Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pathetic Fail #2: Abby Ohlheiser, the Washington Post, and Facebook

Abby Ohlheiser,
Accessory after the Fact
[source: Washington Post]
Number 2 : Abby Ohlheiser, the Washington Post, and Facebook, for "Facebook’s trending topics promoted an article ‘truthering’ the Sept. 11 attacks"
ON the 15th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, experts are sensationally claiming it is impossible that the towers were brought down by planes.

Instead, leading engineers believe the Twin Towers may have collapsed due to a "controlled demolition" – something it is claimed there is video evidence to support.

They disagree with the investigation done by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that was launched in August 2002.

Video evidence – which was made by people with a similar theory – has been posted online and seeks to offer proof.
Seriously? This is Abby Ohlheiser?

No, sorry. This is Rachel O'Donoghue, writing for UK readers in the Daily Star, under the headline:

September 11: The footage that 'proves bombs were planted in Twin Towers'.

[source: Daily Star]
Rachel O'Donoghue needs a good copy editor; I've fixed her spelling errors, but I haven't changed any of her words. She continues:
That six-year analysis of what caused the collapse also looked at the lesser known World Trade Centre 7 building, a third building that sat right next to the towers and fell at 5.20pm on the afternoon of September 11 – more than six hours after the two skyscrapers tumbled to the ground.

Its conclusion was that the “WTC Towers and WTC 7 [were] the only known cases of total structural collapse in high-rise buildings where fires played a significant role.”

The fires were apparently sparked by jet fuel that caused huge fires to engulf the upper floors after American Airlines Flights 11 and 175 smashed into the structures in a series of coordinated attacks on the morning of September 11, 2001.

But since the NIST investigation concluded, it has been pointed out that buildings like the World Trade Centre were specifically designed to withstand a fire and huge impacts like a plane hitting them.
What does this have to do with Abby Ohlheiser? Therein lies an interesting tale...

As you may know, Facebook has built its success on a foundation of really good ideas, and one of those ideas was to give their users an easy way to "feel the pulse" of the Internet, so to speak.

The idea is: With a bit of research, one could answer questions such as: What subjects are people talking about? and What are they reading?

The answers to these questions could be used to create a list of links, and that list could appear on the user's sidebar, under the heading "Trending Topics."

It was a fantastic idea, and they hired some people to do it, and it worked out great! But there was a problem.

The problem was not in making the list but in keeping it up to date. That was difficult and expensive and required a large staff working more or less continuously, and wasn't this the sort of thing that could be done by software?

Well, of course it could. But they didn't have the software, so the software had to be developed, and now it's ready, or at least it's ready enough to be deployed. So Facebook has replaced the people who used to maintain "Trending Topics" with a computer program.

Presumably because this software has only recently been developed, it's still a little bit naive, so to speak.

That is to say, it was probably written to do what it was supposed to do. Stories like this come up frequently, and they illustrate both the strength and the weakness of doing things by computer. A computer does what it's told: quickly, cheaply, precisely, and reliably. If it does the wrong thing, it usually means it was following the wrong instructions. And there's the rub. A computer is "smart enough" to follow instructions, but it's not smart enough to know when its instructions are wrong!

You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't) at how often newly developed software is perceived as "faulty" because it was designed according to specifications which did not accurately reflect the needs of the people who had commissioned it. This has happened so often to me personally that I have come to expect it.

In the current instance, the case of Facebook's "Trending Topics," the programmers apparently designed the code to search and sort, building its lists according to the criteria I described above, and giving no attention to certain "hidden assumptions" which human editors take for granted.

In particular, the software didn't know that the facts of 9/11 must be suppressed.

Rachel O'Donoghue's piece appeared on Tuesday, September 6, and within a few days it attracted so much attention that Facebook's software noticed it. But the software failed to perceive that the headline, "September 11: The footage that 'proves bombs were planted in Twin Towers'" could potentially be politically volatile.

Needless to say, this is an error that no human editor would ever make, but the software was just too dumb to pick up on the implications of the headline, or to read the article and find out what it said. And nobody was supervising it. The software was "flying solo."

And it came to pass that early on Friday, September 9, Facebook users found "September 11th Anniversary" on their sidebar, and if they hovered over the topic, they saw this:

click to enlarge [source: Facebook via Abby Ohlheiser]

If they clicked on it, they saw this:

click to enlarge [source: Facebook via Abby Ohlheiser]

And if they clicked on this, they could read Rachel O'Donoghue!

When Abby Ohlheiser found out, she was most unimpressed. As she wrote:
Facebook users looking for more context on why the Sept. 11 terrorist attack anniversary was trending on the platform on Friday were, for a time, directed to a tabloid article claiming that “experts” had footage that “proves bombs were planted in Twin Towers.”

The Daily Star piece promoted by Facebook repeats a lot of common claims from 9/11 “trutherism,” a conspiracy theory based on an idea (unsupported by any actual evidence) that the World Trade Center must have collapsed in 2001 because of a “controlled demolition” and not from the damage caused by the airliner crashes.
This photo shows material being ejected from
the South Tower, well below the impact zone
and before the collapse of the building. It is
prima facie evidence of explosives and therefore
must be suppressed. [source: Daily Star]
Is this correct? Well, no!

Unfortunately for Abby Ohlheiser, the Daily Star piece by Rachel O'Donoghue documents "actual evidence" of explosives in the towers, the existence of which Abby Ohlheiser flatly denies!
Engineers Steven Jones, Robert Korol, Anthony Szamboti and Ted Walter are part of the growing community of experts who say evidence indicates the towers were brought down in a controlled demolition.

They wrote a paper for Europhysics News highlighting four important pieces of evidence pointing to this conclusion.

These were:

– Fires are not normally hot enough to heat a massive steel structure enough for it to collapse

– The majority of high rise buildings have sprinkler systems that prevent a fire from getting hot enough to heat steel to a critical level

– Skyscrapers are protected using flame-proof materials

– And they are designed so that if compromised, they do not collapse.

They go on to point out that the towers were actually designed to stay standing in the event of seismic activity, such as earthquakes, and incredibly high winds.
Abby Ohlheiser tells us what happened when she found out Facebook was linking to this article:
Shortly after The Intersect [i.e. Abby Ohlheiser] reached out to Facebook for a comment on the matter, the article disappeared from Facebook’s page for the topic. The lead article switched to a local news piece about a photograph showing beams of light bouncing off One World Trade Center.

“We’re aware a hoax article showed up there,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement on Friday, “and as a temporary step to resolving this we’ve removed the topic.”

The misstep comes weeks after the company removed the human editors who used to describe and curate the site’s trending topics, leaving the task of providing context for those topics to an algorithmically selected article from another site. As this most recent example illustrates, the algorithms haven’t always been up to the task.
"Algorithm" is a fancy name for a set of instructions. And one question which suggests itself is: Have the algorithms really failed in their task?

I can't help thinking the answer depends on how the task is defined. If the task is to promote the topics that the greatest number of people want to read about, and the articles that the greatest number of people are reading, that's one thing. If the task is to prefer relatively safe topics and politically acceptable articles, even if fewer people are reading them ... well, that's different.

And I humbly suggest that this difference was the cause of Abby Ohlheiser's discomfort.

In an alternate universe where we had a free press and free social media, "trending" would mean "trending," just as "topic" means "topic." The most popular article under each topic would appear on the sidebar. And if people started learning about facts that the supporters of an absurd and murderous story wanted to suppress, that would be just too bad for them.

In such a universe, when Abby Ohlheiser "reached out" for a comment, the Facebook spokeswoman would say, "We are in the business of facilitating -- not impeding -- connections between our users and the rest of the world. We will not bow to pressure from politicians, nor from journalists, nor from anybody else. And you will just have to grow up and accept the fact that 'trending' means 'trending,' which is not always the same as 'trending and pleasing to you.' We thank you for your understanding, and we hope that in the future you will not waste any more of your time on similar complaints."

But of course we live in the real universe, so Facebook declared Rachel O'Donoghue's piece a "hoax" and removed the link.

Later, according the the spokeswoman, Facebook removed the whole "September 11th Anniversary" topic, which, as you can see in the screenshot preserved by Abby Ohlheiser, was at the time the most popular topic on the list by far, leading an NFL player who had not stood during the national anthem the previous evening by a margin of 340K to 28K.

This photo, which allegedly shows the
beginning of a gravity-driven collapse, looks
more like a volcano erupting, and therefore
must be suppressed. [source: Daily Star]
Hoax? What hoax? The official story is a hoax!

As Rachel O'Donoghue notes:
John Skilling, the chief structural engineer of the World Trade Centre, even admitted in 1993 – eight years before the disaster – they were made to specifically withstand the force of a jet hitting them.

In an interview with the Seattle Times he said: "Our analysis indicated the biggest problem would be the fact that all the fuel (from the airplane) would dump into the building. There would be a horrendous fire. A lot of people would be killed [but] the building structure would still be there."

He then commented that in his view, the only thing that could bring them down would be explosives of some sort.

Eyewitness accounts describing the aftermath of the attacks supports the theory explosives were planted inside the towers.

Shortly after the planes hit, numerous interviews were recorded in which people who had been inside the World Trade Centre said that when they ran down from the upper floors they found the lobby had been completely destroyed.

Some also described finding people who had not been upstairs with "their faces blown off".
Eyewitnesses who describe the lobby as completely destroyed, and statements about people who had "their faces blown off" despite not having been upstairs, pose a grave danger to Abby Ohlheiser and her contention that the "conspiracy theory" is "unsupported by any actual evidence" and threaten Facebook's assertion that Rachel Donoghue's article is a hoax.

But all these bits of suppressed evidence certainly corroborate the story Bob McIlvaine tells about his son Bobby.

Had Abby Ohlheiser not made such a big stink about Rachel O'Donoghue's piece, I probably would not have seen it, and I wouldn't be able to share the details with you here. But this is Abby Ohlheiser's game, apparently -- monitoring other "reporters" and complaining if they happen to cross one of her invisible lines.

Fortunately, if she can bend them to her will, she's not content to let the matter rest. She uses her platform to tell everyone what has happened, even if it means bringing attention to the very thing she is trying to suppress.

On September 9, Facebook users were given
the false impression that the "Topic"
"September 11th Anniversary" was
"Trending" because of these photos. Thanks
to Abby Ohlheiser, we now know how and why
this happened. [source: ABC 7 NY dot Com]
So, even if we stipulate that Abby Ohlheiser prevented a very large number of people from reading Rachel O'Donoghue's piece, she still qualifies as a fail in my book for two reasons.

First, she gave the world a screenshot showing Rachel O'Donoghue's headline and the name of her paper, so that everyone could see what had been published and where to find it. Now all her readers -- and both of mine -- know all about it.

Second, she has shown us very clearly how easily Facebook can be manipulated into suppressing vital evidence in a case of mass murder, and who she is and what she wants, and the same about the Washington Post, and the same about Facebook -- which may be important if anyone is still in doubt.

Had Facebook not turned tail and fled, its users would have found it easier to maintain the illusion that they have a free press and free social media. But they might have learned a thing or two as well, and no doubt here lies the perceived danger.

Certainly Facebook's part in this story proves one thing: Even if you can't please everybody, you can certainly displease everybody. Those who aren't angry at Facebook for linking to Rachel O'Donoghue are angry at Facebook for taking down the link and calling the truth a "hoax". Or at least they should be.

Had Rachel O'Donoghue not mentioned her source, I might not have found the article she was writing about.

It's from Europhysics News, it was written by Steven Jones, Robert Korol, Anthony Szamboti and Ted Walter. It's called "15 Years Later: On The Physics Of High-Rise Building Collapses," and it includes:

- a short explanation of why steel-framed buildings don't normally collapse, even after long hot fires,

- a short history of building demolition techniques, including the most modern ones,

- an overview of the reasons why they believe the towers were destroyed by modern demolition techniques and not by fires,

- a review of the official investigations, showing how far they were willing to deviate from the normal logical and physical constraints, and how little scrutiny their conclusions can bear, and

- a summary of the eyewitness evidence concerning explosives in the buildings, concluding this way:
Some 156 witnesses, including 135 first responders, have been documented as saying that they saw, heard, and/or felt explosions prior to and/or during the collapses. That the Twin Towers were brought down with explosives appears to have been the initial prevailing view among most first responders. “I thought it was exploding, actually,” said John Coyle, a fire marshal. “Everyone I think at that point still thought these things were blown up”.
When John Coyle says, "Everyone I think at that point still thought these things were blown up," the words "at that point" and "still" indicate the power of the propaganda machine behind the official story. Even though they lived through it, many of the first responders became convinced in the aftermath that their perceptions of the day's events had been wrong!

And yet! Popular support for 9/11 Truth endures, even after 15 years of relentless and powerful propaganda, partially because so many people know about the evidence that the perpetrators and their accessories after the fact are trying to suppress.

We can see what they're trying to do. We can figure out why. And we're not going away anytime soon.

Sorry, Abby! You lose! And so does your sad excuse for a newspaper.

Sorry, Washington Post! If you don't tell the truth about something important soon, I may quit letting you use my initials!

Sorry, Facebook, You lose, too! Everyone can see where you stand and why. "Oh, my!"

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present: three pathetic losers on the wrong side of a bloody red line marked "mass murder for profit!"

As I've been saying:
The facts must be suppressed, and the people who are trying to gather and disseminate those facts must be suppressed, and that is the one and only thing that matters to these people. And why? Why would you hide the crime unless you were trying to protect the criminals?