April 10, 2017 Last Updated 8:12 am

Two themes for the day: militarization of life in US and chasing down the bots

Bloomberg takes a close look at exactly who is commenting on the tweets of the new president and finds that many of the most active are bots, or appear to be bots

The week has begun and Congress has bolted for a two week break. That seems to mean that political news has slowed down, mercifully. Nonetheless, there are a couple of themes that are developing today that are worth looking at.

Flying United Is Dangerous

You’ve likely heard the story by now: on a Chicago to Louisville flight that was overbooked, a man was forcibly removed from his seat, the video captured later uploaded to Facebook. The airline said they needed four volunteers so that they could seat their stand-by crew, but no one wanted to volunteer, despite offers of up to $800. An announcement was made that the flight would not proceed until the four seats opened up.

That is when a United manager boarded the plane, and randomly selected four people. A couple were picked first, but when the man in question was asked to leave the plane he refused to stand up. It was then that three security officers dragged the man off the plane… literally dragged the man off the plane.

United’s response so far has been less than satisfying. No surprise: United’s customer satisfaction rating among the top carriers is horrific.

It should be noted that the man had paid for the seat, was a doctor who said he had to meet with patients the next day, and who the hell expects to be dragged off an airline simply because the airline messed up by overbooking the flight?

But the theme here is not how bad the airlines are, but how much more militarized US society is becoming.

Another story making the rounds today, and also started with Facebook, involved the Lake County Sheriff’s Office Community Engagement Unit’s video. Who thought having the men standing next to Sheriff Peyton C. Grinnelle masked would be a good idea? Has the good sheriff seen one too many ISIS videos?

So far the video has been watched over 600K times, garnering the county north of Orlando, Florida more notoriety than I think residents will be comfortable with. But the video recalls far too many images of local police donned in military styled gear.


Watch for the Bots

The second theme, which one hopes becomes more important, is the one involving exactly who are these people who are commenting on social media and on comment threads in major newspapers? While the major newspapers appear little interested in cracking down on bots and trolls, others are looking to see if there are important patterns.

Today, Polly Mosendz writes for Bloomberg about The Seven Types of People Who Tweet at Trump.

“Trump’s 10 most-engaged Twitter followers over the past 30 days include five confirmed robots and three accounts that appear to be bots, according to audience data collected by Social Rank,” Mosendz writes. “Trump’s most prolific respondent, @Trump2016_Fan, has posted more than 18,000 times in the past year, mostly all-caps messages of support for the 45th president. The account appears to be automated and did not respond to a request for an interview.”

I think the article is an important start in looking at exactly who is dominating the conversation online. Unfortunately, the article really is looking at what is going on now, rather than last summer when many websites, including this one, was fighting off DDoS attacks, and having to closely monitor comments coming in from overseas.

Related to this is the issue of hacking. Today’s Morning Brief mentions the news of the Russian man arrested in Barcelona on suspicion of involvement with spamming, and possible hacking. Also included was a story about the CIA tools exposed by WikiLeaks linked to international hacking incidents.

Microsoft is having to deal with a particularly nasty malware problem tied to Word. Unlike most Office related malware issues, this one is not tied to macros. Instead, the user is tricked into opening an infected file which when opened downloads a malicious HTML application.

“The exploit connects to a remote server (controlled by the attacker), downloads a file that contains HTML application content, and executes it as an .hta file,” McAfee reported on Friday. “Because .hta is executable, the attacker gains full code execution on the victim’s machine. Thus, this is a logical bug, and gives the attackers the power to bypass any memory-based mitigations developed by Microsoft.”

The malware is a threat to all version of Microsoft Office running Windows, including Windows 10.

As I wrote last week, the issue here is really “who” not “what”. Rather than trying to police news content, or the content of comments online, it would be better to make the source of the comments more transparent. This could be accomplished by simply adding more information to the comments themselves, as the publisher of the LA Times and Chicago Tribune are doing.

Although tronc has instituted its comment system in order to monetize comment threads, there are some good features in the new system. One can now see other comments by the same person to see if the comments are merely cut and paste efforts, where the person may be coming from (this is no foolproof way of ever knowing this, but most comments don’t hide their tracks), when they signed up to comment, and how often they comment.

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