Category Archives: Media

Headline of the day II: Panoptical eyes of Texas


From the Intercept:

Texas Prisons Assert Right to Censor Inmates’ Families on Social Media

A new rule in Texas that prohibits prisoners from maintaining a social media presence could infringe on the free speech and expression rights of ordinary citizens who maintain accounts on behalf of incarcerated loved ones.

Blood on the Greek newsroom floor. . .


Declining newspaper circulations aren’t a problem unique to the U.S., as evidenced in this graphic from a new report [PDF] from the Hellenic Statistical Authority [Elstat]:

BLOG Greek

From Elstat:

On the basis of the available data of the 2015 survey and the corresponding data of the 2013 and 2014 surveys, ELSTAT announces the following results:
In 2015, an overall decrease of 10.67% is recorded in the total sales of newspapers in comparison with 2014. The only increase observed is recorded in the  sales of the category “Other type of newspapers”, which increased by 14.12% in comparison with 2014

A similar trend is observed for the sales of newspapers in 2014, which dropped by 8.91% in comparison with 2013. An increase is recorded only in the sales of daily morning political newspapers, by 3.55%, and in the sales of religious newspapers, by 25.53%.

Retweet something important? Fuggedaboudit


While everyone hypes the importance of social media as critical tools for keeping us informed about the world around us, the medium poses at least one significant problems.

If we think something in a Tweet we’ve received is important enough to pass along to friends and others in a retweet, chances are, the very act of passing it on makes us less likely to recall it later.

From Cornell University:

In a digital world where information is at your fingertips, be prepared to hold on tight before it slips right through them. Research at Cornell and Beijing University finds retweeting or otherwise sharing information creates a “cognitive overload” that interferes with learning and retaining what you’ve just seen.

Worse yet, that overload can spill over and diminish performance in the real world.

“Most people don’t post original ideas any more. You just share what you read with your friends,” said Qi Wang, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology. “But they don’t realize that sharing has a downside. It may interfere with other things we do.”

Wang and colleagues in China conducted experiments showing that “retweeting” interfered with learning and memory, both online and off. The experiments are described in Issue 59 [$19.95 for a look at the article — esnl] of the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

The experiments were conducted at Beijing University, with a group of Chinese college students as subjects. At computers in a laboratory setting, two groups were presented with a series of messages from Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. After reading each message, members of one group had options either to repost or go on to the next message. The other group was given only the “next” option.

After finishing a series of messages, the students were given an online test on the content of those messages. Those in the repost group offered almost twice as many wrong answers and often demonstrated poor comprehension. What they did remember they often remembered poorly, Wang reported. “For things that they reposted, they remembered especially worse,” she added.

There’s more, after the jump. . .

Continue reading

Big Brother’s panopticon chills online searches


It’s no secret that we’ve long suspected that the revelations of NSA’s panopticon powers would result in self-censorship online, and now we have evidence in the form of an academic study published right here in Berkeley.

Chilling Effects: Online Surveillance and Wikipedia Use [PDF] has just appeared online from the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, and it’s well worth a read.

Reuters sums up:

Internet traffic to Wikipedia pages summarizing knowledge about terror groups and their tools plunged nearly 30 percent after revelations of widespread Web monitoring by the U.S. National Security Agency, suggesting that concerns about government snooping are hurting the ordinary pursuit of information.

A forthcoming paper in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal analyzes the fall in traffic, arguing that it provides the most direct evidence to date of a so-called “chilling effect,” or negative impact on legal conduct, from the intelligence practices disclosed by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Author Jonathon Penney, a fellow at the University of Toronto’s interdisciplinary Citizen Lab, examined monthly views of Wikipedia articles on 48 topics identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as subjects that they track on social media, including Al Qaeda, dirty bombs and jihad.

In the 16 months prior to the first major Snowden stories in June 2013, the articles drew a variable but an increasing audience, with a low point of about 2.2 million per month rising to 3.0 million just before disclosures of the NSA’s Internet spying programs. Views of the sensitive pages rapidly fell back to 2.2 million a month in the next two months and later dipped under 2.0 million before stabilizing below 2.5 million 14 months later, Penney found.

Here’s a chart from page 37 of the paper dramatically illustrating the decline:

BLOG Terror

More details from Abhimanyu Ghoshal of The Next Web:

In his paper, ‘Chilling Effects: Online Surveillance and Wikipedia Use’, Penney looked at monthly views on Wikipedia pages for 48 topics that the US Department of Homeland Security said it tracks on social media, including ‘Al Qaeda’, ‘terror’, ‘weapons grade’, ‘Abu Sayyaf’, ‘Iran’, ‘extremism’, ‘Nigeria’ and jihad.

He noted that in the 16 months prior to Snowden’s first big reveal, the articles drew between 2.2 million views per month rising to 3 million. After Snowden went public, those figures fell below 2 million before stabilizing at just under 2.5 million 14 months later.

Penney’s paper highlights the ‘chilling effect’ of the government’s snooping programs, which refers to the discouragement of the legitimate exercise of legal rights by the threat of legal sanction – in this case, to seek information and learn about what’s going on around the world.

And the money quote from page 40 of the study itself:

Skepticism among courts, legal scholars, and empirical researchers has persisted about the nature, extent, and even existence of chilling effects due, in large part, to a lack of empirical substantiation. The results in this case study, however, provide empirical evidence consistent with chilling effects on the activities of Internet users due to government surveillance. And, to be clear, the activity here is not only legal—accessing information on Wikipedia—but arguably desirable for a healthy democratic society. It involves Internets users informing themselves about important topics subject to today’s widespread social, political, moral, and public policy debates. The large, statistically significant, and immediate drop in total views for the Wikipedia articles after June 2013 implies a clear and immediate chilling effect. Moreover, the broad and statistically significant shift in the overall trend in the data (e.g. the shift from the second results excluding outliers) suggests any chilling effects observed may be substantial and long-term, rather than weak, temporary, or ephemeral. This study also bolsters support for the existence of the chilling due to the data upon which it relies. It is among the first studies to demonstrate evidence of such a chilling effect using web traffic data (instead of survey responses or search), and the first to do so in relation both to the potential chilling effects on Wikipedia use, and, more broadly, how such government surveillance and other actions impact how people access and obtain information and knowledge online.

We leave the last word to Glenn Greenwald, writing at The Intercept:

The fear that causes self-censorship is well beyond the realm of theory. Ample evidence demonstrates that it’s real – and rational. A study from PEN America writers found that 1 in 6 writers had curbed their content out of fear of surveillance and showed that writers are “not only overwhelmingly worried about government surveillance, but are engaging in self-censorship as a result.” Scholars in Europe have been accused of being terrorist supporters by virtue of possessing research materials on extremist groups, while British libraries refuse to house any material on the Taliban for fear of being prosecuted for material support for terrorism.

There are also numerous psychological studies demonstrating that people who believe they are being watched engage in behavior far more compliant, conformist and submissive than those who believe they are acting without monitoring. That same realization served centuries ago as the foundation of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon: that behaviors of large groups of people can be effectively controlled through architectural structures that make it possible for them to be watched at any given movement even though they can never know if they are, in fact, being monitored, thus forcing them to act as if they always are being watched. This same self-censorsing, chilling effect of the potential of being surveilled was also the crux of the tyranny about which Orwell warned in 1984:

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You have to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Well, not quite the last word. Undoubtedly, the net beneficiaries of the reluctance of the populace to look deeper into issues of terrorism serves the interests of a government with a vested interest in keeping secret many of its operations and deepest political motives. . .

Headline of the day II: More troubles in Mexico


From Gizmodo:

Mexico’s Entire Voter Database Was Leaked to the Internet

A database containing the personal information of millions Mexican voters was discovered online by a security researcher earlier this month on an unprotected server. The discovery represents a major breach in private information for upwards of 87 million Mexican voters.

Blood on the newsroom floor: More carnage


2016 is shaping up as another bad year for the news media, with downsizings happening in both the United States and Europe.

We’ll begin with the most notable new example, via the New York Post:

Chairman and Publisher Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger Jr.’s management team has been talking with some of the Times’ unions to come to a deal to provide reduced severance to those affected, sources told The Post.

“There’s a goal of a couple of hundred people,” said a source familiar with talks. “They don’t want to pay out big packages, and they’re having negotiations with the unions.”

The layoffs would likely occur between the Aug. 21 end of the summer Olympics in Brazil and Election Day on Nov. 8, sources said.

A union source confirmed there are ongoing talks about reducing severance pay, but wasn’t aware of lay-off plans at this time.

Next, the hammer falls at a major Midwestern paper, the same one esnl read as a grade schooler growing up in a small Kansas farm town.

Via Cision Media Research:

Layoffs and buyouts have hit the newsroom at The Kansas City Star. The buyouts affected several veterans of the paper, including editorial page editor Steve Paul, on staff since 1975; op-ed columnist and editorial board member Barb Shelly, with the paper since 1984; longtime theater critic Robert Trussel, on staff since 1977; digital editor Jody Cox; and assistant sports editor  Mark Zeligman.

The following staffers were laid off:

  • Greg Hack, assistant business editor
  • Alan Bavley, health reporter
  • Brian Burnes, metro reporter
  • James Fussell, features reporter
  • Mary Schulte, online photo editor

The Pittsburgh Business Times covers the kinder, gentler form of downsizing on their own home turf:

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette generated enough editorial staffers to take a second buyout offer in the last seven months that it will not move forward with any layoffs.

“With this buyout, we got near enough to where we need to be that we don’t need to go further,” said Lisa Hurm, general manager for the PG, a division of Toledo-based Block Communications, Inc.

Hurm declined to offer specifics on the number of editorial staffers to take the buyout. She added there were staff reductions in other areas of the publication along with other turnover that layoffs proved unnecessary.

PG management decided to not go forward with any involuntary layoffs after issuing a notice to the leadership of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh of the possibility of newsroom layoffs a little more than a month ago.

Digital First Media, the company that just announced it was eliminating all but the thinnest, token veneer of editing at its Northern California newspapers, has announced the sale of more of its holdings as it continues in a desperate struggle to raise cash.

But that’s what happens when investment bankers look at newspaper holdings as profit centers, a delusion if ever there was one.

From Talking New Media:

The newspaper chain Digital First News [21 April] announced the sale of New England Newspapers Inc., a day after the chain sold The Salt Lake Tribune to Paul Huntsman, the son of businessman and philanthropist Jon M. Huntsman. The papers that are part of the group sold include three dailies and one weekly: The Berkshire Eagle, The Brattleboro Reformer, the Bennington Banner — and the weekly Manchester Journal.

The papers were sold to a local group, Birdland Acquisition LLC whose principals are John C. “Hans” Morris, former president of Visa Inc., Fredric D. Rutberg, former Pittsfield District Court judg, Robert G. Wilmers, chairman and CEO of M&T Bank, and Stanford Lipsey, publisher emeritus of The Buffalo News.

Digital First Media, which is the management company which owns MediaNews Group, Digital First Ventures, and 21st Century Media, which incorporates the old Journal Register Company, just recently was able to acquire the assets of Freedom Communications in a bankruptcy auction. In that auction, Tribune Publishing, which owns the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union Tribune, appeared to have won the auction, which would have added the Orange County Register to its newspaper assets. But the Department of Justice stepped in objecting to the acquisition, and so Digital First Media won the auction. DFM owns papers in Southern California including the Los Angeles Daily News and Long Beach Press Telegram.

But DFM is hardly on solid financial group. A year ago the chain, owned by the private equity firm Alden Global Capital, attempted to sell itself whole, but had to back away when no seller interested in its dispersed holdings came forward to bid on the entire company.

Given that layoffs usually following sales, it’s a good news/bad news kind of story.

There’s plenty more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: Silicon Valley fears The Donald


From tech journalist and author Nick Bilton, writing in Vanity Fair:

Stopping Trump has become a fixation for Silicon Valley—an industry that holds itself responsible for changing the world and making it a better place. At Facebook’s recent F8 developer conference, Mark Zuckerberg paused during his discussion about drones and A.P.I.s in order to rebuke Trump’s demonic statements on immigration. “Most of my friends think he’s a fucking idiot,” a venture capitalist said onstage at a recent tech conference. Stopping Trump was one of the main topics at a secret meeting with billionaires, tech C.E.O.s (including Tim Cook, Elon Musk, and Larry Page), and top members of the Republican establishment in March. And it’s the topic du jour anytime I speak to entrepreneurs, bloggers, or V.C.s up North.

But people in technology don’t simply fear Trump on account of the abhorrent and malevolent, and frankly horrific, things that he says. They’re also terrified about what he might do to the Land of Unicorns. “The main political belief here is money,” one San Francisco tech blogger told me last week. “And they’re all petrified that Trump could harm that.”

Indeed, they’re right. Trump has threatened to cut off the H-1B visa immigration program, which would impair Facebook’s and Google’s ability to hire brilliant new programmers from overseas. During the infamous Super Tuesday press conference, in which Chris Christie stood dumbfounded and dazed, the always thoughtful Trump declared, “I’m going to get Apple to start making their computers and their iPhones on our land!” (Where, of course, they would be exponentially more expensive to produce—and probably made by robots anyway.) When the F.B.I.-Apple-San Bernardino squabble occurred, in February, Trump even threatened to switch to a Samsung phone until Apple gave over the info. (This must have sent shockwaves through Cupertino.)