Category Archives: Should we worry about?

11Feb/17

Should We Worry About…Fake News?

“Fake News”…the social media phenomenon of 2017. But what exactly is classed as fake news? How do you spot it? And should we be worried about it?

Fake news websites (also known as hoax news) deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news – often using social media pages and accounts to drive web traffic and amplify their effect. The vast majority of these websites are monetized by ads, usually Adsense and other methods (usually by using an accompanying video which is itself monetized on Youtube)

It is important to distinguish between actual fake news sites and  news satire sites,such as the Rochdale Herald, Newsthump etc.

News satire sites, whilst walking a thin line between comedy and fake news, are the polar opposite of a fake news website.

Fake news websites seek to mislead, rather than entertain, readers for financial (not to say that satire sites are not monetized as well), political, or other gain.  Such is the perceived threat from these sites that world leaders have felt the need to pronounce about them.

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday against the power of fake news on social media to spur the rise of populists, after launching her campaign for a fourth term.”
Read More Here:

In the UK Labour MP Michael Dugher was assigned by the Labour Party Deputy Leader Thomas Watson in November 2016 to investigate the impact of fake news spread through social media.   Watson said they would work with Twitter and Facebook to root out clear-cut circumstances of “downright lies”. in an article for the Independent Watson  suggested methods to respond to fake news. Conservative MP, and Minister for Culture Matthew Hancock, stated the British government would investigate the impact of fake news and its pervasiveness on social media websites.

Pressure from the UK, the EU, the USA and other Governments has led to social media giants, Google, Twitter and Facebook promising to tackle fake news on its platforms. Google first updated its policy saying that the company will try to ban sites that “misrepresent, misstate (sic), or conceal information.” Websites who don’t comply with this rule will get banned from using Google AdSense.  Facebook, has also updated its policy to rule out fake news sites from using Facebook Audience Network. More:

German politicians want to go a step further than this, Thomas Oppermann, who leads the SPD in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, Speaking with “Der Spiegel” magazine, Oppermann said that harsh punitive measures were necessary in order to make social networks

Thomas Oppermann SPD (picture-alliance/dpa/A.Jensen)
shoulder their share of the burden. He suggested a fine of 500,000 euros ($522,000) if websites such as Facebook didn’t remove harmful material within one day of being notified of it.
So, Governments and social media sites are making moves to prevent fake news, but just how worried should we be about it? And what effect does it have in the real world? 
Fake news can start of innocently enough, a post on Twitter or Facebook. But occasionally these posts can go viral. The New York Time’s noted this particular incident last November (2016). 

A simple enough post. Man spots buses lined up and jumps to the conclusion that it was Hilary supporters being ferried in to demonstrate against Trump during the election. The post was by a certain Eric Tucker, and this seemingly innocent mistake fuelled a worldwide conspiracy theory — one that Trump gleefully joined in promoting.

The post was quickly picked up by fake news sites.

All of this seems harmless enough, except that even though it was thoroughly debunked, a great many people still believe it to be true. 
This is just example of how fake news can accidentally be created. But what happens when fake news is specifically created for more sinister purposes?  To try to influence an election? Promote extremist views? vilify an entire race/religion? 
People familiar with the hate group Britain First on Facebook will know that it is mostly known for its spread of repackaged viral memes online and spinning stolen news articles for its own advantage. Many people forwarding these memes are unaware of the origins of these posts, and thus misinformation and disinformation are spread abound.  What is concerning is that, most people who read the fabricated stories on Facebook — such as the widely-circulated hoax meme that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump — actually believed them.
And now we come to Mr James Dowson, head Coconut Tapper at Knights Templar International.
Jim Dowson, described by The Times as an “inveterate agitator” and “the invisible man of Britain’s far right”.  Dowson himself advocated Britain’s exit from the EU and has expresses admiration for the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Dowson has made it his mission, according to messages posted on one of his sites, to
spread devastating anti-Clinton, pro-Trump memes and sound bites into sections of the population too disillusioned with politics to have taken any notice of conventional campaigning,” in the same way that Dowson “made deft use of social media … to promote [his] work and convey an impression of mass following”, according to the New York Times.
Thankfully, it seems that Dowson’s fake new sites have been closed down (but not the mouthpiece of Nick Griffin KTI page). But this is a man who advocates a war against Islam, has links to Russia,  the Syrian regime and neo-Nazi paramilitaries throughout Europe (and further).

Even during the 2015 conservative (read Nazi) forum in Russia,  Dowson stated:

“We have the ability to take a video from today and put it in half of every single household in the United States of America, where these people can for the first time learn the truth, because their own media tell lies, they tell lies about Russia,” Mr. Dowson said then.

“We have to use popular culture to reach into the living rooms of the youth of America, of Britain, France, Germany, and bring them in,” he said. “Then we can get them the message.” Video

 

Dowson and his Knights Templar use of fake even prompted an investigation by Channel 4 News for its Fake News Week series 10/02/2017.

Obviously, it is impossible to tell just how much fake news influenced the US election and helped to put the Tangerine Toddler into the most powerful office in the world. But it is potential links to fake news sites and Putin that are the most concerning.

Some analysts see the hallmarks of Russian interests and far-right agitators in Europe and the United States.  Alina Polyakova, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan international affairs institute in Washington believes that fake news.

“Messages seep into the mainstream, they may have been extreme or fringe at one point in time, but they have been incredibly influential in shaping people’s views about key geopolitical events in a very specific direction.”

 “Moscow specifically encourages and facilitates the spreading of propaganda through proxies”

 

Even the term Fake News has begun to be abused. Comment after comment on social media news articles from MSM sites states “FAKE NEWS!!!!”; in todays Post Truth world it seems that fake news is believed by many people to be anything they disagree with.

The President of the United States is at it:

That was a fake Tweet Mr President….

Should we be worried about fake news? It is too soon to tell really. What is worrying is the the ability of people with sinister motives, backed by money (and possibly by foreign powers) being able to shape the public conscience.

And never forget…

¡No Pasarán!

 

24Jan/17

Should We Be Worried About…Hard Brexit?

Brexit, it’s everywhere; Brexit means Brexit, Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit, Red White and Blue Brexit. On January 17th Theresa May acknowledged that leaving the EU would involve, as she called it, “trade-offs”, and indicated some of the choices she would make. She will pursue a Hard Brexit  and her Gov’t will be taking the United Kingdom out of the Single Market and the European Courts (remember her history as Home Secretary?).

So Hard Brexit it is (or as it has been re-branded, Clean Brexit).

But should we be worried about a Hard Brexit?

No-one has much of a clue what the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU might look like. For a UK negotiation to be successful, it needs willing and constructive co-operation on both sides.  But, as we have seen from the rhetoric coming out from other EU leaders; Boris Johnson and May seemingly intent on upsetting and insulting the EU, this does not seem likely.  The primary intention of the EU in the negotiation process is unlikely to be benign for the UK, as it will seek to make sure that the UK does not get a better deal outside the EU than as a full member, in order to deter other states from exiting.  The EU will accept the short term negative impact of decreased trade with Britain in exchange for the long term benefit of continuing to exist as the EU.  Another factor that clouds the negotiations are two critical elections, one in France (where the far right Front National are making gains) and in Germany. Both Merkel and Hollande have consistently offered a hardline toward the UK over Brexit. 

But one thing is certain, it will affect Sterling. As everyone who has been following the Brexit debacle knows, immediately upon the announcement of the referendum result last June, Sterling nose-dived.

And has since barely recovered.

And Sterling continued to take hits EVERY TIME May or the Brexiteers hinted at a Hard Brexit.

Opinion is divided amongst economists as to whether Sterling will experience another Flash Crash on the triggering of Article 50. Some believe that the Pound will fall further until it reaches parity with the Dollar, whilst others believe that Sterling is now undervalued and will recover (but not to pre-referendum levels). It should be noted that, after May confirmed the type of Brexit the UK would undertake, Sterling improved (aided mainly by inflation and the weak Dollar).

TIMELINE OF STERLING POST BREXIT

1. June 24: Sterling collapses more than 12 per cent to a 30-year low after Leave win confirmed.

2. August 4: Bank of England launches QE programme to prop up the economy and cuts the interest rate further.

3. October 6: “Flash crash” — pound collapses to $1.14 in the space of a few minutes.

4. November 3: High Court’s Article 50 ruling against government boosts the pound.

5. January 9: Pound fluctuates again as May confirms Hard Brexit.

British citizens have not yet felt the full impact of a devalued currency – unlike British pensioners living in other EU countries like France and Spain that felt it in their pockets the very next day after the referendum. But this is set to change. 

The first inflation statistics after the ref result, from the Office for National Statistics back in September showed the annual inflation rate rising from 0.6% to 1%, its highest for almost two years. The ONS said, at that time, that the cost of living had yet to be much affected by the drop in the value of the pound seen since the EU referendum, but the Bank of England, the International Monetary Fund and City economists believe that inflation will rise above the government’s 2% target in early 2017 and will reach at least 3% by the end of the year.

And experts are expecting more depressing news in January 2017:

“Inflation is expected to have finally reached the Reserve Bank’s 1% to 3% target band when official figures are released on Thursday.” More

The fact that inflation, so far, has not risen to the same levels as the devaluation of Sterling (inflation always follows a currency devaluation) can be attributed to a number of reasons. Businesses always try to keep short-term currency fluctuations away from the consumer, by buying in bulk, at a fixed exchange rate etc. But these measures are running out, hence the expected inflation rise. Other factors involved was the price war between the major supermarkets and the same with petrol station forecourts, but again these are coming to an end (The price of Crude has already increased, and we buy Crude in Dollars and this will, as always conflate the inflation). 

Obviously, any inflation will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.  And this in a country that has seen the worse fall in living standards in more than a century. 

Typical working households were £345 a year worse off than before the economic crisis, according to the ONS in 2016 – the same as the previous year. Middle-income working-age households saw their incomes grow by just 1% last year. Pensioner households were £656 better off after a 3.1% rise in median incomes, from £21,114 to £21,770. More

Also, more than 2.3 million families are living in fuel poverty in England – the equivalent of 10% of households, according to government statistics. And again this situation will only get worse when the inflation really starts to kick in. And all this comes at a cost to Government finances.

And Brexit is happening at a time when the working poor and people on benefits are having to resort to using Food Banks at record levels.

One of the cruelest ironies with Brexit is that the 2 demographics that voted for it in the highest numbers, the elderly and the poorly educated, are most likely to suffer the most from it.

It is pretty much a certainty that the Pound will take another hit on the triggering of Article 50. The one thing that is certain from any type of Brexit is that inflation will increase, on a Hard Brexit even more so than a Soft. And if we have to resort to World Trade Organisation rules, that will mean tariffs, and again that will conflate an already bad situation for millions in the UK.

The Economy

So far, since the referendum result, the UK economy has defied expectations and remained relatively strong – much to the delight of Brexiteers and the believers of the ‘Project Fear’ rhetoric from the Leave camp.

Indeed, official figures have shown the economy was outstripped only by the US among the large economies last year after growth in the third quarter was upgraded to 0.6%.  Another surprising result was that consumer spending actually increased after the referendum result.

But behind these figures lies a disturbing reality. Even though UK incomes have been stagnant, consumer credit grew at an annual rate of 10.8 per cent in November, according to Bank of England figures, the highest growth rate since 2005. In short, this consumer boom has been built on an unsustainable level of credit. 

Twice before, and both times under Tory governments we have seen this – the Barber Boom of the early 1970s and the Lawson Boom of the late 1980s and BOTH times the economy became overstimulated, creating a bubble which then burst.  And both times led to economic chaos. Although there are signs that this consumer boom is already slowing, sales in December 2016 were actually down from the previous year as the inflation starts to hit people’s pockets. This may prevent a credit bubble burst, but as the UK’s economic growth has been led by spending, it will impact growth further. 

Another reason put forward for the higher than expected growth after the ref has been that the collapse in the value of Sterling has helped exports. This is true, exports have increased…except the Trade Deficit has not reduced, in fact it actually increased. 

The gap between the UK’s imports and exports hit £4.7bn in August, up from £2.2bn in July, the ONS reported in its second monthly trade bulletin since the Brexit vote. The deficit with the EU grew by more than £1bn to £8.4bn. UK manufacturers have reported a rise in both domestic and overseas demand, but imports are now more expensive as sterling depreciates more. The ONS stated there was “only limited evidence so far” that the fall in the pound’s value had led to a “marked increase in UK exports”.

One of the reasons for the poor export increase is due to the fact that the UK’s economy is not diverse enough. The UK does sell more services abroad than are imported – but this is not enough to counter the bigger deficit in the value of the goods sold abroad, compared with the value of the goods imported.

 Jobs

There have already been job losses associated with Brexit. Hewden: The machinery rental business went into administration blaming the Brexit vote for poor trading. Rivington Biscuits, the maker of Pink Panther wafers, has gone into administration, blaming the fall in the value of the pound following the Brexit vote. And more, with more businesses expected to fail over the coming months and years.

By far the two industries most at risk from Brexit are the Financial/Banking industries and the UK Car Manufacturing industries. Indeed, Ford have already threatened that they may have to close plants in the UK. And Nissan, after stating that they will build the Qashqai model at their Sunderland plant even with the ref result have now decided, during the 2017 Davos meeting that they will have to reconsider the plants viability after a Hard Brexit.  The cold irony of this is that both these companies are located in towns (Sunderland, Dagenham, Bridgend) that actually voted to Leave. The car industries face a double whammy from a Hard Brexit, one with the Tariffs on completed vehicles, and another to the supply chain for the parts needed to actually make the cars. The numbers employed in these industries are in the thousands.

The UK financial industries are also set to cause unemployment. During the Davos meeting in January 2017 the UBS Chairman Axel Weber said that about 1,000 of the Swiss bank’s 5,000 employees in London could be affected by Brexit, while HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver said his bank will relocate staff responsible for generating around a fifth of its UK-based trading revenue to Paris. Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper also reported that Goldman Sachs is considering halving its London workforce to 3,000 and moving key operations to New York and continental Europe, particularly Frankfurt, where it could move up to 1,000 staff. More.  This will be a massive hit, not only to the thousands employed by the banks, but also to the UK’s Tax receipts, 12% of the total comes from the City.

Three MILLION jobs in Britain depend on trade with the EU, with many economists reckoning that the true figure is actually higher. Obviously not all the the jobs will be lost, trade will continue after Brexit, But more job losses are inevitable, more so on a Hard Brexit.

Brexit And Rights

One of the reasons Theresa May has used for her stance on a Hard Brexit is for the UK to leave the jurisdiction of the EU Courts. For many years the UK tabloids have been filled with lurid stories of foreign criminals being allowed to remain in the UK due to ECHR judgements. Take this screaming headline from the Sun for example:

“Britain has lost more than 200 cases in the European Court of Human Rights, at
a cost of £4.4million to taxpayers. Strasbourg judges have ruled in favour of — and awarded compensation to — murderers, terrorists, paedophiles and rapists.”

But these stories, gleefully leaped upon by the gutter press are the minority, the EU Courts have actually protected UK citizens on many. many occasions. When we leave the EU Courts, no UK citizen will have recourse there. Here are 11 times the ECHR changed the UK for the better.  And most recently, May’s flagship ‘Snoopers Charter’ legislation was deemed illegal due to EU Human Rights legislation.

And it is not only legal rights that have been protected, embedded in EU Legislation are rights that govern employment, health and safety, privacy, the list goes on and on. We risk losing all these protections on a Hard Brexit. Especially as the current UK chancellor of the Exchequer has threatened to turn the UK into a low rights tax haven on a Hard Brexit. 

 

Should we be worried about a Hard Brexit? Damn right we should be worried, the potential (inevitable) economic chaos will only serve to make the majority poorer. Job losses are a given, our Public Services are under threat, our Rights are threatened, our standing in the world threatened, our security threatened. Putin is lurking in the shadows, rubbing his hands in glee at Brexit. President Trump’s rhetoric is becoming more and more isolationist. The EU is hardening its stance toward the UK. Of  course, this is not an exhaustive list of the potential dangers of a Hard Brexit, and no one actually knows what will happen when Article 50 is triggered in March. It is certain that the current Govt have no mandate for a Hard Brexit, no mandate to put the UK at such a great risk.  The referendum was advisory only and if the polls are to be believed, a great many Brexit voters now regret their vote. The referendum was Cameron’s attempt at finally ending the internecine Conservative Party civil war over the EU – it blew up in his face badly.  The Leave campaign was defined by its lies and reliance on people’s emotions rather than the facts, people were sold a lie.

And remember the rise in Hate Crimes after the referendum? Imagine what could happen on a Hard Brexit and everyone suffers for it.


When Brexit does not deliver what so many Brexiteers think it will deliver, who will they turn against next?

 

 

 

 

 

09Jan/17

Should we be worried about…Trumps Tweets?

Trump first joined Twitter back in 2009, and almost immediately people started to notice just how bizarre his Tweeting habits were. It was as if he had hooked up his internal monologue to his Twitter account and just let it loose. His Tweets range in content from the…

Deranged

:

Paranoid:

It was a pen, in case you were wondering

Conspiracies:

Personal Attacks:

 

And self aggrandisement:

For several years, none of this really mattered. Back when he was just a C List celeb it was seen by most as a bit of a joke…but this man will soon be POTUS, Leader of the Free World. Surely, many followers thought, not even Trump would do something so ‘unpresidented’ as to continue with these tirades when he became President Elect?

Of course we all now know that post election it was business as usual for Trump on Twitter. But should we be worried about Trumps Tweets?

Even before winning the US election, Trump was already a powerful figure, whose Tweets could and have affected people’s lives. Take the case of Lauren Batchelder, whose crime was to have the audacity to accuse trump of not respecting women.

Of course, the Tangerine Toddler would not just let that lie, off to Twitter he went to have a public tantrum and attack a private US citizen.

Then the backlash against Lauren Batchelder began. As the Washington Post noted:

“Her phone began ringing with callers leaving threatening messages that were often sexual in nature. Her Facebook and email inboxes filled with similar messages. As her addresses circulated on social media and her photo flashed on the news, she fled home to hide.

“I didn’t really know what anyone was going to do,” said Batchelder, now 19, who has never discussed her experience with a reporter until now. “He was only going to tweet about it and that was it, but I didn’t really know what his supporters were going to do, and that to me was the scariest part.”

Even a year later for Batchelder,  “the abuse continues. Five days before the election, she received a Facebook message that read: “Wishing I could f—ing punch you in the face. I’d then proceed to stomp your head on the curb and urinate in your bloodied mouth and i know where you live, so watch your f—ing back punk.””

Trump supporters on Twitter can be pretty terrifying: take, for example, these Tweets made during Meryl Streep’s marvelous take-down of Trump at the Golden Globe Awards:

What a nice man. Luckily for Streep she can afford protection. Others are not so lucky.

Today, Trump has more than 17 million followers on Twitter.  The fact that even when just a candidate and TV personality, he deemed it acceptable to attack a young woman who criticised him is bad enough, but what effects are Trumps’s Tweets having in the wider real world, now that he has become the President Elect?

Trump watchers will probably remember that time he Tweeted about General Motors.

This single Tweet caused Shares in General Motors Co to fall 0.7%

And he did it again with Toyota:

Once again this had an immediate effect. Shares in Toyota fell about 0.4%. All this is shows a potential conflict of interest for businessman Trump. With one Tweet he can manipulate the markets, damage rivals and harm business reputations.

Then there is the delicate world International Relations, surely even the Umpa Lumpa Elect would not be so irresponsible to harm them with a Tweet?

Trump had already caused a diplomatic firestorm by breaking protocol with a telephone call to Taiwan’s leader. This actually led to China’s foreign ministry lodging a complaint with the United States. What is even more disturbing is that, according to people close to Trump, he had been planning to make the call all along, in full knowledge of the potential for a diplomatic backlash from China.

And then, weeks later, he turned to his favorite social media platform, again:

Original Tweet actually said “Unpresidented’ much to the hilarity of the Twitterverse

The Trump decided to Tweet this, even though the US military had already announced  it had reached an understanding with China for the return of the underwater glider. But Trump had to make it seem that he had a hand in this with a follow up Tweet.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook confirmed that “through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States,” according to USA Today.

But the Chinese Defence Ministry lamented the “inappropriate” choice in the US to “dramatise the issue”. A situation worsened by the Tweets.

Then there are the barbs he keeps firing at Mexico about the ‘Wall’:

 

Tweets that have angered both the President and an Ex-President of Mexico.

This is pretty awful, undiplomatic stuff from a man who will soon become the most powerful in the world. But it becomes even more frightening when you consider, as with his call to Taiwan, that they may not be just random and ill-thought out, but deliberately planned to provoke a reaction. And, or course, it is just a coincidence that China and Mexico are two of the biggest exporters to the USA.

We mustn’t ignore his attacks upon any media that displeases the self-appointed God Emperor:

In today’s post truth world, where the truth is deemed fake news and fake news seen as the truth, these Tweets only serve to further muddy the waters. The influence that Trump has; the ability to shape the conscience of his followers; is truly frightening. Never forget that Control of the Media is one of the 14 Points of Fascism.

Should we be worried about Trumps Tweets? We would say a resounding yes. His influence on social media is astounding. The fact is, his Tweets have very real and lasting real world effects that will only become more enhanced when he finally is sworn in as the next President of the United States. He is surrounded by advisers, and yet still appears to post personally and without consideration. Is this how he will attempt to manage his Presidency?

Are Trumps Tweets really as random as they seem, or could they be coldly calculated to cause as much disruption and distraction as possible, all the while feeding Trumps immense ego?

Do Trumps Tweets show a deeper, psychological problem? Who knows? But we ARE worried.

He could, of course just be trolling the world. Now that would be impressive!

¡No Pasarán!