Witch Hunt: “Fake News” Software Touted by CBS Smears Naked Capitalism, ShadowProof, TruthDig, Others; Creator Admits He Made Up Who Went on Hit List

One of most pernicious means underway to crush independent news sites is the release of software tools that brand them as unreliable. This means that hidden developers and the parties that fed them information are beyond any accountability, yet would serve as censors.

Last week, the Financial Times described efforts to use software to designate certain sites as suspect:

Concern over the impact on voters of soaring amounts of fake news during the US election has sparked a hackathon where the technology industry and the media’s top thinkers are seeking to find new ways to prioritise the truth.

A community has gathered to share ideas around a 58-page Google document started by Eli Pariser, the author of a best-selling critique of social media, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is hiding from you. A professor has circulated a spreadsheet of reliable and less reliable news sources for comment, while hackathons at Princeton and in the Bay Area have produced prototype products that Facebook could copy…

A team of students won a prize sponsored by Google at a Princeton hackathon last week by creating a quick and dirty prototype of a product that does just that: showing Facebook users a “trust rating” for stories they see, based on an online safety rating provided by “World of Trust”.

If you read the article in full, you’ll see it depicts Wikipedia as a gold standard. As Gary Null discussed yesterday in his Progressive Commentary Hour show (we were a guest; the archived interview should e up later today), it is in fact very difficult to get corrections of Wikipedia entries. Similarly, on certain topics, such as economics, Wikipedia minimizes or excludes non-mainstream views even when they have solid empirical underpinnings and have been given a hearing in academic journals and the press.

The faith in coders coming up with a magic bullet for information validation is similarly questionable. The concern about “fake news” on the Internet is almost comical given that more citizens encounter “fake news” via seeing National Enquirer and National Examiner covers in grocery stores than via websites. It is not hard to imagine that much of the tender concern expressed by the mainstream media is commercial: independent news and analysis sites threaten their legitimacy by exposing how dependent they are on stories planted by government or business source that these press outlets often fail to vet adequately.

One approach is browser extensions that flag sites as suspect via undisclosed, unverifiable methods. Browser extensions are a particularly pernicious approach, since many users are not even aware that they have installed them, and they update automagically in the background. Most consumers do not know how to check for them or remove them.

Shadowproof exposed how this technological response is being deployed in a reckless, fact-free, libelous manner against Shadowproof, Naked Capitalism, and other long-standing, well-regarded websites. Worse, this dodgy tool was promoted by CBS News. As Kevin Gosztola reports:

CBS News reported developers increased pressure on Facebook to address its “fake news problem” with a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox called the “B.S. Detector.” It claimed the extension relies upon “a constantly-updated list of known fake news sites, propaganda mills and ‘promoters of kooky conspiracy theories’” as a reference point.

However, CBS News was wrong. The extension is not “constantly updated.” The extension, as developer Daniel Sieradski shared, was created to “make fun” of Facebook. Sieradski “scraped some data together” that included sites, which are not “fake news” websites. (One of those sites was Shadowproof.com.)

“B.S. Detector” displays a red banner that indicates a news website is “not a reliable news source.” Up until publication, the extension still flagged Consortium News, Naked Capitalism, Truthout, and Truthdig, even though Sieradski said they would not be listed in the update….

Sieradski claims he never expected this to achieve the kind of success or interest it has garnered in the past couple weeks. He seems reluctant to own the mistakes made and publish a list of the websites that were wrongly included in the initial launch in order to exonerate them.

It does not matter if the improper inclusion of certain websites was done maliciously or accidentally. The effect is the same, at this point. People who do not know better can install the extension, and if they become a unique or new viewer to Consortium News, Naked Capitalism, Truthout, or Truthdig, they will see a red banner that may discourage them from further reading and visits to these sites.

Gosztola is being unduly charitable in how he characterizes the casual way with which Sieradski went about smearing small websites. Sieradski’s Twitter handle is @selfagency and business name is The Self Agency, LLC.. This page on GitHub, selfagency/bs-dector, contains this astonishing admission:

As I have repeatedly stated in the press, on our repo, and on our homepage, the dataset was somewhat indiscrimintely compiled and we are slowly making our way through it. We are also looking to partner with media watchdog groups to provide research to back up our inclusions and classifications so that it is neither arbitrary nor the decision of a sole authority.

This is an admission of reckless disregard for accuracy for someone who is making himself an arbiter and doing damage to small sites that have worked long and hard to establish their reputations. This is defamation, pure and simple. Sieradski claims that he is not acting as a censor when he is doing precisely that. The fact that he may get others to participate in this witch hunt does not change the fundamental nature of the activity.

In fact, Sieradski’s ability to rationalize that what he is doing here is on the up and up by virtue of his having donated to the EFF, ACLU, and Chelsea Manning’s defense funds is yet another example of Upton Sinclair’s aphorism, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Gosztola points out that the reason that Sieradski was so casual about smearing well-established sites and so unapologetic about reputational harm is that they are assumed to lack the resources to take legal action:

It does not matter if the improper inclusion of certain websites was done maliciously or accidentally. The effect is the same, at this point. People who do not know better can install the extension, and if they become a unique or new viewer to Consortium News, Naked Capitalism, Truthout, or Truthdig, they will see a red banner that may discourage them from further reading and visits to these sites.

The developers also possess a few viewpoints, which may inhibit their ability to develop an extension that is objective and valuable to news readers.

One, Sieradski has no idea how to handle the problem of corporate news media, which publishes “fake news.” Journalist Marcy Wheeler asked Sieradski why “mainstream fake news” was not flagged through this extension. She wondered why “Squawk Box” financial-type news that pushes a made-up “market” narrative is not flagged. Or what about Fox News? Why aren’t they flagged as a “fake news” website?

Sieradski replied, “We’re working on gathering data on all NewsCorp titles,” and looking for “examples of false stories that point to a pattern of intent to mislead the public.”

It is abundantly evident the developers are going through a much more rigorous process to determine whether it is proper to include Fox News than it is going through other independent news media sites that possibly should not be flagged. Of course, their inclusion is much more detrimental to them because unlike corporate news outlets they do not have significant money and resources.

Due to the traditional media’s eagerness to use the “fake news” meme to regain control over what they once called “the discourse,” independent news sites are under the threat of death by a thousand at best uninformed and at worst malicious efforts to silence them. And for a soi-disant progressive like Sieradski to take up this rancid cause is deeply disturbing.

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    1. Jake Mudrosti

      Thanks for the link — it’s of great value for a pedagogical discussion (ongoing) about Soviet-era Lysenkoism and increasing tendencies of current Western scientists to unwittingly adopt the cultural tactics of Soviet Lysenkoists.

      The article is a great example of the terrible hazards of trusting any self-appointed guardians of truth — seeing as it has an overt lie in its second sentence(!) “Science’s quest for knowledge about reality presupposes the importance of truth.” No. Previous generations of scientists have understood that internal validity, external validity, empirical evidence, and all the remaining attributes of Western science (including features philosophically argued throughout the decades, such as “usefulness”) can not ever be replaced with the term “truth.”

      Very ironically, use of the word “truth” in science is inherently fake. This claim isn’t post-truth or post-modern, as some previous NC commenters have unfortunately tried to argue, but is in fact at the core of modern Western science. Even Feynman, with his famous contempt for philosophy, insisted on the value of applying different theoretical approaches with incompatible formalisms and incompatible interpretations.

      In direct contrast to that openness, Soviet scientists who refused to bow before the mandated Lysenko belief system were horribly persecuted.. It’s strange how few Americans know this, so it warrants stating it.. Soviet journal articles of that time period constantly praised their truth, while lashing out at any other views as fake and indeed heretical.

      I would invite the article’s author to look up the published work of Blochinzev and Alexandrov, for example. According to them, it was objectively true that science absolutely confirmed the absolute objective truth of dialectic materialism. When Lenin gets quoted in their scientific work (genuinely, yes — not making this up!), what can you say about that? Does it fill anyone with warm waves of comfort, knowing that such experts can guard the truth?

      1. skippy

        I would file the effect under ‘Science Mart’ – Philip Mirowski and philosophy to gain a functional theory of time and space….

        Disheveled…. till then….

  1. GlassHammer

    “for a soi-disant progressive like Sieradski to take up this rancid cause is deeply disturbing”

    Don’t confuse an opportunist with a progressive.

    You don’t need a political ideology to take advantage of what the mainstream news is incentivezing. All you need is a desire to cash in.

  2. allan

    The first casualty in the war on fake news is real news.

    And props to whatever FT editor subversively allowed the phrase `the media’s top thinkers’ to see the light of day. What better way to sabotage the narrative.

    1. ChiGal in Carolina

      the Electronic Frontier Foundation was and to my knowledge still is a force for good in this brave new world.

      That a scurrilous scumbag donated to it doesn’t change that.

    2. marym

      Based on the info at your link that’s not the function of privacybadger anyway. It’s for blocking tracking by third party sites.

      As far as my limited familiarity EFF is a digital civil liberties organization.

  3. Stephen Douglas

    Tech Dirt seems to believe you can’t claim defamation on the WaPo because they just referred to a list made by others. What say you?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      My attorney who has won two Supreme Court cases begs to differ. There’s a principle that a tale teller is just as liable as the person who originated the tale. If you say, “Joe says Harry is a thief,” most judges will take that as tantamount to you saying “Harry is a thief”. The record of decisions says juries are even more likely to take that view. However, litigation is a crap shoot and what judge you get makes a big difference. The fact that other well regarded sites have approached us about joining a suit says their lawyers read the issues similarly to the way our lawyer does.

      There is also the issue of what we can unearth in discovery. And what I have heard from people who have contacts at the Washington Post say the internal facts are not helpful to the Post.

      1. R.J.

        Well, the president elect uses the same technique and thinks he can get away with it. Almost every time he wants to defame someone and not getting the blame for doing so, he uses ‘I’ve heard, people tell me or any other excuse he can find, but still he wants you to get the message…

      2. boar

        Yves, “There is also the issue of what we can unearth in discovery…”

        A different angle here, possibly worth considering, and with the possible unearthing of evidence in discovery, could any of this lead to plausible antitrust violation by large media giants, Sherman Act violations? If so, then an incoming DOJ can prosecute.

      3. boar

        Yves, “There is also the issue of what we can unearth in discovery…”

        On a different angle, and with the unearthing of evidence in discovery, could any of this lead to plausible antitrust violations, Sherman Act violations by big media outlets? The story would run well… If there is merit here, then the case could be sent to a sympathetic incoming DOJ, and then the boys at DOJ can cast their net on the lot of ’em, after you’ve hopefully strung one up by hook.

        This is at the core, about protecting the First Amendment. We appreciate your work.

      4. johnnygl

        Please, please take it to discovery. I was this to be a jayson blair at nyt level of embarrassment.

        WaPo is a key piece of elite dem machinery. Damaging them damages the gangsters that play a big role in running thos country.

        Plus, you might find other goodies like burying stories that were adverse to clinton during the election.

          1. JohnnyGL

            As a kicker, keep in mind Bezos and WaPo are already on Trump’s naughty list. He pointed out on the campaign trail that Bezos has a “big anti-trust” problem. I think he also banned them from the press core that followed his campaign around.

            So, if his DOJ is itching for an excuse to rough them up, you might be able to get the kind of dirty laundry they’ll need as an excuse to take action.

            Plus, if Trump actually revives the concept of anti-trust (which seems like it’s been on life support since the MSFT case), that’s an additional bonus, even if the motive is partisan.

            Also, apologies for the typos above, cell phone keypads are awful.

          2. Tim

            If it really would, then the WaPo will settle out of Court, unless NC and others have the deep pockets to see it through a trial.

      5. John Wright

        I did some searching on Craig Timberg and found this blog post that might partly explain his willingness to go with his poorly sourced attack “fake news” article.

        from http://craigtimberg.blogspot.com/ Tuesday, June 9, 2009

        “American newspaper journalism is in grave trouble, and I was on the sidelines in the battle to save it. I watched the Tribune Company hack two-thirds of the muscle out of the newsroom of The Baltimore Sun, my father’s longtime professional home, and lay off my extraordinarily talented brother, Scott, from the Los Angeles Times (despite a run of good evaluations). So the personal stakes were certainly clear to me”

        “All papers, even the best ones like the Post, surely have failings but for decades they have been places where we meet, we talk, we chew over difficult issues, we exult in human achievement and lament human failing. Maybe cyberspace is becoming that, but from here it seems to created ever-more fractured conversations as it empowers new voices, diminishes others, and spins continually outward into new terrain. The center does not hold. Even the idea of the center–a place where straight-up news gathering is regarded as something akin to a calling–is feeling more quaint and antiquated by the day.”

        “Offered the chance to rejoin a newsroom that’s trying to save something so dear, I leapt at it with my usual manic fervor. That’s why I’ve been out of touch for awhile. As one of my new editor colleagues said to me: “If we’re going to go down, we might as well go down fighting.”

        “Hell yeah!”

        “That doesn’t mean that the Post is in imminent peril. By most measures, the Post is the healthiest of the major American newspapers. Yet there’s no ignoring that if we don’t figure out how to make real money on the web, all newspapers are doomed.”

        So Timberg might view himself as a warrior attempting to save the Post from dealing with influential websites, such as NC, because “if we don’t figure out how to make real money on the web, all newspapers are doomed.”

        Two generations ago, two junior reporters (Woodward, Bernstein) helped the raise the reputation of the Post as they helped bring down Richard Nixon.

        Now the Post has a junior reporter who now helps bring bring the Post down.

        But in my view, the Post is not falling from a high perch, so it might get only a minor bruise in the process.

        1. Knot Galt

          Free Speech is anathema to unbridled Capitalism? Figuratively, as well as literally.

          I am reminded of two events. One; the Romans drank out of vessels made of lead. Some claim part of the downfall of their civilization was due to most of their citizens suffering from lead poisoning. Two; there society was dependent on military conquest.

          Today, without a reliable objectively based media that did “exult in human achievement and lament human failing”, we are exposed to caustic, toxic, and mind numbing hubris that is likely more dangerous than lead. AND my last hope that Trump would reign in the military (because I knew Hawkish Hillary wouldn’t) dissipates with every new appointment. With all these generals joining the administration it certainly provides a gloomy optic.

          I really hope NC’s defamation suit grows legs and scores a win for Free Speech and basic inalienable rights of freedom.

          1. JustAnObserver

            “With all these generals joining the administration it certainly provides a gloomy optic”

            That’s why its called a general election.

            Sorry, Couldn’t resist.

          2. reslez

            One; the Romans drank out of vessels made of lead. Some claim part of the downfall of their civilization was due to most of their citizens suffering from lead poisoning.

            This has been debunked. Most Romans lived on the equivalent of farms and drank water from wells. The majority weren’t wealthy enough to own lead drinking vessels and wouldn’t have been affected significantly by lead poisoning. In the classical world as in most of history, the vast majority of people made a living through agriculture and didn’t live in cities.

            1. Tim

              That’s not debunking anything.

              If the people in power had lead poisoning, then they would have lead (pun intended) with a culture of aggression without proper regard for the longer term consequences of such. Things like over-expanding the empire for example?

            2. correction noted

              the power was in Rome; not in the countryside with the farmers. In Rome, there was lead, a lot of it. In the boonies, not so much.

              1. clinical wasteman

                no disagreement with the points made by reslez or c.n., but — depending quite which century you’re talking about, and admitting in advance my state-educated ignorance of ‘Classical Antiquity’ — Rome doesn’t seem to have been the only metropolis, (semi-)urban economy or centre of political power at any moment of the Empire’s existence: what came to be known as the ‘Eastern Empire’ was more urbanized (though still slave-dependent) before and after the most centralized imperial moment; also, landowners and military officers in Pannonia/Illyria and Barbarian (today, at least) northwestern Europe had fewer cities but at least as much political clout at various times. But please correct me if I have this wrong. (On all this stuff I strongly recommend Perry Anderson’s ‘Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism’, but he’s not to blame for anything I’ve scrambled.) And apologies if all this sounds like historical nit-picking: it wasn’t meant as such, but it may be a by-product of heightened exasperation with the “city-dwellers=Elites, working class=small, settled communities” delirium that’s currently allowed to pass unridiculed (especially among actual psychoeconomic elites, who are indeed often in the city, though not of it, or if so only as proprietors). That myth is as loftily contemptuous of the non-urban workers it stereotypes as of the urban ones whose very existence it denies. But there’s definitely NO suggestion intended that anyone in this thread is spouting anything like that.

            3. Vastydeep

              The Romans may not have used lead vessels, but per the Smithsonian used “sugar of lead” (lead acetate) to sweeten their wine.

              Lead also turns in no less than James Dickey’s Deliverance, where Ed Gentry (Jon Voight in the movie) asks his doctor for some painkiller in the hospital after the canoe trip:

              “You mean you don’t have any moonshine in this here hospital? And you way off in the country like this? What the hell is north Georgia coming to?”

              “No white lightning,” he said. “We advise against it. Contains lead salts, most of it.”

  4. frosty zoom

    big snowflake will keep us safe!

    the ministry of twitterbook will root out micro, macro and russian aggressions!

    zerothink is doublepluseasy!


    1. craazyboy

      Yeah! BIG SNOWFLAKE. There will be an App for it! And more Facebook emoticons – sniffle, cry, miffed, butthurt and of course the powerful emotion – RACIST!

      What can we call the App? The CIA Circle of Trust? (h/t The Fokkers)

      10 Weird Reasons This Is Fake News?

      Maybe we’ll get better e-mail spam filters out of the effort?

      Or maybe a plugin that rips out the silly “sponsored ads” headlines that are now interspersed with the “reals news” headlines on MSM news websites.

      We can hope the rule of unintended consequences may yield something positive from the effort.

  5. Chauncey Gardiner

    I question whether this “Fake News” effort, given its sudden appearance and organized elevation in the public discourse, isn’t also a form of gaslighting?

    1. TheCatSaid

      Can you say more? I don’t follow the gaslighting analogy.

      It seems like a targeted distraction event. (Look here! Don’t pay attention to __________)
      Plus it encourages the truth-tellers to tie themselves in knots refuting the allegations–even though some response seems appropriate.

      What are we being kept from seeing or paying attention to, as a result of this diversion tactic?
      What recent or current events are flying beneath the radar?

      1. andyb

        I too believe it is a distraction. The whole fake news listing was seemingly rushed and amateurish. In reviewing the news just prior to the publication of the list, the only thing that stands out is the purported scandal related to a DC pizza parlor which was all over the alt media which, if proven, could destroy the power structure.

      2. Chauncey Gardiner

        An objective of gaslighting is to create uncertainty and doubt among the targeted population about the facts in order to undermine their perceptions of reality and enable reformation of those perceptions. “Perception Is Reality.”

      3. juliania

        This is a very important point. As important as the fake news on mainstream media is that which we are being kept from seeing or paying attention to. For alternate readings on the same event, we might still hope to be able to watch mainstream news for their ‘take’ and go elsewhere for different opinions, but when it comes to essential stories that aren’t even being covered, that’s also a crime. Ignorance is not bliss; ignorance is anxiety.

        And you really, really don’t want an anxious, ignorant society, people. If money competes with knowledge for power both lose.

      4. craazyboy

        “What recent or current events are flying beneath the radar?”

        For one, Putin’s War Fleet of Three Ships seems to have disappeared into maybe the Mediterranean Sea. Assad seems about finished retaking Syria.

        Another might be that Hillary lost the election. She hasn’t yet of course. The knock on effect is the Grand Wurlitzer is temporarily without a leader, and can’t figure out who’s the proper butt to kiss.

        Trump may not be a Putin Agent. Trump may be a right wing billionaire. Possibly even a kooky Glibertarian wingnut. Certainly a conundrum for Bezos.

        There is still time to pass and sign TPP, and 4 years from now blame it on Trump. Similarly – GWB failed to jail Trump’s current cabinet picks – so once again, the public voters got the leadership they deserve.

        There is surely a bunch of other things too.

    2. susan the other

      This is a serious threat to freedom of the press/speech. And it’s gonna get much much bigger. It took guts for NC to sue the Whappo and since it is a giant paper it might scare away the rest of the little creeps. We have inadequate libel laws here in the US and somebody decided to take advantage of that confusion for purposes of mind control it looks like. I think it is very sinister. I don’t think it will ever be successful – but it cannot be ignored. The reason this nasty effort at censorship won’t prevail is because it has nothing to offer – everything it proffers as “news” is easily recognized as shallow and part of a bigger, more idiotic agenda of misinformation.

  6. Kirk

    For what it’s worth, I became aware of your site via this Fake News BS. And as the word spreads to more truth seekers, I expect your audience will grow.

    However, this is NOT to say that you have not been damaged and your credibility smeared by ignorant and irresponsible Aholes. So, rock on with your lawsuit … hit ’em where it hurts!

    1. thoughtful person

      That’s cool thanks for commenting.

      I think it was Ghandi said, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

      Clearly this site is not being ignored anymore….I’d say “fake news” is ridicule.

      On the other hand, some say all pubilicity is worth something. As we recently saw, podestas “pied piper” strategy did not work out so well, so perhaps the publicity gained will prove beneficial. Which would fit with Gandhi’s progression.

    1. RUKidding

      Probably likely in many cases. IMO, we have become a third world democracy.

      For example, just look at the homeless we have on our streets. People say to me all the time: “I can’t visit __________ (choose a poor country) because it would be too terrible to see all the poor people there.” I’m like: Why? Clearly you manage to completely ignore and have no sympathy/empathy/compassion for the poor here. What’s the difference?

      Second example is the continuing debasement of what passes for “nooz” in this country. The whole Fox/Hate Radio/”Christain” Broadcasting concept was carefully planned and executed. And now here we are where yo-yos out there take it upon themselves to go shoot up pizza parlors because they think there’s child sex rings in the non-existent basement.

      Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

    2. XFR

      The Boomerang Effect.

      Colonialism boomeranged back at the European metropole as Fascism.

      Now “banana republicanism” has boomeranged back at the American metropole. What to call it, though?

  7. hemeantwell

    Yves, you referred to the National Enquirer and the National Examiner as purveyors of fake news. In the past you and Lambert have been making the larger point that fake news peddled by the MSM was an important part of the run-up to the Iraq war and, as I recall, that MSM fake/tilted news has been characteristic of the escalation of tensions with Russia. Are you trying to distinguish between operations that are built on fake news as opposed to operations that try do serious news and then cash in on their rep to do propaganda work? My sense is that trying to keep something like that distinction in the audience’s eye would be useful, especially since the legitimized propaganda purveyors are using the fake news issue to rehabilitate themselves after their despicable behavior during the presidential campaign.

    1. Katharine

      Good point. What drew me to this site was the generally high level of intellectual clarity of both posts and many comments. Maintaining that is always important.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I have mixed feelings about having criticized the National Enquirer, since they sometimes break important stories that no one else would touch, particularly regarding the Clintons. I have no idea how reliable they are in their core business, celebrity gossip. But the covers I saw in the runup to the election and shortly thereafter were very pro-Trump, anti-Clinton. Yet the MSM would never consider that they could have had influence.

      1. George Phillies

        I am reminded of President Clinton and the intern. There was a great deal of press coverage. At the end, someone in the New York Times wrote something respectably long (I remember no more) speaking highly of the Inquirer and its coverage, because their expertise in covering this sort of news was high.

      2. Bugs Bunny

        The Enquirer trashed John Edwards’ hopes of becoming president. For that they should have gotten a Pulitzer.

  8. integer

    Don’t get discouraged. These pricks were never going to just roll over. We have decency on our side and will work out a way to win this war.

  9. Steve Ruis

    Aren’t people like Daniel Sieradski susceptible to libel law suits. Proving libel is very difficult, but the point would be that a libel suit is “news” and may help spread the word.

  10. flora

    hoo-boy. So Daniel Sieradski created ‘handy-dandy bs detecto kit’, which he more or less admited is bs itself, and when called out, offered the equivalent of , ‘hey, it was a joke.’ Real funny guy. Seeing how eager MSM sites were to print and broadcast this tripe has been an eye-opener. “Clarifying”, as Lambert would say.

    1. flora

      adding: Not surprising that Google is involved in the ‘hackathon’ contests.
      The trending default position of “code is law” will, I hope, be seriously re-examined.

  11. Damian

    The National Defense Authorization Act of July 2013 (NDAA) included an amendment that legalized the use of propaganda on the American public.

    The amendment — originally proposed by Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and passed – nullified the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which explicitly forbids information and psychological operations aimed at influencing U.S. public opinion. The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 allowed U.S. propaganda intended to influence foreign audiences to be used on the domestic population.

    Signed by….. Obama. This Act formalized systems in place covertly or ad hoc for some time.

    The MSM and especially the NYT is the epi-center of “Fake News” which is the revisionist term created by the CIA in 1967 to discredit those against the Domino Theory for US Vietnam Policy and the discovery of the control of the Warren Commission by Allen Dulles.

    1. Vatch

      Can you please provide some additional information about this? What was the bill number? The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 (H.R.5736) did not become law. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (H.R.3304) appears to have bee introduced in October, 2013, not July. I’m not going to try to read the entire text of the bill, because I would fall asleep. :-)

      The path of bills through the Congress is quite labyrinthine, and none of this contradicts what you said. I’m just trying to find out who voted for this. Do you know the relevant bill number(s)?

        1. Vatch

          Thanks. I see that the Smith-Mundt Modernization bill was incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (H.R.4310). The Smith-Mundt provisions weren’t part of the bill when it was originally introduced, but were added on May 18, 2012. It appears to have been included in amendment 1140, which had lots of other stuff, which was approved by roll call vote 288. Sausage making at its finest! The Congress does not make it easy to trace the path of legislation, and it’s quite possible that I made an error.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      The carveout is narrow and is supposed to be limited only to counteracting foreign propaganda. Note that even though this in theory would covert the “Russian propaganda” meme, the fact that the sites that PropOrNot listed as allies and later related projects that get Dept of State or BBG funding immediately said they had nada to do with PropOrNot says they did not want to risk being seen as involved in domestic propaganda.

      A significant online publication got a lawyer’s opinion after the amendment (note that law firms are cautious about giving them) that to use BBG funding domestically would be actionable and most likely illegal. A quote from the source familiar with the opinion: “Lawyer said change left law still very murky but letter of law was still pretty clear if challenged in court.”

  12. Edward

    What gets on my nerves about the “fake news” articles of the WP and others is that they avoid the central question of how you decide which news is fake or false. This is a bit like trying to solve a math problem by writing down an answer without doing the calculation. If there were a simple way to ascertain “truth” it would have been implemented long ago. In academia, scholars spend much energy, such as through peer review, trying to separate fact from fiction, and they aren’t always successful. Trials also have to work very hard to determine the “truth”. The FCC used to have a Fairness Doctrine requiring a minimum level of balance from the press until it was scrapped by the Reagan administration.

    The hypocrisy is also pretty galling. The Western press seems to get less professional and more blatantly propagandistic every year.

    1. Robert NYC

      “What gets on my nerves about the “fake news” articles of the WP and others is that they avoid the central question of how you decide which news is fake or false.”

      They could care less about the “central question of how you decide which is fake news or false”. They are interested in maintaining control of the narrative which requires suppressing the truth, hence the attack on sources of news and other information that threaten control of the public mind. It has nothing to do, whatsoever, with an honest effort to sort fact from fiction. You have to realize that the Washington Post has long been a primary source for official propaganda.

      Carl Bernstein wrote a terrific article in Rolling Stone in Oct 1977 that detailed the mainstream media’s extensive ties to the CIA. An article from 1977 may seem dated but it is probably even more relevant today.


    2. craazyboy

      “If there were a simple way to ascertain “truth” it would have been implemented long ago. ”

      I believe Mark Twain would have said, “If there were a simple way to ascertain “truth” it would have been made illegal long ago.”

    3. sharonsj

      How do you tell the difference between real news and fake news? Simple. You send a real investigative journalist to find out–which WaPo clearly did not. Anybody going to Naked Capitalism, Truth-out, Truthdig, etc., would be able to ascertain pretty quickly that these were not fake sites. Apparently the guy who compiled the list didn’t check out the sites he listed either, so as a would-be journalist he’s a complete failure.

      Also, the majority of fake sites are right-wing, with occasional stupid jokers, like the guy who posted a doughnut with Islamic writing in icing–which turned out to be Tolkien’s elvish. When personally investigating claims I see on the net, it is immediately evident that these sites do nothing but repeat whatever fake news advances their delusional world view. Any good reporter would have followed the articles back to their sources (which are often listed in the article and which these right-wingers never seem to do) and discovered they don’t exist or the information has been manipulated.

  13. Ted

    There is something just so pathetic about this effort. There is nothing that will drive people to check out “suspect” websites more than if some idiots at a Googlie Corp install a browser add on that flags websites as “red — danger!” It just further undermines their credibility, which after the last election fiasco is at an all time low. While it was fun to talk about “sheeple” for a while, the fact remains that humans discern by nature, it is built into the very nature of human consciousness (e.g., Francisco Verala, Evan Thompson). Humans are particularly adept at reading the intentions of other humans, they therefore have built in BS detectors, particularly when it comes to the actions of strangers. My god, if all it took for elites to maintain their narratives of BS was better control over information (by flagging information where the devil resided), Western Europeans would all still be members of the Roman Church.

  14. flora

    I just contacted the website of the browser I use and asked them to flag or disable the B.S. add-on/extension as unverified for accuracy.

  15. Robert NYC

    This whole thing is kind of comical. The real fake news is the mainstream media and has been for years. And that includes the NYT as much as that will shock most liberals. Chomsky has been talking and writing about this for decades now. His books: Deterring Democracy, Manufacturing Consent, Necessary Illusions, and Propaganda and the Public Mind are all excellent and offer thorough descriptions, analysis and proof of his thesis. For those with a short attention span there is a documentary version of Manufacturing Consent that is excellent. Richard Falks’s book, The Record of the Paper offers a thorough expose´ of the NYT’s role as a mouthpiece for official government propaganda.

    The problem is that all these upstart internet blogs and news sites have reached a sort of critical mass and broken official control over the public mind. They offer a competing version of reality that is much more accurate and insightful. That can’t be tolerated so we are seeing the pushback in terms of an effort to discredit the likes of Naked Capitalism. I had to laugh when I saw the propornot list. All of my favorite sites were listed. Counterpunch, NC, ZeroHedge, David Stockman and several others.

  16. Katharine

    I had to chuckle about the idea of Wikipedia as a standard. It’s good for some kinds of information, but hardly reliable on living public figures. I once looked up a former Maryland governor and found the article contained no hint of the fact that after leaving office he had worked as a lobbyist for many more years than he had been governor.

    1. Plenue

      Wikipedia is okay if you want to learn something like the basics of geology. The further back in time a topic, the more likely its wiki article won’t be complete trash. Looking for an objective accounting of, say, America’s war on Vietnam is a lost cause on Wikipedia though. Something like Nich Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves is discounted as a valid source because of ‘obvious bias’. You might think the transparency provided by the Talk page might make things better, but it really just reveals what a farce the entire affair is, and that ‘truth’ is overseen by the arbitrary standards of a self-appointed elite.

  17. Lambert Strether

    > we are slowly making our way through it

    You’d think a software developer with first mover advantage would be moving rapidly, not slowly.

    Oh, and CBS. Didn’t Dan Rather used to work there?

    1. savedbyirony

      There appear to be two issues he is addressing here (and surely Francis would not want to conflate them). One is fake news. Ok, but let us say The Vatican Radio and its news broadcasts know a thing or three about getting their messages and only their messages out.

      The other is the media reporting on “scandals”. Well to the RCC hierarchy, a “scandal” includes anything and everything they don’t want to get out about RCC abuses and crimes. All that public reporting on priestly sexual abuses and institutional cover-ups of such is “scandalous” and harmful to the faith of the flock in their eyes. They say and enforce as much with their clergy, employees and church members.

  18. Downunderer

    Fake news accusations against real news sources coming from the MSM? Shocked, I am.

    Has everyone forgotten Gary Webb, and how he was treated by the top dailies in America, including WaPo? Here are three different views, for those whose web memory is shorter than 20 years:


    In the followup, they all buried the findings that showed his factual reports to be true. But that was long after his job was lost. That coordinated fake news effort was obvious to me, following the articles as they appeared. He had facts, the dailies with the top reputations gave us only emotional rhetoric and vague claims.

    But they read, they saw, he died.

    Congratulations on your blog, and on having the status and guts to challenge such potentially fatal defamation! Best of luck in your legal battle – the outcome will tell us a lot about the state of justice in today’s America.

  19. Carolinian

    Some years ago my local library used something called Sonic Wall filter to deny access to certain websites. Although this was undoubtedly in response to the then prevailing obsession with internet porn, the result was that many liberal sites were also blocked (and perhaps conservative as well–I didn’t visit those). The general sentiment seemed to be that anything controversial had to go. Not surprisingly I later read that the government of Saudi Arabia also used Sonic Wall.

    All of which is to say this sort of thing is not new and that people using other than their home ISP do have to be aware that almost all public internet now is subject to “Terms of Service.” But on the other hand I now get practically any site I want at the library because the public, and most especially libraries who are the good guys, don’t want censorship.

    So the notion that browser extensions are a threat strikes me as far fetched. If you are that naive you aren’t likely to be visiting Naked Capitalism anyway. The real threat is that of being branded illegitimate by the MSM. As we are seeing with the new laws against BDS, the Constitutionality, or lack thereof, is no deterrent. The worry is real censorship, not just warnings.

    1. flora

      McCarthyism grew by amplified rumor and crowd hysteria. That’s what all witch hunts use to grow. The browser add-ons amplify the rumor that certain sites are dangerous, foreign propaganda.

  20. Dave

    Go get ’em in court!
    Isn’t the cat already out of the bag?
    The MSM have publicized a large number of the sites they want to criticize.
    Between all the texting services, newspaper comment lines, radio call in programs, Craigslist and other media, not controlled, or controllable by “them”, sites like Naked Capitalism can be publicized and promoted without Google or Yahoo or CSM. “Censored Stream Media”.

    How many people actually use Google for example to search for a that they have heard about? “Naked Capitalism” are two words without homonyms. typed into a URL they get you here, unless “they” want to completely control and lock down the internet which is suicide for their advertisers.

    Won’t red flags be an inducement for people to click through anyway as the prohibited is more interesting than the allowed?

    Yves, someday soon I hope that you will have the pleasure of cutting the ribbon at a public school named for you.

  21. heisenbit

    Thanks for holding WaPo accountable! It is mind-boggling that a paper that relies on being a paper of record is taking a random top-x list and shouting it out in an article that is intended to expose exactly such mindless copy-and-paste/share news distribution. The fact that they have not owned up yet may well be a sign of big organizational upheaval internally.

    We all know that systems behave differently when friction is removed, gain increased and delay goes down. We know certain paths can be overloaded and loose all sem-balance of linearity. Feedback can lock the system into semi-stable states. The distribution of news has changed its character and feeding garbage into a high gain system is a recipe for disaster. The MSM were never perfect, their desire to emulate new media is an insult but the new distribution channels at the moment are at the mercy of the best SEO/social marketeer.

    There is no point in blaming individuals thinking up crazy stories, making up lies, posting sarcastic comments, researched facts or thoughtful blog posts. The wisdom of the internet so far has always been to not feed the trolls but letting content be judged by the reader. But the reader is not choosing anymore what he/she is reading. They are fed in their timelines and bubbles. That is a different dynamic where scale, speed, power and money are key. Blaming the fake news seeders (or this thoughtful blogger) is not going to make one bit of difference.

    What may make a difference is limiting money, the amplification factors in social media with the latter forcing more humans to think before it gets spread out to other humans – there is a limited number of trolls but it is a single digit percentage. A culture of attribution, tangible social pseudonyms and some accountability may also be helpful.

  22. Lord Koos

    Wikipedia is staffed by gatekeepers with a definite agenda, as I found out when trying to correct an entry that bordered on libel. I trained extensively in an alternative health modality that Wikipedia hads labelled as “bordering on quackery”. The person who wrote the entry has had zero direct experience of the thing he was writing about. I then discovered there is a very strong Wikipoedia bias against many types of alternative treatments. The editors of these pages are all medical people MDs, etc who have an obvious axe to grind against alternative health modalities. Every attempt to communicate in a civil manner with Wikipedia to argue for a fairer and more balanced view was stonewalled, and every edit I made was instantly reverted, as if the page is being monitored constantly. I will never again be able to trust the site after my highly unpleasant experience of dealing with their fascistic editors, but unfortunately the Wikipedia site turns up at the top of most google searches and is accepted by millions as truth.

  23. George Phillies


    It is perhaps noteworthy that Vox Day and the alt right is launching its own version of wikipedia, with the claimed feature of letting the reader choose her biases if she so wishes.

    I am reminded, after 2008, that someone went through wikipedia and struck candidates for the Libertarian presidential nomination,and at least one person who was on the ballot for President, from their pages. I am not sure if the striking persisted.

  24. TedHunter

    Post-truth, post-fact, etc., etc. have a very broad base in what was recently still called postmodernism, the strange but lucrative theory that there is no truth and all truth is just a social construct serving the interests of the elites.

    It was always interesting to ask the breathless fans of such rubbish if they “really, really” meant “all truth”, to which they invariably answered “yes”. At which point you could ask things such as “so you mean World War 2 never happened?” or “so you mean my glasses would fall upwards if I would drop them now?” You could always add “according to Foucault / Derrida’s interpretation of Socrates in his Athenian phase” and you were the king at each party.

    I strongly believe that postmodernists taught and popularized the disrespect for facts. They provided the required respectability for spin-doctors and certainly did a lot of damage to my field, History. Funny enough, most of these people were actually linguists, rarely historians.

    And here’s the best book I can recommend on postmodernism. It’s also a precise prediction of today’s “post-factual” reality.


    1. JTFaraday

      This is such a dramatic caricature, that it itself is post-truth. I would wager that the promotion of this caricature by the enemies of postmodernism has done far more to undermine truth seeking than the whole sum total of academic work done under its supposed auspices. Of course, one might argue that said academics should have known this would happen.

    2. hunkerdown

      How witless, to not understand a social construction from physics.

      I think you just don’t want your superstitions critiqued and found to be your own will to power talking. It’s the stuff Western civilization is made of, sadly.

  25. Heliopause

    “Fake news” is on a continuum, isn’t it? For instance, the vast majority of what FOX News puts out is just straight down the middle news that all the other outlets are reporting on as well. How much “fake news” gets you on the black list? One instance? Two? A dozen?

    What about intent, does that matter? Most purveyors of “Pizzagate”, for instance, probably felt they were delving into something genuine, which could probably also be said about the the purveyors of Iraqi WMDs. How do you distinguish between the people who are doing “fake news” on purpose vs. the ones who are just not very clear thinkers?

    What if published information is from a dodgy source yet factually correct? Assume for a moment that the Podesta e-mails were given to Wikileaks by Russian intelligence; is that ‘fake news” even though as far as we can tell they were all genuine?

    1. H. Alexander Ivey

      Raising a host of questions and not answering them is not a good thing. Please provide answers in accordance with your questions – that is, give answers to the same level as your questions.

      1. Outis Philalithopoulos

        I believe the point of Heliopause’s comment was to suggest that the media concept of “fake news” is not nearly as well-defined as people generally assume that it is, although I could be wrong…

  26. Taras77

    Yves, thank you for taking this on-to say good luck for an unbelievably important challenge is an understatement.

    I would like to highlight an informative article which I found on Wallstreet on Parade-maybe you have seen it but it mentions Legatum Institute, which has serious money behind it. Legatum is also home of some very visible neo cons, Anne applebaum, who writes for WaPo on a regular basis, and Peter Pomerantsev, who has been visible in attacking “fake news.” It is quite a next of vipers but not surprising as they are all linked and very well funded.


    1. savedbyirony

      Bull sh*t
      or is WaPo admitting they don’t fact check into the validity and quality of their sources (so what makes them a legit news source), they don’t care about the validity of their sources and they are freely using and at will to use and spread known and not known by them invalid/suspect sources? So who exactly is it they are pointing out here as a creator of “fake news” and/or spreader of fake news site?

      1. flora

        Yes. Does WaPo think passing the buck a sound legal defense here? Since they didn’t contact the named sites prior to publication they can’t spin this as a ‘he said/she said’ story.

    2. hunkerdown

      Translation of WaPoo editor’s note: This article was a means to an end, a sham designed to get the Cold War 2.0 into the NDAA, and now that the mission is accomplished, we’re laughing at all of you.

    3. 3.14e-9

      I totally agree that it’s pathetic and in no way lets them off the hook. And they wouldn’t even have done that much if they weren’t being threatened with a libel suit.

      There was a discussion a few days ago about whether Bezos had a hand in this, and some thought it was just a lack of fact-checking. That theory is supported by a recent article in The Columbia Journalism Review about the “Revolution” at WaPo driven by the Bezos business model. Buried in there was a quote about reporters being expected to write really fast and produce more stories for their Internet edition.

      However, it’s hard to imagine that the threat of a lawsuit hasn’t gone all the way to the top and that he wasn’t involved in the sorry-ass “editor’s note.” As someone else pointed out, he’s knee-deep in USG connections and had a special in with Hillary at State.

  27. adrian

    Yves, I’ve been reading NC for years, and while I’ve not read all the posts, but I came back to NC as the content helped me in my understanding of economics. I’m a software engineer and look critically at information and it’s been beaten into me. When I saw what the WaPo was saying/inferring I was pretty upset, as it’s clearly not true. I’m not a trained economist, but I spent a few years studying economics so I could hopefully understand what the hell was going on. It’s been a very depressing journey, and I’m glad in never looked at it until the last five years. And for WaPo to lash out for what reason really hacked me off. This event makes it hard now for a real message to get out with a post truth world, but MSM IMO has been damaged by this. Most people I know don’t read MSM now so maybe this will just be fatal making MSM irrelevant. That is print/online, and TV have turned more than a generation from the comments I hear,

    I don’t know all the motivations for the mud that’s been thrown, but it’s clear to me that politics/finance/economics is corrupt to the core, and these people in the so called elite group rather that having 90% of the cake, want all the cake, and they are very upset that they may loose some cake doesn’t go well with their psychopathic nature; it’s a hot dagger in their heart. I believe they’ll make every effort to screw anyone speaking about “anything” they don’t claim to own.

    It’s a sad state, but today, jobs are disappearing for even the well educated let alone those with less opportunity, and this elite who claim to represent these people, could not care less about them. It has only ever been about money and power. So we have a generation of highly qualified young people with little future in work, and a very large student debt. How many of those jobs that have been created are real professional “full time” jobs, of just more fast food ones. Many of my software engineer friends find it hard now to get full time work. The elites, however, have never had it so good…great gig for them.

    Anyway, all the best, and thanks for a great site.

  28. John Ware

    I’ve thought a lot about how bad it really is to be labeled a “fake news” site. And while the fight to keep one’s name and reputation high and above board is vitally important, it’s also important to take the fight to one’s readers, which NC is doing.

    I believe NC can turn this obstacle of the Washington Post’s faulty reporting and this software thing into NC’s advantage, like making lemonade out of lemons, to coin a trite phrase. In so doing, NC not only fights and slays the “dragon,” as it were, but it takes a leadership (and probably well-publicized) role in fighting for its journalistic life, but as a paragon for all honest, hard-working independent news sites.

    So now everyone looks at me and asks, “Well, what do you have in mind?” Not being a particularly good publisher, but a fairly good writer, I would split NC into two distinct entities: the site we all know, love and read daily PLUS a crusading site for independent thought, Google SEO be damned. Even though I dislike the NRA immensely, I do admire what it has done with only 5 million members vis a vis the influence it peddles. NC could adopt the NRA model, do a little traipsing around the continent to schmooze with some favored mass-media types, hire a PR flack, and so on.

    I think NC can come out of this smelling like a rose, if they play their cards right. Many instances of doom and gloom have been faced down by enterprising souls and orgs which haven’t let the odds sway them one bit. At any rate, it’s worth discussing.

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