Trump uses paid models for fake endorsement ads

This frame from a series of Facebook video ads for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign shows a model portraying an actual Trump supporter. The people in the videos are all models in stock video footage produced far from the U.S. in France, Brazil and Turkey, and available to anyone online for a fee. (Trump Make America Great Again Committee via AP)

A series of Facebook video ads for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign shows what appears to be a young woman strolling on a beach in Florida, a Hispanic man on a city street in Texas and a bearded hipster in a coffee shop in Washington, D.C., all making glowing, voice-over endorsements of the president.

“I could not ask for a better president,” intones the voice during slow-motion footage of the smiling blonde called “Tracey from Florida.” A man labeled on another video as “AJ from Texas” stares into the camera as a voice says, “Although I am a lifelong Democrat, I sincerely believe that a nation must secure its borders.”

There’s just one problem: The people in the videos that ran in the past few months are all actually models in stock video footage produced far from the U.S. in France, Brazil and Turkey, and available to anyone online for a fee.

Though the 20-second videos include tiny disclaimers that say “actual testimonial, actor portrayal,” they raise the question why a campaign that can fill arenas with supporters would have to buy stock footage of models. It’s a practice that, under different circumstances, Trump himself would likely blast as “fake news.”

Trump campaign officials declined repeated requests for comment on Tuesday. Political experts say that, while it’s not unusual for stock footage to find its way into ads, a presidential campaign should have been more careful.

“As a producer, you want to control — you want people to look a certain way and you want them to sound a certain way,” said Jay Newell, a former cable TV executive who teaches advertising at Iowa State University. “The fact that the footage is from outside the U.S. makes it that much more embarrassing.”

There are plenty examples of such gaffes. In the last presidential primaries, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio ran an ad titled “Morning in America” with shots from Canada. A super PAC supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush put ads on TV with video reportedly from the English countryside and workers from Southeast Asia.

Trump himself has used video from abroad before. His 2016 TV ad vowing to build a wall to keep out immigrants from Mexico showed people streaming across the border — but the shots of refugees were taken in Morocco.

The existence of the stock footage in this series of Trump ads, reported last week by Judd Legum for his website Popular Information , underscores an increasingly aggressive, targeted approach by the Trump campaign to reach out to voters on Facebook.

The Trump Make America Great Again Committee, which was behind the testimonial videos, is by far the biggest spender on political Facebook advertising, shelling out more than $2.7 million on 27,735 ads in the last 90 days alone, according to the social network’s running database of campaign ad spending. That’s in addition to the more than $1 million spent on more than 14,500 ads in the same period by Donald J. Trump for President Inc.

Trump’s campaign gets to such totals by running the same ads numerous times, all at slightly different audiences.

“Thomas from Washington,” featuring the bearded young man behind a coffee shop counter, appeared aimed at evangelicals, with the voice-over quote saying the president and his family are “in our prayers for strength and wisdom from God almighty.” ″AJ from Texas” seemed focused on Hispanic men. And “Tracey in Florida” was aimed specifically at a demographic in which Trump is historically weak — young women.

All are models for Turkish, Brazilian and French companies, respectively, that supply hundreds of photos and video to the popular site iStock run by Getty Images, which caters to publications, filmmakers and advertisers looking for professional, inexpensive imagery.

According to the site, licenses for the video clips used in the Trump ads can be had for as little as $170.

The blonde on the beach appears to be particularly prolific. Her photos and videos from the French company Tuto Photos in Roubaix, France, show her twirling in a wedding gown, walking spaniels in a meadow, getting her teeth checked at the dentist and working in a warehouse.

And the star of iStock’s “Bearded and tattooed hipster coffee shop owner posing” — also known as Trump’s “Thomas from Washington” — is a fixture on the videos and photos contributed by the company GM Stock out of Izmir, Turkey. His unmistakable beard and tats can be seen on the image site strolling with a woman on the beach, sitting by a campfire and pumping iron in the gym.

So what do these models think of being held up as model Trump supporters?

That’s not clear because none of the companies they’ve posed for would give a detailed comment to The Associated Press. A spokeswoman for Getty Images would not identify the models, citing privacy concerns.

Fred Davis, a campaign consultant who’s produced ads for George W. Bush and other Republican presidential candidates, said the Trump campaign’s use of such footage is not surprising, given the volume of political ads on the internet these days.

“Whoever did this is probably 22 years old, and they’re going through pictures and thought, ‘This is a great picture,’” Davis said.

“This is a great shot of Thomas from Washington. It’s a shame it’s not Thomas from Washington.”

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Lost privacy? You lost yours long ago

Like a number of friends, I have mixed feelings these days about being on Facebook. The admission of the company that is allowed data on 87 million of us be used by others without permission is startling on one point but also not surprising in a world where we live in pubic data space.

For the most part, my life is — and for the most part always has — been part of the public domain. As a newspaperman, I wrote often controversial columns and covered events that drew a lot of attention by people.

As the Internet came along, I worked — as a staff member of the Congressional Technology Committee — on helping move what was the old DARPANet to become “the information superhighway.” As we learned, it also became “the misinformation cowpath.”

Capitol Hill Blue, my project created as a personal experiment and launched on Oct. 1, 1994, remains the oldest purely Internet political news website. I owned a web hosting operation in Washington that hosted national news and political websites. I still own more than 200 web domain names.

Most of my life is an open book.  I am a recovering alcoholic — sober 23 years and 10 months on April 6 — and have admitted and written about personal failures and misdeeds over the years.  I’ve worked for more than a dozen employers — fired by three of them — promoted and praised by others and owned a few businesses of my own.

There’s a lot of information — and misinformation — on the Internet about me, what I’ve done and what I’m accused of doing.  No, I’m not the Douglas Thompson convicted of his wife’s murder in 2011.  Online, I’ve been called a heretic, a liar, a faker person who is a nom de plume for other writers and worse.

I make mistakes but try to correct them when I learn that something was wrong.  But, as young girls who send nude selfies to their boyfriends learn, what goes on the Internet stays there, forever.

Which takes us back to Facebook.  I enjoy the site because it keeps me in touch with friends from around the world, many of whom I reconnected with because of they found me or I found them there.

In many ways, the Internet destroyed privacy as we know it in today’s world.  It’s not alone.  Uncle Sam tracks the movements of most Americans each and every day through a program called the “Total Information Awareness” system created by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Washington that monitors financial, travel and other public records.  It also created DARPANet, which is now the Internet.

If you use a credit or debit card to buy gas for your car on the way to work this morning, that transaction if captured by the Total Information Awareness System.  All such purchases are captured. The system tracks your posts on social media, your bank transactions and any and all information available on the computer networks of the world.The computers use that information to build a pattern of your travel, your habits and your lifestyle.

If that information matches the travel or other actions of other “persons of interest,” a file is opened on you and delivered to the Department of Homeland Security.

I know.  I started writing about it in the late1990s and I was on the Federal “No Fly” list after 2001.  They didn’t stop me from flying but I was singled out at airports for additional searches and interviews.  I was questioned about stories I had written and places where I had visited.

I wrote:

Besides the NSA, the Pentagon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and dozens of private contractors are spying on millions of Americans 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. “It’s a total effort to build dossiers on as many Americans as possible,” said a former NSA agent who quit in disgust over use of the agency to spy on Americans.

My stories were listed in the book, Censored 2007: The Top 25 Censored Stories.

The White House, the Pentagon and others claimed it was not happening.  Then Edward Snowden turned over NSA files over to the a London newspaper that proved it, and more, was happening.

Welcome to the real life in the Land of the UnFree and Home of the Not-so-Brave.

Facebook guru targets GOP on immigration reform

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

An advocacy group affiliated with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched a nationwide ad on Monday that implores House Republicans to act this election year on legislation overhauling the nation’s immigration system.

“Why are House Republicans cooling, retreating and even privately saying they’d rather do nothing this year?” the 60-second spot asks, then adds, “Nothing won’t do. Call House Republicans today. Tell them we’ve waited long enough, pass immigration reform.”

The commercial comes as rank-and-file House Republicans are reluctant to tackle the divisive issue in the months leading up to the midterm congressional elections, wary that a high-profile fight will undercut their upbeat prospects for increasing their majority in the House and seizing control of the Senate.

House GOP leaders unveiled a set of principles on immigration in January, but the optimism among advocates was dashed when Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, blamed GOP distrust of President Barack Obama for the House’s inability to move forward on legislation.

The new commercial is slated to run in all 50 states at a cost of $500,000. Council for American Job Growth, an affiliate of the group FWD.us, is sponsoring the ad. Zuckerberg launched the advocacy group FWD.us with the support of Silicon Valley titans such as Bill Gates and Sean Parker and the organization has been one of the most active on the immigration issue.

“The future of this country, our country, is tied to immigration reform,” says the spot, which warns of stagnant job growth and loss of tax revenue if Congress fails to act.

An unusual coalition of business groups, labor and religious organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the nation’s Catholic bishops, has pressed for immigration legislation with little signs of progress in the House.

The Senate passed a comprehensive bill last June that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally, tighten border security and add new visa and workplace enforcement programs. The legislation has stalled in the House where Republicans have rejected a comprehensive approach in favor of piecemeal legislation. The House, however, hasn’t voted on any of the individual bills passed by the Judiciary Committee last year.

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Copyright  © 2014 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2014 The Associated Press  All Rights Reserved.

New data on how NSA sought data on Americans

Google data center in Council Buff, Iowa.
Google data center in Council Buff, Iowa.

Major technology firms have released new data on how often they are ordered to turn over customer information to the government for secret national security investigations, resulting in the collection of data on thousands of Americans.

That release came after the companies were freed by a recent legal deal with government lawyers.

The publications disclosed by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn and Tumblr provided expanded details and some vented criticism about the government’s handling of customers’ Internet data in counterterrorism and other intelligence-related probes. The figures from 2012 and 2013 showed that companies such as Google and Microsoft were compelled by the government to provide information on as many as 10,000 customer accounts in a six-month period. Yahoo complied with government requests for information on more than 40,000 accounts in the same period.

The companies earlier had provided limited information about government requests for data, but an agreement reached last week with the Obama administration allowed the firms to provide a broadened, though still circumscribed, set of figures to the public.

Seeking to reassure customers and business partners alarmed by revelations about the government’s massive collection of Internet and computer data, the firms stressed details indicating that only small numbers of their customers were targeted by authorities. Still, even those small numbers showed that thousands of Americans were affected by the government requests approved by judges of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The data releases by the major tech companies offered a mix of dispassionate graphics, reassurances and protests, seeking to alleviate customer concerns about government spying while pressuring national security officials about the companies’ constitutional concerns. The shifting tone in the releases showed the precarious course that major tech firms have had to navigate in recent months, caught between their public commitments to Internet freedom and their enforced roles as data providers to U.S. spy agencies.

In a company blog post, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith scolded the U.S. and allied governments for failing to renounce the reported mass interception of Internet data carried by communications cables. Top lawyers and executives for major tech companies had raised alarms previously about media reports describing that hacking by U.S. and United Kingdom spy agencies and cited them during conversations with U.S. officials during President Barack Obama’s internal review of planned changes to the government’s spying operations.

“Despite the president’s reform efforts and our ability to publish more information, there has not yet been any public commitment by either the U.S. or other governments to renounce the attempted hacking of Internet companies,” Smith said in a Microsoft blog release. He added that Microsoft planned to press the government “for more on this point, in collaboration with others across our industry.”

The new figures were released just a week after major tech firms announced a legal agreement with the Justice Department. But lawyers and executives for the companies openly vented their discomfort with the government’s continuing insistence that they could only provide broad ranges instead of the actual numbers of government requests.

The companies said they would press for narrower data ranges that would offer more details. “We will also continue to advocate for still narrower disclosure ranges, which will provide a more accurate picture of the number of national security-related requests,” said Erika Rottenberg, LinkedIn’s general counsel.

A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the companies’ releases and comments. The spokesman pointed to a late January statement by DNI James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder that said the agreement would allow the firms to “disclose more information than ever before to their customers.”

Google and all the other companies denied that they gave any government unfettered access to their users’ info. The companies are worried more people will reduce their online activities if they believe almost everything they do is being monitored by the government. A decline in Web surfing could hurt the companies financially by giving them fewer opportunities to show online ads and sell other services.

The companies can only reveal how many total requests they receive every six months, with the numbers in groupings of 1,000. And even those general numbers must be concealed for at least six months after any reporting period ends. That restriction means the FISA requests for the final half of last year can’t be shared until July, at the earliest.

The data released Monday indicated the U.S. government is digging deeper into the Internet as people spend more time online.

Most of the companies showed the number of government requests fell between 0 and 999 for each six-month period. But the numbers of customers affected by those searches ranged more widely.

Google, for instance, has seen the number of people affected by FISA court orders rise from 2,000 to 2,999 users during the first half of 2009 to between 9,000 and 9,999 users during the first half of last year. The company showed an unusual spike in the number of Americans whose data was collected between July and December 2012. During that period, metadata was collected from between 12,000 and 12,999 users. Under the restrictions imposed by the government, no explanation was provided for that anomaly.

Yahoo listed the highest number of people swept up in FISA requests for online content during the first half of last year. The orders seeking user content spanned 30,000 to 30,999 accounts, according to the company. The requested content could have included emails, instant messages, address books, calendar items and pictures.

All the companies also received FISA requests that weren’t aimed at scooping up online communications or photos. Those demands sought things such as billing information and locations of where people made an Internet connection.

Google described Monday’s disclosure as a positive step while promising to keep fighting for the right to provide more precise numbers about the FISA requests and more specifics about the data being sought. “We still believe more transparency is needed so everyone can better understand how surveillance laws work and decide whether or not they serve the public interest,” Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director of law enforcement and information security, wrote in a blog post.

Even if the companies can share more information about the FISA requests, they still might face doubts raised by other National Security Agency documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden asserting that the U.S. government has found ways to tap into the lines transmitting personal information between data centers. The companies are trying to thwart the hacking by encrypting most, if not all, the data stored on their computers.

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Liedtke reported from San Francisco.

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Online:

Google’s disclosure: http://bit.ly/1aX9uFf

Microsoft’s disclosure: http://bit.ly/1ekWklU

Yahoo’s disclosure: http://bit.ly/LsbHfh

Facebook’s disclosure: http://bit.ly/1nJLIQ2

LinkedIn’s disclosure: http://bit.ly/MqxpBl

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Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press  All Rights Reserved.

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Young victims of online abuse reach out to parents for help

Sarah Ball, a victim of cyber bullying during her high school years.  (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Sarah Ball, a victim of cyber bullying during her high school years. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

Sarah Ball was a 15-year-old high school sophomore at Hernando High School in Brooksville, Fla., when a friend posted on Facebook: “I hate Sarah Ball, and I don’t care who knows.”

Then there was the Facebook group “Hernando Haters” asking to rate her attractiveness, plus an anonymous email calling her a “waste of space.” And this text arrived on her 16th birthday: “Wow, you’re still alive? Impressive. Well happy birthday anyway.”

It wasn’t until Sarah’s mom, who had access to her daughter’s online passwords, saw the messages that the girl told her everything.

More young people are reaching out to family members after being harassed or taunted online, and it’s helping. A poll released Thursday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV found incidents of “digital abuse” are still prevalent but declining somewhat. It found a growing awareness among teenagers and young adults about harm from online meanness and cyberbullying, as well as a slight increase among those willing to tell a parent or sibling.

“It was actually quite embarrassing, to be honest,” remembers Ball, now an 18-year-old college freshman. But “really, truly, if it wasn’t for my parents, I don’t think I’d be where I’m at today.”

The survey’s findings come a week after two Florida girls, ages 12 and 14, were arrested on felony charges for allegedly bullying online a 12-year-old girl who later killed herself by jumping off a tower at an abandoned concrete plant.

The AP-NORC/MTV poll found that some 49 percent of young people ages 14 through 24 in the U.S. said they have had at least one brush with some kind of electronic harassment, down from about 56 percent in 2011. Of those who have encountered an incident, 34 percent went to a parent, compared with 27 percent just two years ago. And 18 percent — up from 12 percent in 2011 — asked a brother or sister for help.

“I feel like we’re making progress,” said Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and professor at Florida Atlantic University. “People should be encouraged.”

When asked what helped, 72 percent of those encountering digital abuse responded that they changed their email address, screen name or cell number and it helped, while 66 percent who talked to a parent said it helped too. Less than one-third of respondents who retaliated found that helpful, while just as many said it had no effect, and 20 percent said getting revenge actually made the problem worse.

Girls were more likely than boys to be the targets of online meanness — but they also were more likely to talk to reach out for help.

The poll also indicated that young people are becoming more aware of the impact of cyberbullying. Some 72 percent, up from 65 percent in 2011, said online abuse was a problem that society should address. Those who think it should be accepted as a part of life declined from 33 percent to 24 percent.

Hinduja credits school programs that are making it “cool to care” about others and increased awareness among adults who can help teens talk through their options, such as deactivating an account or going to school administrators for help in removing hurtful postings.

That was the case for Ball, whose parents encouraged her to fight back by speaking up. “They said this is my ticket to helping other people,” she said.

With their help, Ball sent copies of the abusive emails, texts and Facebook pages to school authorities, news outlets and politicians, and organized an anti-bullying rally. She still maintains a Facebook site called “Hernando Unbreakable,” and she mentors local kids identified by the schools as victims of cyberbullying.

She said she thinks if other teens are reaching out more for help, it’s as a last resort because so many kids fear making it worse. That was one reason Jennifer Tinsley, 20, said she didn’t tell her parents in the eighth grade when another student used Facebook to threaten to stab and beat her.

“I didn’t want them to worry about me,” Tinsley, now a college student in Fort Wayne, Ind., said of her family. “There was a lot of stress at that time. … And I just didn’t want the extra attention.”

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, every state but Montana has enacted anti-bullying laws, many of which address cyberbullying specifically. Most state laws are focused on allowing school districts to punish offenders. In Florida, for example, the state Legislature this year passed a provision allowing schools to discipline students harassing others off campus.

In Florida’s recent cyberbullying case, the police took the unusual step of charging the two teen girls with third-degree felony aggravated stalking. Even if convicted, however, the girls were not expected to spend time in juvenile detention because they didn’t have criminal histories.

The AP-NORC Center/MTV poll was conducted online Sept. 27 through Oct. 7 among a random national sample of 1,297 people between the ages of 14 and 24. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. Funding for the study was provided by MTV as part of its campaign to stop digital abuse, “A Thin Line.”

The survey was conducted by the GfK Group using KnowledgePanel, a probability-based online panel. Respondents were recruited randomly using traditional telephone and mail sampling methods. People selected who had no Internet access were given it for free.

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AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Follow Anne Flaherty on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AnneKFlaherty

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Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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