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There were so many insights on coronavirus last week that I couldn’t fit them all in.

On Friday, I summarised Michael P Senger’s article about China’s role in the coronavirus crisis.

More information follows:

Rather sagely, a lady replied:

As did another:

The day before, there was the confession from a Facebook whistleblower about online political persuasion:

The article, dated September 14, features quotes from former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang.

The article states (emphases mine):

The 6,600-word memo, written by former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang, is filled with concrete examples of heads of government and political parties in Azerbaijan and Honduras using fake accounts or misrepresenting themselves to sway public opinion. In countries including India, Ukraine, Spain, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador, she found evidence of coordinated campaigns of varying sizes to boost or hinder political candidates or outcomes, though she did not always conclude who was behind them.

“In the three years I’ve spent at Facebook, I’ve found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry, and caused international news on multiple occasions,” wrote Zhang, who declined to talk to BuzzFeed News. Her LinkedIn profile said she “worked as the data scientist for the Facebook Site Integrity fake engagement team” and dealt with “bots influencing elections and the like.”

She added:

I have personally made decisions that affected national presidents without oversight, and taken action to enforce against so many prominent politicians globally that I’ve lost count.

The BuzzFeed article continues:

The memo is a damning account of Facebook’s failures. It’s the story of Facebook abdicating responsibility for malign activities on its platform that could affect the political fate of nations outside the United States or Western Europe. It’s also the story of a junior employee wielding extraordinary moderation powers that affected millions of people without any real institutional support, and the personal torment that followed.

“I know that I have blood on my hands by now,” Zhang wrote.

According to the article, Facebook allegedly delayed taking action on the following:

  • It took Facebook’s leaders nine months to act on a coordinated campaign “that used thousands of inauthentic assets to boost President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras on a massive scale to mislead the Honduran people.” Two weeks after Facebook took action against the perpetrators in July, they returned, leading to a game of “whack-a-mole” between Zhang and the operatives behind the fake accounts, which are still active.
  • In Azerbaijan, Zhang discovered the ruling political party “utilized thousands of inauthentic assets… to harass the opposition en masse.” Facebook began looking into the issue a year after Zhang reported it. The investigation is ongoing.
  • Zhang and her colleagues removed “10.5 million fake reactions and fans from high-profile politicians in Brazil and the US in the 2018 elections.”
  • In February 2019, a NATO researcher informed Facebook that “he’d obtained Russian inauthentic activity on a high-profile U.S. political figure that we didn’t catch.” Zhang removed the activity, “dousing the immediate fire,” she wrote.
  • In Ukraine, Zhang “found inauthentic scripted activity” supporting both former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a pro–European Union politician and former presidential candidate, as well as Volodymyr Groysman, a former prime minister and ally of former president Petro Poroshenko. “Volodymyr Zelensky and his faction was the only major group not affected,” Zhang said of the current Ukrainian president.
  • Zhang discovered inauthentic activity — a Facebook term for engagement from bot accounts and coordinated manual accounts— in Bolivia and Ecuador but chose “not to prioritize it,” due to her workload. The amount of power she had as a mid-level employee to make decisions about a country’s political outcomes took a toll on her health.
  • After becoming aware of coordinated manipulation on the Spanish Health Ministry’s Facebook page during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zhang helped find and remove 672,000 fake accounts “acting on similar targets globally” including in the US.
  • In India, she worked to remove “a politically-sophisticated network of more than a thousand actors working to influence” the local elections taking place in Delhi in February. Facebook never publicly disclosed this network or that it had taken it down.

The BuzzFeed article reports that Facebook’s spokesperson Liz Bourgeois said:

It’s highly involved work that these teams do as their full-time remit. Working against coordinated inauthentic behavior is our priority, but we’re also addressing the problems of spam and fake engagement. We investigate each issue carefully, including those that Ms. Zhang raises, before we take action or go out and make claims publicly as a company.

BuzzFeed says that it did not reproduce Ms Zhang’s full text because it contains personal information.

The article added:

In her post, Zhang said she did not want it to go public for fear of disrupting Facebook’s efforts to prevent problems around the upcoming 2020 US presidential election, and due to concerns about her own safety. BuzzFeed News is publishing parts of her memo that are clearly in the public interest.

“I consider myself to have been put in an impossible spot – caught between my loyalties to the company and my loyalties to the world as a whole,” she said. “The last thing I want to do is distract from our efforts for the upcoming U.S. elections, yet I know this post will likely do so internally.”

Zhang said she turned down a $64,000 severance package from the company to avoid signing a nondisparagement agreement. Doing so allowed her to speak out internally, and she used that freedom to reckon with the power that she had to police political speech.

“There was so much violating behavior worldwide that it was left to my personal assessment of which cases to further investigate, to file tasks, and escalate for prioritization afterwards,” she wrote.

That power contrasted with what she said seemed to be a lack of desire from senior leadership to protect democratic processes in smaller countries. Facebook, Zhang said, prioritized regions including the US and Western Europe, and often only acted when she repeatedly pressed the issue publicly in comments on Workplace, the company’s internal, employee-only message board.

“With no oversight whatsoever, I was left in a situation where I was trusted with immense influence in my spare time,” she wrote. “A manager on Strategic Response mused to myself that most of the world outside the West was effectively the Wild West with myself as the part-time dictator – he meant the statement as a compliment, but it illustrated the immense pressures upon me.”

A former Facebook engineer who knew her told BuzzFeed News that Zhang was skilled at discovering fake account networks on the platform.

The second half of the article is also worth reading — and circulating.

Michael P Senger, the author of the article I cited on Friday, tweeted coronavirus-related news about Pennsylvania’s continued lockdown:

Note that China was mentioned.

The title of Stacy Rudin’s article for the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) is ‘Federal Court Holds “Stay at Home” Orders and Mandatory Business Closures Unconstitutional’.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

For six months, Americans in 43 states have lived under unprecedented executive orders restricting freedoms as basic as whether they can work, leave their homes, and expose their faces in public. These mandates are not duly enacted laws — they are orders issued by one of the three branches of government. They constitute a system of one-person rulesomething none of us expected could ever happen in the United Statesand no one, apart from the 43 newfound state dictators, is sure when it will expire.

Today, after six months of this, a Pennsylvania Federal Court in Butler County v. Wolf reviewed the indefinite “emergency” restrictions imposed by the executive branch of Pennsylvania government, declaring limitations on gathering size, “stay-at-home orders,” and mandatory business closures unconstitutional. Refusing to accept the alleged need for a “new normal,” the Court stated that an “independent judiciary [is needed] to serve as a check on the exercise of emergency government power.”

About time. The Judicial Branch is coming to save us.

The article is worth circulating. It goes into American history, beginning with the Constitution in the 18th century and citing President Lincoln in the 19th.

The Pennslyvania Federal Court stated:

There is no question that our founders abhorred the concept of one-person rule. They decried government by fiat. Absent a robust system of checks and balances, the guarantees of liberty set forth in the Constitution are just ink on parchment.

Furthermore:

In times of crisis, even a vigilant public may let down its guard over its constitutional liberties only to find that liberties, once relinquished, are hard to recoup and that restrictions — while expedient in the face of an emergency situation — may persist long after immediate danger has passed.

The AIER article went on to say:

We cannot allow our freedom to become “ink on parchment.” Many of our governors seek to do just that — they won’t even designate an endpoint to their “emergency” powers. When does the “emergency” end? This should be easy to say — X number of deaths per million, X number of deaths over X number of weeks — yet they will not say it. They want us to live under the constant threat of house arrest and livelihood deprivation, even though all we ever agreed to was a two-week effort to “flatten the curve.” We never agreed to an indefinite or permanent “new normal,” or to do whatever our wise governor dreams up and declares necessary to “eliminate infections.”

The article thanked Judge Stickman, speaking for the Pennsylvania Federal Court:

Thank you, Judge Stickman, for recognizing our predicament, and for taking the first step towards restoring our freedom today by reminding those with authoritarian leanings that “governors cannot be given carte blanche to disregard the Constitution for as long as the medical problem persists.” The response to an emergency cannot undermine our system of constitutional liberties, or the system of checks and balances protecting those liberties. Liberty before “governor-guaranteed safety” — this is the American way, famously stated by Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Pennsylvania’s Governor Wolf appeared to back down (italics in the original):

Incredibly, Governor Wolf responded that his stay-at-home orders are “not actually orders at all, but merely recommendations,” and that they are constitutional because they do not “shock the conscience.”

Yet, the article’s author says:

I’m willing to bet that Pennsylvania citizens would beg to differ.

The Court’s decision stated that large populations were never quarantined (some local populations, e.g. St Louis, were during the Spanish Flu).

Not only that, the judges traced the origin of the virus to China:

In analyzing the constitutionality of “lockdowns,” the Court first traced the origin of the concept to its source — Wuhan, China — and recognized that population-wide lockdowns are “unprecedented in American law.” Even during the Spanish Flu, the deadliest pandemic in history by far, “nothing remotely approximating lockdowns were imposed.” Although the United States has faced many epidemics and pandemics, “there have never previously been lockdowns of entire populations — much less for lengthy and indefinite periods of time.” Quarantines are legally recognized, but refer to the isolation of sick people and those known to have been directly exposed to sick people. They are statutorily limited to the duration of the incubation period of the disease — a period which Governor Wolf’s “lockdown” plainly exceeded.

Not only have lockdowns never been imposed in American history, but they are not even mentioned in recent pandemic management guidance offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”). In its 2017 guidelines for managing pandemics, the CDC recommends numerous protective measures such as hand washing, limited-duration school closures, and cancellations of mass gatherings, but nothing “even approximating the imposition of statewide (or even community-wide) stay at home orders or the closure of all [‘non-essential’] businesses.” Even for pandemics of “Very High Severity,” the CDC recommends only voluntary isolation of sick persons and their household members. “This is a far, far cry from a statewide lockdown such as the one imposed by [Governor Wolf’s] stay-at-home order.”

The article goes on to discuss small and medium business issues, which are of primary importance today. The court decided, in their own words (emphasis here in the original):

The Constitution cannot accept the concept of a ‘new normal’ where the basic liberties of the people can be subordinated to open-ended emergency mitigation measures. Rather, the Constitution sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency. Actions taken by Defendants crossed those lines. It is the duty of the Court to declare those actions unconstitutional.

In related news Daniel Levitt, who works for tech firms in Silicon Valley, tweeted:

Ah, but increased testing is taking care of that issue. Hmm.

A podcast host from Ohio found that the WHO never stated that quarantine stopped influenza. Coronavirus is not influenza, yet it seems to share some of the same characteristics. Even more interesting is that, with the presence of COVID-19, influenza — the big worry of the cold weather season — seems to have disappeared south of the Equator.

Interesting:

It’s all a bit of a mystery, but Kyle Lamb goes on to answer questions:

Does Kyle Lamb know more than our respective chief scientific officers? Perhaps. Perhaps not. In any event, he has gone further by probing the subject, which is more than our chief scientific officers have done.

Meanwhile, in the UK, an NHS GP pleads with Prime Minister Boris Johnson to change course on lockdowns. Here’s yet another newspaper article mentioning a time period of a fortnight (yawn).

I pity the remaining vulnerable, especially the elderly. Click the image to see the article in full:

I could not agree more.

Message to the NHS: get on with it! You’ve had since May.

Since the summer, England’s Nightingale Hospitals have been stood down for lack of use:

What will happen? A repeat of March and April?

My head is spinning at the prospect.

Once again, private care will turn out to be no better:

Good grief.

Then there is the matter of testing.

This thread is about the North East of England. The author is Professor of Industrial Economics Nottingham University Business School and states clearly that he is expressing his own views:

Sunderland is in the latest coronavirus hotspot area.

Understandably, residents are anxious to get PCR tests.

Yet, the queue was two miles long at the local testing centre:

The queues are for people who have booked a test:

It’s the same in London, as per Tom Copley, the Deputy Mayor of London for Housing. Again, you need a code (obtained online) in order to get a test:

After all these months, this is unbelievable, especially from a notionally Conservative government.

As Tim Worstall said on September 17:

You’ve had 6 months to get testing sorted out. It’s possible to do basic tests – basic note – for £1 a piece with reagent dosed paper hankies.

Also:

seriously, why do we give, or have taken from us, 35% of everything to a structure that can’t even manage this?

I could not agree more.

In closing, Dr Li-Meng Yan, a physician and virologist who also holds a PhD, is a Chinese whistleblower who worked at a WHO lab in Hong Kong. She is now out of the country in a secret location but has given at least two interviews in the past week.

The first was on Friday, September 11, on ITV’s Loose Women, a lunchtime chat show in Britain:

She explained that she had access to a lot of secret information about COVID-19 and could no longer keep quiet, even if it meant losing her social credit score, which she did. She said she had been warned at the outset ‘not to cross the line’ because ‘she could be disappeared’. She said that the Chinese government deleted everything about her that had appeared online. One wonders if her bank account was also frozen. It happens.

She told the show’s panel that the virus was engineered in a lab and that it is not a natural virus.

She said that the Chinese government has downplayed her role in Hong Kong and is discrediting her.

The panel asked her why China would do such a thing and she replied that she had no insight into the government’s ‘evil thinking’, then added that whatever they did ‘worked’: meaning — although she left this unstated — illness, death, panic, lockdown and economic damage.

I am glad that Loose Women interviewed her, because the show gets good ratings. Consequently, a lot of women in Britain will have found out more about the Chi-vi, as I call it.

On Tuesday, September 15, she appeared on Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, to present the same details:

Tucker wasn’t quite sure what to think. He acknowledged he does not have the scientific background to probe further.

A tip of the hat to my cyberfriend Wolf for the next part of this story.

Dr Yan, along with three other researchers, published a scientific paper on Monday, September 14: ‘Unusual Features of the SARS-Cov-2 Genome Suggesting Sophisticated Laboratory Modification Rather Than Natural Evolution and Delineation of Its Probable Synthetic Route’.

This is the introduction (emphases mine):

Yan, Li-Meng; Kang, Shu; Guan, Jie; Hu, Shanchang

The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has led to over 910,000 deaths worldwide and unprecedented decimation of the global economy. Despite its tremendous impact, the origin of SARS-CoV-2 has remained mysterious and controversial. The natural origin theory, although widely accepted, lacks substantial support. The alternative theory that the virus may have come from a research laboratory is, however, strictly censored on peer-reviewed scientific journals. Nonetheless, SARS-CoV-2 shows biological characteristics that are inconsistent with a naturally occurring, zoonotic virus. In this report, we describe the genomic, structural, medical, and literature evidence, which, when considered together, strongly contradicts the natural origin theory. The evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 should be a laboratory product created by using bat coronaviruses ZC45 and/or ZXC21 as a template and/or backbone. Building upon the evidence, we further postulate a synthetic route for SARS-CoV-2, demonstrating that the laboratory-creation of this coronavirus is convenient and can be accomplished in approximately six months. Our work emphasizes the need for an independent investigation into the relevant research laboratories. It also argues for a critical look into certain recently published data, which, albeit problematic, was used to support and claim a natural origin of SARS-CoV-2. From a public health perspective, these actions are necessary as knowledge of the origin of SARS-CoV-2 and of how the virus entered the human population are of pivotal importance in the fundamental control of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as in preventing similar, future pandemics.

ZeroHedge posted excerpts from the paper, which is way above my pay grade. The article ends with a reminder from ZeroHedge that they were suspended from Twitter months ago for alleging the same theory:

As a reminder, Zero Hedge was banned from Twitter on Jan 31 for making just this allegation, following a hit-piece written by an alleged pedophile (who was later fired for plagiarism) and countless so-called “scientists” screaming that our take was fake news and nothing but propaganda. Five months later Twitter admitted it had made a mistake, stating “we made an error in our enforcement action in this case.”

Speaking of Twitter, on September 15, ZeroHedge also reported that Dr Yan’s Twitter account was quickly suspended, days after she created it this month (emphases in the original):

On Sunday afternoon we asked how long before the twitter account of the “rogue” Chinese virologist, Dr. Li-Meng Yan, who yesterday “shocked” the world of establishment scientists and other China sycophants, by publishing a “smoking gun” scientific paper demonstrating that the Covid-19 virus was manmade, is “silenced.”

We now have the answer: less than two days. A cursory check of Dr Yan’s twitter page reveals that the account has been suspended as of this moment …

If Yan was wrong, why not just let other scientists respond in the open to the all too valid arguments presented in Dr. Yan’s paper? Isn’t that what “science” is all about? Why just shut her up?

Because if we have already crossed the tipping point when anyone who proposes an “inconvenient” explanation for an established “truth” has to be immediately censored, then there is little that can be done to salvage the disintegration of a society that once held freedom of speech as paramount …

We hope Twitter will provide a very reasonable and sensible explanation for this unprecedented censorship.

Indeed.

Back now to the contents of the paper that Dr Yan co-authored.

US Army Colonel Lawrence Sellin (Ret.) explained it in layman’s terms for the Gateway Pundit: ‘Dr. Lawrence Sellin: The Unequivocal Evidence Chinese Scientist Dr. Li-Meng Yan Provides Proof COVID-19 was Created by China’s Military’.

Dr Sellin gives us the overview, which is still scientific (emphases in the original):

China has claimed that a bat coronavirus named RaTG13 is the closest relative to the COVID-19 virus, but RaTG13 is not actually a virus because no biological samples exist. It is only a genomic sequence of a virus for which there are now serious questions about its accuracy.

Dr. Yan suggests that RaTG13 may have been used to divert the world’s attention away from the true source of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She claims that the COVID-19 virus originated in laboratories overseen by China’s People’s Liberation Army, using bat coronaviruses ZC45 and/or ZXC21 collected from Zhoushan, China and used as the viral “backbone” for genetic engineering.

Those bat coronaviruses were originally isolated and characterized between July 2015 and February 2017 under the supervision of the Third Military Medical University (Chongqing, China) and the Research Institute for Medicine of Nanjing Command (Nanjing, China).

The article goes on to explain how the receptor binding motif (RBM), which defines the coronavirus’ ability to bind to the specific human angiotensin converting enzyme-2 receptor (ACE2) underwent genetic manipulation.

That critical segment of the COVID-19 virus is bounded by two “restriction sites” not found in any related bat coronaviruses, which allow researchers to easily splice, that is, cut and paste components of other viruses into the viral backbone.

The presence of those restriction sites is a known marker for genetic manipulation.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 virus contains a furin polybasic cleavage site with an amino acid sequence of proline-arginine-arginine-alanine or PRRA that facilitates membrane fusion between the virus and the human cell and widely known for its ability to enhance pathogenicity and transmissibility.

Such a sequence is not found in any other related bat coronavirus and, so far, there is no natural evolutionary pathway identified that could explain the appearance of that PRRA segment.

In contrast, techniques for the artificial insertion of such a furin polybasic cleavage site by genetic engineering have been used for over ten years.

Dr. Yan and her colleagues note that the two arginine amino acids in that PRRA segment are coded by the nucleotide sequence CGG-CGG, which rarely appears in tandem and strongly suggests that this furin cleavage site is the result of genetic engineering.

In addition, the presence of a “FauI” restriction site at the furin polybasic cleavage site is also an indication of genetic manipulation.

Goodness me. We have these scientific allegations and all the UK government is thinking of is a second lockdown.

It is sad that we will not be reading or hearing about this paper in the media. Once again, please circulate the links with family and friends. Thank you.

It was during the 2016 presidential campaign that I first heard of and read articles by Salena Zito, one of America’s great journalists.

Although not fully on board with candidate Donald Trump, Salena Zito nonetheless wrote honest and impartial stories about his supporters when travelling through Ohio and Pennsylvania. She is originally from Pittsburgh.

Recently, Henry Olsen posted an excellent article on American Greatness, ‘Take Salena Zito Seriously and Literally’. When all the polls and all the pundits said that Trump couldn’t win, Zito was the contrarian.

Olsen’s article is in a response to a Huffington Post hit piece, ‘Take Salena Zito Neither Seriously Nor Literally on Trump Voters’. The Left are vilifying her for speaking the truth. From HuffPost:

The critiques amount to a wholesale demolition of the Zito method. Her shtick — which, as she has told us time and again, is absolutely not a shtick — consists of driving to blue-collar Rust Belt towns and letting regular folks tell her in their own words why they support Donald Trump. Thus does she fashion herself as the antithesis of the fake-news coastal elite.

Much of her gimmick rests on the idea that her interlocutors are apostate populist Democrats who swung to the Republican Party. This is the story many conservatives prefer to tell about Trump — that he is a populist phenomenon, not the product of regular country-clubs-and-chambers-of-commerce Republicanism. Certainly these left-to-right populists exist in America, but Zito has a knack for finding the ones who, apparently unbeknownst to her, have become Republican Party officials. This is why the criticisms of her are so damning. Zito is supposed to be the one telling you how it actually is. 

There are two lines of attack on her journalism. The first is the straightforward accusation that she makes stuff up. A number of people have pointed to her always on-the-nose quotations.

This is basically unprovable without access to the recordings that Zito insists she always makes.

The article shows that leftist attacks carried over to Twitter.

After that, Zito responded with an article, ‘The Twitter trolls attacking my work are all wrong’, which begins with this (emphases mine):

“Dad, it’s not true,” I said, fighting to keep my voice steady through tears.

My 81-year-old father had just seen a Huffington Post headline — “Take Salena Zito Neither Seriously Nor Literally On Trump Voters” — with a picture of me next to it. The piece accused me of fabricating stories and omitting facts. None of that is true, but that didn’t stop the attack from ricocheting to every corner of political journalism’s Twitter-sphere.

It began days earlier with a story I wrote for The New York Post about President Trump’s followers continuing to support him after Michael Cohen’s guilty plea and Paul Manafort’s conviction. Facebook took that story down from my Facebook page, and others who re-posted it soon found it removed from their pages as well. With the story marked as “spam,” or not meeting “community standards,” I tweeted, then wrote about the experience.

That’s when things got worse. Within hours, an anonymous troll with an account created only a few days earlier went on the attack. The thread tossed false accusations that I withheld information from the book I co-authored this year. The troll and his followers alleged that some Trump supporters who struggled with their decision in the 2016 election and were profiled in the book are actually elected Republican officials who (in the trolls’ opinion) could not possibly have struggled with that decision.

First, that wasn’t true. Half the thesis of the book I co-wrote with Brad Todd, “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics,” is that Trump’s polarizing style causes many Republicans to fit uneasily, if at all, into his coalition. Many people in the book were profiled explicitly because they are Republicans, not in spite of it.

Within minutes, the initial Twitter attack was retweeted by other anonymous trolls and online bullies who have attacked my writing before — some continuously since I first reported in the summer of 2016 that this political shift was happening. They demanded that the publications for which I write, including The Post, the Washington Examiner and Crown Publishing, address their allegations or fire me.

That is madness.

Now onto Henry Olson’s article for American Greatness, which tells us:

Zito’s reporting chops aren’t what’s really at issue. What’s really at stake is her narrative, that Trump’s victory was due to millions of fed-up, blue-collar Americans angry at coastal elite condescension and the failed policies that flowed from that conceit. Strike her down, and the most prominent advocate of that explanation for 2016 gets removed from the conversation—and with her, perhaps the narrative itself drops by the wayside.

See, NeverTrump resisters—Left and Right—still don’t want to admit this is why he won. They would prefer to chalk it up to Russian hacking or to misinformation, the political nerd’s version of Area 51 and Roswell. Or they contend it’s all a matter of latent racism, which somehow never expressed itself when Barack Obama twice won in these same areas or when two Hispanics and a black man won majorities of the votes in early GOP primaries and caucuses. Anything—anything—but that Americans who have different cultural interests than coastal or suburban college graduates were mad as hell and didn’t want to take it anymore.

Olson then goes into an examination of voter polls from 2016, which you can read.

Olson tells us when Zito first contacted him:

Zito saw all of this as she traveled throughout the Midwest. She called me in the summer of 2016 for data on a piece she was writing, the first time we came into contact. Her anecdotes and reporting confirmed what my data were telling me: Trump was riding an enormous tidal wave of support among blue-collar whites. I saw it firsthand when I drove the backroads of Pennsylvania in October for speaking gigs: hundreds of Trump signs, many obviously not made by the campaign, decorated lawns across the land, more than I had ever seen in over 40 years in politics.

Since then, she has made many media appearances. Imagine how that’s destroying the received media narrative:

Salena’s books, CNN appearances, and columns give voice to these people. Her interviews and stories put faces and names on real concerns. This means she reaches many more people than do analysts and writers like me, focused as we are on numbers and data. That makes her dangerous, someone who must be brought down. That is why Twitter trolls are poring over her work to find any error, no matter how slight, to discredit her.

Zito will survive this onslaught. She’s too careful, too competent not to …

How sad for her.

Haven’t her opponents ever heard the old saying ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’?

Happening around this time was the revelation that the priest from her childhood was among 99 named as child molesters in a grand jury report:

Excerpts follow from Zito’s article for the Washington Examiner.

In it, she captures many of my memories of a Catholic childhood back in the 1960s:

I adored Fr. John Maloney, a young priest who came to our church when I was five years old, and going to church at five meant different things than it does to an adult. For me it was the honor of wearing a lace covering over my head the way the grown-up women did. (Before Vatican II, it was mandatory for females.)

But it also meant the mysterious rhythms of the Latin Mass that seemed to be telling sacred secrets. Mass meant being with my parents, sometimes my entire extended family of aunts and uncles and grandparents — all warm, comfortable, safe feelings that helped draw me in to what faith would mean for me as an adult.

Children then really looked up to priests as true representatives of the Lord:

We were taught to respect and revere his station, it wasn’t hard, he was young, handsome, and charismatic. When he talked about the Scripture or Jesus he made you feel as though he knew Jesus personally and he was simply sharing the stories that his close friend wanted you to know.

All decent Catholics remember their First Holy Communion:

It was he who administered my first two sacraments outside of my baptism: He heard my first confession, (I do not remember what sins I committed, but I do remember it did not require me to be sent to the principal’s office) and my first Holy Communion, which for a young Catholic child is a monumental moment.

When Fr. Maloney was transferred to another parish when I was 11, I was sad.

Then, years later, in August 2018:

When Fr. Maloney’s name appeared last week on the list of deviant offenders, I was devastated.

How could someone who had our complete trust abuse it in such a heinous way? How could he have robbed children of their childhood?

The grand-jury report named 99 priests in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Three of them served in my parish when I or one of my siblings attended the school: Fr. Maloney, Fr. Ray Rhoden, and Fr. James Somma.

How can we trust the bishops that allowed this to happen?

Simply, we cannot. All of those responsible must be held accountable.

The actions of those priests and those in charge cannot take our faith away, but they have made it impossible for me to trust this Church.

Too right — and well said. Despite these heinous events:

I will stand by my faitha faith that has guided and shaped me at my core and is difficult to square with the corrupt institution that allowed sick men to steal my classmates’ lives and then facilitated them to do the same elsewhere.

Even then, a question remains:

The only things that are uncertain now is how I find forgiveness.

How true.

I know a fellow Anglican in England whose headmaster, an Anglican priest, was found guilty at an advanced age of molesting his pupils when my friend attended his prep school decades ago. He expressed the same sense of shock and betrayal as Salena Zito, since a faith school and church provided — or was supposed to provide — a safe, happy environment.

But I digress.

Happily, Salena Zito was blessed with a grandson last week:

God provides what we need, when we need it. Best wishes to Ms Zito in her role as a new grandmother!

May God also bless mother and baby.

On Monday, August 6, 2018, Alex Jones’s Infowars was banned by several social media outlets.

Previously, these media outlets issued partial bans, but now, some have made no secret about removing him from their platforms entirely.

Contrary to what Big Media would have you believe, Infowars is the 7th most popular app in the US. Look at what Infowars is beating in the ratings:

Jones had anticipated this for at least three years. His apprehension started in 2015. After the election in 2016, even though Trump won, he was even more concerned about social media trying to cut off his access to viewers and listeners.

He details the various reasons for the ban in this video of his, made on the day it happened. It’s a keeper. Start with the video below (courtesy of variety) and continue on the link they recommend:

For a start, Apple and Google are working separately with China to develop censored social media projects and a search engine that filters and/or bans people and sites that go against the Establishment way of thinking. He says that the EU has also brought in censorship. (I recently heard a discussion about this on French radio, explained as, ‘They’re doing away with alarmist fake news, nothing more’, but it’s the same thing: silencing the opposition.) Then, there are the Democrats (example here) and their water carriers in the media who want to stifle support for Trump and the Republicans for the November mid-terms.

Jones says that none of the media outlets banning him have given him a specific reason why, other than to say ‘hate speech’. He says that there are people voting Infowars material down or flagging it as offensive.

Jones closed his video by saying people can still watch Infowars and read the news there on his own platform.

A lot of people don’t like Alex Jones, but, as he warns in the video, anyone could be next.

One rapper on Twitter says:

I don’t support or believe [what] ALEX JONES says but I don’t want powerful tech companies dictating what society is allowed to hear or see. They are too powerful. If they can delete anyone’s voice they want from the internet Who will be next?

Before going into further reactions, let’s look at two news reports about the Infowars ban. Emphases mine.

Howard Kurtz wrote a piece for Fox News, excerpted below:

Facebook said it has taken down some Jones pages “for glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies.”

Apple said it removed the “Alex Jones Show” and other podcasts from iTunes and its podcast app. The company said it “does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users.”

Google’s YouTube dropped the ax on Jones’ channel, telling The Washington Post that it terminates users who violate “our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures.”

And Spotify banned Jones altogether after earlier removing some podcasts, telling the Post: “We take reports of hate content seriously and review any podcast episode or song that is flagged by our community.”

Hate content is not representative of the Infowars many know, and, unlike cable news networks, at least Jones apologises when he gets it wrong. Even Kurtz had to admit that in his editorial.

CNBC had more:

Pinterest removed the official InfoWars board on Monday afternoon after multiple people alerted the company to policy violations.

“Consistent with our existing policies, we take action against accounts that repeatedly save content that could lead to harm,” a Pinterest spokesperson said. “People come to Pinterest to discover ideas for their lives, and we continue to enforce our principles to maintain a safe, useful and inspiring experience for our users.”

CNBC’s article got to the crux of the issue:

Tech giants have faced calls from both sides of the political spectrum to be more transparent about the way they approach content flagging and banning. On the left, there are critics who say these firms are not doing enough to take down harmful and offensive content, while on the right there are some who think internet firms are routinely censoring conservative posts.

As private companies, there is nothing in law to bar them from removing user-generated videos and audio as they see fit. But a number of mostly conservative commentators have framed the issue as a matter of freedom of speech.

The Conservative Treehouse made excellent observations:

The corporate thought police moved in unity today to unperson Alex Jones and his Info Wars media site from popular social media platforms.

Imagine if BP, Exxon, Chevron and Sunoco all moved, on the same day, at the same time, to charge $5.00/gal for gasoline at their service stations.  That would be illegal collusion to take advantage of a monopolistic positionThat’s essentially what happened today when Facebook, YouTube, Apple and Spotify simultaneously banned the Alex Jones broadcast from their platforms; in an effort to purge him from the internet …

Oddly enough this was entirely predicted.  Back in the Fall of 2015 Matt Drudge appeared on the Alex Jones broadcast to warn of this exact situation.  Drudge talked about the need to stay off their platforms, because he could see the political use of platform control was likely to happen in the next few years.  In hindsight Drudge was eerily prescient:

 

The political left, and all the control elements of the Marxist Silicon Valley monopoly gatekeepers are moving in unity, taking action they deem will influence the 2018 elections and beyond. In the big picture this coordinated effort is a move to attack political opposition by weaponizing and controlling social media platforms.

Regardless of anyone’s opinion of Alex Jones, all should take this action seriously and think through the long-term ramifications….

Meanwhile, many social media platforms allow questionable content, including what were once deviant, criminal practices — and still are, to many of us. Yet, when Alex Jones tries to expose the ugly, painful truth behind them, perverts want him censored:

Then, there are the foul television shows, but they’re okay, because that’s free speech:

And let’s not forget newspapers like the New York Times which recently appointed a woman with a history of racist tweets to its editorial board:

Yes, it’s odd that Twitter never called Ms Jeong out.

And what about the death threats against President Trump that are allowed to stay on social media?

And isn’t incitement to war an example of ‘hate speech’? Alex Jones is not guilty of that, but what about Big Media?

One woman called the Jones ban what it is — censorship:

Alex Jones would agree:

I said above that Jones will issue lengthy apologies and explanations when he gets things wrong. Others in media are not so inclined, like CNN’s Brian Stelter, host of Reliable Sources (!?):

Media analyst Mark Dice compared the Jones ban to book burning:

An independent journalist said:

Infowars’ English editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson had this to say about Facebook:

And censorship in general:

Another Englishman agrees:

So, is it time to break the social media monopoly?

In the meantime, this will not go down without a fight. Here’s investigative journalist James O’Keefe’s request (more at the Gateway Pundit):

He and his Project Veritas team want to know more about things like this:

Also, other platforms are making it clear they will continue to broadcast Infowars. Here’s one of them:

This situation is a slippery slope and extends beyond banning an independent media outlet. Lying is now considered ‘protected speech’. You could not make this up:

Good heavens! Whatever next?

Stay strong and frosty in the search for the truth.

On Tuesday, April 10, 2018, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the US Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees to answer questions on a variety of subjects with regard to Big Data.

Did we know how short he is?

Censorship

According to The Daily Caller, questions were relatively anodyne, until Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stepped up to the plate.

Cruz asked Zuckerberg about the number of conservative and religious pages Facebook has hidden or blocked (emphases mine below):

Cruz noted the number of examples of Facebook censoring conservatives, including labeling conservative commentators Diamond and Silk as “unsafe,” hiding stories about the IRS targeting conservatives and blocking over two dozen Catholic pages.

“To a great many Americans, that appears to be a pervasive pattern of political bias,” Cruz said. “Do you agree with that assessment?”

Zuckerberg, of course, said that his social media platform tries to be unbiased.

Then, Cruz asked about left-leaning pages:

“Are you aware of any ad or page that has been taken down from Planned Parenthood?” Cruz shot at the tech billionaire.

“Senator, I’m not,” Zuckerberg conceded. “But let me just — ”

“How about MoveOn.org?” Cruz continued.

“I’m not specifically aware of those,” Zuckerberg again admitted.

There was more:

Cruz also pointed out that Zuckerberg is unaware of the political breakdown of his employees and the 15,000-20,000 people who police content for the site, leaving Zuckerberg struggling to explain why conservatives should not be worried that the social media site is apt to block their content.

Hmm. Zuckerberg is highly aware of at least some of his employees’ political leanings.

AI for ‘hate speech’

The Daily Caller was one of several media outlets carrying the story that Facebook’s artificial intelligence (AI) would detect ‘hate speech’.

Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) asked him if conservatives would be targeted:

Zuckerberg did not have an answer.

Of course not, because the answer clearly ‘yes’.

Sasse pressed Zuckerberg on the subject:

“Can you define hate speech?” Sasse asked one of the world’s most powerful CEOs bluntly.

“Senator, I think this is a really hard question,” Zuckerberg said, “It’s one of the reasons why we struggle with it.”

“I am worried about the psychological categories,” Sasse replied. “You used the language of safety and protection. We have seen this happen on college campuses. It’s dangerous.”

Sasse cited a poll that said a high proportion of college students believe the First Amendment is “dangerous” because it “might hurt someone else’s feelings.”

There are some passionately held views about the abortion issue on this panel,” Sasse said. “Can you imagine a world where you might decide that pro-lifers are prohibited from speaking about their abortion views on your platform?

Did Zuckerberg feel uncomfortable?

After a long pause, Zuckerberg said, “I would not want that to be the case.”

Yeah, sure.

Sasse did not let up:

It might be unsettling to people who’ve had an abortion to have an open debate on that, wouldn’t it?” Sasse pressed.

Zuckerberg said that other countries are putting such laws in place. (If so, bad news.) He then said:

I think America needs to figure out and create the principles we want American companies to operate under.

The Daily Caller said that Sasse looked less than impressed by that response.

Zuckerberg — and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey — want to change the paradigm and suppress the First Amendment by saying that their platforms fall under private enterprise. Therefore, users have to play by their rules.

Yet, courts have ruled against conservative businesses that do not want to accept every customer coming through their doors.

Talk about a double standard.

Political data mining

On March 22, after the Cambridge Analytica data flap hit the media (Brexit and Trump campaigns), I wrote about the mining of Facebook data with during Obama’s 2012 campaign. That was even bigger, and even the former director of integration and media analytics for Obama for America called it ‘creepy’.

The Daily Caller also noticed that everyone is ignoring the 2012 Obama campaign’s data scrape:

… little was made of the fact that the Obama presidential campaign in 2012 used the same tactic with the social network. Former Obama campaign staffers have openly bragged about how Facebook turned a blind eye to the practice and even congratulated them. (RELATED: Obama Staffer: Facebook Knew Presidential Campaign Improperly Seized Data, Looked the Other Way)

Whilst acknowledging Cambridge Analytica, Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) had his chance to question Zuckerberg on the massive Obama data harvest:

“Somebody asked you earlier if it made you mad about what Cambridge Analytica did,” Tillis noted, saying Zuck should be “equally mad” about the Obama campaign.

“When you do your research on Cambridge Analytica, I would appreciate it if you would start back from the first high-profile national campaign that exploited Facebook data,” the senator said

Facebook has been silent on the Obama campaign scraping for data.

Exactly!

This double standard has been in operation for years (see ANDERSON 4 SENATE’s tweet; TheLastRefuge’s will feature next week):

Tillis said that the Facebook employee who mined the Obama data shouldn’t be working there:

I also believe that that person who may have looked the other way when the whole social graph was extracted for the Obama campaign, if they are still working for you, they probably should not.

He concluded:

At least there should be a business code of conduct that says that you do not play favorites. You are trying to create a fair place for people to share ideas.

Except Facebook, Twitter and Google do not care about fairness. They are trying to shape the way people think — with some dastardly success, too.

Appalling user agreement

The Daily Caller reported that John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) bluntly criticised Facebook’s user agreement:

Kennedy said, “I do not want to have to regulate Facebook. I will. A lot of that depends on you.”

Kennedy called what Zuckerberg has done “magical,” before noting that “there is some impurities in the Facebook punch bowl.

He did not stop there:

The senator then got to the point, “I say this gently. Your user agreement sucks.”

Kennedy told the laughing hearing room that Facebook was covering their “rear end” with the user agreement before bluntly stating, “I am going to suggest to you that you go back home and rewrite it…Tell them you want it written in English and not in Swahili.”

The two then got into ‘another heated exchange’ over access to private data.

Zuckerberg apologises, nothing changes

A March 26 article I cited in yesterday’s post from web hosting site easyDNS, ‘Should You Delete Your Facebook Page?’, stated that Facebook has often apologised in the past but nothing changes. It appears to be company policy. On the Cambridge Analytica controversy:

Mark Zuckerberg has issued yet another “Mea Culpa” on CNN, and Facebook will take out full page ads in newspapers to apologize to the public. Yet, by now, “Groveling Zuckerberg apologies” are just part of the Facebook playbook, as Liz Gannes observed back in 2011, after Facebook had just settled with the US Federal Trade Commission over still more privacy violations:

“At this point, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s pattern on privacy is clear. Launch new stuff that pushes the boundaries of what people consider comfortable. Apologize and assure users that they control their information, but rarely pull back entirely, and usually reintroduce similar features at a later date when people seem more ready for it.”

It becomes clear, as Futurist (and easyDNS member) Jesse Hirsh made this point on Steve Pakin’s “The Agenda” over the weekend: “Facebook ships with all privacy enhanced settings disabled” – further, my personal findings are that they use obfuscation to make it harder to disable data sharing settings. You have to jump through hoops to do it.

Zuckerberg knows exactly what’s going on, which shows what contempt he has for Facebook users.

Zuckerberg’s possible 2020 presidential run

In August 2017, news emerged that Mark Zuckerberg is considering running for US president in 2020.

CNBC reported:

Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have hired Joel Benenson, a Democratic pollster, adviser to former President Barack Obama and chief strategist of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, as a consultant for their joint philanthropic project, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The pair also hired David Plouffe, campaign manager for Obama’s 2008 presidential run; Amy Dudley, former communications adviser for Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; and Ken Mehlman, who directed President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.

The couple plan a ‘listening tour’ of all 50 states.

Imagine if Zuckerberg goes ahead with this and consider all the Facebook data he has at his disposal.

The public would not know if he were data mining or not, although, surely, he would be.

Facebook users, beware. Do you really need that account? If it’s to share socio-political articles and opinion, why not start a (non-Google) blog featuring short posts with relevant links instead?

Is it time to delete your Facebook account?

If so, actor James Woods recently tweeted a Wall Street Journal video which tells you how to go about it. The lady talks quickly, so you might have to replay it or pause it as you go:

While the Wall Street Journal is behind a paywall, this video is not.

The downside to Facebook is that, even if you delete your account, all your data belong to them:

The website hosting company easyDNS’s CEO responded to Woods with a link to an article on his website:

His article has excellent information, including a section on Messenger, excerpted below:

Facebook harvests your contact lists from your mobile devices (don’t believe me, go here)

There are people in that list that I do not know. There are phone numbers from people who work for my competitors in there. My daughter’s (age 11) cell phone number is in there.

You can “delete” all this here: (but as you know Facebook never actually deletes anything).

Then when you go to “delete” all your contacts you get a message

“We won’t be able to tell you when your friends start using Messenger if you delete all your uploaded contact info.”

They say that like it’s a bad thing. But there is also this curious sentence:

“If you have Continuous Uploading turned on in the Messenger app, your contact info will be uploaded again the next time the app syncs with Facebook servers.”

I had deleted the Facebook mobile app from my phone a long time ago. I kept messenger installed because sometimes customers would contact easyDNS or Zoneedit via our Facebook pages for support.

But writing this I wanted to turn off “continuous uploading” in the app. Despite this Facebook help article not explaining how to do it, while this third party article from 2016 did.

It turned out I had already disabled continuous uploading but I was surprised to find that the messenger app had defaulted permission to access my phone’s microphone.

After this exercise I simply deleted the Messenger app from my phone as well.

I’ve never had a Facebook account. From my time in IT marketing during the DotCom boom 20 years ago, it was apparent that Big Data was on its way. Data harvesting and targeted ads were already being talked about. Both have been with us for some time.

The best thing is not to be on Facebook at all, but, for those with a presence, why continue to feed the beast?

This week everyone’s been talking about the Cambridge Analytica Facebook scandal with regard to the Trump campaign.

I wrote about it the other day but with the intention of pointing out how many of us are leaving our data open to manipulation by third parties.

Of course, the Cambridge Analytica scandal is only a big deal because it is connected to then-candidate Donald Trump, a Republican.

The much larger scandal involves Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, when Facebook was perfectly happy to let Democrats mine their users’ data.

Former Obama for America manager speaks

On Sunday, March 18, 2018, Carol Davidsen, former director of integration and media analytics for Obama for America, tweeted about an IT project used in his 2012 re-election campaign, Taargus:

And this:

Carol Davidsen received many interesting responses, including these:

Incidentally, other third parties have also tapped into social media data:

Looking at Obama’s re-election campaign, on March 19, IJR.com posted two articles about Ms Davidsen, ‘Ex-Obama Campaign Director Drops Bombshell Claim on Facebook: ‘They Were on Our Side’ and ‘Ex-Obama Campaign Director: It’s ‘Unfair’ Facebook Let Us ‘Ingest Entire Social Network of US’.

Wow, that’s quite an admission to make.

The first article displays her tweets (posted above) as well as these two:

Davidson tweeted that ‘the other side’ are at it, too.

Yes, but probably not to the extent that the Democrats have been.

The second IJR.com article refers to a 2015 video of a 23-minute talk Davidsen gave that year about Big Data, a term she herself uses, and how such information is analysed:

Because she has been working with Big Data for so many years, it is easy for her to be blasé and say that the average social media user has nothing to worry about. She did, in fact, say that such information could be misused, but she did not think it had been to date.

The problem I have with her reasoning is that, by the time data are being misused, we will be so accustomed to being analysed by third parties, we won’t even care. Therein lies the danger.

She also discussed buying advertising near the end. That part went over my head a bit, but a 2012 article in Time, ‘Obama Wins: How Chicago’s Data-Driven Campaign Triumphed’, explains what his campaign manager, Jim Messina, did (emphases mine):

Data helped drive the campaign’s ad buying too. Rather than rely on outside media consultants to decide where ads should run, Messina based his purchases on the massive internal data sets. “We were able to put our target voters through some really complicated modeling, to say, O.K., if Miami-Dade women under 35 are the targets, [here is] how to reach them,” said one official. As a result, the campaign bought ads to air during unconventional programming, like Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23, skirting the traditional route of buying ads next to local news programming. How much more efficient was the Obama campaign of 2012 than 2008 at ad buying? Chicago has a number for that: “On TV we were able to buy 14% more efficiently … to make sure we were talking to our persuadable voters,” the same official said.

Obama campaign’s use of Big Data in 2012

The link Davidsen tweeted to (see above) is for a November 20, 2012 Time article explaining how Obama won his re-election thanks to Big Data from social media: ‘Friended: How the Obama Campaign Connected with Young Voters’.

This is the campaign on which that Davidsen worked.

A few weeks before Election Day, Obama’s people wanted to get phone numbers for younger potential voters. Most of these men and women had mobile phones but no land line:

For a campaign dependent on a big youth turnout, this could have been a crisis. But the Obama team had a solution in place: a Facebook application that will transform the way campaigns are conducted in the future. For supporters, the app appeared to be just another way to digitally connect to the campaign. But to the Windy City number crunchers, it was a game changer.

Technically, there is nothing wrong with that until:

the more than 1 million Obama backers who signed up for the app gave the campaign permission to look at their Facebook friend lists.

Did their Facebook friends know that? Unlikely.

It was a resounding success:

In an instant, the campaign had a way to see the hidden young voters. Roughly 85% of those without a listed phone number could be found in the uploaded friend lists. What’s more, Facebook offered an ideal way to reach them. “People don’t trust campaigns. They don’t even trust media organizations,” says Goff. “Who do they trust? Their friends.”

The campaign called this effort targeted sharing. And in those final weeks of the campaign, the team blitzed the supporters who had signed up for the app with requests to share specific online content with specific friends simply by clicking a button. More than 600,000 supporters followed through with more than 5 million contacts, asking their friends to register to vote, give money, vote or look at a video designed to change their mind.

This is concerning because it could be abused in future:

A geek squad in Chicago created models from vast data sets to find the best approaches for each potential voter.

Big Data can change behaviour:

A study of 61 million people on Facebook during the 2010 midterms found that people who saw photos of their friends voting on Election Day were more likely to cast a ballot themselves. “It is much more effective to stimulate these real-world ties,” says James Fowler, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, who co-authored the study.

Conclusion

The Time articles are very upbeat: Obama’s people are geniuses for using Big Data to win.

Four years later, a Republican wins the presidency with a sophisticated use of social media information. The world condemns this because Republicans were involved.

Only the Left can play.

Yesterday’s post was about social media bots, one aspect of what I call Big Data.

Today’s is about another Big Data component: how data harvesting is used.

On March 17, 2018, The Guardian published the latest article in its Cambridge Analytica File series. ‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower’ is fascinating.

The Guardian is looking into Cambridge Analytica because the firm was hired for Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump’s campaign in the US. The paper is trying to make the firm look like a bad guy, even though the Left have more powerful social media and data tools to hand — not to mention censorship. That said, Britain’s Electoral Commission and a select committee of MPs are investigating Cambridge Analytica as is Robert Mueller in his stateside investigation of Russian collusion. This is because of alleged use of Facebook user data.

In the US:

Aged 24, while studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting, he came up with a plan to harvest the Facebook profiles of millions of people in the US, and to use their private and personal information to create sophisticated psychological and political profiles. And then target them with political ads designed to work on their particular psychological makeup.

In the UK:

Last month, Facebook’s UK director of policy, Simon Milner, told British MPs on a select committee inquiry into fake news, chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins, that Cambridge Analytica did not have Facebook data. The official Hansard extract reads:

Christian Matheson (MP for Chester): “Have you ever passed any user information over to Cambridge Analytica or any of its associated companies?”

Simon Milner: “No.”

Matheson: “But they do hold a large chunk of Facebook’s user data, don’t they?”

Milner: “No. They may have lots of data, but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.”

Personally, even if Big Data and social media didn’t exist, there would have been a Brexit vote and a Trump victory regardless.  Furthermore, to still loathe Steve Bannon now is pointless. He was fired from the White House in 2017. He left Breitbart in January 2018. He’s annoyed various people greatly, from President Trump to the Mercers (more about whom below). Rebekah Mercer bankrolls Breitbart.

What I found interesting about The Guardian‘s article was how social media data are gathered, analysed and used. The genius whose idea led to the founding of Cambridge Analytica is 28-year-old Christopher Wylie. He was 24 at the time. Now he has turned whistleblower, largely because of the results of the UK referendum and US election in 2016.

Before getting into Big Data, the Left also use the same analytical tactics. Wylie learned from Obama’s campaign team (emphases mine below):

Wylie grew up in British Columbia and as a teenager he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. He left school at 16 without a single qualification. Yet at 17, he was working in the office of the leader of the Canadian opposition; at 18, he went to learn all things data from Obama’s national director of targeting, which he then introduced to Canada for the Liberal party. At 19, he taught himself to code, and in 2010, age 20, he came to London to study law at the London School of Economics.

For me, the big issue here is how data from social media users are used to shape public thinking.

Cambridge Analytica is far from being the only firm to do this. The primary customers for such data analyses are likely to be national security agencies, the military and defence companies:

at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, two psychologists, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, were experimenting with a way of studying personality – by quantifying it.

Starting in 2007, Stillwell, while a student, had devised various apps for Facebook, one of which, a personality quiz called myPersonality, had gone viral. Users were scored on “big five” personality traits – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism – and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give him access to their Facebook profiles. Suddenly, there was a way of measuring personality traits across the population and correlating scores against Facebook “likes” across millions of people.

The research was original, groundbreaking and had obvious possibilities. “They had a lot of approaches from the security services,” a member of the centre told me. “There was one called You Are What You Like and it was demonstrated to the intelligence services. And it showed these odd patterns; that, for example, people who liked ‘I hate Israel’ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

“There are agencies that fund research on behalf of the intelligence services. And they were all over this research. That one was nicknamed Operation KitKat.”

The defence and military establishment were the first to see the potential of the research. Boeing, a major US defence contractor, funded Kosinski’s PhD and Darpa, the US government’s secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is cited in at least two academic papers supporting Kosinski’s work.

The article says that, in 2013, a paper on the subject was published. Christopher Wylie read it and offered to replicate the technique for Britain’s Liberal Democrats, who were starting to become a political non-entity. Wylie made a formal presentation for them with the pitch that such an analysis could bring them more new voters. However, the Lib Dems were not interested.

That said, there was a silver lining. One of the Lib Dems Wylie was in touch with introduced him to a company called SCL Group:

one of whose subsidiaries, SCL Elections, would go on to create Cambridge Analytica (an incorporated venture between SCL Elections and Robert Mercer, funded by the latter). For all intents and purposes, SCL/Cambridge Analytica are one and the same.

Alexander Nix, then CEO of SCL Elections, made Wylie an offer he couldn’t resist. “He said: ‘We’ll give you total freedom. Experiment. Come and test out all your crazy ideas.’”

Wylie was hired as research director for the SCL Group, which had defence and political contracts:

Its defence arm was a contractor to the UK’s Ministry of Defence and the US’s Department of Defense, among others. Its expertise was in “psychological operations” – or psyops – changing people’s minds not through persuasion but through “informational dominance”, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.

SCL Elections had used a similar suite of tools in more than 200 elections around the world, mostly in undeveloped democracies that Wylie would come to realise were unequipped to defend themselves.

Wylie holds a British Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa. He worked from SCL’s headquarters in London’s Mayfair.

He first met Steve Bannon in 2013. Bannon, the then-editor-in-chief of Breitbart came to England to support Nigel Farage and his pursuit of a national referendum on whether to leave the European Union.

Bannon, Wylie says, found SCL in an interesting way:

When I ask how Bannon even found SCL, Wylie tells me what sounds like a tall tale, though it’s one he can back up with an email about how Mark Block, a veteran Republican strategist, happened to sit next to a cyberwarfare expert for the US air force on a plane. “And the cyberwarfare guy is like, ‘Oh, you should meet SCL. They do cyberwarfare for elections.’”

It was Bannon who took this idea to the Mercers: Robert Mercer – the co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who used his billions to pursue a rightwing agenda, donating to Republican causes and supporting Republican candidates – and his daughter Rebekah.

Wylie and his boss Alexander Nix flew to New York to meet the Mercers. Robert Mercer had no problem understanding the SCL concept, as he had worked in AI (artificial intelligence) himself. He had also helped to invent algorhithmic trading. The pitch Wylie made to him was based on:

an influential and groundbreaking 2014 paper researched at Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre, called: “Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans”.

Wylie had to prove to Mercer that such a statement was true. Therefore, he needed data. This is where another company, Global Science Research (GSR), entered the frame:

How Cambridge Analytica acquired the data has been the subject of internal reviews at Cambridge University, of many news articles and much speculation and rumour …

Alexander Nix appeared before Damian Collins, an MP, in February 2018. He downplayed GSR’s work for Cambridge Analytica in 2014:

Nix: “We had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us back in 2014. That research proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.”

Collins: “They have not supplied you with data or information?”

Nix: “No.”

Collins: “Your datasets are not based on information you have received from them?”

Nix: “No.”

Collins: “At all?”

Nix: “At all.”

Yet, The Guardian states:

Wylie has a copy of an executed contract, dated 4 June 2014, which confirms that SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with a company called Global Science Research (GSR), owned by Cambridge-based academic Aleksandr Kogan, specifically premised on the harvesting and processing of Facebook data, so that it could be matched to personality traits and voter rolls.

He has receipts showing that Cambridge Analytica spent $7m to amass this data, about $1m of it with GSR. He has the bank records and wire transfers. Emails reveal Wylie first negotiated with Michal Kosinski, one of the co-authors of the original myPersonality research paper, to use the myPersonality database. But when negotiations broke down, another psychologist, Aleksandr Kogan, offered a solution that many of his colleagues considered unethical. He offered to replicate Kosinski and Stilwell’s research and cut them out of the deal. For Wylie it seemed a perfect solution. “Kosinski was asking for $500,000 for the IP but Kogan said he could replicate it and just harvest his own set of data.” (Kosinski says the fee was to fund further research.)

Kogan then set up GSR to do the work, and proposed to Wylie they use the data to set up an interdisciplinary institute working across the social sciences. “What happened to that idea,” I ask Wylie. “It never happened. I don’t know why. That’s one of the things that upsets me the most.”

Meanwhile, I’m breathing a sigh of relief. That’s scary.

This is how the project worked — simply incredible and rather alarming:

Kogan was able to throw money at the hard problem of acquiring personal data: he advertised for people who were willing to be paid to take a personality quiz on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Qualtrics. At the end of which Kogan’s app, called thisismydigitallife, gave him permission to access their Facebook profiles. And not just theirs, but their friends’ too. On average, each “seeder” – the people who had taken the personality test, around 320,000 in total – unwittingly gave access to at least 160 other people’s profiles, none of whom would have known or had reason to suspect.

What the email correspondence between Cambridge Analytica employees and Kogan shows is that Kogan had collected millions of profiles in a matter of weeks. But neither Wylie nor anyone else at Cambridge Analytica had checked that it was legal. It certainly wasn’t authorised. Kogan did have permission to pull Facebook data, but for academic purposes only. What’s more, under British data protection laws, it’s illegal for personal data to be sold to a third party without consent.

Wylie told The Guardian that Facebook knew this was going on by looking at their security protocols. The article says Kogan reassured Facebook by saying the data were for academic use.

In any event, Cambridge Analytica had its data:

This was the foundation of everything it did next – how it extracted psychological insights from the “seeders” and then built an algorithm to profile millions more.

For more than a year, the reporting around what Cambridge Analytica did or didn’t do for Trump has revolved around the question of “psychographics”, but Wylie points out: “Everything was built on the back of that data. The models, the algorithm. Everything. Why wouldn’t you use it in your biggest campaign ever?”

Wylie left Cambridge Analytica in 2014. He was not involved in the company’s work on Brexit or for the Trump campaign.

Facebook didn’t really think about the data mining until 2016, when Cambridge Analytica were working for Ted Cruz during the GOP primary season. The Guardian‘s Harry Davies wrote an article in December 2015 about the use of Facebook data in his campaign:

But it wasn’t until many months later that Facebook took action. And then, all they did was write a letter. In August 2016, shortly before the US election, and two years after the breach took place, Facebook’s lawyers wrote to Wylie, who left Cambridge Analytica in 2014, and told him the data had been illicitly obtained and that “GSR was not authorised to share or sell it”. They said it must be deleted immediately.

“I already had. But literally all I had to do was tick a box and sign it and send it back, and that was it,” says Wylie. “Facebook made zero effort to get the data back.”

There were multiple copies of it. It had been emailed in unencrypted files.

Cambridge Analytica rejected all allegations the Observer put to them.

Facebook commented on the data:

Facebook denies that the data transfer was a breach. In addition, a spokesperson said: “Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook. If these reports are true, it’s a serious abuse of our rules. Both Aleksandr Kogan as well as the SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica certified to us that they destroyed the data in question.”

The aforementioned Dr Kogan is still employed by Cambridge University as a senior research associate, but he also has a position in Russia:

what his fellow academics didn’t know until Kogan revealed it in emails to the Observer (although Cambridge University says that Kogan told the head of the psychology department), is that he is also an associate professor at St Petersburg University. Further research revealed that he’s received grants from the Russian government to research “Stress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networks”. The opportunity came about on a trip to the city to visit friends and family, he said.

Social media data have turned into a powerful tool to be exploited. I have had several conversations over the past few years with Facebook users, none of whom minds who has access to their personal details: family members, friends, likes, dislikes and interests. To know that this information has been mined under the aegis of academic research then used for other purposes boggles the mind.

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