The notionally accurate NY Times

This tweet is not the way to respond to accusations of “fake news”.

Maggie Haberman is the White House reporter for the NY Times. Perhaps she does not know what the word “notional” means – or, she is advocating fake news is fine as long as meets (her) imaginary world view.

From Dictionary.com:

  1. pertaining to or expressing a notion or idea.
  2. of the nature of a notion or idea: a notional response to the question.
  3. abstract, theoretical, or speculative, as reflective thought.
  4. not real or actual; ideal or imaginary: to create a notional world for oneself.
  5. given to or full of foolish or fanciful ideas or moods.
In other words, Haberman is saying that though it is false, it meets our imaginary idea of what we want it to be, therefore, it is true.
It is perplexing why the media does this to itself. I do not think Orwell intended his novel “1984” to be a “how-to” guide for the NY Times.

The Gorilla Channel

A cartoonist, who has done this sort of satire before, posted the following on Twitter:

He made this fake excerpt as a parody of Trump, the book, and the media and you won’t believe what happened next! Hah hah.

About twenty gazillion people shared this on social media, thinking it was genuine. This illustrates both the craziness of the political elite (Trump is odd) and the confirmation bias that people bring to social media, and who share nonsense without questioning anything.

Worse, of course, is when the professional media sources from social media because – reliability or something!

I expect a lot of fake memes like this to now flood social media. Why not?

We watched a social media propaganda theme explode in real time – and you won’t believe what happened next!

This past week we learned about social media idiots!

In a world where facts and logic no longer matter, a train derailment on the first paying passenger run on a brand new, $181 million upgraded rail corridor, completed as part of an $800 million dollar infrastructure upgrade, is:

  1. An example of America’s “crumbling infrastructure”
  2. An example of America’s lack of investment in infrastructure
  3. An example that future budgets (which might cut infrastructure spending) caused this crash, in the present
  4. An example that Congress is stealing from the poor and giving to the wealthy
  5. Caused by Antifa pouring concrete on the tracks

All of these “instant” explanations were shared on social media because never let an event go unused for political propaganda messaging! And never let facts or logic intervene either!

In the real world, the propagandists promoting these messages were idiots – all of them.

The Reality

Option 6. Social media is filled with idiots

The rail line is brand new and is owned by Sound Transit, a government agency; the train cars are owned by the State of Washington and the State of Oregon which subsidize 40% of the costs and hire Amtrak to run the train. This was the first paying passenger run on the new line.

A total of $800 million was spent on the PNW corridor as a just completed infrastructure upgrade. 

Washington State Department of Transportation explained that the track is new as is the lead locomotive. The system has an active train control system designed to prevent over speed accidents but it had not yet been activated.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, a data recorder on the train showed it traveling at 80 mph in a 30 mph speed zone. Physics – not infrastructure spending – caused the train to fly off the tracks (see also).

Social Media is Dominated by Idiots

The track and locomotive were BRAND NEW. You are an idiot.

Everything was BRAND NEW as a result of infrastructure investment. You are an idiot.

The track was BRAND NEW. Education investment played a role? You are an idiot.

The track was BRAND NEW. You are an idiot.

 

 

 

Fake news sites InfoWars and GatewayPundit, spread rumors that Antifa caused the train wreck, spreading pointless speculation in the absence of evidence (but but but speculation is okay you know!). Idiots.

Right-wing hysteria web site DrudgeReport presented the story this way – not one bit of it was true – it all false to the point of being fake news:

Newsweek

Newsweek has a long track record of misreporting and was the only news outlet to spin the story as in their headline. Idiots.

CNN

A day later, CNN jumped in with a pretend news report, rich in speculation, critical of not having enacted an infrastructure spending bill in 2017. All of which was irrelevant to the train crash but fit the fake news meme du jour popular on social media and in much of the media.

We went down this path before

In July 2015, Occupy Democrats blamed Republican investment in wars – and not infrastructure – for the collapse of an old bridge that was intentionally being demolished by construction crews because a brand new bridge had just been completed. Their followers shared this item tens of thousands of times on social media.

Facts and Logic No Longer Matter

All that matters is your feelings. If you feel a brand new train, crossing a brand new rail line funded with $800 million of infrastructure improvements – is an example of not funding infrastructure then your feelings must be true. Or a sign that you are idiot.

Epilogue

When a social media platform becomes over run with idiots, the value of that platform to everyone else goes down. Why spend time reviewing posts or tweets when so much of it is not true, fake news, or just outrage?

Since the train crash, I’ve largely stopped using Twitter and deleted the Twitter app from my phone and tablet. The signal to noise ratio dropped too low this past week.

Bill Gates never gave this high school speech

This crossed by Facebook crap feed this week. It is a fake, of course. The “rules” were written by author Charles Sykes in a couple of books he wrote. This has nothing to do with Bill Gates or even a high school.

Did Bill Gates create a list of ‘Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School’?

Source: Bill Gates High School Speech

But thanks to social media, this was shared, Liked and re-shared again this past week.

No, the “OK” Gesture Is Not a Hate Symbol

Has the simple thumb-and-forefinger “OK” hand gesture become a white supremacist hand sign?

Source: No, the “OK” Gesture Is Not a Hate Symbol says the Anti-Defamation League.

Another day, another Internet meme – this time claiming that people making a popular “Ok” symbol with their thumb and index finger are actually expressing a symbol for “white power”. This in turn has been used to publicly accuse people who display the “ok” symbol as clandestinely flashing a white power symbol.

All thanks to social media propaganda!

 

 

Washington Post, Miami Herald, CBS, Vox, Buzzfeed sourced stories from Russian social media propaganda

Major US “news” publishers cited tweets now known to originate from propagandists in Russia as the source for their reporting.

As you know, social media is always a reliable source for your news reports. Not. A legitimate question is why do all media now source content from unverifiable social media? From the Washington Post to the local TV news – all of them do this routinely.

The mass media that relies on social media becomes a conduit in the propaganda war. Journalists, of all people in the world, should be hyper sensitive to the use and abuse of propaganda.

Misinformation

“The extent to which legitimate, mainstream news outlets picked up and amplified Russian misinformation is an illustration of its pernicious reach”

And it is not just “Russian misinformation” – the root cause problem is that social media is a friction-less platform for the spread of propaganda by anyone, at zero cost. Everyone is spreading propaganda and misinformation.

If we focus on just that originating in Russia, we not only permit other propaganda originators to flourish, we encourage it!

The Washington Post, Miami Herald, InfoWars and other U.S. sites spread Russian propaganda from Twitter

“Changing the Subject” and false comparisons to deliver your message

Verge reports the Trump administration will drop a mandate to require all automobiles to contain automated vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems.

The reporter writes

Under the Obama administration, then-Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said V2V technology would greatly enhance autonomous driving technology to, “provide 360-degree situational awareness on the road,” and improve vehicle safety. [Emphasis added as the quote is about vehicle safety]

and then follows that with:

The Trump administration’s decision comes at a time when traffic fatalities in recent years have jumped to levels not seen since the 1960s.

Source: US set to drop proposed vehicle-to-vehicle communications mandate – The Verge

How do you interpret the above statement? Perhaps that vehicle safety is falling and traffic fatalities are increasing rapidly?

The reporter did a twist from vehicle safety to a numerical count of traffic fatalities presumably thinking they are the same measure. They are not.

Context Matters

Here is a chart of annual traffic fatalities since 1900. If you squint you can see that current traffic fatalities are just about equal to 1960. Thus, the reporter’s statement is true. But note that rates have only been below 1960 levels during the past half dozen years and may have bubbled upwards as part of normal annual variation.

But the reporter leaves out two crucial details

  1. The population of the U.S. has grown dramatically since 1960.
  2. The number of miles driven each year by each driver increases by about 1-2% per year.

When the fatality rate is converted to deaths per miles traveled – the only meaningful way to compare 57 years of data – we get a measure of vehicle safety. (There are other measures too.)

We now see that vehicle safety has reached an all time historical low – and is about ten times better than in 1960!

We do not know if the reporter is deliberately propagandizing this story.  The reporter has confused vehicle safety with a numerical count of traffic fatalities. This may just be really, really bad reporting. Or perhaps the reporter is using a false comparison to make his own point, whatever that is.

This technique of a false comparison is common in propaganda – and arguments – and we easily fall for it because its a magician’s sleight of hand that we do not notice.

Continue reading

Social media fake propaganda poster

This is a photograph of an animal crossing bridge in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. This bridge has nothing to do with the Netherlands.

The photo was stolen from Joel Sartore, a professional photographer for the National Geographic Society, Geo, Smithsonian and others, and the photo is featured on his own page: https://www.joelsartore.com/keyword/greatest-hit/page/3/

Why do people create these garbage posters? And why do people share them? Why do people then add supportive comments to these posts?

And why are people so stupid as to think the Netherlands looks like this mountainous terrain?

Most car crashes caused by cellular phone usage?

I saw an item on a Facebook group where the general meme was that everyone knows cellular phone usage while driving is the cause of most vehicle crashes. The data, however, paints a remarkably different picture. Cellular phone usage, per the government’s own data, is a minor causative factor in vehicle crashes.

There are many causative factors in car crashes: one category of causative factors is “distracted driving”. Cellular phone usage is a subset of “distracted driving”.

The U.S.government’s National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a report in 2016 on distracted driving, with data up to 2014 (the most recent data available).

Here is what they write on page 1:

“A distraction-affected crash is any crash in which a driver was identified as distracted at the time of the crash.

  • Ten percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes, and 16 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2014 were reported as distraction-affected crashes…”

Let’s restate this:

  • 10% of fatal crashes involved a driver distraction
  • 18% of injury crashes involved a driver distraction
  • 16% of all reported crashes involved a driver distraction

The proportion of those distracted driving incidents where a cellular phone was a causative factor is a subset of these percentages (see tables in the report):

  • 7% of 10% of fatal crashes or less than 1% of all fatal crashes
  • 13% of 18% of injury crashes or about 2.3% of all injury crashes
  • Cellular phone usage for “all crashes” (including non fatal, non injury) is not provided in the report but is likely similar to the two other categories.

The data provided by the U.S. government does not support the widespread meme that cellular phone usage is the leading cause of vehicle crashes. Is my interpretation off in space? The report uses remarkably plain language for a government report. Am I missing something?

Why do people believe cellular phone usage is a leading cause if not pre-dominant cause of vehicle crashes?  (This was the conclusion of those in a Facebook group discussing this topic.)

There is no official answer to that question so we can only guess:

  1. Selected (cherry picked) emotional stories are given widespread media exposure
  2. Bad journalism/bad reporting (fake news from “non-fake” news sources) – often using a variety of propaganda methods to convey this. One common approach in news reports is to quote an “expert” (appeal to authority) who says “Over 30% of crashes are caused by cellular phone usage”. This is a common quote in many news reports, none of which substantiate the number except by an appeal to authority.
  3. Propaganda efforts by the insurance industry to promote a reduction in risk (and their costs)
  4. The tendency to generalize from n=small numbers (I once saw a bad driver using a cellular phone, therefore most bad driving is due to cellphone usage, and if most bad driving is due to cell phone usage then this must be the cause of most crashes). This is a”logical fallacy“.
  5. Everyone just knows that cellular phone usage by drivers causes most crashes (both the assertion and the get on the bandwagon propaganda methods).
  6. If anyone cites the data in a social media reply, this unleashes a barrage of name calling (another propaganda method) that if you disagree, you are a denier, an idiot or whatever.

Facts and logic are the enemy of propaganda. When many people believe something to be true, and that “something” is not supported by official data, it is likely that propaganda messaging has been used to persuade the public.

Using outright lies to inflame the target and spread propaganda

11800154_1666909613542254_6320716305316920615_nTL;DR Summary

To accuse a health care practitioner of murder, as done in this social media poster, is libel.

This is one of the most disturbing and vicious propaganda posters distributed on Facebook.  This poster illustrates the horrendous danger of social media, the sick individuals who inhabit social media (and newspaper comment forums) and the undue influence they hold over others through spreading their own messages of hate.

This example illustrates how easy it is to
1. Create a propaganda poster out of anything, twisting the original out of context.
2. Quickly spread it on social media – because people share without thinking.
3. And stupidly engage in online libel.

I do not know the original source for this altered image but it has been shared widely online, and then commented by many other people who believe the poster is accurate. Thus, an outright lie was turned into a “true fact” by propaganda, even though it is absolutely false.

Social media is very, very frightening. Outright lies are shared and turned into “true facts” through friction-less social media sharing, leading to the creation of a false virtual world where people who vote are making future decisions based on falsehoods.

The more you examine social media propaganda the more you realize, “What if you everything you think you know is a big lie?” (See next post below this one)

How do we get control over this spread of falsehood and hate on line – by people who would never ever view themselves as discriminatory and yet routinely group individuals by their membership in a group (the exact behavior or racism, sexism, ageism, ethnic-ism, etc). This behavior cuts to the core of the thinking processes of those who engage in these behaviors.