Exponential Lying Mendacity By Algorithm
Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush used print media, talk radio, and TV news to lie about the Gulf of Tonkin, the Watergate Break In, and Iraqs Weapons of Mass Destruction. Trump manipulates the much vaster reach and more compelling psychology of Social Media to spread vast swathes of misinformation to huge, susceptible audiences.
Social Media uses computer-generated mathematical algorithms to profit from selling advertisements. In computer science, an algorithm is a formula containing directions to perform a specific task. You can gather data on who responds to what kind of message, make it into an especially attention-grabbing piece of clickbait, then spread it far and wide to people you have algorithmically designated as prone to that particular kind of message.
In Down the Rabbit Hole: How Social Media Spreads misinformation, Eric Reed explains how this works:
Two main algorithms govern the flow of information on social media platforms. The first is the connections algorithm, known on Facebook as people you may know. This defines who connects to whom, and therefore who will see each others posts. The second is the feed algorithm. This selects what users see and in what order. Together these two algorithms define what a given user sees on the network.
Thus Social Media constructs computer algorithms from what you like and nudges you onto similar sites the more you click, the more advertisers Social Media can drive to you:
Republicans Routinely Accuse Democrats Of Wanting To Cut Defense Spending To The Bone And Leave Us Defenseless Against Our Enemies
History has repeatedly proven them wrong. Under Democratic presidents and Congresses, the United States still spends more on defense than the next ten countries combined. Republicans frequently insist on spending hundreds of billions of dollars on weapons systems that the Pentagon doesnt even want in order to benefit the multi-billion dollar defense contractors. Democrats who criticize this unnecessary spending are accused of trying to cut defense spending to the bone.
Bu Today: Some Observers Argue That Local Republican Officials And Republican Judges Thwarted Trumps Attempt To Overturn The 2020 Election So We Arent Headed For Autocracy Any Validity To That Argument
Jonathan Zatlin:If you look at the interwar period, theres no question that the civil serviceespecially in Germany, where democracy was linked to economic crises and the defeat of the Warwas opposed to democracy. And thats simply not the case in the United States. I dont think that has anything to do with Republicans, actually I think its that weve all been taught that democracy is a really important value. That said, the last president did tryand it seems Republican parties locally as well as on the state level are tryingto put public officials into office who dont have democracy as a value, who believe violence is a legitimate part of public discourse, which it obviously isnt. Its a form of politics that is deeply disturbing, because it means the Republican Party has allied itself with antidemocratic values, violence, and racism.
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Who Is Most Likely To Believe The Big Lie
Figure 3 explores who is most likely to reject the election result. It presents the results of a simple linear probability model, regressing the binary legitimate variable on demographic covariates of interest. The left panel presents results for Republican voters, and the right panel presents results for voters who identified no partisan affiliation.
Figure 3 Perceptions of 2020 Election Outcome by Partisanship and Demographics
Notes: The figure shows the coefficient estimates from a linear probability model where the binary legitimate variable was regressed on demographic covariates of interest. Starting on November 8, the legitimacy question was preceded by the sentence, Major news networks have announced that Joe Biden is the winner of the 2020 presidential election, and the estimates in this figure reflect data collected after that date. Line segments represent 95% confidence intervals. All data drawn from Electoral Legitimacy Tracking Survey .
The Republican Lies About Election Fraud Are A Ticking Time Bomb
In what must be the least surprising story of the week, The New York Timesreports that Republicans in California have begun to make accusations of voter fraud ahead of Tuesdays gubernatorial recall election. The story is unsurprising because all political observers are by now well aware that, thanks to the lies of Donald Trump and the self-serving gullibility of millions of Republican voters, the GOP has actively embraced the position that American elections are systematically and unfairly rigged against them.
This is hands down the most dangerous political development in recent American history a civic time bomb placed smack dab at the center of American democracy.
Its more dangerous than a reality-show demagogue ascending to the presidency. Or partisan gridlock in Congress making governing and passing legislation extremely difficult. Or constitutional disagreement about the scope of womens reproductive rights. Or conflicts surrounding masking and vaccine mandates. Or disputes about what Joe Biden can accomplish for public health through executive branch rule-making.
All of those issues are important, and some of them contribute to the degradation of American democracy. But none of them degrade it more than spreading the lie that elections in the United States are systematically untrustworthy and rigged against one of the countrys two parties. Thats the kind of claim that could ultimately make American self-government impossible.
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The Lessons Of Escaping Cults Could Come In Handy
Others in the group nod in agreement, as the group leader, Diane Benscoter, offers empathy and then advice. As a former cult member, Benscoter says she understands the defense mechanisms that kick in when anyone tries to tell you youve been duped.
After decades of helping people get out of cults, shes now making something of a second career helping families apply those same strategies to everyone from hard-core QAnon conspiracy theorists to more mainstream MAGA enthusiasts who believe the election was rigged.
She gently cautions Shannon that trying to prove her mom wrong will most likely backfire and cause her to dig her heels in further. Instead, Benscoter says, just keep her close, and watch for little cracks of doubt that might signal an opportunity to plant another seed.
But you need to tread lightly, Benscoter repeatedly warns, when trying to reach someone whos so all-in on the falsehood about the election.
As time goes by, what happens is it becomes not just your political view it is your identity, she explains. When family members confront a fervent believer and try to persuade them that what they believe is not true, Benscoter tells the group to remember that whats being threatened is their very identity.
Are Trump Republicans Fascists
The January 6 insurrectionists were violent and antidemocratic, but critics err in calling them fascist, BU historian Jonathan Zatlin says. AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
No, says BU historian Jonathan Zatlin, but they can still be dangerous
To call a person who endorses violence against the duly elected government a Republican is itself Orwellian. More accurate words exist for such a person. One of them is fascist.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank dropped the f-word after the Republican National Committee on February 4 declared the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol legitimate political discourse. The RNC also censured US Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for serving on the House committee investigating the Capitol attack.
Othersformer George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum and Democratic journalist Ed Kilgore among themagree that the Trump-appeasing GOP is akin to the European fascists who rose to power between the two world wars. The concern predates the RNCs endorsement of violence. Frum noted the insurrection itself, while Kilgore detected such parallels to interwar fascism as a foundational lie and alliances with reactionary religious interests and radical elements among the police and military veterans.
BU Today asked Zatlin his thoughts on analogizing MAGA to Hitler and Mussolini.
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In 1993 When The Brady Law And The Assault Weapons Ban Were Passed Republicans Predicted Increasing Rates Of Crime And Murder
Thankfully, just the opposite happened. While the rate of violent crime had increased steadily from the 1970s into the 1990s, it suddenly began to drop after 1993 and continued to decline for more than ten years. What could have happened in 1993 to precipitate such a sudden and prolonged drop in crime? Thats the year Congress passed the Assault Weapons Ban and the Brady Law, which mandated background checks and a waiting period to buy a gun.
Despite Republican predictions to the contrary, the Brady Law and the Assault Weapons Ban were followed by the most dramatic reduction in violent crime since the FBI started keeping statistics. The graphs below, based on the actual numbers from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports website, show how the rates of murder and violent crime in the US dropped suddenly after the 1993 Brady Law and Assault Weapons Ban were passed.
These charts show the rate of murder and violent crime over 35 years based on numbers from the FBI Uniform Crime reports.
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We Shouldn’t Read Too Much Into One Election Night
All politics is local, the saying goes, and Kemp crushed Perdue the old fashioned way, by using his power as governor to reward allies, sideline rivals, dazzle the GOP base by signing hot-button conservative legislation, and making sure GOP donors shied away from Perdue, The New York Times reports. All Perdue had was Trump’s endorsement.
“Perdue thought that Trump was a magic wand,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of Perdue’s highest-profile Georgia supporters. “In retrospect, it’s hard to understand David’s campaign, and it’s certainly not the campaign those of us who were for him expected.”
Kemp and Raffensperger also “might have benefited from Democratic voters who decided to vote in the Republican primary so they could prevent Hice and other Trump supporters from being elected,” the Journal-Constitution reports. “Georgia is an open primary state,” and “about 7 percent of voters in this year’s Republican primary previously cast ballots in the Democratic primary in 2020.”
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The Real And Far Scarier Reason Republicans Think Biden Is Illegitimate
Many conservatives dont think the 2020 election was stolen. But they believe democracy itself has betrayed America, by allowing the wrong people to take charge
Earlier this month, Team Trump claimed in court that their efforts to nullify Joe Bidens victory could not possibly have been fraudulent or be described as a criminal conspiracy, because those in and around the White House had merely been acting on the basis of sincerely held suspicions.
This sparked the latest round in the never-ending debate over whether or not Republicans actually believe that the election was stolen from them. Politically, it is important to push back against the opportunistic ways in which Republicans up and down the country have been using the big lie. But if we are trying to understand what is animating the rights rapidly accelerating radicalization against democracy, binary assumptions of Republicans as either true believers or power-hungry cynics are not very helpful and actually obscure more than they illuminate. In some fundamental way, Republicans are both. What we really need to grapple with is why so many Republicans are convinced the outcome of the election was illegitimate regardless of whether or not there were specific procedural irregularities.
A Vicious Cycle And A Political System That Rewards Inflammatory Behavior
Weve now got to the point where you dislike the other party more than you like your party, says Joshua Tucker, a New York University politics professor and co-director of the NYU Center for Social Media and Politics. He calls it political sectarianism, and says such intense animus makes partisans impervious to facts and averse to compromise.
Tucker says candidates such as Trump feed into and off of that polarization for political gain, and have little political incentive to stop. The more inflammatory they are, the more rewarded they are.
Theres a kind of vicious cycle here, which in itself is fed by the nature of the electoral system in a lot of the United States, says Tucker.
Politicians would have different incentives, he says, if presidents were chosen by popular vote instead of the electoral college system, for example, or if legislative districts were less gerrymandered and more competitive. But such major reforms are unlikely anytime soon.
So, instead of waiting for politicians to change their tune, many moderate Republicans are pinning their hopes for change on the wide swatch of centrist voters who are exasperated by extremists.
Sometimes you have to be willing to admit that the person from the party that you vote for most of the time may not be whats best for the country, says Rev. Franklin Ruff of the First Baptist Church of Stilwell Kansas.
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The Gop Elite Gave Us This Party
This dire outcome was not inevitable: The best evidence we have suggests that the rise of the Big Lie is the direct result of strategic choices by Republican leaders.
A new paper by Dan Hopkins, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, analyzes data from a panel survey, which looks at roughly the same group of people over time, running between 2007 and 2020. The survey asked people to rate the fairness of the US electoral system on a scale of 1 to 5, and tracked the changes over time.
What they found was a striking consistency: Support for the American system is both high and reasonably stable when assessed via this measure, Hopkins writes. Though there are some fluctuations, with partisans evaluating the system as somewhat less fair when the other party is in power, generally theyre small.
Hopkinss last survey wave was in October 2020 which means the results dont reflect the false allegations lobbed in the aftermath of Bidens victory. The stability documented here was very likely shattered by Trumps post-election actions, Hopkins concludes.
Other data confirm this supposition. A report from the Voter Study Group analyzed Pew surveys, conducted after every presidential election since 2004, on whether voters thought their vote was counted fairly. You see the same general stability documented in Hopkinss paper, with a majority of voters in both parties saying they were very confident their vote was counted accurately in every year except 2020:
Truth Matters Which Is Why Im Telling It
I take comfort in knowing that I am doing the moral thing by telling the truth to my constituents. I also happen to believe telling the truth about the 2020 election is good politically.
If Republicans become the party of the Big Lie if we encourage this madness much longer we will lose credibility with the majority of Americans on issues where I believe we have better ideas. We will do lasting damage to our republic.
True Republicans would never dream of wasting taxpayer money to hire an unknown cybersecurity firm with no elections auditing experience to audit an election that has already been audited. This is what the Arizona Senate is doing with their Cyber Ninja audit.
True Republicans would not stand idly by while auditors paid with taxpayer dollars chased insane rumors that ballots were flown in from South Korea to change the outcome of the presidential race, or that secret watermarks on the ballots revealed by UV lights would expose fraud once and for all.
This is what the Arizona Senate is doing with their Cyber Ninja audit.
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Trump Mendacity: Pathology Or Policy
This history of the Republican Partys lying strategy casts the argument that Former President Trumps constant mendacity is merely pathological into doubt. (see also my Impakter article on Trump and the Problem of Evil.
On the one hand, there is no question that, in the psychological sense, Trump is a compulsive liar. Timothy Snyder notes his open hostility to verifiable reality, which takes the form of presenting inventions and lies as if they were facts. After one attempt during the 2016 campaign to track his utterances, it was found that 78 percent of his factual claims were false. A Washington Post tally of Trumps lies reveals that in the four years of his presidency, he lied to and misinformed the public 30, 573 times. Over thirty thousand times, thats several times a day.
On the other hand, Trumps mendacity works as an effective strategy to advance his partys policy of consolidating power while befogging the critical judgment of his followers. While many Trumpists dont realize they are lying, 78% of the Republican elite, like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the 147 Republican lawmakers who voted not to certify the election of President Biden, seem to be engaging in flagrantly conscious mendacity.
Big Lies: How They Work
In The Shape of Big Lies, computer scientist and decision intelligence innovator Nadine Malcolm provides two historical examples: Salem Witch mania arising from the Putnam/ Porter family feud that led to 25 deaths, and Hitlers promulgation of anti-Semitism to consolidate his power, that led to the death of 6 million Jews.
In the Salem case, an ongoing dispute between two Massachusetts families was resolved when the Putnams convinced the whole town that the Porters were witches who corrupted young girls. They lied that their rivals were engaged in witchcraft in order to gain power in the community. In this chart, the green megaphone designates what they told the public, and the red megaphone shows their actual policy:
Malcolm cites Adolph Hitlers definition of a Big Lie from Mein Kampf:
in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility because the broad masses more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.
In Malcolms definition, a Big Lie has two components: a bloody, often lethal, below-the-surface agenda driven by selfish power, greed, and revenge, not acknowledged nor spoken and A complex situation, where theres a fog of disinformation.
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