The Winter of our Discontent

To most of the world, success is never bad. When Hitler moved unchecked and triumphant, many honorable men sought and found virtues in him. And Mussolini made the trains run on time, and Vichy collaborated for the good of France, and whatever else Stalin was, he was strong.

Strength and success – they are above morality, above criticism. It seems then, that it is not what you do, but how you do it and what you call it.

Is there a check in men, deep in them, that stops or punishes? There doesn’t seem to be. The only punishment is for failure.

In effect no crime is committed unless a criminal is caught ~~ some men get hurt, some even destroyed, but this in no way deters the movement.

John Steinbeck, The Winter of our Discontent, 1961

How to Spot a Trump Bot

UPDATE 1/11/21: Since the initial publication of this article, Facebook and Twitter have suspended Donald Trump’s account(s), and also implemented a system-wide purge of bot accounts (something done regularly anyway). The deletion of literally thousands of these bot (fake) accounts has resulted a huge net loss of followers for many GOP representatives’ accounts. Not to be deterred, however, these fake accounts are slowing working their way back into the social networks.

Donald Trump’s profile and incendiary rhetoric have been pulled from FB and Twitter. But, his Bots are out in force.

Bot farms are notoriously housed in Russia, India, China but not exclusively. Alt-Right organizations, like the Epoch Times (underwritten by TrumpPac), use bots to promote Trump’s insurrectionist agenda.

What is a Bot? Bots are programs that run automated tasks. However, that does not mean that Bots operate completely autonomously. They do not.

Bots require human interaction, and they all require fake profiles.

We have come to recognize the work of bots in marketing posts, such as Amazon product reviews, vacation rental recommendations, Glassdoor company ratings, and other consumer forums. But Trump and his Russian bots have created a propaganda machine whose wack-a-mole structure will be difficult to contain. As soon as you get rid of one, another will pop up.

Bots make it appear that Trump is more popular, and make it appear his views are more widely-shared and widely- supported than they truly are.

How It Works

  • Bot farms (which can be only a few people) set-up hundreds of individual fake profiles* (using stolen photos, fake names).
    • Fake profiles send out hundreds of friend requests. Men get requests from hot chicks; women from Central Casting hunks.
    • If you accept the request, the bot will request connections with your friends.
  • Bots continue to build their “friends” to 100 or so connections – just enough to stay under the radar – using them as a first-line propaganda distribution system.

Then, the AI Part

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) uses key words and images to identify News feeds and other postings critical of the “client.”
  • Upon publication of any article containing these key words, Bots add a generic pro-client comment to the thread. (ex: Donald J. Trump is true Christian and the greatest President!!).
  • Other Bots immediately swarm to “like” the comment, thereby promoting it to the top of the thread.
  • FB, Twitter postings are programmed to display the most popular comment at the top of the thread.
  • Real people see the article, and the (only displayed) comment in their feed. They respond, thereby adding to the comment’s popularity.
  • The site’s algorithm ensures the comment remains at the top of the thread because of its popularity.
  • Divisiveness and insurrection ensue.

How to Spot a Trump Bot

The Out-of-Context Comment

If a News article implies criticism of Trump, his agenda, or his supporters:

  • Top comment includes terms like “liberal media” or “radical socialists.” Other clues: Comment includes terms that pander to his base, “I pray for our Christian President,” “Trump is a champion of the Unborn!” or apocalyptic statements that hit all the buzz words: “Alt-Right Antifa is turning this country into socialist Venezuala (sic).”
  • Comment does not reflect any information contained in the article.
  • Comment has HUNDREDs of likes (despite the article being published only minutes ago).
  • Comment’s replies refute the bot’s statement; however, the bot never, ever responds to any reply.

The *Fake Profile

How can you tell?

  • Trump bots choose pictures of (generally) young men or Getty Image, Central Casting hunks. They are often military. If not, they drift toward middle-aged Cracker-types with questionable facial hair, often shown with groups hunting or carrying firearms or drinking Bud. Women are mostly blonde and “midwestern” types. Never black, brown, or in anyway an ethic or religious minority.
  • Contains little to no “About” information. Person is often “self-employed” or single. No work, group, or location information. No children.
  • Joined FB within the last four years. Many joined in 2020.
  • Photos appear blurry (because they’re often stolen via a screen shot). Group photos contain no captions or locations.
  • Feed contains primarily “shares” of links to conspiracy sites, posts focus on negative memes attacking “liberal” media, Democrats, and (of course) Hillary.

What You Can Do About It

  • Tag the bot, and then add a comment in the thread stating that bot profile is fake.
  • Report the profile as fake (use the More ellipse (…) that displays on the profile page).
  • Don’t feed trolls. When you do, it only elevates their comments. Best to Like comments you agree with, and add your additional agreement. In that way, the popularity of the post to its readers is elevated.
  • Don’t accept random friend requests – in any social media – unless you feel confident the person is NOT a fake profile.
  • Block any profile you suspect of being fake to ensure that it cannot use your friends or messaging.

The Good News

Bots only work when they’re getting paid, or there’s something in it for them. Trump is out of money, out of power, out of friends who will lend him money. Now that the money is going away, so too will Trump’s on-line “supporter” bots.

+++

Copyright 2021 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

11 Things that Are Better Because of Covid

We are changed by every failure, set-back, disaster, or crisis we encounter. Covid is the most profound of events because it has affected each of us personally, and our communities and nations globally.  No one has escaped. No one is immune.

As vaccines are distributed and the smoke begins to clear, we need to ask, “What is the gift?”  Here’s 11 of ‘em…

~ 1 ~ Our Neighbors

I’ve met more of my neighbors in the past eight months than I have in the past eight years. People are home. They have time to chat.  The want to chat…! Pre-Covid, I would be socializing with my co-workers at after-work happy hours, but that’s not going to happen when you’re on Zoom. 

There’s little doubt we will see our social lives shift from work-centric to community centric. Maybe that’s why we’re all moving someplace else….

~ 2 ~ Our Technical Prowess

We’re using our laptops, pads, mobile and Bluetooth devices more effectively, and for things we never did before.  This is important because technology doesn’t improve without user feedback.

User feedback allows technologists to improve software quickly and more meaningfully.  Be prepared for a big leap forward in our quality of connectedness.

The great thing about technology is that the more people use it, the better it gets.

~ 3 ~ Our Cooking

Tearing up your own lettuce at .89 cents a bunch isn’t as burdensome as once thought. Kids are cooking real meals, planning menus, using fractions, and everyone is wondering why we weren’t doing this before.

Don’t get me wrong: I love eating in a restaurant and having people bring me stuff. But, I also realize that eating out used a lot of my disposable income that probably could have been spent on investment, not, literally, consumption.

~ 4 ~ Our Savings

Not eating out, not commuting, no coffee snacks, dry cleaning, happy hour(s), multiple vehicles, soccer fees, miscellaneous mall trips….Perhaps Wall Street is doing so well because there’s not much else to buy?

For those who have escaped lay-offs and can work virtually, the cost of going back and forth to an office is abundantly clear. And, after a year of gitn’ er done from home, it’s doubtful anyone is going to cough up a big chunk of his/her net income just to commute into an office again every day.

~ 5 ~ Our Employers

Employers now realize they actually need their employees! They’ve become obnoxiously pro-family – almost to the point of being anti-single — and many (sheepishly) admit that their 1950’s insistence that everyone be on-site every day was more about tradition (and control), not so much about collaboration and teamwork.

The more people work virtually, the better they will get at it. 

Virtual work has its advantages (and challenges), and not everyone is going to survive (or thrive), in a cyber office. But, make no mistake, those without the self-discipline to meet deadlines and the responsibilities of a virtual team and managers who cannot manage virtual teams or projects will soon find themselves on the shelf (next to the thermal Fax machine).

~ 6 ~ Our Weight

At the beginning of this pandemic, I saw a big increase in people on the hiking trails and local jogging routes.  Many were clearly new to exercise.  A few months in, some potatoes have returned to their couches, but not all. 

Exercise isn’t about motivation; it’s about habits. And bravo to those who have changed theirs to reflect a commitment to their health.

~ 7 ~ Our Compassion

Racial inequities, disconsolate healthcare workers, grieving families, food lines that stretch for miles.  Pain has a unique way of stripping away all the bullshit and exposing the true essence of humanity.

Covid has been an accelerant of social change.  With sickness and death all around, we’ve been forced to see parts of ourselves and our lives, and others, in a way we never did before.  We’re all better for it.

~ 8 ~ Our Supply Chain

While military logistics plays a huge role in vaccination efforts, companies like Amazon, Walmart, Kroger, CVS – millions of restaurants, processors, growers and the myriad of private delivery services pivoted in a way that could never have been accomplished by a government bureaucracy.

Urban warehousing, drones, and delivery-o’-everything will improve to provide for our just-in-time toilet paper needs.

~ 9 ~ The News

At first, everyone was grappling with how to produce a show using just video.  But, they figured it out, and it has a lot of advantages.

Because there’s no need for the guest to physically be there, we’re able to hear voices, insights, and opinions that probably would not have made it to the “lame” stream media. Audio and video quality that would have been unacceptable 12 months ago isn’t even questioned now.

More of us are actively seeking unfiltered information. We want to hear exactly what was said, not some politically spun version of alternative facts.  That doesn’t mean anyone will change her/his mind, but it’s good to know that real information is out there, and lots of bona fide journalists are, too.

~ 10 ~ Our Homes

If you drive for a living, and you would need a different vehicle than you would for occasion use.  The same is true for the home office.  A small bedroom was fine for the random WFH day or to check email on Sunday.  Eight-to-nine-hours-five-day-a-week-and-weekends.  Now, you’re under house arrest. 

The connected home, IoT, learning centers and the need for multiple home offices will force a change in residential architecture. The need for both functional and attractive family “business” centers has just begun.

~ 11 ~ Our Government Services

Yeah, I said it.  Bravado and bluster are part of America’s global bad rep’ (We’re #1!), But, when people are sick, dying, afraid, and the economy is in shambles, you begin to recognize that integrity, hard work, and statesmanship is the social compact we really entered into.  We pay taxes for leadership, macro- planning, infrastructure, and services that cannot be provided by the private sector. I’m happy that Amazon can deliver my socks.  I think I still want the CDC or NIH to be in the public health business. 

Finally, I think this pandemic has ended the, “Teachers don’t work very hard,” fantasy.

This has been a difficult year for everyone – no one has escaped loneliness, sadness, and at times, the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness.  Perhaps a moment to reflect on the good that has come from this can help ease these pains. We will never return to where we were, but now that we can see where we’re going, it looks to be pretty okay….

Happy Holidays!

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

How Would YOU Caption This?

This cartoon and it’s original caption, “Describe what you can bring to this company,” has gone viral on Twitter and FB. I’ve collected a few hilarious – and a few very pointed – responses off the various feeds, and I would like to hear….

How would you caption this?

~Well, you are the most qualified, but I’m not sure I want to get a beer with you.

~I don’t disagree with your recommendations, but you need to tone down your presentation. You don’t want to sound bitter.

~We are ready to begin the inquiry into the sexual harassment complaint you filed.

~If you work really, really hard and prove yourself, we might consider hiring you full time.

~I’m not sure that the team will respond to your management style.

~The most important thing is we hire someone who reflects our culture and values.

~I’ll have the turkey wrap, and make sure there’s enough cookies and water for the afternoon.

“~~my life debating Republicans in committee each week.” – AOC

~I’m not sure you have the leadership skills for this job.

~We’re looking for a team player. Are you a team player?

~If all you bring is your gender and skin color, then you aren’t worth very much.”

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