Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Apropos of the last post about the Yellow Jackets, here’s BuzzFeed News’s Ryan Broderick on How We Radicalized The World:

Chances are, by now, your country has some, if not all, of the following. First off, you probably have some kind of local internet troll problem, like the MAGAsphere in the US, the Netto-uyoku in Japan, Fujitrolls in Peru, or AK-trolls in Turkey. Your trolls will probably have been radicalized online via some kind of community for young men like Gamergate, Jeuxvideo.com (“videogames.com”) in France, ForoCoches (“Cars Forum”) in Spain, Ilbe Storehouse in South Korea, 2chan in Japan, or banter Facebook pages in the UK.

Then far-right influencers start appearing, aided by algorithms recommending content that increases user watch time. They will use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to transmit and amplify content and organize harassment and intimidation campaigns. If these influencers become sophisticated enough, they will try to organize protests or rallies. The mini fascist comic cons they organize will be livestreamed and operate as an augmented reality game for the people watching at home. Violence and doxxing will follow them.

Some of these trolls and influencers will create more sophisticated far-right groups within the larger movement, like the Proud Boys, Generation Identity, or Movimento Brasil Livre. Or some will reinvigorate older, more established far-right or nationalist institutions like the Nordic Resistance Movement, the Football Lads Alliance, United Patriots Front, or PEGIDA.

While a far-right community is building in your country, a fake news blitz is usually raging online. It could be a rumor-based culture of misinformation, like the localized hoaxes that circulate in countries like India, Myanmar, or Brazil. Or it could be the more traditional “fake news” or hyperpartisan propaganda we see in predominantly English-speaking countries like the US, Australia, or the UK.

Typically, large right-wing news channels or conservative tabloids will then take these stories going viral on Facebook and repackage them for older, mainstream audiences. Depending on your country’s media landscape, the far-right trolls and influencers may try to hijack this social-media-to-newspaper-to-television pipeline. Which then creates more content to screenshot, meme, and share. It’s a feedback loop.

Lest you thought the problem with social media began and ended at Facebook, Broderick’s platform-agnostic 350-word synopsis of our ongoing epistemological crisis is probably the best and most concise one I’ve read. He’s got an interesting perspective on this stuff. In 2015, I started listening to Broderick’s “Internet Explorer” podcast, in which he and co-host Katie Notopoulos shared the weirdest and darkest internet memes they could find. They described their show as covering “things like subreddits where men ejaculate on anime figurines, dragon-shaped dildos, and the adult baby fetish community.” It’s like when the guy who plays Captain America in the movies gets into real-life Twitter beefs with neo-nazis: that’s a career arc that somehow makes perfect and zero sense simultaneously.

There’s also this story from Andy Kroll in Rolling Stone, on the way John Podesta had his life turned upside-down by the Pizzagate conspiracy. I liked this nugget from the middle of Kroll’s article, in which the owner of the pizza parlor at the center of Pizzagate is trying to get social media companies to stop pushing conspiracy theories to their billions of users. At this point, one conspiracy theorist has already walked into the pizza parlor with a rifle and started shooting:

The response from the social media companies ranged from helpful to utterly dismissive, [Comet Pizza parlor owner James] Alefantis recalls. Even before he’d hired lawyers, Alefantis had gotten Yelp to suspend Comet’s page after his staff had reported the abusive reviews. Facebook was responsive to Comet’s complaints. YouTube, however, refused to so much as acknowledge its role in amplifying Pizzagate, saying they were just a platform, that they weren’t an arbiter of truth and falsity and told Alefantis to get back in touch if and when he could get a court order finding the videos that promoted Pizzagate to be defamatory.

“YouTube is a platform committed to allowing a wide range of free expression, but it is not and never has been anything goes,” a YouTube spokesperson tells Rolling Stone, adding that in the first half of 2018 the company removed more than 17 million individual videos that violated its policies.

YouTube’s first response (to the guy who owned the shot-up pizzeria) was basically “hey, it’s not our job to figure out whether the conspiracy theory is true.” It’s cool, I’m sure it’s someone else’s job to moderate the thing you built. Don’t sweat it. And then, when the Rolling Stone reporter got in touch with YouTube for his story, YouTube’s second response was essentially “we kick stuff off our platform all the time but only when they break the rules.” I feel like there’s a possibility that YouTube missed their window to play the ‘we moderate our platform real good’ card in this case.

Here’s hoping the big social media platforms figure this stuff out sooner rather than later.

Published on under It Is Not Rad To Be Radical

BuzzFeed’s Ryan Broderick: The “Yellow Jackets” Riots In France Are What Happens When Facebook Gets Involved With Local News

In January this year, “Anger Groups” (Groupes Colère) started to appear across French Facebook. The first group was titled “Are you fed up? This is now! (anger + dept)” and it was started by a Portuguese bricklayer named Leandro Antonio Nogueira, who was living in the southwest département — or administrative territory — of Dordogne.

Nogueira’s group called for members to peacefully protest local authorities by blocking roads. Nogueira then quickly helped set up Anger Groups in other départements across France. These immediately gave lower-middle-class and working-class people in small towns a chance to complain about local issues. Nogueira’s first group, which is private, currently has around 90,000 members.

These pages weren’t exploding in popularity by coincidence. The same month that Nogueira set up his first group, Mark Zuckerberg announced two algorithm changes to Facebook’s News Feed that would “prioritize news that is trustworthy, informative, and local.” The updates were meant to combat sensationalism, misinformation, and political polarization by emphasizing local networks over publisher pages. One change upranks news from local publishers only. Another change made the same month prioritizes posts from friends and family, hoping to inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments of posts.

The easiest thing to do when the monster stomps out of the castle and starts strangling peasants is to waggle your finger at the mad scientist and howl ‘you tempted fate by playing God; you must have known you could never control your creation!’ But I’m not going to sit on my couch and blame Mark Zuckerberg for building something that he lacks the ability to control or even understand. Technology is weird, man. Even the so-called geniuses don’t get it all the time. For example, Steve Jobs was reportedly quite surprised the iPhone’s App Store was so darn popular. And, you know, if the App Store ended up destroying Western Civilization, he’d probably have been pretty surprised by that, too.

No, I think at this point in my life, I’m mostly upset that we’ve spent the last half-decade watching Mark Zuckerberg’s creation lurch from bloody disaster to increasingly bloody disaster, all while Zuckerberg hems and haws and goes “Well, you know, this monster really brings us all together, and we take it very seriously when our users ask us to keep the stranglings to a minimum.” I can’t read his mind, but I don’t really need to. Even if Zuckerberg were an altruist and not the world’s most successful surveillance capitalist, or if creating a surveillance capitalist apparatus were somehow an altruistic goal, Zuckerberg’s failing miserably. Facebook causes so much collateral damage that even the most charitable version of Zuckerberg’s intentions and motivations aren’t enough to make up for all this bullshit:

So, in less than two weeks, what you end up with is this: A Change.org petition with fewer than 1,500 subscribers gets talked about on a local radio station. The radio appearance is written up by a local news site. The article is shared to a local Facebook page. Thanks to an algorithm change that is now emphasizing local discussion, the article dominates the conversation in a small town. Two men from the same suburb then turn the petition into a Facebook event. A duplicate petition goes viral within the local Facebook groups. Then a daily newspaper writes up the original petition. This second article about the petition also goes viral. So does the original petition. And then the rest of French media follows.

This week, protesters scaled the Arc de Triomphe, burned cars, and clashed with police in the third consecutive weekend of riots in France. More than 300 people were arrested in Paris last weekend alone, and 37,000 law enforcement officers have been deployed around the country to restore order.

There’s a time for mad science, there’s a time for apologizing for the unforeseen consequences of said mad science, and then there’s a time to shut up and help the rest of us destroy the monster you built before it kills us all.

If you’re looking for a torch or pitchfork, I hear Paris is lovely this time of year, Mark.

Published on under Somehow YouTube is Probably Worse

Last week, the Special Counsel’s Office (SCO) and Paul Manafort’s attorneys filed a joint status report in the DC federal court where Paul Manafort entered his plea agreement back in September. Joint Status Reports are how parties keep the judge posted on how the cooperation is going after a defendant flips. Manafort’s cooperation is going… not so great. Here’s how the SCO puts it:

After signing the plea agreement, Manafort committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel’s Office on a variety of subject matters, which constitute breaches of the agreement.

Now, “the agreement” is the plea deal: it’s a contract between the government and Manafort. In that plea deal, Manafort agreed to help with other investigations, and the SCO agreed to tell the judge that Manafort was so helpful that he should receive a lighter sentence.

It’s called a plea deal because, as part of this contract, Manafort pleaded guilty to somewhere between 17 and 22 years worth of federal felonies. Manafort’s stuck with those guilty pleas: the contract specifically says that if Manafort breaches the agreement, he still can’t withdraw his guilty pleas. Even worse for Manafort, the moment he breached the plea deal, the SCO was no longer under any obligation to ask the judge for a lighter sentence. (If I were a betting man, I’d wager the SCO will actually ask for a harsher sentence.)

Paulie and the situation

Okay, so it’s pretty bad for Paul Manafort right now. I’ll go into exactly how bad it is in a minute, but first let’s talk about what he did. Here’s the New York Times:

A lawyer for Paul Manafort, the president’s onetime campaign chairman, repeatedly briefed President Trump’s lawyers on his client’s discussions with federal investigators after Mr. Manafort agreed to cooperate with the special counsel, according to one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers and two other people familiar with the conversations.

The arrangement was highly unusual and inflamed tensions with the special counsel’s office when prosecutors discovered it after Mr. Manafort began cooperating two months ago, the people said. Some legal experts speculated that it was a bid by Mr. Manafort for a presidential pardon even as he worked with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in hopes of a lighter sentence.

Yeah, that’s bad. When you sign a plea deal, you’re supposed to help the feds, not your co-conspirators. That’s why flipping on your friends is such a big deal in all those mafia movies, Paulie. In addition, the SCO says Manafort’s been lying about a bunch of stuff, which is yet another crime.

So the next step for Manafort and the SCO is a court filing on Friday, in which the SCO lays out why Manafort has breached the plea agreement. According to the plea deal, the SCO has to show enough evidence that Manafort’s been lying to meet the “good faith” standard. That’s an exceedingly low bar: compare it to the much higher “preponderance of the evidence” standard, or “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard we all know from TV.

It’s not over until it’s over, though. Manafort’s lawyers can argue that only an idiot would sign a plea deal and then lie and snitch on the feds instead of his friends, and the off-the-record statements to the contrary in the Times don’t count. Why, only an idiot would openly con-

Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers, acknowledged the arrangement on Tuesday and defended it as a source of valuable insights into the special counsel’s inquiry and where it was headed. Such information could help shape a legal defense strategy, and it also appeared to give Mr. Trump and his legal advisers ammunition in their public relations campaign against Mr. Mueller’s office.

Oh. Oh, Rudy. You probably shouldn’t have said that.

Well, Manafort’s lawyers can at least try to argue that Manafort’s been telling the truth, but again, the SCO doesn’t have to prove he’s been lying. They just have to show good faith evidence that he’s been lying.

wait it gets worse

If the court finds Manafort in breach, he’s toast. Remember that “17 years of felonies” that I mentioned at the outset? Those are just the ones Manafort had to plead guilty to when he signed the plea deal; the SCO actually dropped some of the charges when Manafort agreed to cooperate. The SCO is free to re-charge Manafort for those and have another trial. And that’s just in the DC court. Remember, there’s that federal court in Virginia where the jury deadlocked on ten other charges. The SCO can bring those charges again, too. If Manafort was hoping to save time or money by pleading guilty, it didn’t work. He forfeited something like $46 million worth of assets when he pled guilty, so for his sake, I hope he’s got a few more million stashed away somewhere for his lawyers.

But, uh, the big takeaway here is that Paul Manafort is going to die in prison. There was a good chance that was going to happen before he signed the plea agreement; his first trial went pretty poorly and he’s 69 years old. Remember that Manafort’s been in prison since this summer when he engaged in witness tampering while out on bail. We’ll find out how long Manafort will spend in prison in February when he’s sentenced for the Virginia convictions. Then, in March, he’ll be sentenced for the ten felonies Manafort pleaded guilty to in DC. After that, who knows? We could have a second and third trial.

Even if Trump pardons Manafort, many of the federal felonies with which Manafort has been charged (money laundering, tax fraud, conspiracy, etc.) have state equivalents. There’s no telling how many states’ attorneys general already have charges drawn up, waiting for this exact circumstance.

What about Mueller

As far as what happens next, nobody’s got a track record better than Marcy Wheeler. Here’s Wheeler earlier this week:

Mueller’s team appears to have no doubt that Manafort was lying to them. That means they didn’t really need his testimony, at all. It also means they had no need to keep secrets — they could keep giving Manafort the impression that he was pulling a fast one over the prosecutors, all while reporting misleading information to Trump that he could use to fill out his open book test. Which increases the likelihood that Trump just submitted sworn answers to those questions full of lies.

Wheeler has a follow-up story with more predictions about the next possible shoes to drop:

Finally there’s any number of key disclosures involving Trump about which Trump — as well as Manafort — have already submitted sworn statements. The key one of these involves the Trump Tower meeting. Trump’s lackeys have already made it clear he denied knowledge of the meeting. […]

Given that Trump has made this clear, he must believe his answers match Manafort’s on this point. But if Mueller has solid evidence — perhaps in the form of both witnesses and communications — then revealing that would undercut all the President’s claims about this meeting. An even crazier possibility is if Mueller has found evidence — perhaps on those iPods I’m so obsessed about — that Manafort not only has proof to the contrary, but that Manafort was keeping records for his handler Kilimnik.

Boy, I’d love to see the return of those iPods.

Published on under Pardon Me, Sir

Don’t miss this remarkable piece of writing by Reginald Dwayne Betts: Could an Ex-Convict Become an Attorney? I Intended to Find Out.

One afternoon in the fall of 2016, I sat in a windowless visiting room at the Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire, Conn. A recent graduate of Yale Law School, I was a certified legal intern on a fellowship in the New Haven public defender’s office. J., a lanky 18-year-old brown-skinned kid sitting across from me, was my first client. He didn’t talk. Instead he stared at me as if I were the police. Sanford O. Bruce III, my supervising attorney, listened as I explained to J. (one of his initials) what we knew of the charges against him. A young man with whom J. attended high school had claimed that J. and another kid he didn’t know had threatened him with a pistol, then robbed him of his cellphone and a couple of hundred dollars. Officers arrested J. minutes later, but the other suspect, who supposedly held the gun, was never found.

The prosecutor thought he should serve time in prison. I let J. know this and described what would happen next: a series of court dates, a bond-reduction motion, plea-bargain offers. After remaining silent for nearly 40 minutes, he leaned forward in the blue plastic chair, cutting me off, and asked, “Aren’t you the one who did time in prison?” With a single question, this kid reminded me of what a law degree, even one from Yale, could not do — make my own criminal history vanish.

Firstly, I wish I could write half as well as Mr. Betts. Secondly, it reminds me of a friend’s description of the TV show Designated Survivor as “competency porn.” The way he puts it, it’s inspirational to watch smart people doing good in the face of overwhelmingly lousy situations. Mr. Betts is a goddamn hero.

Published on under okay but how many pushups can he do

This is a fun ride-along with Gothamist’s Stephen Nessen, who reported recently on how The MTA Is Trying To Speed Up Your Ride By Searching For Faulty Signals:

Train operators are told during training to play it safe and drive under the posted speed limit to avoid tripping signals.

“You take your cues from the work culture from the training and they tell you to operate at five to seven miles per hour under the posted speed,” said Zach Arcidiacono, the union representative for train operators, who was an operator himself for 11 years.

And train operators have a real incentive not to set off signals. There’s a five-day unpaid suspension for setting off a signal timer the first time, 10-15 days for a second offense and possible dismissal for a third offense. Workers can also pay a fine of 30 percent of their wages in lieu of a suspension. Except for a few types of trains, most do not have a black box event recorder, so when it comes to a broken signal timer causing the emergency brakes to go off, it’s often just the operators’ word against the MTA’s.

I had no idea the penalties for exceeding the speed limit were so stiff. As someone who rides the subway to work every day, that’s a Very Good Thing, but the speed limits also ought to be set intentionally, rather than accidentally; the MTA’s been systematically reviewing the signals that set the speed limits, and it’s found hundreds that were mis-configured. What a nifty look into the day by day operations of the subway.

Published on under Stand Clear of the Closing Doors

Friend of the blog James Grimmelmann’s Bleak Reflections on the midterm elections, which were somehow only weeks ago:

One aspect of Donald Trump’s political genius is that he intuited, was advised, or stumbled into the realization that the American constitutional system gives an immense structural advantage to the rural party. He has knocked the Republican party off of its traditional ideological axes and remade it as a thoroughly rural party. This was not a large shift: it was already the more rural of the two parties, and has been tipping further in that direction for some time. He just gave it a hard shove.

The white male identity politics that Trump has been stoking are the politics of rural resentment. The unifying theme is a hatred of urban elites. You can call them Democrats, or libtards, or globalists, or Jews. […]

Trump discovered, quite possibly accidentally, that a rural Republican party can take and hold electoral power even if it represents a minority of the population and receives a minority of votes. 2016 set up the hypothesis, and 2018 confirmed it. Even without the House (where the urban party also is at a structural disadvantage, but less of one), the Presidency plus the Senate is enough to staff the agencies and to stack the courts.

Yeah, he wasn’t kidding. That’s pretty bleak.

Published on under More Like Urban Effetes Though