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Disinformation vs. Democracy: Authoritarians Outspending U.S.

Authoritarian regimes like Russia and China are outspending the United States in the realm of soft power, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told the National Democratic Institute’s annual Democracy Dinner at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, D.C. last night.

“Our budget is $650 million—a fraction of what our adversaries spend,” he said “Today, Russia is spending over a billion dollars on covert propaganda operations,” he added. “Russian TV, radio, and internet bots continue to push misinformation without almost no pushback from the US.”

The authoritarian threat required greater investment in non-kinetic resources for exerting influence abroad, Murphy added.

“We have more people working at military grocery stores than diplomats deployed abroad,” he said.

Facebook estimates that 10 million people saw the [Kremlin’s] paid ads and up to 150 million people saw other content from the fake accounts, which Facebook has traced to the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed troll farm, WIRED reports:
Psychologists and students of advertising say the ads were cleverly designed to look like other internet memes, and to appeal to readers’ emotions. Jay Van Bavel, an associate professor of psychology at NYU, says he was surprised at the sophistication of the campaign. “It wasn’t transparent lies. It was just pushing our buttons,” says Van Bavel. “To me, this is more pernicious. It’s not a matter of fiction that we can root out with fact-checking. It’s more about turning Americans against each other.”

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“The IRA are not amateurs, they’re clearly familiarizing themselves with the kind of content that resonates with the target audiences,” says Renee DiResta, researcher with Data for Democracy, a nonprofit group that has been digging into the data on Russian-linked accounts.

The threat of disinformation and other active measures employed by the Kremlin requires adaptation and innovation from the advanced democracies, according to NATO’s Secretary General.

“Defense is no longer about just looking at a map and deciding where to place armies,” Jens Stoltenberg said this week. “It’s also about countering misinformation. Protecting infrastructure. Making our societies resilient to attack.”

“The geography of danger has shifted,” he added.

The NDI dinner honored three civil society groups on the front lines of confronting disinformation and false news – . Rappler from the Philippines, the Ukraine-based StopFake and the Oxford Internet Institute.

“When a lie is repeated 1 million times it becomes truth, especially when it’s state-sponsored hate,” said Rapplerdotcom‘s Maria Ressa. “A sock puppet network of 26 fake accounts can reach 3 million.”

Disinformation “exploits the fracture lines of society,” she said, adding that she received an average of 90 hate messages per hour.” Read the rest of this entry »

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How Not to Cover Mass Shootings

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Illustration: Doug Chayka

The often sensationalistic media attention given to perpetrators is central to why massacres are happening more.

N. Schulman reports: It isn’t your imagination: Mass shootings are getting deadlier and more frequent. A recent FBI report on “active shooters” from 2000 to 2015 found that the number of incidents more than doubled from the first to the second half of the period. Four of the five deadliest shootings in American history happened in the past five years, and 2017 already far exceeds any previous year for the number of casualties.

Though we seem to be plunging ever deeper into a dark night, researchers now have a far clearer view of a key factor in the violence. A long-standing theory has matured into a body of evidence that can no longer be dismissed: The level of attention paid to mass shootings is central to why they keep happening.

The idea that some crimes might be self-spreading, like a disease, was proposed as early as 1890, when the French sociologist Gabriel Tarde labeled murders copying Jack the Ripper “suggesto-imitative assaults.” For mass shootings, the effect was well known among researchers by the early 2000s, when a wealth of information allowed forensic psychiatrist Paul E. Mullen to conclude, “These massacres are acts of mimesis, and their perpetrators are imitators.”

But the research has solidified in just the last few years. In 2015, a pair of studies analyzed databases cataloging nearly all U.S. mass shootings. They produced the first comprehensive statistical evidence that shootings occur in clusters rather than randomly across time.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ.com]

One of the studies, led by mathematician Sherry Towers of Arizona State University, used a contagion model previously applied to analyze viral videos and terrorist attacks. It found that the likelihood of a mass shooting is significantly higher when another mass shooting has recently occurred. The period of increased probability lasts, on average, for 13 days, the study found. (Notably, Dr. Towers did not find a contagion effect for shootings in which three or fewer people were killed.) The other study, conducted by Fresno State criminologist Jason Kissner, employed a different statistical modeling technique but also found an increased likelihood lasting for a similar period.

Media pressed in a day after the Dec. 14, 2012 killing of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn. by a lone gunman.

These findings are not yet conclusive. A study published in July by criminologist Adam Lankford and psychologist Sara Tomek, both of the University of Alabama, claimed that the clustering effects were not significantly different from random variation. Read the rest of this entry »


Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.

writes: One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.

”Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”

I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.

“The allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens.”

At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them.

What happened in 2012 to cause such dramatic shifts in behavior? It was after the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 and had a starker effect on Millennials trying to find a place in a sputtering economy. But it was exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.

Jasu Hu

The more I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people like Athena, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night. iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.

[Read the full story here, at The Atlantic]

The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.

To those of us who fondly recall a more analog adolescence, this may seem foreign and troubling. The aim of generational study, however, is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now. Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.

Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy. Read the rest of this entry »


23 Emotions People Feel, But Can’t Explain

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  1. Sonder: The realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own.
  2. Opia: The ambiguous intensity of Looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.
  3. Monachopsis: The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.
  4. Énouement: The bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.
  5. Vellichor: The strange wistfulness of used bookshops.
  6. Rubatosis: The unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat.
  7. Kenopsia: The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that is usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.
  8. Mauerbauertraurigkeit: The inexplicable urge to push people away, even close friends who you really like.
  9. Jouska: A hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head.
  10. Chrysalism: The amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm.
  11. Vemödalen: The frustration of photographic something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist.
  12. Anecdoche: A conversation in which everyone is talking, but nobody is listening
  13. Ellipsism: A sadness that you’ll never be able to know how history will turn out.
  14. Kuebiko: A state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence.
  15. Lachesism: The desire to be struck by disaster – to survive a plane crash, or to lose everything in a fire.
  16. Exulansis: The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.
  17. Adronitis: Frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone.
  18. Rückkehrunruhe: The feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness.
  19. Nodus Tollens: The realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore.
  20. Onism: The frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time.
  21. Liberosis: The desire to care less about things.
  22. Altschmerz: Weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had – the same boring flaws and anxieties that you’ve been gnawing on for years.
  23. Occhiolism: The awareness of the smallness of your perspective.

millen-anguishSource: 


Confirmation Bias?

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What “Monster Porn” Says about Science and Sexuality

John Horgan  writes:  “What does woman want?Freud once whined. Turns out quite a few women want fantasy sex with T. rex, Sasquatch or a boar-headed god. That, at any rate, is the implication of “monster porn,” which serves up X-rated versions of such demure classics as Leda and the SwanKing Kong or Beauty and the Beast.

Evolutionary psychology and other gene-oriented modern paradigms cannot explain why many women enjoy reading "monster porn."

Evolutionary psychology and other gene-oriented modern paradigms cannot explain why many women enjoy reading “monster porn.”

Also known as “cryptozoological erotica” or “erotic horror,” monster porn has flourished in the Internet era, which offers abundant platforms for self-publication. According to a report in Business Insider, some authors—most apparently female–are making serious moola peddling tales of humans—most apparently female—coupling with “creatures of every possible variety, from minotaurs to mermen, cthulhus to leprechauns, extraterrestrials to cyclops.”

Prudes have attacked monster porn for promoting sexual violence and bestiality. In response, Amazon and other purveyors have at least temporarily blocked access to some e-books, like a popular series featuring Bigfoot. Defenders of monster porn accuse Amazon of inconsistency, noting that the company still offers works of the Marquis de Sade, who extolled the joys of sexual torture and murder.

Trying to explain monster porn’s appeal, freelance writer Bonny Burton, host of the “Vaginal Fantasy Book Club,” writes: “Regular male characters in romance books tend to be over-the-top perfect glistening warriors and knights, but I want an imperfect monster who needs love to show that he can be just as sweet as his human competition… Why deprive the imagination of a great romance just because the protagonist happens to live for 600 years or has the occasional bout with fleas?”

Read the rest of this entry »


The Internet Is Making Us Dumber

Many scholars and critics warn that TV and the Internet are dumbing us down…

But, if thats true, why are children around the world performing better on IQ tests? Are we actually getting smarter, or are we merely thinking in different ways?

One thing stands out, though: While young test subjects are particularly good at solving visual and logical tasks quickly, their vocabulary is increasing only minimally — unlike that of their parents.

“Linguistically, the generations are growing apart,” Flynn states. “Young people can still understand their parents, but they can no longer mimic their style of speech. That was different in the past.”

One possible reason for the change is that today’s young people read and write many short messages on Facebook and on their cell phones, but they rarely immerse themselves in books anymore….

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