The world of politics and media in the US is mildly aflutter this weekend after a man most people hadn’t heard of before ran an extended advertisement for his services. Ben Rhodes is President Obama’s deputy national security director for strategic communications, also known to some as “the Boy Wonder of the White House” and the New York Times magazine has a long profile of him. After some interesting background colour about just how an aspiring novelist ended up writing the President’s speeches and directing large chunks of American foreign policy, the piece gives an extended description of how Rhodes and his team shape and disseminate their message across the 2016 media landscape. It’s interesting enough that I even got my crayons out and attempted a chart.
A lot of the ire has been directed at the disdain Rhodes and his boss show for journalists who “literally know nothing”, how dishonest their selling of the Iran trade deal to the public was and how deeply cynical the administration’s playing of the message management game is. ‘Ben Rhodes, Liar’ says the Free Beacon . ‘A stunning profile of Ben Rhodes, the asshole who is the president’s foreign policy guru’ thunders Thomas E. Ricks in Foreign Policy. ‘Why the Ben Rhodes profile in the New York Times Magazine is just gross’ grumbles Carlos Lozada in the Washington Post.
Of these three (and there are plenty more out there), the last one is closest to my thoughts on the profile. There are lots of repugnant aspects to the piece, but none of it strikes me as particularly new. Perhaps it’s never all been stated so arrogantly and bluntly in one place before, but most of the media insiders complaining can’t be unaware of the access journalism game. And I certainly can’t think of a better, more high profile example of access journalism and all the trade offs it requires than the White House beat.
Some of the resentment may come from the methodology of message dissemination described in the piece, which does an end run around some formal, hard won relationships and uses social media to seed and spread the word. The use of Twitter is focussed on in the piece, with only passing reference to Facebook, but to my mind that’s where the really concerning black box stuff is happening.
So far, so straightforward. The message is decided on, willing hands help push it out through Twitter, with Price’s additional colour added. Other busy and probably desk bound journalists, using Twitter as a supplement and enhancement to traditional wire services write up the story and give it some presentable clothing, as they have seen it appear from multiple sources on Twitter. Then they in turn press publish.
The story appears on news websites but the numbers who read them there are falling. It also shows up on the publication’s Facebook pages and the machines get to work.
As an end user of Facebook, you’ve very little control over what you see in your feed, and very little ability to shape what Facebook’s algorithm decides you will see, when and in what order. There’s an increasing chance that a typical Facebook user gets much or most of their written news through Facebook. As an aside, Facebook would now also aggressively like their users to get much or most of their video news through Facebook. This will happen. Facebook has the scale to do this.
Anyway, back to the print story wending its way though Facebook’s entirely opaque plumbing – a wondrously complicated plumbing system liable to change on a whim. This story shows up in users’ feeds with the message present and correct from a large number of potential news sources. Window dressing around the message has been duly applied, so the stories from different outlets won’t be exactly the same.
The majority of American adults are Facebook users, and the majority of those users regularly get some kind of news from Facebook, which according to Pew Research Center data, means that around 40 percent of US adults overall consider Facebook a source of news.
(from Emily Bell’s ‘Facebook is eating the world’)
In addition to inscrutably dropping news stories from news organisations into users’ feeds, Facebook also does a little bit of curating of its own. The takeaway of concern for journalists here is obviously that Facebook is mostly interested in journalists as a means to train up its algorithms.
None of the platforms, of which Facebook is indisputably the largest, can be neutral actors in this world. They create the algorithms which now decide which news is presented to which user. In this case, news that has one message from one source, although there is a comforting illusion of a diversity of sources.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. After all, Mr. Rhodes is just advertising his availability for work next January. Prospective employers, if you’re listening, Ben would quite enjoy some time in the sunshine in California.
Bank Holiday puzzler: can YOU work out the connections here?
Microsoft and Google, two of the world’s greatest monopolies, have been bitter rivals for nearly 20 years. But suddenly, in late April, they announced a startling accord. The companies have withdrawn all regulatory complaints against one another, globally. Rather than fighting their battles in public courts and commissions, they have agreed to privately negotiate.
And here the most sinister upshot of Microsoft’s decision to stop needling Google with legal disputes becomes clear. “A key theme I write about is that surveillance capitalism has thrived in lawless space,” says Zuboff. “Regulations and laws are its enemy. Democratic oversight is a threat. Lawlessness is so vital to the surveillance capitalism project,” she continues, “that Google and Microsoft’s shared interest in freedom from regulation outweighs any narrower competitive interests they might have or once thought they had. They can’t insist to the public that they must remain unregulated, while trying to impose regulations on one another.”
In November, the Finance Minister met with Google’s vice president of engineering Urs Holzle, the company’s eighth employee and the man who leads its technology planning and data centre efforts. Google Ireland chief John Herlihy also attended.
Data privacy was one of the main topics of conversation, records show. Holzle raised Ireland’s policy of requesting information from internet companies, urging Minister Noonan to make sure the rules are clear.
In the current case, a group called Europe v Facebook, led by privacy activist and “Angry AustrianTM” Max Schrems, alleges that Facebook violated European citizens’ “fundamental rights” (defined in the European Convention on Human Rights) by transferring their personal data to the US National Security Agency (NSA).
After the Irish data protection commissioner refused to investigate, citing Safe Harbour rules, the case was referred first to the Irish High Court and now the ECJ.
Europe’s top court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), has struck down the 15-year-old Safe Harbour agreement that allowed the free flow of information between the US and EU. The most significant repercussion of this ruling is that American companies, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, may not be allowed to send user data from Europe back to the US.
The case was originally sent to the CJEU by the High Court of Ireland, after the Irish data protection authority rejected a complaint from Maximillian Schrems, an Austrian citizen. He had argued that in light of Snowden’s revelations about the NSA, the data he provided to Facebook that was transferred from the company’s Irish subsidiary to the US under the Safe Harbour scheme was not, in fact, safely harboured.
Minister Richard Bruton T.D. Joins Microsoft to mark the start of construction of Microsoft’s new €134m Campus, 20/10/2015
“Technology is an area we have specifically targeted as part of our Action Plan for jobs and we have put in place a range of measures to support growth in this area. Microsoft was one of the first US companies to choose Ireland as a location for its EMEA operations.”
Digital Rights Ireland has instructed its lawyers to serve legal papers on the Irish government, challenging whether the office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner is truly an independent data protection Authority under EU law.
Ireland’s position as the EU’s centre for technology multinational companies makes it critical for the protection of all EU citizens’ rights that the state has a world class data protection regulatory regime.
A series of cases from the CJEU, the EU’s top court, have stressed the critical importance of a truly independent data protection authority. Most recently, in the Schrems case on Safe Harbour, the lack of such an independent watchdog was cited as one of the most significant differences between the EU and US privacy systems.
DRI’s case is that Ireland has failed to properly implement EU data protection law, or to follow the requirements of the Charter of Fundamental Rights by failing to ensure the Irish DPC is genuinely independent from the Government.
I’m too lazy to start a Weird Sindo Tumblr right now, but I feel this definitely deserves to be remembered. As the nation holds its breath in this curious interregnum period, Enda Kenny’s speechwriter writes about … well, it’s not really very clear what she’s writing about.
I’m building a general election-themed Twitter bot for giggles. It tweets out generated campaign phrases from fictitious candidates. I thought it would be a good idea to check press releases from the various political parties to see if they could provide more phrases to add to the bot’s repertoire.
Holed up in a Jury's Inn, Anti Austerity Alliance Councillor Brigid McShame flatly rejected calls for sizzling hot takes.
— Campaign Snippets (@CampaignBriefs) November 17, 2015
What should have been a simple exercise in adding some feeds to my RSS reader turned out to be anything but. I searched for ‘labour party ireland press releases’ and duly clicked on the first result I was shown. This took me to a 404 page.
I scrolled to the bottom of the page and clicked on the link marked ‘RSS Feeds’. This also took me to a 404.
After some brief poking around I did find the feed and chucked it into my reader. A first success.
Next I toddled over to finegael.ie, only to find it was down. No holding page or anything, just not working at all.
Update: The Fine Gael site was back online when I checked about two hours later. Coherent and accessible ‘Latest News’ section, no discernible feeds.
Undaunted, I moved on to fiannafail.ie, only to discover that there seemed to be no discoverable RSS feed at all on that site.
My next stop was sinnfein.ie, which was by far the easiest of the lot. There was an easily accessible ‘News’ section with dated entries in reverse chronological order. There was a link called ‘RSS Feed’ in the footer. I put this into my reader. It worked. I moved on.
Surely those champions of small business, Renua, would have a slick digital communications operation? Sadly not. The page titled ‘News’ was a strange collection of undated things that may or may not have been issued as press releases. Some of them were certainly structured and phrased as if they were press releases. The entry at the top of the page, so presumably the latest one, was just a picture of the cover of the Electoral (Amendment) (Moriarty Tribunal) Bill, with a ‘Continue reading’ link underneath it. Following this link led to a page with an embedded copy of the bill, free of any commentary and context.
So how about the Social Democrats, Ireland’s newest party? There is a news page which is easily accessible straight from the home page, the items have publication dates but there’s no feed.
I know that RSS never quite caught on in the way it could or should have, but it’s disappointing to find such overall clunkiness in the way parties are doing their digital communications. Adding this stuff is pretty simple. Not having it is a strange omission.
worse part about terrorism is that it's still being treated as an ideological threat instead of as as an outcome of geopolitics & history.
— Hend Amry (@LibyaLiberty) November 14, 2015
Y'know what's happened in Paris? Imagine that happening twice a week, in your street, and you'll have some idea of why folk become refugees.
— Dr Caligari Hibernia (@Hippopeteamus) November 14, 2015
To people blaming refugees for attacks in Paris tonight. Do you not realise these are the people the refugees are trying to run away from..?
— Dan Holloway (@RFCdan) November 13, 2015
do westerners realize that ISIS bombs cities in the Middle East, too?? that they kill innocent Muslims, TOO?? ISIS does not represent us
— Brandon (@halaldad) November 13, 2015
July saw 45 homicides across Baltimore, a toll that matched the deadliest month in the city’s modern history and came amid a violent crime surge that has stretched the entire summer. The killings occurred across the city, overwhelmingly in historically impoverished neighborhoods. The victims included a 5-month-old boy and a 53-year-old grandmother, a teen stabbed to death in a dispute over a cell phone and a carryout deliveryman killed in a robbery.
The victims of July violence, Baltimore Sun
Dublin is a bit less than twice the size of Baltimore. That would work out at approaching 90 murders in a month.
That unfortunately timed film about FIFA really wasn’t box office dynamite. Proof that the opposite of promotion can also be quite effective, and that audiences aren’t all that keen on films about meetings.
UK Politics Roundup
Big Bunch Of Heartbleed Links (Sorry)
Should you change your password? Or should you wait? Or should you not bother? Exactly how long should you wait? Who should you tell about your new password? Should you use your Yahoo! email to tell people you have or haven't changed your password?
Other Internet (And Ting)
Dropbox announces it has 275 million users, a $10bn valuation and almost 700 employees. There's also an Android version of Mailbox available with a desktop version on the way. Surely they must be considering becoming evil sometime soon? They've achieved the required scale.
In The Year 2121, Or Thereabouts
Definitely Worth Pondering
Totally Confused, Video Edition
Today's worst attempt at being controversial.
Song for the day is 'Uptown Top Ranking' by Anthea and Donna, as obliquely referenced a bit above.
The (Somewhat) Real World
Darth Vader has been prevented from running in the Ukrainian presidential elections in May. Earth has yet again missed out on a potential galactic empire. Will we never learn?
Real world athletics isn't much better as the drones have started to attack. This is only the beginning.
In Android news, there'll be ads on your lock screen before long. Allegedly.
Bubble? What bubble?
A Polish politician is travelling to the UK to find out what life is like as a migrant. In the process of solving Poland's emigration problem he has incidentally secured himself quite an amount of media coverage. Well played, Artur Debski, well played.
Today In Facepalm
Because of serendipity, that page also provides today's bottom half of the Internet highlight.
I showed your online tellarium and the animated Geocentricity pictures to our share a lunch together church group. They were very surprised but very interested. Our pastor told us that he believed in Geocentricity.
I sent an email to the president of the world Society Of Evangelical Arminians, informing him about your belief in Geocentricity, and he replied, ‘do you really expect me to answer this email.’
I did not expect this answer. I never replied to him.
My Heart Bleeds For You, Internet
Vox.com launched and the New York Times got breathlessly excited about the whole thing, especially the bespoke CMS, Chorus. This must be the first time that a CMS has been described as being "sexy enough to be a recruiting tool." Go here for your helping of card-based journosplaining.
Cold music. A song for Winnipeg winters. 'These Are Grounds For Violence'.
Relevant music. Beastie Boys, 'Intergalactic'
Finally, this is extremely pretty and for a very good cause. Go and make some memories …