Journalists and Academics seek special privileges on Facebook

Facebook restricts certain conduct on its platform. However, journalists and academics are seeking to be treated as special, and receive special privileges to do things that are prohibited for others.

Journalists and academics, for example, would be permitted to set up fake accounts with fake or curated content, for the purpose of studying users.

Individuals, however, would be banned from conducting the exact same research and thus, would be prohibited from verifying or evaluating the work of journalists and academics. Basically, the proposal is to have a group of “elite” Facebook users and everyone else are lab rats.

Apple hit a $1 trillion market cap and CEO Tim Cook is all smiles? Maybe, but this photo has nothing to do with it

CNBC illustrates their story about Apple Computer achieving a market capitalization of $1 Trillion with this photo – Tim Cook must be happy about achieving $1 Trillion market cap, right?

The photo, however, is from at least December 2017, is probably from the Fifth Ave Apple Store opening in September 2017, and has nothing to do with today’s achievement. CNBC never mentions that this photo is unrelated to today or the news story.

Later, CNBC swapped out that photo and replaced it with this Getty Images photo of excited Apple Store staff – except its actually from September 22, 2017 – nearly a year ago and has nothing to do with the story.

In effect, this is a propaganda photo intended to convey a feeling of jubilation. Sadly, news services do this all the time. Good journalists will attach a note giving the source of the photo, when from a different event, but many, as we have documented on this blog, do not.

Substituting a photo of a different event is a classic technique used by propagandists. When this is done by social media propagandists, we’ve called it out. See here, here, here and here. There are more examples on this blog.

Substituting photos of different events and passing them off as a photo of a contemporary event is fictional news. CNBC blunders like this a lot (more on that here).They do not care about accuracy. At all.

Reporter resigns after falsely saying shooter wore a political hat

Berry’s apology came after his earlier controversial tweet, in which he posted an image of the president’s “Make America Great Again” hat and implied that Jarrod Ramos dropped one on The Capital Gazette’s newsroom floor before gunning down five people Thursday. The tweet has been removed.

Berry lamented that his tweet “feeds the warped minds of people who think we wake up every day and try to push an agenda.”

Source: Springfield Republican reporter resigns after tweet about Maryland newspaper gunman – The Boston Globe


False news reports inflame reader emotions and result in an escalating sequence of emotional outrage, increasing social polarization. Nothing good comes from making false claims.

A Reuter’s editor has also apologized for saying the shooting was caused by Trump’s negative comments about the media. (Official statement from Reuters.) An early published report from Reuters weakly linked  Trump’s past “fake news” comments to the shooting, but removed that link from later reports.

The way to respond to accusations of fictional news reporting is to double down on accuracy, objectivity and remaining calm. Unfortunately, the news industry continues to harm itself through self destructive behavior typical of middle school drama. This behavior is bewildering.

News: The difference between percent and percentile

This is a frequent error in news reports:

In 2015, Frappuccinos were 14 percent of Starbucks revenue: Year-to-date, however, the drink’s sales are down 3 percent — and now account for only 11 percent of the company’s revenue.

Source: Starbucks has a ‘void in innovation’ and healthy beverages won’t turn the tide

3 percent of 14 percent is 0.4 percent, not 3 percent.

What should have been written is “sales are down 3 percentile points“. As says

Never leave a journalist alone in a room with a number.

News: They don’t care about accuracy

Clarke, club president of CARE, said his interest is transmitting using LP or “low power” apparatus. John Laybourne, vice president of the Rogue Valley Amateur Radio Club, used a high-power 10,000 watt setup needing a gas-powered generator for the off-the-grid event.

Source: In era of Wi-Fi and LTE, ham radio enthusiasts don’t mind a challenge | The Columbian

Depending on license class, band and geographic location, the limits are 5 watts, 50 watts, 200 watts or 1,500 watts peak-envelope-power, not 10,000 watts. See FCC Regulations 97.313.  I suspect the reporter confused the use of a 10 kw gasoline generator’s maximum output capability with a transmitter’s output and no one bothered to fact check the story.

What explains this sloppiness? They are causing tremendous harm to themselves. The best way to respond to accusations of “fake news” is to double down on accuracy and not  ramp up sloppy reporting.

News: How poor reporting becomes propaganda

Reporters and statistics rarely work well together:

In 2018, the average premium on the exchange was $5,798.83 and for 2019, companies are proposing to sell products with an average premium of $6,274.08.

Source: 2019 insurance on the Obamacare exchange in Ohio will increase |

An average provides useful information about a random distribution – ACA premiums are not a random distribution. ACA premiums are a non-linear distribution.

When prices are across a non-linear curve, the average tells us little about what an actual customer will pay.

During the first half of the curve, rates are nearly flat (up through age 43); 90% of the price hike occurs after age 43. Second, a related problem in ACA reporting is to quote the “age 40 premium”. Age 40 sounds like its a mid point price, but it is not for two reasons: (1) the midpoint of 21-64 is 42.5, not 40, and (2) the non linear curve. The age 40 premium is meaningless. My state agreed with me on this and now releases several sample quotes up through age 60.

The point here is that statistics can give a news report an air of authority. Unfortunately, until 2006, the accreditation standards for schools of journalism did not require an introduction to statistics. Most reporters were last exposed to math in high school algebra. A side effect of poor mathematics training is frequent misuse of numbers in news reports.

Readers see such numbers and take away a false understanding of the topic. This shapes their opinion of the topic being reported on, enabling their view to be twisted away from reality.

The chart is from own paper on what caused ACA premiums to skyrocket and ideas for solving it – however, I no longer believe that the ACA’s problems can be fixed for reasons explained in my paper.

Note – I first used the term “fake news” in a blog post (different blog) in 2014, and used it quite a bit in 2015 and 2016 as I saw numerous untrue “news” stories posted on social media as intentional propaganda messaging. Later, Trump began using “fake news” to complain about negative news coverage of his Administration, notably by CNN. Since then, I’ve tried to remember to use the term “fictional news” to avoid any semblance of linkage to Trump’s use of “fake news” terminology.

News: Click bait versus actual news headline

I’m so old, I was taught that a news headline encapsulated a brief summary of the news article. Today, the purpose of a headline is to act as “click bait”. This screen capture from Google News illustrates the concept – the one at the bottom is the “old school” approach.

The past week has seen a flood of “news” reports about immigration issues-some were mostly correct yet some, may be many, were poorly researched, left out context, and were intended primarily as propaganda messaging. The Administration is daffy in its understanding of propaganda – and oblivious to the public response to its actions. I was traveling so I ignored most of it but I have saved aside some items for possible posting here, later.

It seems the primary purpose of both social media and news media is propaganda. The concept of an objective, unbiased news media has vanished.

Google has also fallen off the deep end. I looked up a topic related to news media publishing. Google Search helpfully provided several highlighted quick answers at the top. The first quick answer I looked at was sourced to an anonymous post on an investment forum! The anonymous poster had made nearly 7,000 posts mostly about marijuana legalization. Google elevated an anonymous online forum post from a drug fan to an authoritative answer about publishing! Mind blown.

“Tech Platforms Must ‘Protect Professional Journalism’ “

It would help if professional journalists would protect professional journalism first (see next post):

News Corp CEO Robert Thomson called for social media platforms to “protect professional journalism” and be subject to an “algorithm review board” made up of “experts.”Social platforms, said Thomson, have “a responsibility to project professional journalism, and cultivate a culture of compliance so that the real could be separated from the unreal and the surreal.”

Source: News Corp CEO: Tech Platforms Must ‘Protect Professional Journalism’ | Breitbart

News: When is a scientific study, or the reporting on it, just propaganda?

Today’s news brings the following announcement:

By modifying their lifestyle, including diet and exercise, people can lower their blood pressure just as effectively as with medication, according to a study.

Researchers studied the effects of adapting the Newstart Lifestyle program, which includes a vegan diet, daily outside walks, substantial quantities of water, adequate daily sleep and optional spiritual activities.

Source: Healthier lifestyle as effective as medication to lower blood pressure, study says –

Most people will read only the headline and possibly the first few paragraphs.

Disclaimer – I personally lowered my systolic blood pressure by more than 30 points and my diastolic blood pressure by 20 points through lifestyle changes alone (different than those recommended in this study). My comments are not about whether this is effective but about the use of this study as a propaganda piece – without any useful analysis by the news media.

There is more to this news report that is important for context:

Second Disclaimer – based on personal experience I strongly agree that personal lifestyle choices can have a profound influence on health and blood pressure! If the Seventh Day Adventist Lifestyle program is right for you, by all means look in to it!

My comments are not about Seventh Day Adventists (I assume they are fine people). My comments are about “stenographer reporters” who copy press releases, enabling public relations propagandists to spin the story and control your mind. At a high level, this study comes across as a propaganda piece, defined as persuading the target to adopt someone’s agenda. The press release makes effective use of Appeal to Authority arguments, notably a university and an Institute affiliation, and linking to similar ideas from the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic.

This item is a wonderful example of how studies are presented by public relations (a.k.a. propaganda experts) to persuade others to adopt someone’s agenda. This item also illustrates how the news media works together with propaganda experts to deliver powerful propaganda messages to you. The news media ought to be in the business of sorting spin out of the reporting and disclosing potential conflicts of interest of their sources – and sometimes they succeed at doing that. But far too often, they become a party and a conduit for propaganda messaging.

“There is nothing wrong with your social media feed. We are controlling transmission”

A long time ago, in a generation far away from the present, there was a TV show called “The Outer Limits” famous for its opening sequence narration:

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to – The Outer Limits.

Little did they know then, they were describing the future Facebook and Instagram services which use algorithms to determine what you see in your news feed. Both services control the content you see – imagine the possibilities for propaganda when all you see is what a giant corporation’s secret algorithms choose to show you.

Instagram says it uses three main factors, based on your past actions and behaviors, to determine how to build your feed: Interest: How much Instagram predicts you’ll care about a post, with higher ranking for what matters to you, determined by past behavior on similar content and potentially machine vision analyzing the actual content of the post. Recency: How recently the post was shared, with prioritization for timely posts over weeks-old ones. Relationship: How close you are to the person who shared it, with higher ranking for people you’ve interacted with a lot in the past on Instagram, such as by commenting on their posts or being tagged together in photos.Instagram adds that it also considers the frequency with which you open Instagram, the number of people you follow, and how long you generally spend in the app during each session.

Source: Instagram explains how its feed algorithm works, and says it’s not considering a chronological option | 9to5Mac

George Orwell’s 1984 was not intended as operating instructions for the future, but as a warning.

Sadly, Mark Zuckerberg adopted 1984 as the operating guidelines for Facebook and Instagram.