A natural Facebook candidate both dominates the news cycle and stokes emotions — which, in turn, increases that person’s ability to raise money. Once campaigns realize that divisive rhetoric pays, the incentive to up the ante with hyperpartisan ads and misinformation grows. And the campaigns have certainly taken notice. ...
Just as television favored a new brand of well-coiffed, charismatic and dynamic political figures, Facebook offers a disproportionate advantage to those most likely to stoke negative emotions.
- Charlie Warzel, Could Facebook Actually Nuke Elizabeth Warren’s Campaign?, NYT, Oct. 10, 2019


It was a vivid scene worthy of the ending of a Hollywood thriller, the image of a ruthless terrorist mastermind finally brought to justice “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way” to his death. But it may be no more true than a movie script. ...
That Mr. Trump seems to have made up the scene of a whimpering terrorist may be shocking on one level yet not all that surprising from a president who over the years has made a habit of inventing people who do not exist and events that did not happen. ...
In his announcement and subsequent question and answer session, he used the word “whimpering” six times, “crying” five times and “screaming” four times.
Mr. Trump’s account, aspects of which he repeated Friday evening at a rally in Tupelo, Miss., has left four-star generals in the awkward position of not confirming assertions they do not know to be true while trying not to contradict the president too overtly. ...
Mr. Trump has always had an active imagination, on matters large and small. While in business, he called reporters pretending to be a Trump spokesman named John Barron boasting about Mr. Trump in the third person. For years, he peddled the lie that Mr. Obama was born in Kenya instead of Hawaii and he claimed to see “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the fall of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, a claim that was thoroughly debunked.

Mr. Trump has long cited a friend named “Jim” who supposedly told him about the decline of Paris, but news organizations have failed to ever establish Jim’s existence. While president, Mr. Trump boasted that the chief of the Boy Scouts called him to praise his speech to its jamboree and asserted that the president of Mexico called to inform him about Mr. Trump’s successful border enforcement. The White House eventually admitted that neither call took place.

Mr. Trump’s misadventures with the truth have been tabulated by The Washington Post, which has counted more than 13,000 false or misleading statements since he took office. The public is no longer surprised. In March, just 19 percent of Americans said Mr. Trump always tells the truth, according to a Reuters poll, while 40 percent said he tells the truth only sometimes and 41 percent said he never tells the truth.
- Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt, The ‘Whimpering’ Terrorist Only Trump Seems to Have Heard, NYT, Published Nov. 1, 2019, Updated Nov. 2, 2019


Moscow has long used its intelligence agencies and propaganda machine to muddy the waters of public debate, casting doubts over established facts. In her testimony, Dr. Hill noted Russia’s pattern of trying to blame other countries for its own actions, like the attempted poisoning last year of a former Russian intelligence officer or the downing of a passenger jet over Ukraine in 2014. Moscow’s goal is to cast doubt on established facts, said current and former officials.

“The strategy is simply to create the impression that it is not really possible to know who was really behind it,” said Laura Rosenberger, the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which tracks Russian disinformation efforts. ...

“These people are pros at this,” said Mr. King, who caucuses with the Democrats. “The Soviet Union used disinformation for 70 years. This is nothing new. Vladimir Putin is a former K.G.B. agent. He is trained in deception. This is his stock and trade and he is doing it well.”

- Julian E. Barnes and Matthew Rosenberg, Charges of Ukrainian Meddling? A Russian Operation, U.S. Intelligence Says, NYT, Nov. 22, 2019


To undermine the well-established fact that Russia corrupted the 2016 vote to help him win, Mr. Trump and his allies have tried to build a fiction that pins those crimes on Ukraine.

In so doing, he has confirmed our darkest fears. The president’s bid to solicit foreign help to impugn a domestic political rival in 2019 should wipe away any doubts about his willingness to do the same with Russian help in 2016. ...
Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer and the main stirrer of the conspiracy pot in Ukraine, cooked up a fresh fabrication just this week, telling Glenn Beck on his TV program that he had “very strong evidence that a lot of the Steele dossier was produced in Ukraine” and that “Glenn Simpson spent a fair amount of time there during the time that the dossier was being written.”

By sheer coincidence, one of us — the aforementioned Mr. Simpson — found himself on a plane from New York to Washington with Mr. Giuliani just hours later, and he couldn’t resist confronting the former New York mayor about his claim after they landed.

“I understand you think I spent a lot of time in Ukraine?” Mr. Simpson inquired.

“You did spend some time in Ukraine,” Mr. Giuliani replied.

“Did I?” Mr. Simpson asked as he waved his phone in front of Mr. Giuliani, signaling that he was recording the encounter.

“What if I told you I have never been to Ukraine in my life?”

“Well,” Mr. Giuliani replied with equanimity, “O.K. I will find out if that’s true or not.”
- Glenn R. Simpson and Peter Fritsch, The Double-Barreled Dream World of Trump and His Enablers, NYT, Nov. 22, 2019


In time, he reached a conclusion similar to one reached by the young Macedonians in 2016. They discovered they could make tenfold their country’s average monthly salary using Google AdSense’s pay-per-click ads next to inflammatory stories aimed at pro-Trump American audiences.

In the final weeks of the presidential campaign, Buzzfeed found more than 100 Macedonian pro-Trump websites that pumped out false and inflammatory stories.
- Nicole Perlroth, A Former Fox News Executive Divides Americans Using Russian Tactics, NYT, Nov. 21, 2019


Yesterday, President Trump signed the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin Act. The effect of this law is self-explanatory — it creates a coin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, ratifying women’s suffrage. Or, at least, it is self-explanatory to everybody except Donald Trump, who was mystified as to why the 100th anniversary was not recognized earlier.

After working his way through the prepared remarks, Trump interjected with his own riff. “They’ve been working on this for years and years,” he said, suddenly wondering, “And I’m curious, why wasn’t it done a long time ago, and also — well, I guess the answer to that is because now I’m president, and we get things done. We get a lot of things done that nobody else got done.”
- Jonathan Chait, Trump: Why Wasn’t 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage Observed ‘Years Ago?’, New York Magazine, 11/26/2019


But while online reviews have become powerful sales tools, the ecosystem is relatively crude. Reviews can be easy to manipulate, and the operators of sites with the most reviews are not always motivated to crack down on fake ones planted to promote products. That leaves many consumers wondering what to believe. ...
The state of the system was highlighted last month in a proposed settlement between Sunday Riley Skincare, a popular seller of items like $55 night oils and $85 brightening serums, and the Federal Trade Commission, which found that the company had posted fake reviews of its products on Sephora’s website for years. Allegations that the brand directed employees to write fake reviews emerged on Reddit last year, but the F.T.C. complaint was far more detailed and said the company’s chief executive, Sunday Riley, had been directly involved in the scheme.

The complaint included a July 2016 email from Ms. Riley that told employees to create three Sephora accounts each with different personas and Gmail addresses. In addition to posting praise, she wrote, employees should “dislike” negative reviews.

“After enough dislikes, it is removed,” she added. “This directly translates to sales!!”

Ms. Riley said she was disappointed that the brand’s Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream and Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment were rated 4.2 out of 5, and wanted at least a 4.8.

“Make sure to NOT compare the product to other products, to not use foul language, and to be very enthusiastic without looking like a plant,” she wrote. “Leave a review for a different product every day so you build up history.”
- Sapna Maheshwari, When Is a Star Not Always a Star? When It’s an Online Review, NYT, Nov. 28, 2019


Pity British voters because they are being subjected to a barrage of distortion, dissembling and disinformation without precedent in the country’s history. Long sentimentalized as the home of “fair play,” Britain is now host to the virus of lies, deception and digital skulduggery that afflicts many other countries across the world.

In this as in other respects, Prime Minister Boris Johnson — a serial liar who lost his first job as a journalist for inventing quotes — resembles President Trump. And Britain, whose election is breaking down under the pressure of manipulation, increasingly looks like the United States. ...
As a result, the British electorate is dazed and weary. Arguably the most significant election in a generation — to Brexit or not to Brexit? — has been reduced to social media sound bites designed by well-paid political consultants. It doesn’t matter whether the message is false; all that matters is that it is repeated often enough.
- Peter Geoghegan and Mary Fitzgerald, Britain’s Dirty Election, NYT, Nov. 29, 2019


Jones, the Trump-endorsed proprietor of the conspiracy-mongering Infowars media empire, is being sued for defamation by 10 families of children who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. That mass shooting, Jones maintained until recently, was a hoax, perpetrated with the connivance of the victims’ parents — many of whom have found themselves harassed, threatened and in some cases hounded from their homes by believers in this conspiracy theory.
- Charles Homans, Alex Jones Under Oath Is an Antidote to a ‘Post-Truth’ Age, NYT, April 17, 2019


Speaking the truth, or accepting it when they hear it, is a skill that has become increasingly foreign to Republicans.
- Jesse Wegman, With Trump, All Roads Lead to Moscow, NYT, Dec. 9, 2019


“The story of the past half-century is the steady degradation of trust in the institutions and gatekeepers of American life,” said Ben Domenech, the founder of The Federalist, a conservative news site. “Everything from politics to faith to sports has been revealed as corrupted or corruptible. And every mismanaged war, failed hurricane response, botched investigation and doping scandal furthers this view.” ...
...other surveys showed a crisis among everyday people distinguishing fact from fiction in public life. Nearly two-thirds of Americans in a poll released last month by The Associated Press, the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and USAFacts said they often came across one-sided information, and 47 percent said they had difficulty knowing if the information were true. ...
As Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, who was an adviser on Afghanistan to Mr. Bush and President Barack Obama, admitted in a secret interview included in the documents, “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing.” But neither administration admitted that to the public. John F. Sopko, the head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, told The Post that the documents showed “the American people have constantly been lied to.” ...
Mr. Trump is hardly the first dissembler in the White House. Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon were famously talented liars, and Bill Clinton was the first president ever found by a court to have testified falsely under oath. But what Mr. Trump lacks in finesse, he makes up in volume. The Post’s fact-checking unit counted more than 13,000 false or misleading statements by Mr. Trump as of October.

The trials of truth have been a consistent theme of his presidency since its first day when he overstated his inaugural crowd size and within days falsely claimed that at least three million immigrants voted illegally against him, costing him the popular vote.

The culture of dishonesty has resulted in multiple people once in his inner circle pleading guilty or being convicted of lying to the authorities, including his onetime national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn; his former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen; several campaign aides; and most recently, his longtime associate and sometime adviser Roger J. Stone Jr., who was found guilty last month in a courthouse just across from the Capitol.
- Peter Baker, Lies, Damned Lies and Washington, NYT, Dec. 9, 2019


“Volcker’s mantra, one he told me again and again through 2008-9, was that in a crisis the only asset you have is your credibility,” Austan Goolsbee, an economist at the University of Chicago’s Booth School and a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, tweeted. ...
“We’re in a hell of a mess in every direction,” he said. “Respect for government, respect for the Supreme Court, respect for the president, it’s all gone.”
- The Legacy of Paul Volcker, Dealbook, NYT, Dec. 10, 2019


The old assumptions — that truth matters, that lies shame the liar, that in a democracy the press and the public must have a right to interrogate those who seek the top jobs — have all been swept aside by the Tories’ conviction that in an inattentive, dissatisfied, cacophonous world, victory will go to the most compelling entertainer, the most plausible and shameless deceiver, the leader who can drill home a repetitive and seductive incantation. Facts and details will be irrelevant so long as voters feel a politician is on their side.
- Jenni Russell, Britain’s Miserable Election, NYT, Dec. 11, 2019


Iran’s information and telecommunications minister, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, described the breach as data theft by a disgruntled contractor who had access to the accounts and had exposed them as part of an extortion attempt. He denied the banking system’s computers had been hacked.

But outside cyberexperts disputed that claim. They also said a breach of such magnitude was likely the work of a state entity aiming to stoke instability, not criminals whose objective is blackmail for financial gain.
Iran has been engaged in a cycle of hack and counterhack in a cyberwar against the United States and Israel. Both sides have targeted each other’s financial and sensitive government institutions through cyberattacks for years.

The banks affected — Mellat, Tejarat and Sarmayeh — had all been sanctioned more than a year ago by the United States Treasury, which accused them of having transferred money on behalf of blacklisted entities.... ...
Analysts monitoring Iran said that regardless of who was responsible, the breach created another financial challenge for the Islamic Republic as it struggles to manage tough economic sanctions imposed by the United States, as well as unrest at home and a political backlash in the region over Iran’s influence.
- Farnaz Fassihi and Ronen Bergman, Iran Banks Burned, Then Customer Accounts Were Exposed Online, NYT, Dec. 10, 2019


“Today, we may be witnessing a collision between the power of a remedy meant to curb presidential misconduct and the power of faction determined to defend against the use of that remedy on a president of the same party,” Mr. Schiff wrote. “But perhaps even more corrosive to our democratic system of governance, the president and his allies are making a comprehensive attack on the very idea of fact and truth.”
- Michael D. Shear and Nicholas Fandos, Impeachment Report Says Trump Solicited Foreign Election Interference, NYT, Published Dec. 3, 2019, Updated Dec. 13, 2019


Pity British voters because they are being subjected to a barrage of distortion, dissembling and disinformation without precedent in the country’s history. Long sentimentalized as the home of “fair play,” Britain is now host to the virus of lies, deception and digital skulduggery that afflicts many other countries across the world.

In this as in other respects, Mr. Johnson — a serial liar who lost his first job as a journalist for inventing quotes — resembles President Trump. And Britain, whose election is breaking down under the pressure of manipulation, increasingly looks like the United States. Truth and falsehood have become malleable concepts. Anything goes. ...
A party release that claimed that Labour’s spending plans would cost £1.2 trillion ($1.6 trillion) was widely reported as fact, despite the lack of any evidence. Even criticisms of such false claims serve to amplify the original message. ...
Arguably the most significant election in a generation — to Brexit or not to Brexit? — has been reduced to social media sound bites devised by well-paid political consultants. It doesn’t matter whether the message is false; all that matters is that it is repeated often enough.
- Peter Geoghegan and Mary Fitzgerald, Britain’s Dirty Election, NYT, Nov. 29, 2019


President Trump has made full use of the demagogic playbook. He has refused all cooperation with the House. He lies repeatedly about the facts, holds public rallies to spread these falsehoods and attacks the credibility, motives and even patriotism of witnesses. His mode of “argument” is purely assaultive. This is the crux of the Trump defense, and not an argument built on facts.... ...
Mr. Trump has instead described Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, as a “corrupt” politician who shares with other “human scum” the objective of running the “most unfair hearings in American history.”
- Bob Bauer, Trump Is the Founders’ Worst Nightmare, NYT, Dec. 2, 2019


As Sacha Baron Cohen, the British actor, said last month of the social media behemoths: “The truth is that these companies won’t fundamentally change because their entire business model relies on generating more engagement, and nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear and outrage.”

That’s the story of Brexit, a national tragedy. That’s the story of Johnson, the man of no convictions. That’s the story of Trump, who makes puppets of people through manipulation of outrage and disregard for truth. That’s the story of our times.
- Sacha Baron Cohen, quoted in Roger Cohen, Boris Johnson and the Coming Trump Victory in 2020, NYT, Dec. 13, 2019 [Sacha Cohen video is at https://www.facebook.com/NowThisNews/videos/435335690488589/. More precisely, what he says, at 3:58, is “The truth is, these companies won’t fundamentally change because their entire business model relies on generating more engagement, and nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear and outrage.”]


With the stunning and sad “Afghanistan Papers,” The Washington Post revealed what we knew in our hearts: We have spent 18 years and a trillion dollars in Afghanistan, with generals lying and hiding evidence that the war was unwinnable, just as the generals did in Vietnam. As one general conceded, they did not understand Afghanistan and didn’t have “the foggiest notion” of what they were doing.
- Maureen Dowd, Trump’s Bad. Sadly, He’s Not Alone., NYT, Dec. 14, 2019


On Instagram, I create tons of boards of different things I come across on the Explore tab that I think are interesting. I have several Instagram accounts just for lurking. On YouTube I watch a lot of YouTuber vlogs, recap shows including Philip DeFranco’s and drama/tea channels to keep up with the stuff people are talking about.
I’m in a lot of Telegram groups and Discord servers for different meme pages and influencers. I also spend time in Facebook groups about celebrity news and pop culture. ...
What do you do with TikTok?

Honestly, the videos on there are hilarious and super addicting. What you do is essentially sit and watch an endless stream of entertaining videos until you get tired. TikTok also has commenting, messaging and live streaming, so you can engage in those aspects of the app as well.

Part of what makes TikTok so compelling is the “For You” page, which the app opens on. TikTok uses artificial intelligence to anticipate what type of videos you’re most likely to engage with, and feeds you a steady stream of that content. This technology has been so effective that the app’s owner, Bytedance, a Chinese tech conglomerate, was forced to introduce anti-addiction measures in the Chinese version of the app. ...
I did recently re-buy an old-school Tamagotchi. I kind of wanted to take care of something and I can’t get a pet, so I raised a couple of little Tamagotchi animals for a few weeks, which was fun. I feel like there’s a big trend around nostalgia tech right now. I got the idea to buy a Tamagotchi from YouTube.

Aside from that, I don’t really use tech if I’m fully off the clock. I like to spend time outside or watching horror movies. I watch three or four horror movies a week, and I love Shudder, which is like a horror-only Netflix. It’s pretty much the only time I don’t check my phone.
- Taylor Lorenz, This Is Not About How Young People Use Tech, interviewed in TECH WE’RE USING, NYT, Dec. 11, 2019


Though each individual’s story has its own unique turns, there are some common points that have to do with how social media can amplify certain elements of human nature.

Facebook’s news feed, for instance, runs on an algorithm that promotes whatever content wins the most engagement. Studies find that negative, primal emotions — fear, anger — draw the most engagement. So posts that provoke those emotions rise naturally.

Tribalism — a universal human tendency — also draws heavy engagement. Posts that affirm your group identity by attacking another group tend to perform well.

Finally, social media platforms use color and sound to reward engagement, which humans naturally seek out. Comments and likes are presented like a set of diamonds clicking into place on a slot machine. That delivers a little dopamine boost, training you to repeat whatever behavior wins the most engagement. ...
This dynamic, far from unique to developing countries, bears similarities to the rise of the “alt-right” movement in the United States. Elements of that movement first gained prominence among young people — mostly men — on sites like Facebook and Reddit, which is also driven by an algorithm meant to surface the most engaging content. ...
... Jessie Daniels, a sociologist at Hunter College. Algorithm-driven platforms, she wrote, “amplify and systematically move white supremacist talking points into the mainstream.”
Studies have found that people tend to shut out ideas when they believe society has deemed them extreme. But they become much more open to ideas that they believe are considered mainstream. ...
This leads to an ideological flattening. To the algorithm, the content of an idea is irrelevant. Whether it’s extremist or mainstream doesn’t matter; only its ability to draw engagement counts.
In 2014 and 2015, for instance, critical masses of users on Reddit promoted hate against feminists and against people they deemed overweight. Such ideas can naturally proliferate on social media algorithms, by indulging anger against vulnerable targets and us-versus-them tribalism.

Once those ideas had popped to the top of the user-driven algorithm a few times, they quickly became perceived as mainstream and were adopted — and even angrily defended — by much of the site, which is one of the most widely used on the internet. Many users pushed that extremism into the real world, harassing their targets on and offline.
Anyone who regularly uses Twitter will recognize the way that it inadvertently trains users — by providing bursts of affirmation when a post goes viral — to win plaudits from fellow travelers by putting down users on the other side of any argument and, if no such argument exists, to start one. It is akin to Facebook’s inadvertent promotion of anger and tribalism with a less active algorithm but on a far larger scale. ...
Like in Sri Lanka, that can have real-world consequences, albeit more subtle ones, by deepening the social and political polarization that is one of American democracy’s toughest problems at the moment.

And by contributing to the sense that every issue is just a way to keep score in a zero-sum game between political tribes, that dynamic can make serious problems more difficult to solve.
- Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, How Everyday Social Media Users Become Real-World Extremists, NYT, April 25, 2018


“Trump’s self-absorption is total,” he [Richard Patterson] wrote recently. “His inability to accurately perceive external reality is profound.
- Sarah Lyall, How Trump Made a Writer of Thrillers Stick to Facts, NYT, Dec. 21, 2019


Yet Russia has become a lodestar for autocrats and aspiring autocrats around the world, a pioneer of the media and other tools — known in Russia as “political technologies” — that these leaders now deploy, with or without Moscow’s help, to disrupt a world order once dominated by the United States. These include the propagation of fake or at least highly misleading news; the masking of simple facts with complicated conspiracy theories; and denunciations of political rivals as traitors or, in a term President Trump borrowed from Stalin, “enemies of the people.” ...
Heartened by the shifting winds in Russia’s direction, and his own, in an interview with The Financial Times, he [Putin] pronounced dead the West’s governing creed since the end of World War II. The ideology of liberal democracy, he said, “has outlived its purpose.”
- Andrew Higgins, Putin’s Russia, Punching Above Its Weight, Keeps Adversaries Off Balance, NYT, Dec. 23, 2019


The latest results, from this month, found that 40 percent of regular fliers said they would be unwilling to fly on the Max.

So, in a series of conference calls with airlines and in 40 pages of accompanying presentation materials that were reviewed by The New York Times, Boeing laid out strategies for airlines to help win back the public’s trust and convince travelers that the company’s most popular plane is safe. ...
“Every interaction with an anxious passenger, whether face-to-face or online, is an opportunity to demonstrate our care and concern,” the presentation said. “This is as simple as recognition of a passenger’s state of mind. Research shows that emotions drive decision-making, so a human connection will be more effective than rational appeals.”
- David Gelles, Boeing Can’t Fly Its 737 Max, but It’s Ready to Sell Its Safety, NYT, Dec. 24, 2019


At heart, however, the continued skepticism about climate change is a repudiation of global and empirical thought. Hostility toward science is on the rise. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a trained quantum chemist, recently warned that Western societies are faced with a “post-fact world” in which emotions and ideology threaten to suppress scientific knowledge and evidence. ...
But if the current wave of “post-truth” and “post-fact” ideology grows larger, not only climate science, but all of science, might be next in line to be charged by the extreme-right with systematic lying. Climate change denialism might only be the beginning of a much broader development toward a post-empirical world dominated by pure ideology. ...
The question is whether the future will be shaped by empiricism and empathy along the lines of Alexander von Humboldt’s ecological humanism, or whether modern ideologies of egotism and hatred will prevail.
- CHRISTIAN SCHWÄGERL, How the Attack on Science Is Becoming a Global Contagion, Yale Environment 360, OCTOBER 3, 2016


“Influencers” replaced experts, scientists and scholars; memes and misinformation started to displace facts. As the news cycle spun faster and faster, our brains struggled to cope with the flood of data and distraction that endlessly spilled from our phones. And in an era of data overload and short attention spans, it’s not the most reliable, trustworthy material that goes viral — it’s the loudest voices, the angriest, most outrageous posts that get clicked and shared.

Without reliable information, citizens cannot make informed decisions about the issues of the day, and we cannot hold politicians to account. Without commonly agreed upon facts, we cannot have reasoned debates with other voters and instead become susceptible to the fear-mongering of demagogues. When politicians constantly lie, overwhelming and exhausting us while insinuating that everyone is dishonest and corrupt, the danger is that we grow so weary and cynical that we withdraw from civic engagement.

- Michiko Kakutani, The 2010s Were the End of Normal, NYT, DEC. 27, 2019


Mr. Bolton said earlier this month that he would be willing to bypass the courts and quickly testify at the trial if subpoenaed. But when the House requested his appearance last fall during its impeachment inquiry and threatened a subpoena, his lawyer privately informed the committee that he would go to court rather than outright agree to testify — opening a legal fight that could have taken months or longer to sort out. ...
''“The Democrat controlled House never even asked John Bolton to testify,” he incorrectly asserted on Twitter. “It is up to them, not up to the Senate!”
- Nicholas Fandos, Could the House call Bolton itself? Yes, but Democrats want to wait., NYT, 1/27/20 at about 8:00 AM PST (the post changed soon after). See also QUINT FORGEY, Trump denies explosive new Bolton allegations, Politico, 01/27/2020 and Eileen Sullivan, Trump Denies Telling Bolton That Ukraine’s Aid Depended on Biden Investigations, NYT, Jan. 27, 2020, which notes:
Mr. Trump also falsely claimed that his White House released the critical military aid to Ukraine ahead of schedule.


In the interview, the president reiterated a false claim he had sent in a late-night tweet: that Mr. Bloomberg had demanded a box to stand on should he participate in a Democratic candidates’ debate.
“You know, now he wants a box for the debates to stand on. O.K., it’s O.K., there’s nothing wrong,” Mr. Trump said. “You can be short. Why should he get a box to stand on, O.K.? He wants a box for the debates. Why should he be entitled to that? Really. Does that mean everyone else gets a box?”
Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign spokeswoman, Julie Wood, did not hold anything back in her response. “The president is lying,” she said. “He is a pathological liar who lies about everything....
- Katie Rogers, Impeachment All but Behind Him, Trump Celebrates and Keeps Focus on Bloomberg, NYT, Feb. 2, 2020


Secretary of State Colin Powell’s now-notorious United Nations speech on Feb. 5, 2003 — when he argued that Saddam Hussein’s regime had developed weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent threat — assuaged any reservations I might have had. “Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources,” he said. “These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” There was no more trustworthy spokesman, I thought at the time.
- J.D. Maddox, The Day I Realized I Would Never Find Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, NYT, Jan. 29, 2020


The F.B.I. cited QAnon in an intelligence bulletin last May about the potential for violence motivated by “fringe political conspiracy theories.”

Matthew Lusk, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary for a Florida congressional seat and openly embraces QAnon, said in an email that its anonymous creator was a patriot who “brings what the fake news will not touch without slanting.” As for the theory’s more extreme elements, Mr. Lusk said he was uncertain whether there really was a pedophile ring associated with the deep state.

“That being said,” he added, “I do believe there is a group in Brussels, Belgium, that do eat aborted babies.”

The seepage of conspiracy theorizing from the digital fever swamps into life offline is one of the more unsettling developments of the Trump era, in which the president has relentlessly pushed groundless conspiracies to reshape political narratives to his liking. In promoting fringe ideas about deep state schemes, Mr. Trump has at times elevated and encouraged QAnon followers — recirculating their posts on Twitter, posing with one for a photograph in the Oval Office, inviting some to a White House “social media summit.” Recently, during a daylong Twitter binge, Mr. Trump retweeted more than 20 posts from accounts that had trafficked in QAnon material.
- Mike McIntire and Kevin Roose, What Happens When QAnon Seeps From the Web to the Offline World, NYT, Feb. 9, 2020, updated Feb. 10, 2020


The disagreements delayed approval of Iowa’s caucus plan until late September. The state would use remote “satellite caucuses” to allow Iowans who could not make it to their precinct caucus sites to participate, and a smartphone app for precinct leaders to report results.
One man would oversee all of it.

Mr. Price, 39, a lifelong Iowan who became chairman of the state Democratic Party in July 2017, had a sterling resume. He had been an aide to two former Iowa governors and a top figure in both President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign in the state and in Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 run. ...
At an August news conference, Mr. Price projected total confidence.

“Just know this,” he said, gesturing with a pointed finger for emphasis. “On Feb. 3 of 2020, caucuses will take place in this state. We will be first. And they will be, without a doubt, the most successful caucuses in our party’s history.”
- Reid J. Epstein, Sydney Ember, Trip Gabriel and Mike Baker, How the Iowa Caucuses Became an Epic Fiasco for Democrats, NYT, Published Feb. 9, 2020, Updated Feb. 11, 2020


At a Friday news conference at the C.D.C., Trump told reporters that tests for the coronavirus were now available to anyone who needed one. Yet just afterward, we heard from governor after governor and doctor after doctor that this is categorically untrue, with states in dire need of more tests. “We have no local testing available,” Dr. Walter Mills, president of the California Academy of Family Physicians, told The San Jose Mercury News.
- Jennifer Senior, President Trump Is Unfit for This Crisis. Period., NYT, March 9, 2020


A Reuters poll last week found that roughly four in 10 Democrats believed the coronavirus was an imminent threat — but only two in 10 Republicans felt the same way.
- Jeremy W. Peters and Michael M. Grynbaum, How Right-Wing Pundits Are Covering Coronavirus, NYT, Published March 11, 2020, Updated March 12, 2020


“We’re prepared and we’re doing a great job with it,” Trump told reporters Tuesday. “And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” ...
Last week, in response to a question by a reporter, Trump said he didn’t see an immediate need to declare an emergency.

"I don't think you'll need that, because I really think we're in extremely good shape," he said. "We're prepared for anything. And we can always do that at a later date if we need it."
- ANITA KUMAR, Trump fears emergency declaration would contradict coronavirus message, Politico, 03/11/2020, Updated: 03/11/2020


On Jan 30, during a speech in Michigan, he said: “We have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five. And those people are all recuperating successfully.” ...

On Feb. 19, he told a Phoenix television station, “I think the numbers are going to get progressively better as we go along.” Four days later, he pronounced the situation “very much under control,” ...
He said at a South Carolina rally — falsely — that “the Democrat policy of open borders” had brought the virus into the country. He lashed out at “Do Nothing Democrat comrades.” He tweeted about “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer,” mocking Schumer for arguing that Trump should be more aggressive in fighting the virus. The next week, Trump would blame an Obama administration regulation for slowing the production of test kits. There was no truth to the charge.

Throughout late February, Trump also continued to claim the situation was improving. On Feb. 26, he said: “We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.” On Feb. 27, he predicted: “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” On Feb. 29, he said a vaccine would be available “very quickly” and “very rapidly” and praised his administration’s actions as “the most aggressive taken by any country.” None of these claims were true. ...
“We’re talking about a much smaller range” of deaths than from the flu, he said on March 2. “It’s very mild,” he told Hannity on March 4. On March 7, he said, “I’m not concerned at all.” On March 10, he promised: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
The first part of March was also when more people began to understand that the United States had fallen behind on testing, and Trump administration officials responded with untruths.

Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services, told ABC, “There is no testing kit shortage, nor has there ever been.” Trump, while touring the C.D.C. on March 6, said, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.”

That C.D.C. tour was a microcosm of Trump’s entire approach to the crisis. While speaking on camera, he made statements that were outright wrong, like the testing claim. He brought up issues that had nothing to do with the virus, like his impeachment. He made clear that he cared more about his image than about people’s well-being, by explaining that he favored leaving infected passengers on a cruise ship so they wouldn’t increase the official number of American cases.
- David Leonhardt, A Complete List of Trump’s Attempts to Play Down Coronavirus, NYT, March 15, 2020


“I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic,” Mr. Trump told reporters.

Here is what Mr. Trump actually said from the beginning of the pandemic.

Jan. 22, asked on CNBC whether he was concerned about a global pandemic: “No, not at all,’’ Mr. Trump said. “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

Feb. 26, at a White House news conference, about the number of reported cases of the virus: “We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.”

Feb. 27, at a White House meeting: “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”

March 7, seated next to President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach, Fla., club: “I’m not concerned at all.”
- Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman, Trump Now Claims He Always Knew the Coronavirus Would Be a Pandemic, NYT, March 17, 2020


President Donald Trump claimed on Tuesday he has believed the coronavirus outbreak was “a pandemic, long before it was called a pandemic” ["This is a pandemic. I've felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic. ... I've always viewed it as very serious."]— but in January, he explicitly played down concerns when asked about it.

“No, not at all,” Trump told CNBC in a Jan. 22 interview on CNBC when “Squawk Box” co-host Joe Kernen asked him if there were worries about an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China becoming a “pandemic.”
- Dan Mangan, Trump dismissed coronavirus pandemic worry in January — now claims he long warned about it, CNBC, MAR 17 2020


The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
- Donald Trump on Twitter, Nov 6, 2012


''To date, Mexico has 475 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 6 deaths. Despite the rapidly expanding spread of the virus in the country, President López Obrador refuses to follow public health advice and is failing to provide accurate information to the public about the severity of the problem. He has directly contradicted the recommendations of health authorities, encouraging Mexicans to continue going out in public while health officials ask Mexicans to stay at home. He has also continued to hold rallies and attend events across the country, hugging, kissing, and shaking hands with supporters despite recommendations to avoid crowds and close contact.


“President López Obrador’s behavior in the face of the COVID-19 crisis is a profoundly dangerous example that threatens Mexicans’ health,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “He has shown outrageous unwillingness to provide accurate and evidence-based information about the risks of a virus that has already killed thousands of people worldwide. He needs to take this issue seriously for the sake of the health and lives of the Mexican people.”''

At the end of February 2020, when the Mexican government confirmed the first case of COVID-19, and the danger of the virus was already well understood, President López Obrador blatantly misinformed the Mexican public, saying “According to the information available, it is not terrible or fatal. It is not even as bad as the flu.”

The following week, when health officials had begun warning Mexicans to take precautions to protect against the virus, President López Obrador directly contradicted them, saying “there are those who say we should stop hugging because of coronavirus. But we should hug. Nothing will happen.”

As recently as Monday, when many state and local governments had begun implementing measures closing public gathering places like bars, restaurants, and cinemas, and urging residents to remain at home when possible, President López Obrador tweeted a video encouraging Mexicans to go out to restaurants, saying “If you have the means to do it, continue taking your family out to restaurants and diners. That’s what will strengthen the economy.”
- Mexico: Mexicans Need Accurate COVID-19 Information, Human Rights Watch, March 26, 2020


Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York says his state needs tens of thousands of ventilators to respond to the escalating coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump doesn’t believe him. ...
“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” he said. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now, all of a sudden, they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”
- QUINT FORGEY and MATTHEW CHOI, Trump downplays need for ventilators as New York begs to differ, Politico, 03/26/2020, Updated: 03/27/2020


“That statement was made that they’ve been delivering for years, 10 to 20,000 masks,” Trump said. “Okay, it’s a New York hospital. Very — it’s packed all the time. How do you go from 10 to 20, to 300,000? 10 to 20,000 masks to 300,000?”

The answer is that there is a great need for masks at the moment. Beyond the surging number of patients hospitals are seeing, best practices also dictate those who interact with patients infected with Covid-19 dispose of all the personal protective equipment (PPE) they are wearing during that interaction — masks included.

Given the shortage of PPE, however, medical professionals have begun to disregard those practices, using sterilization techniques and other methods to extend the life of their gear. But even with those measures, there is not enough PPE to go around. But rather than empathize with that distressing scenario, Trump suggested Sunday that the shortage has some sinister origins:

Something is going on, and you ought to look into it as reporters. Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000? And we have that in a lot of different places. So, somebody should probably look into that, because I just don’t see, from a practical standpoint, how that’s possible to go from that to that. And we have that happening in numerous places — not to that extent; that was the highest number I’ve heard.

To make sure he was understood, the president later underscored his claim by saying, “I don’t think it’s hoarding ... I think maybe it’s worse than hoarding.”
- Sean Collins, Trump could help solve the mask problem. Instead he’s making baseless attacks on New York nurses., Vox, Mar 30, 2020





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