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“Platitudes And Rhetorical Nonsense”: How Trump Has Managed To Dumb Down The Immigration Debate

New evidence sugggests Donald Trump’s ignorant and devisive rhetoric on immigration parallels the political discourse on Twitter, suggesting that the bloviating of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee may have an impact on how the immigration debate unfolds.

In collaboration with MIT Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social MachinesFusion explored a correlation between Trump’s campaign and an increase in Twitter discussions around aspects of the immigration debate, including mass deportation and Trump’s promise to build a “great wall” along the southern border of the United States.

Meanwhile, during that same period, mentions of comprehensive immigration reform fell during Trump’s political rise. The findings suggest Trump is having a direct impact on the immigration debate, ultimately turning people’s attention away from practical, bipartisan solutions and towards platitudes and rhetorical nonsense.

Analyzing a data plot comparing Twitter mentions of offering undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship with Trump’s promise to build a wall, the researchers found a significant decrease in comprehensive immigration reform between May and July 2015, directly correlating with Trump’s announcement on June 16, 2015, that he would seek the Republican nomination for President of the United States.

Talk of comprehensive immigration reform peaked in 2013 after the House of Representatives failed to pass the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which was intended to “modernize and streamline our current legal immigration system, while creating a tough but fair legalization program for individuals who are currently here.”

A year later, the immigration debate once again focused on providing a pathway to citizenship; in November 2014, President Obama issued several executive actions on immigration, offering deportation relief to five million undocumented immigrants. The Obama administration is currently fighting for those reforms in the Supreme Court.

Prior to Trump entering the race, Fusion reports “28 percent of election-related Twitter chatter about immigration focused on an idea of a pathway to citizenship,” making it the most-discussed immigration-related topic on the popular social networking service. Likewise, less than two percent of immigration-related discussions on Twitter focused on building a wall.

But in July 2015, the conversation flipped, with talk of illegal immigrants, mass deportation and building a southern border wall dominating the political discourse, while comprehensive immigration reform and pathways to citizenship all but disappeared from the Twitter lexicon.

Twitter mentions of mass deportation spiked in August 2015, after Trump promised he would enact a “deportation force” to send back 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living int he United States. As Fusion reports, “in September, [mass deportation] even topped the chart briefly as the most-discussed election-related immigration topic.”

Similarly, as Trump’s pro-wall rhetoric increasingly dominated politics in late 2015, 18 percent of all immigration talk on Twitter focused on building a southern border wall, making it the most discussed immigration topic on Twitter. Meanwhile, only 6 percent of immigration-related mentions discussed a pathway to citizenship.

And the trend continues even as the remaining candidates pivot towards the general election; in May, MIT’s Media Lab recorded 22 percent of immigration-related policy talk on Twitter focuses on the wall, while only 2 percent mentions comprehensive immigration policies, including a pathway to citizenship.

It’s clear Trump’s haranguing about building a wall and kicking out 11 million people resonates with the Twitter users, successfully dominating the political conversation, while sensible solutions fall to the wayside. As the election continues, it remains to be seen whether a comprehensive, bipartisan solution can once again ignite interest on social media, or if Trump’s reductive, anti-immigrant policies continue to monopolize the debate.


By: Elizabeth Preza, AlterNet, June 17, 2016

June 21, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Immigration Reform, Social Media | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Shouldn’t Be The Victim’s Responsibility”: If Tech Companies Wanted To End Online Harassment, They Could Do It Tomorrow

If someone posted a death threat to your Facebook page, you’d likely be afraid. If the person posting was your husband – a man you had a restraining order against, a man who wrote that he was “not going to rest until [your] body [was] a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts” – then you’d be terrified. It’s hard to imagine any other reasonable reaction.

Yet that’s just what Anthony Elonis wants you to believe: That his violent Facebook posts – including one about masturbating on his dead wife’s body – were not meant as threats. So on Monday, in Elonis v United States, the US supreme court will start to hear arguments in a case that will determine whether threats on social media will be considered protected speech.

If the court rules for Elonis, those who are harassed and threatened online every day – women, people of color, rape victims and young bullied teens – will have even less protection than they do now. Which is to say: not damn much.

For as long as people – women, especially – have been on the receiving end of online harassment, they’ve been strategizing mundane and occasionally creative ways to deal with it. Some call law enforcement when the threats are specific. Others mock the harassment – or, in the case of videogame reviewer and student Alanah Pearce, send a screenshot to the harasser’s mother.

But the responsibility of dealing with online threats shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of the people who are being harassed. And it shouldn’t need to rise to being a question of constitutional law. If Twitter, Facebook or Google wanted to stop their users from receiving online harassment, they could do it tomorrow.

When money is on the line, internet companies somehow magically find ways to remove content and block repeat offenders. For instance, YouTube already runs a sophisticated Content ID program dedicated to scanning uploaded videos for copyrighted material and taking them down quickly – just try to bootleg music videos or watch unofficial versions of Daily Show clips and see how quickly they get taken down. But a look at the comments under any video and it’s clear there’s no real screening system for even the most abusive language.

If these companies are so willing to protect intellectual property, why not protect the people using your services?

Jaclyn Friedman, the executive director of Women Action Media (WAM!) – who was my co-editor on the anthology Yes Means Yes – told me, “If Silicon Valley can invent a driverless car, they can address online harassment on their platforms.”

Instead, Friedman says, “They don’t lack the talent, resources or vision to solve this problem – they lack the motivation.”

Last month, WAM! launched a pilot program with Twitter to help the company better identify gendered abuse. On a volunteer basis, WAM! collected reports of sexist harassment, and the group is now analyzing the data to help Twitter understand “how those attacks function on their platform, and to improve Twitter’s responses to it”.

But when a company that made about $1bn in ad revenue in 2014 has to rely on a non-profit’s volunteers to figure out how to deal with a growing problem like gendered harassment, that doesn’t say much about its commitment to solving the problem.

A Twitter spokesperson told me that WAM! is just one of many organizations the company works with on “best practices for user safety”. But while Twitter’s rules include a ban on violent threats and “targeted abuse”, they do not, I was told, “proactively monitor content on the platform.”

When WAM! and the Everyday Sexism Project put pressure on Facebook last year over pages that glorified violence against women, the company responded that its efforts to deal with gender-specific hate speech “failed to work effectively as we would like” and promised to do better.

On Sunday, a Facebook representative confirmed to me that since then, the social network has followed through on some of these steps, like completing more comprehensive internal trainings and working more directly with women’s groups. Harassment on Facebook remains ubiquitous nonetheless – and even the most basic functions to report abuse are inadequate.

So if those who face everyday online harassment can’t rely on the law, and if social media companies are reluctant to invest in technologies to scrub it from their platforms, what then?

Emily May, the executive director of the anti-street harassment organization Hollaback, told me that, like many women, “I don’t want to be on YouTube or Twitter if every time I open up TweetDeck I see another rape threat.”

Do you?


By: Jessica Valenti, The Guardian, December 1, 2014

December 2, 2014 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Social Media, Violence Against Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Alternate Media Universe”: The GOP’s Delusional Far-Right Twitter Bubble Explains Their Misinformed, Kooky Thinking

New York magazine’s Dan Amira takes a look at what accounts members of Congress follow on Twitter, and the results are … depressing. Both sides mainly follow the worst of the awful Beltway media. Pundits obsessed with trivialities and conflict and personalities beat out commentators and reporters who understand policy or political science. So Mike Allen wins! Well, the Hill actually wins, beating out Politico, C-SPAN and its smarter, but more expensive, primary competitor Roll Call. But Allen wins in the list of individual media personalities with the largest followings among members of Congress. That top 10 is pretty much depressing from start to finish, though at least Jake Tapper beats Joe Scarborough.

It’s pretty easy to over-interpret these findings. Few members of Congress have any involvement at all in their Twitter feeds — some of them may not know they have Twitter feeds — so what we’re seeing here are the accounts followed by, most likely, junior staffers. They follow Chuck Todd because, you know, they have to. If they miss some dumb thing Chuck Todd says that people start talking about they will get in trouble.

But when the most-followed lists are separated by party affiliation, interesting trends emerge. Republicans are more in lockstep in their following habits. 71 percent of Democrats follow the White House, the most-followed account for the Dems. Seventy-two percent of Republicans follow Eric Cantor, the seventh most followed account for the GOP. (John Boehner is the most-followed, with 88.7 percent of Republican members.) The Heritage Foundation has more elected Republican followers — 70.4 percent of members — than any actual media outlet or reporter. Even Politico. Even the Wall Street Journal. There’s no comparable organization in the top 20 for the Democrats.

On the pundit list, Mike Allen is at the top of both parties’ lists, proof that bipartisanship is alive and awful in Washington, but only 48.8 percent of Democrats follow Allen, compared to 57.7 percent of Republicans — proof that Democrats remain, as ever, the slight lesser of two evils. The rest of the pundit lists serve as a small window into the root of congressional paralysis and dysfunction.

The two lists have only a few names in common. After Allen, the rest of the GOP top five is all Fox reporters and commentators (including two former Bush administration officials), and the rest of the Democratic top five is Maddow, Chuck Todd, Ezra Klein and Jake Tapper — a plurality for MSNBC if you count Ezra, but not a unanimous win. The only outright conservative on the Democratic list is Joe Scarborough. Conservatives would likely argue (incorrectly but whatever) that Joe Scarborough is also a token liberal on the Republican list.

The most left-wing people on the Democratic list are easily MSNBC hosts Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow. (And maybe Krugman.) The GOP list has Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee, Erick Erickson, Fred Barnes and Michelle Malkin. And, well, if you want to know why Republicans are so nuts, let’s look at the fact that nearly half (46 percent) of the Republican congressional delegation follows Michelle Malkin.

If you’re following Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin because you think they are worthwhile voices or useful sources of information, you’re a terribly misinformed far-right kook. If you’re following them because you have to keep on top of whatever Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin are screeching about today, because you know that your constituents consider them worthwhile voices or useful sources of information, that’s just as bad. Because whether the Republican Party is full of true-believing kooks or merely people forced to act like true believing kooks in order to keep their seats, the result is the same: a party that can’t be negotiated with because it exists in an alternate media universe with its own history and set of facts.

Hayes and Maddow, to take the two left-most voices on the Democratic list, are both quite genuinely left-wing, especially for the mainstream national political press, but they are also both reasonable people who are generous — sometimes excessively generous! — to opposing points of views. Hannity invited a notorious anti-Semite on his show as part of his years-long campaign to push the most absurd Obama conspiracies imaginable and Malkin wrote a book defending Japanese internment during World War II. These two both regularly fear-monger over the imagined specter of widespread black mob violence. It’s not just that these two have toxic beliefs and live in feverish fantasy lands, though they do, it’s that taking these two seriously is a dumb thing to do in a country that just elected Obama twice, while also voting for Democrats for Congress in greater numbers than for Republicans. They’re … not quite in touch with the actual mood of the country now, to say nothing of where it’s heading. That may be hard to grasp in the right-wing media bubble, especially for people representing districts made up primarily of angry white people, but it’s true.

As ridiculous as the right-wing pundits are, though, it’s the 70 percent of Republicans following Heritage that is actually more worrying. Heritage has joined the rest of the conservative movement in shifting from pursuing politically achievable conservative policy goals to always advocating for the most conservative course of action even when that course involves apocalyptic consequences and is also impossible. So if you want to know how exactly House Republicans managed to convince themselves that they’ll be able to repeal Obamacare if they just want to bad enough, well, it jibes with everything they hear in their wonderful little self-contained world.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, September 4, 2013

September 5, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mr. Nice Guys?: Will Republicans Practice What They Tweet?

It appeared, at first glance, as if Eric Cantor’s Twitter account had been hacked — by a really nice guy.

In recent days, the extravagantly combative GOP House majority leader has been tweeting a veritable sampler box of bipartisan bonbons.

 Sept. 21: “People don’t expect Republicans and Democrats to agree on everything, but they do expect us to overcome our differences and work together.”

Sept. 16: “Good people can have honest disagreements without having their morals or commitment to country being called into question.”

Sept. 13: “We need to work together towards the solutions that will meet the challenges facing our country today.”

Sept. 12: “Let’s try and lower the volume of the rancor in Washington, and focus on what we can do together to grow this economy and create jobs.”

And that is just a taste.

But this was no case of malicious (or, in this instance, magnanimous) hacking. After one of the ugliest summers political Washington has ever seen, Republicans, looking at poll numbers showing voters are even angrier with them than they are with President Obama, have decided to try the Mr. Nice Guy approach, in word and (occasional) deed.

They agreed to pass legislation keeping the Federal Aviation Administration going, abandoning the contentious provisions that led to this summer’s partial shutdown of the agency. They avoided another confrontation by extending highway spending without repealing the federal gas tax, a Tea Party priority. On Thursday, Senate Republicans yielded to President Obama’s demands and passed a worker-assistance bill that clears the way for enacting new trade agreements.

None of this means we’ve entered some new era of harmony in the capital; Republicans remain unswervingly opposed to any new taxes to reduce debt. And GOP leaders can push their rank-and-file only so far.

After conservatives on Wednesday defeated their leaders’ legislation that would keep the government running for the next two months, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) attempted to negotiate with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in hopes of securing Democratic votes for the spending bill. But Boehner lost his nerve and decided instead to appease the recalcitrant conservatives.

Still, the shift in tone shows that Republicans have decided to pick their battles — a sensible response to the revulsion Americans felt watching this summer’s brinkmanship over the debt limit.

The Republicans seem to be heeding the advice of strategists such as Bill McInturff, a GOP pollster who, in a widely read memo earlier this month, warned that the debt standoff hurt consumer confidence much like the Iranian hostage crisis, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Hurricane Katrina.

“The perception of how Washington handled the debt ceiling negotiation led to an immediate collapse of confidence in government and all the major players, including President Obama and Republicans in Congress,” McInturff wrote. He added that “this sharp a drop in consumer confidence is a direct consequence of the lack of confidence in our political system and its leaders.”

Fearing that voters will probably punish all incumbents — not just Obama — Republicans have softened their style in September, even as Obama has hardened his. “There is a recognition on the Hill that people are frustrated with Washington and want some results,” acknowledged Cantor’s spokesman, Brad Dayspring.

The Republicans’ experiment in conciliation has been aided by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has brought up issues — patents, trade and transportation — that had bipartisan support from the start. But Democrats also claim some vindication in the new approach. As one Democratic leadership aide put it: “They’re picking their shots better so they don’t come across as complete [expletives].”

The question is: How much substance comes with that recalibration? After Obama’s address to Congress on job creation, Boehner replied with the conciliatory message that “it is our desire to work with you to find common ground.”

On the morning after his House conservatives defeated the legislation to keep the government running, Boehner went to the microphones to assure Americans: “Listen, there’s no threat of government shutdown. Let’s just get this out there.”

Privately, Democrats believe that, too. And though Obama’s jobs bill has no chance of passage (even many Democrats object to its tax increases), chances are good that Republicans will agree to extend the payroll tax cut and a tax credit for hiring wounded veterans.

“We want to join with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, to find areas where we agree, to make sure the American economy succeeds,” Cantor announced via Twitter.

Well said. But how much will Republicans practice what they tweet?


By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 23, 2011

September 23, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Newt Gingrich Has No Support In Georgia Or Tweets Older Than Eight Months

The former speaker, currently wiping his online record, is forgotten or disliked by many in his former home state.

The Associated Press has a scoop: Newt Gingrich, who has not been in office for more than a decade after resigning from Congress in what could be construed as disgrace, has no real political support in his home state of Georgia, where he has not actually lived for years.

Gingrich lives in a Washington, DC suburb, because your average ambitious politician would rather be in Washington than in whatever ugly backwater he or she “represents” in Congress. Gingrich hasn’t voted in Georgia since 2000, the year he and his third wife bought a presumably lovely house in McLean, Virginia. But because the Republican party platform is explicitly anti-elite and anti-Washington, the longtime member of the Washington establishment is having to pretend to be an outsider in order to maybe pretend to run for president. But no one in Georgia remembers or cares about him.

“He’s yesterday,” said state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, a veteran Republican state lawmaker, vocalizing a key vulnerability for Gingrich.

Linda Douglas, a Republican from Gingrich’s former congressional district in Cobb County, shrugged at the mention of Gingrich’s name and said: “Newt was great in the ’90s but really, his time seems like it’s long gone.”

 And here is a great quote from a former Gingrich staffer:

Lee Howell, who worked as a Gingrich campaign press secretary, won’t be casting a ballot for his old boss if he runs.

“If I was giving a cocktail party and wanted to have good conversation … I’d want Newt to be there,” Howell said. “I’m not sure that he would be the kind of person, would have the skills necessary to be president.”

And if Newt Gingrich got a little tipsy at that cocktail party and started Tweeting, the public may not be able to enjoy his witticisms for long! Gingrich apparently deleted every single Twitter update he wrote before July 22, 2010, presumably in case he decides to wildly change positions on something he Tweeted about last year or earlier.

It is much wiser to just selectively delete a few sensitive Tweets, if you are so worried about things you hammered out on your BlackBerry last June, but Gingrich apparently decided that the nuclear option would minimize the damage to his ridiculous farce of a campaign.

To sum up: No one in America likes Newt Gingrich and he has no base of support and his personal flaws are uniquely horrible and public. So please, everyone, remember to take him very seriously as a presidential candidate, because he is so smart and experienced.

By: Alex Pareene, Salon War Room, March 25, 2011

March 25, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Elections, Ideologues, Neo-Cons, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing | , , , , | Leave a comment


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