We’ve been hacked before

If you look hard enough, current events always have precedence in history. Maybe the players are different and the circumstances changed but, to turn a phrase from Mark Twain, “History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme.”

In a few days we will swear in a new president whom many think was put in place thanks to third party meddling. True or not, it’s interesting to note that this isn’t the first time strings have been pulled by an overseas power in order to influence our election to favor a particular outcome.

Steve Usdin, who is working on a book about the topic, posts on Politico about a time when our closest ally, the United Kingdom, resorted to all manner of subterfuge to influence the largely isolationist United States to enter into the war against Germany.

British intelligence employed the full range of cloak-and-dagger techniques in America in 1940 and 1941: forgeries, seductions, burglaries, electoral dirty tricks, physical surveillance, intercepting and reading letters sent under diplomatic seal, illegally bugging offices and tapping phones. British intelligence even listened in on a telephone call in June 1940 between President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House and his ambassador to Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. A report on the call was quickly relayed to Churchill, alerting him that the U.S. was making contingency plans in case the U.K. fell to the Nazis.

Wartime England even used another familiar ruse in order to sway public opinion. Fake News went by another name in Churchill’s England.  “Sibs,” short for sibilare, the Latin word for whisper or hiss were the brainchild of a secret clandestine government outfit, the Underground Propaganda Committee.

While rumors spread in Europe by word of mouth, in the U.S., they were disseminated through a network of friendly reporters and, starting in the spring of 1941, by the Overseas News Agency, a news service that received subsidies from, and was controlled by, the BSC. ONA articles appeared in newspapers around the country. Especially prior to Pearl Harbor, these stories were picked up by newspapers in Germany, Japan and occupied countries.

Using intelligence hacking and fake news to swing an election? Same as is everwas.

What happened last night?

There’s a video is going around in Japan trying explain to people there how Donald Trump tapped into the under-represented and dispossessed to win the election. Over the moaning cellos from Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar soundtrack, Michael Moore rants in a clip from his latest movie TrumpLand against a gliding montage of Ken Burns-ed images of Trump supporters. Moore warns of the political landslide to come, something he saw plain as day, written across the faces of those in his native rust belt.

“Trump’s election is going to be the biggest ‘Fuck You’ ever recorded in human history.” It’s a powerful message, driving home the power of our democracy to collectively shape our future. With it’s built-in mechanism to overturn the establishment at regular intervals, it’s an incredibly resilient way to let off steam, for better or worse.

But if there is one thing we learned from last night, is that it’s important to put things in context. As powerful as that piece may be, it was served up with a perspective, a point of view. That particular cut faded out and and did not include the second half of his speech, the part that Michael Moore himself included in his clip from the same speech. Here’s the rest of it.

Careful what you wish for, the ballot is not an “anger management tool.” Moore’s broader message is that we need to be skeptical of a quick fix promised on incomplete information.

Today Moore posted this on his Facebook page today under, “Morning After To-Do List”

Everyone must stop saying they are “stunned” and “shocked”. What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren’t paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew.

Now more than ever, we cannot be lazy and take in truths that are fed to us in sound bites and campaign slogans. The broader truth comes from multiple points of view and first-hand experience. Seek out new sources of information, talk to one another and compare notes. Americans pride themselves on their innovation – there’s a better way to do this – let’s get to work.

Fun with Google Trends Real Time

Google Trends announced last week that they’ve upgraded their service to be real time. Using their tools, I created a dashboard so you can quickly see who’s trending in Google Search for the past 7 days. If I did this right, this page should continually update.

I’ll manually add/remove names as the list of candidates change.

Democratic Party

Republican Party*

*There are too many in the field to fit on Google’s graph (Google Trends only takes up to five terms to compare). I took the top five announced candidates in the polls.

Presidential Candidate 404 Pages

As the 2016 US Presidential Election gets going, each candidates website 404 pages give us a rare glimpse into the personality behind each campaign. Let’s have a look.

Democrats

Hillary Rodham Clinton – her page looks like a misplaced snapshot and speaks to the basic, simplistic style of her Middle American base. Look what we found!

hillaryclinton404

Lawrence Lessig – not really one for smalltalk, just gives you the data.

Lawrence Lessig error page

Martin O’Malley – great if you think your candidate is going to be the next George Washington.

martinomalley404

Bernie Sanders – bonus points for the down-home folksy message on the embedded video. “The good news is you’re on the right web site . . . the bad news is you’re on-the-wrong-page. Just scoot down . . . and you’ll find your way back home.”

berniesanders404

Republican

Jeb Bush – his “wat” page has been localized – you can also access the page in Spanish.

jebbush404

Ben Carson – plain and direct, no-nonsense and frankly boring.

bencarson404

Chris Christie – updated with a clip of the Governor dancing with Jimmy Fallon

Ted Cruz – redirects back to the homepage, there are no wrong answers.

Carly Fiorina – looks real professional but it’s really just window dressing

carlyfiorina404

Lindsey Graham – Oops indeed. It looks naked.

lindseygraham404

Mike Huckabee – includes share buttons just in case you want to share a cute photo of Mike with his dog.

mikehuckabee404

Bobby Jindal – blames Obama for the missing page and then asks for a donation.

Bobby Jindal 404

John Kasich – Lost? Brother, can you spare a dime?

johnkasich 404

George Pataki – at least you know who to call to blame

georgepataki404

Rand Paul – updated with a dig at the NSA.

Rick Perry – still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.

rickperry404

Marco Rubio – slick promotional video recovers the mistake

marcorubio404

Rick Santorum – always looking for an opportunity to make fun of Hillary.

ricksantorum404

Donald Trump – Error.

Trump404

Scott Walker – thaar be pirates there to steal your loot.

Scott Walker 404

Further Reading:

Visualizing the Uninsured

Mapping the Uninsured

Another data map for you. This one by the New York Times based on the most recent census data shows the percent in each region that have either public or private insurance or are uninsured at all. Be sure to allow your browser to read your location and you’ll shortcut to your local region.

Data Mining the Electorate

Obama Data Mining Team

The New York Times Magazine had a cover piece on the Obama data mining team that used modern data-mining techniques to more efficiently target the undecided voters that they needed to bring across the fence to win the election. Check out the last line (emphasis mine) on their clever use of Facebook photo tags as a way to further refine their targeting to determine who your real friends were. If they identified any of your close friends as potential voters that were on their “undecided” list, they would then put them on a list of friends for you to ask to vote for Obama.

They started with a list that grew to a million people who had signed into the campaign Web site through Facebook. When people opted to do so, they were met with a prompt asking to grant the campaign permission to scan their Facebook friends lists, their photos and other personal information. In another prompt, the campaign asked for access to the users’ Facebook news feeds, which 25 percent declined, St. Clair said.

Once permission was granted, the campaign had access to millions of names and faces they could match against their lists of persuadable voters, potential donors, unregistered voters and so on. “It would take us 5 to 10 seconds to get a friends list and match it against the voter list,” St. Clair said. They found matches about 50 percent of the time, he said. But the campaign’s ultimate goal was to deputize the closest Obama-supporting friends of voters who were wavering in their affections for the president. “We would grab the top 50 you were most active with and then crawl their wall” to figure out who were most likely to be their real-life friends, not just casual Facebook acquaintances. St. Clair, a former high-school marching-band member who now wears a leather Diesel jacket, explained: “We asked to see photos but really we were looking for who were tagged in photos with you, which was a really great way to dredge up old college friends — and ex-girlfriends,” he said.

Data You Can Believe In

Guns in Japan

Hello Kitty Assault Rifle

My father (who started his own blog) shares what you need to do to get a gun in Japan.

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately.

And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

– from A Land Without Guns : How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths

Oh, pink assault rifle? Yes, it’s real – in California.

Revenge of the Nerds

While everyone spoke of New York Times blogger, Nate Silver’s uncanny, almost witchlike ability to call the election last night, the big winner was the triumph of big data and smart algorithms over gut feel and egos.

Those in tech that have been following Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times broke out in collective high-fives when FiveThirtyEight finished the evening correctly calling 50 out of 50 of the states (besting his 2008 call of 49 out of 50). A baseball statistics geek, Mr. Silver turned to politics and the aggregation of state and national polls as a playground of data ripe for his insights. Traditional polling agencies such as Gallup accuse Nate Silver of standing on their backs and taking all the glory (1 in 5 visits to nytimes.com stopped by to visit FiveThirtyEight). Their complaint is one we’ve heard before, that without their original polling data, Nate would have nothing to aggregate.

Sounds like the what the newspapers used to say about Google News.

But in reality it’s more than just aggregation. Nate Silver and others like him (Votamatic, Princeton Election Consortium) rigorously analyzed what they pulled together and revealed patterns that let the data speak for itself. The accuracy of this approach is a huge wake up call to any pundit that did not take into consideration a data driven approach.

While Nate Silver has put the Science back into Political Science, the data-driven approach to politics is also transforming the sell side, the people that run the campaigns. Time magazine has a fascinating piece on the team that would use modern data aggregation techniques borrowed from online advertising exchanges and e-commerce funnel analysis to segment and target potential supporters of the Obama campaign.

As one official put it, the time of “guys sitting in a back room smoking cigars, saying ‘We always buy 60 Minutes’” is over. In politics, the era of big data has arrived.

Inside the Secret World of the Data Crunchers Who Helped Obama Win

With the use of data to predict a winner or run a campaign, it is only natural that news organizations too use data as a way to make a point. Data visualizations are one way to convey information that is now becoming de riguer for any self-respecting newsroom. The Guardian started the Data Blog and the New York Times launched beta620 to experiment with data. Some of the best coverage of the local and state elections  (such as the image below) came from the Los Angeles Times’ Data Desk which I think is a great idea for any media organization, anything that raises data literacy.

Data can be the source of data journalism, or it can be the tool with which the story is told — or it can be both. Like any source, it should be treated with scepticism; and like any tool, we should be conscious of how it can shape and restrict the stories that are created with it. – Data Journalism Handbook