Facebook Has Been Weaponized and We're All Targets: Including Emma Gonzales
March 26, 2018
Douglas Rushkoff / The Los Angeles Times & Virginia Heffernan / The Los Angeles Times & Tanya Edwards /Yahoo Lifestyle & Chas Danner / New York Magazine
A powerful tool of human connection and social action has been transformed by profit-seeking opportunists and social engineering clients into a tool for monitoring -- and manipulating -- individual behavior and crowd responses. We now know that Facebook has been used to foment political violence in order to influence foreign elections and has been used to inflame partisan anger inside the US. In a recent case, NRA supporters have circulated a faked video designed to show an anti-gun activist tearing the Constitution.
How Facebook Exploited Us All
Douglas Rushkoff / The Los Angeles Times
(March 25, 2018) -- It's even worse than I feared.
I left Facebook in 2013, less for my own sake than for what my presence on the service was doing to others. I knew that anyone who "liked" my page could have their data harvested in ways they wouldn't necessarily approve.
Over the past five years, people have not only become aware of this devil's bargain but accepted it as the Internet's price of admission."So what if they have my data," I saw a graduate student ask her professor this week. "Why is my privacy so important?"
Bully for you if you don't care what Facebook's algorithms know about your sex life or health history, but that's not the real threat. Neither Facebook nor the marketers buying your data particularly care about what you do with your clothes off, whom you're cheating with or any other sordid details you may find embarrassing.
That's the great fiction of social media: That you matter as a person. You don't.
The platform cares only about your metadata, from which they can construct a psychological profile and then manipulate your behavior. They have been using and selling even the stuff you thought you were sharing confidentially with your friends in order to identify your neuroses and neurotic vulnerabilities and leverage them against you.
That's what Facebook markets to its customers. The company has been doing it ever since its investors realized that, as owners of a mere social network, they would become only multi-millionaires; to become billionaires, they'd have to offer something more than our attention to ads. So they sold access to our brain stem.
With 2.2 billion active users, Facebook knew it had a big-data gold mine. While we've been busily shielding what we think of as our "personal" data, Facebook has been analyzing the stuff we think doesn't matter: our clicks, likes and posts, as well as the frequency with which we make them. Looking at this metadata, Facebook, its psychologists and its clients put us into different psychographic "buckets."
That's how they came to be able to predict, with about 80% accuracy, our future behaviors, including whether we're going to go on a diet, vote for a particular candidate or announce a change in sexual orientation. From there, the challenge is to compel the lagging 20% to fall in line -- to get all the people who should be going on a diet or voting for a particular candidate to conform to what the algorithms have predicted.
That's where companies like Cambridge Analytica come in. They paid thousands of people to take psychology tests and to surrender their own and their friends' Facebook data. Then they compared all this data to infer how each of us would have answered that psychology test.
Armed with our real or algorithmically determined psychological profiles, Cambridge Analytica surmised our individual neurotic makeups. And they figured out how to terrify each and every one of us.
That's the greater collateral damage of social media. It's not simply that they can get us to buy a particular product or vote for one candidate or another. It's that their techniques bypass our higher brain functions. They use imagery and language specifically designed to evade our logic and empathy and appeal straight to our reptilian survival instincts.
These more primitive brain regions respond only to primitive stimulus: fear, hate and tribalism. It's the part of us that gets activated when we see a car crash or a horror movie. That's the state of mind these platforms want us to be in, because that's when we are most easily manipulated.
Yes, we've been manipulated by ads for a century now. But TV and other forms of advertising generally happened in public. We all saw the same commercials, and they often cost so much that companies knew they had to get them right. Television networks would themselves censor ads that they felt would alienate their viewers or make fraudulent claims. It was manipulative, but for the most part, consumer advertising was aspirational.
Facebook figures out who or what each of us fears most, and then sells that information to the creators of false memes and the like, who deliver those fears directly to our news feeds. This, in turn, makes the world a more fearful, hostile and dangerous place.
To ask why one should care is a luxury of privilege. Data harvesting arguably matters most when it's used against the economically disadvantaged. It's not just in China that social media data are used to evaluate credit worthiness and immigration status. By normalizing the harvesting of data, those of us with little to fear imperil the most vulnerable.
When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, a friend of his expressed surprise that people were surrendering so much personal data to the platform. "I don't know why," Zuckerberg said. "They trust me. Dumb ..."
We may have been dumb to trust Facebook with our data in the first place. Now we know they've been using the data to make us even dumber.
Douglas Rushkoff is the author of 15 books, most recently "Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus."
This Week Proved It:
The Internet Is Optimized to Do Us Harm
Virginia Heffernan / The Los Angeles Times
(March 24, 2018) -- The word "breach" evidently struck terror in the heart of Facebook last week. On March 16, the company brass pressured the Guardian not to use it, threatening to sue, according to a reporter's tweet.
As Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and his coterie well knew, the U.K. newspaper was readying a dramatic exposé that was not exactly going to redound to the glory of Facebook.
Facebook, the world was about to learn, had not just been infested with Russian trolls creating cacophony and discord. It had been undermined by alleged data thieves.
What's worse, Facebook had been hospitable to the breach. Even solicitous.
These revelations drew notice even from Americans skeptical of the notion that attacks on the Internet represent acts of war. A grass-roots #DeleteFacebook campaign began, which Zuckerberg, usually blasé about such things, admitted made him nervous. Alex Stamos, the chief security officer at Facebook, announced he would resign from the company in August, having reportedly been appalled by the company's failures of vigilance.
Leaders of two separate congressional committees called on Zuckerberg to testify. In primetime, Zuckerberg offered a halting mea culpa that reassured neither investors nor investigators.
All the while, the deluge.
Evidence has surfaced daily and sometimes hourly this week that the Internet is under assault. And not just from the Kremlin, or from corrupt far-right consultancies with unscrupulous methods and shadowy foreign ties. But from nine Iranian hackers tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, whom the Justice Department indicted on Friday for a massive campaign of cyberattacks.
According to the indictment, the attacks netted more than 31 terabytes of stolen academic data and intellectual property, the bulk of it from American universities, government agencies and NGOs.
Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, called the indictments "one of the largest state-sponsored hacking campaigns ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice."
That announcement came just six days after the initial revelations about Facebook and the wacky and arrogant cloak-and-dagger firm known as Cambridge Analytica. Now notorious for reports of what might be called customized ethical solutions for political campaigns, Cambridge, which is capitalized by the right-wing Mercer family, is also -- as it happens -- buddies with one John Bolton. Bolton, of course, is the president's brand-new national security advisor, who was named to the post Thursday.
In 2014, Bolton hired the then-embryonic Cambridge to harvest data, including from tens of millions of -- you got it -- Facebook profiles.
What a week for the Internet.
But back to last weekend. On Saturday, we learned the story of Aleksandr Kogan, a British academic and Facebook collaborator, who harvested personal data from 50 million unconsenting Americans on Facebook four years ago. We also learned that Kogan turned the haul over to Cambridge Analytica.
With vast data caches like that one, Cambridge, its brass later boasted, cinched political victories for charmers like Uhuru Kenyatta, the president of Kenya, and Donald Trump, the president of the United States. Others disagree.
Don't say "breach," Facebook had warned. The Guardian didn't care. "Major data breach," it announced. Facebook's stock price did care. The company lost some $60 billion in market value in the first two days of the week, which is more than Tesla's entire market cap.
Unlike at the other breached Internet firms -- Yahoo, Uber, Ashley Madison -- we know something about what was done with the 50 million names, "liking" histories, and other intimate info that Cambridge acquired. The flamingo-haired Christopher Wylie, who says he built Cambridge's "psychological warfare tool," told the media the idea was to confuse the hell out of targeted Facebook users -- with a view to affecting their behavior and even their votes.
As Wylie put it in an interview on morning TV, Cambridge aimed "to explore mental vulnerabilities of people" and "inject information into different streams or channels of content online, so that people started to see things all over the place that may or may not have been true."
If your head is spinning, that's the point. According to still-breaking news, the data of hundreds of millions of Americans have been exploited. According to the March 22 indictments, intellectual property has been stolen. Our power grids have been threatened (Russian hackers, apparently) and by now we ought to know our social media has been choked with disorienting lies optimized to upset us.
The vertigo online is an effect of what information warfare expert Molly McKew calls "data pollution" -- pervasive digital noise that can stultify democracy, media and markets.
"We are all getting false signals," journalist Craig Silverman said this month in testimony before the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy.
"Our human faculties for sense making, and evaluating and validating information, are being challenged and in some ways destroyed."
We're certainly in the thick of false signals and data pollution right now. And maybe, also, the fog of war.
No, Parkland Survivor Emma Gonzalez
Did Not Rip Up the Constitution
Tanya Edwards / Yahoo Lifestyle
(March 24, 2018) -- If you've been on social media in the past week, you've probably noticed people have a lot of opinions about the March for Our Lives, gun control, and school shootings. A lot of opinions.
And if you've been on social media like Facebook and Twitter over the past few years, you've probably also noticed memes and images that seem doctored, or plainly put, photoshopped.
One such image is making the rounds, a GIF of Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez seemingly ripping up the constitution.
Here's the problem. The image isn't real. It's taken from a video created by Teen Vogue showing Gonzalez -- surrounded by several fellow teenagers who survived the Parkland shooting -- tearing up a paper shooting target.
Here are the two images side by side, as shared by an outraged Twitter user. The original photo with the target is crisp and can be traced back to the Teen Vogue shoot. The other shows the teenager with her face seemingly altered to have large dark circles under her eyes, ripping up a cartoonish version of the Constitution.
People on Twitter aren't having it, and are repeatedly calling out anyone who shares the image.
Others noted that the changes whoever created the fake image made to the teen -- who, it bears repeating, recently survived a school shooting -- look very different.
And some just pointed out that the image looks really, really fake.
Gonzalez and her fellow survivors emerged onto the national stage just three days after the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Gonzalez's riveting, 11-minute "We call BS" speech a few days after the shooting went viral, thrusting her into the national spotlight, which only intensified after her speech at the March for Our Lives rally in D.C.
People Are Sharing Fake Photos of
Emma Gonzalez Tearing Up the Constitution
Chas Danner / New York Magazinel
(March 25, 2018) -- Doctored images of Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez, which appear to show her tearing up a copy of the U.S. Constitution, have been making the rounds in some circles of the American right over the weekend.
The fakes were based on an image and GIF from a Teen Vogue feature on Gonzalez and her classmates, which showed her ripping up a gun target poster. The color of Gonzalez's face was also changed in the fake photograph to create dark circles around her eyes.
It's not clear where the fake images originated or how widely seen they have been. The image and GIF appear to have been posted together, with racist filenames, in a political thread at the infamous troll haven 4chan on Saturday afternoon. The images were then eventually shared by some popular figures on the right, including the actor and conservative commentator Adam Baldwin.
Baldwin subsequently defended the doctored GIF as "political satire." Another post sharing the image in the SJWHATE subreddit on Saturday claimed that "This is the Left."
The fake images were originally flagged on Twitter by Don Moynihan, the departing director of the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:
Justy a sample of what NRA supporters are doing to teenagers who survived a massacre (real picture on the right).
In his corresponding thread, Moynihan pointed out that it was impossible to know if the Twitter user who he originally saw post the image was, as their username suggested, a real NRA supporter, or, perhaps, a bot being run by Russian trolls or someone else. (That user was later suspended by Twitter, suggesting the account was a bot.) Others have rightfully pointed out that the falsified images are also a good example of the kind of information warfare that has recently infected American politics.
In less than a month and a half, Emma Gonzalez has quickly become one of the country's most outspoken and admired advocates for gun control. Just days after surviving the mass shooting which killed 17 people at her high school in Parkland, Florida, the teenager gave an impassioned speech against the nation's weak gun laws and the NRA that quickly went viral.
Along with some of her Stoneman Douglas classmates, she then helped found the gun-control advocacy group Never Again MSD, and helped organize and lead Saturday's worldwide March For Our Lives rallies. Gonzalez even delivered one of the most powerful speeches at the main rally in Washington, D.C., remaining silent for several minutes after listing the names of those killed in Parkland.
Unfortunately, Gonzalez and her classmates' outspokenness has also made them a target for criticism and ridicule by some on the right, as well as subject to death threats and conspiracy theories.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.