Think twice and find trusted sources: that’s the message I take from three of today’s big news stories about media manipulation in this campaign season. U.S. intelligence officers warned Congressional leaders last week that Russia is already deeply involved in the 2020 election, interfering to try to get Trump re-elected. Add to that the news that climate change deniers are using bots to generate nearly a quarter of all tweets about climate change and a separate story about Michael Bloomberg posting a misleading campaign video, and we all have reason to be wary.
The Russia story is big, though the president seems to take the wrong message from it. Rather than expressing concern about stopping Russian interference in U.S. elections, he is angry that the intelligence services dared to report it. This information, he says, will be used by Democrats. So he fired Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, and replaced him with a loyalist who has zero intelligence experience.
Just to make that even clearer: the president’s reactions to U.S. intelligence reports of Russian interference in the 2020 elections are:
- to fire the Director of National Intelligence;
- to express anger that Democrats might use information about Russian meddling;
- NOT to call for an end to Russian meddling;
- NOT to take any steps to safeguard U.S. elections.
For more on how Russia and other malign forces interfere with our news, and how you can respond to it, see my previous post, Sorting News From Nonsense.
The second story comes from a Guardian report about a Brown University study. The report shows that “a quarter of all tweets about climate on an average day are produced by bots.” The Guardian quotes the study, which has not yet been published, as saying, “These findings suggest a substantial impact of mechanized bots in amplifying denialist messages about climate change, including support for Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement.”
Of course, climate change is a huge issue in the coming election—or should be, for anyone who cares about future life on the only planet we have. Climate change denial slows or stops needed action, and climate change deniers still wield political power, including the presidency.
“The video posted by the Bloomberg campaign to Instagram on Thursday paints a flattering portrait of the former New York mayor’s widely panned debate performance, showing Bloomberg’s Democratic rivals responding with an extended silence after Bloomberg says he is the ‘only one here, I think, that’s ever started a business’. While the former New York mayor did make that statement at the debate, the response was edited to make it look as though the other candidates had no response.”
The Guardian goes on to say that neither Facebook nor Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, will do anything about the video, despite their “media manipulation” policy that requires warnings on deceptively edited videos. A Facebook spokesperson tweeted that the Bloomberg video did not violate this policy. Really? Why not?
Twitter says it will implement a policy of warning labels on significantly altered content, but that doesn’t begin until March 5.
A Bloomberg spokesman says the video was “tongue-in-cheek” and “not meant to be viewed as real.” So it’s okay to lie, if you think no one will believe you anyway? Nice try, Michael.