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'Fake News' Now Means Whatever People Want It To Mean, And Legislating It Away Is A Slippery Slope Toward Censorship

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The discussion about "fake news" certainly began with good intentions, with participants earnestly focused on how disinformation, shitty journalism and bullshit clickbait were filling the noggins of a growing segment of the public for whom critical thinking was already a Sisyphean endeavor. The solution for this problem was never as clean and easy as most of the conversations suggested, especially given that Americans -- thanks in large part to our struggles with education quality and funding -- have never been particularly adept at spotting disinformation, much less understanding how you expose, undermine and combat it at scale.

None of these problems are new. Bad journalism and propaganda have plagued publishing and governments for thousands of years. Donald Trump's violently-adversarial relationship with facts and Vladimir Putin's warehouses full of paid internet trolls have simply taken the conversation to an entirely new level in the internet age. But it's becoming increasingly clear that many of the folks who believe they can somehow legislate this problem away may be doing more harm than good.

In fact, much of the moral panic surrounding the initial fake news conversation has quickly degenerated into something that vacillates quickly between comedy and terror. As we've consistently pointed out, a growing number of countries have moved to make fake news illegal -- even before they've taken time to understand what it actually is. Germany's decision to make publishing fake news illegal teeters dangerously close to censorship. Letting politicians define "fake news" (with an obvious incentive toward defining it in their favor) should be a fairly obvious slippery slope.

We've already watched as Donald Trump and his supporters have whined endlessly that absolutely any information they don't like should be mindlessly deposited into the "fake news" bin -- without the pesky and annoying effort required to intelligently analyze each piece of data or reporting on its merits. Even over in Syria, Bashar al-Assad has found the term useful when trying to dodge accusations of systemic torture and massive executions:

And while lies and disinformation are the obvious refuge of authoritarians (or worse), Democracies shouldn't believe they're above the fray when it comes to the fight against fake news being bastardized and weaponized. The line between fighting disinformation and depressing dissent is, as the Washington Post recently noted, significantly thinner than many of our supposedly civilized Democracies would like to pretend:

"Of course, Europe’s established democracies have little in common with the Soviet Union or other illiberal regimes. But the legal tools proposed by European politicians to suppress fake news sound alarmingly like those used by authoritarian governments to silence dissent. This is dangerous. Not only are such measures incompatible with the principle of free speech, but also they set precedents that could quickly strengthen the hand of the populist forces that mainstream European politicians feel so threatened by."

And while there's this belief that these legislative assaults on fake news will somehow put the seedier, more truth-averse news outlets in their place, there's a very real threat of the exact opposite happening (something you could argue is already happening in many countries):

"Above all, rather than strengthening established media institutions, banning fake news might very well undermine them in the eyes of the public. If alternative outlets are prosecuted or shut down, mainstream media risk being seen as unofficial propaganda tools of the powers that be. Behind the Iron Curtain, nonofficial media outlets had more credibility than official media in spite of the fact that not everything they published was accurate or fact-checked. The hashtag #fakenews could become a selling point with the public if it were banned rather than rigorously countered and refuted."

Meanwhile, both the United States and Russia continue to lead the world when it comes to showing how having government dictate what media coverage is or isn't true is a losing proposition for all of us. In Russia, while one arm of the government is busy pumping out propaganda twenty-four hours a day (and denying it), another wing of the government has begun more seriously deriding stories and facts Putin doesn't like. This week, Russia launched a new section of the government's website dedicated to highlighting "fake news" in a not so subtle fashion:

"Just in case anybody missed the point, each article on the Foreign Ministry website carried a big red label reading “FAKE” in English and a line saying that the information in the article “does not correspond to reality." Russia actually announced something of a fake news double whammy, since the defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, told Parliament on Wednesday that the military had created a special task force assigned to wage information warfare, although he did not provide any details."

None of this is to say there aren't solutions. Obviously, teaching classroom critical thinking in the new global media age should be a priority, since actually being able to identify propaganda has never been a U.S. forte (especially if it's originating from the States, a well-versed expert on the subject). And many of the efforts by Facebook and others to cull obvious bullshit from news feeds while adding fact-check systems could prove useful. People also need to simply pause and realize that the internet is still relatively new, and it's going to take media -- and the truth -- time to find its footing in the face of oceans of bullshit.

That said, it might be a good idea to make sure we're not making things worse as we learn. And it shouldn't require too much pesky critical thinking to realize that the efforts to combat "fake news" can be subverted to aid those trying to rip truth from its very foundation, or that letting politicians define what truth is may only expedite our Orwellian descent toward chilling legitimate expression.



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Donald Trump rejects intelligence report on travel ban because it doesn't say what he wants it to

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Donald Trump rejects intelligence report on travel ban because it doesn't say what he wants it to submitted by /u/heeloftar to r/politics
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Fox News Interview With Fake Expert on Sweden Further Baffles Swedes

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A man interviewed by Bill O’Reilly of Fox News this week, who was identified in an on-screen caption as a “Swedish Defense and National Security Advisor,” turns out to be entirely unknown in his native country, with no connections to either the nation’s defense or security services.

As the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported on Friday, Nils Bildt, who echoed President Donald Trump’s debunked claim that immigrants from Muslim majority nations had driven a rise in violent crime in Sweden, has no known expertise in national security, and has not lived in his homeland since 1994. Officials at the Swedish Defense Ministry and Foreign Office told the newspaper they have never heard of this “unknown Bildt.”

His only claim to fame appears to be the fact that his father, Sven Tolling, is “well know in Swedish equestrian circles,” according to Dagens Nyheter. How he came to be presented by Fox News as an expert in a segment broadcast on Thursday night remains a mystery — as does why he changed his name from Tolling to Bildt after he emigrated the United States.

Nevertheless, when Bildt was asked by O’Reilly to respond to comments from Anne-Sofie Näslund, a U.S. correspondent for the newspaper Expressen who disputed the Fox News host’s claim that a recent rise in violent crime in Sweden was caused by an “influx” of refugees from Muslim nations, he confidently dismissed her fact-driven argument.

Bildt, whose adopted last name is the same as that of Sweden’s former prime minister, Carl Bildt, a relentless critic of Donald Trump, told Dagens Nyheter by email that he is “an independent analyst based in the USA.”

It was a Fox News producer, Nils Bildt said, who made the decision to give him the official-sounding title of Swedish Defense and National Security Advisor. “I had no personal control over what title they chose,” Bildt wrote.

Näslund, who had been forced to listen to Bildt dismiss her fact-based argument out of hand, pointed out on Twitter that the Swedish immigrant to the United States who claimed that immigrants to Sweden are violent, was reportedly arrested in Virginia for committing a violent crime in 2014.

In his remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, Trump reiterated his claim that immigration from Muslim-majority countries had compromised security in Sweden, even though the Fox News segment that he cited as evidence earlier in the week was widely debunked as inaccurate in the Swedish media.

The post Fox News Interview With Fake Expert on Sweden Further Baffles Swedes appeared first on The Intercept.

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Video: A Closing Prayer for Standing Rock’s Oceti Sakowin

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It was an emotional closing prayer in front of the sacred fire at Oceti Sakowin camp, near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, ground zero of the movement to stop the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

For hundreds of people who lived here, Oceti Sakowin had become home. Equipped with medical facilities, kitchens, security posts, prayer lodges, a building supply depot, a school, and a town hall, Oceti was a Native-led community built by the NoDAPL movement.

On Wednesday, as many walked out of Oceti for the last time, smoke filled the air. Spiritual leaders chose to burn Native religious structures instead of allowing the police to bulldoze them.

The North Dakota police had given water protectors a 2 p.m. deadline to leave the camp. But more than 100 stayed behind, refusing to leave land they consider theirs.

At 4 p.m., the police advanced, targeting both water protectors and journalists. At least two journalists were arrested, charged with obstruction of a government function. As dusk approached, the police retreated, promising to return in the morning to finish the eviction.

The following day, a militarized force moved into Oceti. Dozens of military vehicles, armored personnel carriers, and Humvees were accompanied by national guard soldiers armed with automatic rifles.

Some water protectors were pulled out of ceremony as they were praying.

“This hurts,” said one Oceti resident. “It hurts to see everything gone. It hurts to be pushed back. This is treaty land. This is our life. This is how we live as Native people. And nothing has changed. It’s just gotten worse. They have bigger weapons to kill us with. And here we are, unarmed, facing an army in our own land.”

As the camp invasion was taking place, water protectors sang and prayed from the opposite side of the frozen Cannonball River. Some crossed the river in a final act of defiance. “You took us from our homes,” shouted a young woman. “Took children from their mothers and fathers. This is my home, this is my mother.”

Authorities said 46 people were arrested.

“To me, it looks like 1890, Wounded Knee,” said an elder. “They were all probably standing there like that before they started slaughtering our people.”

Now dispersed, the water protectors removed from Oceti Sakowin are regrouping in other protest camps near the pipeline. Meanwhile, court documents just filed by Energy Transfer Partners indicate that oil could be flowing in less than two weeks.

The post Video: A Closing Prayer for Standing Rock’s Oceti Sakowin appeared first on The Intercept.

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Bros Before Bros

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housekeeping tips for bachelors!! bachelors, pick a path through the debris on your living room floor to this comic and read it, it's really important!!

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February 24th, 2017next

February 24th, 2017: EXCITING JURY DUTY UPDATE: the trial was cancelled so even though I put on a cool shirt and cleaned up nice, I didn't get to hold even a single person's fate in my all-too-fallible hands!!

– Ryan

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