May 9, 2018

Prager University, ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ bypass MSM, draw big audiences

First, Matt Knaster learned that any deal with Iran would be a disaster. Then he learned that feminism was bad. Then, gun control was Big Brother control.

Those views all came from snappy videos from the nonprofit, non-accredited Prager University, which draws big numbers as it molds conservative minds, BuzzFeed reports. Knaster discovered them when he was a sophomore in high school, and says it took only two months to clear out his formerly liberal views and “reform them.”

Another way to mold minds comes from what conservative thinkers call the “Intellectual Dark Web,” which is full of figures who promote biological differences between men and women and the toxicity of identity politics, among other ideas.

As the Trump administration pulled away from the complex Iran nuclear agreement, these two stories, by BuzzFeed’s Joseph Bernstein and Bari Weiss for the New York Times, shed light on the underpinnings of some of these views. While Nick Kristof called Trump’s retreat “vandalism,” Prager learners would it call common sense.

“So many of our institutions have been overtaken by schools of thought, which are inherently a dead end,” Weiss quotes evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein as saying. The Intellectual Dark Web, as he puts it, is an “unschooling movement.”

The Times and the BuzzFeed stories both highlight the enormous popularity of people espousing views that many would consider far outside the mainstream of modern thought. In fact, to read the stories turns that idea on its head; for the people following these beliefs, they have become the new mainstream.

For those of you who wonder, step by step, the effect of Trump’s walk-away from the Iran accord, here’s an explainer by Vox’s Zack Beauchamp.

Quick hits

GOOGLE NEWS, RETHOUGHT: Personalized. The full story. Google rolled out a new version of Google News on Tuesday, which will replace Google Play Newsstand on mobile and desktop and the Google News & Weather app on mobile.

BANNING ADS IN IRELAND: Facebook said it would block political advertising from groups based outside Ireland for the nation’s referendum May 25 on an abortion ban. Tools like the ban on foreign advertising and transparency on who is behind each ad will be rolled out elsewhere as the company focuses on the 2018 midterm elections in the U.S.

FACEBOOK’S SHAKEUP: It’s the biggest in the company’s 15-year history, and includes a new senior-level blockchain position, via Recode.

SALT LAKE CITY CUTS: Tribune publisher and owner Paul Huntsman told his newsroom staff on Tuesday to expect layoffs and a review aimed at shrinking its print edition. He said in the two years since he acquired the paper, ad revenue is down 40 percent, and circulation has gone from 85,000 to fewer than 31,000.

JOINING FORCES: Vox and Quartz announced a partnership Tuesday called "Concert C-Suite" that combines their collective ad inventory for marketers to target 14 million elite business readers across their sites, Axios’s Sara Fischer reports.

KICKING THE TIRES: Qatar’s government, which owns Al-Jazeera, has sought to acquire a major stake in Newsmax, the conservative media company run by President Trump’s friend, Chris Ruddy, Politico’s Ben Schreckinger reports. Last week, the Guardian reported that Qatar bought a $6.5 million apartment in a Trump building in New York. Qatar has spent more than $16 million in all in that Trump building. The Gulf emirate has been scrambling for better relations with Trump after Saudi Arabia, with Trump administration support, imposed an embargo on Qatar last June.

SPYING AGAINST JOURNALISTS: On the list of a private Israeli spy company that was snooping on former Obama officials were at least four journalists: Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, Andrea Mitchell and the NYT’s Mark Landler and Glenn Thrush, the NYT reports. The same company, Black Cube, spied on women who alleged sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein.

TEMPORARY NO MORE: PBS announced that Christiane Amanpour will be the permanent replacement for Charlie Rose on an 11 p.m. talk show, CNN reported. PBS has been replaying her half-hour CNN International show since Rose’s show was canceled in November amid sexual misconduct charges. The hour-long show, premiering in July, will have a new name, "Amanpour & Company," and a stable of regular contributors. "I'm delighted to expand my role at PBS from interim to permanent along with this remarkable diversity of voices and views," Amanpour said. "Never has the time for exploring our world and America's place in it been so urgent."

What we’re reading

NIKE CULTURE: Now it’s up to 10. That’s the number of Nike senior managers who have left the company in recent days as it deals with widespread allegations of harassment and discrimination against female employees. The departing executives, four more of whom were announced Tuesday, oversaw some of the highest-profile parts of the company.

GOOD QUESTION: If marijuana becomes legalized in Illinois, what will happen to 275 certified K-9 pot-sniffing dogs? “At this point, they’re trained on five different odors. Once they’re programmed with that, you can’t just deprogram them,” said Steve Petrilli, assistant Normal, Illinois, police chief, who was a K-9 handler for eight years.

THE GOOGLE ASSISTANT: Need dinner reservations? A haircut appointment? Google unveiled an AI assistant that can carry on human conversations, with “um” and “ah” fillers to fool real humans, and send you a confirmation when the appointment is made. By Recode’s Shirin Ghaffary.

PRE-CRIME: The LAPD is using Palantir software to surveil “probable offenders” throughout the city, many of whom are not criminal suspects but have been spotlighted by the company’s predictive technology. Legal scholars say predictive technology can exacerbate existing patterns of discrimination by oversampling those already discriminated against, generating even more biased data that justifies further discrimination.

LOOKING FOR A JOB?: The United States has a record 6.6 million job openings. “Many business executives say their top worry is that they can't find enough workers,” Heather Long reports.

$1 MILLION JUST TO TWEET?: Well, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson has to do Instagram and probably Facebook, too. But the seven-figure social media fee is part of the $22 million salary for his next film, “Red Novice,” Vulture’s Hunter Harris writes.

What we’re still watching

FOUR MINUTES: Now we know that Donald Glover’s “This Is America” is an expertly packaged analysis of what's really happening in the United States. Mashable’s Martha Tesema tells you what you might have missed.

FIVE YEARS: That’s how long a previous eruption on Hawaii’s Kilauea once lasted. The Atlantic’s Alan Taylor shows what happened during the 1969-74 Mauna Ulu eruption.

(Photo: USGS)

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