Facebook Manipulation, Ben Rhodes And Hillary’s Tech Minion’s Missing Emails: Seeking A Path To Objective Analysis (PART 2 of 2)

suspicion

In Part I I examined the considerations involved in assessing whether the Ben Rhodes affair, which I also discussed here, is factual and justifies dire conclusions about our government.

Part Two will attempt to objectively assess the two other news stories that seem to compel progressives, in full confirmation bias mode, to deny, ignore, or trivialize, and conservatives, also driven by bias, to take as proof that conspiracies are afoot. Those stories both come down to suspicion and trust:

  • The claims from former Facebook employees that they were directed to suppress news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s “trending” news section, while pushing stories with positive implications for progressive readers.
  • The State Department’s revelation that it can’t locate Bryan Pagliano’s emails from the time he served as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s senior information technology staffer during her tenure there.

First, the Facebook charges. From the Gizmodo “scoop”:

“Several former Facebook “news curators,” as they were known internally, also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all. The former curators, all of whom worked as contractors, also said they were directed not to include news about Facebook itself in the trending module.

In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing—but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.”

And, like a typical newsroom, Facebook’s bias is heavily weighted to the left. The Senate has announced that it is investigating news manipulation at Facebook, though I can’t see on what theory.

Facebook unequivocally denied the charges, saying in part,

“Facebook does not allow or advise our reviewers to systematically discriminate against sources of any ideological origin and we’ve designed our tools to make that technically not feasible. At the same time, our reviewers’ actions are logged and reviewed, and violating our guidelines is a fireable offense.”

Leaving aside confirmation bias and eschewing the six reactions to such stories I listed in Part I (I don’t believe it, AHA! I knew it!, So what?, ARGHHHH! We’re doomed!, Good, So how did the Mets do today?), we’re left with a “he said/they said” controversy that is either a stalemate, with the default judgment having to go to the side that actually has the guts to reveal its name, or a case of “Who do you trust?”

Does this seem like something Facebook would do? Well, let’s see, Facebook already admitted that it had performed unwilling experiments on random users to see if it could manipulate their moods. Facebook was credibly accused of restricting users from access to 30,322 emails and email attachments sent and received by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State.  Last month, a report found evidence of  Facebook censorship on pro-Trump and negative Hillary news, and a Facebook employee’s question about whether Facebook should actively take measures to impede Donald Trump was discussed here.  Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is a big Democratic donor. Facebook’s fellow social media giant Twitter has been censoring some high-profile conservative users lately.

Gee, are there any reasons not to trust these people? Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Michael Robertson: pervert, creep, outrageous abuser of women who deserves to be shunned, despised and condemned by all decent people. But a criminal? Not yet...

Michael Robertson: pervert, creep, outrageous abuser of women who deserves to be shunned, despised and condemned by all decent people. But a criminal? Not yet…

The degree to which our media pundits fail to grasp the essential nature of the rule of law remains confounding, and this is another in a long line of examples. Worse, the lower court in this weird case failed to grasp it as well.

You see, there is conduct that is obviously wrong, which we call unethical. Some of that conduct is so wrong, so harmful, and so difficult to discourage with social opprobrium and informal enforcement alone that we pass laws against it, both to signal strong disapproval but also to add serious negative reinforcement, in the form of tangible punishment, to the mix. Then the wrongful conduct becomes both unethical and illegal. If we skip the essential intermediate step of writing and duly passing the law that designate the conduct as illegal, however, we have established a dangerous, indeed frightening precedent. Then we have created a society where one can be imprisoned or fined for conduct that is regarded as unethical without a law in place that empowers the state to take such actions against citizens who engage in it. Ethics, unlike law, especially on the margins, is never etched in stone. Once society starts imprisoning individuals based on ethics alone, none of us are safe.

Yet this morning I was subjected to the protests of one TV commentator after another who derided the absolutely correct decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to uphold this principle by throwing out the conviction of Michael Robertson, a sick sleaze-ball who was arrested in August 2010 by Boston transit police who had set up a sting after getting reports that he was using his cellphone to take photos and video up female riders’ skirts and dresses: Continue reading

Gizmodo and Gawker: Guilty, Greedy, and Unethical

Count Ethics Alarms with those who hope Gawker and its affiliated gadget site Gizmodo get as many books thrown at them as possible if the iPhone theft case gets to court.

As is always the case with Gawker, a completely ethics-free operation that has snickered about its participation in other outrages—such as its “Gawker Stalker” feature allowing people to alert the world to the exact location of any celebrity who is out, you know, trying to live—the sites management is crowing about doing wrong. “Yes, we’re proud practitioners of checkbook journalism,” tweeted Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media. “Anything for the story!” Anything including fencing stolen goods, it seems. Nicely, the law often has a way of making unethical people wish they were more ethical, and this should be an example of that.

If you have somehow missed the story all the gadget geeks are tweeting about, Gawker released a scoop photo spread on Apple’s yet-to-be-released iPhone after an Apple engineer stupidly, carelessly and unethically left a prototype that he was entrusted with in a bar. It was found by someone who understood its value and who it belonged to, and who also had no more scruples than, well, Gawker. That meant that this California law applied… Continue reading