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The Fake Arbiters of “Fake News”

Sunday, November 27, 2016 17:22
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(Before It's News)

By Gates of Vienna

B4INREMOTE-aHR0cHM6Ly8zLmJwLmJsb2dzcG90LmNvbS8tQVpOVTA1cnVOUkEvV0R0eWR1QWh2OEkvQUFBQUFBQUJwZXcvOUVVZ3lWYlBjbjRRWnduU29BcmVTbzhBYmZBZm4xQzRBQ0xjQi9zMjQwL3dhcG9oaWxsb2JhbWElMjU1QjElMjU1RC5naWY=As everyone already knows, on Friday the business section of The Washington Post published an article about so-called “fake news” propagated on the Internet. The Russian propaganda services are said to be behind this disinformation, with many American websites helping to spread it, deliberately or otherwise.

One of the WaPo’s principal sources for the story was a website called “PropOrNot”. For some reason the author, Craig Timberg, failed to link the site, although he linked many others. However, in its post on the piece, Zero Hedge provides a link to the 200 “fake news” websites listed by PropOrNot. Gates of Vienna was not illustrious enough to make the Post’s article, but PropOrNot has honored us by including us in the list of sites that retail “fake news”.

Interestingly enough, much more prominent sites were omitted from that list, including Jihad Watch. I’ll discuss the likely reasons for such omissions, but first I’d like to look at the “journalism” practiced by The Washington Post, which relies on PropOrNot and other “independent researchers” to designate a wide swath of information sources as inadequate, inferior, and false, branding them as worthy of shunning and shaming.

There’s no real need to defend ourselves against the assertion that we propagate “fake news”. Ever since the LGF Wars of nine years ago, the various designations assigned to us have become badges of honor. We’ve been called “neo-fascist” (Little Green Footballs), “Islamophobic” (the OIC), a “hate site” (innumerable sources), and “Breivik’s mentor” (also innumerable sources). I’ll just frame the “fake news site” certificate and put it on the wall alongside all the others.

B4INREMOTE-aHR0cHM6Ly8zLmJwLmJsb2dzcG90LmNvbS8tQVpOVTA1cnVOUkEvV0R0eWR1QWh2OEkvQUFBQUFBQUJwZXcvOUVVZ3lWYlBjbjRRWnduU29BcmVTbzhBYmZBZm4xQzRBQ0xjQi9zNjAwL3dhcG9oaWxsb2JhbWElMjU1QjElMjU1RC5naWY=

But think about it — the typical post at Gates of Vienna is a news article, op-ed, or video translated from a foreign language. Most of those are from the European MSM. The articles and op-eds are sourced to the original, and the videos have logos or other graphics that identify the outlet that aired them. The sources can be tracked down and checked by someone who speaks the language to see whether what we posted was accurately rendered from the original.

In what way can that be considered “fake news”? If such posts are “fake”, then the phrase “real news” has no meaning.

I have a theory about how we ended up on that list, but I’ll get to that later.

Consider the following blurb that appeared directly below the WaPo article when I accessed it:

The Post Recommends

Donald Trump pulls a bait and switch on America

But there’s reason to be thankful for his insincerity.

Now, that’s real news, as oppose to the fake stuff we put out here in the fever swamps.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

PropOrNot.com is a new website. It was registered as a domain on August 21 of this year. According to its introductory page, it was launched as a website on October 30 — nine days before the presidential election.

Hmmm…

Furthermore, the site does not identify itself as representing any particular organization. It is simply a website, with no visible connection to any corporation or non-profit that might have done the “research” (although a quick look at PropOrNot’s friends as displayed on its sidebar is instructive).

And this is the resource that the renowned Washington Post used to identify “fake news” websites.

Hmmm again…

It reminds me of the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose designations of “hate groups” are used by DHS and other organs of the federal government to determine who should be persecuted monitored for “extremism”. PropOrNot seems to serve a similar purpose, but with a different action vector.

But more on that later. Let’s take a closer look at what The Washington Post has to say about where fake news comes from, and who helps spread it.

Like most other MSM writers, Craig Timberg presumably lives in an ideological bubble and is never required to question the cognitive framework he imposes on raw data to make his judgments. As a result, his analysis is riddled with unexamined premises. I’ll try to tease those out, along with other ideological attributes than can be deduced from his prose.

Below are extensive excerpts from the article, with my exegeses interpolated:

Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.

Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia. [emphasis added]

First of all: Yes, it’s true that Russia engages in extensive information warfare on the Internet using the methods described in the first half of the second paragraph. Its operations have been fairly well-documented over the past five years or so.

But look at the second half of the same paragraph and consider the three unexamined premises underlying those sentences:

1.   “portrayed Clinton as a criminal”
    Hillary Clinton is a criminal, she just hasn’t been indicted or prosecuted. The director of the FBI, no less, acknowledged that her mishandling of classified emails broke the law. Furthermore, she has now been clearly shown to have lied under oath on several occasions, although no prosecution has been initiated against her so far — presumably because the investigatory organs and the Justice Department have been under control of her allies. This is a fact-based analysis. Why is it “fake news”?
2.   “potentially fatal health problems”
    What does Craig Timberg know about Hillary’s health problems that the rest of us don’t? As far as I know, her full medical records have never been made available to the public. So he has no more idea than we do about the reasons for her stumbling, slurring, swooning, eye-swiveling, pop-eyed maniacal laughter, and bizarre head-bobbing. We don’t know whether these symptoms are caused by Parkinson’s, dipsomania, head trauma, brain lesions, or something else. But they exist, and Mr. Timberg’s explanation (or non-explanation) of them is no more reality-based than anyone else’s. So why is his considered fact, while the others are “fake news”?
3.   “promote fear of looming hostilities”
    The fear of war with Russia was being ginned up by the Obama administration and the Hillary campaign in the weeks leading up to the election. The pattern of events was clear, based on who leaked what to whom in the compliant organs of the mainstream media. The fomenting of war fever by an incumbent party just before an election is a time-honored American tradition. Remember Lyndon Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin incident? War with the USA would definitely not serve Russian interests. So why isn’t assigning Russia the blame for the fear of war considered “fake news”?
 

Next:

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

Now we’re getting to the meat of the issue. Facebook and Google need to crack down on “fake news” to help their preferred candidates get elected and stay in office. They say they are responding to “widespread complaints”. Who complained? How do we know who put them up to complaining? Could they be paid provocateurs using the same tactics as the Russians, but working for the opposing side? Who pays them?

Ah, but asking those questions constitutes exactly the “fake news” that must be cracked down on. In other words: “We in the MSM know that the Russians are devious manipulators of the American political process, whereas we, the anointed purveyors of truth — especially Google and Facebook — are unbiased and impartial in our assessments.”

Uh-huh.

Next:

[…]

…Another group, called PropOrNot, a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds, planned to release its own findings Friday showing the startling reach and effectiveness of Russian propaganda campaigns.

The researchers used Internet analytics tools to trace the origins of particular tweets and mapped the connections among social-media accounts that consistently delivered synchronized messages. Identifying website codes sometimes revealed common ownership. In other cases, exact phrases or sentences were echoed by sites and social-media accounts in rapid succession, signaling membership in connected networks controlled by a single entity.

PropOrNot’s monitoring report, which was provided to The Washington Post in advance of its public release, identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans. On Facebook, PropOrNot estimates that stories planted or promoted by the disinformation campaign were viewed more than 213 million times.

It’s difficult to discuss this excerpt without a lot of hand-waving and exasperated expostulating.

We are told that PropOrNot is a “nonpartisan collection of researchers” who have expertise in various fields. Since PropOrNot is not an identifiable person or organization, it is impossible to check its credentials. Its methodology is equally opaque: all we know is that “[t]he researchers used Internet analytics tools” to arrive at their list of “fake news” sites identified as purveyors of “Russian propaganda”.

Furthermore, the website — which opened mere moments before the election, in political terms — actually collaborated with The Washington Post, delivering its material to the paper prior to its official release. Craig Timberg then dutifully published the information, conveying it as if it were factual. If he did any fact-checking or verification, he neglected to tell his readers. And the information as presented by PropOrNot cannot be verified by anyone who is not a hacker or intelligence expert.

To summarize: an opaque outside group of questionable provenance colluded with The Washington Post to present biased information that cannot be verified, and may even have been spun out of whole cloth.

Is that not exactly the definition of “fake news” that the Post and other establishment organs are even now lamenting?

The irony of the situation is delicious: Craig Timberg uses fake news to determine who the purveyors of fake news are so that Google and Facebook can suppress them.

To paraphrase the mathematician John von Neumann: “Young man, in The Washington Post you don’t understand things. You just get used to them.”

One more thing — part of the evidence for the use of Russian disinformation by the listed websites is that “exact phrases or sentences were echoed”. Well, I have some news for Craig Timberg, PropOrNot, and other wet-behind-the-ears neophytes of the Internet: people often use the exact same wording because they quote, excerpt, and mirror one another’s material. On Twitter it’s called “retweeting”, in case you’ve never heard of it. They like what they read, so they duplicate it and send it on.

I suppose the Russians must force us all to echo each other by radioing instructions to us via the fillings in our teeth…

Next:

[…]

Some of these stories originated with RT and Sputnik, state-funded Russian information services that mimic the style and tone of independent news organizations yet sometimes include false and misleading stories in their reports, the researchers say. On other occasions, RT, Sputnik and other Russian sites used social-media accounts to amplify misleading stories already circulating online, causing news algorithms to identify them as “trending” topics that sometimes prompted coverage from mainstream American news organizations.

RT and Sputnik are indeed organs of the Russian state. Therefore everything they publish or broadcast is designed to serve the interests of the Russian state.

But this doesn’t mean that what they publish is false. It just means they put a spin on whatever the story is. If the news item reflects badly on the European Union and may tend to harm it, they will emphasize those aspects of the story and repeat them over and over again.

But how is that different from what CNN, CBS, The New York Times, and The Washington Post do?

There are only two main differences between the organs of American MSM and those of the Russian state:

1.   The MSM aren’t funded by the state to purvey their propaganda, but do choose to do it on their own, as part of their business model; and
2.   They don’t serve the interests of the United States of America or any other state. Their disinformation is propagated in service of Cultural Marxism and a borderless New World Order.
 

As for boosting the “trending” aspect of selected topics: the Progressives among American media snoids and politicians are even more adept at such tactics than the Russians. I don’t know if Hillary Clinton had more bot followers than anyone else in politics, but she was way up there.

One more thing: I’ve been watching RT and Sputnik for years, and although I have seen them publish heavily spun, tendentious, and misleading material, I have never caught them retailing outright falsehoods. They may have done so, but I didn’t see any.

The same cannot be said of CNN and The New York Times, which publish falsehoods on a regular basis. When caught, CNN generally does not acknowledge its lapse into disinformation. The Old Grey Doxy, on the other hand, will usually publish a correction — at the bottom of page 28.

Next:

[…]

The final weeks of the campaign featured a heavy dose of stories about supposed election irregularities, allegations of vote-rigging and the potential for Election Day violence should Clinton win, researchers said.

“The way that this propaganda apparatus supported Trump was equivalent to some massive amount of a media buy,” said the executive director of PropOrNot, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers. “It was like Russia was running a super PAC for Trump’s campaign. … It worked.” [emphasis added]

But were those “supposed election irregularities” provably false? Or was there some factual basis for the “allegations of vote-rigging”? Not every story making those allegations was unsourced — there was ample evidence that dead people and illegal aliens voted. Does that constitute “propaganda”?

Once again, simply to ask these questions is to purvey “fake news”.

Terry McAuliffe is the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who is now the governor of Virginia. A few weeks ago he granted voting rights to 60,000 convicted Virginia felons. By coincidence, Hillary Clinton won in Virginia by about 60,000 votes.

Is that mere coincidence? Did Mr. McAuliffe exercise his executive authority out of tender mercy for those puir felons just days before the election? Or was it a calculated and corrupt political move to throw the vote to Hillary?

By asking those questions I reveal myself as an extremist, a propaganda tool for the Russians, but above all as a purveyor of “fake news”!

Finally:

[…]

RT broadcasts news reports worldwide in several languages, but the most effective way it reaches U.S. audiences is online.

Its English-language flagship YouTube channel, launched in 2007, has 1.85 million subscribers and has had a total of 1.8 billion views, making it more widely viewed than CNN’s YouTube channel, according to a George Washington University report this month.

Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter: RT is beating CNN at its own game.

Because RT does not follow the progressive NWO party line, its news seems fresh and different to people who are sick of the same old PC pabulum served up by the MSM. The Russians are spinning the news just as much as CNN, but they are spinning it differently, which makes it more interesting for those who have become accustomed to the dreck put out by CNN or MSNBC.

In addition, RT features news that major American outlets decline to cover. If a story doesn’t fit the Narrative, it is consigned to the oubliette in the editorial offices of the MSM. But if the same story serves the interests of the Russian state, it gets published by RT, and we get to learn about something that we would otherwise be ignorant of.

It’s not false. It’s not “fake news”. It’s just news that the mainstream media don’t want you to hear.

The Republican Party, the Democrat Party, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, Google, Reddit, Twitter, et al. want to suppress information that does not support the Progressive Narrative. So they label such information “fake news”, and collaborate with Potemkin “researchers” to provide an official certificate of fakeness. These certificates are then used to justify the suppression of outlets that have earned the label.

This is very much from the playbook of SPLC, but with a difference. SPLC is being used by government agencies as a resource to justify cracking down on “hate groups”. However, that’s not the intended modus operandi for what PropOrNot and the Post are doing. Even if they wanted to enable government action, there isn’t enough time for it between now and January 20, when the apparatus of enforcement falls out of their hands.

The intended vector for the suppression of “fake news” is the social media. They aren’t the government, and they don’t have to legally justify a crackdown on the blacklisted sites. PropOrNot and similar operations will provide the thin veneer of justification for blocking, banning, terminating, and ejecting any designated “fake news” outlet from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and all the other popular social media outlets. It’s also an excuse for Google to redesign the algorithms for its filters so as to severely reduce the ranking of “fake news” sites in searches.

This means Gates of Vienna may finally become hard to find on Google. All the more reason to switch to DuckDuckGo or some other search engine with a motto other than “Don’t be evil… NOT”.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Appendix: The “Research” Conducted by PropOrNot

It’s a truism that the mainstream media, the academy, and the political establishment (both Republican and Democrat) constitute a vast ideological echo chamber. If you want to play in their sandbox, you have to stay within the designated parameters, or risk being ejected without your bucket and shovel.

The virtuous folk are those who pass the ideological tests. They are the ones allowed to play in the sandbox. They reinforce their virtue by signaling it to each other using a variety of undefined but well-known mechanisms. Virtue-signaling may be recognized by the use of certain words and phrases, such as “diversity”, “tolerance”, “inclusion” (positive), “racism”, “hate”, “[fill in the blank]phobia”, and “extremist” (negative). A savvy denizen of the sandbox knows which of the signaled concepts must be approved, and which must be denounced. Those who approve or denounce appropriately are allowed to stay and play.

It’s important to remember that post-modern virtue as displayed in the sandbox does not depend on facts. It depends on the positions one takes with respect to the Narrative.

The term “fake news” was recently added to the virtue-signaling lexicon. Fake news is any information that conveys a position lying outside the Narrative. Therefore fake news must be severely denounced by those who want to be virtuous.

The joint venture launched by The Washington Post and PropOrNot serves to establish an official, citable list of sources of information that wander so far outside the Narrative that they must be cast into the Outer Darkness beyond the walls of the sandbox.

Now let’s take a look at PropOrNot’s introduction to its list of “fake news” sites:

Is It Propaganda Or Not?

Your Friendly Neighborhood Propaganda Identification Service, Since 2016!

An Initial Set of Sites That Reliably Echo Russian Propaganda

Whoa! Stop right there.

Gates of Vienna is on that list. In what way are we echoing Russian propaganda?

When I first looked at the list, I thought it must be because we’re dissidents. We don’t pretend to be unbiased, and our views are contrary to those required by the Narrative. Often vigorously so.

However, the same is true of Blazing Cat Fur and Jihad Watch, and they’re not on the list. So there must be additional criteria.

Steve Sailer, VDare, and AmRen are on the list. They don’t retail the Kremlin line any more than we do, but they have one thing in common: they’re willing to tackle the issue of race.

And so are we, on occasion. We don’t make it our major concern, but we aren’t afraid to look at it from time to time. And we don’t have the Screaming Nazi Heeber-Jeebers.

Is that why we made the list?

It may be part of the reason. But a look at the rest of PropOrNot’s intro provides a clue about what other factors may be at work:

We have used a combination of manual and automated analysis, including analysis of content, timing, technical indicators, and other reporting, in order to initially identify (“red-flag”) the following as Russian propaganda outlets. We then confirmed our initial assessment by applying whatever criteria we did not originally employ during the red-flag process, and we reevaluate our findings as needed.

Some of our tipsters send in excerpts from Sputnik and RT for the news feed, and we sometimes post Ruptly videos that have been subtitled in English. Furthermore, ZeroHedge, InfoWars, SHTFPlan, and other “major offenders” found on the list are also frequently included in the news feed.

Those links to major “fake news” outlets were probably enough to put Gates of Vienna on the list. The algorithms that produced PropOrNot’s automated analysis presumably found enough of those links to put us in the “cloud” surrounding the Russians.

If I objected to our being characterized as a “fake news” site — which I don’t, they can call us whatever they want — I’d have no recourse, because there is no one to sue. There’s no board of directors, no brick-and-mortar office to picket. Just a “contact us” page on the website.

In any case, PropOrNot made themselves bulletproof with these two paragraphs:

Please note that our criteria are behavioral. That means the characteristics of the propaganda outlets we identify are motivation-agnostic. For purposes of this definition it does not matter whether the sites listed here are being knowingly directed and paid by Russian intelligence officers, or whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria, they are at the very least acting as bona-fide “useful idiots” of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.

We assess that this overall Russian effort is at least semi-centralized, with multiple Russian projects and influence operations working in parallel to manage the direct and outsourced production of propaganda across a wide range of outlets. It is data-driven, and rewards effective entrepreneurship and innovation with increased funding and other resources. There are varying degrees of involvement in it, and awareness of involvement. Some people involved seem genuinely unaware that they are being used by Russia to produce propaganda, but many others seem to know full well.

So we don’t have to know what we’re doing to be considered shills for the Russians. We’re just their useful idiots; that’s why we’re on the list. By including these clauses, PropOrNot have made sure there is nothing actionable in their characterizations.

That’s some catch, that Catch-22!

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

That’s all I have to say about this “fake news” claptrap. It’s as worthless as anything else produced by the MSM these days.

Let them do their worst. We will continue to do what we do, outside the sandbox and lacking a bucket and shovel.


Read more at Gates of Vienna.
 

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