Monthly Archives: October 2016

When are journalists obligated to report on received information?

Glenn Greenwald presents the basic principles:
1. A source’s motives are irrelevant in deciding whether to publish.
2. Journalists constantly publish material that is stolen or illegally obtained (e.g. NY Times and Donald Trump’s 1995 tax return)
3. The more public power someone has, the less privacy they are entitled to claim.
4. Whether something is “shocking” or “earth-shattering” is an irrelevant standard.
5. All journalists are arbiters of privacy and gatekeepers of information.

Core principles of journalism are ignored by critics of this reporting.

Source: On WikiLeaks, Journalism, and Privacy: Reporting on the Podesta Archive is an Easy Call

Do read the full article. It may help to understand how or when journalism trends into propaganda instead of journalism.

Many on social media are misquoting #Wikileaks

Recent releases from Wikileaks are, without question, exposing ethical failures and outright corruption in our government officials. The emails contain enormous evidence that this is occurring and that our government officials are as corrupt as the worst in the world.

That said, numerous people are posting excerpts on social media that are taken 100% out of context, to say something that is not true.

For example, I have seen this quote widely distributed on social media today, being presented as proof that Hillary Clinton was selling government protection to those who donated to her foundation. But that is not what the email is about:

“This is pretty simple stuff. So Algeria is on the terror list, they want off the terror list, the State Department’s making a decision to do it, they write a check for what? How much? How many million dollars do they write a check for? I don’t know, but Algeria writes a check. You’re from Boston, you know how politics works. They write a really big check to the Clinton Foundation,”

Looks damning, doesn’t it? Until you see that it was speculation from a flaky TV reporter.

The original full text is clear: this is a direct quote from MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough who was creating hypothetical scenarios.

Another example was a quote that Hillary Clinton apparently “hates everyday Americans”. Those words appear in the emails. However, this was in reference to her disliking the typical politician’s use of the phrase “everyday Americans”; she disliked the phrase.

With the normal mass media ignoring the 9,000 (so far) emails released by Wikileaks, and ignoring the documents released by DC Leaks and Guccifer 2, it is easy for poorly done crowd sourcing to take control of the story line and spread untrue statements on social media.

Again, the various released documents and emails contain a documented pattern of sleaze and corruption. There is more than enough to share that is legitimate corruption. However, spreading false statements dilutes the message and ultimately harms the messenger.

Disclaimer: I am absolutely not defending Clinton. The emails indicate a clear and unmistakable pattern of deceit and corruption. The purpose of this blog is to look at how social media is used to spread propaganda. In this situation, social media is spreading untrue statements by quickly taking quotes out of context. The use of out context quotes is a typical pattern common in propaganda messaging, whether by experts or social media amateurs. It is just another form of cherry picking to make a point.

Related: Beware of fake documents on social media purporting to be from Wikileaks



Learn how to recognize propaganda in public statements

There have been leaks of emails whose content is embarrassing. In response, U.S. intelligence agencies issued the following statement alleging that Russia is behind the hacking and release of the emails in order to influence the U.S. election:

“The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.

Source: U.S. Intelligence Meddles In US Presidential Election: Backs Hillary Clinton | Zero Hedge

The above statement is written very cleverly, employing basic techniques of propaganda messaging. In the bottom line, no evidence is provided to support the claims shown. Numerous hackers, the world over, who are not part of government agencies, have amply demonstrated that the ordinary hacking community is capable of these security breaches.

Devoid of evidence, this is an “Appeal to Authority” claim: Believe us because we are intelligence agencies.

Update 1: Politico notes the same problem – no evidence provided.

Update 2: There is evidence, in a public report issued in June 2016, by a private IT security firm. It is odd that the intelligence agencies never cited this public report, though. Their report indicates a common phishing technique was used to harvest passwords, including from the Clinton campaign. They have “moderate confidence” the attack initiated in Russia from a group affiliated with the Russian government. “Moderate confidence” in their own definition, means they believe their sources are reliable but the data is insufficient to draw a conclusion. However, this public report was never mentioned by the intelligence agencies asserting that Russia is behind the infiltration of the information systems. Update March 2017: The private IT security firm has since had its credibility questioned after issuing questionable reports involving Ukraine, that contained clearly and provably false data and conclusions.

Update 3: The history of how the “Russians hacked the emails” meme was started. That story illustrates how a propaganda meme is launched, and then shared on social media tens of thousands of times, confirming this “false fact” upon which no evidence has been provided. Then, the very poor reporting of Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek spread another false meme that Putin and Trump were linked together in a conspiracy and Russia was confirmed behind this due to “fake emails” being released. Eichenwald’s conspiracy theory has since been shot down and demolished but now lives on as another “false fact” while Eichenwald continues to push his false conspiracy theory. The Intercept says the real evidence shows Eichenwald is lying and that Eichenwald is a liar.

Based on the links above, it appears that Kurt Eichenwald is a propagandist who has spread his false conspiracy theory via the social media sharing crowd.

As the link notes,

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Political campaigns use fake “Astro turf” social media influencers

In politics, “grass roots” supporters refers to an organically developed  group that supports an initiative, a party or a politician. The idea is the group has arisen “from the people”.

Counter to that, lobbying organizations create fake “grass roots” support groups, with fake names such as “Citizens for Jobs”. These fake organizations are known as “astro turf” – literally fake grass roots support organizations funded and managed by lobbying groups working to present the false impression that this is a concerned citizens effort.

This article: Astroturf ‘Outrage Machine’ of Paid Trolls Floods Social Media to Counteract Negative News About Hillary Clinton | The Stream names individuals and groups who created or organized fake social media “astro turf” campaigns and accounts to further the agenda of their sponsor. These fake groups create fake Twitter and Facebook accounts and use them to flood social media with the appearance of support – or criticism – of various viewpoints. They often use “Appeal to Authority”  or “Get on the Bandwagon” propaganda methods.

For example, the Wikileaks document dump reveals what was already assumed – political campaigns employ armies of fake social media accounts to generate support for their initiatives and political goals. According to The Daily Kos, there were numerous online posts claiming to have switched from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton – but most of these posts were fake “astro turf” operations run on behalf of the Clinton campaign.

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