“No one is laughing”: How online trolls escaped the internet

By Sterre Meijer

Peter Cvjetanovic along with Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists encircle and chant at counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017.

In 2017, the majority of the internet is a cesspool of online trolls with a bone to pick. Gravitating towards the social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, trolls have long since used the internet to satisfy “a bizarre habit of impulsively hurting others online, without consequence” [1]. However, over the course of the past year, internet trolls elevated their message from the fringes of the internet into mainstream culture. And the consequences can be seen everywhere.

According to Alice Marwick et al. [2], alt-right consist mainly of a large group of internet trolls who’ve emerged from their online platforms to form an organized political group operating in physical space. Informed by the racist, homophobic, anti-feminist, and nationalist narrative of modern-day online trolls, the alt-right has gained a massive following among young men who feel “victimized and disenfranchised by mainstream society, particularly popular feminism.” Through a unique language of hate, these young men are now empowered to legitimize their inflammatory and corrosive politics in the real world and (worst of all) be heard.

[1] Werber, Cassie. “Psychologists have identified the kind of emotional intelligence that makes internet trolls so mean.” Quartz, Quartz, 4 July 2017, qz.com/1021205/psychologists-identified-the-kind-of-emotional-intelligence-that-makes-internet-trolls-so-mean/.

[2] Marwick, Alice, & Lewis, Rebecca. “Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online.” Data & Society. 15 May 2018. Web.

You are what you search

By Sterre Meijer

In March of 2017, important news about the future of my personal data came from a rather unlikely source- Vogue. Preoccupied by the catastrophic start of the Trump Administration, Vogue was the first major (news?) outlet announcing that the House of Representatives had voted to repeal rules that formerly prohibited Internet service providers from selling their customers’ data without their permission. Trump provided just enough public distraction to allow members of Congress to dismantle a major law protecting the online privacy of American citizens. Now, my entire internet search history was up for grabs to the highest bidder.

According to The Ethics of Web Analytics by C. Edson et al.: 

Web analytics refer to the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of Internet data for the purposes of understanding and optimizing web usage.

The decision by Congress to allow internet service providers to sell their user’s internet activity expands the power of this practice in a few important ways. We are no longer just speaking of targeted ads formulated by website owners, corporations and advertisers. As Vogue puts it, “this data is now being sold to financial companies, insurers, real estate agencies, car companies, even political parties.” In terms of how this could shape the journalism landscape in the US, the excessive individualism of media culture has already “stymied discussions of the common good and recognition of communal interest.” Using web analytics to customize people’s internet experience according to their preferences, will only further narrow the public’s information-diet.

 

 

 

 

Big, Bigger, Biggest: What will happen if the FCC approves the Sinclair-Tribune merger?

Ajid Pai is a name few people outside of Washington D.C. have ever heard. But he is a bigger threat to journalism than Donald Trump.

Ajit Pai testifying during a hearing before the Privacy, Technology and the Law Subcommittee of Senate Judiciary Committee May 11, 2016 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Ajit Pai is the incumbent Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) handpicked by Trump for the position. On Monday the Senate reconfirmed his nomination as Chair, just as the FCC concludes their final review of the largest media merger in American history: a merger which wouldn’t have been possible 12 months ago.

As discussed in Jenkins’ reading The Image and Role of Media Convergence, public concern surrounding the consolidation of media outlets have been steadily rising over the past decade [1]. The pending $3.9 billion merger of Sinclair Broadcasting Group (a conservative news outlet with close ties to the President) and Tribune Media Company realizes this fear, by permitting Sinclair to expand its right-leaning television empire into 72% of American households [2].

As we have seen time and time again over the course of Trump’s presidency, loyalty to his cause is met with high reward. Consequently, Pai revived a regulatory loophole that would allow Sinclair to “own a segment of the media landscape that would have previously exceeded [the national audience cap of 39 percent]” [3].

Though the merger is technically still under review, its approval by the FCC is almost inevitable. And once the ink is dry, the Sinclair-Tribune merger promises to homogenize the information-diet of millions of Americans, leaving little room for ideological or economic competition.

Word count: 287

Bibliography

[1] Jenkins, Henry. “The cultural logic of media
convergence.” International Journal of Cultural
Studies 7.1 (2004). Print.

[2] McGill, Margaret Harding, and John Hendel. “How Trump’s FCC aided Sinclair’s expansion.” Politico, Politico LLC, 8 Aug. 2017, www.salon.com/2017/08/07/fcc-exploits-loophole-to-push-massive-expansion-of-pro-trump-sinclair-broadcasting/. Article.

[3] Frankel, Todd C. “Sinclair Broadcast to buy Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, giving it control over 215 local TV stations.” The Washington Post, WP Company LLC, 8 May 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2017/05/08/sinclair-broadcast-to-buytribune-media-for-3-9-billion-creating-nations-largest-tv-station-group/?utm_term=.f286b6b4d851. Article.

LOST IN (ROUGH) TRANSLATION

“How are the things we’re talking about being talked about somewhere else in the world?”[1] That is the question NPR correspondent Gregory Warner aims to answer in his new podcast Rough Translation. From the Russian info-wars in the Ukraine to race in Brazil, Rough Translation “follows familiar discussions into unfamiliar territory.”[2]

‘But how do they do that?’, you might be asking yourself. Well to give you an example, the pilot episode looked at Brazil’s interesting view on race- or should I say “blackness”. In an attempt to diversify the Brazilian workforce, the government has put in place a panel of judges to assess whether or not you are “black enough” to qualify for the program, based on the darkness of your skin tone and the curliness of your hair. A rather curious strategy to combat the issue of (you guessed it) racism!

Looking at the issue of race from the Brazilian perspective, Rough Translation answers the concerns put forth by John Galtung and Mari Holmboe in The Structure of Foreign News[3] by providing an alternative ‘echo chamber’ to Western media. According to Galtung, Western media shies away from culturally diverse narratives that do not adhere to its ethnocentric frequency, creating a distorted worldview. Warner’s Rough Translation is a clear counter effort against this type of ‘media isolationism’

 

[1] Warner, Gregory. “Rough Translation.” NPR, www.npr.org/podcasts/510324/rough-translation.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Galtung, Johan and Mari Holmboe Ruge. “The Structure of Foreign News” Journal of Peace Research 2.1 (1965): 64-91. Print.

Russia’s Fakebook

RUSSIA’S FAKEBOOK

By Sterre Meijer

Fake American Facebook profiles made by Russian intelligence officials- we’ve heard it all before. But to whom belong the stolen faces used to promote Russian propaganda on the prominent social media platform? And what legal protection can be offered to the people whose photos are unknowingly used to give a human identity to this exploitative practice?

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that 36-year-old Charles David Costacurta from Brazil has come forward saying that photos of him and his underage daughter were appropriated to create the fake profile of ‘Melvin Redick’. [1] Redick was one of the countless ‘imposter profiles’ used and financed to funnel Russian propaganda into the conservative community on Facebook.

According to Roy Caplan and Danah Boyd, “algorithms, as an object of study, unite a variety of information systems that are currently crucial to our participation in the public sphere.”[2] By exploiting the algorithms sites such as Facebook use to customize the feeds of their global user base, Russian officials used the faces of people like Mr. Costacurta to create a relatable reference point in that algorithm.

Though Costacurta used the privacy settings on Facebook to limit access to his profile and his photos, Brazil doesn’t have a general law concerning the protection of personal data to this day[3]. “We’re totally vulnerable”, Costacurta told the Brazilian news outlet G1. “You wonder how much security you have, right?”[4]

 

[1] Shane, Scott. “Mystery of Russian Fake on Facebook Solved, by a Brazilian.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 13 Sept. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/us/politics/russia-facebookelection.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=storyheading&module=secondcolumn-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news. Article.

[2] Boyd, Danah, and Roy Caplan. “Who Controls the Public Sphere in an Era of Algorithms?” Data & Society, 13 May 2016, pp. 1-19.

[3] Barbosa, Claudio R., and Pedro Vilhena. “Data Protection in Brazil: Overview.” Thomson Reuters Practical Law, Thomson Reuters, 1 Jan. 2017, uk.practicallaw.thomsonreuters.com/4-520 1732?transitionType=Default&contextData=(sc.Default)&firstPage=true&bhcp=1.

[4] Dias, Carlos. “Morador de Jundiaí é o rosto de fotos roubadas por perfil falso usado para influenciar eleição nos EUA” [“Resident of Jundiaí is the face of photos stolen by false profile used to influence US election”]. G1, 13 Sept. 2017, g1.globo.com/sao-paulo/sorocaba-jundiai/noticia/morador-de-jundiai-e-o-rosto-de-fotos-roubadas-por-perfil-falso-usado-para-influenciar-eleicao-nos-eua.ghtml.