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RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week

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RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week
September 12 to September 18, 2021

Featured Investigation:
The Facebook Files, Parts 1-5

Facebook Inc. knows painfully well that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands – but it does little to fix the problems because it is more interested in growth. That is the central finding of a Wall Street Journal series, based on a review of internal Facebook documents, including research reports, online employee discussions and drafts of presentations to senior management. Repeatedly, the documents show, Facebook’s researchers have identified ill effects of the platform, in areas including teen mental health, political discourse and human trafficking. Time and again, despite congressional hearings, its own pledges and media exposés, the company didn’t fix them. The Journal reports that the documents offer perhaps the clearest picture thus far of how broadly Facebook’s problems are known inside the company, up to Mark Zuckerberg himself.

The first article focuses on a Facebook program that allows popular accounts that attract lots of eyeballs to its platforms to violate its rules regarding harassment, intimidation and nudity. The second article reports that Facebook’s own researchers found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of users, most notably teenage girls:

Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers said in a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.” … “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one slide from 2019, summarizing research about teen girls who experience the issues. “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.

Nevertheless, the article reports, expanding Instagram’s base of young users is vital to the company’s more than $100 billion in annual revenue, and it doesn’t want to jeopardize their engagement with the platform.

The third article reports that Facebook’s effort beginning in 2018 to boost “meaningful social interactions” and improve the mental health of its users by elevating posts by family and friends ended up – for complex reasons – making Facebook more toxic. The company’s researchers, the Journal reports, concluded that the new algorithm’s heavy weighting of reshared material in its News Feed made angry voices louder. “Misinformation, toxicity, and violent content are inordinately prevalent among reshares,” researchers noted in internal memos.

The fourth article details the concern among Facebook employees that the platform is used in some developing countries for human trafficking and to incite violent against ethnic minorities:

In some countries where Facebook operates, it has few or no people who speak the dialects needed to identify dangerous or criminal uses of the platform, the documents show. When problems have surfaced publicly, Facebook has said it addressed them by taking down offending posts. But it hasn’t fixed the systems that allowed offenders to repeat the bad behavior. Instead, priority is given to retaining users, helping business partners and at times placating authoritarian governments, whose support Facebook sometimes needs to operate within their borders, the documents show.

Part 5 describes how Facebook itself hobbled CEO Zuckerberg's effort to get America vaccinated.

Biden, Trump and the Beltway

Gen. Milley's No-Strike Vow to Trump-Rattled China Washington Post
New Book Details the Bidens' Self-Dealings Daily Mail
Did AOC's Met Gala Stunt Flout Federal Ethics Laws? PJ Media
FBI Releases First of Secret 9/11 Files 20 Years Later Daily Mail
U.S. Drone Strike Evidence Suggests Not ISIS but Aid Worker NY Times
The Forever Trial at Guantánamo The New Yorker


Other Noteworthy Articles and Series

Durham Indicts Democrat Lawyer, Alleging Russiagate Lie
Just the News
Special Counsel John Durham this week secured an indictment against a prominent Democrat lawyer alleging he developed and fed information to the FBI during the 2016 campaign suggesting Donald Trump was colluding with Russia without disclosing he was being paid by Hillary Clinton's campaign. The indictment against Michael A. Sussmann charges he falsely claimed he was providing the information as an ordinary citizen and not on behalf of Clinton. The charges center on a Sept. 19, 2016, meeting with an F.B.I. official in which he claimed that the Trump Organization had a secret communication channel with Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-linked Russian financial institution. The F.B.I. looked into the claim – which was reported widely – but dismissed it. Although Clinton was one of his clients, Sussmann claims he was speaking to the FBI on behalf of another client (the cybersecurity expert who allegedly discovered the fake channel), the New York Times reports. Sussmann’s meeting appears to be part of much larger effort by people paid by the Clinton campaign – including the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which created the bogus Steele dossier alleging Trump/Russia connections – to use law enforcement to smear their political rival.

Taliban Got Largest Arms Transfer in 50 Years
National Review
The arms transfer that occurred as the U.S. withdrew and American-aligned Afghan forces surrendered in haste is, relative to the size of Afghanistan’s economy, the largest transfer of weapons the world has witnessed in decades. Although the value of weapons transferred within Afghanistan amid the U.S. withdrawal is not yet available, estimates reportedly range from around $10 billion to $90 billion. The Washington Post’s modest estimate of $24 billion implies the Taliban received weapons valued at 124 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP. Each of the Taliban’s new American-made M4 assault rifles, for example, costs more than a year of per capita output in Afghanistan. The Taliban now cruise in some of the 4,700 Humvees transferred by the U.S. to Afghanistan between 2017 and 2019. This article also reports:

Historically, to receive a macroeconomically significant sum of weapons, a government like the Taliban’s must be given them deliberately, by some supporting country. But the Taliban acquired their cache of weaponry as if by lottery-like chance amid Afghanistan’s unexpectedly hasty collapse, a scenario unintended basically by anyone but the Taliban. Economists often use cases of lottery-like luck as “natural experiments” to identify the causal effects of something, such as the “resource curse” that can haunt places when a natural resource like oil just happens to be there. But what follows when a new government happens into a treasure trove of weapons rather than oil — and when that weaponry is so vast and so sophisticated that no friendly government could possibly have furnished it? No one knows.

Minneapolis Data Dive: After Floyd, Police Retreated
Policing in Minneapolis changed dramatically in the year since a white police officer murdered George Floyd in May 2020. The video-recorded killing of a defenseless black man touched off rioting, rekindled a national debate about racial inequities in law enforcement and launched scattershot efforts to strip funding from police or even abolish forces altogether. In response, Reuters reports, Minneapolis’ police officers imposed abrupt changes of their own, adopting what amounts to a hands-off approach to everyday lawbreaking in a city where killings have surged to a level not seen in decades:

In the year after Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, the number of people approached on the street by officers who considered them suspicious dropped by 76%, Reuters found after analyzing more than 2.2 million police dispatches in the city. Officers stopped 85% fewer cars for traffic violations. As they stopped fewer people, they found and seized fewer illegal guns. “It’s self-preservation,” said one officer who retired after Floyd’s death, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He said the force’s commanders didn’t order a slowdown, but also did nothing to stop it. “The supervisor was like, ‘I don’t blame you at all if you don’t want to do anything. Hang out in the station.’ That’s what they’re saying.”

The Dire Straits of America’s Rural Schools 
New York Times
Nationwide, more than 9.3 million children – nearly a fifth of the country’s public-school students – attend a rural school. While researchers and activists have spent decades detailing the ways urban schools have failed children, the often far worse plight of rural students has largely remained off the radars of policymakers, this article reports:

Not only are rural communities more likely to be impoverished, they’re also often disconnected from the nonprofits and social-service agencies that plug holes in urban and suburban schools. Many don’t have access to broadband internet, and some don’t even have cellphone service, making it hard for young people to tap outside resources. Rural schools have a difficult time recruiting teachers and principals. And long before the pandemic turned “ventilation” into a buzzword for anxious parents, rural children were learning in aging buildings with broken HVAC systems and sewers too old to function properly.

Occupy Wall Street 10 Years Later 
The Guardian
While the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was commemorated across the country, the 10th anniversary of another consequential moment – the Occupy Wall Street protests – has received little notice. Fueled by the Great Recession and the Arab Spring revolts, OWS was a transformative event that helped shift the Democratic Party leftward, normalized the commandeering of public spaces by activists. It was also an early effort to use social media to organize and publicize political action:

On 25 September, protesters marched from the plaza to Union Square, where the police pepper-sprayed screaming demonstrators and arrested dozens of activists. The scenes were captured on smartphones and quickly went viral, turning up on the evening news, which served to bring more people to the protest. “The more the state beat us down,” said Holmes, “the more support we received.”

Although several people argue that OWS was a failure, there is little doubt that it helped inspire Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign and the election of self-proclaimed socialist politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This article looks back on the people (many of whom were self-proclaimed anarchists) and the revolutionary ideas that took over Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan.  

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