Covering protests in Portland, filtering out conspiracy theorists, and how to prevent misinformation

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Edited by Marco Nurra


Judge in Portland bars federal officers from arresting or using force against journalists and legal observers. Federal Judge Michael H. Simon issued the temporary restraining order Thursday evening ahead of another night of expected protests in the city’s downtown. Videos taken by news crews there have captured harrowing moments — like when the city’s mayor was overcome by tear gas deployed to disperse a crowd on Wednesday — and the American Civil Liberties Union had filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security and the US Marshals Service, which command the officers, detailing several examples of identified journalists allegedly being abused by the authorities.The order, which Simon opened with a series of quotes about the importance of the free press, also says journalists can ignore dispersal orders issued by authorities.

DHS compiled ‘intelligence reports’ on journalists who published leaked documents. The Department of Homeland Security has compiled “intelligence reports” about the work of American journalists covering protests in Portland, in what current and former officials called an alarming use of a government system meant to share information about suspected terrorists and violent actors. Over the past week, the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis has disseminated three Open Source Intelligence Reports to federal law enforcement agencies and others, summarizing tweets written by two journalists — a reporter for the New York Times and the editor in chief of the blog Lawfare — and noting they had published leaked, unclassified documents about DHS operations in Portland. The intelligence reports, obtained by The Washington Post, include written descriptions and images of the tweets and the number of times they had been liked or retweeted by others.

ProPublica shares database of complaints against police amid US protests. Investigative news platform ProPublica has bypassed a judge’s order and released thousands of complaints filed against New York City police. Meanwhile, protests against police tactics escalated in cities around the US.

Turkey tightens control on social media with new law. The Turkish parliament has approved a law that will allow stricter monitoring of social media content. Critics fear the new legislation is a further step toward silencing dissent in the country.

Belarus: Crackdown on political activists, journalists. Police in Belarus have arbitrarily arrested journalists, bloggers, and political activists ahead of the August 9, 2020 presidential election and pressed charges against two potential candidates, Human Rights Watch said today. The arrests raise concerns about interference with and violations of rights to freedom of expression, particularly media freedom and political speech, and freedom of assembly. Many of the arrests seemed timed to keep those detained locked away until at least after the elections.

But does suppressing online conspiracy theorists work? Experts weigh in. Last week Twitter announced it would stop promoting content associated with QAnon – a baseless internet conspiracy theory that has had an outsized impact on political discourse, causing real-world harm through targeted harassment campaigns. But does filtering out conspiracy theorists help public discourse – or can it strengthen their paranoia that they are being suppressed? And can these ideas be fought with education? The Guardian spoke to experts to see whether it will work.

The psychology of misinformation: How to prevent it. How can we use our psychology to prevent misinformation from spreading and influencing people? First Draft explains the key concepts in the third of a three-part series on the psychology of misinformation. “Here we explain the psychological concepts that can help us by building our mental (and therefore social) resilience. What you’ll find is that many of the resources we need to slow down misinformation are right there in our brains, waiting to be used.”

South Africa’s Oxpeckers is powering up geo-journalism for investigative environmental reporting. Building on a foundation of partnerships between donors, civil society, and advocacy groups, Oxpeckers has fostered long-term relationships that improve data collection and power investigations, leading to the exposure of eco-offenses and helping to hold perpetrators accountable.

Why are millennials and Gen Z turning to Instagram as a news source? Young people are getting information about protests, police actions and stay-at-home orders from their social media feeds – but the trend isn’t harmless. “The challenge with Instagram is that it’s a highly visual space,” Jennifer Grygiel, who teaches communications at Syracuse University, tells me, “so people share memes that are more about influencing than informing and people need to exercise caution and be aware of who they’re engaging with.”

The New York Times’ new CEO, Meredith Levien, on building a world-class digital media business — and a tech company. Last week, the Times announced Levien as its new CEO, succeeding her boss and mentor Mark Thompson, who retires after one of the most transformative runs of any publishing executive in modern times. The appointment surprised no one who has watched the Times. Soon upon his 2012 appointment, Thompson shook up his own executive corps and hired Levien the next year to review and renew the Times’ traditional ad operation. She came to the Times immediately from Forbes, with crucial early experience gained at entrepreneur David Bradley’s shops, first the Advisory Board and then the Atlantic. She quickly transformed the Times’ ad operation – in the process, “turning over” 75% of the staff — and pivoted to a branded advertising/high-end storytelling strategy, targeting fewer but larger accounts.

This is how FiveThirtyEight is trying to build the right amount of uncertainty into its 2020 election data analysis. Of the many, many criticisms made of press coverage of the 2016 presidential election, one that’s stuck is the idea that news organization’s polling models helped create the false sense that Hillary Clinton would be the no-doubt, slam-dunk winner. On election night, The Huffington Post put her chance of winning at 98 percent. The New York Times gave Clinton an 85 percent chance of winning, FiveThirtyEight 71 percent. The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan presented doing better here as one of the core challenges for the press in 2020. But what’s the best way to present that context? While FiveThirtyEight was the most uncertainty-embracing of the major 2016 aggregators, It’s also the outlet most connected to poll analysis in the public’s mind, so it’s important for them to get it right. Senior visual journalist Anna Wiederkehr discussed how FiveThirtyEight was trying to communicate uncertainty in a Twitter thread.

Image via Tony/Flickr