The coming war on (social media) incitement

facebook-thumbs-downThis is a warning for this generation and the one to come: There is no more dangerous claim we face as a free people today than the hierarchical, authoritarian charge of incitement. This is such an important understanding to have as the postmodern era moves along, for those who sit in atop modernist pedestals do not want the status removed from their quo. And that’s putting it mildly.

The glorious freedom of the network is that the bottom of culture (you and me) can speak with each other, even “broadcast” to each other, absent the filters of modernity, which includes anybody “in charge.” Armed with this freedom, we are disrupting the old institutions, which have evolved from public service to service of the self. We all know it, but we live with it, because that’s the way it’s always been. But no more. Not only are we mad as hell and not wanting to take it anymore, but we can actually do something about it. This freedom, however, is dependent on us agreeing that we cannot permit censors of what information or knowledge flows along this “bottom,” and that’s why the word “incitement” is so dangerous.

I’m hearing and seeing this concept so often today – and especially during this summer of discontent – that it bears study and our consideration before we find ourselves censored and our freedoms diminished accordingly. To incite is to “encourage or stir up (violent or unlawful behavior).” Note the violent or unlawful aspect of the word, so the matter often is determined by whoever makes the laws that decide what constitutes unlawful behavior. Another definition is to “urge or persuade (someone) to act in a violent or unlawful way.” Again, the issue is the determination of the conduct’s lawfulness.

So incitement is the noun and means “the action of provoking unlawful behavior or urging someone to behave unlawfully.”

You’ve heard this word in the context of our politics this summer, the Black Lives Matter movement, the murders of police officers, terrorism, and I suppose soon, Pokemon Go. It flows nicely from the idea that everything is causal in our culture and usually the work of an organized group, someone or many someones we can attack. It’s a part of that wonderful American habit of blame, for after all, if we can find the blame, we can eliminate the threat, or so the thinking goes. It’s the underlying layer for much of our left-brain, beancounter-led, lawyer-sustained culture, and it’s going to be used as a way to silence people who disagree. That’s my promise. Sooner or later, you will see this come about.

But if you want a little insight to what lies ahead, you need to go inside my favorite source of human conflict in all the world, the Middle East and especially the fascinating study of human nature known as Zionism. The stage for this is the nation of Israel, and most readers know my biases here. I have Palestinian family in Amman Jordan, so my window on this world is different than most. Many of my friends think I’ve gone off the deep end, but I’ve merely done the study that’s available to anyone, so I clearly see things that others don’t.

So let’s look at Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme right wing government and its use of the word “incitement” to get a glimpse of what’s possibly ahead for all of us.

Incitement isn’t just a word in Israel; it’s a core fundamental of hasbara, the propaganda language that Israel uses in speaking to the west. Since ours is the pocketbook that supports Israel, you’ll notice that Netanyahu creates English language videos for distribution here that always continue the basic narrative of Zionism: that the people of the world have an unnatural hatred of all Jews, that Israel was formed as a response to the Holocaust with its 6-million tortured and murdered Jews, that Israel must be supported because we can’t allow this to happen again, and that the need is great, because Israel’s neighbors are among the biggest hate groups in the world.

To this end, an important part of hasbara is the crackdown against those who “incite” violent acts against the Jews of Israel, and this means (mostly) the Palestinians. In December of last year, the Israeli Foreign Ministry created a ten-person bureau to monitor YouTube for videos that might incite actions against Israelis. Here’s how it was described in the Israeli newspaper Arutz Sheva:

The bureau will concentrate on three main issues: The first is finding videos containing inflammatory content and subsequently filing an official request to have the social media sites take down these clips.

The second measure will be the development of an application which will identify keywords such as “knife” and “Jews” in Arabic or other languages, enabling the ministry to track the creators and poster of inciting content.

The third, and perhaps most important, is the actual intervention of staffers in discussions on social networks, where they will be tasked with distributing hasbara materials from the Foreign Ministry.

I haven’t heard if any of this censorship has actually happened, and I imagine it will be a closely-guarded “confidential” business arrangement. Now, the target is Facebook. After unsuccessfully pleading a case that Israel should be granted personhood within Facebook (because Facebook’s rules would then make statements against Israel a violation of its terms), last week, Israel went to court against Facebook. Facebook is its big target, because a great many Arab families use Facebook to connect with each other, and that means the dissemination of the Palestinian narrative, which Israel cannot allow to be too widespread.

This censorship action is different than what it’s doing with YouTube, but the target is the same: so-called “incitement.” Here are key graphs from a Mondoweiss article: Israelis take on Facebook ‘monster’ with claims it knowingly incites Palestinian attacks

…the dispute has gotten ugly. Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called Facebook a “monster” last week for not increasing its censorship. Now this disagreement between Israel and Facebook is headed to the courts.

Relatives of four Israeli-Americans and one American tourists killed in Israel and the occupied West Bank between 2014 and June 2016 are suing Facebook for $1 billion in damages, claiming the social media site promotes “terrorism” and “knowingly and intentionally assisted” in their deaths.

The suit was filed in New York federal court. The issue got more interesting this week as Facebook began hiring 13 people to staff its Tel Aviv office, including Jordana Cutler, currently Chief of Staff at the Israeli embassy in Washington DC, and a longtime adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu. She will be head of policy and communications at the new Facebook office. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where this is headed.

Netanyahu himself uses the incitement word every chance he gets when producing hasbara videos in the wake of news events that fit the message. The truth about Zionism’s ugly behavior in the name of what seems to be a righteous cause will one day become mainstream, although it’s hard to envision just how that will happen in the face of all these attempts to censor the bottom of culture from talking about it. At least half of the Facebook posts by my own family members are about the Palestinian conflict, so what’s to stop Facebook from censoring them? Nothing.

The results of this won’t be limited just to the Middle East, and that’s the real danger here, for once the snake’s head is inside the hole, the rest of it will follow. With violence in the streets of America today, efforts to clamp down on troublemakers are likely to include social media, and this is likely imminent.

A whole lot’s a stake here, friends. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you want to do something to guard against the censoring of the Internet, support Free Press. I do.

1968 just called, wants its mood back

Puppet masters are at work online

Puppet masters are at work online

As Donald Trump continues his effort to seize the law and order position in the wake of continuing violence on America’s streets (“Make America Safe Again”), the whole mood of the country is reminding me more and more of 1968. Prophecies of anarchy were the news back then, as the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King triggered violence in the streets. But the riots in Los Angeles and elsewhere were just a part of the overall scenario, which included Vietnam – with its Tet Offensive and My Lai massacre and campus protests. The sitting president, LBJ, decided not to run. Chicago police overreacted to demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Internationally, there was “Bloody Monday” in Paris, demonstrators were slaughtered in Mexico City, and the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia.

The end result was the election of Richard Nixon who ran on the position of ending the chaos by restoring law and order. Of course, he then went on to resign his presidency for maintaining a slush fund through which he financed illegal operations against his political enemies. So much for law and order.

Today feels very familiar to me and apparently others who lived through 1968. It’s an election year, and the news is filled with nastiness with each candidate proclaiming the other to be crooked or moronic. Violence in the streets has everybody panicked. Police are killing blacks. Police are being killed. Muslims are under attack. Terror is winning the war for the minds of free people, and mostly, there’s a sense that a rigged political and financial system is public enemy number one. “What’s the use?” is the overarching dark cloud that governs the hearts of Americans today.

The American dream, it turns out, is not wealth, but the appearance of wealth that can be obtained through debt. Television shows us that possessions equal happiness and that we can have them before we pay for them. Hard work and dedication means allegiance to the rigged system, for “the rich man writes the book of laws that the poor man must defend.”

But 2016 isn’t 1968, and while the similarities may be striking, there’s something at work today that wasn’t even imaginable back then. I’m talking about The Great Horizontal and the disruption of culture by the advent of the digital network. Culture’s bottom – you and me – are connected and can communicate without going through one of the information filters of top-to-bottom communications. This makes the situation in real life both worse and better, but regardless, it’s here to stay. Of course, the day could come when “the authorities” decide it’s just too dangerous for them, and they’ll move to disconnect us in the name of our own safety. They will somehow shift the blame to “incitement,” which is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s favorite weapon against those who would dare to lift a finger against his expansionist efforts. If it can happen there, it can happen here.

You see, people have always known the system was rigged, but postmodernism and its practices allows people now to better understand the hows of the rigged system, and they’re angry over it. We’re all angry about it – some of it is pretty absurd – and we’re demanding change. Most importantly, we have the power today to do something about it long after the noise of 2016 is over. When I wrote “The Evolving User Paradigm,” I was looking through this lens. The network will never stand still and not just because technology keeps evolving. We’re evolving with it, as more and more people learn how to use it.

Freud’s theories, which ultimately led to the manipulation of the people through the industries of public relations and professional journalism, are at the bottom of much of our angst, and this can only be overcome through knowledge. The problem is that those who benefit from this knowledge are the last people to ever teach us, which is why fact-checking is such an important industry for tomorrow. I used to ask why Snopes became the authority on this until I began to realize that media companies want nothing to do with the business of separating fact from fiction. Driven by the human need to climb the cultural ladder, journalists today rub elbows with those they cover and, whether consciously or not, participate with those who have much to lose by disturbing the status quo. This is why I continue to proclaim that straightening the crooked path is the duty of everyone who participates in bottom to bottom communications.

Instead, we’re using the bottom to bottom path to pass along the rantings of those who still exploit the emotions of everyday people to meet their special interests. The production of outrageous Facebook and Twitter memes that are purely propaganda are a throwback to the methods of Edward Bernays and those who learned from him how to manage public opinion with whatever tool they could find. We’re taking messages from the top and passing them along the bottom, so nothing has really changed just yet, although the evolving user paradigm suggests hope for the future. Only the people can stop this, but it’s going to take the knowledge of being duped by special interests, including religion, which is a very, very big task.

To my friends who regularly place outrageous, false, and nasty memes in front of me, regardless of political position, please think about what you’re doing. You are being used, no matter how strongly you feel, for it is those feelings that are being tapped to manipulate you and everyone in your path. You’re angry, and we all get that, but you are also very much a part of a very old problem.

BONUS LINK: Tom Brokaw’s 1968 (YouTube)

Twitter’s personal branding value

A note to TV stations (and employees) everywhere…

Buried in the story of Twitter’s deal with the NFL is a VERY important message for local stations (networks, too): a name super that includes a Twitter address has REAL value.

Adding to the irritation is that the NFL restricts how the networks can use Twitter on telecasts. Late last season, the league told networks that they could not feature Twitter’s bird symbol to promote players or announcer Twitter handles during games. The league reasoned that promoting tweets was an in-game sponsorship that is not allowed, sources said.

This will benefit broadcasters during negotiations with talent in an all independent contractor world. People who live in your communities – heck, businesses, too – would die for the exposure reporters and anchors get for their Twitter handles and Facebook pages.

Scrambling in Boston: Welcome to the 21st Century

I’ve been struck by many things in observing the professional observers deal with the amateurs in the new world of networked journalism today in Boston. I’ve got to say that none of this surprises me, neither the positive — next door neighbors live-tweeting events — nor the negative — bad information virtually everywhere.

The always astute Dave Winer tweeted this a little while ago:


As I first wrote long ago, we’ve entered the age of postmodernism, the working infrastructure and hierarchies of which are still be woven in the womb of time.

Premodernism: “I believe, therefore I understand.”

Modernism: “I think, therefore I understand.”

Postmodernism: “I participate, therefore I understand.”

I couldn’t have said it better than Dave. And here’s the thing we all have to understand. Those people who wish — no, must — participate or involve themselves, really aren’t as dumb as the curmudgeons would have us or themselves believe. Newsgathering has never been neat or precise. It’s chaotic, but there is a sense of order to it, as journalists execute their search for truth. Think of casting an enormous net around information and cinching it tighter and tighter, as we get closer to our goal. In my 28-year career in news management, I witnessed some real whoppers of mistakes that never made it to air, because we had the luxury of a downstream production deadline. In a crisis, Twitter becomes a listening post for media instead of a broadcast tool, and listening is a new skill that media must acquire.

Some of the stuff that the pros deem violations of the sacred canons when dealing with networked news gathering may, in fact, be necessary evils of the new world. While we sort all that out, it would be incredibly useful (and refreshing) if we stopped taking for granted what’s become the new eyes and ears of information gathering just because they don’t play by the rules that govern the behavior of the few.

As Dave said, “People want to be involved.” Like it or not, they already are.

Social Media’s Antisocial Behavior

Here is the latest in my ongoing series of essays, Local Media in a Postmodern World.

Social Media’s Antisocial Behavior

My old friend David Johnson calls advertising on Facebook “antisocial,” and I have to agree with him. It’s part of a much bigger argument about the nature of advertising in general on the Web, but for social media companies, it’s even more acute, because, well, they’re supposed to be “social.” Most advertising assumes a mass audience, as if presenting from a stage. However, advertising in a social environment is more like being at a party, and it’s very tricky, because nobody’s there to see a show. On the other hand, Facebook is experimenting with forms of content that are really ads, and I think this has great downstream possibilities for all media online. One thing is certain, changes in online advertising are accelerating, and we all need to be aware.

“Come on in,” said the spider to the fly

Broadcasters don't seem to realize their getting hosedMedia companies have no choice but to leap into the queue for Twitter’s new “expanded tweets” application, but I want to add my voice to those who suggest that this might be ultimately a well-placed shot in the foot for content originators. Sure, we may be able to better attract eyeballs to our content to encourage those click-throughs, but it’s also arming Twitter with a clever way to build its own media empire at our expense.

Of greatest concern to me is the definition of the term “media company,” for that applies to everyone today, including the people formerly known as the advertisers. Twitter and all of social media provides a way for the people with the money to by-pass traditional filters, such as legacy media companies. Don’t ever forget this when reading the new media tea leaves.

Mathew Ingram of GigaOm has nailed another issue for local media companies that use  new media opportunities to extend their brands: that they’re being drawn into a clever trap that they seemingly can’t avoid.

…there comes a point where a partner can start to look like a competitor if you tilt your head the right way, and I would argue that Twitter is nearing that point. Facebook is also a partner for media companies who use it to host their comments, or have brand pages there, or rely on the social network to promote their work through “frictionless sharing” apps. But at times it can seem as much like competition — particularly for users’ attention — as it does a partner.

That’s part of what I think blogging pioneer Dave Winer means when he warns that media companies should not see Twitter as their friend. To the extent that Twitter is offering news consumers of all kinds access to the information they want — regardless of whether that information consists of “user-generated content” or links to other media outlets — it is a competitor. And to the extent that it can offer better curation or aggregation or filtering or targeting of that content, it will win.

At some point, we simply have to realize that the Web isn’t about mass media and that there are a staggering number of mostly Silicon Valley web entities out there that hope we never figure it out.