Making, Not Filtering, Disinformation

April 8, 2019

I spotted a link to this article on Sunday (April 7, 2019). The title of the “real news” report was “Facebook Is Asking to Be Regulated but Wants to Choose How.” The write ostensibly was about Facebook’s realization that regulation would be good for everyone. Mark Zuckerberg wants to be able to do his good work within a legal framework.

I noted this passage in the article:

Facebook has been in the vanguard of creating ways in which both harmful content can be generated and easily sent to anyone in the world, and it has given rise to whole new categories of election meddling. Asking for government regulation of “harmful content” is an interesting proposition in terms of the American constitution, which straight-up forbids Congress from passing any law that interferes with speech under the first amendment.

I also circled this statement:

Facebook went to the extraordinary lengths of taking out “native advertising” in the Daily Telegraph. In other words ran a month of paid-for articles demonstrating the sunnier side of tech, and framing Facebook’s efforts to curb nefarious activities on its own platform. There is nothing wrong with Facebook buying native advertising – indeed, it ran a similar campaign in the Guardian a couple of years ago – but this was the first time that the PR talking points adopted by the company have been used in such a way.

From Mr. Zuckerberg’s point of view, he is sharing his ideas.

From the Guardian’s point of view, he is acting in a slippery manner.

From the newspapers reporting about his activities and, in the case of the Washington Post, providing him with an editorial forum, news is news.

But what’s the view from Harrod’s Creek? Let me share a handful of observations:

  1. If a person pays money to a PR firm to get information in a newspaper, that information is “news” even if it sets forth an agenda
  2. Identifying disinformation or weaponized information is difficult, it seems, for humans involved in creating “real news”. No wonder software struggles. Money may cloud judgment.
  3. Information disseminated from seemingly “authoritative” sources is not much different from the info rocks from a digital slingshot. Disgruntled tweeters and unhappy Instagramers can make people duck and respond.

For me, disinformation, reformation, misinformation, and probably regular old run-of-the-mill information is unlikely to be objective. Therefore, efforts and motivations to identify and filter these payloads is likely to be very difficult.

Stephen E Arnold, April 8, 2019

Internetting with the New York Times: Print Instead of Video

April 8, 2019

What happens when one converts an idea for a video about hot Internet topics into print on standard newspaper? The answer is, “Internetting.”

My dead tree edition of the gray lady included a supplement called “Internetting.” There was on Sunday, April 7, 2019, a fan’s tweet about the 11 page section:


Frankly, I am not sure what the heck the section was designed to convey. I did spot an info bubble that informed me: A video print adventure through a  Jacques Derrida-inspired project.

I went through the unconnected printed sheets and noted that the word “video” was struck out. To me that meant, “This is a paper version of a video.” Okay, the information appeared on paper; therefore, the 11 printed sheets were not a video. A strike out? Would I be confused? Was the Internetting information a bit of humor. A Saturday Night Live sketch gone wrong?

I looked at each of the sheets and scanned the information on each page. I was baffled by “Dogs Took Over the Internet. Our Souls Are at Stake.” I thought cats owned the Internet. If not, felines should be the lions of digital.

One thing is sure: I am glad I no longer work in New York City and am exposed to this type of hip new thinking when I left my lousy apartment on 39th and went to the dark, semi clean deli, rode in the weird elevators at 245 Park Avenue, and tried to get to the Thai joint on 7th Avenue.

Video into print, printed in a way different from a “regular” newspaper, and filled with definitely odd ball information. No fake news here, gentle reader. Just an artifact of a newspaper adrift in a digital sea. Strike out video. Tell that to Twitch and YouTube consumers. My hunch is that popular YouTubers and Twitchers may not have seen the printed Intenetting thing.

These people were busy doing videos, not paper.

Stephen E Arnold, April 8, 2019

Google: News Corp. Wants to Grill Some Digital Shrimp

April 2, 2019

An article at The Sydney Morning Herald, “What Rupert Murdoch Really Wants from Google and Facebook,” points out that political opposites Rupert Murdoch and Elizabeth Warren agree on one thing—Google has too much power. While Warren vows to promote tech competition by breaking up Google (along with Amazon and Facebook), should she become US president, Murdoch’s company News Corp has petitioned its country’s regulatory agency to do the same. Writer John McDuling observes that it is unlikely, for several reasons, that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will take such an action. He writes:

“So, what are Murdoch and News Corp really up to then? Playing hardball, as usual. The call to break up Google kept the pressure on the search giant, and made the ACCC’s existing proposals to regulate it (and Facebook) seem tame by comparison. Back in December, the ACCC proposed a new body to scrutinize the opaque algorithms that power Google searches and Facebook’s news feed, and their conduct in the ad market. The tech giants and their supporters have dismissed the proposal as a weird, intrusive overreach. But now, all of a sudden, with the global media talking about a Google split, it seems relatively uncontroversial. …

We also circled with our yellow marker pen:

“[News Corp] also proposed a system where Google (and presumably Facebook) could pay ‘license fees’ to publishers to compensate them for the benefit they derived from their content. … The new proposal sounds more like the systems used around the world to decide royalties paid by streaming services and radio stations to songwriters and record labels. It would involve a new statutory framework, and independent economic analysis of the benefits of news to the platforms to help determine payments to publishers.”

As for Warren, the article notes voters across the US political spectrum are nervous about the power wielded by tech giants, implying she is after political points. (Whether the famously divided US Congress can or will actually do anything about the issue remains to be seen, we’re reminded.) Another wrinkle, McDuling observes, is the growing “tech-driven cold war” between the US and China. Anything that disempowers the companies in question could help China—a talking point they are likely to wield in their defense. Apparently, the conversation around the power of tech giants is just salivating at the thought of throwing some digital shrimp on the barbie.

Cynthia Murrell, April 2, 2019

Intercept Intercepted?

March 28, 2019

While it is an old swan song, journalism continues to take a big hit when it comes to the Internet. The Columbia Journalism Review shares how The Intercept recently took a big hit in, “The Intercept, A Billionaire Funded Public Charity, Cuts Back.” First Look Media is a digital media company founded by a tech billionaire Pierre Omidyar and it owns the Intercept, a public charity journalism Web site that solicits donations from its readers to support “fearless, independent journalism.”

The Intercept’s co-founder Laura Poitras was “surprised” when she heard that 4% of her research team had to be downsized. The employee cuts may be perceived as out of step with how a public service is supposed to work. But reader support is not enough to keep it going. Omidyar was the biggest backer for First Look Media and he pumped his own money into the service, relying on his stocks from PayPal and eBay. Maybe tax concerns are an issue.

Omidyar started his digital journalism company in 2013 hoping to create a beacon for old-fashioned journalism in the industry’s changing face. It went well in the beginning, but it did not take long for his company to be reporting on the wrong type of content. Journalists were unhappy with the company’s culture and many left without looking back.

The salaries are also making people scratch their heads:

“ ‘I was recruited to work with First Look before it was publicly announced,’ Marcy Wheeler, a national security journalist best known for her coverage of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign, wrote in a January 2018 essay. ‘The initial discussions pertained to a full-time job, with a generous salary. But along the way—after Glenn and Jeremy Scahill had already gotten a number of other people hired and as Pierre Omidyar started hearing from friends that the effort was out of control—the outlet decided that they were going to go in a different direction. They’d have journalists—Glenn and Jeremy counted as that. And they’d have bloggers, who would get paid less.’ That discrepancy, and the indignity of being treated as a less-than-full journalist, led to her resignation.’”

The top brass’s salaries are not going to change, while those lower on the totem pole are squished. Perhaps a library will step forward to house the information. Moscow State University perhaps?

Whitney Grace, March 28, 2019

Google, the Ad Giant, Funds Local Media

March 26, 2019

I found “Exclusive: Google Funds Creation of New Local Media Companies” quite interesting. Some publishers Google directly contributed to many publications slide into a sluggish Sargasso of red ink.

The write up states:

McClatchy [Google’s first news partner] will be the first of many “experiments” within the Local Experiment Project. The goal is to use the lessons from McClatchy’s efforts, and others in the future, to create a network of shared insights that can be leveraged by everyone in the local news business.

Yep, everyone except those selected by the new Local Experiments Project.

One question, “How long will the experiment last?” If Google kills the service, what happens to the partners? What happens to everyone? Perhaps Tim Andrews of Patch local news fame will return to the GOOG to get news back on track? That’s the net net net, as Mr. Andrews has been known to say.

Stephen E Arnold, March 26, 2019

Elsevier: Raising Prices Easier Than Implementing Security?

March 19, 2019

Elsevier is a professional publishing company. The firm has a reputation for raising prices for its peer reviewed journals and online services. The challenge is that many subscribers are libraries and libraries are not rolling in cash. Raising prices is easy. One calls a meeting, examines models of money in vs subscribers out, and emails the price hike. No problem.

Security, however, works a bit differently. Elsevier may have learned this is the information in “Education and Science Giant Elsevier Left Users’ Passwords Exposed Online” is accurate. The write up asserts:

Elsevier, the company behind scientific journals such as The Lancet, left a server open to the public internet, exposing user email addresses and passwords. The impacted users include people from universities and educational institutions from across the world.

The article reports that Elsevier fixed the problem. The password security issue, not the burden on libraries.

Stephen E Arnold, March 19, 2019

Hashing Videos and Images Explained

March 17, 2019

A quite lucid explanation of video and image identification appears in “How Hashing Could Stop Violent Videos from Spreading.” Here’s one passage from the article:

Video hashing works by breaking down a video into key frames and giving each a unique alphanumerical signature, or hash. That hash is collected into a central database, where every video or photo that is uploaded to a platform is then compared against that dataset. The system requires a database of images and doesn’t use artificial intelligence to identify what is in an image — it only identifies a match between images and videos.

CNN emphasizes Microsoft’s PhotoDNA technology. Information about that system may be found at this link. The write up points out that Facebook and Google use “this technology.”

One question is, “If the technology is available and in use, why are offensive videos and images finding their way into public facing, easily accessible systems?”

The answer according to an expert quoted in the CNN story is:

The decision not to do this [implement more effective hashing filter methods] is a question of will and policy—not a question of technology.”

The answer is that platforms are one way to avoid the editorial responsibility associated with old school methods of communication; for example, wire services, newspapers, and magazine. These types of communication were not perfect, but in many cases, an editorial process prevented certain types of information from appearing  in certain publications. So far, the hands off approach of some digital channels and the over hyped use of smart software have not been as effective as the hopelessly old fashioned processes used by some traditional media outlets.

So will? Policy?

Nah, money, expediency, and the high school science club approach to management.

Stephen E Arnold, March 17, 2019

Professional Publishing: Push Back and Grousing

March 1, 2019

The University of California is a foreign territory here in Harrod’s Creek. The nearest library harbors a few individuals who want to dive into the Commonwealth’s deep and thrilling history.

UC is different. For vendors pitching library centric products from smart shelving to digital copies of journals related to the fascinating insights into misbehaving cells, California UC is a very big deal. The reasons range from money to standing orders. Oh, that’s money too. Sorry.

I read “UC Terminates Subscriptions with World’s Largest Scientific Publisher in Push for Open Access to Publicly Funded Research.” This fine title means, “The library system will no longer pay professional publishers like Elsevier and others outrageous subscription fees about research funded by government research grants.


The reason is that the cost of certain professional journals is brutal. To add to the irritation of high prices, authors have to pay the professional publishers to have their content in the journal. Then, the professional publishers ask “experts” to read these articles in order to maintain quality. Hey, it is cheaper to let unpaid “experts” read and comment instead of hiring an expensive subject matter expert. (How fresh are articles in professionally published math journals? Answer: Not very.)

What companies are likely to be hit in the pocketbook with this policy? Elsevier, for sure. Probably Wolters Kluwer, some units of Thomson Reuters, maybe sickly fish like Cambridge Scientific Abstracts and Ebsco too. Even outliers like Emerald could be affected but I am not sure if Emerald has a “must be published in” title.

The UC news release said:

Despite months of contract negotiations, Elsevier was unwilling to meet UC’s key goal: securing universal open access to UC research while containing the rapidly escalating costs associated with for-profit journals.

From my point of view, universities have fed the high costs of professional journals. Here’s how the big time academics stumbled into an MBA trap:

  1. Unpaid, unloved, and often wacky PhDs have to prove that their work is important as part of the elusive and possibly endangered “tenure” track
  2. The academics whip up research using even more needy graduate students
  3. The “research” is crafted into a journal article published by an Elsevier-type outfit
  4. The PhD, tenure and approbation seeking author or authors then pay for page proofs and corrections. This is a nice way of saying, “You write this crazy stuff, so pay for the typesetting.”
  5. The journal’s editor sends out the submitted “research” to subject matter experts. Some of whom may not be paid or given a free copy of the journal or an invitation to the publisher’s suite at an academic conference
  6. The “good” write ups are queued for publication
  7. The author buys copies of the article, prints off citations, prays for or induces someone to write a review. These are then provided to the appropriate tenure track committee
  8. The tenure committee then uses these “research” publications in “important” journals as evidence of the desperate PhD’s academic work.


What Elsevier type outfits have done is monetize this institutional, symbiotic process. The UC system wants to change the rules.

Will this method work? Yes, if other universities jump on the bandwagon and stay there. The problem is that Elsevier-type publications may have more influence over academic institutions than the individuals who work in the university bureaucracies?

Nifty, eh. Universities like the UC units set up a system which feeds back high prices in a loop the hapless PhDs cannot escape. Who wants to accept a blog post or a tweet as proof of excellence. Certainly few on a tenure committee are keen on this approach. There are standards to maintain.

Stephen E Arnold, March 1, 2019

Elsevier Excitement: Not an Oxymoron

January 16, 2019

Professional publishing – the information designed for lawyers, accountants, scientists, technologists, and their ilk – is usually a quiet place. Notice that I did not say, “Dull.”

Now one of the leaders in this small club of gatekeepers has evidenced some actual management excitement at least here in Harrod’s Creek.

According to Inside Higher Education:

The entire editorial board of the Elsevier-owned Journal of Informetrics resigned Thursday in protest over high open-access fees, restricted access to citation data and commercial control of scholarly work. Today, the same team is launching a new fully open-access journal called Quantitative Science Studies.

Most of the folks outside the STEM world of publishing are unaware that many professional publishers rely on a very reliable business model. Some of its features include:

  1. Work with august academic institutions to make sure the paper based “publish or perish” model is required for anything close to a tenure track or a jump in pay
  2. Charge the authors for various things. Remember. The authors have to publish in esteemed journals which are in theory reviewed by hard working peers. The idea is to make sure those fudged data are identified and stopped before the vetted paper is published. Non reproducible results? Let’s not talk about those.
  3. Charge the academic institutions with the tenure track and aspiring scholars to subscribe to these peer reviewed journals.
  4. Recycle the content in different ways to generate downstream revenue from online databases and services.
  5. Work with vendors who create digital or microfilm versions of the older versions of the publications to generate royalties.

Most of these methods are little known and only partially understood by individuals who don’t pay much attention to a $2,000 for four issues paper publication.

Now the revolt is indeed exciting. The write up does the normal journalism thing. The good stuff is the business model, the somewhat generous money generating mechanisms from which the authors and the institutions are excluded, and the fact that scholarly information is only available to those with the money to pay for these documents.

Is this the beginning of the end for Elsevier-type outfits and their close cousins, the Reed Elsevier type outfits?

To me this is an interesting question.

Stephen E Arnold, January 16, 2019

Facebook: The Fallacy of Rules in an Open Ended Datasphere

December 29, 2018

I read “Inside Facebook’s Secret Rulebook for Global Political Speech.” Yogi Berra time: It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Some history, gentle reader.

Years ago I met with a text analytics company. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to identify problematic content; for example, falsified reports related to a warfighting location.

I listened as the 20 somethings and a couple of MBA types bandied about ideas for creating a set of rules that would identify the ways in which information is falsified. There was the inevitable knowledgebase, a taxonomy of terms and jargon, and rules. “If then” stuff.

The big idea was to filter the content with the front end of old school look ups and then feed the outputs into the company’s smart system. I listened and suggested that the cost and time of fiddling with rules would consume the available manpower, time, and money.

Ho, ho, ho was the response. Listen to the old goose from rural Kentucky.

Yeah, that was in 2005, and where is that system now? It’s being used as a utility for IBM’s staggering mountain of smart software and for finding items of interest for a handful of financial clients.

Ho, ho, ho. The joke is one the whiz kids and the investors, who care going to run out of patience when the light bulb does on and says:

“Yo, folks, figuring out what’s fake, shaped, disinformationized, or reformationized content is what makes search difficult.”

I read a scoop from the New York Times. Yep, that’s the print newspaper which delivers to my door each day information that is two or three days old. I see most of the stories online in one form or another. Tip: 85 percent of news is triggered by AP or Reuters feeds.

The article reveals that Facebook’s really smart people cannot figure out how to deal with various types of speech: Political and other types. The child porn content on WhatsApp is a challenge as well I would add.

The write up says:

An examination of the files revealed numerous gaps, biases and outright errors. As Facebook employees grope for the right answers, they have allowed extremist language to flourish in some countries while censoring mainstream speech in others.

Yep, a scoop.

Facebook’s hubris, like the text processing company which dragged me into a series of bull sessions, allows the company to demonstrate that it cannot cope with filtering within a datasphere in which controls are going to be tough to enforce.

The fix is to create a for fee country club. If a person does not meet the criteria, no membership for you. Then each member gets the equivalent of a US social security number which is linked to the verified identity, the payment mechanism, and other data the system can link.

Amazon has this type of system available, but I am not sure the Facebookers are going to pay Amazon to use its policeware to create a clean, well lit place. (Sorry, Ernest, not “lighted”.)

As a final point, may I suggest that rules based systems where big data floweth are going to be tough to create, update, and pay for.

On the other hand, why not hire the New York Times to set up an old school editorial board to do the work. News is not ringing the financial bell at the NYT, so maybe becoming the Facebook solution is a path forward. The cost may put Facebook in the dog house with investors, but the NYT regains it position as the arbiter of what’s in and what’s out.

Power again!

Stephen E Arnold, December 29, 2018

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