Documenting the Trump Administration’s many shocking moves in the hope that they don’t become our new normal

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Since soon after the 2016 election, Amy Siskind has been steadily cataloguing the craziness around us: Trump’s bizarre tweets and directives, the corrupt actions of those around him, and the subtle and not so subtle changes in our country. Her goal is to remind readers weekly that remembering a nation’s descent into authoritarianism is the key to digging out of it. Google her and you’ll find coverage and interviews all over the place including The Washington Post, Daily Kos, and the LGBT-focused Los Angeles Blade, or read her growing list on Medium, linked above.

pub. weekly from 11/2016

Why Facebook’s censorship rules protect some speech you condemn and forbid some speech you condone

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The headline is misleading, as the article is really about the nuances and challenges Facebook must consider in trying to regulate speech, as the subheadline suggests. A more accurate version would be “Why Facebook’s Secret Censorship Rules…”

The rules developed considerable nuance. There is a ban against pictures of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character often used by “alt-right” white supremacists to perpetrate racist memes, but swastikas are allowed under a rule that permits the “display [of] hate symbols for political messaging.” In the documents examined by ProPublica, which are used to train content reviewers, this rule is illustrated with a picture of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that has been manipulated to apply a swastika to his sleeve.

pub. 06/2017

 

A short meditation on US propaganda and politics in the 20th century

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“Democracy is never a thing done,” MacLeish said. “Democracy is always something that a nation must be doing.”…

…Critics called MacLeish naïve: winning a war requires deception. F.D.R., to some degree, agreed. In June, 1942, he replaced the Office of Facts and Figures with the Office of War Information.

pub. 06/2017

Published in the paper edition as “The Strategy of Truth”; audio version here.

A deep dive into Trump/Russia background and history, plus believable speculation

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You’ve probably heard plenty of hushed whispers or outright panic about Russia’s information warfare against the West, but it’s seldom been put in context. We’re going to fix that in our deep dive into exactly how the Trump/Russia saga unfolded. This is one of the most consequential stories of our lifetime, and it’s not over, so get ready to bookmark this piece now.

pub. 05/2017

On media bias and attempts at neutrality

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Institutions like journalism draw their authority from trust. With enough of it, journalism can become a true “fourth estate,” an independent power center with an existence separate and distinct from dueling political factions. Without at least some trust that bridges tribal lines, its authority wanes, and it can only passively report as tribalism takes over.

In the end, for building trust, there simply is no substitute for A) guild professionals with special expertise in gathering and assessing information, B) strong norms to govern their behavior, C) institutions to enforce those norms and vouchsafe good work, and D) social norms granting those professionals some transpartisan authority.

The US has lots of A, but not much of B, C, or D.

pub. 05/2017