I made Steve Bannons psychological warfare tool: meet the data war whistleblower

Christopher Wylie goes on the record to discuss his role in hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users in order to target the US electorate

The first time I met Christopher Wylie, he didnt yet have pink hair. That comes later. As does his mission to rewind time. To put the genie back in the bottle.

By the time I met him in person, Id already been talking to him on a daily basis for hours at a time. On the phone, he was clever, funny, bitchy, profound, intellectually ravenous, compelling. A master storyteller. A politicker. A data science nerd.

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Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: ‘We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles’ video

Two months later, when he arrived in London from Canada, he was all those things in the flesh. And yet the flesh was impossibly young. He was 27 then (hes 28 now), a fact that has always seemed glaringly at odds with what he has done. He may have played a pivotal role in the momentous political upheavals of 2016. At the very least, he played a consequential role. At 24, he came up with an idea that led to the foundation of a company called Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that went on to claim a major role in the Leave campaign for Britains EU membership referendum, and later became a key figure in digital operations during Donald Trumps election campaign.

Or, as Wylie describes it, he was the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating Steve Bannons psychological warfare mindfuck tool.

In 2014, Steve Bannon then executive chairman of the alt-right news network Breitbart was Wylies boss. And Robert Mercer, the secretive US hedge-fund billionaire and Republican donor, was Cambridge Analyticas investor. And the idea they bought into was to bring big data and social media to an established military methodology information operations then turn it on the US electorate.

It was Wylie who came up with that idea and oversaw its realisation. And it was Wylie who, last spring, became my source. In May 2017, I wrote an article headlined The great British Brexit robbery, which set out a skein of threads that linked Brexit to Trump to Russia. Wylie was one of a handful of individuals who provided the evidence behind it. I found him, via another Cambridge Analytica ex-employee, lying low in Canada: guilty, brooding, indignant, confused. I havent talked about this to anyone, he said at the time. And then he couldnt stop talking.

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By that time, Steve Bannon had become Trumps chief strategist. Cambridge Analyticas parent company, SCL, had won contracts with the US State Department and was pitching to the Pentagon, and Wylie was genuinely freaked out. Its insane, he told me one night. The company has created psychological profiles of 230 million Americans. And now they want to work with the Pentagon? Its like Nixon on steroids.

He ended up showing me a tranche of documents that laid out the secret workings behind Cambridge Analytica. And in the months following publication of my article in May,it was revealed that the company had reached out to WikiLeaks to help distribute Hillary Clintons stolen emails in 2016. And then we watched as it became a subject of special counsel Robert Muellers investigation into possible Russian collusion in the US election.

The Observer also received the first of three letters from Cambridge Analytica threatening to sue Guardian News and Media for defamation. We are still only just starting to understand the maelstrom of forces that came together to create the conditions for what Mueller confirmed last month was information warfare. But Wylie offers a unique, worms-eye view of the events of 2016. Of how Facebook was hijacked, repurposed to become a theatre of war: how it became a launchpad for what seems to be an extraordinary attack on the USs democratic process.

Wylie oversaw what may have been the first critical breach. Aged 24, while studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting, he came up with a plan to harvest the Facebook profiles of millions of people in the US, and to use their private and personal information to create sophisticated psychological and political profiles. And then target them with political ads designed to work on their particular psychological makeup.

We broke Facebook, he says.

And he did it on behalf of his new boss, Steve Bannon.

Is it fair to say you hacked Facebook? I ask him one night.

He hesitates. Ill point out that I assumed it was entirely legal and above board.

Last month, Facebooks UK director of policy, Simon Milner, told British MPs on a select committee inquiry into fake news, chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins, that Cambridge Analytica did not have Facebook data. The official Hansard extract reads:

Christian Matheson (MP for Chester): Have you ever passed any user information over to Cambridge Analytica or any of its associated companies?

Simon Milner: No.

Matheson: But they do hold a large chunk of Facebooks user data, dont they?

Milner: No. They may have lots of data, but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.

Alexander
Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica CEO. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

Two weeks later, on 27 February, as part of the same parliamentary inquiry, Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane, asked Cambridge Analyticas CEO, Alexander Nix: Does any of the data come from Facebook? Nix replied: We do not work with Facebook data and we do not have Facebook data.

And through it all, Wylie and I, plus a handful of editors and a small, international group of academics and researchers, have known that at least in 2014 that certainly wasnt the case, because Wylie has the paper trail. In our first phone call, he told me he had the receipts, invoices, emails, legal letters records that showed how, between June and August 2014, the profiles of more than 50 million Facebook users had been harvested. Most damning of all, he had a letter from Facebooks own lawyers admitting that Cambridge Analytica had acquired the data illegitimately.

Going public involves an enormous amount of risk. Wylie is breaking a non-disclosure agreement and risks being sued. He is breaking the confidence of Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer.

Its taken a rollercoaster of a year to help get Wylie to a place where its possible for him to finally come forward. A year in which Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of investigations on both sides of the Atlantic Robert Muellers in the US, and separate inquiries by the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioners Office in the UK, both triggered in February 2017, after the Observers first article in this investigation.

It has been a year, too, in which Wylie has been trying his best to rewind to undo events that he set in motion. Earlier this month, he submitted a dossier of evidence to the Information Commissioners Office and the National Crime Agencys cybercrime unit. He is now in a position to go on the record: the data nerd who came in from the cold.

There are many points where this story could begin. One is in 2012, when Wylie was 21 and working for the Liberal Democrats in the UK, then in government as junior coalition partners. His career trajectory has been, like most aspects of his life so far, extraordinary, preposterous, implausible.

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Cambridge Analytica: the key players

Alexander Nix, CEO

An Old Etonian with a degree from Manchester University, Nix, 42, worked as a financial analyst in Mexico and the UK before joining SCL, a strategic communications firm, in 2003. From 2007 he took over the companys elections division, and claims to have worked on 260 campaigns globally. He set up Cambridge Analytica to work in America, with investment from RobertMercer.

Aleksandr Kogan, data miner

Aleksandr Kogan was born in Moldova and lived in Moscow until the age of seven, then moved with his family to the US, where he became a naturalised citizen. He studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and got his PhD at the University of Hong Kong before joining Cambridge as a lecturer in psychology and expert in social media psychometrics. He set up Global Science Research (GSR) to carry out CAs data research. While at Cambridge he accepted a position at St Petersburg State University, and also took Russian government grants for research. He changed his name to Spectre when he married, but later reverted to Kogan.

Steve Bannon, former board member

A former investment banker turned alt-right media svengali, Steve Bannon was boss at website Breitbart when he met Christopher Wylie and Nix and advised Robert Mercer to invest in political data research by setting up CA. In August 2016 he became Donald Trumps campaign CEO. Bannon encouraged the reality TV star to embrace the populist, economic nationalist agenda that would carry him into the White House. That earned Bannon the post of chief strategist to the president and for a while he was arguably the second most powerful man in America. By August 2017 his relationship with Trump had soured and he was out.

Robert Mercer, investor

Robert Mercer, 71, is a computer scientist and hedge fund billionaire, who used his fortune to become one of the most influential men in US politics as a top Republican donor. An AI expert, he made a fortune with quantitative trading pioneers Renaissance Technologies, then built a $60m war chest to back conservative causes by using an offshore investment vehicle to avoid US tax.

Rebekah Mercer, investor

Rebekah Mercer has a maths degree from Stanford, and worked as a trader, but her influence comes primarily from her fathers billions. The fortysomething, the second of Mercers three daughters, heads up the family foundation which channels money to rightwing groups. The conservative megadonors backed Breitbart, Bannon and, most influentially, poured millions into Trumps presidential campaign.

Wylie grew up in British Columbia and as a teenager he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. He left school at 16 without a single qualification. Yet at 17, he was working in the office of the leader of the Canadian opposition; at 18, he went to learn all things data from Obamas national director of targeting, which he then introduced to Canada for the Liberal party. At 19, he taught himself to code, and in 2010, age 20, he came to London to study law at the London School of Economics.

Politics is like the mob, though, he says. You never really leave. I got a call from the Lib Dems. They wanted to upgrade their databases and voter targeting. So, I combined working for them with studying for my degree.

Politics is also where he feels most comfortable. He hated school, but as an intern in the Canadian parliament he discovered a world where he could talk to adults and they would listen. He was the kid who did the internet stuff and within a year he was working for the leader of the opposition.

Hes one of the brightest people you will ever meet, a senior politician whos known Wylie since he was 20 told me. Sometimes thats a blessing and sometimes a curse.

Meanwhile, at Cambridge Universitys Psychometrics Centre, two psychologists, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, were experimenting with a way of studying personality by quantifying it.

Starting in 2007,Stillwell, while a student, had devised various apps for Facebook, one of which, a personality quiz called myPersonality, had gone viral. Users were scored on big five personality traits Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give him access to their Facebook profiles. Suddenly, there was a way of measuring personality traits across the population and correlating scores against Facebook likes across millions of people.

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Examples, above and below, of the visual messages trialled by GSRs online profiling test. Respondents were asked: How important should this message be to all Americans?

The research was original, groundbreaking and had obvious possibilities. They had a lot of approaches from the security services, a member of the centre told me. There was one called You Are What You Like and it was demonstrated to the intelligence services. And it showed these odd patterns; that, for example, people who liked I hate Israel on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

There are agencies that fund research on behalf of the intelligence services. And they were all over this research. That one was nicknamed Operation KitKat.

The defence and military establishment were the first to see the potential of the research. Boeing, a major US defence contractor, funded Kosinskis PhD and Darpa, the US governments secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is cited in at least two academic papers supporting Kosinskis work.

But when, in 2013, the first major paper was published, others saw this potential too, including Wylie. He had finished his degree and had started his PhD in fashion forecasting, and was thinking about the Lib Dems. It is fair to say that he didnt have a clue what he was walking into.

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I wanted to know why the Lib Dems sucked at winning elections when they used to run the country up to the end of the 19th century, Wylie explains. And I began looking at consumer and demographic data to see what united Lib Dem voters, because apart from bits of Wales and the Shetlands its weird, disparate regions. And what I found is there were no strong correlations. There was no signal in the data.

And then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behaviour, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems theyre absent-minded professors and hippies. Theyre the early adopters theyre highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.

Here was a way for the party to identify potential new voters. The only problem was that the Lib Dems werent interested.

I did this presentation at which I told them they would lose half their 57 seats, and they were like: Why are you so pessimistic? They actually lost all but eight of their seats, FYI.

Another Lib Dem connection introduced Wylie to a company called SCL Group, one of whose subsidiaries, SCL Elections, would go on to create Cambridge Analytica (an incorporated venture between SCL Elections and Robert Mercer, funded by the latter). For all intents and purposes, SCL/Cambridge Analytica are one and the same.

Alexander Nix, then CEO of SCL Elections, made Wylie an offer he couldnt resist. He said: Well give you total freedom. Experiment. Come and test out all your crazy ideas.

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Another example of the visual messages trialled by GSRs online profiling test.

In the history of bad ideas, this turned out to be one of the worst. The job was research director across the SCL group, a private contractor that has both defence and elections operations. Its defence arm was a contractor to the UKs Ministry of Defence and the USs Department of Defense, among others. Its expertise was in psychological operations or psyops changing peoples minds not through persuasion but through informational dominance, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.

SCL Elections had used a similar suite of tools in more than 200 elections around the world, mostly in undeveloped democracies that Wylie would come to realise were unequipped to defend themselves.

Wylie holds a British Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa a UK work visa given to just 200 people a year. He was working inside government (with the Lib Dems) as a political strategist with advanced data science skills. But no one, least of all him, could have predicted what came next. When he turned up at SCLs offices in Mayfair, he had no clue that he was walking into the middle of a nexus of defence and intelligence projects, private contractors and cutting-edge cyberweaponry.

The thing I think about all the time is, what if Id taken a job at Deloitte instead? They offered me one. I just think if Id taken literally any other job, Cambridge Analytica wouldnt exist. You have no idea how much I brood on this.

A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Britain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union.

What was he like?

Smart, says Wylie. Interesting. Really interested in ideas. Hes the only straight man Ive ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory. He saw its relevance straightaway to the oppressions that conservative, young white men feel.

Wylie meeting Bannon was the moment petrol was poured on a flickering flame. Wylie lives for ideas. He speaks 19 to the dozen for hours at a time. He had a theory to prove. And at the time, this was a purely intellectual problem. Politics was like fashion, he told Bannon.

[Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking Ugh. Totally ugly to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.

But Wylie wasnt just talking about fashion. He had recently been exposed to a new discipline: information operations, which ranks alongside land, sea, air and space in the US militarys doctrine of the five-dimensional battle space. His brief ranged across the SCL Group the British government has paid SCL to conduct counter-extremism operations in the Middle East, and the US Department of Defense has contracted it to work in Afghanistan.

I tell him that another former employee described the firm as MI6 for hire, and Id never quite understood it.

Its like dirty MI6 because youre not constrained. Theres no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. Its normal for a market research company to amass data on domestic populations. And if youre working in some country and theres an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well thats just a bonus.

When I ask how Bannon even found SCL, Wylie tells me what sounds like a tall tale, though its one he can back up with an email about how Mark Block, a veteran Republican strategist, happened to sit next to a cyberwarfare expert for the US air force on a plane. And the cyberwarfare guy is like, Oh, you should meet SCL. They do cyberwarfare for elections.

U.S.
Steve Bannon: He loved the gays, says Wylie. He saw us as early adopters. Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters

It was Bannon who took this idea to the Mercers: Robert Mercer the co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who used his billions to pursue a rightwing agenda, donating to Republican causes and supporting Republican candidates and his daughter Rebekah.

Nix and Wylie flew to New York to meet the Mercers in Rebekahs Manhattan apartment.

She loved me. She was like, Oh we need more of your type on our side!

Your type?

The gays. She loved the gays. So did Steve [Bannon]. He saw us as early adopters. He figured, if you can get the gays on board, everyone else will follow. Its why he was so into the whole Milo [Yiannopoulos] thing.

Robert Mercer was a pioneer in AI and machine translation. He helped invent algorithmic trading which replaced hedge fund managers with computer programs and he listened to Wylies pitch. It was for a new kind of political message-targeting based on an influential and groundbreaking 2014 paper researched at Cambridges Psychometrics Centre, called: Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans.

In politics, the money man is usually the dumbest person in the room. Whereas its the opposite way around with Mercer, says Wylie. He said very little, but he really listened. He wanted to understand the science. And he wanted proof that it worked.

And to do that, Wylie needed data.

How Cambridge Analytica acquired the data has been the subject of internal reviews at Cambridge University, of many news articles and much speculation and rumour.

When Nix was interviewed by MPs last month, Damian Collins asked him:

Does any of your data come from Global Science Research company?

Nix: GSR?

Collins: Yes.

Nix: We had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us back in 2014. That research proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.

Collins: They have not supplied you with data or information?

Nix: No.

Collins: Your datasets are not based on information you have received from them?

Nix: No.

Collins: At all?

Nix: At all.

The problem with Nixs response to Collins is that Wylie has a copy of an executed contract, dated 4 June 2014, which confirms that SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with a company called Global Science Research (GSR), owned by Cambridge-based academic Aleksandr Kogan, specifically premised on the harvesting and processing of Facebook data, so that it could be matched to personality traits and voter rolls.

He has receipts showing that Cambridge Analytica spent $7m to amass this data, about $1m of it with GSR. He has the bank records and wire transfers. Emails reveal Wylie first negotiated with Michal Kosinski, one of the co-authors of the original myPersonality research paper, to use the myPersonality database. But when negotiations broke down, another psychologist, Aleksandr Kogan, offered a solution that many of his colleagues considered unethical. He offered to replicate Kosinski and Stilwells research and cut them out of the deal. For Wylie it seemed a perfect solution. Kosinski was asking for $500,000 for the IP but Kogan said he could replicate it and just harvest his own set of data. (Kosinski says the fee was to fund further research.)

Dr
An unethical solution? Dr Aleksandr Kogan Photograph: alex kogan

Kogan then set up GSR to do the work, and proposed to Wylie they use the data to set up an interdisciplinary institute working across the social sciences. What happened to that idea, I ask Wylie. It never happened. I dont know why. Thats one of the things that upsets me the most.

It was Bannons interest in culture as war that ignited Wylies intellectual concept. But it was Robert Mercers millions that created a firestorm. Kogan was able to throw money at the hard problem of acquiring personal data: he advertised for people who were willing to be paid to take a personality quiz on Amazons Mechanical Turk and Qualtrics. At the end of which Kogans app, called thisismydigitallife, gave him permission to access their Facebook profiles. And not just theirs, but their friends too. On average, each seeder the people who had taken the personality test, around 320,000 in total unwittingly gave access to at least 160 other peoples profiles, none of whom would have known or had reason to suspect.

What the email correspondence between Cambridge Analytica employees and Kogan shows is that Kogan had collected millions of profiles in a matter of weeks. But neither Wylie nor anyone else at Cambridge Analytica had checked that it was legal. It certainly wasnt authorised. Kogan did have permission to pull Facebook data, but for academic purposes only. Whats more, under British data protection laws, its illegal for personal data to be sold to a third party without consent.

Facebook could see it was happening, says Wylie. Their security protocols were triggered because Kogans apps were pulling this enormous amount of data, but apparently Kogan told them it was for academic use. So they were like, Fine.

Kogan maintains that everything he did was legal and he had a close working relationship with Facebook, which had granted him permission for his apps.

Cambridge Analytica had its data. This was the foundation of everything it did next how it extracted psychological insights from the seeders and then built an algorithm to profile millions more.

For more than a year, the reporting around what Cambridge Analytica did or didnt do for Trump has revolved around the question of psychographics, but Wylie points out: Everything was built on the back of that data. The models, the algorithm. Everything. Why wouldnt you use it in your biggest campaign ever?

In December 2015, the Guardians Harry Davies published the first report about Cambridge Analytica acquiring Facebook data and using it to support Ted Cruz in his campaign to be the US Republican candidate. But it wasnt until many months later that Facebook took action. And then, all they did was write a letter. In August 2016, shortly before the US election, and two years after the breach took place, Facebooks lawyers wrote to Wylie, who left Cambridge Analytica in 2014, and told him the data had been illicitly obtained and that GSR was not authorised to share or sell it. They said it must be deleted immediately.

Christopher
Christopher Wylie: Its like Nixon on steroids

I already had. But literally all I had to do was tick a box and sign it and send it back, and that was it, says Wylie. Facebook made zero effort to get the data back.

There were multiple copies of it. It had been emailed in unencrypted files.

Cambridge Analytica rejected all allegations the Observer put to them.

Dr Kogan who later changed his name to Dr Spectre, but has subsequently changed it back to Dr Kogan is still a faculty member at Cambridge University, a senior research associate. But what his fellow academics didnt know until Kogan revealed it in emails to the Observer (although Cambridge University says that Kogan told the head of the psychology department), is that he is also an associate professor at St Petersburg University. Further research revealed that hes received grants from the Russian government to research Stress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networks. The opportunity came about on a trip to the city to visit friends and family, he said.

There are other dramatic documents in Wylies stash, including a pitch made by Cambridge Analytica to Lukoil, Russias second biggest oil producer. In an email dated 17 July 2014, about the US presidential primaries, Nix wrote to Wylie: We have been asked to write a memo to Lukoil (the Russian oil and gas company) to explain to them how our services are going to apply to the petroleum business. Nix said that they understand behavioural microtargeting in the context of elections but that they were failing to make the connection between voters and their consumers. The work, he said, would be shared with the CEO of the business, a former Soviet oil minister and associate of Putin, Vagit Alekperov.

It didnt make any sense to me, says Wylie. I didnt understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?

Muellers investigation traces the first stages of the Russian operation to disrupt the 2016 US election back to 2014, when the Russian state made what appears to be its first concerted efforts to harness the power of Americas social media platforms, including Facebook. And it was in late summer of the same year that Cambridge Analytica presented the Russian oil company with an outline of its datasets, capabilities and methodology. The presentation had little to do with consumers. Instead, documents show it focused on election disruption techniques. The first slide illustrates how a rumour campaign spread fear in the 2007 Nigerian election in which the company worked by spreading the idea that the election would be rigged. The final slide, branded with Lukoils logo and that of SCL Group and SCL Elections, headlines its deliverables: psychographic messaging.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump

It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech

For most of modern history, the easiest way to block the spread of an idea was to keep it from being mechanically disseminated. Shutter the news­paper, pressure the broad­cast chief, install an official censor at the publishing house. Or, if push came to shove, hold a loaded gun to the announcer’s head.

This actually happened once in Turkey. It was the spring of 1960, and a group of military officers had just seized control of the government and the national media, imposing an information blackout to suppress the coordination of any threats to their coup. But inconveniently for the conspirators, a highly anticipated soccer game between Turkey and Scotland was scheduled to take place in the capital two weeks after their takeover. Matches like this were broadcast live on national radio, with an announcer calling the game, play by play. People all across Turkey would huddle around their sets, cheering on the national team.

Canceling the match was too risky for the junta; doing so might incite a protest. But what if the announcer said something political on live radio? A single remark could tip the country into chaos. So the officers came up with the obvious solution: They kept several guns trained on the announcer for the entire 2 hours and 45 minutes of the live broadcast.

It was still a risk, but a managed one. After all, there was only one announcer to threaten: a single bottleneck to control of the airwaves.

Variations on this general playbook for censorship—find the right choke point, then squeeze—were once the norm all around the world. That’s because, until recently, broadcasting and publishing were difficult and expensive affairs, their infrastructures riddled with bottlenecks and concentrated in a few hands.

But today that playbook is all but obsolete. Whose throat do you squeeze when anyone can set up a Twitter account in seconds, and when almost any event is recorded by smartphone-­wielding mem­­bers of the public? When protests broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, a single livestreamer named Mustafa Hussein reportedly garnered an audience comparable in size to CNN’s for a short while. If a Bosnian Croat war criminal drinks poison in a courtroom, all of Twitter knows about it in minutes.

February 2018. Subscribe to WIRED.

Sean Freeman

In today’s networked environment, when anyone can broadcast live or post their thoughts to a social network, it would seem that censorship ought to be impossible. This should be the golden age of free speech.

And sure, it is a golden age of free speech—if you can believe your lying eyes. Is that footage you’re watching real? Was it really filmed where and when it says it was? Is it being shared by alt-right trolls or a swarm of Russian bots? Was it maybe even generated with the help of artificial intelligence? (Yes, there are systems that can create increasingly convincing fake videos.)

Or let’s say you were the one who posted that video. If so, is anyone even watching it? Or has it been lost in a sea of posts from hundreds of millions of content pro­ducers? Does it play well with Facebook’s algorithm? Is YouTube recommending it?

Maybe you’re lucky and you’ve hit a jackpot in today’s algorithmic public sphere: an audience that either loves you or hates you. Is your post racking up the likes and shares? Or is it raking in a different kind of “engagement”: Have you received thousands of messages, mentions, notifications, and emails threatening and mocking you? Have you been doxed for your trouble? Have invisible, angry hordes ordered 100 pizzas to your house? Did they call in a SWAT team—men in black arriving, guns drawn, in the middle of dinner?

Standing there, your hands over your head, you may feel like you’ve run afoul of the awesome power of the state for speaking your mind. But really you just pissed off 4chan. Or entertained them. Either way, congratulations: You’ve found an audience.

Here’s how this golden age of speech actually works: In the 21st century, the capacity to spread ideas and reach an audience is no longer limited by access to expensive, centralized broadcasting infrastructure. It’s limited instead by one’s ability to garner and distribute attention. And right now, the flow of the world’s attention is structured, to a vast and overwhelming degree, by just a few digital platforms: Facebook, Google (which owns YouTube), and, to a lesser extent, Twitter.

These companies—which love to hold themselves up as monuments of free expression—have attained a scale unlike anything the world has ever seen; they’ve come to dominate media distribution, and they increasingly stand in for the public sphere itself. But at their core, their business is mundane: They’re ad brokers. To virtually anyone who wants to pay them, they sell the capacity to precisely target our eyeballs. They use massive surveillance of our behavior, online and off, to generate increasingly accurate, automated predictions of what advertisements we are most susceptible to and what content will keep us clicking, tapping, and scrolling down a bottomless feed.

So what does this algorithmic public sphere tend to feed us? In tech parlance, Facebook and YouTube are “optimized for engagement,” which their defenders will tell you means that they’re just giving us what we want. But there’s nothing natural or inevitable about the specific ways that Facebook and YouTube corral our attention. The patterns, by now, are well known. As Buzzfeed famously reported in November 2016, “top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.”

Humans are a social species, equipped with few defenses against the natural world beyond our ability to acquire knowledge and stay in groups that work together. We are particularly susceptible to glimmers of novelty, messages of affirmation and belonging, and messages of outrage toward perceived enemies. These kinds of messages are to human community what salt, sugar, and fat are to the human appetite. And Facebook gorges us on them—in what the company’s first president, Sean Parker, recently called “a social-­validation feedback loop.”

Sure, it is a golden age of free speech—if you can believe your lying eyes.

There are, moreover, no nutritional labels in this cafeteria. For Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, all speech—whether it’s a breaking news story, a saccharine animal video, an anti-Semitic meme, or a clever advertisement for razors—is but “content,” each post just another slice of pie on the carousel. A personal post looks almost the same as an ad, which looks very similar to a New York Times article, which has much the same visual feel as a fake newspaper created in an afternoon.

What’s more, all this online speech is no longer public in any traditional sense. Sure, Facebook and Twitter sometimes feel like places where masses of people experience things together simultaneously. But in reality, posts are targeted and delivered privately, screen by screen by screen. Today’s phantom public sphere has been fragmented and submerged into billions of individual capillaries. Yes, mass discourse has become far easier for everyone to participate in—but it has simultaneously become a set of private conversations happening behind your back. Behind everyone’s backs.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but all of this invalidates much of what we think about free speech—conceptually, legally, and ethically.

The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech itself. As a result, they don’t look much like the old forms of censorship at all. They look like viral or coordinated harassment campaigns, which harness the dynamics of viral outrage to impose an unbearable and disproportionate cost on the act of speaking out. They look like epidemics of disinformation, meant to undercut the credibility of valid information sources. They look like bot-fueled campaigns of trolling and distraction, or piecemeal leaks of hacked materials, meant to swamp the attention of traditional media.

These tactics usually don’t break any laws or set off any First Amendment alarm bells. But they all serve the same purpose that the old forms of censorship did: They are the best available tools to stop ideas from spreading and gaining purchase. They can also make the big platforms a terrible place to interact with other people.

Even when the big platforms themselves suspend or boot someone off their networks for violating “community standards”—an act that does look to many people like old-fashioned censorship—it’s not technically an infringement on free speech, even if it is a display of immense platform power. Anyone in the world can still read what the far-right troll Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet has to say on the internet. What Twitter has denied him, by kicking him off, is attention.

Many more of the most noble old ideas about free speech simply don’t compute in the age of social media. John Stuart Mill’s notion that a “marketplace of ideas” will elevate the truth is flatly belied by the virality of fake news. And the famous American saying that “the best cure for bad speech is more speech”—a paraphrase of Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis—loses all its meaning when speech is at once mass but also nonpublic. How do you respond to what you cannot see? How can you cure the effects of “bad” speech with more speech when you have no means to target the same audience that received the original message?

This is not a call for nostalgia. In the past, marginalized voices had a hard time reaching a mass audience at all. They often never made it past the gatekeepers who put out the evening news, who worked and lived within a few blocks of one another in Manhattan and Washington, DC. The best that dissidents could do, often, was to engineer self-sacrificing public spectacles that those gatekeepers would find hard to ignore—as US civil rights leaders did when they sent schoolchildren out to march on the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, drawing out the most naked forms of Southern police brutality for the cameras.

But back then, every political actor could at least see more or less what everyone else was seeing. Today, even the most powerful elites often cannot effectively convene the right swath of the public to counter viral messages. During the 2016 presidential election, as Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg reported for Bloomberg, the Trump campaign used so-called dark posts—nonpublic posts targeted at a specific audience—to discourage African Americans from voting in battleground states. The Clinton campaign could scarcely even monitor these messages, let alone directly counter them. Even if Hillary Clinton herself had taken to the evening news, that would not have been a way to reach the affected audience. Because only the Trump campaign and Facebook knew who the audience was.

It’s important to realize that, in using these dark posts, the Trump campaign wasn’t deviantly weaponizing an innocent tool. It was simply using Facebook exactly as it was designed to be used. The campaign did it cheaply, with Facebook staffers assisting right there in the office, as the tech company does for most large advertisers and political campaigns. Who cares where the speech comes from or what it does, as long as people see the ads? The rest is not Facebook’s department.

Mark Zuckerberg holds up Facebook’s mission to “connect the world” and “bring the world closer together” as proof of his company’s civic virtue. “In 2016, people had billions of interactions and open discussions on Facebook,” he said proudly in an online video, looking back at the US election. “Candidates had direct channels to communicate with tens of millions of citizens.”

This idea that more speech—more participation, more connection—constitutes the highest, most unalloyed good is a common refrain in the tech industry. But a historian would recognize this belief as a fallacy on its face. Connectivity is not a pony. Facebook doesn’t just connect democracy-­loving Egyptian dissidents and fans of the videogame Civilization; it brings together white supremacists, who can now assemble far more effectively. It helps connect the efforts of radical Buddhist monks in Myanmar, who now have much more potent tools for spreading incitement to ethnic cleansing—fueling the fastest- growing refugee crisis in the world.

The freedom of speech is an important democratic value, but it’s not the only one. In the liberal tradition, free speech is usually understood as a vehicle—a necessary condition for achieving certain other societal ideals: for creating a knowledgeable public; for engendering healthy, rational, and informed debate; for holding powerful people and institutions accountable; for keeping communities lively and vibrant. What we are seeing now is that when free speech is treated as an end and not a means, it is all too possible to thwart and distort everything it is supposed to deliver.

Creating a knowledgeable public requires at least some workable signals that distinguish truth from falsehood. Fostering a healthy, rational, and informed debate in a mass society requires mechanisms that elevate opposing viewpoints, preferably their best versions. To be clear, no public sphere has ever fully achieved these ideal conditions—but at least they were ideals to fail from. Today’s engagement algorithms, by contrast, espouse no ideals about a healthy public sphere.

The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech.

Some scientists predict that within the next few years, the number of children struggling with obesity will surpass the number struggling with hunger. Why? When the human condition was marked by hunger and famine, it made perfect sense to crave condensed calories and salt. Now we live in a food glut environment, and we have few genetic, cultural, or psychological defenses against this novel threat to our health. Similarly, we have few defenses against these novel and potent threats to the ideals of democratic speech, even as we drown in more speech than ever.

The stakes here are not low. In the past, it has taken generations for humans to develop political, cultural, and institutional antibodies to the novelty and upheaval of previous information revolutions. If The Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will came out now, they’d flop; but both debuted when film was still in its infancy, and their innovative use of the medium helped fuel the mass revival of the Ku Klux Klan and the rise of Nazism.

By this point, we’ve already seen enough to recognize that the core business model underlying the Big Tech platforms—harvesting attention with a massive surveillance infrastructure to allow for targeted, mostly automated advertising at very large scale—is far too compatible with authoritarianism, propaganda, misinformation, and polarization. The institutional antibodies that humanity has developed to protect against censorship and propaganda thus far—laws, journalistic codes of ethics, independent watchdogs, mass education—all evolved for a world in which choking a few gatekeepers and threatening a few individuals was an effective means to block speech. They are no longer sufficient.

But we don’t have to be resigned to the status quo. Facebook is only 13 years old, Twitter 11, and even Google is but 19. At this moment in the evolution of the auto industry, there were still no seat belts, airbags, emission controls, or mandatory crumple zones. The rules and incentive structures underlying how attention and surveillance work on the internet need to change. But in fairness to Facebook and Google and Twitter, while there’s a lot they could do better, the public outcry demanding that they fix all these problems is fundamentally mistaken. There are few solutions to the problems of digital discourse that don’t involve huge trade-offs—and those are not choices for Mark Zuckerberg alone to make. These are deeply political decisions. In the 20th century, the US passed laws that outlawed lead in paint and gasoline, that defined how much privacy a landlord needs to give his tenants, and that determined how much a phone company can surveil its customers. We can decide how we want to handle digital surveillance, attention-­channeling, harassment, data collection, and algorithmic decision­making. We just need to start the discussion. Now.


The Free Speech Issue

  • “Nice Website. It Would Be a Shame if Something Happened to It.”: Steven Johnson goes inside Cloudflare's decision to let an extremist stronghold burn.
  • Everything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You: Doug Bock Clark profiles Antifa’s secret weapon against far-right extremists.
  • Please, Silence Your Speech: Alice Gregory visits a startup that wants to neutralize your smartphone—and un-change the world.
  • The Best Hope for Civil Discourse on the Internet … Is on Reddit: Virginia Heffernan submits to Change My View.
  • 6 Tales of Censorship: What it's like to be suspended by Facebook, blocked by Trump, and more, in the subjects’ own words.

Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina and an opinion writer for The New York Times.

This article appears in the February issue. Subscribe now.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/free-speech-issue-tech-turmoil-new-censorship/

Trumps War on the Press Follows the Mussolini and Hitler Playbook

Beneath the madness and the lies of The Year of Trump there remains a constant drumbeat, unyielding and determined. It broke cover on Jan. 22, 2017 when Kellyanne Conway introduced the term alternative facts.

The abasement of language by Donald Trump and his assorted flacks began long before, but this concept was so naked, so novel and so unblinkingly forthright that it established the rules for the assault to come, just as the first salvo of an artillery barrage signals the creation of a new battlefield where there will be many casualties.

And lets face it, the English language has taken a real pounding since then. Lies have poured forth from the White House at an astonishing rate: The Washington Post estimated that in Trumps first 355 days he made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims, averaging five a day.

Trump has spent two years vilifying the dishonest media (including The Daily Beast), even invoking the Nazi chant of enemies of the people. Aided by the alt right zealots at Breitbart, he has successfully persuaded millions of Americans that The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC are seditious forces bent on denigrating and destroying the man they elected.

It is dismaying that it was so easy for him to do this, dismaying that independent journalism of quality is so easily discredited and dismaying that none of this seems to trouble the Republican Party.

And lets be clear: The protection of independent journalism isnt something that a lot of politiciansor a good number of the populationreally care about. Yet, in the end, it has really been a strong year for journalism. In particular, two papers, The New York Times and Washington Post, have re-established themselves as bulwarks against abuses of power, as they were at the time of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.

Why have these two newspapers in particular once more demonstrated the best of American journalism? Its partly luck. The Post was basically saved by Jeff Bezos whose deep pockets have restored the resources of the newsroom. Under the editorship of Marty Baron they were positioned to seize the Trump moment and rediscovered the art of investigative reporting. Similarly the Times passed through a period in which it struggled to find a new business model for the digital age and eventually found it, enabling its Washington newsroom to become competitive again.

This underlines the fragile dependency of journalism on enlightened patronageon who owns a newspaper and particularly who owns the two papers that are regarded as national in prestige and potency together with the editorial independence and authority that that position requires. For all its fine reporting over the last year The Wall Street Journal does not have that kind of reputational backbone because it is owned by Rupert Murdoch, blatantly a Trump stooge.

But the battle is not yet won, and will not be without eternal vigilance. To realize the gravity of where we are now we need more context than is provided by recent history, we need to look at the history of Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s. In both nations tyrants arose who on the way to seizing power found it remarkably easy to denigrate and destroy independent journalism.

In Italy, Benito Mussolini came to power in October 1922. At the age of 39 he was the youngest ever prime minister, charismatic and full of energy. He was also careful to move slowly as, almost by stealth, he built a new illiberal state. In a country that for years had lacked unity he proposed a new focus for nationalism: himself. He was Italy. He described a parliament made impotent by its own factionalism a gathering of old fossils. Parliaments powers and the rights of a free press were stripped away.

The people, Mussolini said in July 1924, on the innumerable occasions when I have spoken with them close at hand have never asked me to free them from a tyranny which they do not feel because it does not exist. They have asked me for railways, houses, drains, bridges, water, light and roads. In that year the fascists won more than 65 percent of the vote in national elections.

Mussolinis absolute hold on power was made clear on Jan. 3, 1925, when he said: I and I alone assume the political, moral and historic responsibility for everything that has happened. Italy wants peace and quiet, work and calm. I will give these things with love if possible and with force if necessary.

As the editor, successively, of two newspapers in Milan and with a talent for populist polemic Mussolini had skillfully used the press for his own ends. Now he made sure nobody else would follow his example. Within a few years most of Italys newspapers were suppressed or put under party control. Some smaller newspapers claiming to be independent were still tolerated to give the appearance of freedom of opinion but they were a fig leaf to cover the end of press freedom. Without any effective challenge Mussolinis megalomania flourished. The crowds who gathered for his speeches cried Duce, Duce, Duce! We are yours to the end.

None of the ministers, officials and party secretaries around him were safe from his caprice. He was always right and anyone who contradicted him was fired. Mussolini was, simultaneously, prime minister, foreign minister, minister of the interior, commander in chief of the militia, and minister for the whole military, army, navy, and air force.

Some smaller newspapers claiming to be independent were still tolerated to give the appearance of freedom of opinion but they were a fig leaf to cover the end of press freedom.

These flagrant excesses of the founder of European fascism were later to seem buffoonish against the cold-blooded terror machine that Adolf Hitler built, just as rapidly, in Germany. But there was nothing comical about the 1920s for Italians: they had succumbed very readily to a maniac, and a maniac who understood that the state should control all propaganda (which is, after all, an Italian word) down to details such as decreeing that the national tennis team should wear black shirts.

In Germany the man who would go down in history as the evil genius of alternative facts, Joseph Goebbels, was appointed Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda on March 14, 1933little more than a month after Hitler came to power in Berlin.

Goebbels said he wanted a ministry that was National Socialist [Nazi] by birth.

To staff it he was smart enough to tap into one of the most corrosive influences on the national mood at the time: a grudge, widely held, that Germanys descent into economic chaos had left many of the countrys best educated young people out of well-paid government jobs. From this group Goebbels recruited party zealots who were notably younger and smarter than other Nazi officialshe specified that he wanted those who displayed ardor, enthusiasm, untarnished idealism. (Watching the instant classic encounter between CNNs Jake Tapper and Trumps senior adviser for policy, Stephen Miller, suggests that Miller would have been a perfect recruit.)

Goebbels priority was to exert immediate control of the pressthe press, he instructed his staff, had to be a piano, so to speak, in the hands of the government. Germanys newspapers had been messengers of decay that were harmful to the beliefs, customs and national pride of good Germans.

Within a year all of Goebbels goals were achieved. Three previously independent news services were merged into one state-directed national news agency, the German News Service. All journalism was subjected to the policy of Gleichschaltungmeaning that they had to toe the party line on all issues.

A piano, so to speak, in the hands of the government.
Joseph Gobbels on the press

Previously newspaper publishers had been the legal entity responsible for everything that was published. Goebbels issued the Editor Statute that made editors equally accountable and any editor who resisted Gleichschaltung could be removed and, if particularly recalcitrant, would be sent to a concentration camp.

However, as had Mussolini, Goebbels recognized that the German press should be left with a fig leaf of apparent independence. One great liberal newspaper that happened to have an international following, the Frankfurter Zeitung, was allowed to remain publishing until 1943. Its editors grew expert at a kind of coded reporting with a semblance of neutrality that allowed experienced readers to sense what was really going on.

Two new and growingly important news outlets, radio and cinema newsreels, were put totally under Goebbels control: We make no bones about it, he said, the radio belongs to us, to no one else! And we will place the radio at the service of our idea, and no other idea shall be expressed through it.

The collapse of media independence was rapid and complete. But, as with all historical comparisons, this one can be pushed either too far or too little. Plainly America in 2018 is not the Europe of the 1930s and liberal paranoia in itself is not a sound basis for assessing just how dangerous an assault on journalism may turn out to be.

In 1933 Hitler was at the threshold of creating the instruments of a terror state. We are nowhere near that point. But what is striking now is how friendless the press was. Nobody fought the Goebbels takeover. Mussolini had identified and seized the same opportunity, finding it easy to issue edicts that closed down critical newspapers on the grounds of sedition.

This might seem astonishing in a country like Germany that had one of Europes most deeply rooted intelligentsias. But the universities were quiescent, the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy and the barons of industry were all tired of the Weimar Republics violent polarization between the fascists and the communists and for them press freedom was secondary to personal interests like jobs and, for the industrialists, to the fortunes to be made from re-armament.

Of course Trump has little if any grasp of European history and probably only the vaguest idea of who Goebbels was but his use of tweets reflects one of Goebbels basic tenets about propaganda: Berlin needs sensations as a fish needs water. Any political propaganda that fails to recognize that will miss its target.

So it happens that when it comes to news management Trump has pulled off something that Goebbels would applaud. He has made himself the Great Dictator of the news cycle. To do this he didnt need to knowingly emulate anyone in the propaganda arts because he is directed by his two dominant personal traits: narcissism and paranoia.

Almost every event is refracted through his own response to it, its media lifespan no longer than can be held in his own gnat-like attention span. His tweets are so bizarre, unhinged and frequent that they effectively confuse and distract much of the competing daily coverage. What seems aberrant at 6 p.m. suddenly seems the new normal by 7 p.m. (As Ron Rosenbaum powerfully demonstrates writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books, getting people to readily accept the aberrant as normal was one of Hitlers most effective early tactics.)

He has made himself the Great Dictator of the news cycle. To do this he didnt need to knowingly emulate anyone in the propaganda arts because he is directed by his two dominant personal traits: narcissism and paranoia.

And when Trump faces a news narrative that he cant derail, like the Mueller investigation, he sees it as a violation of his own powers, as he imagines them to be rather than as they really exist under the constitution.

Mussolini, very early in his rule, did the same thing, equating himself with the nation and regarding any insult to him as an insult to Italy. In Trumps mind it his base that exclusively represents the nationa belief constantly reinforced by Fox News for whom that base is a ratings gold mine. Trump and his lackeys on Fox have succeeded in equating respect for the kind of truth-telling that is built on learning and the ability to marshal facts with a simple demographic: its the exclusive province of metropolitan elites.

This tactic is based, at least in part, on a condition described by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist. He calls it cognitive ease in which humans tend to avoid facts that are uncomfortable or require work to understand.

Goebbels understood that the reinforcement of prejudice was an intoxicating weapon of propaganda. Fed the right message, aggrieved and resentful minorities could be made to coalesce into a critical mass of activists. The Trump base has been built on this principle, and feels grateful to be led by such a man with whom they readily identify, even though his real interests (personal enrichment) are the opposite of theirs.

But perhaps the weirdest side of Trumps perception of his role and office is that in his mind his fate and that of the mainstream media are locked together in a life or death embrace. This is new. No demagogue in recent history has seen the effectiveness of his role being interdependent with a force that for most of the time he purports to despise.

Consider how he framed this belief when Michael Schmidt of The New York Times recorded one of the most bizarre interviews with him in the Grill Room of his West Palm Beach golf club during the holidays:

Were going to win another four years for a lot of reasons, most importantly because our country is starting to do well again and were being respected again. But another reason that Im going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if Im not there because without me their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually probably six months before the election theyll be loving me because theyre saying, Please, please, dont lose Donald Trump.

Most of the rest of that interview was delusional drivel that provided an alarming insight into his mental processesin fact, it served as a kind of impromptu warm-up for the revelations of Michael Wolffs book, a kind of journalistic bomb cyclone.

What Wolff delivered between the covers of a book was an explosive concentration of reporting that isnt achievable through the daily news cycle. His method is really no different than that used by Bob Woodward in his books, notably on the origins of the Iraq war, where whole scenes are reconstructed with dialog without attribution, but carry the ring of authenticity. The difference in public impact is that Woodward was reporting after the event whereas Wolff delivers as, so to speak, the crime is still in progress.

Some sniffy journalists, David Brooks surprisingly among them, have complained that Wolff doesnt operate according to their understanding of journalistic standards. Well, for one thing he doesnt have the resources of a paper to support him. And he also demonstrates another vital point about the scope of journalism: sometimes the force of one is equal to the force of hundreds. At this moment we need both kinds of consequential reporting, the collective effort of a newsroom and the disruptive brilliance of the loner.

Calling out the lies hasnt stopped Trump. His motives may differ from those of Mussolini and Hitler. Hes not ideological. In his case autocratic instincts come as a psychological motor in the pursuit of greed and the protection of his unbridled and ludicrous ego. The lack of ideology doesnt make him any less dangerous, though.

Trump has no time for scruples. With his lawyers unable to kill Wolffs book (can book burning be far off in his mind?) he once again threatened to ramp up the libel laws to prevent the defamation of people like him. Hes trying to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner in the hope that Time Warner will be forced to divest itself of his bte noir, CNN, hoping that someone more sympathetic to him will take it over, although Rupert Murdoch, the obvious candidate, says hes not interested, and he has been clearly looking for ways to punish Jeff Bezos for his re-arming of The Washington Post in changes to the tax code that would hit Amazon.

No demagogue in recent history has seen the effectiveness of his role being interdependent with a force that for most of the time he purports to despise.

All this should be very alarming, but Trump is operating in a worryingly permissive arena. There isnt, it seems, a stable public standard of truth in todays America. This is a culture where scientific truths are dismissed if inconvenient and ignorance is nourished. (Forty-three percent of Republicans believe that climate change is not happening.) One of the foundations of secular Western polities is that truth can be sustained only by honesty in language, that language must be used to interrogate information critically, no matter what its source.

In this struggle journalism is our last dependable line of defense. Its no exaggeration to say that the health, security, and integrity of the republic is at stake. History is an unforgiving judge and, just as the history of Europe in the 1920s and 30s reveals shameful failures in democratic institutions Americas current crisis will be judged by how effectively, or otherwise, the institutions designed to protect democracy worked.

No institution can achieve this without being able to operate on a generally agreed foundation of facts, of which the single most consequential fact is that the president is patently unfit for office. The second is that he is being kept in office by the obsequious Republican leadership who remain supine even after the outrage of the shithole outburst.

Principal among these are toadies like Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who, rather than pursue the investigation of Trump would rather pursue the whistleblower, the British former spy Christopher Steele. Other Republicans are calling for Muellers investigation to be purgedusing a term that Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin all employed to protect themselves. Then there is Ayn Rands posthumous wrecking ball, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who delivered a groveling encomium when Trump signed the so-called tax reform bill, thanking him for exquisite presidential leadership.

There is a word for people like these. Its a word that needs to be revived from earlier use: Quisling. It was first used as a general pejorative early in 1933 as Hitler came to power, identifying a Norwegian fascist named Vidkun Quisling who modeled his party on the Nazis and, when the Nazis invaded Norway in 1940, urged collaboration with them.

As is so often the case it was Winston Churchill who gave it a permanent meaning when, in 1941, he said: A vile race of Quislingsto use a new word which will carry the scorn of mankind down the centuriesis hired to fawn upon the conqueror, to collaborate in his designs and to enforce his rule upon their fellow countrymen while groveling low themselves.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/trumps-war-on-the-press-follows-the-mussolini-and-hitler-playbook

Is everything you think you know about depression wrong?

In this extract from his new book, Johann Hari, who took antidepressants for 14 years, calls for a new approach

In the 1970s, a truth was accidentally discovered about depression one that was quickly swept aside, because its implications were too inconvenient, and too explosive. American psychiatrists had produced a book that would lay out, in detail, all the symptoms of different mental illnesses, so they could be identified and treated in the same way across the United States. It was called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. In the latest edition, they laid out nine symptoms that a patient has to show to be diagnosed with depression like, for example, decreased interest in pleasure or persistent low mood. For a doctor to conclude you were depressed, you had to show five of these symptoms over several weeks.

The manual was sent out to doctors across the US and they began to use it to diagnose people. However, after a while they came back to the authors and pointed out something that was bothering them. If they followed this guide, they had to diagnose every grieving person who came to them as depressed and start giving them medical treatment. If you lose someone, it turns out that these symptoms will come to you automatically. So, the doctors wanted to know, are we supposed to start drugging all the bereaved people in America?

The authors conferred, and they decided that there would be a special clause added to the list of symptoms of depression. None of this applies, they said, if you have lost somebody you love in the past year. In that situation, all these symptoms are natural, and not a disorder. It was called the grief exception, and it seemed to resolve the problem.

Then, as the years and decades passed, doctors on the frontline started to come back with another question. All over the world, they were being encouraged to tell patients that depression is, in fact, just the result of a spontaneous chemical imbalance in your brain it is produced by low serotonin, or a natural lack of some other chemical. Its not caused by your life its caused by your broken brain. Some of the doctors began to ask how this fitted with the grief exception. If you agree that the symptoms of depression are a logical and understandable response to one set of life circumstances losing a loved one might they not be an understandable response to other situations? What about if you lose your job? What if you are stuck in a job that you hate for the next 40 years? What about if you are alone and friendless?

The grief exception seemed to have blasted a hole in the claim that the causes of depression are sealed away in your skull. It suggested that there are causes out here, in the world, and they needed to be investigated and solved there. This was a debate that mainstream psychiatry (with some exceptions) did not want to have. So, they responded in a simple way by whittling away the grief exception. With each new edition of the manual they reduced the period of grief that you were allowed before being labelled mentally ill down to a few months and then, finally, to nothing at all. Now, if your baby dies at 10am, your doctor can diagnose you with a mental illness at 10.01am and start drugging you straight away.

Dr Joanne Cacciatore, of Arizona State University, became a leading expert on the grief exception after her own baby, Cheyenne, died during childbirth. She had seen many grieving people being told that they were mentally ill for showing distress. She told me this debate reveals a key problem with how we talk about depression, anxiety and other forms of suffering: we dont, she said, consider context. We act like human distress can be assessed solely on a checklist that can be separated out from our lives, and labelled as brain diseases. If we started to take peoples actual lives into account when we treat depression and anxiety, Joanne explained, it would require an entire system overhaul. She told me that when you have a person with extreme human distress, [we need to] stop treating the symptoms. The symptoms are a messenger of a deeper problem. Lets get to the deeper problem.

*****

I was a teenager when I swallowed my first antidepressant. I was standing in the weak English sunshine, outside a pharmacy in a shopping centre in London. The tablet was white and small, and as I swallowed, it felt like a chemical kiss. That morning I had gone to see my doctor and I had told him crouched, embarrassed that pain was leaking out of me uncontrollably, like a bad smell, and I had felt this way for several years. In reply, he told me a story. There is a chemical called serotonin that makes people feel good, he said, and some people are naturally lacking it in their brains. You are clearly one of those people. There are now, thankfully, new drugs that will restore your serotonin level to that of a normal person. Take them, and you will be well. At last, I understood what had been happening to me, and why.

However, a few months into my drugging, something odd happened. The pain started to seep through again. Before long, I felt as bad as I had at the start. I went back to my doctor, and he told me that I was clearly on too low a dose. And so, 20 milligrams became 30 milligrams; the white pill became blue. I felt better for several months. And then the pain came back through once more. My dose kept being jacked up, until I was on 80mg, where it stayed for many years, with only a few short breaks. And still the pain broke back through.

I started to research my book, Lost Connections: Uncovering The Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions, because I was puzzled by two mysteries. Why was I still depressed when I was doing everything I had been told to do? I had identified the low serotonin in my brain, and I was boosting my serotonin levels yet I still felt awful. But there was a deeper mystery still. Why were so many other people across the western world feeling like me? Around one in five US adults are taking at least one drug for a psychiatric problem. In Britain, antidepressant prescriptions have doubled in a decade, to the point where now one in 11 of us drug ourselves to deal with these feelings. What has been causing depression and its twin, anxiety, to spiral in this way? I began to ask myself: could it really be that in our separate heads, all of us had brain chemistries that were spontaneously malfunctioning at the same time?

To find the answers, I ended up going on a 40,000-mile journey across the world and back. I talked to the leading social scientists investigating these questions, and to people who have been overcoming depression in unexpected ways from an Amish village in Indiana, to a Brazilian city that banned advertising and a laboratory in Baltimore conducting a startling wave of experiments. From these people, I learned the best scientific evidence about what really causes depression and anxiety. They taught me that it is not what we have been told it is up to now. I found there is evidence that seven specific factors in the way we are living today are causing depression and anxiety to rise alongside two real biological factors (such as your genes) that can combine with these forces to make it worse.

Once I learned this, I was able to see that a very different set of solutions to my depression and to our depression had been waiting for me all along.

To understand this different way of thinking, though, I had to first investigate the old story, the one that had given me so much relief at first. Professor Irving Kirsch at Harvard University is the Sherlock Holmes of chemical antidepressants the man who has scrutinised the evidence about giving drugs to depressed and anxious people most closely in the world. In the 1990s, he prescribed chemical antidepressants to his patients with confidence. He knew the published scientific evidence, and it was clear: it showed that 70% of people who took them got significantly better. He began to investigate this further, and put in a freedom of information request to get the data that the drug companies had been privately gathering into these drugs. He was confident that he would find all sorts of other positive effects but then he bumped into something peculiar.

Illustration
Illustration by Michael Driver.

We all know that when you take selfies, you take 30 pictures, throw away the 29 where you look bleary-eyed or double-chinned, and pick out the best one to be your Tinder profile picture. It turned out that the drug companies who fund almost all the research into these drugs were taking this approach to studying chemical antidepressants. They would fund huge numbers of studies, throw away all the ones that suggested the drugs had very limited effects, and then only release the ones that showed success. To give one example: in one trial, the drug was given to 245 patients, but the drug company published the results for only 27 of them. Those 27 patients happened to be the ones the drug seemed to work for. Suddenly, Professor Kirsch realised that the 70% figure couldnt be right.

It turns out that between 65 and 80% of people on antidepressants are depressed again within a year. I had thought that I was freakish for remaining depressed while on these drugs. In fact, Kirsch explained to me in Massachusetts, I was totally typical. These drugs are having a positive effect for some people but they clearly cant be the main solution for the majority of us, because were still depressed even when we take them. At the moment, we offer depressed people a menu with only one option on it. I certainly dont want to take anything off the menu but I realised, as I spent time with him, that we would have to expand the menu.

This led Professor Kirsch to ask a more basic question, one he was surprised to be asking. How do we know depression is even caused by low serotonin at all? When he began to dig, it turned out that the evidence was strikingly shaky. Professor Andrew Scull of Princeton, writing in the Lancet, explained that attributing depression to spontaneously low serotonin is deeply misleading and unscientific. Dr David Healy told me: There was never any basis for it, ever. It was just marketing copy.

I didnt want to hear this. Once you settle into a story about your pain, you are extremely reluctant to challenge it. It was like a leash I had put on my distress to keep it under some control. I feared that if I messed with the story I had lived with for so long, the pain would run wild, like an unchained animal. Yet the scientific evidence was showing me something clear, and I couldnt ignore it.

*****

So, what is really going on? When I interviewed social scientists all over the world from So Paulo to Sydney, from Los Angeles to London I started to see an unexpected picture emerge. We all know that every human being has basic physical needs: for food, for water, for shelter, for clean air. It turns out that, in the same way, all humans have certain basic psychological needs. We need to feel we belong. We need to feel valued. We need to feel were good at something. We need to feel we have a secure future. And there is growing evidence that our culture isnt meeting those psychological needs for many perhaps most people. I kept learning that, in very different ways, we have become disconnected from things we really need, and this deep disconnection is driving this epidemic of depression and anxiety all around us.

Lets look at one of those causes, and one of the solutions we can begin to see if we understand it differently. There is strong evidence that human beings need to feel their lives are meaningful that they are doing something with purpose that makes a difference. Its a natural psychological need. But between 2011 and 2012, the polling company Gallup conducted the most detailed study ever carried out of how people feel about the thing we spend most of our waking lives doing our paid work. They found that 13% of people say they are engaged in their work they find it meaningful and look forward to it. Some 63% say they are not engaged, which is defined as sleepwalking through their workday. And 24% are actively disengaged: they hate it.

A
Antidepressant prescriptions have doubled over the last decade. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Most of the depressed and anxious people I know, I realised, are in the 87% who dont like their work. I started to dig around to see if there is any evidence that this might be related to depression. It turned out that a breakthrough had been made in answering this question in the 1970s, by an Australian scientist called Michael Marmot. He wanted to investigate what causes stress in the workplace and believed hed found the perfect lab in which to discover the answer: the British civil service, based in Whitehall. This small army of bureaucrats was divided into 19 different layers, from the permanent secretary at the top, down to the typists. What he wanted to know, at first, was: whos more likely to have a stress-related heart attack the big boss at the top, or somebody below him?

Everybody told him: youre wasting your time. Obviously, the boss is going to be more stressed because hes got more responsibility. But when Marmot published his results, he revealed the truth to be the exact opposite. The lower an employee ranked in the hierarchy, the higher their stress levels and likelihood of having a heart attack. Now he wanted to know: why?

And thats when, after two more years studying civil servants, he discovered the biggest factor. It turns out if you have no control over your work, you are far more likely to become stressed and, crucially, depressed. Humans have an innate need to feel that what we are doing, day-to-day, is meaningful. When you are controlled, you cant create meaning out of your work.

Suddenly, the depression of many of my friends, even those in fancy jobs who spend most of their waking hours feeling controlled and unappreciated started to look not like a problem with their brains, but a problem with their environments. There are, I discovered, many causes of depression like this. However, my journey was not simply about finding the reasons why we feel so bad. The core was about finding out how we can feel better how we can find real and lasting antidepressants that work for most of us, beyond only the packs of pills we have been offered as often the sole item on the menu for the depressed and anxious. I kept thinking about what Dr Cacciatore had taught me we have to deal with the deeper problems that are causing all this distress.

I found the beginnings of an answer to the epidemic of meaningless work in Baltimore. Meredith Mitchell used to wake up every morning with her heart racing with anxiety. She dreaded her office job. So she took a bold step one that lots of people thought was crazy. Her husband, Josh, and their friends had worked for years in a bike store, where they were ordered around and constantly felt insecure, Most of them were depressed. One day, they decided to set up their own bike store, but they wanted to run it differently. Instead of having one guy at the top giving orders, they would run it as a democratic co-operative. This meant they would make decisions collectively, they would share out the best and worst jobs and they would all, together, be the boss. It would be like a busy democratic tribe. When I went to their store Baltimore Bicycle Works the staff explained how, in this different environment, their persistent depression and anxiety had largely lifted.

Its not that their individual tasks had changed much. They fixed bikes before; they fix bikes now. But they had dealt with the unmet psychological needs that were making them feel so bad by giving themselves autonomy and control over their work. Josh had seen for himself that depressions are very often, as he put it, rational reactions to the situation, not some kind of biological break. He told me there is no need to run businesses anywhere in the old humiliating, depressing way we could move together, as a culture, to workers controlling their own workplaces.

*****

With each of the nine causes of depression and anxiety I learned about, I kept being taught startling facts and arguments like this that forced me to think differently. Professor John Cacioppo of Chicago University taught me that being acutely lonely is as stressful as being punched in the face by a stranger and massively increases your risk of depression. Dr Vincent Felitti in San Diego showed me that surviving severe childhood trauma makes you 3,100% more likely to attempt suicide as an adult. Professor Michael Chandler in Vancouver explained to me that if a community feels it has no control over the big decisions affecting it, the suicide rate will shoot up.

This new evidence forces us to seek out a very different kind of solution to our despair crisis. One person in particular helped me to unlock how to think about this. In the early days of the 21st century, a South African psychiatrist named Derek Summerfeld went to Cambodia, at a time when antidepressants were first being introduced there. He began to explain the concept to the doctors he met. They listened patiently and then told him they didnt need these new antidepressants, because they already had anti-depressants that work. He assumed they were talking about some kind of herbal remedy.

He asked them to explain, and they told him about a rice farmer they knew whose left leg was blown off by a landmine. He was fitted with a new limb, but he felt constantly anxious about the future, and was filled with despair. The doctors sat with him, and talked through his troubles. They realised that even with his new artificial limb, his old jobworking in the rice paddieswas leaving him constantly stressed and in physical pain, and that was making him want to just stop living. So they had an idea. They believed that if he became a dairy farmer, he could live differently. So they bought him a cow. In the months and years that followed, his life changed. His depressionwhich had been profoundwent away. You see, doctor, they told him, the cow was an antidepressant.

To them, finding an antidepressant didnt mean finding a way to change your brain chemistry. It meant finding a way to solve the problem that was causing the depression in the first place. We can do the same. Some of these solutions are things we can do as individuals, in our private lives. Some require bigger social shifts, which we can only achieve together, as citizens. But all of them require us to change our understanding of what depression and anxiety really are.

This is radical, but it is not, I discovered, a maverick position. In its official statement for World Health Day in 2017, the United Nations reviewed the best evidence and concluded that the dominant biomedical narrative of depression is based on biased and selective use of research outcomes that must be abandoned. We need to move from focusing on chemical imbalances, they said, to focusing more on power imbalances.

After I learned all this, and what it means for us all, I started to long for the power to go back in time and speak to my teenage self on the day he was told a story about his depression that was going to send him off in the wrong direction for so many years. I wanted to tell him: This pain you are feeling is not a pathology. Its not crazy. It is a signal that your natural psychological needs are not being met. It is a form of grief for yourself, and for the culture you live in going so wrong. I know how much it hurts. I know how deeply it cuts you. But you need to listen to this signal. We all need to listen to the people around us sending out this signal. It is telling you what is going wrong. It is telling you that you need to be connected in so many deep and stirring ways that you arent yet but you can be, one day.

If you are depressed and anxious, you are not a machine with malfunctioning parts. You are a human being with unmet needs. The only real way out of our epidemic of despair is for all of us, together, to begin to meet those human needs for deep connection, to the things that really matter in life.

This is an edited extract from Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari, published by Bloomsbury on 11 January (16.99). To order a copy for 14.44 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99. It will be available in audio at audible.co.uk

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/07/is-everything-you-think-you-know-about-depression-wrong-johann-hari-lost-connections

Facebook’s original video is something publishers are actually excited for

Virtually Dating" is a five-episode series produced by Cond Nast Entertainment.
Image: conde nast entertainment

For all of Facebook’s big talk about video, it was still just part of the almighty News Feed.

Publishers hoping to capture a moment of a user’s attention looked for thumb-stopping moments, which gave rise to a new and not-terribly compelling format of video that remains endemic to Facebook.

Watch is something different. Facebook’s new original video program features TV-like shows made by media companies. Perhaps most importantly, the shows are showcased in a brand new section of the social network.

That’s enough to convince publishers, who have spent years contorting to fit into Facebook’s plans, that Watch could be big.

“We are really excited,” said Dawn Ostroff, president of Cond Nast Entertainment, which is producing a dating show with a virtual reality twist for Watch. “This is a new opportunity, a new type of content. [Facebook’s] trying to open up a whole new area for content makers.”

Oren Katzeff, Tastemade‘s head of programming, offered similar excitement. The food-focused media company has created six shows for Facebook Watch.

“Were able to be a part of appointment viewing, and thats huge,” Katzeff said

That enthusiasm is quite unlike how publishers have previously behaved when asked about their work with and on Facebook. Typically, there’s a roll of the eyes, a sigh, and a list of grievances.

“The problem with Facebook’s entire ‘news team’ is that they’re glorified client services people,” the head of digital operations at a major news outlet told Mashable at F8, the company’s annual developer conference in April.

Now, there’s a new sense of hope among the media industry. Facebook’s massive scale has always tempted publishers, but revenue has been elusive. Facebook’s new program, with its emphasis on quality content and less on thumb-bait, seems ready-made for high-end ads. These original shows, in concept, also compete with what’s available live on TV and bingeable on Netflix and Huluplatforms that most publishers haven’t cracked.

“I think it is where people will go to watch on-demand programming and live news, and I intend Cheddar to be the leading live news player on Watch,” Jon Steinberg, CEO of business news show Cheddar, wrote in a private Twitter message.

Facebook’s Watch platform

Image: facebook

Simultaneously, there’s little stress for publishers about potential revenuefor now. Facebook has guaranteed minimum earnings for each episode, according to an executive at a participating publisher who could not be named since financial discussions are private. Facebook not only pays a licensing fee to publishers but also will split revenue from mid-roll ads.

It’s not the first time Facebook has cut checks for publishers to support video efforts. Last year, Facebook paid publishers, including Mashable, to produce live videos, requiring a minimum number of minutes streamed per month. (Mashable is also a Watch partner.)

But Facebook’s live video effort was slow to start, and publishers didn’t reap in rewardsespecially when it came to the return of their investments, several participants told Mashable.

It wasn’t all their fault or Facebook’s. For one, Facebook users weren’t really used to going to the site or the app for live video. Since then, Facebook has released several products, including a redesigned version of the current video tab and a TV app, both of which better support the new ecosystem. Publishers’ series will be spotlighted on the Facebook’s new tab for shows, for example. The experience is slowly being rolled out to users over the next month.

Participating publishers are going all in.

Tastemade produced six shows over the last few months and is still wrapping up a couple. Three are food focused: Kitchen Little, Struggle Meals, and Food To Die For. Two are more home and lifestyle: Move-In Day and Safe Deposit. The sixth is a late-night comedy show with celebrity interviews, hosted by an animated taco, called Let’s Taco Bout It.

“Tomas grew up as a Taco, and he had adopted parents, and his life goal has been to discover who his true parents are. He tries to relate with his guests,” Katzeff said.

Tomas Taco

Image: tastemade

What’s exciting here is not just an animated taco, but the fact that these publishers are well positioned to scale these tacos… err video series.

Maybe an animated taco won’t appeal to all 2 billion of Facebook’s users, but it doesn’t necessarily need to. Unlike TV, these shows aren’t locked into specific networks with a specific time-slot. Rather, they can be directed to actual people, based on their interests (Facebook likes) and demographic information.

“With Facebook Watch, the era of audience parting has truly arrived,” wrote Nick Cicero of Delmondo, a Facebook media solutions partner for video analytics.

Unlike TV, Facebook has a built-in platform for conversation. Ostroff of Cond Nast Entertainment said she believed Facebook greenlighted Virtually Dating, a show where blind dates take place in a virtual reality world, for the Watch platform because of the potential for online conversation.

“If it works, it was something that could go viral or a show that everyone could weigh in on,” Ostroff said. “Were excited about learning, learning how the viewer and the consumer is going to use [Watch]. Whats going to succeed and whats not.”

No one is saying it’s been easy. Several publishers told Mashable they have been careful to make sure they are staying in budget. They also noted that it is still a testone that they will be closely monitoring. Now that the shows are near launch, publishers said they will need to focus on promotion.

Watch “is really great for those who were actually able to get into the program,” said Jarrett Moreno, cofounder of ATTN, which has created Health Hacks starring Jessica Alba and We Need to Talk with Nev Schulman and Laura Perlongo.”It’s a priority for Facebook. They’ve emphasized that.”

A priority, for now.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/08/12/facebook-watch-original-video-publishers-pitchfork/

Top journalist sues Time magazine for sex and age discrimination

Catherine Mayer says she was fired from US publication after being sidelined by senior staff

The co-founder of the Womens Equality party, Catherine Mayer, is suing her former employer, Time magazine, for gender and age discrimination, making the weekly favoured by President Donald Trump the latest major media company to be embroiled in accusations of institutional sexism.

The case comes soon after publication of BBC salaries provoked outrage at both gender and race gaps in pay, and a year after a series of high-profile sexual harassment cases plunged US TV giant Fox News into turmoil.

It pits one of Britains most prominent journalists, who wrote a controversial biography of Prince Charles and was shortlisted for the Orwell prize, against one of Americas most famous magazines, nearly a century old and with millions of readers. Times brand is so powerful Trumps golf clubs were decorated with mocked-up covers showing his face. Mayers suit, filed in a New York court, covers the final three years of her employment at the title, and her dismissal in 2015.

The problems began soon after she was appointed Europe regional editor, after eight years of outstanding performance and appraisals, court documents allege. The suit alleges that Times foreign editor appointed Matt McAllester, a younger male colleague, as her deputy, without an open selection process and in violation of promises that she could choose her team. Mayer says McAllester began a campaign to undermine and supplant her, even though she repeatedly raised complaints.

Ultimately, Mayer claims, the company took away her responsibilities as Europe editor the year after she took on the position, then forced her to relinquish the title, which the company gave to McAllester. In April 2015 she was fired.

The suit, filed on 24 July, said: Time has violated [anti-discrimination and civil rights] laws by operating a system of male cronyism, by which men, especially former war correspondents, were favoured over women in recruitment, dismissal and promotion decisions.

It alleges that McAllester, now editor-in-chief of Newsweek, poisoned the atmosphere in the London office so much one employee was afraid to be alone with him and eventually resigned without having another job to go to. This was not the result of a tough but fair work regime, but from bullying some subordinates and favouring others. Non-macho men and women who did not conform to traditional expectations of gender roles did not fare well, the suit claims. Staff in London quickly concluded that McAllester was trying to oust plaintiff.

Mayer claims that when she raised concerns with the international editor, Jim Frederick, he did not provide support. He responded simply, You are two of my favourite people and I am sure you will find a way to work things out. Her treatment triggered serious health problems including depression, migraines and insomnia, Mayer alleges. She also claims the timing of her dismissal was particularly damaging because it coincided with publication of her controversial and high-profile biography of Prince Charles. [It] had a negative impact on book sales and her reputation, since many assumed Time had terminated her because her research for the book was defective or for other performance-related reasons, the suit said.

Mayer claims she contested her dismissal immediately. There was never a point when I accepted this was a valid redundancy, and never a point when I didnt fight back, she said. Of course money is relevant to this, but also they were doing me reputational damage, because of the timing of the decision.

However, the case has come to light only after she decided to sue. Mayer said that despite her prominent position as an advocate for gender equality, she had hoped to keep her personal battle with Time quiet by reaching a private settlement. Im not going to try to pretend that I started out doing this for other women, she said. Absolutely initially what you want to do is move on with your life.

Mayer chose to take legal action in New York, where Time and its senior management is based. She is a dual citizen of the US and Britain. After two years seeking a settlement, legal deadlines meant she had to go to court or drop her case, she said. But under the US system, that meant the suit would be public.

Mayer said that having the case made public has a silver lining. She can now discuss her personal experience, and how it forced her to confront wider problems across the profession. If this is happening to me, what is it like to be someone less well-defended than me? she asked.

Time did not respond to questions about the lawsuit and Mayers claims. Matt McAllester declined to comment.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/aug/05/catherine-mayer-time-magazine-sex-discrimination-lawsuit

Turkish activists decry attack on press freedom as journalists stand trial

Charges include claims that Cumhuriyet journalists helped the separatist Kurdistan Workers party and Glen movement

The trial of 17 reporters and executives from Cumhuriyet, one of Turkeys last standing opposition newspapers, is set to begin on Monday with rights activists decrying the continuing muzzling of free speech in one of the worlds largest jailers of journalists.

The charges include accusations that the newspapers journalists aided the separatist Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) and the Fethullah Glen movement, which is widely believed in Turkey to have orchestrated last years coup attempt, and complaints of irregularities in the elections of the organisations board of executives.

Rights activists say the trial is an assault on freedom of expression and the accusations are absurd, because Cumhuriyet, the countrys newspaper of record that is committed to secularism, has long warned of the dangers of the Glen movement, which itself has long been at odds with the PKK.

They argue that the other charges are an attempt at replacing the newspapers board of directors with government appointees more pliable to the ruling partys influence.

I have been a journalist for a long time and have dealt with this for a long time, said Aydn Engin, a veteran journalist with Cumhuriyet who is also standing trial on Monday, but had been released for health reasons. I will say that I am ashamed and in agony for my country because of these irrational accusations, he said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoan and his ruling Justice and Development (AK) party have, for years worked to dismantle or co-opt Turkeys free press. That crackdown has accelerated in the year since last Julys coup, with more than 150 journalists believed to be behind bars in Turkey, the highest in the world ahead of China and Egypt.

As of March this year, 173 media outlets had been shut down, including newspapers, magazines, radio stations, websites and news agencies. More than 2,500 journalists have been laid off as part of the closures and 800 have had their press cards revoked, according to the Republican Peoples party (CHP), the main opposition bloc.

The government has also exerted pressure on media outlets that do not toe the official line by pressuring advertisers not to do business with them and pursuing cases of defamation, or by slapping them with large, unpayable fines. After media outlets that once belonged to the Glen movement were seized, the government-appointed trustee boards that have transformed those newspapers and TV stations into a loyalist press.

These loyalist media outlets are often referred to as penguin media because a TV station that was fearful of antagonising the government during the Gezi protests of 2013 aired a documentary about penguins instead of broadcasting the protests.

That threat of a trustee board hangs over Cumhuriyet, a newspaper that was founded in 1924 and is the only serious newspaper in circulation that is vehemently opposed to government policies. It has described the crackdown after the coup in which the government dismissed or detained tens of thousands of civil servants, police and military officers, academics, judges and journalists as a witch-hunt, and has repeatedly criticised Erdoan as an authoritarian attempting to destroy democracy.

Erdoan has described democracy as a train before, said Engin, referring to a quote by the president that described democracy as a train that one can get off from once you reach you destination. Its going to be worse for Cumhuriyet. Maybe it will be a shut down, a quick and painless death, or we will suffocate slowly.

The newspaper has also joined calls for a ceasefire and peaceful resolution to the conflict with the PKK at a time when the government had opted for a security-focused response amid heightened tensions. The former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, is in exile after being prosecuted for a 2014 article that revealed the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) was sending weapons across the border into Syria under the guise of humanitarian aid, a story that the authorities say was leaked by Glenist conspirators.

On Monday, a week of hearings is expected to begin in the Cumhuriyet case against 17 of the newspapers journalists and executives. The case will commence with a reading out of the indictment and opening defense statements, and they expect for the presiding judge to decide whether to release the defendants on bail by Friday.

This trial offers the government another opportunity to change course in its campaign against Turkeys independent media, said Tobias Garnett, a human rights lawyer with P24, an organisation that advocates for press freedom and supports Turkish journalists on trial. Journalism is not a crime. Prosecutors should stop dressing up legitimate criticism as terrorism and harassing journalists through the courts.

Blent zdoan, the managing editor of Cumhuriyet, said in an interview with the Guardian that the trial was not just about press freedom, but about the governments campaign in the aftermath of the coup more broadly.

Its not just a struggle for free press, he said. Our arrested colleagues are people of a high moral and intellectual calibre. Its for everyone who lost their jobs, those who have been on hunger strike. Theyre struggling for both of us. Thats why I believe its a new start.

The arrest of journalists has earned Ankara criticism from abroad. Late last month, the UN human rights councils working group on arbitrary detentions issued a legal opinion arguing that the arrest of the Cumhuriyet staff contravened the universal declaration of human rights and was arbitrary. The panel of experts called on the Turkish government to release the journalists.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/24/turkish-activists-decry-attack-press-freedom-journalists-stand-trial

Popular social media sites ‘harm young people’s mental health’

Poll of 14- to 24-year-olds shows Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter increased feelings of inadequacy and anxiety

Four of the five most popular forms of social media harm young peoples mental health, with Instagram the most damaging, according to research by two health organisations.

Instagram has the most negative impact on young peoples mental wellbeing, a survey of almost 1,500 14- to 24-year-olds found, and the health groups accused it of deepening young peoples feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.

The survey, published on Friday, concluded that Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are also harmful. Among the five only YouTube was judged to have a positive impact.

The four platforms have a negative effect because they can exacerbate childrens and young peoples body image worries, and worsen bullying, sleep problems and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness, the participants said.

The findings follow growing concern among politicians, health bodies, doctors, charities and parents about young people suffering harm as a result of sexting, cyberbullying and social media reinforcing feelings of self-loathing and even the risk of them committing suicide.

Its interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing. Both platforms are very image-focused and it appears that they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people, said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, which undertook the survey with the Young Health Movement.

She demanded tough measures to make social media less of a wild west when it comes to young peoples mental health and wellbeing. Social media firms should bring in a pop-up image to warn young people that they have been using it a lot, while Instagram and similar platforms should alert users when photographs of people have been digitally manipulated, Cramer said.

The 1,479 young people surveyed were asked to rate the impact of the five forms of social media on 14 different criteria of health and wellbeing, including their effect on sleep, anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-identity, bullying, body image and the fear of missing out.

Instagram emerged with the most negative score. It rated badly for seven of the 14 measures, particularly its impact on sleep, body image and fear of missing out and also for bullying and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness. However, young people cited its upsides too, including self-expression, self-identity and emotional support.

YouTube scored very badly for its impact on sleep but positively in nine of the 14 categories, notably awareness and understanding of other peoples health experience, self-expression, loneliness, depression and emotional support.

However, the leader of the UKs psychiatrists said the findings were too simplistic and unfairly blamed social media for the complex reasons why the mental health of so many young people is suffering.

Prof Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives.. We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media good and bad to prepare them for an increasingly digitised world. There is real danger in blaming the medium for the message.

Young Minds, the charity which Theresa May visited last week on a campaign stop, backed the call for Instagram and other platforms to take further steps to protect young users.

Tom Madders, its director of campaigns and communications, said: Prompting young people about heavy usage and signposting to support they may need, on a platform that they identify with, could help many young people.

However, he also urged caution in how content accessed by young people on social media is perceived. Its also important to recognise that simply protecting young people from particular content types can never be the whole solution. We need to support young people so they understand the risks of how they behave online, and are empowered to make sense of and know how to respond to harmful content that slips through filters.

Parents and mental health experts fear that platforms such as Instagram can make young users feel worried and inadequate by facilitating hostile comments about their appearance or reminding them that they have not been invited to, for example, a party many of their peers are attending.

May, who has made childrens mental health one of her priorities, highlighted social medias damaging effects in her shared society speech in January, saying: We know that the use of social media brings additional concerns and challenges. In 2014, just over one in 10 young people said that they had experienced cyberbullying by phone or over the internet.

In February, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, warned social media and technology firms that they could face sanctions, including through legislation, unless they did more to tackle sexting, cyberbullying and the trolling of young users.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/19/popular-social-media-sites-harm-young-peoples-mental-health