(Adapted and updated from my remarks at the 2018 International Communication Association Annual Meeting.)

Now that most of the major social media platforms have done something about Alex Jones/Infowars, I think it’s worth taking a minute to think about what we should expect from our social media platforms.

Should we be concerned that Google and Facebook can essentially silence a program for vague Terms of Service violations? In the abstract, yeah. Sure.

It reminds me of a quote from Steven Johnson’s WIRED story about Cloudflare removing protections from neo-nazi sites post-Charlottesville. Matthew Prince (Cloudflare’s CEO) remarked, “Literally, I woke up…


QAnon, immersive gaming, and the impending nihilistic collapse of civic life

When you dissolve the boundary between politics and entertainment, things start to get weird.

That’s what I found myself thinking last night, as I read the latest story of how the dumbest-possible conspiracy theory, #QAnon, has climbed out of the darkest recesses of the internet.

Stories about QAnon have been percolating for months. (Rosanne Barr is a QAnon supporter.) If you don’t feel like diving headfirst into the feverswamp, just imagine a rightwing conspiracy theory that looked at #PizzaGate and said “hold my beer.” And just as PizzaGate supporters…


We learned from the Washington Post last week that a Kremlin-backed Russian firm spent at least $100,000 on Facebook ads to influence the 2016 election in favor of Donald Trump. Writing in The Intercept, Sam Biddle argues that it is time to make Mark Zuckerberg testify. there’s still a lot we don’t know at this point. Biddle raises the following questions:

What was the content of the Russian-backed ads in question?

How many people saw these ads? How many people clicked them?

What were the Facebook pages associated with the ads? How many members did they have?

What specific targeting…


(This is a follow-up to Monday’s post, assessing the first week of the Trump Presidency. TL;DR version: I don’t believe we’re witnessing a trial balloon for a coup; I think this is what a nervous breakdown looks like in the Presidency.)

Okay, so let’s talk about the Bannon problem. Josh Levy and others (many, many others) correctly point out that my post didn’t really dig into the threat that Steve Bannon posed. Right on schedule, the New York Times editorial board weighed in with an editorial titled “President Bannon?” …


An alternate reading of the first week of Trump’s Presidency

This is chaos. But what type of chaos?

Last night on Medium, Yonotan Zunger analyzed the first week of the Trump presidency and concluded that it looked like a “trial balloon for a coup.” To summarize, Trump is shutting out career civil servants, installing his personal consigliere, Steve Bannon, onto the National Security Council, and road-testing the ability of the legislative and judicial branches to actually reign in his power-grabs. It is a thorough and frightening analysis.

I want to offer an alternate interpretation though. I don’t think Donald Trump is implementing an intentional plan to rescind and replace American…


(TL;DR version: if the big idea you have for 2017 would be identical under a Clinton Presidency, it’s time to adjust your frame of reference.)

There’s an old saying about bankruptcy: it happens “slowly at first, then all at once.”

America’s capacity for democratic self-governance has been going bankrupt slowly for years. Republican elected officials spent eight years obstructing everything, under the theory that they would never be punished for it by the voters. They were never punished for it by the voters. Fox News and conservative talk radio pushed the boundaries of generating false outrage, while traditional news organizations…


Last week, I taught my graduate students about the theory of the “semi-independent press” that comes from Lance Bennett, Regina Lawrence, and Steve Livingston’s book, When the Press Fails. Their book documents the failure of the mainstream media in the lead-up to the second Iraq War. I think it’s time for them to write a sequel.

For those dear readers who aren’t up-to-date on Doris Graber Outstanding Book Award winners*, the book argues that American media institutions are most adept at playing their watchdog role when US politicians are behaving normally. If Democratic officials are drawing attention to Republican scandals…


Here’s a riddle that I hope we will all keep in mind:

Two weeks ago, there was bipartisan consensus that Donald J. Trump was uniquely unqualified for the job of President of the United States.

We heard this from Democrats, we heard this from Republicans, we heard this from every newspaper editorial board not owned by one of Trump’s close, personal friends. Newspapers that had not endorsed a Democrat in over a century weighed in against Mr. Trump, so sure were they that he would be an existential crisis for the country.

If you believed two weeks ago that Donald…


I think last night was profoundly bad. The type of bad that we might not recover from. I’ve written elsewhere that I thought our country was better than this. But I still have a bit more to say.

There is a temptation amongst the prognosticating class to downplay the outcome, to explain why everything will, in fact, probably be just fine.

Maybe it will be. Maybe I’m overreacting. But if it isn’t fine, if this is what the end looks like, then here is what I expect will happen, in relatively short order:

  1. The economy will tank. Not as bad…

David Karpf

-Associate Prof, George Washington University -Author of “The MoveOn Effect” and “Analytic Activism”

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