12 votes

What are you reading these days?

What are you reading currently? Fiction or non-fiction or poetry, any genre, any language! Tell us what you're reading, and talk about it a bit.

13 comments

  1. kfwyre
    Link
    Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics by Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts Full text available online I’ve become increasingly...

    Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics
    by Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts

    I’ve become increasingly likely to not mince my words when it comes to discussing the damage I feel conservative media is doing to the United States. I tried to bring this up with my mother who, while conservative, doesn’t understand why many of her friends still think the 2020 election was stolen and that COVID is not something to worry about. Instead of considering that hyper-partisan disinformation might genuinely be a problem of the right, she instead accused me, as she usually does, of having an anti-right liberal bias, which at this point is very likely true.

    This book won’t do anything to convince her otherwise, but that’s also the exact point of the book. It was written by three Harvard professors who studied big data sets regarding news and social media coverage in the 2010s as a way of uncovering the landscape of modern political information. What they find is damning:

    Our own contribution to debates about the 2016 election was to shine a light on the right-wing media ecosystem itself as the primary culprit in sowing confusion and distrust in the broader American media ecosystem. In the first two parts of this book we continue that work by documenting how the right-wing media ecosystem differs categorically from the rest of the media environment and how much more susceptible it has been to disinformation, lies, and half-truths. In short, we find that the influence in the right-wing media ecosystem, whether judged by hyperlinks, Twitter sharing, or Facebook sharing, is both highly skewed to the far right and highly insulated from other segments of the network, from center-right (which is nearly nonexistent) through the far left. We did not come to this work looking for a partisan-skewed explanation. As we began to analyze the millions of online stories, tweets, and Facebook sharing data points, the pattern that emerged was clear. Our own earlier work, which analyzed specific campaigns around intellectual property law and found that right and left online media collaborated, made us skeptical of our initial observations, but these proved highly resilient to a wide range of specifications and robustness (p.14) checks. Something very different was happening in right-wing media than in centrist, center-left, and left-wing media.

    We will make the argument throughout this book that the behavior of the right-wing media ecosystem represents a radicalization of roughly a third of the American media system. We use the term “radicalization” advisedly in two senses. First, to speak of “polarization” is to assume symmetry. No fact emerges more clearly from our analysis of how four million political stories were linked, tweeted, and shared over a three-year period than that there is no symmetry in the architecture and dynamics of communications within the right-wing media ecosystem and outside of it. Second, throughout this period we have observed repeated public humiliation and vicious disinformation campaigns mounted by the leading sites in this sphere against individuals who were the core pillars of Republican identity a mere decade earlier. At the beginning of this period, Jeb Bush, the son and brother of the two most recent Republican presidents, was besmirched as having “close Nazi ties” on Infowars. By November 2017 life-long Republicans who had been appointed to leading law enforcement positions by President George W. Bush found themselves under sustained, weeks-long disinformation campaigns aimed to impugn their integrity and undermine their professional independence. When a solidly conservative party is taken over by its most extreme wing in a campaign that includes attacks that are no less vicious when aimed at that conservative party’s mainstream pillars than they are at the opposition party, we think “radicalization” is an objectively appropriate term.

    This radicalization was driven by a group of extreme sites including Breitbart, Infowars, Truthfeed, Zero Hedge, and the Gateway Pundit, none of which claim to follow the norms or processes of professional journalistic objectivity. As we will see time and again, both in our overall analysis of the architecture and in our detailed case studies, even core right-wing sites that do claim to follow journalistic norms, Fox News and the Daily Caller, do not in fact do so, and therefore fail to act as a truth-telling brake on these radical sites. Indeed, repeatedly we found Fox News accrediting and amplifying the excesses of the radical sites. As the case studies in Chapter 5 document, over the course of 2017 Fox News had become the propaganda arm of the White House in all but name. This pattern is not mirrored on the left wing. First, while we do find fringe sites on the left that mirror the radical sites, these simply do not have the kind of visibility and prominence on the left as they do on the right. Second, the most visible sites on the left, like Huffington Post, are at their worst mirrors of Fox News, not of the Gateway Pundit or Zero Hedge. And third, all these sites on the left are tightly integrated (p.15) with traditional mainstream media sites like the New York Times and the Washington Post, and most, though not all, of these sites operate either directly under long-standing journalistic norms or are indirectly sensitive to criticism based on reporting that adheres to such norms. As we show in Chapter 3, there is ample supply of and demand for false hyperpartisan narratives on the left. The difference is that the audience and hyperpartisan commercial clickbait fabricators oriented toward the left form part of a single media ecosystem with center, center-left, and left-wing sites that are committed to journalistic truth-seeking norms. Those norm-constrained sites, both mainstream and net-native, serve as a consistent check on dissemination and validation of the most extreme stories when they do emerge on the left, and have no parallels in the levels of visibility or trust that can perform the same function on the right.

    It’s validating to see my frustrations backed up by this so clearly, but it’s frustrating because, well, it sucks that this is what’s going on. My mom is far from a conservative demagogue but even she believes that most media can’t be trusted due to its “liberal bias”, which is one of the strongest insulating factors that allows right-wing media to propagate disinformation, which this book covers extensively.

    As a whole, the book is no fun to read. It’s dryly academic, excruciatingly detailed and drawn out, and leaves you feeling like shit because of what it reveals about our country and how far gone our discourse is, but it’s definitely something that I think is worthwhile and distinctly relevant.

    It’s also something I think many people here would be interested in. The authors spend a lot of time talking about the architecture of networks and social media, and how flaws, emissions, and incentives in those structures have helped to create the situation they identify.

    8 votes
  2. [2]
    skybrian
    Link
    I'm reading Charles Stross's new book Invisible Sun, which just came out yesterday. It's the third in a trilogy, which is itself a sequel to the six-book Merchant Princes series. (Or maybe they...

    I'm reading Charles Stross's new book Invisible Sun, which just came out yesterday. It's the third in a trilogy, which is itself a sequel to the six-book Merchant Princes series. (Or maybe they are all the same series; it depends how you count. The last three books follow the daughter of the main character in the first series.)

    This is basically a multiple-timeline high-stakes geopolitical thriller. There is a "family" of relatives who have a genetic mutation that lets them go back and forth between alternate Earth timelines but with a lot of limitations. (In particular, it's risky, because you don't know what is happening in the corresponding spot in the alternate Earth where you are going.)

    One of these timelines is similar to ours but diverged in the early 2000's, back when Stross started the series. (There is a President Rumsfeld.) The US has basically turned into a paranoid totalitarian state where the deep state can spy on anyone it likes and civil liberties have been gutted. (I mean, even more so.) Other timelines diverged much earlier and have different governments and levels of technology. This results in opportunities for spies and smugglers, if the limitations on travel between timelines can worked around or overcome.

    Even with the advantage of world-walking, spy stuff is very risky and high-stakes. Stross has a lot of fun describing what the bureaucrats and spies are trying to do, how exactly they do their spying, and how things sometimes blow up in their faces, sometimes literally with nuclear weapons. Other than world-walking, the tech is pretty realistic.

    It's pretty good, though it's a lot of reading. If you haven't read it then you could start with the first series if you want to read a lot of feudal politics or the second series if you'd rather skip to the cold war and modern politics.

    6 votes
    1. spctrvl
      Link Parent
      I read that on release! It's quite good, and prompted me to reread the rest of the series with the recut versions of the first trilogy Stross did a few years ago. I'm already up to empire games.

      I read that on release! It's quite good, and prompted me to reread the rest of the series with the recut versions of the first trilogy Stross did a few years ago. I'm already up to empire games.

      2 votes
  3. [5]
    lou
    (edited )
    Link
    Axiomatic, short-story collection by the Australian hard-science-fiction author and mathematician Greg Egan. From the writers I know, Egan is the one that goes deeper into the speculative science...

    Axiomatic, short-story collection by the Australian hard-science-fiction author and mathematician Greg Egan.

    From the writers I know, Egan is the one that goes deeper into the speculative science rabbit hole. His stories often feature complex physics and mathematical concepts, and are, as a consequence, not always easy to fully understand.

    If necessary, he will try to impart some science and math on the reader! Depending on your background, this may or may not work, but it's not like he's sharing actual formulas, the stories work very well either way. In fact, knowing less can sometimes make the stories more exotic and mysterious. That said, up until now (I've read six stories), Axiomatic is way lighter in hardcore science than his other book I read, Permutation City.

    What I love the most about Egan's writing is that he makes no excuses about being a science nerd, and he's very good at taking a core concept to mind bogling yet logical extremes. Ultimately, Egan explores transhumanist themes, questioning what really makes us humans and how far can we take our modes of existence without completely thwarting our very self.

    Some people criticize Egan for creating characters that are detached and barely human, but, as an honorary Asperger, they feel entirely human and emotionally rich to me... they're just another kind of humans.

    If I didn't make that clear, Axiomatic is a great read that is guaranteed to fascinate any sci-fi fan that is willing to put in the effort to enter this unique and inventive universe.

    5 votes
    1. [4]
      mat
      Link Parent
      I love Egan, mostly. But that right there is a strong candidate for understatement of the decade. He's often near-incomprehensible and I say that as someone with a pretty strong, albeit entirely...

      not always easy to fully understand

      I love Egan, mostly. But that right there is a strong candidate for understatement of the decade. He's often near-incomprehensible and I say that as someone with a pretty strong, albeit entirely amateur, interest in his field. For the layperson Egan might as well be Penrose or Hawking.

      The guy has physics lectures on his website to explain parts of his books for goodness sake! I am not aware of anyone writing harder sci-fi than Egan.

      That said, do read Diaspora and Schild's Ladder, they are superb.

      3 votes
      1. [3]
        lou
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I have no real knowledge of physics and math, not even at the highschool level, and I don't find it that troublesome TBH. I just accept that I won't understand everything, but I willl probably...

        I have no real knowledge of physics and math, not even at the highschool level, and I don't find it that troublesome TBH. I just accept that I won't understand everything, but I willl probably understand enough.

        He did use a math concept in a story that I don't understand to this day (something about a "Cantor" something), but it was enjoyable still. There are also stories that are inherently puzzling even without the science because they challenge our intuitions of how reality functions. 100 Lightyear Diary comes to mind.

        I really liked Permutation City, I intend to read a lot more Egan. Thanks.

        3 votes
        1. [2]
          mat
          Link Parent
          I really don't like short stories so I haven't read Axiomatic, perhaps it's rather more penetrable than some of his other work. Some of the lectures characters give in Diaspora are short story...

          I really don't like short stories so I haven't read Axiomatic, perhaps it's rather more penetrable than some of his other work. Some of the lectures characters give in Diaspora are short story length in and of themselves!

          This is not a complaint, I love hard sci-fi and deeply thought out universes with long and complex narratives. But here is some of the supporting maths material for Diaspora (no spoilers on the page linked but there are elsewhere on the site)

          You can still enjoy the story without understanding the maths but for some people I can understand why it might be a bit of a turn off.

          So much respect for the amount of work Egan puts in to the theoretical background to his work though. It's amazing.

          3 votes
          1. lou
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            There's no way I'm gonna learn math to read fiction, I'm really bad at it lol, but at least Permutation City was fairly easy to understand merely by context, metaphor, and maybe a few explaining...

            There's no way I'm gonna learn math to read fiction, I'm really bad at it lol, but at least Permutation City was fairly easy to understand merely by context, metaphor, and maybe a few explaining articles. I'm fairly good at imagining abstract things. I didn't learn any physics per se. And yes, the short stories are generally lighter.

            3 votes
  4. mmarco2121
    Link
    Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives, by Melissa and Chris Bruntlett. A great read so far if you're interested in urban planning and design.

    Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives, by Melissa and Chris Bruntlett. A great read so far if you're interested in urban planning and design.

    3 votes
  5. [3]
    krg
    Link
    About a third of the way through Foucault's Pendulum (though, I've taken a bit of a break the last week+half). A little ambivalent on it, so far.

    About a third of the way through Foucault's Pendulum (though, I've taken a bit of a break the last week+half). A little ambivalent on it, so far.

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      cmccabe
      Link Parent
      I read that book in high school (err, quite a while ago) and really enjoyed it. I remember finding a lot of esoteric bits of history in the book that led me down quite a few rabbit holes in...

      I read that book in high school (err, quite a while ago) and really enjoyed it. I remember finding a lot of esoteric bits of history in the book that led me down quite a few rabbit holes in parallel to the book. But I’ve also heard the book described as nothing more than intellectual chest beating by Eco. Still, I thought it was a fun read.

      3 votes
      1. krg
        Link Parent
        Oh, yea... I'm finding it fairly amusing and I don't mind the "intellectual chest beating" much, so long as there is an intellect to back it up... and Eco certainly has that in spades. Though, it...

        Oh, yea... I'm finding it fairly amusing and I don't mind the "intellectual chest beating" much, so long as there is an intellect to back it up... and Eco certainly has that in spades. Though, it does occasionally dip into the realm of pretentiousness (which is a problem I had with Travels in Hyperreality, a collection of essays that hit on some good ideas .. but, damn.. did he sometimes come off as snooty).

        2 votes
  6. ras
    Link
    I'm currently just over halfway through The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. So far I'm loving it, especially that it has a small tie-in to Rules of Civility. I'm about 90% done with The Only Rule...

    I'm currently just over halfway through The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. So far I'm loving it, especially that it has a small tie-in to Rules of Civility.

    I'm about 90% done with The Only Rule Is It Has To Work by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller. If you're even remotely interested in baseball and sabermetrics, you might enjoy this book. It's about two baseball stat nerds living out their dreams as the GMs of an independent league team.

    2 votes