Truth decay has been spreading for decades. How can we stop alternative facts from bringing down democracy, asks Michiko Kakutani
Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the 20th century, and both were predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth, on the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism, The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.
Arendts words increasingly sound less like a dispatch from another century than a chilling description of the political and cultural landscape we inhabit today a world in which fake news and lies are pumped out in industrial volume by Russian troll factories, emitted in an endless stream from the mouth and Twitter feed of the president of the United States, and sent flying across the world through social media accounts at lightning speed. Nationalism, tribalism, dislocation, fear of social change and the hatred of outsiders are on the rise again as people, locked in their partisan silos and filter bubbles, are losing a sense of shared reality and the ability to communicate across social and sectarian lines.
This is not to draw a direct analogy between todays circumstances and the overwhelming horrors of the second world war era, but to look at some of the conditions and attitudes what Margaret Atwood has called the danger flags in George Orwells Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm that make a people susceptible to demagoguery and political manipulation, and nations easy prey for would-be autocrats. To examine how a disregard for facts, the displacement of reason by emotion, and the corrosion of language are diminishing the value of truth, and what that means for the world.
The term truth decay has joined the post-truth lexicon that includes such now familiar phrases as fake news and alternative facts. And its not just fake news either: its also fake science (manufactured by climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers, who oppose vaccination), fake history (promoted by Holocaust revisionists and white supremacists), fake Americans on Facebook (created by Russian trolls), and fake followers and likes on social media (generated by bots).
Donald Trump, the 45th president of the US, lies so prolifically and with such velocity that the Washington Post calculated hed made 2,140 false or misleading claims during his first year in office an average of 5.9 a day. His lies about everything from the investigations into Russian interference in the election, to his popularity and achievements, to how much TV he watches are only the brightest blinking red light among many warnings of his assault on democratic institutions and norms. He routinely assails the press, the justice system, the intelligence agencies, the electoral system and the civil servants who make the US government tick.
Nor is the assault on truth confined to America. Around the world, waves of populism and fundamentalism are elevating appeals to fear and anger over reasoned debate, eroding democratic institutions, and replacing expertise with the wisdom of the crowd. False claims about the UKs financial relationship with the EU helped swing the vote in favour of Brexit, and Russia ramped up its sowing of dezinformatsiya in the runup to elections in France, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries in concerted propaganda efforts to discredit and destabilise democracies.
How did this happen? How did truth and reason become such endangered species, and what does the threat to them portend for our public discourse and the future of our politics and governance?
Instead, Brooks pointed to silt deposition as well as erosion as a cause of rising sea levels. Questioning scientist Phil Duffy of the Woods Hole Research Center, Brooks postulated that silt and mud washed by rivers into the ocean caused water levels to rise as it settled on the sea floor. Now you have got less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up, he said.
He went on: What about the White Cliffs of Dover [and] California, where you have the waves crashing against the shorelines, and time and time again you have the cliffs crashing into the sea? All of that displaces water which forces it to rise, does it not?
Duffy answered: Im pretty sure on human timescales, those are minuscule effects.
The questioning went on as Brooks argued the Antarctic ice sheet was actually growing. A recent study reported that the ice sheet had shrunk by 1,463km from 2010 to 2016.
Duffy disagreed, noting that we have satellite records clearly documenting a shrinkage of the Antarctic ice sheet and an acceleration of that shrinkage, citing the National Snow and Ice Data Center and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for his data.
However, Brooks insisted: Well, Ive got a Nasa base in my district, and apparently, theyre telling you one thing and me a different thing.
Brooks said: There are plenty of studies that have come that show with respect to Antarctica that the total ice sheet, particularly that above land, is increasing, not decreasing. Now, you could make a different argument if you want to talk about Greenland or the Arctic.
Brooks, a graduate of Duke University and University of Alabama School of Law, was first elected to Congress in 2010 from his North Alabama district. In 2017, he mounted an unsuccessful bid for the US Senate vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions. Brooks finished third in the Republican primary behind the eventual nominee Roy Moore as well as appointed incumbent Luther Strange.
After the Toronto attack, there should be a debate about toxic masculinity, says Guardian columnist Gary Younge
From the Oklahoma bombing to the massacre in Norway it is always the same. In the immediate aftermath of mass murder, the initial hypothesis is that it must be a Muslim. And so it was on Monday that, within minutes of a van mowing down pedestrians in Toronto, a far-right lynching party was mobilised on social media looking for jihadis. Paul Joseph Watson, of conspiracy site Infowars, announced, A jihadist has just killed nine people; Katie Hopkins branded the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, a terrorist shill.
But there is a far safer assumption one can generally make. For while a relatively small proportion of mass killers in North America are Muslim, across the globe they are almost all men.
There will be, though, no appeals for moderate men to denounce toxic masculinity, no extra surveillance where men congregate, no government-sponsored schemes to promote moderate manhood, or travel bans for men. Indeed, the one thing that is consistently true for such incidents, whether they are classified as terrorist or not, will for the most part go unremarked. Obviously not all men are killers. But the fact that virtually all mass killers are men should, at the very least, give pause for thought. If it were women slaying people at this rate, feminism would be in the dock. The fact they are male is both accepted and expected. Boys will be boys; mass murderers will be men.
This weeks atrocity in Toronto, where Alek Minassian stands accused of killing 10 and wounding 14, gives us yet another chance to reflect on the destructive capacity of masculinity not least because it may have been the principal motive for this attack.
Minassian is not known to have any strong religious affiliations. But according to his Facebook feed, he identified with devotees of incel (short for involuntarily celibate), which is for straight men who cant have sex despite wanting to and splits the world into Stacys (attractive women who wont sleep with them) and Chads (men who are sexually successful).
It seems innocent and adolescent that blend of pathos and priapism that helped get nerdy boys through high school. Only, Minassian was 25 and hadnt grown out of it, but into it with a vengeance. His last Facebook post read: The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!
In 2014, 22-year-old Rodger wrote a screed against, among other things, women and couples (particularly inter-racial couples), before killing seven people, including himself, and injuring 14 in Isla Vista, California. I dont know why you girls arent attracted to me but I will punish you all for it, Rodger stated in a video uploaded before the rampage. Its an injustice, a crime because Im the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.
Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed six and injured 19 in a mosque in Quebec City last year, identified with Rodger and had been Googling him not long before the crime.
Not since the time of the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts at the turn of the 20th century was so much owned by so few
The worlds super-rich hold the greatest concentration of wealth since the US Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century, when families like the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts controlled vast fortunes.
Billionaires increased their combined global wealth by almost a fifth last year to a record $6tn (4.5tn) more than twice the GDP of the UK. There are now 1,542 dollar billionaires across the world, after 145 multi-millionaires saw their wealth tick over into nine-zero fortunes last year, according to the UBS / PwC Billionaires report.
Josef Stadler, the lead author of the report and UBSs head of global ultra high net worth, said his billionaire clients were concerned that growing inequality between rich and poor could lead to a strike back.
Were at an inflection point, Stadler said. Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905, this is something billionaires are concerned about. The problem is the power of interest on interest that makes big money bigger and, the question is to what extent is that sustainable and at what point will society intervene and strike back?
Stadler added: We are now two years into the peak of the second Gilded Age.
He said the $1bn question was how society would react to the concentration of so much money in the hands of so few.
Anger at so-called robber barron families who built up vast fortunes from monopolies in US rail, oil, steel and banking in the late 19th century, an era of rapid industrialisation and growing inequality in America that became known as the Gilded Age, led to President Roosevelt breaking up companies and trusts and increasing taxes on the wealthy in the early 1900s.
Will there be similarities in the way society reacts to this gilded age?, Stadler asked. Will the second age end or will it proceed?
Privacy advocates call warrant for IP addresses of just one.3 million individuals who visited inauguration protest website an unconstitutional fishing expedition
The federal government needs to unmask everyone who visited an anti-Trump website with what privacy advocates have to say is an unconstitutional fishing expedition for political dissidents.
The warrant seems to become an escalation from the Department of Justices (DoJ) campaign against anti-Trump activities, such as the harsh prosecution of inauguration day protesters.
On 17 This summer, the DoJ offered an internet site-webhost, DreamHost, having a search warrant for each bit of information it possessed which was associated with an internet site which was accustomed to coordinate protests during Donald Trumps inauguration. The warrant covers those who buy and operate the website, but additionally seeks to obtain the IP addresses of just one.3 million individuals who visited it, along with the time and date of the visit and knowledge by what browser or operating-system they used.
The web site, www.disruptj20.org, was utilized to coordinate protests and civil disobedience on 20 The month of january, when Trump was inaugurated.
This unique situation which specific warrant are pure prosecutorial overreach with a highly politicized department of justice under [Attorney General Shaun] Sessions, stated Chris Ghazarian, general counsel for DreamHost. You ought to be concerned that anybody ought to be targeted only for going to a website.
The warrant is made public Monday, when DreamHost announced its intends to challenge the federal government in the court. The DoJ declined to comment. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.
The federal government has strongly prosecuted activists arrested throughout the 20 The month of january protests in Washington Electricity. In April, the united states attorneys office in Washington Electricity filed a single indictment charging greater than 217 individuals with identical crimes, including legal rioting.
Ghazarian stated that DreamHost provided the federal government with limited customer details about who owns the web site if this first received a great jury subpoena per week following the protests happened. However the government returned in This summer using the much broader search warrant.
Were a gatekeeper between your government and thousands of individuals who visited the web site, stated Ghazarian. You want to have them protected.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, that has been counseling DreamHost, characterised the warrant as unconstitutional along with a fishing expedition.
I cant conceive of the legitimate justification apart from casting your internet as broadly as you possibly can to warrant countless user logs, senior staff attorney Mark Rumold told the Protector.
Logs of IP addresses dont distinctively identify users, however they backlink to a particular physical addresses if no digital tools are utilized to mask it.
The things they could be getting is a summary of everybody that has have you been thinking about attending these protests or seeing what happening in the protests and thats the troubling aspect. Its a brief step once you have their email list for connecting the Ip to someones identity, he stated.
Wide-reaching warrants for user data are occasionally issued once the content of the website is illegal for example pirated movies or child sexual abuse imagery, but speech isn’t prohibited.
This [the web site] is pure first amendment advocacy the kind of advocacy the very first amendment is built to safeguard and promote, Rumold added. Frankly Im glad DreamHost is pushing back onto it.
It is not the very first time that the federal government has searched for to unmask people protesting against Trump or his policies.
In March this season, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a division from the homeland security department, purchased Twitter to give the telephone number, mailing addresses and IP addresses associated with @ALT_USCIS, a free account that presupposed to convey the views of dissenters inside the government.
The account, whose username is really a mention of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, is among a large number of alternative Twitter accounts established after Trump was inaugurated. The unverified accounts claimed to supply an uncensored look at civil servants who could not agree with Trumps policies.
To safeguard the identity of the individual running the account, Twitter launched a suit from the Trump administration, quarrelling it might have a grave chilling impact on it of this account particularly and the rest of the alternative agency accounts which have been produced to voice dissent to government policies.
The lengthy read: When she was 30, Suzy Hansen left the united states for Istanbul and started to understand that Americans won’t ever understand their very own country until they view it as all of those other world does
My mother lately found piles of my notebooks from the time I had been a little child which were full of plans in my future. I had been very ambitious. I authored out things i would do at each age: after i would get wed so when I’d have kids so when I’d open dancing studio.
After I left my small hometown for school, this type of planning stopped. The expertise of seeing a significantly new place, as college ended up being to me, upended my sense around the globe and it is options. Exactly the same factor happened after i gone to live in New You are able to after college, along with a couple of years later after i gone to live in Istanbul. All change is dramatic for provincial people. However the last move was the toughest. In Turkey, the upheaval was much more unsettling: before long, I started to believe that the whole first step toward my awareness would be a lie.
For those their patriotism, Americans rarely consider how their national identities relate to their own personal ones. This indifference is particular towards the psychology of white-colored Americans and it has a brief history unique towards the US. Recently, however, this national identity is becoming harder to disregard. Americans can’t travel in foreign countries without realizing the strange weight we feature around. During these years following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also the many wars that adopted, it is harder to gallivant around the globe absorbing its knowledge and sources for your personal use. Americans abroad now don’t have exactly the same swagger, the simple, enormous smiles. You will no longer wish to speak so loud. There’s always the vague chance of breaking something.
Some time once i gone to live in Istanbul, I purchased a notebook, and in contrast to that confident child, I authored lower not plans however a question: that do we become when we dont become Americans? When we uncover our identity once we understood it absolutely was a myth? I requested it because my years being an American abroad these days weren’t a wondrous romp of self-discovery and romance. Mine were much more of a shattering along with a shame, as well as now, I still have no idea myself.
I increased in Wall, an urban area located through the Jersey Shore, two hrs drive from New You are able to. A lot of it had been a landscape of concrete and parking lots, plastic signs and Dunkin Donuts. There wasn’t any center, no Primary Street, because there is at the majority of the enjoyable beach towns nearby, no small old cinema or architecture suggesting some kind of history or memory.
The majority of my buddies parents were teachers, nurses, cops or electricians, aside from the rare father who labored within the City, and a number of Italian families who did less legal things. My parents were descendants of working-class Danish, Italian and Irish immigrants who’d little memory of the European origins, and my relatives ran an affordable public course, where I labored like a hot-dog girl within the summers. The politics I learned about like a kid revolved around taxes and immigrants, and never anything else. Bill Clinton wasn’t famous the house. (In 2016, most of Wall voted Trump.)
I was all loyal, however i cant even conceive of the items else we might have been, because our entire experience was domestic, interior, American. We visited church every sunday, until church there was a time usurped by soccer games. I do not remember a powerful feeling of social engagement. Rather I’d the sensation that individuals might take things of your stuff should you didnt stay vigilant. Our goals continued to be local: homecoming queen, condition champs, a scholarship to Trenton Condition, barbecues outside. The lone Asian kid within our class studied hard and visited Berkeley the Indian visited Yale. Black people never found Wall. The planet was white-colored, Christian the planet was us.
We didn’t study world maps, because worldwide geography, like a subject, have been eliminated of numerous condition curriculums lengthy before. There wasn’t any sense of america being one country on the planet of numerous countries. The Soviet Union appeared some thing such as the Dying Star flying overhead, prepared to laser us to smithereens than the usual country with individuals inside it.
The long read: Tommy J Curry thought forcing a public discussion about race and violence was part of his job. It turned out that people didnt want to hear it
One Thursday morning in May, Tommy J Curry walked through the offices of the philosophy department at Texas A&M University with a police officer at his side and violence on his mind. The threats had started a few days earlier. Since you said white people need to be killed Im in fear of my life, one person had written via email. The next time I see you on campus I might just have to pre-emptively defend myself you dumb fat nigger. You are done. Curry didnt know if that person was lurking on the university grounds. But Texas is a gun-friendly state, and Texas A&M is a gun-friendly campus, and he took the threat seriously.
Curry supports the right to bear arms. It was part of how he ended up in this situation. In 2012 he had appeared on a satellite radio show and delivered a five-minute talk on how uneasy white people are with the idea of black people talking about owning guns and using them to combat racist forces. When a recording of the talk resurfaced in May, people thought the tenured professor was telling black people to kill white people. This idea swept through conservative media and into the fever swamps of Reddit forums and racist message boards. The threats followed.
Anonymous bigots werent the only ones making Curry feel unwanted. Michael K Young, the president of Texas A&M, had called the professors comments disturbing and contrary to the values of the university. Curry was taken aback. His remarks on the radio were not a regrettable slip of the tongue. They were part of why the university had hired him.
A police officer met Curry inside his academic building and rode with him in the elevator to the philosophy department, on the third floor. In a hallway, the professor pointed to photos of his graduate students so the police officer would know who was supposed to be there. The officer told him to keep an eye out for unfamiliar faces. Curry picked up his mail. There were a few angry letters, and also an envelope marked with a Texas A&M logo. He put the hate mail into a folder and carried the whole bundle downstairs. Back in the car with his wife, he opened the university envelope. Inside was a copy of a letter from a campus official that he had received a few days earlier by email before his inbox was flooded with racist messages.
I am delighted to offer my congratulations on your promotion to Professor at Texas A&M University effective September 1, 2017, said the letter. This measure of your achievement is an indicator of the very high esteem in which you are held by your peers. We are honored to have you on our faculty.
As the car pulled away from the campus, Curry reread the letter and rolled his eyes. He has not been back since.
The drama that unfolded at Texas A&M is about a scholar who was welcomed by a public university because of his unusual perspective, and who became estranged from the university for the same reason. It is a story about what a university values, how it expresses those values under pressure, and how that pressure works. It is about freedom and control, reason and fear, good faith and bad. Mostly, it is a story about a black man in America who did exactly what he said he set out to do, and who became a cautionary tale.
It starts in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where Curry grew up in the 1980s and 90s. His family lived in a mostly black neighbourhood on the east side of the city. The white folks lived on the other side of the highway. At the Woolworth store downtown, he saw the faded outline of letters that remained visible on the window glass: No Coloreds. Currys father sold insurance. He told his son stories about how white people used to break into black peoples homes and terrorise them. The family kept a shotgun behind the couch, and Tommy Sr owned a pistol as well. He constantly told us that there is a very real threat of white violence, said Curry. The idea of black people having a right to defend themselves is just something I grew up with.
Pair guaranteed database that contains 3bn URLs from three million German users, spread over 9m different sites
A idol judges porn preferences and also the medication utilized by a German MP were one of the private data uncovered by two German researchers who acquired the anonymous browsing habits in excess of three million German citizens.
What can you believe, requested Svea Eckert, if somebody demonstrated up at the door saying: Hey, I’ve every one of your browsing history every single day, every hour, every minute, every click you probably did on the internet during the last month? How does one think we’ve got it: some shady hacker? No. It had been much simpler: you can easily purchase it.
Eckert, a journalist, merged with data researcher Andreas Dewes to get personal user data and find out the things they could glean from this.
Presenting their findings in the Def Disadvantage hacking conference in Vegas, the happy couple revealed the way they guaranteed a database that contains 3bn URLs from three million German users, spread over 9m different sites. Some were sparse users, with just a few dozen of websites visited within the 30-day period they examined, while some had thousands of data points: the entire record of the online lives.
Finding the data was really even simpler than purchasing it. The happy couple produced an imitation marketing company, replete using its own website, a LinkedIn page because of its leader, or even a careers site which received a couple of applications using their company marketers tricked by the organization.
They stacked the website filled with many nice pictures and a few marketing buzzwords, claiming to possess created a machine-learning formula which could market better to individuals, as long as it had been trained with a lot of data.
We authored and known as nearly 100 companies, and requested when we might have the raw data, the clickstream from peoples lives. It required slightly more than it ought to have, Eckert stated, only simply because they were particularly searching for German internet users. We frequently heard: Browsing data? Thats not a problem. But we do not have it for Germany, we simply get it for that US and United kingdom, she stated.
The information these were eventually given came, free of charge, from the data broker, that was prepared to allow them to test their hypothetical AI advertising platform. Even though it had been nominally an anonymous set, it had been soon simple to de-anonymise many users.
Dewes described some tips through which a canny broker will find a person within the noise, just from the lengthy listing of URLs and timestamps. Some make things super easy: for example, anybody who visits their very own analytics page on Twitter winds up having a URL within their browsing record containing their Twitter username, and it is only visible for them. Discover that URL, and youve linked the anonymous data for an actual person. An identical trick works best for German social media site Xing.
For other users, a far more probabilistic approach can deanonymise them. For example, only 10 URLs could be enough to distinctively identify someone imagine, for example, of methods couple of people you will find at the company, together with your bank, your hobby, your chosen newspaper as well as your cell phone provider. By creating fingerprints in the data, its likely to check it with other, more public, causes of what URLs individuals have visited, for example social networking accounts, or public YouTube playlists.
An identical strategy was utilized in 2008, Dewes stated, to deanonymise some ratings printed by Netflix to assist computer scientists improve its recommendation formula: by evaluating anonymous ratings of flicks with public profiles on IMDB, researchers could unmask Netflix users including one lady, a closeted lesbian, who continued to sue Netflix for the privacy violation.
Another discovery with the data collection happened via Google Translate, which stores the written text of each and every query subjected to it within the URL. Out of this, they could uncover operational information regarding a German cybercrime analysis, because the detective involved was converting demands for help to foreign police forces.