Confirmation bias is a helluva drug

A news article is out from the Washington Post discussing the disinformation campaign waged by the Russians during the 2016 election.  For me, it’s old and new news as this is something I recognized in 2016 when it was going on.  The new aspect is the depth and breadth of the whole campaign.  It seems there was no social media outlet that was not weaponized in some capacity.

It was easy for me to pick out some of the stories in 2016 because they were just plain stupid to begin with.  There were obvious stories that were too dumb to believe unless those stories were things that you already believed anyway.  Other stories were not as easy to spot as they were not outright obvious nor did they carry any particular overt partisan message.

That was the genius of the whole Russian attack.  They did nothing more than feed into biases that Americans already held close to their hearts.

The report traces the origins of Russian online influence operations to Russian domestic politics in 2009 and says that ambitions shifted to include U.S. politics as early as 2013 on Twitter. Of the tweets the company provided to the Senate, 57 percent are in Russian, 36 percent in English and smaller amounts in other languages.

The efforts to manipulate Americans grew sharply in 2014 and every year after, as teams of operatives spread their work across more platforms and accounts to target larger swaths of U.S. voters by geography, political interests, race, religion and other factors. The Russians started with accounts on Twitter, then added YouTube and Instagram before bringing Facebook into the mix, the report said.

Facebook was particularly effective at targeting conservatives and African Americans, the report found. More than 99 percent of all engagement — meaning likes, shares and other reactions — came from 20 Facebook pages controlled by the IRA, including “Being Patriotic,” “Heart of Texas,” “Blacktivist” and “Army of Jesus.”

Together, the 20 most popular pages generated 39 million likes, 31 million shares, 5.4 million reactions and 3.4 million comments. Company officials told Congress that the Russian campaign reached 126 million peopleon Facebook and 20 million more on Instagram.

The Russians operated 133 accounts on Instagram, a photo-sharing subsidiary of Facebook, that focused mainly on race, ethnicity or other forms of personal identity. The most successful Instagram posts targeted African American cultural issues and black pride and were not explicitly political.

People are more likely to follow and believe sources that they agree with as opposed to digging deeper to determine whether they are reading true factual information to begin with.  Some of these Russian accounts started off by posting actual stories before veering off into numpty land while some other sites mimicked existing news outlets and posted fake news.  We, as a country, basically got mind f**ked by an adversary because of our tendency to lazily accept things we agree with without verifying the authenticity of the information we’re agreeing with.

This has been going on for a while, and there were numerous topics the Russians screwed around with.  They went from stirring up things with Jade Helm all the way to jumping onto the Black Lives Matter bandwagon.  No group or demographic was left unscathed.  We know they were successful because we’re still dealing with the fallout over the whole campaign.

The reports referenced by WaPo state without a doubt that the intent was to help get Trump elected.  That can be seen in the manner of which they targeted specific groups.  I don’t do much with social media because of my job, so I’d like to think that I was somewhat inoculated from the things posted by Russians.  I know that I was not completely untouched by the stuff though as I remember several of the stories they pushed as well as some of the rallies they put together.

As long as we use confirmation bias as a crutch, we will always be very susceptible to being harmed by an attack like this.  We better defend ourselves when we seek out information or evidence contrary to what we believe to determine whether or not we are getting the entire story when we’re forming our beliefs.  Relying on half-truths or outright false information to inform ourselves is a recipe for disaster.  It’s not always a bad thing to be wrong just like it’s not always a good thing to be right.  It’s never a good thing to be ignorant though, and letting confirmation bias dictate what you believe is a good way to becoming ignorant.

A link to the report titled The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency can be found here.


To prejudge or not, that is the question

My wife sent me a link to this video prank a while back.  I think it goes beyond just a mere prank and shows more about how we interact with each other.  The group’s name is Linkin’ Bridge, and they have their own Facebook page for those interested in their music.

By instinct, we all tend to fear the unknown.  When we don’t interact with each other, we tend to fear those we don’t interact with.  It doesn’t matter whether the group is Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Muslim, Jewish, rich, poor, or whatever other demographic group you wish to put there.  It’s natural and a hard instinct to overcome without working hard to override it.

Maybe, just maybe, people will see these videos and realize there’s more to people than what we see on the outside.  Until you know what’s under that visible layer, you don’t know if a person is a friend or foe, harmless or a threat.  If we treat everyone as a threat, then we end up running the risk of actually turning them into a threat by alienating them.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Festivus, Happy Kwanza, or Happy Holidays to whatever holiday you celebrate.  If you don’t celebrate any, then have a great day and I wish all the best of what’s left of this year and all of next year as well.

Let’s be honest…

18 U.S. Code § 2331: From the Legal Information Institute website

18 U.S. Code § 2331: From the Legal Information Institute website

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute about the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado.  I’ve seen people trying to blame the entire pro-life movement for the actions of the one person.  I’ve also seen the pro-life movement trying to avoid being painted because of the actions of a single person.  Personally, I see this as one of those examples of the “chickens coming home to roost” for lack of a better phrase.

I mean, if all Muslims have to disavow extremists who act out in the name of Islam or else they’re considered terrorists themselves or sympathizers…

If Black Lives Matters has to protest every single instance of Black-on-Black violence, ignoring their focus on the treatment of Blacks by the justice system, or they’re branded as troublemakers, thugs, or racial animosity stirrers…

Then, Pro-Lifers who refuse to address the extremism within their own movement, address it in public, and disavow it at every opportunity as all other groups are being asked to do, then the Pro-Life movement is responsible for each and every single act of domestic terrorism targeted towards providers and patients at women’s health care centers.

Point blank.  Own it.

When you constantly stir up emotions in people using over-the-top rhetoric, you should expect people to act out aggressively in response to that.  When you constantly tweak people’s emotions in order to influence political decisions, you should be ready for people who are going to respond to your tweaking.

By the definition above (18 U.S. Code § 2331), which is US law, the shooting in Colorado was an act of domestic terrorism.  Refusing to call it that is a refusal to acknowledge the role we play in fostering such an environment where these acts happen.  It’s not like this is the first or even the second time such an incident has happened.

Bryn Greenwood posted tweets on Twitter about her experiences at working at a Planned Parenthood clinic.  Even though one of the clinics where she worked did not provide abortion services, they were still targeted by extremists from the pro-life movement as though they did.  One only has to say the words Planned Parenthood to get a reaction from some people.

I don’t generally post about abortion or my views on it because of the negative attention that comes with merely mentioning the word Abortion.  However, as a Christian, I feel that I have to speak out against the acts and threats perpetrated on fellow Americans.

If you don’t like abortions, don’t have one, don’t visit a clinic that offers them, and don’t pay for someone else to have one.  That’s your right.  That’s your choice.  At the same time, you have no right to stop any other red-blooded American for exercising their right to privacy and right to choose for themselves.

I don’t think the words “pro-life” and “pro-choice” accurately define the current “sides” in the abortion debate.  We should call them “pro-criminalization” and “pro-freedom” because that’s what their arguments basically boil down to.  If you don’t want abortions to be legal as they currently are, then you want them to become a criminal act, punishable by jail time or whatever.  If you want people to have the ability to choose for themselves, then you advocate for women (and men) to have the freedom to decide for themselves.

If you want to know my personal views, I wouldn’t ask or force my wife to have an abortion.  I’m not going to force any other woman to have an abortion OR carry a child to term either.  If you want to truly cut down on the number of aborted births, then you do that by educating people on all the choices they have to make in regards to health and family planning.  Whether you decide to go the abstinence or contraception route, preventing a pregnancy also prevent an abortion.

If you advocate cutting off funds and funding to clinics that work to prevent pregnancies, are you really trying to cut down on the number of abortions?

Something to ponder…

Always read the fine print

If you haven’t heard about him already, C. J. Pearson has made a name for himself as of lately.  A 12-year-old conservative from here in Georgia, he recently posted a video questioning whether Obama really loves America which went viral.  His one mistake, however, was posting it to Facebook.

See, after his video went viral, Facebook locked his account.  Of course, that kind of action brought out all the accusations of attacks on free speech and people are trying to shut him up because he spoke out against Obama.  None of that has anything to do with reality other than feed the persecution complex that some people have.

In the real world, Mr. Pearson and his parents (or whomever set up the Facebook page) didn’t read the agreement with Facebook.  I don’t have a Facebook page for personal reasons, but I am quite familiar with some of the rules they employ.  In this case, you have to be 13 to have a Facebook page.  No exceptions.  It’s not a Facebook rule, it’s the federal law.

How old do you have to be to sign up for Facebook?

To be eligible to sign up for Facebook, you must be at least 13 years old.

If that explanation doesn’t quite cut it for you and you need further assistance, then there’s this one here.

You know when you go to watch a movie, such as The Parent Trap, or Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone you are greeted with that screen that recommends Parental Guidance for viewers under the age of 13? And then you as a parent use your discretion as to whether your tween is mature enough to watch that movie?

Things are different on Facebook.

When Facebook says users must be over the age of 13, it is a requirement NOT a recommendation. This is because of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA).

COPPA is a United States federal law, which aims to give parents control over what information is collected from their children online. It details what a website operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent or guardian, and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety online including restrictions on the marketing to those under 13.
Children under 13 can legally give out personal information with their parents’ permission (for example, Club Penguin), however many websites do not allow underage children to use their services simply due to the amount of work involved. Facebook is such a site, requiring all users to be over the age of 13. It has also implemented this age limit worldwide, despite the law being a US one.

I hope Mr. Paterson is really taking in this entire experience as a learning lesson.  Always ensure to check the rules and regulations of any site that you’re using.  Just because you can sign up for Facebook doesn’t mean that you can legally sign up, even with your parent’s permission or assistance.

Also, free speech is not free.  If you’re using someone else’s platform to express your free speech, you are still subject to the rules they set for their platform.  If you don’t like the rules, then set out to find a platform more to your liking or create your own platform.  There are numerous blogging platforms that you can use to share your thoughts and opinions.  There are thousands of us who do.  Just make sure you follow the rules.  As long as you’re within the rules, you should have no problem with expressing yourself.  That’s the most important thing of all.  Don’t stop thinking for yourself regardless of what others say to you or about you.

One final note in regards to President Obama and the rhetoric tossed at him from the right.  President Obama is not a dictator and he obviously loves his country and the Constitution despite what anyone says.  Wanna know why I say that?  Rudy Giuliani is still alive, breathing, and talking rhetoric.  If Obama were truly a dictator and hated America, Giuliani would have disappeared long ago when he first started talking negative about Obama.  I’d even go as far as to suggest that Giuliani wouldn’t have opened his mouth because there would have already been a trail of dead bodies for those who spoke out against “Emperor Obama”.  This is no ringing endorsement of President Obama.  This is just basic observation.  How many people spoke ill of Saddam Hussein and lived to speak ill a second time?