Good Friday Morning! Lest you think that only national politics is crazy. In Tennessee, the state GOP has been meeting behind closed doors over allegations one of the members operated an anonymous twitter account, blasted members with it, and “and after one of their suspects found himself with a urine-soaked office chair.” The great pee-chair controversy had Republicans in late meetings last night — and I am not kidding about that.
- Trump’s comments on Jews, calling himself the “chosen one” on dealing with China are… on-brand/unsurprising/revolting/I wish he’d stop tweeting and talking. Everything he said about dual loyalty for Jews is as wrong as what Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have said. Everything I wrote about them applies to him — and he needs to stop.
- His comments are especially disheartening when Omar and Tlaib tried going to Israel, on a separate trip from the generic Congressional trip, purely to partner with a viciously anti-Semitic group that spreads literal neo-Nazi views on Jews — David French covered this group in-depth and… it’s shocking.
- The Miami Herald is at the top of the reporting world right now for what they’ve done on the Epstein story. And though I continue to accept the official story, purely because no one has pointed out what anyone gains from Epstein’s death, the official story stinks to the high heavens as more holes get poked in it every day.
Where you can find me this week
If you remember back to the big news cycle about abortion a few months back, you may remember quite a few companies saying they’d boycott various states for pro-life legislation. Compare that outrage to how many of them try to get into China. It’s rank hypocrisy.
You could talk me into a universal basic income, but only the one that Charles Murray espouses where the entirety of the welfare state gets replaced. Andrew Yang’s version of the UBI is a new entitlement to grow with the current welfare state — and if we’ve learned anything, there’s no way any program stays small or within its bounds.
The New Facebook “News”feed in 2020
A story caught my eye in one of Axios’s newsletters: Facebook is creating a new “news feed,” dedicated to only news. And they’re hiring journalists to curate it and everything. Judging from the look of it, Facebook is shifting further away from platform and closer to an actual publisher with this move. Axios has the details:
Facebook executives tell Axios they’re hiring seasoned journalists to help curate a forthcoming “News Tab” that they hope will change how millions get news.
Why it matters: News Tab is an effort by Facebook to restore the sanity and credibility that’s lost in the chaos of our main feeds. Facebook will personalize the News Tab, so it will need a massive amount of content, from the New York Jets to gardening.
News Tab, a personal passion of CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is also an effort by Facebook to develop a healthier relationship with publishers, many of whom have had their business models destroyed by social platforms.
- Facebook will pay dozens of publishers to license content for News Tab, and news from many more will be included.
- The Wall Street Journal reported that the largest partners will be paid millions of dollars a year.
- News Tab will try to give credit to the outlet that broke a story, rather than an aggregator.
Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, said: “Our goal with the News tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience … The majority of stories people will see will appear in the tab via algorithmic selection.”
- A small team of journalists will pick stories for a Top News section.
Last year, Facebook killed Trending Topics, populated by contractors, after being accused of bias.
- “We learned a lot from Trending,” a Facebook executive told me. “This is a completely different product.”
What’s next: A News Tab test for 200,000 users will begin in October, with a rollout to all U.S. users early next year.
If you’re a millennial, gen-z, or any digital native I think you have one reaction: this is going to fail spectacularly. Facebook is moving farther away from a platform on the news front, and much closer to a publisher, which is interesting to note — and I’ll come back to that in a moment.
But first, why this will fail: Facebook won’t be able to curate news neutrally — that’s impossible in the modern environment. The lefties will accuse them of using biased right-wing sources they don’t like, and the right is going to accuse them of silencing voices — and both sides will probably have a point.
What makes this even more absurd is that Mark Zuckerburg has the bizarre thought process that the right time to deploy this new curated news service is right in the middle of a highly polarized presidential campaign. Any sane person would spend off-years beta-testing the fire out of this service. Especially after we’ve watched foreign actors in China and Russia abuse Facebook, Google, and Twitter to spread propaganda.
Speaking of Russia, Axios also asked the million-dollar question: what is Putin up to heading into 2020?
Aric Toler, lead researcher at Bellingcat, a European investigative organization, says that if he had to choose one possible Putin plan for the U.S., it would be more of the same — “a lot of ad hoc actors within and from outside the Russian government/security services with similar targets as in 2016.”
Mark Galeotti, a leading scholar on Russian intelligence and author of “We need to talk about Putin,” foresees an effort “to escalate and magnify the inevitable divisions that become exacerbated in election times. With Trump running, and many Democrat voices prone to castigate his supporters as racists and morons, these opportunities are likely to be plentiful.”
The bottom line: “I see no reason to expect that U.S./Western actions since 2016 have changed Moscow’s appetite for risk. Buckle up,” said Andrew Weiss, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment.
A wild card: A Russia expert contact of mine formerly with Britain’s MI-6 said that, if Putin’s strategy is what’s expected — to do whatever will best polarize the U.S. — he may choose to do nothing. “Trump seems to be doing a pretty good job all by himself, depending on where you sit, so it might be easier to leave well alone.”
I expect Putin to meddle. And doing that while using new social media feeds that haven’t gotten tested thoroughly, while biased sources fight is a recipe for disaster.
But back to Facebook’s move. I said above that this moves Facebook closer and closer to the publisher category of the law instead of the platform. You may have heard news stories reference something called: “Section 230.” Congress decided early on to foster innovation on the internet by providing a legal shield to services that functioned as platforms. That is, people accessed them and published things as individuals.
Facebook’s status as a platform shields them from liability issues that publishers have to account for on their sites. For instance, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are both prominent publishers. If they publish anything defamatory, they are liable for those stories. If someone posts something abusive on Facebook, only that person is liable.
However, if Facebook is going to start curating news, choosing what people see and don’t see, and they make a decision to push news that is wrong or defamatory — are they liable? I don’t know. They’re moving away from the legal shield they have, and closer to the publisher role. They’re less of a passive actor and taking on an active status — at some point that will bring liability to them.
Some Republicans want to shrink that shield, even more, specifically freshman Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri. He’s pushed multiple pieces of legislation that target social media companies. I don’t agree with him on everything, and I’m not going to detail his proposals here. I bring it up to note that Facebook is moving towards a more curated experience with regards to news; they’re going to have to justify that move both for users and a government itching for regulatory power.
I’m more sympathetic to anti-trust actions against the large tech companies, but that’s a topic for another day. Facebook is creating a news service that lowers its shield, just in time for the 2020 election, with bad actors like China and Russia lurking out there with an incentive to meddle. It’s a recipe for disaster — and I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about this train wreck in the following year.
Links of the week
Jeffrey Epstein lawsuits offer sordid details, including sex while on work release – David Ovalle, The Miami Herald
A Tabloid Legend on Jeffrey Epstein’s Death: This is the story with everything. Wealth, power, darkness. Princes and presidents with secrets. – Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal
A Dead Cat, A Lawyer’s Call And A 5-Figure Donation: How Media Fell Short On Epstein – David Folkenflik, NPR
Man who posed up for THAT Clinton in a dress painting speaks out – The Daily Mail
Jeffrey Epstein was sent three 12-year-old French girls as ‘birthday gift’ – Emily Saul and Yaron Steinbuch, The New York Post
Private jets, parties, and eugenics: Jeffrey Epstein’s bizarre world of scientists – Luke Darby, The Guardian
Choose Your Persecution: The Constitution vs. precognition. – Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine
Should People Be Forced to Buy Liability Insurance for their Guns? – Megan McArdle, The Daily Beast
A Michigan Court Case Shows the Right of Armed Self-Defense Is Broader Than You Might Think – David French, National Review
The Case Against Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib: The preponderance of the evidence. – Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine
The Limits of My Conservatism – Andrew Sullivan, NY Magazine
Black American History Should Give Evangelicals a Sense of Perspective — and Hope – David French, National Review
Why Elizabeth Warren Is Trump’s Weakest Opponent: The progressive senator from Massachusetts has an outside shot at winning the presidency. She also has a real chance to hand Trump a second term. – Josh Kraushaar, National Journal
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib Partnered with Vicious Anti-Semites to Plan Their Trip to Israel – David French, National Review
Earth’s lungs are burning – Axios
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire piece of the week
WORLD — Reality has come under fire for not more clearly distinguishing itself from satire.
Fact-checkers and fake news watchdogs have called on reality to label itself after real news stories insisted on sounding like satire.
Experts proposed forcing real news stories to include labels like [REAL NEWS] in the headline. They could also include parentheticals throughout that read things like “(Just as a reminder, this actually happened and is not satire).” Then, the article could conclude with a notice saying, “What you just read was an actual thing that actually happened.”
Thanks for reading!