Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson doesn’t hide his religion or his belief in the primacy of his Christian beliefs. Quite the contrary. Here’s what he told Sean Hannity Thursday on Fox News: “Someone asked me today in the media, ‘People are curious, what does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?’ I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview. That’s what I believe.’”
This came the day after he used his precious first remarks as speaker to tell the House and the country that he believes God has ordained him. “I believe that Scripture, the Bible, is very clear: that God is the one who raises up those in authority…I believe that God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here for this specific moment in this time.’”
(He also introduced his “dedicated wife of 25 years” to the nation—and her absence at his acceptance speech—like this: “She’s spent the last couple of weeks on her knees in prayer to the Lord. And, um, she’s a little worn out.”)
Surely, then, when asked about the mass shooting in Maine, this would be a chance for him to speak out against the most sacred commandment—Thou shalt not kill—and use his new divinely ordained power to speak to the need to address the availability of weapons that make murder possible on a quick and massive scale. Right? Nope.
“The problem is the human heart,” he told Hannity. “It’s not guns. It’s not the weapons. At the end of the day we have to protect the right of the citizens to protect themselves and that’s the Second Amendment…This is not the time to talk about legislation.”
Mike Johnson is now second in line to the presidency.
We are aware that atrocious, inhumane events are happening both at home and abroad. Because of this, though celebration may seem superficial, it is crucial to recognize that our efforts are leading to the change we seek. While we work for justice, let us also pause to acknowledge the considerable good that pervades our goals and communities.
X, formerly known as Twitter, has, under the ownership of Elon Musk, dismantled its content-moderation staff, throttled the reach of news publications, and allowed any user to buy blue-check verification, turning what was once considered a badge of trustworthiness on the platform into a signal of support for Musk’s regime. Meta’s Facebook has minimized the number of news articles in users’ feeds, following years of controversy over the company’s role in spreading misinformation. And TikTok, under increased scrutiny in the United States for its parent company’s relationship with the Chinese government, is distancing itself from news content. A little over a decade ago, social media was heralded as a tool of transparency on a global scale for its ability to distribute on-the-ground documentation during the uprisings that became known as the Arab Spring. Now the same platforms appear to be making conflicts hazier rather than clearer. In the days since Hamas’s attacks, we’ve seen with fresh urgency the perils of relying on our feeds for news updates.
An “algorithmically driven fog of war” is how one journalist described the deluge of disinformation and mislabelled footage on X. Videos from a paragliding accident in South Korea in June of this year, the Syrian civil war in 2014, and a combat video game called Arma 3 have all been falsely labeled as scenes from Israel or Gaza. (Inquiries I sent to X were met with an e-mail reading, “Busy now, please check back later.”) On October 8th, Musk posted a tweet recommending two accounts to follow for information on the conflict, @WarMonitors and @sentdefender, neither of which is a formal media company, but both are paid X subscribers. Later that day, after users pointed out that both accounts regularly post falsities, Musk deleted the recommendation. Where Twitter was once one of the better-moderated digital platforms, X is most trustworthy as a source for finding out what its owner wants you to see.
Facebook used to aggregate content in a “News Feed” and pay media companies to publish stories on its platform. But after years of complicity in disseminating Trumpian lies—about the 2016 election, the COVID pandemic, and the January 6th riots—the company has performed an about-face. Whether because of negative public opinion or because of the threat of regulation, it’s clear that promoting news is no longer the goal of any of Meta’s social media. In recent days, my Facebook feed has been overrun with the same spammy entertainment-industry memes that have proliferated on the platform, as if nothing noteworthy were happening in the world beyond. On Instagram, some pro-Palestine users complained of being “shadowbanned”—seemingly cut off without warning from algorithmic promotion—and shared tips for getting around it. (Meta attributed the problem to a “bug.”)
Our feeds continue to create a feeling of transparency and granularity, while providing fewer of the signposts that we need to chart a clear path through the thicket of content. What remains, perhaps aptly, is an atmosphere of chaos and uncertainty as war unfolds daily on our screens.
In July, Meta launched its newest social network, Threads, in an attempt to draw users away from Musk’s embattled X. But, unlike X, Threads has shied away from serving as a real-time news aggregator. Last week, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram and overseer of Threads, announced that the platform was “not going to get in the way of” news content but was “not going go [sic] to amplify” it, either. He continued, “To do so would be too risky given the maturity of the platform, the downsides of over-promising, and the stakes.” I’ve found Threads more useful than X as a source for news about the Israel-Hamas war. The mood is calmer and more deliberate, and my feed tends to highlight posts that have already drawn engagement from authoritative voices. But I’ve also seen plenty of journalists on Threads griping that they were getting too many algorithmic recommendations and insufficient real-time posts. Users of Threads now have the option to switch to a chronologically organized feed. But on the default setting that most people use, there is no guarantee that the platform is showing you the latest information at any given time.
Here at CounterPoint, we sort through the 24/7 fire hose of news to try to bring attention to under-heard voices of reason. We’ll continue to do that, but it’s just as important to celebrate good news whenever we can. We’re so grateful to activist Jennifer Hofmann and her Americans of Conscience volunteers for their dedication to turning bad news into positive action.
Here’s a recent sample:
People from South Sudan and Cameroon living in the U.S. can remain without threat of deportation for an additional 18 months.
The U.S. government is not allowed to separate families entering the country under so-called “zero tolerance” policies, and families separated under the previous administration can apply for parole, work permits, and a special asylum process.
In an effort to acknowledge historical harm, researchers investigate the forced assimilation of Indigenous children in present-day Colorado.
Jordan is not an outlier in the House GOP cosmos. His pugilistic advocacy of phony Trump narratives—the 2020 election was rigged; there was no Russian attack on the 2016 election; Trump did nothing wrong when he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to dig up dirt on Joe Biden; the current prosecutions of Trump are Deep State plots—is in sync with the positions expressed by most House Republicans. Yet in one area, Jordan has distinguished himself: He was one of the small number of House GOP members who actively schemed with Trump to overturn the results of the last presidential election.
On January 6—a day of violent chaos and insurrection—Jordan spoke with Trump by phone at least twice. As the committee noted, Jordan “has provided inconsistent public statements about how many times they spoke and what they discussed.” That day Jordan also received five calls from Giuliani, and the two connected at least twice in the evening, as Giuliani was attempting to encourage members of Congress to continue objecting to Biden’s electoral votes. In the days after January 6, Jordan spoke with Trump White House staff about the prospect of presidential pardons for members of Congress.
Days after the November election, he spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally in front of the Pennsylvania state Capitol. He spread election conspiracy theories within right-wing media. He endorsed Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell’s bogus claims that Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic had robbed Trump of electoral victory. He called for a congressional investigation of electoral fraud for which there was no evidence and demanded a special counsel be appointed. He endorsed state legislatures canceling vote tallies and selecting their own presidential electors. He urged Trump not to concede. He demanded Congress not certify Joe Biden’s victory in the ceremony scheduled for January 6, 2021.
When Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said to Trump that the Justice Department couldn’t “snap its fingers and change the outcome of the election,” Trump responded, “I don’t expect you to do that. Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.”
Many Republicans endorsed Trump’s Big Lie about the election. But Jordan was one of only a handful of congressional Republicans who actively conspired with Trump to overturn the election results. As he runs for House speaker, Republicans appear eager to ignore that. Yet by embracing Jordan, they tie themselves further to that attack on democracy and the Constitution.
Iris Mogul, a high school student who started a banned books club, is photographed with one of her favorite books during the “Walk for Freadom” kickoff event on Sunday, October 1, 2023, in Coral Gables, Florida. The march began at the Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ and ended at Books & Books. Carl Juste email@example.com
Since she was little, Iris Mogul has always loved reading.
When The 16-year-old junior at the Academy Academy for Advanced Academics in South Florida learned that her English teacher was considering not teaching a Toni Morrison book because of the state’s political environment, she decided to start a banned book club.
There were 300 books removed from Florida schools last year, according to a list released by the Florida Department of Education. Nationally, the American Library Association found that the number of books facing challenges for censorship is up 20 percent for the first eight months of this year compared to 2022. That includes more than 800 books in school districts across 37 states.
“It was kind of like a double whammy because it’s like an act of resistance… and it’s a way to start a book club and talk to people,” said Mogul, a student in a dual enrollment program at Florida International University. As part of Florida’s expanded “Parental Rights in Education” law, one parent or community member can object to instructional material or a school library book. The law, signed in May, requires the book or materials to be removed within five days of the objection and remain unavailable to students until the issue is resolved. More books were pulled from shelves in Florida public schools than in any other state last school year.
With everything that’s going on in the world right now, we really appreciate being able to share a bit of positive news…
When Sophie Zhang went public with explosive revelations detailing the political manipulation she’d uncovered during her time as a data scientist at Facebook, she supplied concrete evidence to support what critics had long been saying on the outside: that Facebook makes election interference easy, and that unless such activity hurts the company’s business interests, it can’t be bothered to fix the problem.
On her last day, hours after she posted her memo internally, Facebook deleted it (though they later restored an edited version after widespread employee anger). A few hours later, an HR person called her, asking her to also remove a password-protected copy she had posted on her personal website. She tried to bargain: she would do so if they restored the internal version. The next day, instead, she received a notice from her hosting server that it had taken down her entire website after a complaint from Facebook. A few days after that, it took down her domain as well.
It took Facebook’s leaders nine months to act on a coordinated campaign “that used thousands of inauthentic assets to boost President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras on a massive scale to mislead the Honduran people.” Two weeks after Facebook took action against the perpetrators in July, they returned, leading to a game of “whack-a-mole” between Zhang and the operatives behind the fake accounts, which are still active.
In Azerbaijan, Zhang discovered the ruling political party “utilized thousands of inauthentic assets… to harass the opposition en masse.” Facebook began looking into the issue a year after Zhang reported it. The investigation is ongoing.
Zhang and her colleagues removed “10.5 million fake reactions and fans from high-profile politicians in Brazil and the US in the 2018 elections.”
In February 2019, a NATO researcher informed Facebook that “he’d obtained Russian inauthentic activity on a high-profile U.S. political figure that we didn’t catch.” Zhang removed the activity, “dousing the immediate fire,” she wrote.
In Ukraine, Zhang “found inauthentic scripted activity” supporting both former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a pro–European Union politician and former presidential candidate, as well as Volodymyr Groysman, a former prime minister and ally of former president Petro Poroshenko. “Volodymyr Zelensky and his faction was the only major group not affected,” Zhang said of the current Ukrainian president.
Zhang discovered inauthentic activity — a Facebook term for engagement from bot accounts and coordinated manual accounts— in Bolivia and Ecuador but chose “not to prioritize it,” due to her workload. The amount of power she had as a mid-level employee to make decisions about a country’s political outcomes took a toll on her health.
After becoming aware of coordinated manipulation on the Spanish Health Ministry’s Facebook page during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zhang helped find and remove 672,000 fake accounts “acting on similar targets globally” including in the US.
In India, she worked to remove “a politically sophisticated network of more than a thousand actors working to influence” the local elections taking place in Delhi in February. Facebook never publicly disclosed this network or that it had taken it down.
By speaking out and eschewing anonymity, Zhang risked legal action from the company, harm to her future career prospects, and perhaps even reprisals. Her story reveals that it is really pure luck that we now know so much about how Facebook enables election interference globally. To regulators around the world considering how to rein in the company, this should be a wake-up call.
Governments from Pakistan to Mexico to Washington are woefully unequipped to combat disinformation warfare. Eastern European countries living in Russia’s shadow can teach us how to start fighting back, but only if our politicians decide to stop profiting from these tactics and fight them instead.
These are just a few examples of the disinformation swirling around the conflict between Hamas and Israel, much of which has been enabled by X, formerly known as Twitter, and by platforms like Meta and Telegram.
The platforms have also been used to terrorize. In one instance, a girl found out that a militant had killed her grandmother after he broadcast it on a Facebook livestream. Meta did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
X owner Elon Musk promoted two particularly virulent accounts spreading disinformation in a post that was viewed 11 million times before Musk deleted the tweet a few hours later.
One of those accounts, @sentdefender, was described by Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFR) expert Emerson Brooking as both “absolutely poisonous” and often retweeted “uncritically.”
X removed some of the most blatantly fake tweets, often hours after they were posted, but purveyors of disinformation like @sentdefender still operate freely.
A spokesperson for X replied to a request for comment by saying to “check back later.”
The platform announced changes to its public interest policy over the weekend, according to a post on its safety channel. The post said X has seen an increase in “daily active users” based in the conflict area in the past few days and that more than 50 million posts worldwide have discussed the attack.
The use of video game and recycled news footage to spread false information about the conflict is a growing trend, making it even more difficult to root out disinformation, according to Dina Sadek, a Middle East research fellow with the Digital Forensic Research Lab.
“We’re laser-focused and dedicated to protecting the conversation on X and enforcing our rules as we continue to assess the situation on the platform,” they said.
The post said X will remove newly created Hamas-affiliated accounts. It also said it is coordinating with industry peers and the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) “to try and prevent terrorist content from being distributed online.”
X said it is “proactively monitoring” for anti-semitic accounts and has “actioned” tens of thousands of posts sharing graphic media and violent and hateful speech.
On Tuesday, European Commissioner Thierry Breton sent a letter to Musk, cautioning that X is spreading “illegal content and disinformation.” EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) mandates that large online platforms such as X remove illegal content and take steps to quickly address how they impact the public.
“Given the urgency, I also expect you to be in contact with the relevant law enforcement authorities and Europol, and ensure that you respond promptly to their requests,” Breton wrote. He advised Musk that he would be following up on matters related to X’s compliance with DSA.
“I urge you to ensure a prompt, accurate, and complete response to this request within the next 24 hours,” Breton said.
The difficulty of rooting out disinformation is made more difficult by the growing trend of using video games and recycled news footage to promote falsehoods about the conflict, said Dina Sadek, a Middle East research fellow with DFR. Telegram has been a major vehicle for disinformation, she added, likely because it doesn’t restrict how often users can post and because the content is sent as a text message.
“The second that you think something happened you can give them a boost and give them pictures from the incident,” she told The Record. “There’s just the speed of how things happen when on messaging applications and some of those have large numbers of subscribers.”
Sadek said it is too soon to detect patterns in the disinformation being disseminated — both in terms of the amount and which side’s supporters are most active — but she said she has seen it emanate from all sides of the conflict.
Stanford disinformation scholar Herb Lin told Recorded Future News that he predicts the propaganda war will intensify significantly in the coming weeks, citing Russia’s likely support to Hamas due to its friendly relationship with Iran.
“They have a quick reaction disinformation force,” he said. “They have the ability to react promptly to this sort of stuff and the first people to get on the air tend to dominate the messages for a while.”
Russia is not just at war with Ukraine; they’re also in a cold war with us. And last week Putin got a significant victory in that war, which is now being fought on the battleground of social media and the Internet.
Representative Matt Gaetz and Senator Rand Paul helped lead Putin’s victory this week in his cold war with America by stripping aid for Ukraine out of the continuing resolution to keep our government funded for the next 45 days.
It was a clear signal from Republicans in Congress to Putin that if he can just hang on long enough, his propaganda efforts will eventually lead America to drop out and hand Ukraine over to them.
Today’s propaganda battle is primarily being fought on the Internet, principally on social media.
That’s where Russia’s now well-documented targeted efforts in six swing states (using secret, insider information from the 2016 Trump campaign given them by Paul Manafort) succeeded in pulling out a squeaker Electoral College victory for Donald Trump. It’s where they hope to repeat that in 2024.
It was also a signal to China, Japan, Australia, South and North Korea, and Taiwan that America can’t be trusted to defend allied democracies when they’re physically attacked by larger authoritarian states. By increasing the chances of an aggressor’s victory, the GOP’s continuing resolution encourages authoritarian states like Russia and China and, thus, makes the world less safe.
The Putin Republicans are being aided in this by social media companies owned by rightwing billionaire oligarchs — and their fossil fuel oligarch buddies funding the GOP in every state and federally — who are each richer than any king or pharaoh in history.
Given the media power these oligarchs and their monopolies have, it’s hard to offer any easy solutions to this threat now facing our democracy.
The Biden administration is awake to the threat: President Biden’s speech in Arizona last week explicitly called out the MAGA extremists in the GOP, and Democrats in Congress and in regulatory agencies are going after their monopolies.
Those efforts, though, will take years to reach fruition; after all, it was exactly 40 years ago this year that Reagan instructed his SEC, FTC, and DOJ to functionally stop enforcing our nation’s anti-trust laws, so they’ve had four decades to reach astronomical levels of consolidation and wealth.
Any effort to take on the media giants is complicated by five corrupt Republicans on the Supreme Court having legalized political bribery in 2010 with their Citizens United decision.
So now it’s largely up to us to carry the message forward. You and me. People who value democracy and want to see a world safe from tyrants and wannabee tyrants like Putin, Xi, MBS, and Trump.
The humorist Will Rogers once noted that “America has the best politicians money can buy.” It appears that we have the best judges too.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Community Financial Services Association of America, a lawsuit filed by predatory payday lenders seeking to strike down the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) independent funding mechanism—and by extension, the Bureau itself. The case, in which the agency is appealing a far-right Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last October, could have catastrophic impacts if the Roberts Court sides with the payday lender plaintiffs. As the Prospect’s David Dayen has noted, the Fifth Circuit’s ruling “threatens the functioning of daily life,” as its radical interpretation of the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause would gut not only the CFPB (triggering a 2008-like mortgage market meltdown), but also many other regulatory agencies and federal programs without traditional appropriations—including Medicare, Social Security, and the Federal Reserve.
An obvious backdrop to this high-stakes case is the mounting ethics scandals of the Court’s conservative justices. Take Justice Samuel Alito, for example. Hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer—who took Alito on a luxury Alaska fishing trip—holds at least $90 million in financial companies overseen by the CFPB. Alito has thus far failed to recuse himself from the case.
The ethics conflicts are even worse for Justice Clarence Thomas, who has also failed to recuse. According to ProPublica, Thomas has secretly attended at least two donor events for conservative billionaire Charles Koch’s political advocacy organization and is seen as a “fundraising draw” for the Koch network. Americans for Prosperity Foundation, one of the Koch empire’s many advocacy arms, has filed an amicus brief in CFPB v. CFSA calling the Bureau a “threat [to] liberty” and “mockery of the separation of powers.” Another anti-CFPB amicus filer in the case is none other than John Eastman, a former Thomas law clerk who is currently facing disbarment proceedings and a criminal indictment for trying to help Donald Trump overturn the 2020 election results. Eastman has previously tried to leverage his connections with Thomas to his benefit, corresponding with Thomas’s wife Ginni (a notably unhinged electoral fraud conspiracy theorist) in the run-up to the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
On top of all these egregious violations of elementary judicial ethics, our research revealed another ethics controversy surrounding Thomas and CFPB v. CFSA that has thus far escaped close scrutiny. It concerns Thomas’s central role in the Horatio Alger Association, an exclusive circle of wealthy business elites that gave Thomas lavish undisclosed gifts. In return, Thomas has granted the Alger Association rare annual private use of the Supreme Court chambers for its new-member induction ceremony—an event that Thomas personally hosts every year. The Alger Association has publicly promoted the Thomas-hosted Supreme Court ceremony in its fundraising materials, an act frowned upon by Court officials. According to a review of the Alger Association’s members conducted by the Revolving Door Project, at least 18 Alger members have either previously expressed an interest in weakening the CFPB or stand to gain from the Court gutting the Bureau. These wealthy elites span multiple sectors overseen by the CFPB and include some of its most prominent recurring opponents.
Though we at the Revolving Door Project called for Thomas’s and Alito’s recusal from this case in light of these ethics scandals, the Court’s well-established contempt for accountability and integrity offers little hope they will heed our advice. Should both of them persist in hearing CFPB v. CFSA on Tuesday despite their glaring conflicts of interest, the case for their impeachment and for rebalancing the Court to create an ethical majority will become even stronger.
The corporate elites and right-wing ideologues who populate the Alger Association’s membership roster clearly have a lot to gain from gutting the CFPB. Clarence Thomas has enjoyed the comically elitist connections and lavish undisclosed gifts of the Alger Association for over 30 years. Are we really to believe that Thomas never once discussed issues of financial regulation and corporate law enforcement during decades of hobnobbing with America’s top bankers, investors, and lenders behind closed doors? Please. The fact that Thomas did not fully disclose his Alger activities and gifts from the very beginning, or the other Caligula-esque largesse he has received from other billionaire patrons—all while carefully constructing an aw-shucks persona as a guy who prefers to hang out in Walmart parking lots in his RV—speaks for itself.
https://prospect.org/justice/2023-11-17-supreme-court-objectivity-theater/ After months of corruption scandals and plummeting public approval, the Supreme Court released a document on November 13 to correct, in its words, the… Read more: The Supreme Court’s Objectivity Theater