The Man Behind Trump’s Facebook Juggernaut

Brad Parscale used social media to sway the 2016 election. He’s poised to do it again.

I just finished reading important reporting about The Man Behind Trump’s Facebook Juggernaut in the March 9th, 2020 issue of the New Yorker. The long article suggests that it wasn’t Cambridge Analytica or the Russians who swung the 2016 election. If anything had an impact it was the extensive use of social media, especially Facebook, by the Trump digital campaign under the leadership of Brad Parscale. The Clinton campaign focused on TV spots and believed they were going to win. The Trump campaign gathered lots of data, constantly tried new things, and drew on their Facebook “embed” to improve their game.

If each variation is counted as a distinct ad, then the Trump campaign, all told, ran 5.9 million Facebook ads. The Clinton campaign ran sixty-six thousand. “The Hillary campaign thought they had it in the bag, so they tried to play it safe, which meant not doing much that was new or unorthodox, especially online,” a progressive digital strategist told me. “Trump’s people knew they didn’t have it in the bag, and they never gave a shit about being safe anyway.” (p. 49)

One interesting service Facebook offered was “Lookalike Audiences” where you could upload a spotty list of information about people and Facebook would first fill it out from their data and then find you more people who are similar. This lets you expand your list of people to microtarget (and Facebook gets you paying for more targeted ads.)

The end of the article gets depressing as it recounts how little the Democrats are doing to counter or match the social media campaign for Trump which was essentially underway right after the 2016 election. One worries, by the end, that we will see a repeat.

Marantz, Andrew. (2020, March 9). “#WINNING: Brad Parscale used social media to sway the 2016 election. He’s posed to do it again.” New Yorker. Pages 44-55.

How to Look and Sound Fabulous on a Webcam – School of Journalism – Ryerson University

Now that all of us are having to teach and meet over videoconferencing on our laptops, it is useful to get advice from the professionals. Chelsea sent me this link to Ryerson professor Gary Gould’s advince on How to Look and Sound Fabulous on a Webcam. The page covers practical things like lighting, positioning of the camera, backgrounds, framing and audio. I realize I need to rethink just having the laptop on my lap.

ParityBOT: Twitter bot

ParityBOT is a chatbot developed here in Edmonton that tweets positive things about women in politics in response to hateful tweets. It send empowering messages.

You can read about it in a CBC story, Engineered-in-Edmonton Twitter bot combats misogyny on the campaign trail.

The bot follows all women candidates in the election and uses some sort of AI or sentiment detection to identify nasty tweets aimed at them and then responds with a positive message from a collection crowdsources from the public. What isn’t clear is if the positive message is sent to the offending tweeter or just posted generally?

ParityBOT was developed by ParityYEG which is a collaboration between the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute and scientist Kory Mathewson.

Facebook refused to delete an altered video of Nancy Pelosi. Would the same rule apply to Mark Zuckerberg?

‘Imagine this for a second…’ (2019) from Bill Posters on Vimeo.

A ‘deepfake’ of Zuckerberg was uploaded to Instagram and appears to show him delivering an ominous message

The issue of “deepfakes” is big on the internet after someone posted a slowed down video of Nancy Pelosi to make her look drunk and then, after Facebook didn’t take it down a group posted a fake Zuckerberg video. See  Facebook refused to delete an altered video of Nancy Pelosi. Would the same rule apply to Mark Zuckerberg? This video was created by artists Posters and Howe and is part of a series

While the Pelosi video was a crude hack, the Zuckerberg video used AI technology from Canny AI, a company that has developed tools for replacing dialogue in video (which has legitimate uses in localization of educational content, for example.) The artists provided a voice actor with a script and then the AI trained on existing video of Zuckerberg and that of the voice actor to morph Zuckerberg’s facial movements to match the actor’s.

What is interesting is that the Zuckerberg video is part of an installation called Spectre with a number of deliberate fakes that were exhibited at  a venue associated with the Sheffield Doc|Fest. Spectre, as the name suggests, both suggests how our data can be used to create ghost media of us, but also reminds us playfully of that fictional criminal organization that haunted James Bond. We are now being warned that real, but spectral organizations could haunt our democracy, messing with elections anonymously.

Writing with the machine

“…it’s like writing with a deranged but very well-read parrot on your shoulder.”

Robin Sloan of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore fame, has been talking about Writing with the machine. He was inspired by presentations like Adrej Karpathy’s blog post on The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Recurrent Neural Networks and Bowman et al’s Generating Sentences from a Continuous Space to try developing a neural net that could generate text. He used as a training corpus a collection of early science-fiction from the Internet Archive and created different text generation tools like the short video of that which you can see above and hear explained in this Eyeo video.

One of the points he emphasizes is that he didn’t do this just for the fun of seeing strange phrases generated, but wants to use it seriously as a writing aide.

I can’t help wondering if this could be used philosophically. Could we generate philosophical or ethical phrases in response to questions?

Sustainable Research: Around the World Conference

This week I am participating in the 6th Around the World Conference organized by the Kule Institute for Advanced Study.  This e-conference (electronic conference) is on Sustainable Research and we have a panel on a different topic every day of the week. (If you miss a panel, check out our YouTube channel.) Today we had a fabulous panel on Art and/in the Anthropocene that was led by Natalie Loveless and Jesse Beier. You can see some thoughts on the e-conference under the Twitter hastag #ATW2018, which we share with the American Trombone Workshop.

Manifest Attention

One of the problems with e-conferences is that they are local for everyone which means that everyone tunes in and out depending on what they have scheduled rather than devoting the time. When you fly to a conference you can’t be expected to leave the conference for a meeting, but when a conference is local or online we tend to not pay attention as we would when afar.

This has to change if we are to wean ourselves of flying any time we want to pay attention to a conference. We have to learn to be deliberate about allocating time to an e-conference. We have to manifest attention.

CBC TV: The Artists

The Artists is the story of the creators that were at the forefront of the early video game revolution. It explores the first three decades of video game history.

I just finished watching the CBC TV series, The Artists – Season 1. This is a series of short (9 – 12 minute) video essays that you can watch off the web. The series focuses on the issue of game designers as artists and starts and ends with an early and influential ad, We see farther, that EA (Electronic Arts) ran that showcased their developers, something other companies (like Atari) didn’t do.

The CBC series is well done, though I find the shorts too short. I wish they lingered a bit more over the clips of games and other historic materials. The kinetic style of the shorts may suit the medium, but not the history.

My other gripe is their choice of game designers to feature. There are no Japanese game designers. In fact, it is as if no one outside of the US and Canada designed games at all. They could have also covered some influential women designers like Brenda Laurel.

What is great, is episode 9 on Bioware (and Edmonton!) I didn’t realize that Greg Zeschuk, one of the founders of Bioware, started the Blind Enthusiasm Brewing Company which has a beer brewery and restaurant near my house.

America is about to kill the open internet – and towns like this will pay the price

Residents of Winlock, Washington can barely stream Spotify and Netflix. Changes to Obama’s net neutrality rules are going to make things even worse

There are lots of stories right now about net neutrality and how the FCC (of the USA) is repeal requirements of ISPs. I find it hard to explain why net neutrality is important which is probably why there isn’t more a public outcry. The Guardian has a story that makes this real,  America is about to kill the open internet – and towns like this will pay the price. Global News has a nice story about Net neutrality: Why Canadians should care about the internet changes in the U.S. This story describes what happens in countries like Portugal which don’t have net neutrality regulations and it includes some John Oliver segments on how the FCC is going to fix the Internet (which isn’t broken.)

 

Digital exhibit: I dreamed a dream the other night

Entry Page to Site

The British Council has developed a bilingual (English/Turkish) digital exhibit of British Art. The exhibit remediates the gallery/museum as interface, which is not new, but the designers have included other visitors moving around, looking at art and so on. It gives it a more human feel. That said, I found it harder to actually get to the art. I couldn’t move from painting on the wall to the next one without stepping back and then in.

Unique copy of first full-length audio book found in Canada

The Guardian has a nice story about the discovery of a Unique copy of first full-length audio book found in Canada. The UK Royal National Institute of Blind people began recording books to records in 1935. A complete set of the records with Conrad’s novella Typhoon was found in Canada.

Matthew Rubery from Queen Mary University in London has just published a book The Untold Story of the Talking Book (Harvard, 2016) about audio books and this Canadian first.