Category Archives: Social Media

Trump, twitter, transparency and trouble

Commentary

by William H. Freivogel

During the presidential election, critics of the media maintained the press paid too much attention to Donald Trump’s tweets. Focusing on the tweets let Trump set the day’s news agenda and gave him oodles of free coverage, the critics said.

Five months into Trump’s presidency it is the president’s lawyers, spokespeople, diplomats and other White House aides who wish the president would pipe down.

But Trump won’t be silenced. Even though it is his aides telling him to limit his tweets, Trump blames his usual foil for trying to shut him up – the dishonest mainstream media. “The FAKE MSM is working so hard to get me not to use Social Media,” he tweeted this week. “They hate that I can get the honest and unfiltered message out.” Trump also points out he wouldn’t have won the election without his tweets reaching tens of millions of people.

But winning the election is one thing. Running the world’s leading democracy and most powerful country is another.

Some of the biggest controversies and setbacks of the Trump presidency trace back to Trump tweets – the false claim that President Obama tapped Trump Tower, his warning to fired FBI director James Comey there might be tapes of their conversations and his insistence that his executive order is a travel ban even though his lawyers have labored assiduously to say it isn’t.

Kellyanne Conway blamed the media this week for “this obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little of what he does as president.”

Conway had reason to be in a bad mood. Her husband George, a well-know conservative lawyer, criticized the president’s tweet on the travel ban in a tweet of his own. Conway said Trump’s tweet won’t help “get 5 votes in SCOTUS, which is what actually matters. Sad.”

Many legal observers thought the conservative majority on the Supreme Court would be more inclined than lower courts to buy the administration argument that judges should consider only the four corners of the executive order rather than looking at Trump’s statements as a presidential candidate. But it’s hard not to look at the words Trump is writing today about the intention to impose a travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries.

The White House had conflicting guidance on whether the tweets are official policy. Sebastian Gorka, a senior White House national security official, told CNN that “It’s not policy. It’s social media.” But press spokesman Sean Spicer said the tweets were official statements.

Trump’s tweet war was a world war by mid-week as he repeatedly misquoted and insulted the mayor of London after terrorists attacked his city. And Trump took credit for Saudi Arabia’s move to close the border to Qatar, even though his secretary of state had said he wanted to mediate the dispute.

Trump even may live tweet his criticism of Comey’s testimony on Thursday, a prospect that must give his lawyers indigestion. Trump might have had a decent argument to block Comey’s testimony based on executive privilege, but for his tweets and public statements about his discussions with Comey. Those comments waived any privilege that might have existed.

One could argue that the public and the media should be happy. No other president has been so open about what he is thinking in real time. Isn’t transparency what we’re always demanding? And don’t we want the president to speak directly to the American people?

Also, it seems Trump occasionally commits truth in his tweets – or what he thinks is true, often an entirely different matter. If Trump’s tweets were vetted by his lawyers and his diplomats, we never would have seen the tweets about Comey or the Russia investigation or the mayor of London.

And there’s the entertainment value. The tweets amuse loyal supporters, serve up delicious outrage to opponents and provide wonderful late night comedy.

Still, this is no way to form policy and run a government. It is chaotic and makes the United States a laughing stock. All the world can see that the one thing that animates the most powerful man in the world is to always be the center of attention. Trump would be more effective if he got a little more sleep and stayed off the 8 a.m. twitter cycle.

Former P-D editorial writer’s Facebook challenge to Rep. Wagner on Obamacare @STLinquiry

by Eddie Roth

As I sit down to write this piece mid-February, top news organizations are reporting a potential watershed in the years-long march by Republicans in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature national healthcare program, also known as Obamacare.

Except this time, things are different. The GOP controls the presidency and both houses of Congress. Votes no longer are theater offered to placate the political base. Rather, the votes likely will result in grave consequences to millions of people, including hundreds of thousands in the St. Louis community who depend on Obamacare for access to healthcare.

Repeal efforts now sit menacingly off-shore, like a tropical storm steadily gaining hurricane strength. Its precise path remains uncertain. It may move out to sea. But should it make landfall at full strength, it may devastate the lives of many.

At least that’s how Obamacare repeal should be covered as news. Such coverage should reflect the impending crisis of a potentially deadly storm. It should be the lead daily news story. Reporters should press responsible local officials and community leaders for details and constant updates on contingency plans – focusing attention on those who have the greatest capacity and responsibility to protect the public.

That’s how I have been trying to cover it at my modest social media page on Facebook – “The Office of Special Inquiries and Reports | @STLinquiry,” a page devoted to “timely, independent, non-partisan investigation and analysis of St. Louis questions & controversies.”

Repeal not inevitable

Repeal of Obamacare and resulting hardship are not inevitable.

Enrollment is measured in the tens of millions and has driven down numbers of the uninsured to historic lows. The program’s advent has coincided with one of the nation’s longest sustained periods of job growth. The rate of healthcare costs, meanwhile, has slowed to an extent that actuaries calculate significant savings to entitlement programs.

But not everything about Obamacare has worked out well. Participation of private health insurers has been uneven, market to market. Premiums have risen and become unaffordable to some people who earn too much to be eligible for subsidies.

Political opponents of the Affordable Care Act have seized on these shortcomings and, rather than work to correct them, have done all within their power to undermine the program and poison its reputation in the minds of the public. Many now claim Congress must act to “repeal and replace” because the program is in a “death spiral.”

Still, in the early weeks of the new Congress, practical action to repeal Obamacare has not matched the bloody-shirt political brio. The Obamacare killers have been slow to get out of the gate. Repeal and replace strategies of Congressional Republican leaders have been met with resistance and worry among some of within the Republican caucus who understandably think eliminating Obamacare could cause a major political backlash as millions of Americans lose access to health care.

Impact of repeal on St. Louis residents

Should repeal come, it likely will come suddenly. It will be hustled through with a series of late night votes shrouded in an opaque cloud of alternate facts.  Thus, news organizations should sound an alarm. Conventional news gathering approaches provide many opportunities to do so. I have marshaled data describing the scope of risk to this community, such as by noting, county-by-county, congressional district-by-congressional district, where for the more than 100,000 St. Louisans enrolled in Obamacare reside.

I have explained how sudden loss of health insurance at that scale would look (It is about the same number of people as are employed at BJC (24k), Boeing (15k), Washington University (14.5k), Scott AFB (13.k), Enterprise (6.8k), Express Scripts (6.4k), Monsanto (5.4k), Wells Fargo (5.3k), Edward Jones (5.2k), AB-InBev (4k), and then some, combined).

I have written and linked to information about potential long-term damage to the well being of hundreds of thousands of other St. Louisans who have health insurance but who suffer from or are at risk of chronic disease, and whose access to healthcare, even under high-quality employer provided insurance, depends on Obamacare protections that prohibit insurers from excluding coverage for pre-exisiting conditions and lifetime caps on coverage amounts.

I have tried to define the economic stakes to a community whose local economy has such a high concentration of healthcare related business enterprises, starting with world class hospitals and medical research.  I also have tried to introduce my “small but influential” readership to key local players – people this community will be counting on to help avert disaster.

My focus has been on U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner. I have coined my Obamacare coverage as the #TheAnnWagnerProject. Ms. Wagner is the most influential House member representing the St. Louis region. She is a part of Republican House leadership. Under my #stormwatch metaphor, she’s the equivalent of the St. Louis region’s director of Emergency Management with direct responsibility for protecting the community from potentially disastrous effects of Obamacare repeal.

I regularly email Ms. Wagner’s press secretary. I request information on her plans for “repeal and replace” legislation. I seek comment from Ms. Wagner on steps she plans to take to ensure the St. Louis region is protected.  So far I have received no reply, not even an acknowledgement.

But as part of my coverage, I also have reviewed Ms. Wagner’s Federal Election Commission campaign contribution disclosures. I have sought to identify contributors well known in the community and with reputations for thoughtful moderation in civic matters. I have written to a number of Ms. Wagner’s campaign contributors, inviting their comment on the community stakes involved in Obamacare repeal and what community consultation they would like to see from Congressional leaders such as Ms. Wagner.

Dr. Danforth’s response

One of Ms. Wagner’s most significant campaign contributors, Former Washington University Chancellor William Danforth, accepted the invitation.   Danforth graduated from Harvard Medical School, received his medical training at Barnes Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital and, since 1967, has been a professor of internal medicine at Washington University Medical School. He has served as Vice Chancellor of Medical Affairs and president of Washington University Medical Center. From 1971 to 1995, he was Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis.

In a letter to me, Dr. Danforth wrote:

“You asked for thoughts on national health insurance that might be helpful in talking with Congresswoman Ann Wagner. My reply is probably different from others you might receive.”

“To start with, insurance for health care is very complicated. Health care is complicated with steadily advancing technologies, changing diseases, aging population, evolving private coverage, varying rates of employment, new diseases, new therapies and better prevention.”

“An objective look would conclude that financing health care in the United States has been improved by Obamacare; expenditures have risen slower than expected. Nevertheless, it is clearly imperfect, but to improve it will be hard and complex with possibilities for many mistakes. To throw Obamacare away rather than to learn from it and try to improve it would show very bad judgment, probably cause major decline in insured Americans and add to the burdens, likely including costs of disease.”

“The problem is that there is no tested alternative plan, perhaps no alternative plan at all. To try to write a new plan is risky and likely to be worse. A politicized Congress is the wrong place to try to devise alternatives. Congress could better decide the amount of money it is willing to spend on the health of the American people and then charge a panel of experts of various persuasions to develop the best improvements they can. The plan could allow states to experiment. The panel should also recommend a time to review it. One should not be thrown off by complaints; there are bound to be some. Complaints should be taken seriously, analyzed and used to help in future improvements.”

“Humans learn to improve complex systems by having people argue, debate, compromise and never stop trying to adjust it and make it better. No person or group can do it once and for all. What are necessary are imagination, trust, trial and error and patience. That is the way humans develop their best arrangements.”

“I hope these thoughts are helpful.”

Impact of local news coverage

Local news coverage can have an impact on impending Obamacare repeal, but only if it focuses sharply on local effects and if it pointedly brings accountability to local leaders. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not following St. Louis needs or sentiment regarding access to health care. Neither is House Speaker Paul Ryan.

But both would be interested in what U.S. Rep. Wagner has to say. Wagner’s party cannot ignore her if she puts loyalty to this community ahead of loyalty to her party on access to healthcare. Wagner’s campaign contributors, in turn, bear a special responsibility for the leadership she exercises – or fails to exercise. They are fair game for news coverage in an impending crisis. That’s because repeal of Obamacare is life-and-death matter for this community. Urgent and sustained local news coverage of local people of influence may determine whether ordinary St. Louis voices – those who stand to lose the most – are heard in Washington.

Scandals will fade but lobbying still drives the Missouri legislature

A series of sex scandals that revealed tawdry affairs among top officials in Missouri’s state capital made for titillating reading this summer and stirred up a controversy about journalistic ethics.

Sex scandals in Jefferson City are nothing new, say veteran statehouse reporters. Bad behavior by lawmakers and lobbyists has plagued the legislature for a century.

What is new is the social media technology that ensnares straying legislators and the willingness of the press to name names. The decision by the Post-Dispatch’s veteran and highly regarded statehouse reporter, Virginia Young, to name a female former aide of the governor’s who was involved in a night of hard drinking, attracted national comment and criticism.

The business of lawmaking – and it often is controlled by business – has always involved politics and money – gifts by lobbyists, and campaign contributions. Many lawmakers, cajoled by the lobbyists into thinking they are hot stuff, take all the freebies they can – tickets to sporting and cultural events, free meals, liquor, travel, you name it. All they have to do is vote the way they’re told.

Add to that the sexual affairs some lawmakers think they are entitled to when they are away from home four days a week when the legislature is in session. They figure they’ll behave again when they return home.

Two legislators who resigned this summer were attracted to legislative interns – college girls — in their offices. Both were middle-aged and married family men.

The first, who resigned in July, was Speaker of the House John Diehl, a Republican from St. Louis County. An intern saved text messages from him and said he had propositioned her. The messages made for juicy reading in the Kansas City Star and then in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The next to resign, a few weeks later, was state Sen. Paul LeVota, a Democrat from Independence. An intern accused him of sexual harassment by propositioning her. Another intern made similar accusations during the time she worked in LeVota’s office five years earlier.

In between these scandals, the Post-Dispatch reported on a possible rape case in Jefferson City involving a former aide to Gov. Jay Nixon. She said she had an affair with Diehl, though it had ended. She is a 31-year-old lobbyist who contacted police after a night of drinking and partying. She said she had a blackout and thought she had been raped, but wasn’t sure. Neither were police, who interviewed a number of people, including Diehl. Police ended the investigation due to “lack of victim cooperation.” Her lawyer later said she did cooperate with police.

The Post-Dispatch story about the alleged rape named the woman, based on the police report. The paper was criticized for naming a possible rape victim.

The Riverfront Times, an alternative weekly in St. Louis said the Post was wrong and had “shamed” the woman. The Poynter Institute ran a story saying that naming the woman made it appear she was not raped. It added: “It’s not the job of the media to judge whether someone was or wasn’t sexually assaulted.” The Columbia Journalism Review said Young should have conducted an off-the-record interview with the woman, which Young had declined to do.

A Post political editor, Christopher Ave, defended the story saying it had “political significance.” He said the Post relied on the police report which showed “no evidence of a crime.”

Young had omitted parts of the police report unfavorable to the behavior of the woman. Young declined to comment on the story except to say she did not regret writing it. Young has been a top reporter at the Post-Dispatch for decades. She recently announced her retirement.

Regardless of who is right, Young’s reporting was notable for exposing shenanigans in the legislative culture, something the media has largely ignored over the years. Many veteran reporters can recall “sexcapades,” drunkenness and other misdeeds of legislators that never got reported. Fred Lindecke, a longtime legislative reporter for the Post, put it this way: “The code was that we didn’t use it” if it didn’t affect the person’s official duties.

***

The full article will be included in the forthcoming print issue of GJR.

One year later: Media ignore their Ferguson failures

Editor’s Note: This is the publisher’s column from the current print edition of GJR.

 

The Justice Department’s twin reports on Ferguson this March raised two disturbing questions about the media:

• How did so many news organizations fail for so long to realize that “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” was a myth?

• How did so many news organizations fail for so many years to uncover deeply unconstitutional police and court practices?

One would hope those questions would prompt soul-searching. For the most part, they haven’t. The national media are on to the next police shooting with no sign of introspection. False or misleading stories from last summer remain online uncorrected. Social media also barrel ahead, clinging to preconceived ideologies in a cyber-world that is often fact free.

Here are egregious media failures:

• National and local media fell for “eyewitnesses” who claimed to have seen Officer Darren Wilson shoot a surrendering Michael Brown. Many “witnesses” lied or fabricated stories.

• CNN irresponsibly broadcast “exclusive” video taken during “the final moments of the shooting” showing two white construction workers, one gesturing how Brown had his hands up. Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin called it evidence of a “a cold-blooded murder.” But the video wasn’t from the time of the shooting and the construction workers’ stories were full of holes.

• Local media – KTVI and the Post-Dispatch – gave the construction workers story big play. But they didn’t make clear that one of the workers incorrectly claimed three officers were at the scene. Both workers later admitted they had not actually seen Brown fall because the corner of a building obstructed their view. Nor did any other witness confirm the workers’ claims that Brown repeatedly screamed, “OK. OK. OK.”  Those are the reasons the FBI discounted their statements.

• MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell threw fuel on the fire day after day with biased reporting. O’Donnell ranted about St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch changing the legal instructions during the grand jury, but his reports were full of errors.

• The New York Times committed journalistic malpractice by naming the street that Wilson lived on and then refusing to admit its mistake. KSDK did it too but apologized.

• Fox misreported that Brown had broken Wilson’s eye socket.

• Anonymous, the scary and inept anarchists, misidentified the police shooter and the shooter’s police department.

• The New York Times portrayed Ferguson as part of a segregated “Circle of Rage” around St. Louis, when Ferguson is actually one of the most residentially integrated places in St. Louis.

• ProPublica sliced and diced statistics in a misleading way that exaggerated how much more likely it was for a young African-American to be killed by police.

*****

Ferguson was America’s Arab Spring for social media. For that reason, their failures are as important as the mainstream media’s.

A story in the May 10 New York Times magazine uncritically romanticized the tweeters and live-streamers who made a name for themselves. It called Bassem Masri, “perhaps Ferguson’s most famous live-streamer.” Masri is the person whose live-streaming videos include loud streams of invective and hate directed at police. Masri isn’t a citizen journalist but a polemicist linking Ferguson and anti-Israeli protesters.

The Times’ piece also told how DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie, two active bloggers, joined forces with Justin Hansford, a law professor at Saint Louis University, to critique the mainstream press in its “This Is the Movement” newsletter.

But the newsletter isn’t really media criticism. It’s a movement newsletter with headlines like: “This Is NOT St. Louis County, Missouri Prosecutor Robert McCulloch First ‘Racist Rodeo.’”

Not only have the media failed to critique themselves, they have gone right ahead making the same mistakes.

During the police unrest in Baltimore May 4, Fox’s Mike Tobin reported seeing an officer shoot a black man in the back. McClatchy war correspondent Hannah Allam tweeted, ‘We’ll be back under martial law tonight!’ EMTs take body away on stretcher.” Livestream’s “citizen journalist” barked out a tweet on the shooting. The reports were false.

****

Why did the press miss deeper stories of unconstitutional police and court practices? Sometimes the biggest stories are right in front of a reporter’s face but involve conditions that are taken for granted. That’s the case with the municipal court system in North St. Louis County. It took the ArchCity Defenders and allied law professors to show that procedures fair in form devastated the lives of poor, blacks who ended up in modern debtors’ prison.

The media did a good job of publicizing municipal court abuses. The one “Ferguson” reform emerging from the Missouri legislature limits how much traffic money each town can collect. But the press often forces reforms into a right-or-wrong framework, and it did with this story.

The new caps on municipal revenue hit the small predominantly black communities the hardest, with little impact in Ferguson. This take did not fit conveniently into the established media narrative and was mostly ignored in stories trumpeting the legislation as a “Ferguson reform.”

***

A personal note on former colleagues: The Post-Dispatch photo staff richly deserved the Pulitzer Prize it won for its brave, insightful, moving Ferguson photography. Tony Messenger and Kevin Horrigan, the P-D’s editorial editor and deputy, also deserved to be finalists for editorials that “brought insight and context to the national tragedy of Ferguson, MO, without losing sight of the community’s needs.”

St. Louisans sometimes don’t appreciate what a treasure they have had in the P-D editorial page as its Pulitzer commended work warned over the decades of Hitler, Vietnam, concealed weapons, civil liberties abuses and Missouri’s war on the Medicaid poor. It’s an editorial record with few peers.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that both construction workers claimed there were three officers at the scene. That claim was made by the worker interviewed by KTVI; the person interviewed by the Post-Dispatch did not mention multiple officers. Jeremy Kohler, the Post-Dispatch reporter, wrote in an email that he considered the worker he interviewed “credible at the time and I still do.”

Anonymous poster must be ID’d

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled this week that a northern Illinois public official must be told the name of an anonymous poster to a newspaper website who likened the politician to former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, the child sex abuser.

The decision means that the anonymous poster cannot dodge a libel suit by hiding behind anonymity.

The Illinois high court ruled unanimously in favor of Stephenson County Board Chairman Bill Hadley, who has been demanding to know the identity of the poster for four years. Under the decision, Comcast, which provides the poster with internet service, would be required to turn over the poster’s identity.

The comment from “Fuboy” was posted on a December 2011 article in the Freeport Journal Standard website about Hadley’s decision to run for the County Board: “Hadley is a Sandusky waiting to be exposed. Check out the view he has of Empire (Elementary School) from his front door.” The comment was an apparent reference to the former Penn State coach who was convicted of child sex abuse in 2012.

Because of a federal law – Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – Hadley can’t sue the newspaper for the potentially libelous comment by Fuboy. The law gives websites legal immunity for the content of third party postings – like the one from Fuboy. So Hadley’s only alternative is to sue the poster and to do that he needs to know the poster’s identity.

The Illinois Supreme Court acknowledged that First Amendment issues are involved because anonymous speech is constitutionally protected. But it said that if Hadley could obtain Fuboy’s identity if he could present enough evidence to “establish the alleged defamatory statements are not constitutionally protected….

“Once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case for defamation… a potential defendant has no first amendment right to balance against the plaintiff’s right to redress because there is no first amendment right to defame,” it wrote.

Even though Fuboy’s statement was one of opinion, it expressed allegations of facts that, if true, would constitute a crime. When opinions contain factual claims, they can be libelous.

The attorney for Fuboy said there may be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could put off his identification during the appeal.

Court opinion

http://illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/SupremeCourt/2015/118000.pdf

story:

http://www.sj-r.com/article/20150618/NEWS/150619478

Facebook v. Science

Social media have helped us cocoon ourselves into comfortable ignorance of “the other side” — so goes the prevailing notion of the last few years, since Facebook has been king.

A team of researchers at Facebook published an article Thursday that claimed to detail how much the site contributes to political echo chambers or filter-bubbles. Published in the journal Science, their report claimed Facebook’s blackbox newsfeed algorithm weeded out some disagreeable content from readers’ feeds, but not as much as did their personal behavior.

A flurry of criticism came from other social scientists, with one, University of Michigan’s Christian Sandvig, calling it Facebook’s “it’s not our fault” study.

Sample frame

Perhaps the most important limitation to the findings is the small, and unique, subset of users examined. Although the total number was huge (10 million), these were users who voluntarily label their political leanings on their profile, and also log on regularly — only about 4 percent of the total Facebook population, who differ from general users in obvious and subtle ways. Critics have pointed out this crucial detail is relegated to an appendix.

Despite the sample problem, the authors framed their findings by saying they “conclusively establish [them] on average in the context of Facebook […]” [emphasis added].

As University of North Carolina’s Zeynep Tufekci and University of Maryland’s Nathan Jurgenson pointed out, that’s simply inaccurate. The context the Facebook researchers examined was highly skewed, and cannot be generalized.

While the ideal random sample is not always available and convenient samples can tell us much about subpopulations of interest, the sampling selection here confounded the results. Those who are willing to include their political preferences in their Facebook bio are likely to deal with ideologically challenging information in fundamentally different ways than everyone else does.

In spite of this criticism, though, we now know more about that type of user than we did yesterday.

Algorithm vs. personal choice (what they really found, and didn’t)

Another troubling aspect of the study has to do with the way the main finding is presented. The authors write that Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm reduces exposure to cross-cutting material by 8 percent (1 in 13 of such hard-news stories) for self-identified liberals and 5 percent (1 in 20) for conservatives. The researchers also report that these individuals themselves further reduce diverse content exposure by 6 percent among liberals and 17 percent among conservatives.

The comparison of these — algorithm and personal choice — is what caused Sandvig to call this Facebook’s “it’s not our fault” study.

Tufekci and Jurgenson say the authors failed to mention the two effects are additive and cumulative. That individuals make reading choices that contribute to their personal filter-bubble is pretty much unchallenged. Yesterday’s study confirmed that Facebook’s algorithm adds to that, above the psychological baseline. This was not the emphasis of the comparison they made, nor of many headlines covering the study.

For instance:

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 3.11.44 PM

Tufecki and Jurgenson also point out the authors apparently have botched the statement of this main finding by claiming “that on average in the context of Facebook individual choices more than algorithms limit exposure to attitude-challenging content.” The findings they report are actually mixed: Self-identified liberals’ exposure was more strongly suppressed by the algorithm than by personal choice (8 percent v. 6 percent), while for conservatives the reverse was true (5 percent v. 17 percent).

Science is iterative

Amid all the blowback in the academic world, especially over the inflated claims of the conclusion, some called for a more dispassionate appraisal. Dartmouth’s Brendan Nyhan, who regularly contributes to New York Times’ Upshot, asked for social scientists to “show we can hold two (somewhat) opposed ideas in our heads at the same on the [Facebook] study.” Translated, the study is important, if flawed.

“Science is iterative!” Nyhan tweeted. “Let’s encourage [Facebook] to help us learn more, not attack them every time they publish research. Risk is they just stop.”

But there are rejoinders to that call as well. As University of Maryland law professor James Grimmelmann pointed out, “‘Conclusively’ doesn’t leave a lot of room for iteration.”

Nyhan’s point, that Facebook could stop publishing its findings given enough criticism also highlights that the study, conducted with their proprietary data, is not replicable, a key ingredient in scientific research.

Journals and journalists

Given the overstated (or misstated) findings, many have called out Science, the journal that published the article. Not only is Science peer-reviewed, but along with Nature is one of the foremost academic journals in the world.

While many of yesterday’s news articles noted the controversy around the publication, others repeated the debated conclusion verbatim. Jurgenson had harsh words for the journal: “Reporters are simply repeating Facebook’s poor work because it was published in Science. [Th]e fault here centrally lies with Science, [which] has decided to trade its own credibility for attention. [K]inda undermines why they exist.”

In the Summer 2014 GJR article, “Should journalists take responsibility for reporting bad science?” I wrote about the responsible parties in such cases. Although social media habits are not as high-stakes as health and medicine, journals, public relations departments and scientists themselves must be more accountable for the information they pass on to journalists and ultimately readers.

Although “post-publication review” is here to stay, the initial gatekeepers should always be the first line of defense against bad science  — especially when the journal in question carries the mantle of the entire Scientific enterprise.

Twitter explodes with invective, partisan comment after Ferguson shootings

Twitter provided the earliest reports of the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson this week. It also provided the forum for invective, hate and partisan reaction.

President Barack Obama used Twitter to condemn the shootings and conservative critics condemned Obama for relegating his response to Twitter.

Fox commentators blamed Attorney General Eric Holder’s report last week on unconstitutional police practices in Ferguson for creating the atmosphere in which the officers were shot. On Fox, Jeff Roorda, the head of the St. Louis police union said the resignation of Ferguson Chief Tom Jackson wasn’t enough for protesters, commenting, “They didn’t get what they wanted when Tom stepped down. They got it late last night when they finally, successfully shot two police officers.”

http://wonkette.com/579391/fox-news-eric-holder-really-should-not-have-shot-those-cops-in-ferguson

Protest leaders and the Brown family condemned the violence in press conferences and on Twitter.  But social media critics of the Ferguson police filled Twitter with invective about the police shootings being just in light of the death of Michael Brown.

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2015/03/12/makes-my-morning-so-much-better-some-reactions-to-the-shooting-of-two-ferguson-cops-have-to-be-read-to-be-believed/

Meanwhile the Twitter handle for police supporters #bluelivesmatter was trending.

Media coverage of Ukraine’s crisis: War for people’s minds

It now is evident that Ukraine has been noted on the world’s map by a vast majority of Americans. From “somewhere near Russia,” it has moved to “between Russia and the European Union” – and this awareness happened thanks to coverage in all renowned national and local media in the United States and beyond. Since December, Ukraine’s political crisis has shown how some media play with information and how journalism is dependent on geopolitics.

Journalists’ work

Being a Ukrainian native, I was monitoring media from different parts of the world in terms of how they have covered the Ukrainian crisis, paying special attention to those countries involved in resolving the issue: the United States, Europe, Russia and Ukraine itself. Ukraine became a newsmaker ever since unrest grew at Euro-maidan (Kiev’s main square) from what started as peaceful protests against delaying the EU-Ukraine- associated membership deal by pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in November. The unrest converted evolved into a bloody anti-government conflict, with more than 100 killed, thousands injured and pre-war relations between Ukraine and Russia (de facto Russian military aggression) over the Crimean peninsula annexation.

From December to February, Kiev was dangerous place for journalists to work. The first journalist to suffer injuries was Tetiana Chornovol, who worked for the anti-government online publication Ukrainska Pravda. She was beaten by unknown attackers in late December. In January, tension and street violence rose. It seemed that attacks by special police forces were aimed against the least protected and most vulnerable people because of their work conditions: journalists and paramedic volunteers. Ukrainian Espreso.tv provided videos, where police and snipers’ weapons purposely targeted the word “press” and red crosses on protective waistcoats. Forty-six journalists were reported injured, and two dead, after clashes in Kiev.

The journalists’ most recent work has become entangled in controversy and obstacles as the Crimean conflict escalates. A Ukrainian journalist from the weekly magazine Ukrainsky Tuzhden and a freelance photographer were kidnapped and tortured in Crimea. A group of journalists from Ukraine’s national TV network 1+1 was deported from Russia after shooting video in North Ossetia, a territory annexed by Russia from Georgia in 2008. A similar story happened with journalists of the channel Ukraine in the unacknowledged republic of Abkhazia, which has been controlled by Russia since 1993. Journalists still are doing their jobs, but now very differently.

U.S. coverage and the European angle

Among the first media that started covering Ukrainian events were the U.S.newspapers the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, and the broadcast network CNN. Attempts to localize news and give pointed opinions prevailed over “pure” informing. As the conflict spread beyond the Euromaidan protests to Ukraine as a whole, with a major hot spot in Crimea, the United States stepped in as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine. American media exploded with all kinds of stories, ranging from very supportive and positive toward Ukraine to negative ones as well. The New York Times’ leading opinion pieces, as well as CNN’’s news and commentaries (including Anderson Cooper’s first-hand reporting from Ukraine), mostly expressed neutral and supportive positions. For example, the New York Times ran an opinion column from Nicholas Kristof in which he deliberately explained why the “villains” are the Russian troops in Crimea. The Washington Post published Condoleezza Rice’s opinion story urging a stronger U.S. position in this conflict. Opinion pieces challenging U.S. involvement and support of Ukraine appeared in the Los Angeles Times, including those by Paul Whitefield, who contrasted American internal financial needs with providing monetary support to Ukraine.

European media, not surprisingly, showed more in-depth coverage on Ukraine’s crisis, as geographical closeness is still is a crucial factor for world media to involve their foreign reporters into first-hand coverage. The BBC created a special section on its web-site, with live updating on events via Twitter, Facebook, other media, and its own correspondents. The same kind of attitude to covering Ukrainian events was expressed by the Guardian in Britain and Germany’s Douche Welle. In an edition for non-stop Ukrainian coverage Poland’s most influential newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, had special issues published in the Ukrainian language, showing its support in that way.

Despite the different angles in coverage, a general message sent by Western media is that Ukraine is divided within the framework of Ukrainian versus Russian languages and ethnic issues. In fact, this generalization was a case in pre-revolutionary Ukraine. Events from recent months have dramatically influenced people’s views and self-identifications. Newscasts and analytical articles on the nation’s uniting during the conflict are missing in Western coverage, while it is widely shown by Ukraine’s media. This notion of national division has been played for centuries by politicians and historians. Now it is being widely exaggerated by the Russian government to justify that country’s intervention into Ukraine’s sovereignty in Crimea.

Russian propaganda

The portrayal of Ukraine in Russian media cannot be called anything else than propaganda. The majority of Russian television networks (with the only possible exception being Dozhd’ [Rain], which is an opposition TV channel) shows an alternative reality to the coverage from the rest of the world.

The recent facts of pro-government propaganda and press freedom persecution in Russia include a series of resignations from well-known media. The first occurred when Russia Today anchor Liz Wahl quit her job on-air because of unfair coverage of the Ukrainian crisis. A week later, 39 staff members including 32 journalists – and all of the photo editing staff – resigned from Lenta.ru, the oldest liberal online newspaper in Russia. The staffers quit in a show of support for chief editor Galina Timchenko, who was fired from the paper’s independent position and replaced by a pro-Kremlin editor.

Misleading and unfair reporting prevail throughout Russian media, regardless of whether the platform is print, broadcasting or online. Until recently, Russian media on the Internet stayed the least controlled by the government and the most open to publishing diverse opinions. But now it also is being repressed by the government: oppositional web-sites are banned, as well as blogs and live- journal accounts of prominent oppositional leaders Alexei Navalny and Garry Kasparov, the website of radio station Echo of Moscow and more.

Since March 1, when thousands of unidentified troops (in uniforms that resemble those of Russian troops) appeared in Crimea, Russian TV channel Russia 24 reported that thousands of refugees from Ukraine were on the Russia-Ukraine border. In fact, however, they provided archival video that showed cars lined up at a Polish-Ukrainian custom check-point. Officially, just 89 Ukrainians have asked for asylum in Russia during the first two weeks of March. Later, other television networks, while reporting devastating clashes between pro-Russian forces and Ukrainians in Simferopol, used archival video from Kiev’s February protests instead.

The most recent evidence of Russia’s goals to invade and monopolize Ukraine’s informational space includes the military capture of Crimean Tatar’s TV channel ATR, dumping Ukrainian channels from cable networks and replacing them with Russian ones, and the closing of Ukrainian radio stations in Crimea. All this happened at the same time as preparations were made for the illegal referendum about the annexation of Crimea by Russia. While officials in Moscow refuse to take responsibility for these actions their origin are more or less obvious.

Inside view from Ukraine

Staying fair, objective and transparent has been the hardest task for the Ukrainian media. In this situation, when media conglomerates comprising major television networks and publishing houses are controlled by billionaires that were close to Yanukovych’s administration, obeying the duty of objective journalism is hardly achievable. For instance, during the riots in Kiev’s, the reality of Yanukovych’s official position was presented by the TV channel Inter (which is controlled by pro-Kremlin oligarch Dmytro Firtash, who recently was imprisoned in Austria as a result of Interpol and FBI’s investigations). Nevertheless, the majority of national media remained fairly balanced in covering the events. Moreover, the newest positive processes in Ukrainian journalism occurred.

First, almost immediately after the beginning of the clashes at Euro-maidan, the special television online channels Espresso.tv and UkrStream started streaming around the clock from the epicenter of the events. This is a new phenomenon for Ukrainian television, and most of the Ukrainian networks borrowed and retransmitted videos from these channels to cover the events in Kiev.

Second, after 20 years of useless discussions and lost attempts to create public media, self-organized public service broadcasting online channel, Hromadske.tv, was created. Indeed, the boundary conditions of the new revolution forced journalists into this unprecedented step in Ukraine’s history. Prominent journalists from mainstream Ukrainian print, broadcast and online media share their free time after their full-time work assignments to contribute to this public service initiative. So far, it works only in a form of online streaming from one self-maintained studio, combining studio interviews and analytics with onsite web-cams streaming by journalists, and Skype interviews/video conferences. Perhaps, the most- viewed streams were those from ousted President Yanukovych’s residency Mezhihir’ya, where journalists were picturing the royal-like wealth of its former owner. Besides the ethical nuances of this reporting (along with the fact that the majority of national, and some international, media did stories on the treasures of corrupted officials by invading their outcast private residencies), it generated huge social interest. The special public website YanukovychLeaks was created by journalists and civil activists for investigating the corrupt schemes of the former president and his government.

The booming popularity of this long-awaited initiative led to the recent development where Hromandske.tv started broadcasting as a joint project of the television channel First, which is the oldest national TV network (it has a penetration rate of 95 percent of Ukraine’s territory and is the “mouthpiece” of the Ukrainian government). This example of cooperation has been followed by another project of Ukrainian television that aim to unify Ukrainian society.

Social media: So who controls the people’s minds?

The Ukrainian revolution happened with great help from (or because of) social media. Social media are widely used as informational sources now, since it already has been accepted practice for major media players across the globe to disseminate news through them. But person-to-person interaction made Facebook and Twitter, along with Ukrainian and Russian local social media (Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki) key platforms for negotiating the public gatherings at Euro-maidan protests in November. They were used for further coordination of protests.

Dozens of pages that supported and confronted the protests, and that followed the Ukraine-Russia conflict, were created in social media in recent months. Politicians and public figures post comments and tweet about events online. YouTube also is a main platform for the newest streaming videos and the output of public television channels, which shortly after appearing online become widely known in Ukraine. Such use of social media for the needs of mobilizing and influencing people cannot have stayed unnoticed by those interested in information manipulation. The signs of informational war have already been seen in Ukraine, as constant denial-of-service attacks on some of Ukraine’s most-viewed news sites (such as Channel 5, Hromadske.tv, and Ukrainska Pravda) and their YouTube channels are reported. Traditional media are not the main players in this war any more. One should be very picky in choosing sources of information to get the sense of the truth. This might be one of the most obvious inferences about role of Ukraine’s crisis in today’s media world.