Disinformation Is Coming To A Computer Near You

With the 2020 election coming up, we can expect plenty of disinformation in our news feeds. Disinformation originates in many places – Russia and homegrown United States. It filters up into what we would like to think of as reliable news sources. Those sources, because of their desire to believe that “both sides” have equal claim to truth, can be manipulated.

I’ll continue to post about recognizing that disinformation, because it’s up to all of us to make sure that what we’re sharing is truthful.

The New York Times has a big article from Josh Owens, who worked for Infowars and now says he regrets it. Another article, on Britain’s struggle with Russia over the poisoning, on British soil, of two people with a nerve agent by Russians, contains information about how the Russians use disinformation.

The Times article depicts Alex Jones as violent and demanding that his employees generate outrageously fear-producing stories. Nothing that Infowars touches should be considered reliable. Respectable news organizations should trace stories to their origins and reject anything that has been pushed by Infowars unless it has completely independent backing.

One of the stories Infowars pushed was that Fukushima radiation was showing up on the west coast of the United States. The responsible media dealt reasonably well with that, although it took some time. Here’s what the Washington Post reported in 2014. But I also saw (and debunked) a lot of sharing on social media of maps that weren’t of radiation levels and the dramatic video of radiation measurements on a California beach.

Russian and Republican disinformation flood the zone with alternative stories, designed to turn people off by making it too difficult to figure out what’s right so that people give up. “They’re all liars.” or “Nobody can really know.”

After the Skripals were poisoned and the British government began putting out information to its citizens, the Russian government jumped in, attacking the British information for apparent contradictions and offering up multiple explanations of the incident. The point was to make people doubt their own government. The Atlantic article lays this out in full detail for the Skripal incident.

What can you do?

First, stop thinking “They’re all liars.” or “Nobody can really know.” I know it’s cool to be cynical, but in doing that, you’re giving up your ability to think critically and make good choices and probably helping to muddy the waters for others.

Second, know who supplied the material you’re sharing on social media. Most of us don’t have time or aren’t set up to trace material back to its Russian or Infowars roots. So if you don’t know that the material came from a reliable source, don’t share it. Just don’t.

Third, if you’re concerned about something you’ve seen, check with an expert. Snopes fact-checks many of the memes you may see. Washington Post has a fact-check column. FactCheck.org is another good resource. You can ask me about science-related stuff.

There is such a thing as fact. You can find it. Or at least avoid spreading disinformation.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

What Would It Take For Turkey To Build A Nuclear Bomb?

That was how David Sanger teased his and William Broad’s article on Twitter.

Unfortunately that is not how the article is written. If you want to read it, write it, they say, so here goes.

In September, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads,” but the West insists “we can’t have them. This, I cannot accept.” Read More

Flying Saucers Redux

Wouldn’t it be nice if kindly space people suddenly appeared to lead us out of this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into? The New York Times thinks so.

Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, there was also a continuing saga of flying saucers, as they were called then. I was intrigued, being a kid who read science fiction and was terrified of atom bombs. As recently a year ago, on a trip to Texas, I made sure to drive through Levelland, where a famous sighting had taken place.

We’ve got an international mess right now. Creeping fascism and authoritarianism. The United States and Britain consumed with their own crazy. It would be so nice if the kindly space people would land, with their wisdom.

The space people are always kindly, never mind the counterexamples we have on earth. Read More

A Bit Of Chemistry

You may be familiar with the bellingcat organization. Eliot Higgins started looking at and identifying munitions in Syria on a blog called Brown Moses, which he used as a pseudonym for a while. He was profiled in the New Yorker in 2013.

I have been interested in open-source intelligence for a long time. I started with an unclassified problem: how to find trash burial sites at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for potential cleanup. We did a bunch of work with overhead photos and other data, data fusion as it was called at the time. We hired some folks to do infrared photography – the burial pits would collect water and be a lower temperature than surrounding areas. Read More

Just Say No

This story got buried under the news of Andrew McCabe’s firing on Friday, but it’s important if we want to elect people who can bring about responsible government. That starts now, as we move toward November’s elections.

You know those cute little quizzes that are supposed to tell you something about who you are? Which movie star are you? Are you a cat or a dog person? What is your color? So much fun to compare with what you think of yourself and with your friends’ results. In fact, you could share on Facebook and urge your friends to see what their favorite color was. Those quizzes asked you to share most of your Facebook data before you could play.

You may have been contributing data to Cambridge Analytica’s work to help elect Donald Trump. Read More

Sillamäe Again

Here’s a light but crabby post for a Saturday. Fits my mood.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Sillamäe, Estonia, and more thinking about it. So when a publication screws up the facts, I feel a need to respond.

This time, it’s Atlas Obscura doing a remarkable job of stuffing errors into a short article. Read More

Trump and Putin: Some 1980s Background

What do interviews in the 1980s and 1990s with Donald Trump tell us about his attitudes toward Russia and nuclear weapons?

The interviews are oblivious to world events taking place at that time. They are basically gossip columns by Lois Romano and William E. Geist, 1984; Ron Rosenbaum, 1987; Mark Singer, 1997. Descriptions of Trump’s lavish quarters and sycophantic workers, his expensive clothes, and his ease in getting a table at a restaurant figure prominently in the introductory paragraphs. Read More

Links – June 3, 2017

Every Russia story Donald Trump said was a hoax by Democrats: A timeline.

Watch what he does, not what he says: Trump’s words and budget for NATO.

A devastating portrait of Donald Trump.

Everyone at Vladimir Putin’s table at that RT dinner with Michael Flynn and Jill Stein, identified.

Long read on phishing and faking emails.  When emails are released, consider that some of them may be faked or modified.

What does Russia want? Basically, a sphere of control and for the West to come to its senses. Very much a case of two parties talking past each other.

The historic B-52 bomber no longer carries nuclear gravity bombs. Cruise missiles, yes. Photo from here. Read More