How do we best bear witness to the coming week?

I’ll keep these tips short. They represent the distillation of everything I’ve learned about information friction and mindful digital engagement.

1. Don’t miss the point. Twitter forces you to pause between seeing and sharing; use that second or two to ask whether the story you’re about to share could, if it’s false, harm someone else. If you’re inclined to be especially charitable, if the story makes the other side look bad, then you are more likely to immediately share it. Pause for another second. Ask the same question. …


When 2016 began, I was on the road, taking along with me a rather pessimistic message about disinformation to state and local election officials. Many were, to borrow a phrase, exhibiting learned helplessness in the face of relentless disinformation campaigns and because they were continually being warned my authorities, by academics (like me), and by campaigns that that had better the hell prepare for the 2020 election. My goal was convince them that they could do something on a local level. That sounds pretty vacuous. Something, meaning: they can manage their media relationships better, or perhaps learn about confirmation bias…


(First published for free on Truthtelling for Storytelling, a free newsletter.)

On April 10, when Apple and Google announced an unprecedented partnership to build a contact tracing protocol, some privacy advocates reacted with alarm and skepticism. Members of the world’s digital privacy community are right to be cautious, but they shouldn’t dismiss the idea out of hand. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but contract tracing phone apps are not the answer,” tweeted Eva Galperin, the director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

To reopen large parts of the economy without effective therapeutics or a vaccine, we…


What I See When I Look Through Bart Gellman’s Dark Mirror

Bart Gellman’s Dark Mirror is not a history of the National Security Agency, nor is it a biography of Edward Snowden, whose documents Gellman published in the Washington Post, and it’s not even a polemic about government surveillance. What it is, at its core, is an account of his reporting on these subjects. That’s what makes it so valuable. It’s a story about how a good journalist with ethical sensibilities and an allegiance to his country makes hard choices about what to publish. It is a tale about truths.

Truths are hard to come by. It’s very easy to say…


If states begin to manage the number of COVID-19 hospital admissions through mitigation and suppression, they will then need to adopt an aggressive and potentially invasive program of contact tracing to immediately squash flare ups. Singapore and China have used mandatory mobile apps to track the social lives of visitors and those with the disease. In China, the various apps track location; in Singapore, the app uses Bluetooth to track contacts; that is — which phones were near which phones, and when. The government there insists that location data isn’t tracked and that the app doesn’t access other personally identifiable…


(This post was first published in my free newsletter, Truth-telling for Storytellers.)

President Trump’s regular news briefings spread harmful misinformation about public health. The gap between the lived reality of the coronavirus pandemic, on the one hand, and the common operating picture presented by the president, on the other, is distressingly large. The daily scrums now substitute for campaign rallies.

It’s long-past time that the news business changes the way it broadcasts, covers, and presents these events. This is a must. If life-saving, shared truths about public health are being jackhammered into shards by a single powerful source, it would…


(This first appeared in my free newsletter, https://MarcAmbinder.substack.com/ about digital security and countering disinformation.)

A few days ago, thousands of Americans received text messages from “a very reliable intel” source warning of a nationwide quarantine, of a mandatory two-week, military-enforced lockdown of the entire nation. The “intel” was false, but the details, and the atmosphere, convinced a lot of people that there was an underlying truth to the message, even though it was anonymous, came from an anonymous number, and was shared without warning. Indeed, we have seen several states and localities enforce quarantines and, tracking with the message, many…


Terror scrolling is a new term of art. When you wake up in the morning and check your twitter feed, the first thread you see might have been written by an epidemiologist who found a flaw in a model for curve-flattening that suggests that we are in for a rougher time than we had feared. You scroll on, until you find a story that calms you down, or find yourself even more agitated. We are glued to the news even though it scares us. …


In the space of 96 hours, the residue of American civil society thickened, fortified: (a) state/ local governments stepping up, largely in a vacuum, (b) by journalism providing its core function, © by technology, (d) by individuals doing amazing things (and having horrible things happen to them), (e) by seeing others do right (f) , and healthy fear. Animating all of this has been rapid, resilient, often ad hoc, communication. Communication between and among; from top to bottom. …


I finally saw The Post last week, and like other reporters, I confess to feeling a chill when the audience cheered at Katherine Graham’s decision to publish… (Uh, Spoiler alert: the Post published, end of movie, beginning of Richard Nixon’s paranoia, segue to Watergate, and it’s always burning since the world’s been turning)… The history presented by the film is not exact, but the gist is correct enough. …

Marc Ambinder

Adjunct Prof., USC Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication; contributor at @theweek and @USAToday. Latest book: The Brink, about nuclear war.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store