Those who cannot be shamed...

...can still be held to account

“It begins.”

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum was one of many who suggested that the viral video of Nancy Pelosi, manipulated to make her seem impaired, signalled the beginning of the “deepfake” era of politics.

While concern about the malicious potential of deepfake technology is valid, the Pelosi video doesn’t fit this category. Far from being a sophisticated fabrication, it was a relatively low-effort con—video footage, simply slowed down.

This effort wasn’t unprecedented, either. It was a continuation of the sort of digital warfare used against Hillary Clinton throughout the 2016 presidential race, where far-right propagandists pushed a litany of conspiracies, including an array of claims concerning “Hillary’s Health”—that she was secretly suffering from Parkinson’s, was having multiple seizures, required a body double, and so on.

Part of the strategy at the time, to get wider media amplification, was to accuse credible news organizations of “hiding the truth” on behalf of the Clinton campaign.

Rather than ignore the bad-faith allegations made by those actively and unapologetically shilling for Trump, some outlets, desperate to avoid accusations of bias, played into the propagandists’ hands. They dutifully picked up reports of the rumours—“some people are saying…”—and in doing so granted the lies a degree of legitimacy.

By contrast, with the Pelosi video, pushback was widespread, near-unanimous, and arguably sufficient. The overwhelming majority of coverage prioritized and amplified the facts rather than give prominence to the fabrication.

What more could or should have been done?

Whether Facebook, facing mounting pressure, scrubs the video from its platform is irrelevant at this point. Further, I’m not sure what confrontations like this are meant to achieve, other than a viral bit of grandstanding.

And I say that as someone with a great deal of respect for Anderson Cooper.

Charlie Warzel, a writer I find reliably insightful on the debate surrounding Facebook and its obligation (or lack thereof) to remove problematic content, was correct to recognize how, with the latest controversy, “our attention has been successfully hijacked by a remedial iMovie trick.”

His entire column on the matter is worth a read, but these few paragraphs are particularly on point:

“Facebook, the platform of origin for this video, did exactly what it was designed to do. It brought people with similar interests together, incubated vibrant communities that spawned intense discussion and then gave those communities the tools to amplify their messages loudly across the internet. The rest of the social media ecosystem followed suit.

The mainstream media, designed to document controversy and separate fact from fiction, picked up the story with the best of intentions. Media discussions and stories arguing over whether Facebook, Twitter and YouTube should remove the video were an effort to hold the platforms accountable, while political pieces highlighted the abnormality of a presidential administration and political party spreading such brazen propaganda. The press identified a story, fact-checked and pointed audiences at the truth. Straight out of the journalism school handbooks.

But if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that you don’t bring a handbook to an information war. The distribution mechanics, rules and terms of service of Facebook’s platform — and the rest of social media — are no match for professional propagandists, trolls, charlatans, political operatives and hostile foreign actors looking to sow division and blur the lines of reality.”

Those who want to believe the worst about those they dislike or with whom they disagree are always searching for examples—legitimate or manufactured—which reinforce their views. Unfortunately, they’ve no shortage of allies eager to further erode the boundaries of intelligent discourse, who sow discord and stoke animus for fun and/or profit while encouraging those primed for outrage to firmly embrace their most hateful inclinations.

To say this problem will get worse before it gets better requires faith that, in time, things will trend in a more positive direction.

At this point, I don’t trust that will happen.

Bias, bailouts, and bullshit theatre

A robust, independent news industry is vital to any healthy democracy, and the Liberal government’s move to provide a financial lifeline of sorts is arguably well-intentioned. In practise, it was always going to prove controversial.

But how does one fail to clear a bar set firmly on the ground?

I feel the Liberals have handed a gift to fringe outlets and partisans whose entire existence is predicated on disingenuous claims of everyone else—namely, established and entirely credible mainstream outlets, reporters, and columnists—as inherently biased, with them alone as the arbiters of truth (and always in need of donations to help fight the “Lügenpresse.”)

There’s no shortage of examples of hypocrisy with this crowd, and I’m aware you can’t shame the shameless.

Still, flashback:

Should the federal government rethink their aid strategy due to bad-faith criticism? Not at all. They should do so because of concerns raised by those with integrity, whose arguments are both sincere and persuasive.

The Liberals are putting journalists in an unfair and precarious position. No amount of financial assistance can undo the potential damage this disastrous move might yet achieve.

Facts don’t care about your feelings

Fresh off his BBC tantrum, which followed his Economist tantrum, Ben Shapiro is again lashing out after fresh reports correctly linked his inflammatory rhetoric to violent extremism:

It’s true that Shapiro is both despised and ridiculed within the neo-Nazi, white nationalist scene. But as Holt previously noted, this “does not erase or write-off the ways he inflames hatred against racial and religious minorities in America,” a tendency which makes him an alt-right ally, willing or otherwise.

Part of the problem with obsessively (and broadly) labelling people or movements as definitively “Nazi” or “alt-right” when it doesn’t apply—using terms as epithets rather than classifiers—is that it minimizes the potential danger and influence of those who don’t fit neatly into a given scene, but who nevertheless play a key role in radicalizing those on the margins.

These people help bridge the gap between mainstream conservatism and more hardline ideology, facilitating the ever-rightward drift of those who consider—and sometimes, carry out—acts of domestic terrorism.

FACT: Those seeking to murder Jews are just as eager to massacre Muslims. Including Ilhan Omar specifically, who Shapiro and others have relentlessly accused of being a stealth radical Islamist (among other things).

Twitter avatar for @letsgomathiasChristopher Mathias @letsgomathias
Alexandre Bissonnette, who massacred 6 people at a Quebec mosque, "checked in on the Twitter account of Ben Shapiro, editor in chief of the conservative news site the Daily Wire, 93 times in the month leading up to the shooting"…

Ben Shapiro @benshapiro

Coming from the media: staging a racial hoax for more money while making $65K per episode -- and paying poor immigrants $3,500 to undercut the labor base for race hoax conspirators -- is just a sign we need socialism.

Wise words, here:

Call your office, Ben.

One more thing…

Each week in this space I’ll include something unrelated to everything else.

This week, I’m going to recommend the HBO docudrama Chernobyl. It’s a masterful production which “dramatizes the true story of one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history and tells of the brave men and women who sacrificed to save Europe from unimaginable disaster.”

The thread below is one of many discussing the five-part miniseries. If you haven’t come across it yet, click over and give it a full read. And if you’ve yet to give Chernobyl a chance, do that as well.

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In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter: @a_picazo