A group of independent researchers has found out that a coordinated black propaganda campaign targeting U.S. President Donald Trump has emerged in the popular social media platform, Instagram, in an effort to derail his reputation through “meme warfare.”
The current political climate and the advent of social networking and its growing popularity in becoming platforms for social discourse created an arena for personality political wars, as seen in recent elections around the world. The camp of President Trump allegedly used the same strategy during the 2016 elections to launch targeted and coordinated personality assassination against presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton in an attempt to sway public opinion against the Democrat standard bearer at that time.
Russians are said to have created spoofed accounts both in Facebook and Instagram and impersonated American citizens to influence public opinion in favor of President Trump. The study published by Italian analytics firm Ghost Data revealed that they had seen similar activities, but now targeting President Trump instead.
The firm said that the U.S. president is experiencing illicit attacks, albeit on a limited scale, with fake profiles impersonating Americal citizens to spread virulent anti-Trump narratives in a coordinated attack to derail the president. The researchers also opened the possibility that while they were able to uncover a small operation, it could also be part of something bigger.
“We have uncovered a small operation that is a very likely part of something bigger,” said Andrea Stroppa, the head of research at Ghost Data. “I get the feeling that someone out there is experimenting. Testing the waters. They know what they are doing.”
Facebook, the owner of Instagram, said to Reuters that they are already investigating the apparent violations of the social network’s Community Standards. They also have removed the profiles uncovered by the researchers. Interestingly, the company has been part of a highly publicized legislative inquiry on its role in the 2016 Russian intervention in the US elections.
The accounts that were removed were said to have violated rules of Instagram, such as using stolen images of other people and acting in tandem with other accounts to spew out vitriolic messages.
A spokesperson for Instagram told Reuters: “We are investigating the accounts in question and have already removed those that we’ve found to violate our policies. Accounts used to manipulate or mislead the public are not allowed on Instagram, and we will take action if we find additional violations.”
The researcher said that they were able to discover 52,000 accounts on Instagram, which were generally anti-Trump, using such hashtags as #impeachtrump. While most of them were genuine accounts owned by actual people, they also have uncovered 350 “suspicious accounts” that’s the main goal is specifically to overturn the U.S. president. Out of these, 19 accounts took the researchers interest by appearing to be interlinked and “waging incessant ‘memetic warfare,’ using multiple images and meme videos to attack Donald Trump and his administration.
There were already a total of 121,000 posts put out by all the 350 suspected account with more than 35.2 million “interactions” since October 2016, when they were first created. The researchers also found similarities and similar identifiable characteristics in the accounts, including their profile pictures. One block of five out of the smaller 19 subsets among all the suspicious accounts found by researchers was discovered to have been created on the same day last August, further supporting the thesis that these accounts are interlinked and could be part of a much bigger destabilization effort against the Republican leader.
“Their goal seems to be to infiltrate into (social media) networks that are much bigger,” said Stroppa.
U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, through an independent report published last December, said the Russian government’s Internet Research Agency created some 133 Instagram accounts in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and used them to try to propagate dangerous narratives against the U.S. political system.
Stroppa, while being suspicious, said that he had not found any evidence that would link the 19 accounts his team discovered to any form of Russian interference.
“What you can say is that this digital campaign against Trump uses some of the same methods that were used to attack Hilary Clinton in 2016,” he said.
While the study has a very tiny sample size against the total population of a billion Instagram users, Stroppa stressed that even a small number of accounts could destabilize a government structure if they will only be able to amplify their reach and make their messages heard by a lot of people.
It’s Time To Raise The ‘Federal Minimum Wage’
The United States has set a record for maintaining its federal minimum wage without increases for the longest time in the nation’s history. The news calls for immediate action aligned with the economic expansion in the US and increasing inflation rates.
The last increase to the US federal minimum wage was July 2009 — which is almost a decade ago. The federal minimum wage was raised from $6.55 an hour to the current $7.25 an hour.
According to CNN calculations, the current $7.25 an hour minimum wage can barely cover basic expenses with prices for healthcare, oil, and commodities gone up within the past decade. CBS reported that $7.25 in 2009 is valued at only about $6 in 2019. The cost of living has soared 18% since the last increase.
In an estimate, minimum-wage employees working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, equates to just $15,080 annually. Researchers estimate with the current market that two working parents in a family of four would need to earn $67,146 to cover expenses. That equates to $16.14 an hour for each parent, CNN reported.
The New York Times, meanwhile, reported that the average wage being paid to all minimum wage workers can go as low as $12 an hour, according to an economist who served in the Treasury Department under President Barack Obama.
“There is not a single community in the U.S. where someone can have a decent quality of life at the current federal minimum wage,” said David Cooper, an EPI researcher on the minimum wage. “Congress has never waited this long to lift up the wages of workers at the bottom.”
In line with the report, states have passed bills that raise state minimum wages higher than the federal baseline. As of June this year, 21 states have passed minimum wage hikes—some even at the $15 an hour threshold.
However, the state minimum wage varies. In Florida, the minimum wage stands at $8.46 an hour; in Hawaii, it’s $10.10 an hour; in California, the minimum wage goes up to $12 an hour. Meanwhile, in states like New York and Seattle, the minimum wage reaches $15 an hour and even $16 an hour, respectively.
On the other hand, Republican-led states are known to reject Democrat appeals for minimum wage hikes. An estimate of around 700,000 minimum-wage workers in areas that have not passed local increases are still paid $7.25 an hour, the New York Times said.
Republican-led states like Arkansas, Arizona, and Missouri are some exceptions due to public support via ballot initiatives. In the polls, over 60% in each state voted in favor of minimum wage hikes.
However, in order to gain public support from ballot initiatives state leaders first need to put it in motion. With Republicans abstaining such initiatives, the citizens have resulted to demand higher minimum wages from the federal government directly.
In other efforts, big companies like Amazon and Walmart have raised their minimum wage to $15 and $14.26 an hour, respectively. The move has prompted government states to follow suit.
Additionally, it’s not just large companies that are on board with a wage hike. There are around 800 companies, most of which are small businesses, who are willing to support the raising minimum wage to $15 by 2024.
The record delay also comes after the US experiencing significant economic growth. The US has enjoyed roughly 10 years of economic expansion, which may soon become the longest such expansion in this country’s history, according to USA Today.
Analysts have also shared that raising the minimum wage would improve employee recruitment and retention in a tight labor market—higher wages would easily attract employment-seeking individuals. Moreover, higher pay also means more spending money salary-makers, which boosts the local economy.
Comparatively, May’s employment report showed that there were only 75,000 jobs provided in the month — a disappointing number compared to expectations of 185,000. Furthermore, employment rates are evidence of cracks forming in the economy.
In 2012, Texas had 452,000 workers making the minimum wage or less, according to federal data. By 2017, that number had fallen to 196,000, despite a slight increase in hourly workers, Dallas News reports.
“The minimum wage is still relevant; it just needs to be raised to a level where more workers benefit,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, work quality director at the National Employment Law Project.
Adding a dollar or two to the minimum scoops up a lot of people and spills over to other workers. “But at $15 an hour, you’re starting to affect a significant portion of the workforce,” Gebreselassie said.
Taylor Swift is back, and she wants equality for all.
The controversial country-pop singer is back after long months of hiatus to urge everyone to sign a petition to pressure lawmakers into passing the Equality Bill. As an artist as Swift is, she made her case by releasing the music video of her newest single, “You Need To Calm Down,” today.
The song was debuted on Good Morning America, Monday, as part of her celebration of the LGBTQI Pride Month and did not disappoint to make a strong political statement and a convincing call to action.
“Let’s show our pride by demanding that, on a national level, our laws truly treat all our citizens equally,” reads an on-screen message at the end of the music video. Swift also started a petition campaign to support the Senate move for Equality Act and urged her audience to sign the petition as solidarity to the LGBTQI community.
“Please sign my petition for Senate support of the Equality Act on Change.org” further reads the on-screen message.
The Equality Act could be the answer to the long-lasting discrimination against the gay community in America, and if passed, the new legislation would amend the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The video was released by the renowned pop-country singer amid the Pride Month, held every June in commemoration of the gay liberation movement and the Stonewall Riots, where members of the LGBT community stood in front of the Stonewall Inn to protest and resist police brutality against the gay community.
A star-studded music video, it is
Swift’s video, in itself, is very political. It features numerous gay icons and celebrities and the different aspects of the life of every gay person in America, including gay marriage, arts, and performance. The star-studded music video included gay icons like RuPaul, the host of the widely-watched RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ellen DeGeneres, Billy Porter, Todrick Hall, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Adam Lambert, Ryan Reynolds, Hayley Kiyoko, Chester Lockhart, Dexter Mayfield, Hannah Hart, among others. Adam Rippon, the first openly-gay American Olympic medallist, also made an appearance in the video.
Interestingly, RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni, Trinity the Tuck, Adore Delano, Delta Work, Jade Jolie, Trinity K Bonet, Tatiana, and A’keria C. Davenport, were also featured in the music video as they impersonate popular female singers and artists like Cardi B, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Adele, Ariana Grande, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, and Taylor Swift herself (by Jade Jolie). Queer Eye’s Fab Five, Antoni Porowski, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Bobby Berk, and Jonathan Van Ness also appeared in the Gayville themed music video.
In an apparent effort to spread the message love and acceptance as part of the music video, Taylor Swift also featured Katy Perry, another famous artist who she had a widely publicized feud with. The beef became public when Taylor released the song Bad Blood, written about Katy Perry. Many suggest that reconciliation is also a recurring theme in Pride, and Taylor Swift just wants to show it in her music video.
Taylor Swift becomes more politically vocal
Swift has become more vocal regarding her political and social views in recent months and over the past year. The video “You Need To Calm Down” comes after days she performed a surprising number at the Stonewall Inn in New York, the landmark where the first Pride was ever held. Furthermore, for the first time, Swift endorsed not one but two political candidates, Tennessee Democrats Phil Bredesen, and Jim Cooper, while they were running for the Us Senate and House of Representatives in 2018.
Taylor Swift admitted that she had been very “reluctant” to express her political views in the past and credited a shift, “due to several events in y life and the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now,” she said in an interview.
Now with the new music video release, Swift is urging everyone to take part in fighting for equality and promoting the value of the community that has been oppressed for a long time. Pride takes place annually every year, and it could be expected that Taylor Swift, as the newest ally of the LBTQI community, will continue to support efforts to legislate the Equality Act. You can do your part as well by signing her petition here.
“Our country’s lack of protection for its own citizens ensures that LGBTQ people must live in fear that their lives could be turned upside down by an employer or landlord who is homophobic or transphobic. The fact that, legally, some people are completely at the mercy of the hatred and bigotry of others is disgusting and unacceptable,” wrote Taylor Swift in the petition.
#CancelMyDebt Trends On Twitter As Debtors Urge Student Loan Default
#CancelMyDebt trends on Twitter as emotional student loan debtors took to the popular micro-blogging website their frustrations on the debts they are still paying and urged the government to pay off their student loans.
Twitter erupts with poignant posts of Americans paying off their student loans and how their debts affected their lives following their graduation. The angered netizens expressed their opinions on the tax plan that granted America’s 1% with a $1.5 trillion tax cuts while the government turns blind eyes over the student loan problem that the youth has been facing.
The apparent hashtag came after U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren encouraged students and graduates to share their stories using the #CancelMyVote hashtag to support her plan to cancel student loan debts of 95% of Americans currently paying for it. Warren’s policy to cover the student loan repayment from an additional tax on top of the top 0.1%.
“I paid off my student loans after 10 years, but it took me getting a six-figure book deal to do it. Folks shouldn’t have to hope for the equivalent of winning the lottery to have a future. #CancelMyDebt” wrote @nkjemisin on Twitter.
President Donald Trump signed the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” into law on December 2017 and have brought significant tax reforms. “For the wealthy, banks and other corporations, the tax reform package can be considered a lopsided victory given its significant and permanent tax cuts to corporate profits, investment income, estate tax, and more. Financial services companies stand to see huge gains based on the new, lower corporate rate (21%) as well as preferential tax treatment of pass-through companies. Some banks have said that their effective tax rate will drop under 21%.,” Investopedia explained.
As the current tax plan consistently accommodates the rich, student loan debtors remain in limbo as the increasing interest rates and the piling debt are crippling their financial presents and even their futures. Student loans are a form of financial aid used to help students access higher education. Student loan debt in the United States has been snowballing since 2006, rising to nearly $1.56 trillion by 2019. Shockingly, the entire total loan debt of American equals 7.5% of the country’s GDP.
There are approximately 45 million Americans who have an outstanding student loan of $37,172 on average at the time of graduation. On top of that, student loan also appears not to be evenly distributed and is disproportionately concentrated on the for-profit college sector.
Now, student loan debtors are calling for the government to default their debts. They argue that as the outstanding student loan debt totals 1.5 trillion and the tax cut equals the same, the government can afford to pay off all of student loan debts.
People tweeting #CancelMyDebt clarifies, however, that they are not asking for a loan default because they did not owe anything. They said that call was intended for the government to take actions to destroy the systems that allow student loan companies to exploit people with dreams.
“My reality is paying $1200 a month for my student debt ALONE and working 7 days a week over 4 different jobs. I’m not asking for a “hand out,” I’m asking that we as a country address the insane cost those who are not wealthy have to pay to get higher education #CancelMyDebt,” said @steeltoejilly on a Twitter post.
Another Twitter user also chimed in saying that interest hikes have ballooned her student loan debt even if she’s paying them religiously. “I have four jobs in the education field right now. I graduated in 2005 with $100,000 in student loans. After a decade of payments, undergrad debt is over $200,000 bc of interest rates. I can’t lease a car to get to work, so I walk. I don’t own a bed. #cancelmydebt.”
However, sentiments are polarized. A huge chunk of posts bearing the hashtag talks about their disagreement to Warren’s plans. Most of them argued that student loans are student’s decisions, and the government should not be burdened to pay for their obligations.
“#CancelMyDebt? Uh, no. Nobody forced you to take out student loans. Nobody forced you to major in something that won’t land you a good job. Nobody else is responsible for your debt. It’s your debt; it’s your responsibility.” Joe Walsh tweeted Wednesday.
Kurt Schlichter, a veteran, chimed in saying that Americans can serve in the military and reap the benefits of GI Bill as he did. “Well, you could have served your country and earned GI Bill benefits like I did. But you didn’t. So I’m kind of unclear why you think I owe you anything.#CancelMyDebt? Nah. How about you #PayYourOwnDebt?” /apr
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