The internet: Destroyer of truth, justice, and the American Way
The greatest threat to democracy? No, not him. It's the internet, according to Stanford University law professor Nathaniel Persily, who is interviewed by the Washington Post's Dan Balz in an April 22, 2017, article. Persily and other researchers take a good, long look at the results of the election in the Journal of Democracy: The 2016 U.S. Election (pdf).
Balz writes that the "power of the internet has accelerated the decline of institutions that once provided a mediating force in campaigns," namely, established media and political parties. Without any "referees," there was no one to confirm the integrity of the information. This allows much of the information to be created and distributed by bots rather than by humans.
Persily's research found that from September 15, 2016, to October 21, 2016, bots created one-fifth of all election-related tweets. The tweets promoting the winner outnumbered those supporting the loser by four to one. This rose to a 7:1 ratio during the final debate, according to Persily.
While there have always been false and misleading political stories in the press, the internet accelerates the dissemination of misinformation from anonymous sources. Persily writes that dark money funding TV commercials that disparage a candidate “seems quaint when compared to networks of thousands of bots of uncertain geographic origin creating automated messages designed to malign candidates and misinform voters.”
'The lifeblood of the internet is trust'
That's a quote from Fen Osler Hampson, who works for the Centre for International Governance Innovation. The results of a survey conducted by the group and research firm Ipsos found that 49 percent of respondents refuse to shop online because of a lack of trust. The World Economic Forum reports that 31 percent of U.S. respondents to its recent survey of digital media users have avoided or stopped using a service due to concerns about the misuse of their private information.
In case you need one more reason to deny some "free" service access to your personal data, consider the actions of Unroll.me, a service that promised to unsubscribe you automatically from marketing emails and newsletters. In an April 24, 2017, article, Mike Isaac and Steve Lohr of the New York Times explain how the company managed to convert your private data into its profit. Unroll.me scans users' Gmail inbox to identify and respond to unwanted offers, but what the service didn't disclose clearly to users was that it also collected other information from their emails and then sold that information to the highest bidder.
The Verge's Lauren Goode describes in an April 25, 2017, article, how to revoke the access you've given to third-party apps in Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. There's a good chance you aren't aware of all the permissions you've granted to these services, knowingly and unknowingly.
An April 24, 2017, article by the Intercept's Sam Biddell examines how Uber used data it bought from Unroll.me to collect anonymized copies of Gmail users' archived Lyft receipts in an effort to get an edge on its competitor. Don't feel too sorry for Lyft, though. Biddell claims the company has a "competitive intelligence" team of its own.
'Digital technologies of, by, and for the people'
The Digital Life Collective now has an "interim website." As far as I can tell, that's about all the collective has, apart from a noble purpose: to develop, fund, and support "technologies created with only the individual's needs in mind." You can become a co-founder by paying $164. This gets you "the earliest access" to technologies intended to prevent the indiscriminate collection of personal information, stop government surveillance, and ensure everyone has access to digital technology.
And if that's not enough to sell you, keep in mind that you also get a t-shirt.
If you're curious, you can read the collective's co-founder prospectus (pdf). The group's goals of "Trusted. Private. Inclusive." are noble and just, but the paths to achieving those ends are anybody's guess at this point. Still, I'm delighted that people are working toward these goals in any way. You have to start somewhere!
Site tells us how our tax dollars are spent
Steve Ballmer has been keeping busy since retiring from Microsoft. Apart from buying the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers, Ballmer has funded USAFacts, which the New York Times' Andrew Ross Sorkin describes in an April 17, 2017, article as "the first nonpartisan effort to create a fully integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments."
Ballmer himself sees the site as "the equivalent of a 10-K for government." (A 10-K is the annual financial summary corporations must file with the SEC.) USAFacts includes tax information for federal, state, and local governments throughout the U.S. For example, you could compare the amount of money a city spends on parking enforcement with the revenue it receives from parking fees and violations.
One statistic Ballmer was surprised he was unable to determine was the total number of firearms in the country. He found out that the government is barred by law from counting firearms, which Ballmer attributes to lobbying by the National Rifle Association. Funny, I'm not surprised by that at all.
Yes, he's nuts, but don't just take my word for it
There's this thing called the Goldwater Rule that prohibits psychiatrists from offering professional opinions about the mental health of people who they have never met. In the last month, the American Psychiatric Association felt the need to reaffirm its support for the Goldwater Rule, as Common Dreams' Andrea Germanos reports in an April 21, 2017, article.
The Goldwater Rule wasn't enough to dissuade a group of mental-health professionals from voicing their concern about the threat posed by the emotional stability of our current chief executive. An event at Yale University on April 20, 2017, called Duty to Warn brought together a small group of people in the psychiatric field who feel compelled to speak out despite the repercussions of violating the rule.
One psychologist is quoted as saying the chief executive's mental illness puts the world in danger, so the professionals believe they have an ethical duty to warn the public of the danger. Among the terms he used to describe the chief executive were "liar," "narcissist," "paranoid," "delusional," and "grandiose thinking."
One adjective is missing: "criminal."