More on Cambridge Analytica

More stories are coming out about Cambridge Analytica and the scraping of Facebook data. The Guardian has some important new articles:

Perhaps the most interesting article is in The Conversation and argues that Claims about Cambridge Analytica’s role in Africa should be taken with a pinch of saltThe article carefully sets out evidence that CA didn’t have the effect they were hired to have in either the Nigerian election (when they failed to get Goodluck Jonathan re-elected) or the Kenyan election where they may have helped Uhuru Kenyatta stay in power. The authors (Gabrielle Lynch, Justin Willis, and Nic Cheeseman) talk about how,

Ahead of the elections, and as part of a comparative research project on elections in Africa, we set up multiple profiles on Facebook to track social media and political adverts, and found no evidence that different messages were directed at different voters. Instead, a consistent negative line was pushed on all profiles, no matter what their background.

They also point out that the majority of Kenyans are not on Facebook and that negative advertising has a long history. They conclude that exaggerating what they can do is what CA does.

Mother Jones has another story, one of the best summaries around, Cloak and Data, that questions the effectiveness of Cambridge Analytica when it comes to the Trump election. They point out how CA’s work before in Virginia and for Cruz at the beginning of the primaries doesn’t seem to have worked. They go on to suggest that CA had little to do with the Trump victory which instead was ascribed by Parscale, the head of digital operations, to investing heavily in Facebook advertising.

During an interview with 60 Minutes last fall, Parscale dismissed the company’s psychographic methods: “I just don’t think it works.” Trump’s secret strategy, he said, wasn’t secret at all: The campaign went all-in on Facebook, making full use of the platform’s advertising tools. “Donald Trump won,” Parscale said, “but I think Facebook was the method.”

The irony may be that Cambridge Analytica is brought down by its boasting, not what it actually did. Further irony is how it may bring down Facebook and finally draw attention to how our data is used to manipulate us, even though it didn’t work.

The story of Cambridge Analytica’s rise—and its rapid fall—in some ways parallels the ascendance of the candidate it claims it helped elevate to the presidency. It reached the apex of American politics through a mix of bluffing, luck, failing upward, and—yes—psychological manipulation. Sound familiar?

Social networks are creating a global crisis of democracy

[N]etworks themselves offer ways in which bad actors – and not only the Russian government – can undermine democracy by disseminating fake news and extreme views. “These social platforms are all invented by very liberal people on the west and east coasts,” said Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital-media director, in an interview last year. “And we figure out how to use it to push conservative values. I don’t think they thought that would ever happen.” Too right.

The Globe and Mail this weekend had an essay by Niall Ferguson on how Social networks are creating a global crisis of democracy. The article is based on Ferguson’s new book The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power from the Freemasons to Facebook. The article points out that manipulation is not just an American problem, but also points out that the real problem is our dependence on social networks in the first place.

Continue reading Social networks are creating a global crisis of democracy

Missed the bitcoin boom? Five more baffling cryptocurrencies to blow your savings on

One of the oddest Ethereum projects in operation, CryptoKitties is a three-way cross between Tamagotchis, Beanie Babies and animal husbandry. Users can buy, sell and breed the eponymous cats, with traits inherited down the generations.

The Guardian has a nice story on Missed the bitcoin boom? Five more baffling cryptocurrencies to blow your savings onThe article talks about CryptoKitties, a form of collectible pet (kitty) game that is built on blockchain technology. If you invest you get a kitty or two and then you can breed them to evolve new kitties. The kitties can then be sold as collectibles to others to breed. Apparently 11% of Traffic on the Ethereum Blockchain Is Being Used to Breed Digital Cats (CryptoKitties). If you missed investing in bitcoin, now is the change to buy a kitty or two.

The question is whether this is gambling or a game?

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.)

 

BuzzFeed on Breitbart courting the alt-right

Screen of emails from Dan Lyons

Buzzfeed News has an article on Here’s How Breitbart and Milo Smuggled Nazi and White Nationalist Ideas Into The Mainstream. The article in based on a cache of internal Breitbart emails and mostly deals with what Milo Yiannopoulos was up to.

From this motley chorus of suburban parents, journalists, tech leaders, and conservative intellectuals, Yiannopoulos’s function within Breitbart and his value to Bannon becomes clear. He was a powerful magnet, able to attract the cultural resentment of an enormously diverse coalition and process it into an urgent narrative about the way liberals imperiled America. It was no wonder Bannon wanted to groom Yiannopoulos for media infamy: The bigger the magnet got, the more ammunition it attracted.

Part of the story also deals with some “liberal” journalists who apparently were emailing Milo like Dan Lyons. It just get more and more sordid.

Many of those who wrote Milo seem to be disgruntled people who feel oppressed by the “political correctness” of their situation, whether in a tech company or entertainment business. They email Milo to vent or pass tips or just get sympathy.

Naylor Report in Voyant

Correspondence Analysis (ScatterPlot) View

The Naylor Report (PDF) about research funding in Canada is out and we put it in Voyant. Here are some different

Continue reading Naylor Report in Voyant

Busa Letter Outlining Textual Informatics

Page 1 of “Conditional Agreement” by Father Busa

Domenico Fiormonte has recently blogged about an interesting document he has by Father Busa that relates to a difficult moment in the history of the digital humanities in Italy in 2002. The two page “Conditional Agreement”, which I translate below, was given to Domenico and explained the terms under which Busa would agree to sign a letter to the Minister (of Education and Research) Moratti in response to Moratti’s public statement about the uselessness of humanities informatics. A letter was being prepared to be signed by a large number of Italian (and foreign) academics explaining the value of what we now call the digital humanities. Busa had the connections to get the letter published and taken seriously for which reason Domenico visited him to get his help, which ended up being conditional on certain things being made clear, as laid out in the document. Domenico kept the two pages Busa wrote and recently blogged about them. As he points out in his blog, these two pages are a mini-manifesto of Father Busa’s later views of the place and importance of what he called textual informatics. Domenico also points out how political is the context of these notes and the letter eventually signed and published. Defining the digital humanities is often about positioning the field in the larger academic and public political spheres we operate in.

Continue reading Busa Letter Outlining Textual Informatics

How The Globe collected and analyzed sexual assault statistics to report on unfounded figures across Canada

Fourteen years ago, Statistics Canada stopped publishing unfounded rates, over concerns about the quality of the data. In “Unfounded,” The Globe and Mail has tried to fill the gaps in the data.

The Globe and Mail has been publishing a fabulous data-driven expose on how the police categorize one out of five sexual assault reports as unfounded. They have a web essay Will police believe you? that summarizes the investigation. There is another article on How The Globe collected and analyzed sexual assault statistics to report on unfounded figures across Canada. While this isn’t big data, it shows the power of data in showing us that there is a problem and prodding police departments to start reviewing their practices.

Brianna Wu appalled at FBI’s #GamerGate investigative report

Screenshot of text from FBI Report
From FBI #GamerGate Report

The FBI has released their report on #GamerGate after a Freedom Of Information request and it doesn’t seem that they took the threats that seriously. According to a Venturebeat story Brianna Wu (is) appalled at FBI’s #GamerGate investigative report.

Wu, who is running for Congress, said in an email that she is “fairly livid” because it appears the FBI didn’t check out many of her reports about death threats. Wu catalogued more than 180 death threats that she said she received because she spoke out against sexism in the game industry and #GamerGate misogyny that eventually morphed into the alt-right movement and carried into the U.S. presidential race.

It sounds like the FBI either couldn’t trace the threats or they didn’t think they were serious enough and eventually closed down the investigation. In the aftermath of the shooting at the Québec City mosque we need to take the threats of trolls more seriously as Anita Sarkeesian did when she was threatened with a “Montreal Massacre style attack” before speaking at the University of Utah. Yes, only a few act on their threats, but threats piggy-back on the terror to achieve their end. Those making the threats may justify it as just for the lulz, but they do so knowing that some people act on their threats.

On another point, having just given a paper on Palantir I was intrigued to read that the FBI used it in their investigation. The report says that “A search of social media logins using Palantir’s search around feature revealed a common User ID number for two of the above listed Twitter accounts, profiles [Redacted] … A copy of the Palantir chart created from the Twitter results will be uploaded to the case file under a separate serial.” One wonders how useful connecting to Twitter accounts to one ID is.

Near the end of the report, which is really just a collection of redacted documents, there is a heavily redacted email from one of those harassed where all but a couple of lines are left for us to read including,

We feel like we are sending endless emails into the void with you.

Obituary: Kelly Gotlieb was the father of Canadian computing

I recently came across the obituary in the Globe and Mail for Kelly Gotlieb was the father of Canadian computing who passed away on October 16th.

Kelly was in many ways the founder of computing in Canada as he ran the University of Toronto Computation Centre that intsalled the first computers in Canada. The obituary isn’t entirely correct as they mention FERUT as the first computer when it was actually the second computer, the first being the test UTEC Jr. which is mentioned in a Globe and Mail story titled “Junior Electronic Brain Cost $100,000” (Len Schrag, Dec. 13, 1951, p. 4) that dates from 1951.

The obituary also mentions how Kelly Gotlieb mentored Beatrice Worsley. She was one of two hired to go to the UK and figure out how to run the first computers they were installing. She got a PhD. from Cambridge with a dissertation on “Serial Programming for Real and Idealized Digital Calculating Machines” that Campbell (2003) argues was the first dissertation involving modern computers.

When we did a survey of Globe and Mail articles on computing from the early years in Canada we saw a broad curiosity about what computation could do. (Some of this has been reported in Before the Beginning.) We see the Computation Centre working with Music profs in 1957 in a Globe article “Strange Music Made By an Electronic Brain.” We see an article in 1961 that mentions concording and a new IBM coming. In 1964 there is a story about a project McLuhan was involved in to investigate the impacts of technology on culture and vice versa. I suspect Gotlieb was instrumental in promoting these and many other experiments in applying computing to different challenges across disciplines. By all accounts he was generous and a great promoter of computing. As the obituary says,

Dr. Gotlieb was a visionary, not only in the technical issues of machine computation, but also in their potential social implications. In the 1960s, he was chosen by U Thant, Secretary-General of the United Nations, to be one of six world experts advising on how computer technology might assist international development. Years later, he served on Canada’s first federal task force on privacy.

Campbell, S. M. (October-December, 2003). “Beatrice Helen Worsley: Canada’s Female Computer Pioneer.” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing: 51-62.