The Pro-Trump Media Has Its Match In The Parkland Students

by Charlie Warzel on February 21, 2018


On Monday night, the pro-Trump media set its sights on a new political enemy: young adult survivors of gun violence.

The attack on outspoken survivors of the Parkland school shooting began with an article on the pro-Trump blog Gateway Pundit — known for trafficking in conspiracy theories like that of the unsolved murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich — that suggested David Hogg, a 17-year-old student, had “been coached on anti-Trump lines” by his father, a former FBI agent, for television appearances in which he calls for stricter gun laws. On Tuesday morning, Lucian Wintrich, the author of the initial Gateway Pundit story, tweeted that the Parkland students were “milking the deaths of their peers for their careers.”

Pro-Trump media sites like Infowars, Big League Politics, and TruePundit quickly picked up the talking points, adding their own spin. They dug up old photos of Hogg on a tour of CNN’s studios in Atlanta years ago, as well as a clip of Hogg interviewing on a California local news broadcast last year for reasons completely unrelated to gun violence — offering each as proof of Hogg’s anti-Trump agenda. By Tuesday afternoon, posts ricocheted across the internet, accusing Hogg of being a paid crisis actor who pretends to be a victim during national tragedies in order to exploit them for political gain. On Facebook alone, Hogg “crisis actor” posts racked up hundreds of thousands of shares in just a few hours; similarly, YouTube’s top trending video accused Hogg of being an actor.

Outside the fever swamps, the attacks against the Parkland students have been largely regarded as the logical conclusion of a media apparatus with a knee-jerk reaction toward conspiracy theories to counter factual reporting and spin political narratives. But for those who’ve paid close attention to the pro-Trump media’s tactics, the attacks on the Parkland students feel different — and not just because of their toxicity. By antagonizing underage survivors of a national tragedy, the pro-Trump media abandoned its usual play for the moral high ground and made an uncharacteristic miscalculation: It chose a popular, deeply sympathetic, nonpolarizing political enemy. More specifically, it chose a political enemy effectively born onto the internet and innately capable of waging an information war.

Unlike the pro-Trump media’s usual enemies, the Parkland students innately understand how to use this broken system to their advantage.

Dating back to the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, the pro-Trump media has proven it’s remarkably savvy at crafting captivating narratives for its followers. These narratives follow a similar pattern in that they identify and attack a polarizing enemy — often a legacy institution or brand that’s particularly vulnerable to digital propaganda, like Hillary Clinton, the Washington establishment, or the mainstream media. Leveraging the power of their followers across social platforms, the pro-Trump media’s best practitioners attempt to own the story and stay one step ahead of their enemy. By the time the enemy has scrambled to address the outrage or debunk false information, the pro-Trump media has moved on to the next microscandal.

In the case of Hillary Clinton, the pro-Trump media chose a target saddled with decades of political baggage. When Clinton’s stolen emails were leaked, it waged an incessant online campaign designed not only to discredit her, but to dominate news cycles by enticing mainstream outlets to cover it. In the case of #HillarysHealth and #Pizzagate, it invented defamatory conspiracy theories, forcing the candidate into an unwinnable choice: stoop to address the fever swamp’s claims or let them fester and gather steam. And the Clinton camp, in keeping with establishment politicking, struggled to counter the online invective and misinformation.

Much the same happened with Congressman Devin Nunes’ memo just last month. Over the course of two weeks, Nunes’ memo was weaponized by the pro-Trump media and its online viral outrage machine, which forced reluctant Democrat lawmakers to obsess about, respond to, and speculate over a largely political document. When the memo was finally released and largely dismissed, Nunes and the pro-Trump media deflected all criticism — they’d already moved on. There were different, more incendiary memos on the way.

Similarly, factions of the mainstream media have proven time and again that they are unprepared for the pro-Trump media’s information war. Whether it’s Scott Pelley falling into a trap while interviewing pro-Trump personality Mike Cernovich, former New York Times public editor Liz Spayd taking the bait while being trolled on Twitter, or Megyn Kelly and NBC allowing Alex Jones to gin up outrage and scoop her on her own interview, the mainstream media has repeatedly failed to grasp the pro-Trump media’s new rules. It’s never quite understood that its online arm isn’t just an opposition force — it’s a parallel institution that insists on its own reality.

In the case of the Parkland students, however, the mold doesn’t fit. A look at the Twitter feeds of students like David Hogg shows that they are a remarkable foil for the pro-Trump media’s trolling tactics. Like the pro-Trump media, they, too, are an insurgent political force that’s native to the internet. And while they use legacy platforms like cable news to build awareness of their names and of their causes, much of the real work happens online.

They use platforms like Twitter to call out and put pressure on politicians. They address prominent critics like Bill O’Reilly not with bland, carefully written statements, but by dunking on them, and they respond to misinformation in real-time with their own viral, emoji-laden posts. Rather than take the bait on the crisis actor narrative, they opted to have fun with the conspiracy theories by mocking them. “I’m thankful that there are people out there finding my doppelgangers for me. I’ve always wanted to have a party with a room full of people who look like me,” Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland student, told BuzzFeed News. By dismissing the conspiracies for what they are — a tired, rather boring page in the Infowars playbook — Gonzalez and her classmates have stripped them of their power. Before the pro-Trump media can finish its line of attack, the students, unfazed, have moved on, staying one step ahead of their political enemies and owning the story.

The pro-Trump media will no doubt continue its onslaught. And because the online ecosystems that undergird all of these interactions are deeply broken, the assault against David Hogg and his classmates will likely continue to spread across platforms like YouTube and Facebook and Twitter. But unlike the pro-Trump media’s usual enemies, the Parkland students innately understand how to use this broken system to their advantage. They know intuitively what the pro-Trump media has known (and used to its benefit) for years now: The way to win an information war is not to shy away from conflict online, but to lean into it.

LINK: High School Students Are Organizing Walkouts To Protest Gun Violence

LINK: Nope, The Florida School Shooting Survivors Demanding Gun Control Are Not Crisis Actors

LINK: Students Who Lived Through The Florida Shooting Are Angry And They Want You To Know

Originally Posted By BuzzFeed - Tech


Facebook Won’t Release Its “5% Of News Feed Content Is News” Analysis

by Alex Kantrowitz on February 18, 2018

John Paczkowski

Facebook is refusing to release data to back up its claim that merely 5% of the content people see in the News Feed is news, a key figure in its recently announced plans to remake its powerful main product.

The company and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have repeatedly cited the number while discussing News Feed changes they anticipate will shrink news’ presence to roughly 4% of the News Feed.

Even without opening its books to external scrutiny, new details suggest the analysis has gaps: notably, it excludes the native videos Facebook trained and paid media organizations to produce (BuzzFeed included), and that it promoted heavily. It also, according to a Facebook spokesperson, “does not encompass everything that may be considered news,” including other native posts without links including infographics, status updates and photos, leaving open the question of just how dependent on other companies’ intellectual property the social media giant has become. A Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that including such content would not meaningfully change the numbers.

The News Feed algorithm change, which will prioritize posts that encourage back and forth interactions between friends and family, occurs amid a crisis for Facebook, which has struggled to contain the spread of fake news and misinformation on its platform. Last November, the company was called before Congress along with Google and Twitter to testify under oath about the manipulation of its service by Kremlin-linked agents during the 2016 election and its aftermath. Last week, Facebook was named dozens of times in an indictment charging the Kremlin-linked agents for meddling in the US election.

Fixing these problems is Facebook’s top priority in 2018. The company is examining the fundamentals of its News Feed and its ad business in an attempt to protect both from future exploitation. It’s also trying to spark more meaningful interactions between users and examining how it can make sure time on its platform is “well spent.”

A Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the amount of news content in the News Feed varies according to the individual. “People who follow news organizations or engage with news stories will see more of it in their feeds — and for those who do not, this percentage might be lower,” the spokesperson said. The 5% number refers only to news content inside the average person’s News Feed, not news content on the platform overall. Facebook declined to share the percentage of news posts in relation to all posts on the platform

The methodology Facebook used to determine the 5% number is less than clear. That percentage is “a best estimate based on several methodologies that show the same result,” the spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “One of the methods incorporates news publishers identified by ComScore, and we also use our own classifiers and self-reporting on Pages.” The company declined to share further information on its news “classifiers.”

The analysis does include all link posts to news stories, so news links shared by friends and family, and by publisher pages, are all included in the 5% number. Instant articles are also included, as is lifestyle content from news companies. Content from celebrities, sports teams, and bands are not.

Facebook did not explain its rationale for excluding native media company content from its calculus, a move that, for example, means nearly every post from Now This News — followed by 13 million people on Facebook — and many posts from AJ+ — followed by 10 million people — didn’t factor as news in its analysis.

Facebook is asking the public to trust it as it makes these changes. But the company also has a history of metrics errors that have involved everything from miscalculating average video watch time to overestimating time spent reading Instant Articles.

Here’s are the questions BuzzFeed News put to Facebook and the company’s responses:

How did Facebook determine this number?

  • Context: For the average Facebook user, links from news publishers comprise less than 5% of content seen in News Feed. After the ranking changes to prioritize interactions between friends and family, we expect news to make up roughly 4% of content seen in News Feed.

  • This is a global average, based on posts with links to news publishers.

  • This is a best estimate based on several methodologies that show the same result. It does not encompass everything that may be considered news.

  • Every person’s News Feed is different, so this percentage can vary for individuals. People who follow news organizations or engage with news stories will see more of it in their feeds — and for those who do not, this percentage might be lower.

Does Facebook have a running count of the percentage of News Feed content news accounts for or was this a one off study?

  • This is based on recent research and we'll continue to monitor this data over time.

How did Facebook decide what a news post is for those counted in the number?

  • We use several methodologies that result in roughly the same numbers. One of the methods incorporates news publishers identified by ComScore, and we also use our own classifiers and self-reporting on Pages.

Does Facebook have a master list of news sites whose links shared in the News Feed add up to that 5%?

  • No, the lists are dynamic.

Does the 5% number include links to news stories shared by friends? Or is content from pages only?

  • The 5% estimate does include links to news stories shared by friends, not just Pages. Instant Articles are also included.

Does it include video from news publishers in News Feed?

  • In general, native content from news publishers without external links — like video — are not counted. However, adding this wouldn't significantly change the overall percentage of news content seen in News Feed.

Does it include lifestyle content from news publishers or media companies (for instance: NYT travel stories or Tastemade posts)?

  • It does include lifestyle content shared by a news publisher.

Can you share the rest of the breakdown?

  • While we expect the amount of news people see in News Feed to be less overall, we’re taking steps to shift the mix of that percentage in favor of high quality sources and ensure that the news people do see is trusted, informative, and local.

  • People can always decide which stories appear at the top of News Feed with our See First feature.

LINK: Trump Uses Facebook Exec Tweet To Call Media “Fake News”

Originally Posted By BuzzFeed - Tech