Disinformation? That's the Government's Job.

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Ed Morrisey is old enough to remember when it was a huge deal: You know that big gov't-media freakout over "disinformation"? Yeah ... never mind.

Does “disinformation” on the Internet actually do anything — even to persuade? When the freak-out over Russia-generated Facebook and Twitter memes began in late 2016, I repeatedly asked one basic question: where is the evidence that these campaigns changed even one single vote?

The answer: No such evidence exists. The memes of Hillary Clinton fighting Jesus turned out not to be game-changers after all, a new study reported by the Washington Post concludes. Voters made up their own minds independent of such trollery, as anyone with two functioning brain cells should have realized before and since:

Ed provides a long quote from the WaPo article. It confirms my priors, as it does Ed's.

A little bit of amateur psychologizing:

  1. Progressives think of the masses as needing to be led, "nudged", coerced, etc. by government elites, because…
  2. The masses are too stupid and irrational to manage their lives on their own.
  3. That's for their own good, of course.
  4. And so when "misinformation" appears on social media…
  5. Progressives' default presumption is that the masses are likely to be snookered by it into…
  6. Voting for charlatans like Trump, so…
  7. Social media used by the masses must be regulated/censored.
  8. For their own good, of course.

The logic is impeccable!

Briefly noted:

  • Zach Weissmueller and Regan Taylor have a video: Did 'Every Conspiracy Theory' About Twitter Turn Out to Be True?.

    Turns out the answer is "Well, conspiracy theories can get pretty wacko, so probably not every one was true."

    It's a good video, but there's a transcript at the link if you (like me) can read faster than you can watch.

  • I may detect a bit of glee from Michael Brendan Dougherty's headline on Biden's mishandling of classified documents from the Obama Administration: Them’s the Rules. (I might have gone with "Turnabout is fair play," myself.)

    I’m sorry, but ever since Donald J. Trump emerged on the political stage in 2015 the world of politics has been an endless Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote caper.

    Every attempt to get Trump by imposing “the rules” on him ends up failing because it is revealed that his opponents have never respected or abided by those rules either.

    Every single time.…

    MBD's bottom line (after a long Politico excerpt): "Among Trump’s superpowers in life and in politics is knowing that being an authentic bad boy beats being a fake good boy every time."

  • Margot Cleveland goes slightly clickbaity with her headline at the Federalist: Difference In Biden And Trump's Classified Docs Isn't What You Think. Oh yeah? What is it then, Margot?

    … the supposed equal treatment on display now does not undo the [National Archives and Records Administration]’s partisan targeting of Trump that began the day he walked out of the White House for the last time. Nonetheless, it is quite satisfying to watch the Biden administration eat crow.

    The other bit of good news is that this might get some diligent journalists to dig a bit into the "Penn Biden Center", through which the University of Pennsylvania paid Joe more than $900K in 2017 and 2018 for "a vaguely defined role that involved no regular classes and around a dozen public appearances on campus, mostly in big, ticketed events."

    Was the Penn Biden Center laundering funds for … someone or someones?

  • More on one of the stupidest efforts I've seen so far this year, from Emma Camp: Seattle School District Sues Google, Facebook, Snapchat, and TikTok for Causing Teen 'Mental Health Crisis'.

    Seattle Public Schools makes considerable leaps when asserting that social media platforms are singlehandedly responsible for a wide range of behavioral problems among the youth it teaches. While analysts have long linked heavy social media use to mental illness, it's unclear if there is a definitive causal relationship. As Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote last month, "most teens—59 percent—see social media as neither having a positive nor negative effect on their lives. Just 9 percent said it's mostly negative, while 32 percent said it's mostly positive. Many teens also say that life on social media is better than their parents assume it is."

    The school district's lawsuit assumes that social media use among teenagers is inevitable. However, parents have the ability to control how much time their children spend on social media. Not only can parents simply refuse to buy their children the smartphones that enable problematic social media use, but social media apps themselves often allow parents to enact strict time limits and content controls.

    Since I am not a lawyer, I'll just toss out some advice for the sued companies: countersue for tortious interference.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:57 AM EDT

Creatures of Cain

The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America

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Well, one minor gripe: the "Cold War" reference in the book's subtitle is kind of a fakeout. Yes, most of the intellectual action the author, Erika Lorraine Milam, describes here takes place in that era. But the Soviet Union didn't really have much to do with it, much less Red China. The slim connecting reed: one of Milam's narrative threads describes the American panic over Sputnik, which launched a major educational effort to push kids into scientific and technical careers.

I know: I was somewhat shaped by that effort myself. I still recall the brand spanking new textbooks in my high school science courses. And one of the components of my college financial aid package was a "National Defense Student Loan", part of the 1958 National Defense Education Act.

But apart from that major bit of social engineering, that era saw an upsurge in science interest from the general public. Cheap pop-science paperbacks from folks like Rachel Carson, Margaret Mead, Isaac Asimov, George Gamow, etc. were given a prominent position on the racks. (I devoured Gamow's One, Two, Three, … Infinity myself; 'twas another life-changer for me.) The Time-Life Science Library! Magazines like Popular Science, National Geographic, … I could go on.

Let's get back to the book: Milam looks at how the thorny topic of "human nature" evolved during this era, a complex tale involving paleontologists, anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, primatologists, sociologists, … The slight relevance to the Cold War: the overshadowing possibility of nuclear armageddon had people wondering if mankind was doomed by its inherent intra-species aggressive tendencies to seek out bigger and better weapons, the better to destroy itself. Popularizers included Desmond Morris, Robert Ardrey, Richard Dawkins, and many more. With the discussion and debates carrying on today.

As you might guess, the political and social implications of such research impacted subsequent popularizations and discussions. The issue was not just aggression, but also (oh oh) matters of race and sex. As always, when ideology and science collide, neither one comes out looking well. The bitter controversy over (for example) Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology is covered extensively; To her credit, Milam's coverage is even-handed.

Random observation: although Jane Goodall's work with chimps is extensively covered, there's nothing about bonobos, their relatively peaceful cousins. Maybe that research happened outside Milam's adopted timeframe? I don't know.

Fun fact: on which popular television show was the word "penis" first uttered? The answer may be found on page 113. (Or you can just read this Reason review, which put the book on my get-at-library list.)

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:57 AM EDT