6 WAYS CENSORSHIP IS HIDDEN IN THE NEWS AND ONLINE
1. Twitter Astroturf and Manipulation
In 2015, Twitter made plans for an #AskPOTUS town hall with President Obama to compete with rivals like Reddit, which was drawing a lot of attention for its interactive Q&A sessions with well- known people. But the Twitter session was not the freewheeling event some might have expected. According to a former Twitter senior employee who spoke to BuzzFeed, the head of Twitter, Dick Costolo, had ordered employees to build an algorithm to filter out any abusive tweets that might be directed at Obama. A source said Twitter also manually censored the #AskPOTUS tweets because the automated system was inconsistent. The decision to control the message was kept secret from some senior employees for fear they would object. Some who did find out were said to be upset because they believed the censorship defied Twitter’s supposed commitment to free speech. . .
2. Facebook News Curating
Former insiders at Facebook claim some news there is presented or withheld for biased reasons. In May 2016, an ex–Facebook employee was anonymously quoted on Gizmodo, a design, technology, and science fiction website, saying he was part of a project that “routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential ‘trending’ news section.” Several people who were reportedly employed at Facebook as “news curators” told Gizmodo they were “instructed to artificially ‘inject’ selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion. . . . Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending.” One former curator said suppressed topics included former IRS official Lois Lerner, who took the fifth before Congress after being accused of targeting conservative groups, and popular conservative news aggregator the Drudge Report. Facebook denied the allegations.
3. Movie Criticism by News and Quasi-News
Online manipulation can be found on news and quasi-news sites as well. In January 2016, there was an Internet smear directed against a Hollywood film based on a true-life story. The film is 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. It tells the personal stories of three CIA operators who heroically helped fight off Islamic extremist attackers on September 11, 2012. This is a movie that supporters of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, by necessity, must smear. Clinton was secretary of state during that night’s tragic events. Dozens of Americans in Benghazi had waited for an outside U.S. military rescue that never came. Obama was missing in action. The military blamed Hillary’s State Department for not giving the green light to launch a rescue option. Four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed.
It will be difficult for the administration and Hillary Clinton interests to directly impeach the heroes in the film. So some seek to controversialize the movie itself. To try to keep people from seeing it. Convince the potential audience that it’s boring. Tedious. A flop. And so, even before the movie’s release, there’s a suspicious stampede of negative reviews. Whether intentional or not, they lead to an astroturf smear campaign. . .
4. Personal Smear Campaigns
In October 2016, Scott Adams, creator of the office humor comic strip Dilbert, wrote a very serious blog post titled “The Week I Became a Target.” In it, he claimed he’d been targeted by Hillary Clinton interests because of his support for Donald Trump. The campaign against him employed classic facets of astroturf, including attacks against him on social media, in the news, and even on a book review site.
“This weekend I got ‘shadowbanned’ on Twitter,” Adams writes. “It lasted until my followers noticed and protested. Shadowbanning prevents my followers from seeing my tweets and replies, but in a way that is not obvious until you do some digging. Why did I get shadowbanned? Beats me. But it was probably because I asked people to tweet me examples of Clinton supporters being violent against peaceful Trump supporters in public. I got a lot of them. It was chilling.”
Adams reveals that the week before his “shadowban,” his Twitter feed “was invaded by an army of Clinton trolls leaving sarcastic insults and not much else on my feed. There was an obvious similarity to them, meaning it was organized.” At around the same time, coincidentally, liberal website Slate published a hit piece on Adams. “It was so lame that I retweeted it myself,” he says. “The timing of the hit piece might be a coincidence, but I stopped believing in coincidences this year.”. . .
5. Op-eds for Hire
If you think there’s more transparency over at the op-ed pages of major news publications, then you haven’t been paying attention.
“I write op-eds in the name of other people,” a noted player in the field confesses to me. “I’m advocating for large clients. Communicating some- body else’s idea. I’ve written five of them in four days on different topics I know little about.”
His signature is never at the bottom of his work; it’s always somebody else’s. Someone who’s paid for use of their name. Maybe a university doctor, physician, or economist. A current or retired public notable. It’s like money laundering, only instead of hiding the origin of ill-gotten gains, it masks the source of paid opinions. The ghostwriter never gets credit. He gets a paycheck.
Another player who dabbles in this business is a trial lawyer and Democrat activist.
“I get letters published in newspapers all the time for my clients. And you know what? No newspaper editor ever asks if the client really wrote it,” he tells me incredulously. “Can you believe that? They don’t even ask.” . . .
6. Comments for Hire
Comments on the Internet are also prime astroturf real estate. Paid interests disguised as ordinary people troll assigned topics, news sites, re- porters, blogs, and social media for the purpose of posting comments that spin and confuse. You already knew that. But there’s another comment arena that’s being manipulated under the noses of ordinary Americans: the Federal Register.
The Federal Register is where federal agencies publish proposed regulations so the public can comment on them before they’re enacted. It’s a process required by a law called the Administrative Procedure Act. Agencies are supposed to respond to the public feedback.
As I write this, I’m betting most of you have never submitted a single official comment about any of the millions of federal regulations enacted over the years. So who is filling up these comment sections? You guessed it: insiders and paid interests. Those who want to stop regulations or have them passed or amended in their favor. One player in the field tells me that he spends a great deal of time and effort filing comments on behalf of paid clients.
“I do a lot of work in beating back bad regulations by using the comment period, by driving comments into the government,” he says. It’s effective and it doesn’t cost a penny. . .
(Excerpt from Sharyl Attkisson.)
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