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New York Times deputy editor says media in 'pitched battle' for truth in a time of Covid – National Observer

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One of the New York Times’ top editors, Matt Purdy, remembers the last time he ventured briefly into the normally bustling newsroom.

After 169 years, the Gray Lady’s 1,700-staff editorial department — renowned for explosive political exposés and overseas war coverage — had fallen eerily silent.

“There were literally three or four of us there,” Purdy, the deputy managing editor, said Thursday. “We sort of looked at each other and said, ‘What are we doing here?!’ My older son called me out on Twitter.”

Even though Covid-19 had stilled the typical patter of deadline-racing keyboards and cacophony of countless phone interviews, the Times’ reporters and editors see themselves at the front lines of “a pitched battle for the truth” during a Trump-era pandemic, Purdy told Canada’s National Observer editor-in-chief Linda Solomon Wood in a Zoom conversation on Thursday.

Reporting the spread of the virus as it ravaged the U.S., particularly New York City, was anything but simple.

“If you’re taking it seriously and covering it,” Purdy said, “you’re being shouted down as if you’re against the President.”

Its reporters, some having risked lives as war correspondents, found themselves thrust into a new kind of battleground. Even before Covid-19, the paper spent President Donald Trump’s first term facing his attacks as a “Fake News paper,” or a year ago as “truly the enemy of the people” — an assault which in typical Times’ neutral voice was simply reported: “For 30 Minutes on a Hot Friday Morning, Trump Lashes Out at a Range of Critics.”

Now, some were claiming the pandemic was being exaggerated by the media to undermine Trump’s re-election chances or harm his party. And with much of the U.S. economy in tatters, the people’s rage — and divisions — are a tinderbox.

Video of New York Times Deputy Executive Editor Matt Purdy on journalism in 2020

New York Times Deputy Executive Editor Matt Purdy talks with Linda Solomon Wood

Events took a surreal turn when Trump admitted he was taking an unproven drug to “prevent” Covid-19 which his own Food and Drug Administration warned against. Trump and his Vice-President, Mike Pence, have repeatedly been questioned by reporters for not wearing face masks despite their own experts asking Americans to do so.

Long besieged as ‘enemy of the people’ by Trump, how do journalists report #Covid19 when even basic facts are in dispute? @NYTimes deputy managing editor @mattbpurdy sits down with the @NatObserver to talk about today’s ‘pitched battle for the truth’

This week, after touring a Ford automotive plant, journalists grilled Trump on why he was the only official without a mask. “I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it,” he replied.

Undeterred, the Times ran with the headline, “Trump Visits Ford Plant in Politically Crucial Michigan, Leaves Mask Off for Cameras.”

At every level of reporting, the newspaper’s already besieged journalists have essentially become war correspondents in their own country under lockdown.

Most of the newspaper’s platoon of reporters found themselves suddenly embedded in the pandemic’s epicenter, New York City, home to a staggering 30 per cent of America’s grim death toll which neared 100,000 nationwide Friday.

By comparison, New York’s 8.4-million citizens represent less than three per cent of the U.S. population. Yet the Big Apple has five times greater Covid-19 deaths per capita as the rest of the country — and nine-fold worse than Canada.

On Thursday, the front page’s top story summarized the Times’ latest investigation: “Waiting to Lock Down Cost 36,000 Lives, Estimate Says.”

One of those struck down by Covid-19 was Alan Finder, an editor at the New York Times who spent four decades in journalism, until his death on March 24. “Alan Finder, 72, Unflappable Newspaper Journalist, Dies,” his own beloved paper’s headline read the next day.

Numerous other Times staff fell ill, Purdy said.

“It’s a story we’re covering as a story, but it’s also happening to us in our lives,” Purdy explained. “It’s more like covering a war in a way — where you’re at risk.”

Although the newspaper has run stories on coronavirus’ global march in its pages since January, he admits almost everyone there was still caught off-guard at how swiftly it would devastate U.S. cities and health systems.

“Journalists always want to use the word ‘unprecedented,’” Purdy quipped, and it’s usually editors’ job to tell them they should avoid that word because nothing is unprecedented.

“But this was pretty close to unprecedented,” he admitted. “Some said this is kind of like 9/11. 9/11 was truly horrible. But it was an event, in a way. But this … had even more unknowns to it.”

The constant barrage of attacks from the paper’s opponents seems to have hardly fazed the Times’ editors. Journalism remains a fundamental check on power, Purdy and his colleagues still insist, and an ill-informed citizenry is detrimental to democracy.

The Times’ reporting, and the editorial decisions around front page priorities and headlines, have become a lightning rod for millions. From the right, the paper is attacked as undermining the Trump administration and Republicans; from the left, for the perception it goes out of its way to provide undue equal weight and mouthpiece to once-fringe views in the name of “balance.”

Purdy said on some issues, such as climate change, Times editors agree with the “scientific consensus” and do not devote equal column inches to “both sides.” But the Times’ leadership has eschewed its competitors’ more combative approaches — steering away from the Washington Post’s motto “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” or the Guardian’s social campaigns on climate, which Purdy characterized as closer to “advocacy journalism.” That’s led some to attack the Gray Lady for “both sides-ism,” for instance its controversial 2017 intimate profile of an alt-right extremist, “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland.

Media criticism is necessary. But the attacks on basic facts, Purdy said, should deeply disturb anyone interested in preserving democracy.

“This is why this campaign to erode the truth, and to go after a shared set of facts, is so dangerous,” he mused. “The loss of that muscle in a democracy is really quite frightening.”

But despite dire examples of many small-town newspapers shuttering and others struggling in the U.S. and across Canada, the Times has managed to buoy its readership massively since Trump’s election, and even more so during the Covid-19 pandemic, Purdy said.

Other major outlets are finding the same thing as readers search for in-depth, reliable information. But declines in advertising revenues, and many readers filtering their information purely through social media platforms, has certainly hurt the industry’s lifeline. There’s still hope, Purdy said.

“The fact our circulation keeps growing shows there’s a thirst for the kind of journalism we’re doing,” he said. “It’s important to support all sorts of new investigative journalism organizations popping up in this country and around the world.

“We’re going to come out of this moment. And we want to do it with our integrity.”

This live interview is part of Canada’s National Observer’s Conversation series featuring topics around COVID-19, the economy, politics and climate change. To watch the full conversation, head to our YouTube channel. To stay up to date on upcoming interviews, subscribe here.

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Trump escalates war on Twitter, social media protections – Yahoo Canada Finance

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Trump escalates war on Twitter, social media protections

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump escalated his war on Twitter and other social media companies Thursday, signing an executive order challenging the lawsuit protections that have served as a bedrock for unfettered speech on the internet.

Announced with fanfare, the president’s action yet appeared to be more about politics than substance. He aims to rally supporters after he lashed out at Twitter for applying fact checks to two of his tweets.

Trump said the fact checks were “editorial decisions” by Twitter amounting to political activism and that such actions should cost social media companies their liability protection for what is posted on their platforms.

Trump, who personally relies heavily on Twitter to verbally flog his foes, has long accused the tech giants in liberal-leaning Silicon Valley of targeting conservatives by fact-checking them or removing their posts.

“We’re fed up with it,” Trump said, claiming his order would uphold freedom of speech.

Technology industry groups disagreed, saying it would stifle innovation and speech on the internet. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce objected, “Regardless of the circumstances that led up to this, this is not how public policy is made in the United States.”

The executive order directs executive branch agencies to ask independent rule-making agencies including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to study whether they can place new regulations on the companies — though experts express doubts much can be done without an act of Congress.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement: “This debate is an important one. The Federal Communications Commission will carefully review any petition for rulemaking filed by the Department of Commerce.”

Companies like Twitter and Facebook are granted liability protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act because they are treated as “platforms,” rather than “publishers,” which can face lawsuits over content.

A similar executive order was previously considered by the administration but shelved over concerns it couldn’t pass legal muster and that it violated conservative principles on deregulation and free speech.

“They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences,” Trump said of social media companies as he prepared to sign the order. “There is no precedent in American history for so small a number of corporations to control so large a sphere of human interaction.”

Trump and his campaign reacted after Twitter added a warning phrase to two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted “mail boxes will be robbed.” Under the tweets, there’s now a link reading “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” that guides users to a page with fact checks and news stories about Trump’s unsubstantiated claims.

Trump accused Twitter of interfering in the 2020 presidential election” and declared “as president, I will not allow this to happen.” His campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said Twitter’s “clear political bias” had led the campaign to pull “all our advertising from Twitter months ago.” In fact, Twitter has banned political advertising since last November.

Late Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted, “We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally.”

On the other hand, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Fox News his platform has “a different policy, I think, than Twitter on this.”

“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” he said.

The president’s critics, meanwhile, scolded the platforms for allowing him to put forth false or misleading information that could confuse voters.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat and advocate for internet freedoms, said Trump was “desperately trying to steal for himself the power of the courts and Congress. … All for the ability to spread unfiltered lies.”

Trump’s proposal has multiple, serious legal problems and is unlikely to survive a challenge, according to Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a Washington-based organization that represents computer and internet companies.

It would also seem to be an assault on the same online freedom that enabled social media platforms to flourish in the first place — and made them such an effective microphone for Trump and other politicians.

“The irony that is lost here is that if these protections were to go away social media services would be far more aggressive in moderating content and terminating accounts,” Schruers said. “Our vibrant public sphere of discussion would devolve into nothing more than preapproved soundbites.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was “outrageous” that while Twitter had put a fact-check tag on Trump’s tweets asserting massive mail-in election fraud, it had not removed his tweets repeating a debunked conspiracy theory that a TV news host had murdered an aide years ago.

The president and fellow conservatives have been claiming, for years, that Silicon Valley tech companies are biased against them. But there is no evidence for this — and while the executives and many employees of Twitter, Facebook and Google may lean liberal, the companies have stressed they have no business interest in favouring one political party over the other.

The trouble began in 2016, two years after Facebook launched a section called “trending,” using editors to curate popular news stories. Zuckerberg met with prominent right-wing leaders at the time in an attempt at damage control, and in 2018, Facebook shut down the “trending” section,.

In August 2018, Trump accused Google of biased searches and warned the company to “be careful.” Google pushed back sharply, saying Trump’s claim simply wasn’t so, and experts suggested his comments showed a misunderstanding of how search engines work.

Last year, Trump again blasted social media companies after Facebook banned a slew of extremist figures including conspiracy peddler Alex Jones from its site and from Instagram.

Meanwhile, the companies are gearing up to combat misinformation around the November elections. Twitter and Facebook have begun rolling out dozens of new rules to avoid a repeat of the false postings about the candidates and the voting process that marred the 2016 election.

The coronavirus pandemic has further escalated the platforms’ response, leading them to take actions against politicians — a move they’ve long resisted — who make misleading claims about the virus.

Last month, Twitter began a “Get the Facts” label to direct social media users to news articles from trusted outlets next to tweets containing misleading or disputed information about the virus.

As the White House claimed that Trump was the subject of a fact check but Chinese disinformation about the coronavirus was not, Twitter moved Thursday to add a warning to a March tweet from a Chinese government spokesman falsely claiming the U.S. military spread the virus.

Even as he and his supporters complain of bias on the platform, Trump has used Twitter to build a potent and vocal online following. The president’s account currently has more than 80 million followers.

Trump’s success on social media suggests that his proposal may be more about politics than an actual interest in regulation, according to Rutgers University media professor John Pavlik, who studies the impact of technology on society and government.

Pavlik said that by trying to intimidate the platforms now, he’s seeking to control how the 2020 campaign plays out online and “about appealing to his base.”

___

AP writers Amanda Seitz, Barbara Ortutay and David Klepper contributed.

Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

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Is Vancouver city manager's desire to hire social media guru an overblown controversy? – Vancouver Courier

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You may have heard the news this week that Vancouver city manager Sadhu Johnston wants to hire a $95,000-a-year “senior social digital communications strategist” for his office.

The delivery of the news, which came via radio and television, focused on how sanitation services were being cut so Johnston could hire the social media guru.

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The predictable reaction was outrage, which came largely and ironically via social media giant, Twitter, my favourite go-to source for facts, context and gauging how people really feel.

I’m kidding.

What happened at city council Tuesday – I’m sorry to report – was more complicated than pitting sanitation services against a well-paid social media employee.

Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung was responsible for making it less complicated by zeroing in on line items in a city staff report that showed $329,000 in spending allotted for the city manager’s office.

Of that $329,000, a total of $95,000 was to hire the social media person, $105,000 for “ongoing funding” for a social planner and $129,000 for another planner.

Another set of line items in the report was related to equipment and staffing for litter pickup, street sweeping, staff operations and safety training programs, all of it to be delayed – not cancelled – until next year.

The net cut in the delay would amount to $130,000.

So there was the matchup for Kirby-Yung, who went on to pepper Johnston with questions, some of it transcribed below for context.

Kirby-Yung: “We have 1,800 staff laid off right now and we still have – without a reduction – three new positions in the city manager’s office, including a social media person and planning related roles?”

Johnston: “We are doing a lot more online right now. There’s a lot more happening social media wise. As an example of that, we’re broadcasting this meeting live on Facebook because of the technology challenges. So we’re seeing a huge demand at this point for that service across the organization.”

Kirby-Yung: “So we’re keeping $329,000 for three new positions, but we still have 1,800 people laid off and we’re cutting $130,000 in sanitation. Is that a correct summary?”

Johnston: “We’re not currently hiring those positions because we do have a hiring freeze. So at this point, those positions are not being pursued, but we haven’t removed the funding for them, though.”

Kirby-Yung: “But that is an option, is that right?”

Johnston: “Yes.”

With that, Kirby-Yung tried twice to reduce Johnston’s office budget but was voted down by Green Party councillors Michael Wiebe, Adriane Carr and Pete Fry, along with Mayor Kennedy Stewart and councillors Jean Swanson and Christine Boyle.

Boyle: “I don’t think it would be good practice to start cherry picking some dollar amounts specifically when we’re not identifying exactly what we’re giving up. I don’t support the process, otherwise we’ll be here all night with each of us saying, ‘Well here’s $300,000 that I would like to see go towards something that has been delayed or cut back.’”

Wiebe: “There’s a lot of work being done by staff, and I think there’s a lot of opportunities in this budget to see movement and I don’t want to see us go through each operational item. I think we should be at a policy level.”

Wiebe made those comments after hearing from Johnston that the city’s aim to balance its $1.6 billion operating budget is a fluid exercise, with more changes expected the rest of the year.

“Each department will make adjustments in their own budgets to prioritize and to address the changing conditions and the circumstances,” Johnston said.

“We may need to produce further savings later in the year, or we may be doing better than we thought because revenue comes back sooner and we could do more.”

All this debate and discussion occurred Tuesday because the city has lost millions in revenues since the pandemic was declared in March, and is facing a $111 million deficit.

Sanitation and the city manager’s office budget, you may have assumed by this point in the story, were not the only items in staff’s lengthy report that outlined cuts, delays and cancellations.

Have a look for yourself here.

A story that didn’t receive near or any of the attention that ‘Socialmediagate’ attracted was Swanson’s successful motion to save the city’s women’s equity, anti-racism and reconciliation initiatives that were on the chopping block.

For media this week, it was all about the social media position, with reporters hounding the mayor the day after the council meeting at an unrelated news conference at city hall.

This morphed into the wider question as to why the city has 40-plus communications staffers – a perpetual issue for media that has been fuelled by Non-Partisan Association councillors past and present, who have yet to land on the best number of media reps, graphic designers, multimedia people and others to be promoting one of the country’s biggest cities.

“This city has a budget of $1.6 billion, we have 10,000 employees and you’re talking about one position – somebody that hasn’t been hired,” a clearly peeved Stewart told reporters.

“So what you’re setting up is a false narrative. I am very concerned about social disorder in this city, I’m very concerned about sanitation, I’m very concerned about rising crime levels.”

Added Stewart: “The focus in targeting one position – and the person hasn’t been hired yet – is kind of a weird story to follow.”

Another weird story is that Stewart’s office used Elettra Communications, which was involved in his election campaign, to manage his communications this week because his media guy was taking a week off.

Weird or not, my work of providing some context mixed with political rhetoric is done. You can tweet about it, if you like. Be outraged, if you must.

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

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Creators of 6ixBuzz possibly doxed via social media – inbrampton.com

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The enigmatic and polarizing figures behind 6ixBuzzTV, a controversial social media presence known for inciting vitriol, may have been outed and doxed—when someone releases a person’s personal information including their address.

Doxing has become an insidious part of Internet Culture—it’s often used as a weapon to incite fear and potentially violence by people hiding behind a computer screen and keyboard.

While it’s unclear whether the information is accurate, or who released it, people have been sharing a screenshot of a snapchat image that displays the names and addresses of the people behind 6ixBuzz, who have otherwise remained anonymous since their rise to prominence over the last few years.

According to the oft-shared image, two of the people behind the page are from Toronto, one is from Markham, and one is from Brampton—although all of this is still unverified.

6ixBuzz is known for sharing wild, embarrassing, and uncouth images and videos of people from around the GTA as much as it shares music and promotes artists.

It’s also known for inciting divineness through the content and captions that it shares.

Further, largely due to the fact it’s an unregulated account, many creatives have found their content stolen and repurposed by 6ixBuzz’s account, oftentimes without even an acknowledgement that it came from someone else.

The page, which started as a meme sharing platform in 2010, evolved into a major part of Toronto and the GTA’s media scene—albeit mainly among the younger generations, and mostly for the wrong reasons.

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