Fake news stories blame Muslims as well as Antifa for Amtrak crash
As we reported last week, one fake news narrative blames Antifa, a loosely organized group of anarchists, for last week’s fatal Amtrak train derailment. (It’s pretty clear that the crash had more to do with the fact the train was going 80 mph in a 30 mph zone, a fact that was made public the same day as the accident.)
Who else is a reliable scapegoat for nearly any tragedy or misfortune, real or imagined? Muslims.
So it’s not surprising that as one meme blamed Antifa for the derailment, another claimed that the FBI had named ‘Muhammad Christopher Blair’ as the saboteur responsible. The meme says Blair “was born in rural Ohio to a Christian woman and a Muslim man she fell in love with who ultimately abandoned his family — but his religion and his hatred of America lived on.”
‘Muhammad Christopher Blair’ seems to be a swipe at the real-life Christopher Blair, a Maine man with liberal politics whose now-defunct parody site, thelastlineofdefense.org, featured stories that were often picked up by fake news sites which presented them at face value. (This is a tangled web to weave, admittedly.)
While all that was happening, another site has claimed that an “illegal Muslim from Iran,” unimaginatively named “Muhummad Islam,” had been arrested for starting the devastating California wildfires. This is an updating of a meme we wrote about in October.
In fake news news:
- Must read: Facebook may know more about you than you’d prefer, but consider the system coming into place in China: easy cashless transactions leave a detailed record of all your comings and goings, while secretive algorithms grade not just your financial credit but your “social credit” by taking into account your social media activity. Naturally, the government is moving toward a system of social control, assigning every citizen a score: “For the Chinese Communist Party, social credit is an attempt at a softer, more invisible authoritarianism,” Wired explains. Social media relationships with people with low scores will lower your score, and vice versa. The Party once saw social media as a threat, the story explains, but now appreciates its potential for surveillance and manipulation.
- A long read in the Washington Post on Russian disinformation efforts leading up to the 2016 U.S. election, which included freelancers that didn’t exist. Some in the U.S. intelligence community — and spy agencies of European NATO allies — were awake to what was going on, but struggled to get a hearing.
- Also in the Post, a story on how Russian submarine activity around crucial communications cables in the North Atlantic is making U.S. naval officials nervous. The report parallels one we saw in the Guardian before Christmas, citing British sources.
- AP reports on efforts by Fancy Bear, a group of Russian hackers, to target reporters’ email and social media accounts, often leaking personal or embarrassing information. At least 200 are affected, as far as we know. The New York Times and independent journalists in Russia seem to attract the most attention,
- In the Harvard Business Review: high-quality data has let advertisers target ads precisely, but it creeps may people out: “There is also evidence that using online ‘surveillance’ to sell products can lead to a consumer backlash … awareness could decrease ad performance if it activates concerns about privacy and provokes consumer opposition.” Transparency seems to be key to some level of consumer acceptance, the writer argues.
- A poorly secured database held information on 300 million individuals and 126 million households in the U.S., the International Business Times reports. The company involved says the data was “aggregated and de-identified,” but cybersecurity firm UpGuard is skeptical: “This exposed data provides a highly detailed database of tens of millions of Americans’ personal, financial, and private lives.”
- At CNN: Breitbart went all-out promoting Roy Moore’s doomed candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, but editor Alex Marlow concedes that he believes Leigh Corfman, a woman who says Moore sexually abused her when she was 14. “This is vile,” David French writes in National Review. “It’s clear that Breitbart subscribes to the belief that to make their nationalist omelet they have to break a few abuse-victim eggs.”
- Ahead of a debate in the British parliament about Russian disinformation operations targeting the 2016 Brexit referendum, trolls connected to the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency savagely abused MPs critical of Russia on Twitter, the Digital Forensic Research Lab reports.
- E-mail tracking apps quietly provide a vast amount of information about the people they track, Wired warns. If you want to avoid being a target, one expert warns, “the only surefire solution right now is to block images by default.”
- Canadaland dissects a later-withdrawn report by the Quebec network TVA, which claimed that a mosque in Montreal had successfully demanded that female construction workers not be near them on Fridays. The story fell apart, but protesters showed up anyway: “I don’t care if it’s true or not,” one said.
- Facebook routinely allows employers to target job ads by age, a ProPublica/New York Times investigation shows. (Can they do that? No, employment lawyers say, but it’s hard to tell what ads you haven’t been shown.) On the other hand, people selling sealskin products in Iqaluit found themselves banned from Facebook just before Christmas. “Facebook is by far the most common form of neighbourhood commerce in Nunavut, with residents using the local sell/swap groups to trade traditional country foods like whale and caribou, sealskin crafts and furs,” the CBC explains.
- Reporter Yair Rosenberg and a helpful developer built a bot to spot Twitter’s ‘impersonator trolls’ — neo-Nazi accounts that derail discussions by pretending to be, for example, both Jewish and anti-Semitic. It worked well enough, but in the end Twitter suspended the bot and left the trolls in place. “We used Twitter’s tools to police itself — until Twitter fired the sheriff. If the platform is going to rescue itself from the trolls, it will need to foster these efforts, not fight them,” Rosenberg writes.
- Folks who track this stuff have discovered Groyper, Pepe the Frog’s more extreme successor, who as one might expect emerged from 4chan. “Whereas Pepe the Frog has become relatively popular, even among moderate Trump supporters, Groyper appears to appeal to more ardently racist and xenophobic users,” Slate explains. This thread at @RespectableLaw has the details.
- And Facebook has abandoned its “disputed flags” in suspected fake news because, among other things, curious readers are more likely to click.
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