Turns out, FOX was right all along

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Hearken back, if you can, to the early days of October – or as I call it, Funkyzeit mit Romney.

Barack Obama was coming off a lackluster first debate that let Mitt Romney back into a race he’d seemingly dropped out of. Romney’s post-debate ‘bounce’ was just beginning to show up in the polls. The president was desperate for some good news.

And on October 5, he got some: the Labor Department announced a drop in the jobless rate from 8.1 to 7.8 in September. The drop below the 8% threshold was significant, and provided a shot of energy to the Obama campaign. As the New York Times put it:

Mr. Romney was deprived of a favorite line of attack, mocking the president for “43 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent.”

Of course, you probably remember the response on the right.

And it wasn’t just Jack Welch with his crazy conspiracy theory. Chances are you won’t click on that tweet (why would you?), so I’ll tell you: it was retweeted over 5,000 times. The Huffington Post compiled some of the other responses (you can skim this huge block of text to get the idea, or just take my word for it):

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) joined the trutherism on his Facebook page. “I agree with former GE CEO Jack Welch, Chicago style politics is at work here. Somehow by manipulation of data we are all of a sudden below 8 percent unemployment, a month from the Presidential election. This is Orwellian to say the least and representative of Saul Alinsky tactics from the book “Rules for Radicals”- a must read for all who want to know how the left strategize.”

The right-leaning Americans for Limited Government released a statement saying, “Either the Federal Reserve, which has its fingers on the pulse of every element of the economy, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics manufacturing survey report are grievously wrong or the number used to calculate the unemployment rate are wrong, or worse manipulated. Given that these numbers conveniently meet Obama’s campaign promises one month before the election, the conclusions are obvious.”

Economic journalist Stuart Varney said on Fox News, “There is widespread distrust of this report.”

Conn Carroll, of the Washington Examiner, tweeted, “I don’t think BLS cooked numbers. I think a bunch of Dems lied about getting jobs. That would have same effect.”

Rick Santelli, the CNBC media personality, yelled, “I told you they’d get it under 8 percent — they did! You can let America decide how they got there!”

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC primarily backed by GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, launched a robocall attacking vulnerable House Democrats over the figures.

And while many of  these sources are hardly mainstream conservative voices, the Wall Street Journal did publish a Jack Welch editorial even after he admitted on-air to Chris Matthews that he had absolutely no evidence for his allegations:

Unfortunately for those who would like me to pipe down, the 7.8% unemployment figure released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) last week is downright implausible. And that’s why I made a stink about it.

And the front page of FOXNews.com briefly looked like this:

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Why you want to believe the Facebook hoax

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You’re probably over the Facebook privacy notification debacle of this past week. So was I — back in June, the last time a similar Newsfeed disclaimer made the rounds – until, that is, I came across an article on CNN, How did viral Facebook privacy hoax capitalize on privacy fears? The article itself is unremarkable. It describes the hoax, and includes a statement from Facebook and a link to Snopes confirming its hoax-like nature.

But one excerpt just tickles me:

While many Facebook and Twitter posts snickered about the hubbub, concerns about online privacy linger.

“It may have been a hoax, but it did not hurt!” wrote one Facebook user.

Yes, in an article about Facebook privacy, and in connection with a quote from someone sufficiently concerned about it to post the fake notice, CNN publicly linked to the profile of “one Facebook user” Ira Goodman. Now, I imagine CNN asked for permission before quoting him (lest it risk a violation of the Rome Statute), but my favorite part about all this: Goodman’s profile appears completely public. I see his original post, I see what CNN quoted, I see his other status updates, I see his ongoing kitchen renovation, I see dead people.

Basically, I see everything.

His concern, coupled with his wide-open profile, makes for a perfect illustration of the inherent contradictions of Facebook: you share because you want to, and you hope to share with only the right people — but you know it’s impossible to keep what you publish inside the protective bubble of your privacy settings. Some things will get out to Friends of Friends. Some things will get out over someone’s shoulder. Some things will get out when your account is hacked. Some things will get out when a potential employer also employs one of your friends.

One way or another, things will get out. Information wants to be free.

The real threat to your privacy on Facebook isn’t Facebook itself — I promise Mark Zuckerberg isn’t poring over your newsfeed — it’s those Friends of Friends, those over-the-shoulder glancers, those hackers (duh), those employers. There’s no use pretending that anything you post online can be truly private.

But we also want control. Or, we want to feel control.

I don’t think the hoax capitalized on fear, as CNN suggested, but on the desire for control. When you know anything you post on Facebook will eventually get out — moreover, when know there’s nothing you can do about it — you resort to “the law” in an attempt to control Facebook the only way you can, even if Facebook itself is the wrong target, and ” the law” is powerless to protect you.

As Israeli social media mastermind Sacha Dratwa put the problem two years ago:

Facebook is basically an enormous avenue on which every user opens a shop with a window display on their private life. With all the information you upload onto the platform — photos, interests, occupation, hobbies, favourite books, films and music, marital status, political leanings, dress sense — you’re handing over your electronic DNA….

We no longer have a private life. We’ve reached a stage where our bosses can find out what we do at home, where our children can follow our adult relationships, our colleagues can spy on us and advertisers can find out exactly what makes us tick. We’ve lost our freedom and the ability to do the things we like without anybody’s knowing about it.

The quote comes to me by way of an overly-lengthy ‘expose’ in the New York Times regarding an online photograph of Dratwa posing in blackface “Obama style” he once shared publicly — where else? — on Facebook.

American elections: the wisdom of the crowd?

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This is the second in a series of two posts building off Something got you down, FOX News? (The first addressed the article The war on men.) Specifically, it explores another article trending on FOX at the time that post was written, Three words to define Obama 2.0. The author, Michael Goodwin, never specifies what the three words are, but after a careful reading, I believe they are “evasive, strident, and pugnacious.” OK.

I’m open to other suggestions.

I’m less interested in the gist of his argument – the piece advances a specious conspiracy theory regarding a media coverup of what happened re: Benghazi – and more interested in its conclusion:

It will be up to Republicans to persist, proving already that voters were wise to elect a divided government and keep the constitutional system of checks and balances vibrant.

I have no doubt that Republicans fully intend to persist. But Goodwin’s claim that voters were wise to elect a divided government is just wrong.

I imply that they lacked wisdom not in the sense that I would have preferred a Democratic House majority, but in the sense that attributing the Republican majority to wisdom of any kind is sort of absurd. Wisdom implies the exercise of choice, and as I have previously explored in completely non-original fashion, voters were given remarkably little in voting for their representatives. Here’s the Wonk Blog graphic once again:

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The War on Men comes to – where else? – Queens

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This is the first in a series of posts building off Something got you down, FOX News?* Specifically, it explores another article trending on FOX at the time that post was written – The war on men – which a number of my friends posted on Facebook. (This is actually how I came across Practical suggestions for handling the great sadness, but that’s neither here nor there.) This series may grow to as many as two posts.

In The war on men, Suzanne Venker argues that women are at fault for the shidduch crisis:

So if men today are slackers, and if they’re retreating from marriage en masse, women should look in the mirror and ask themselves what role they’ve played to bring about this transformation.

I don’t really care about Venker’s argument or dissecting it or refuting it or whatever. The important takeaway is this: the war on men — waged by women — is actually a war on women. Women take jobs, take away incentives for men to work, and men are too tired to get married. And the solution is simple: women should “surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.”

And leaves me to point out that Venker’s got a steep climb ahead of her. Even within her target audience (readers of FOX News), there doesn’t seem to be a consensus that men should work and women should not. This shouldn’t be controversial. After all, if her readers already agreed, she wouldn’t have had to write the article.

But I think my illustrative story on this point is humorous, so I’m going to go ahead and share it anyway.

I spent Thanksgiving with my brothers in Kew Garden Hills, certifiably one of the Romney-est places in New York City.** (Queens qualifies as New York City, right? Or is that only Manhattan? New Yorkers, please clarify.) There, I noticed a local restaurant had taped this ‘Help Wanted’ sign to inside of the window:

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Something got you down, FOX News?

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The #2 trending article right now on FOXNews.com is titled Practical suggestions for handling the great sadness. “The great sadness” sounds unbearably morose, so I had to find out what everybody’s so sad about:

This is a time of year, for various reasons, that many of us experience a deep sadness.

Various reasons? Tell me more.

It’s difficult to explain if you haven’t experience it. It’s heaviness a blanket, a looming cloud. It might be a form of depression but it also might also be a heavy dose of reality. Or maybe depression is a heavy dose of reality. A dose far too potent. Because of a divorce, the loss of a child, family tension . . . the fact that your favorite NBA team is 1-8. You know, the important stuff.

The author was obviously too sad to edit his own piece. I guess it could be SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Or, you know, sports problems… the important stuff. I couldn’t imagine any other reason why readers of FOX News might be having a bad, say, month.

Until, that is, I peeked at the full list of trending/suggested articles/videos: Continue reading

Google, make up your damn mind

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As I was logging into Gmail this morning, I noticed that Google was using the dead space to push iGoogle, its customizable homepage:

Google often uses that space to promote various services, but the decision to promote iGoogle in particular struck me as curious. You see, iGoogle is slated to go the way of Wave in less than a year [see the yellow box in the below screenshot], and that real estate could have probably been dedicated to something Google is more serious about, like Google Maps, Google Translate, Nexus 4, Nexus 7, Nexus 10, Google Calendar, or Google Docs – sorry, Google Drive.

After all, what’s the point of urging people to use a new service if you plan to pull the rug out from under them in short order?

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In which I put on my Nate Silver hat

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Election day has come and gone, and while we — thankfully — already know the outcome, I can still write about it because votes continue to be counted over two weeks later. You may have heard that Barack Obama pulled out a victory in the Presidential race, earning just over 50% of the popular vote. And in a fun bit of irony, it’s looking increasingly likely that Mitt Romney will end up with roughly 47% of the popular vote.

But as you know, the popular vote doesn’t actually count for much. In case you have trouble hearkening back to 2000, a number of pre-election articles speculated that Romney might win the popular vote but lose the electoral college. A few even explored the dreaded electoral college tie (tl;dr – President Romney, Vice President Biden). And while neither of these nightmare scenarios came to fruition, that we could even conceive of such a thing underscores the extent to which our national offices need not reflect public opinion, as reflected — for the sake of argument — in the popular vote.

And the Presidency isn’t the only race in which the results need not align with the will of the collective people.

In the Senate, that much is obvious: every state, regardless of size, gets two Senators. But this year, when the Democrats expanded their slim majority to 53-47, the margin roughly mirrored the popular vote. The House of Representatives, on the other hand, was a clear outlier — Republicans comfortably held onto their majority.

What happened? Did that many people vote for Obama and for a Democratic Senator — and also for a GOP representative?

As you probably guessed: No.

Like in the Presidency and the Senate, House Democrats received more votes overall, but still managed to lose the chamber. If you prefer a graphical representation, here’s what that looks like, courtesy of Wikipedia:

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Is Facebook messing with the conversation about the Middle East?

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I’ve already explained that Facebook is a passive-aggressive control freak. I’ll now try to explain why that matters.

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Last night, I noticed something funny. Facebook was doing its usual aggregation thing (see the link above and/or read on and figure out what I mean), but something seemed a little off:

Here’s what I was looking at:

For some reason, Facebook thought it would be a good idea to put together a series of posts using Izzedine al Qassam Forces — that is to say, Hamas – as the organizing element, and even link to the organization’s fan page.

On the one hand, I appreciate that Facebook is hard at work cleaning up my Newsfeed. Don’t get me wrong: the ongoing conflict in the Middle East is obviously important and troubling, but related posts should be bunched together to make room for everything else.

On the other hand, careful inspection reveals that not a single person on my Newsfeed actually used the term ‘Izzedine al Qassam Forces’ — and a few articles classified beneath that heading didn’t even use the term ‘Hamas’ — so why is Facebook going out of its way to collect these posts under a term their authors probably don’t even recognize?

Before I pretend to answer anything, I’ll introduce one more data point:

To aggregate these — and other — posts, Facebook could have easily used ‘Israel’, ‘Israelis’, ‘Hamas’, ‘Gaza’, ‘Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’ etc. — instead, it settled on ‘Izzedine al Qassam Forces’ and ‘Palestinian People’.

I’ve been checking in periodically ever since I first noticed ‘Izzedine al Qassam Forces’ — Newsfeed is sticking with its terms of choice. And in case it occurred to you that they might have been randomly generated, I would remind you that nobody – but nobody – is actually writing about the ‘Izzedine al Qassam Forces’. Someone, somewhere made the decision that this term would appear on my Newsfeed, and ‘Hamas’ wouldn’t.

And so Facebook has successfully defined the conversation taking place on my Facebook wall.

According to my Newsfeed, what’s going on isn’t a war between Gaza and Israel, or the IDF and Hamas: it’s about the IQF. And it isn’t about two civilian populations caught between relentless missile attacks and targeted killings. It isn’t even about two civilian populations at all: it’s about the Palestinian People.

The terms are important. I don’t need to rehash the world of difference between “the rich” and “job creators,” or between the “Independent Payment Advisory Board” and “death panels.” And it’s the same story here.

When you make the debate about “Palestinian people” — and not “civilians” or “Israeli and Palestinian civilians” — you define the conflict by the suffering of one people. And when you make the debate about the “Izzedine al Qassam Forces” — for one, you use an innocuous term most readers don’t recognize as the military wing of Hamas — and for two, you present “Izzedine al Qassam Forces” as an independent actor, and not as part of an organization the United States considers a terrorist organization in its entirety, i.e. you’re giving the rest of Hamas a free pass.

The point is not that Facebook is anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian or pro-Israel or anti-Palestinian, though I have no doubt someone will walk away from this post with his conclusion of choice — or even that this is all silly and doesn’t really matter. For all I know, others have been fed a different set of terms by their own Newsfeed. But I would point out that — in defining the terms of debate — Facebook is asserting its ability to subtly shape that debate, and perhaps influence what people take away from a brief scroll through their Newsfeed… in case Mark Zuckerberg’s ability to control what makes it into your Newsfeed in the first place wasn’t scary enough.

You already know Verizon’s ads are bad – but now they’re bad in all new ways

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About a month ago, I got this fun request from a friend who shall not be named:

Can you write a blog post about the obnoxious new Verizon ads?

The request did not come out of nowhere — I’ve now written five separate posts complaining about how Verizon is just the worst. That said, five seemed like enough; I suggested he write the post himself.

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