How does Twitter chatter warp our thinking about what’s popular and important?

Phoenix, Arizona (CNN Business)A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Donie O’Sullivan emails from SF: Cambridge Analytica… Russian trolls… We’re only just scratching the surface of how we are being manipulated online. On Thursday, Facebook revealed that it has shut down accounts run by an Israeli company that was targeting elections across Africa. The fake accounts and pages — that posed as locals — had almost 3 million (!!) followers and had spent almost $1 million on Facebook ads to reach others. Read on…

    Donie’s big picture point

    We hear almost every week now about Facebook removing sets of pages and accounts that were deceptive and disguised. Often these pages have been active for years, with hundreds of thousands of followers. It makes you wonder, how much of the discourse of the past decade — so much of it dictated by what is “trending” or what people are talking about online — has been shaped by inauthentic accounts?

    Like a police drug bust photo op…

    The Information’s Nick Wingfield adds: “It is devilishly difficult for Facebook to root out this kind of behavior because of the vast scale of its services. It’s helpful to look at these enforcement actions as something like ‘dope on the table’ drug busts by law enforcement agencies: They are interesting, but make only a small dent in a much bigger problem.”

    How does Twitter chatter shape Trump’s thinking?

    Read this new story by Andrew Restuccia, Daniel Lippman and Eliana Johnson in the context of the never-ending information wars Donie was just describing. The Politico crew details how President Trump, “with few allies left in the West Wing,” frequently leans on his director of social media, Dan Scavino, “for affirmation and advice about how his most sensitive policies will be received.”
    Here’s the example in the lede: Shortly after Trump announced plans “to yank U.S. troops out of Syria last December, a group of lawmakers came to the White House to talk him out of the idea, which critics called a threat to national security. Trump responded by calling in the man who oversees his Twitter account. ‘Get Dan Scavino in here,’ Trump called out in the middle of the meeting earlier this year.” Trump told Scavino to tell the reps “how popular my policy is.” And Scavino “proceeded to walk lawmakers through the positive reaction he had picked up on social media about Trump’s Syria decision.”

    How does Twitter chatter shape journalists’ thinking?

    The president, of course, is not the only person who can come away with a distorted view of the world through Twitter’s lens. Conor Friedersdorf’s newest piece for The Atlantic argues that many pundits didn’t see Joe Biden’s popularity clearly because of Twitter’s funhouse mirror effect. “To adequately serve its civic function, the American press has to do a better job of guarding against the distorting effects that the platform has on its coverage. Failures to foresee Biden’s popularity are, in that context, a cautionary tale,” he writes…


    — Bill Hemmer will interview Bill Barr on Fox Friday morning… Barr will be in El Salvador… “The televised interview will be Barr’s first since the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report…” (The Hill)
    — Following his “GMA” hit on Thursday, new 2020 contender Bill de Blasio will be on “Morning Joe” on Friday…
    — Sheryl Sandberg will be on CBS and CNBC on Friday…


    — Gabe Fleisher is already a journalism legend. And he’s still a junior in high school. Here’s how he landed a scoop about de Blasio’s 2020 plans… (WaPo)
    — Thursday’s must-read is by Deadspin columnist and GQ correspondent Drew Magary. It is miraculous that he is alive to write it. He calls this “the story of my brain exploding…” (Deadspin)
    — Deadspin and G/O Media’s other properties, such as Gizmodo and Jezebel, have a new executive managing editor: Joyce Tang will oversee editorial operations… (Folio)
    — Bryn Elise Sandberg’s story asks: “Why are Hollywood’s biggest studios and stars silent on Georgia’s new abortion law?” (THR)
    — Is the media “amplifying” Trump’s schoolyard tactics by reporting them? Margaret Sullivan makes the case that the “news media must stop trafficking” Trump’s snider remarks and nicknames… (WaPo)

    “Abolish the Priesthood”

    The Atlantic’s June cover features former priest and National Book Award winner James Carroll urging the Catholic Church to “Abolish the Priesthood.” The article will be out on Friday morning.

    Trump’s shameless pattern of pardons

    “If you find yourself in a bit of a legal pickle and you’re now wondering how to get out of prison, you might want to think about writing a glowing book about President Trump, or, writing an op-ed in which you call Robert Mueller a few bad names,” Jake Tapper said on CNN Thursday afternoon.
    He was talking about Trump’s pardon of Conrad Black… And Trump’s broader pattern of issuing pardons for political allies with “no apparent sense of shame” and “no blowback from his fellow Republicans…”

    “Mueller Holds Enticing Hope For Democrats”

    That’s one of the headlines on the front page of Friday’s NYT. The story, by Glenn Thrush and Nicholas Fandos, says “House Democrats, frustrated by President Trump’s efforts to stonewall their investigations and eager to stoke public anger about the president’s behavior, are pinning their diminishing hopes on Robert S. Mueller III yet again.” But Mueller has not yet agreed to testify…
    >> Thursday evening’s big story on the obstruction front: “Memos reveal more information about Michael Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller

    About Warren’s no-Fox stance…

    Brian Lowry emails: WaPo’s Aaron Blake asserted that Elizabeth Warren’s no-Fox stance puts other Dem candidates in an awkward spot. But in terms of framing the debate, that appeared to be part of the objective. Moreover, Warren is making clear now that whatever Fox might say about its news side versus its opinion hosts, Republicans have what at least amounts to a home-field advantage on the network…


    — For a second time, Chelsea Manning is in contempt of court. She’s heading back to jail instead of testifying about WikiLeaks. On last Sunday’s “Reliable,” she told me this might happen… (CNN)
    — “Bill Press is ending his progressive morning radio show” on May 31… And he’s “launching a new podcast the first week of June…” (Politico)
    — Imam Omar Suleiman is questioning why the two-alarm fire intentionally set at a New Haven mosque last Sunday was “almost completely ignored” by major media outlets… (WaPo)
      — Instagram and the Reynolds Journalism Institute at Mizzou are launching something called the “Instagram Local News summer fellowship…” (Poynter)

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