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Archive for March 21st, 2019

Tech Platforms Obliterated ISIS Online. They Could Use The Same Tools On White Nationalism.

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The puzzle is why Big Tech is so reluctant to take action. Ryan Broderick and Ellie Hall report in Buzzfeed News:

Before killing 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and injuring 40 more, the gunman apparently decided to fully exploit social media by releasing a manifesto, posting a Twitter thread showing off his weapons, and going live on Facebook as he launched the attack.

The gunman’s coordinated social media strategy wasn’t unique, though. The way he manipulated social media for maximum impact is almost identical to how ISIS, at its peak, was using those very same platforms.

While most mainstream social networks have become aggressive about removing pro-ISIS content from the average user’s feed, far-right extremism and white nationalism continue to thrive. Only the most egregious nodes in the radicalization network have been removed from every platform. The question now is: Will Christchurch change anything?

A 2016 study by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism shows that white nationalists and neo-Nazi supporters had a much larger impact on Twitter than ISIS members and supporters at the time. When looking at about 4,000 accounts of each category, white nationalists and neo-Nazis outperformed ISIS in number of tweets and followers, with an average follower count that was 22 times greater than ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts. The study concluded that by 2016, ISIS had become a target of “large-scale efforts” by Twitter to drive supporters off the platform, like using AI-based technology to automatically flag militant Muslim extremist content, while white nationalists and neo-Nazi supporters were given much more leeway, in large part because their networks were far less cohesive.

Google and Facebook have also invested heavily in AI-based programs that scan their platforms for ISIS activity. Google’s parent company created a program called the Redirect Method that uses AdWords and YouTube video content to target kids at risk of radicalization. Facebook said it used a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning to remove more than 3 million pieces of ISIS and al-Qaeda propaganda in the third quarter of 2018.

These AI tools appear to be working. The pages and groups of ISIS members and supporters have almost been completely scrubbed from Facebook. Beheading videos are pulled down from YouTube within hours. The terror group’s formerly vast network of Twitter accounts have been almost completely erased. Even the slick propaganda videos, once broadcast on multiple platforms within minutes of publication, have been relegated to private groups on apps like Telegram and WhatsApp.

The Christchurch attack is the first big instance of white nationalist extremism being treated — across these three big online platforms — with the same severity as pro-ISIS content. Facebook announced 1.5 million versions of the Christchurch livestream were removed from the platform within the first 24 hours. YouTube said in a statement that “Shocking, violent and graphic content has no place on our platforms, and is removed as soon as we become aware of it,” though the video does continue to appear on the site — a copy of it was being uploaded every second in the first 24 hours. Twitter also said it had taken down the account of the suspected gunman and was working to remove all versions of the video.

The answer to why this kind of cross-network deplatforming hasn’t happened with white nationalist extremism may be found in a 2018 VOX-Pol report authored by the same researcher as the George Washington University study cited above: “The task of crafting a response to the alt-right is considerably more complex and fraught with landmines, largely as a result of the movement’s inherently political nature and its proximity to political power.”

But Silicon Valley’s road to accepting that a group like ISIS could use its technology to radicalize, recruit, and terrorize was a long one. After years of denial and dragging their feet, it was the beheading death of American journalist James Foley, quickly followed by videos of the deaths of other foreign journalists and a British aid worker, and the viral chaos that followed that finally forced tech companies to take the moderation of ISIS seriously. The US and other governments also began putting pressure on Silicon Valley to finally start moderating terror. Tech companies formed joint task forces to share information, working in conjunction with governments and the United Nations and establishing more robust information-sharing systems.

But tech companies and governments can easily agree on removing violent terrorist content; they’ve been less inclined to do this with white nationalist content, which cloaks itself in free speech arguments and which a new wave of populist world leaders are loath to criticize. Christchurch could be another moment for platforms to draw a line in the sand between what is and is not acceptable on their platforms.

Moderating white nationalist extremism is hard because it’s drenched in irony and largely spread online via memes, obscure symbols, and references. The Christchurch gunman ironically told the viewers of his livestream to “Subscribe to Pewdiepie.” His alleged announcement post on 8chan was full of trolly dark web in-jokes. And the cover of his manifesto had a Sonnenrad on it — a sunwheel symbol commonly used by neo-Nazis.

And unlike ISIS, far-right extremism isn’t as centralized. The Christchurch gunman and Christopher Hasson, the white nationalist Coast Guard officer who was arrested last month for allegedly plotting to assassinate politicians and media figures and carry out large-scale terror attacks using biological weapons, were both inspired by Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik. Cesar Sayoc, also known as the “MAGA Bomber,” and the Tree of Life synagogue shooter, both appear to have been partially radicalized via 4chan and Facebook memes.

It may now be genuinely impossible to disentangle anti-Muslim hate speech on Facebook and YouTube from the more coordinated racist 4chan meme pages or white nationalist communities growing on these platforms. “Islamophobia happens to be something that made these companies lots and lots of money,” Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor at Syracuse University whose research includes online harassment, recently told BuzzFeed News. She said this type of content leads to engagement, which keeps people using the platform, which generates ad revenue.

YouTube has community guidelines that prohibit all content that encourages or condones violence to achieve ideological goals. For foreign terrorist organizations such as ISIS, it works with law enforcement internet referral units like Europol to ensure the quick removal of terrorist content from the platform. When asked to comment specifically on whether neo-Nazi or white nationalist video content was moderated in a similar fashion to foreign terrorist organizations, a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that hate speech and content that promotes violence have no place on the platform.

“Over the last few years we have heavily invested in human review teams and smart technology that helps us quickly detect, review, and remove this type of content. We have thousands of people around the world who review and counter abuse of our platforms and we encourage users to flag any videos that they believe violate our guidelines,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson from Twitter provided BuzzFeed News with a copy of its policy on extremism, in regards to how it moderates ISIS-related content. “You may not make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people,” the policy reads. “This includes, but is not limited to, threatening or promoting terrorism.” The spokesperson would not comment specifically on whether using neo-Nazi or white nationalist iconography on Twitter also counted as threatening or promoting terrorism.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on whether white nationalism and neo-Nazism are moderated using the same image matching and language understanding that the platform uses to police ISIS-related content.

Like the hardcore white nationalist and neo-Nazi iconography used by the Christchurch gunman, the more entry-level memes that likely radicalized the MAGA bomber, and the pipeline from mainstream social networks to more private clusters of extremist thought described by the Tree of Life shooter, ISIS’s social media activity before the large-scale crackdown in 2015 had similar tentpoles. It organized around hashtags, distributed propaganda in multiple languages, transmitted coded language and iconography, and siphoned possible recruits from larger mainstream social networks into smaller private messaging platforms.

Its members and supporters were able to post official propaganda materials across platforms with relatively few immediate repercussions. A 2015 analysis of the group’s social media activity found that ISIS released an average of 38 propaganda items a day — most of which did not contain graphic material or content that specifically violated these platforms’ terms of service at the time.

ISIS’s use of Twitter hashtags to effectively spread material in multiple languages went relatively unpoliced for years, as did their use of sharing propaganda material in popular trending tags, in what is known as “hashtag spamming.” As one of many examples, during the 2014 World Cup, ISIS supporters shared images of Iraqi soldiers being executed using the Arabic World Cup tag. They also tweeted propaganda and threats against the US and then-president Barack Obama into the #Ferguson tag during the protests after the death of Michael Brown.

The accounts that were not caught by outsiders for sharing graphic or threatening content often went undetected due to the insulated nature of the communities and the number of languages employed by ISIS members. Also, the group regularly employed coded language, much of which is rooted in a fundamentalist interpretation of the Qur’an and can be difficult for non-Muslims to interpret. As one example, fighters killed in battle or killed carrying out terrorist attacks were referred to as “green birds,” referencing the belief that martyrs of Islam are carried to heaven in the hearts of green birds.’

ISIS’s digital free-for-all started to end on Aug. 19, 2014. A YouTube account that claimed to be the official channel for the so-called Islamic State uploaded a video titled “A Message to America.” The video opened with a clip of Obama announcing airstrikes against ISIS forces in Syria and then cut away to a masked ISIS member standing next to Foley, kneeling on the ground wearing an orange jumpsuit. Foley had been captured by insurgent forces while covering the Syrian Civil War in November 2012. The 4-minute, 40-second video showed his execution by beheading and then a shot of his decapitated head atop his body.

Within minutes of the Foley video being uploaded to YouTube, it started spreading across social media. #ISIS, #JamesFoley, and #IslamicState started trending on Twitter. Users started the #ISISMediaBlackout, urging people not to share the video or screenshots from it.

Then a ripple effect — similar to Alex Jones being deplatformed last year — began. In Jones’ case, first he was kicked off Apple’s iTunes and Podcast apps, then YouTube and Facebook removed him from their platforms, then Twitter, and finally his app was removed from Apple’s App Store.

In 2014, it was YouTube that was the first platform to pull down the James Foley video for violating the site’s policy against videos that “promote terrorism.”

“YouTube has clear policies that prohibit content like gratuitous violence, hate speech and incitement to commit violent acts, and we remove videos violating these policies when flagged by our users,” the company said in a statement at the time. “We also terminate any account registered by a member of a designated foreign terrorist organisation and used in an official capacity to further its interests.”

Then Dick Costolo, then the CEO of Twitter, followed YouTube’s lead, tweeting, “We have been and are actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to this graphic imagery. Thank you.” Then Twitter went a step further, agreeing to remove screenshotsof the video from its platform.

Foley’s execution also forced Facebook to become more aggressive about moderating terror-related content across its family of apps.

It wasn’t just tech companies that came out against the distribution of the Foley execution video. There was a concerted push from the Obama administration to work with tech companies to eliminate ISIS from mainstream social networks. After years of government-facilitated discussions, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorismwas formed by YouTube, Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter in 2017. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has repeatedly highlighted the department’s anti-ISIS collaboration with the GIFCT as one of the key ways the Trump administration is combating terrorism on the internet.

In a certain sense, there is a similar movement online to #ISISMediaBlackout and a genuine pushback against using the name or sharing pictures of the Christchurch gunman. The House Judiciary Committee announced that it will hold a hearing this month on the rise of white nationalism and has invited the heads of all the major tech platforms to testify. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to never say the name of the alleged gunman, and continues to call on social media platforms to take more responsibility for the dissemination of his video and manifesto. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2019 at 11:34 am

Trump’s Mental Health: Is Pathological Narcissism the Key to Trump’s Behavior?

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Alex Morris writes in Rolling Stone:

At 6:35 a.m. on the morning of March 4th, President Donald Trump did what no U.S. president has ever done: He accused his predecessor of spying on him. He did so over Twitter, providing no evidence and – lest anyone miss the point – doubling down on his accusation in tweets at 6:49, 6:52 and 7:02, the last of which referred to Obama as a “Bad (or sick) guy!” Six weeks into his presidency, these unsubstantiated tweets were just one of many times the sitting president had rashly made claims that were (as we soon learned) categorically untrue, but it was the first time since his inauguration that he had so starkly drawn America’s integrity into the fray. And he had done it not behind closed doors with a swift call to the Department of Justice, but instead over social media in a frenzy of ire and grammatical errors. If one hadn’t been asking the question before, it was hard not to wonder: Is the president mentally ill?

It’s now abundantly clear that Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail was not just a “persona” he used to get elected – that he would not, in fact, turn out to be, as he put it, “the most presidential person ever, other than possibly the great Abe Lincoln, all right?” It took all of 24 hours to show us that the Trump we elected was the Trump we would get when, despite the fact that he was president, that he had won, he spent that first full day in office focused not on the problems facing our country but on the problems facing him: his lackluster inauguration attendance and his inability to win the popular vote.

Since Trump first announced his candidacy, his extreme disagreeableness, his loose relationship with the truth and his trigger-happy attacks on those who threatened his dominance were the worrisome qualities that launched a thousand op-eds calling him “unfit for office,” and led to ubiquitous armchair diagnoses of “crazy.” We had never seen a presidential candidate behave in such a way, and his behavior was so abnormal that one couldn’t help but try to fit it into some sort of rubric that would help us understand. “Crazy” kind of did the trick.

And yet, the one group that could weigh in on Trump’s sanity, or possible lack thereof, was sitting the debate out – for an ostensibly good reason. In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson had foreshadowed the 2016 presidential election by suggesting his opponent, Barry Goldwater, was 
too unstable to be in control of 
the nuclear codes, even running 
an ad to that effect that remains 
one of the most controversial in 
the history of American poli
tics. In a survey for Fact magazine, more than 2,000 psychiatrists weighed in, many of them 
seeing pathology in Goldwater’s supposed potty-training woes, 
in his supposed latent homosexuality and in his Cold War paranoia. This was back in the Freudian days of psychiatry,
 when any odd-duck characteristic was fair game for psychiatric dissection, before the Diagnostic and Statistical Man
ual of Mental Disorders cleaned 
house and gave a clear set of 
criteria (none of which includes 
potty training, by the way) for a 
limited number of possible dis
orders. Goldwater lost the election, sued Fact and won his suit.
 The American Psychiatric Asso
ciation was so embarrassed that 
it instituted the so-called Goldwater Rule, stating that it is “un
ethical for a psychiatrist to offer 
a professional opinion unless he 
or she has conducted an examination” of the person under question.

All the same, as Trump’s candidacy snowballed, many in the mental-health community, observing what they believed to be clear signs of pathology, bristled at the limitations of the Goldwater guidelines. “It seems to function as a gag rule,” says Claire Pouncey, a psychiatrist who co-authored a paper in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law,which argued that upholding Goldwater “inhibits potentially valuable educational efforts and psychiatric opinions about potentially dangerous public figures.” Many called on the organizations that traffic in the psychological well-being of Americans – like the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers and the American Psychoanalytic Association – to sound an alarm. “A lot of us were working as hard as we could to try to get organizations to speak out during the campaign,” says Lance Dodes, a psychoanalyst and former professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “I mean, there was certainly a sense that somebody had to speak up.” But none of the organizations wanted to violate the Goldwater Rule. And anyway, Dodes continues, “Most of the pollsters said he would not be elected. So even though there was a lot of worry, people reassured themselves that nothing would come of this.”

But of course, something did come of it, and so on February 13th, Dodes and 34 other psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers published a letter in The New York Times stating that “Mr. Trump’s speech and actions make him incapable of safely serving as president.” As Dodes tells me, “This is not a policy matter at all. It is continuous behavior that the whole country can see that indicates specific kinds of limitations, or problems in his mind. So to say that those people who are most expert in human psychology can’t comment on it is nonsensical.” In their letter, the mental health experts did not go so far as to proffer a diagnosis, but the affliction that has gotten the most play in the days since is a form of narcissism so extreme that it affects a person’s ability to function: narcissistic personality disorder.

The most current iteration of the DSM classifies narcissistic personality disorder as: “A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.” A diagnosis would also require five or more of the following traits:

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., “Nobody builds walls better than me”; “There’s nobody that respects women more than I do”; “There’s nobody who’s done so much for equality as I have”).
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love (“I alone can fix it”; “It’s very hard for them to attack me on looks, because I’m so good-looking”).
3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions (“Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich”).
4. Requires excessive admiration (“They said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl”).
5. Has a sense of entitlement (“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy”).
6. Is interpersonally exploitative (see above).
7. Lacks empathy, is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings
and needs of others (“He’s not a war hero . . . he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured”).
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her (“I’m the president, and you’re not”).
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes (“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters”).

NPD was first introduced as a personality disorder by the DSM in 1980 and affects up to six percent of the U.S. population. It is not a mood state but rather an ingrained set of traits, a programming of the brain that is thought to arise in childhood as a result of parenting that either puts a child on a pedestal and superficially inflates the ego or, conversely, withholds approval and requires the child to single-handedly build up his or her own ego to survive. Either way, this impedes the development of a realistic sense of self and instead fosters a “false self,” a grandiose narrative of one’s own importance that needs constant support and affirmation – or “narcissistic supply” – to ward off an otherwise prevailing sense of emptiness. Of all personality disorders, NPD is among the least responsive to treatment for the obvious reason that narcissists typically do not, or cannot, admit that they are flawed.

Trump’s childhood seems to suggest a history of “pedestal” parenting. “You are a king,” Fred
 Trump told his middle child, while 
also teaching him that the world
 was an unforgiving place and that 
it was important to “be a killer.” Trump apparently got the message: He reportedly threw rocks 
at a neighbor’s baby and bragged
 about punching a music teacher in
 the face. Other kids from his well-
heeled Queens neighborhood of Jamaica Estates were forbidden from playing with him, and in school
 he got detention so often that it
 was nicknamed “DT,” for “Donny Trump.” When his father found 
his collection of switchblades, he
 sent Donald upstate to New York Military Academy, where he could be controlled while also remaining aggressively alpha male. “I think his father would have fit the category [of narcissistic],” says Michael D’Antonio, author of The Truth About Trump. “I think his mother probably would have. And I even think his paternal grandfather did as well. These are very driven, very ambitious people.”

Viewed through the lens of pathology, Trump’s behavior – from military-school reports that he was too competitive to have close friends to his recent impromptu press conference, where he seemed to revel in the hour and a half he spent center stage, spouting paranoia and insults – can be seen as a constant quest for narcissistic supply. Certainly few have gone after fame (a veritable conveyor belt of narcissistic supply) with such single-mindedness as Trump, constantly upping the ante to gain more exposure. Not content with being the heir apparent of his father’s vast outer-borough fortune, he spent his twenties moving the Trump Organization into the spotlight of Manhattan, where his buildings needed to be the biggest, the grandest, the tallest (in the pursuit of which he skipped floors in the numbering to make them seem higher). Not content to inflict the city with a succession of eyesores bearing his name in outsize letters, he had to buy up more Atlantic City casinos than anyone else, as well as a fleet of 727s (which he also slapped with his name) and the world’s third-biggest yacht (despite professing to not like boats). Meanwhile, to make sure that none of this escaped notice, he sometimes pretended to be his own publicist, peppering the press with unsolicited information about his business conquests and his sexual prowess. “The most florid demonstration of [his narcissism] was around the sex scandal that ended his first marriage,” says D’Antonio. “He just did so many things to call more attention to it that it was hard to not recognize that there’s something very strange going on.” (The White House declined to comment for this article.)

Based on the “Big Five” traits that psychologists consider to be the building blocks of personality – extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism – the stamp of a narcissist is someone who scores extremely high in extroversion but extremely low in agreeableness. From his business entanglements to his preference for the rally format, Trump’s way of putting himself out in the world is not meant to make friends; it’s meant to assert his dominance. The reported fear and trembling among his White House staff aligns well with his long-standing habit of hiring two people for the same job and letting them battle it out for his favor. His tendency to hire women was spun as a sign of enlightenment on the campaign trail, but those who’ve worked with him sensed that it had more to do with finding women less threatening than men (a reason that’s also been posited as to why Ivanka is his favorite child). Trump has a lengthy record of stiffing his workers and dodging his creditors. And nothing could be more disagreeable than the way he’s dealt with detractors over the years, filing hundreds of frivolous lawsuits, sending scathing letters (like the one he sent to New York Times columnist Gail Collins with her photo covered by the words “The face of a dog!”), and, once it was invented, using Twitter as an instrument of malice that could provide immediate narcissistic supply via comments and retweets. In fact, while studies have found that Twitter and other social-media outlets do not actually foster narcissism, they have turned much of the Internet into a narcissist’s playground, providing immediate gratification for someone who needs a public and instantaneous way to build up their false self.

That Americans weren’t put off by this disagreeableness may have come as a surprise, but in a country that has turned its political process into a glorified celebrity marketing campaign, it probably shouldn’t have. America was founded on the principles of individualism and independence, and studies have shown that the most individualistic nations are, predictably, the most narcissistic. But studies have also shown that  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2019 at 11:28 am

Shave theme today: Mountain ranges

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I thought about going with a cedar theme: Himalayan Heights (with essential Himalayan cedar oil) and Anthony Gold’s Red Cedar aftershave, but decided to focus on the ranges.

And a fine shave it was. My Rooney butterscotch Emilion made a really great lather from the Meißner Tremonia soap, and I did not have to add water as I loaded—I got the brush just the right amount damp. I did, however, add a little water as I worked up the lather on my face.

The RazoRock Mamba is a fine razor for me and this morning produced an exceptionally smooth result with no problems. A splash of Stetson Sierra to finish the job, and the day is launched.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2019 at 7:33 am

Posted in Shaving

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