Craig Newmark Philanthropies Awards PEN America $250,000 To Combat Disinformation and Harassment Online

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Graphic showing differences between (deliberate) disinformation, unintentional misinformation, and hoax according to Wikimedia Research courtesy of Srijankedia under CC BY-SA 4.0 license

This gift will also allow PEN America to expand its continued efforts to fight against disinformation by engaging with digital platforms to identify ways to counter the spread of disinformation while preserving free expression.

This week PEN America announced a $250,000 gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies for its work to combat disinformation and harassment online over the next year. This significant investment will allow the literary and free expression organization to re-energize its work ahead of the 2020 US presidential election cycle.

Through this gift, PEN America will expand its online harassment self-defense trainings for newsrooms, journalism schools, and writers’ associations. The organization will also work closely with major news organizations, including the San Diego Union Tribune and Dallas Morning News, to develop best practices for protecting journalists from online abuse.

How Disinformation Can Be Spread, explanation by U.S. Defense Department (2001) / United States Department of Defense / Public Domain

“During a fraught political moment, we’re especially honored that Craig is doubling down on his contributions to our vital work in promoting truth and transparency and defending journalists and writers from online abuse,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. “As social platforms and digital spaces explode with vitriol, combating online harassment – and the chill on free expression that it represents – has never been more crucial. We are grateful to Craig Newmark Philanthropies for supporting our efforts to push back against disinformation and help ensure that the American people have the information they need during the upcoming campaign.”

This gift will also allow PEN America to expand its continued efforts to fight against disinformation by:

  • Engaging with digital platforms to identify ways to counter the spread of disinformation while preserving free expression;

  • Organizing an expert convening to spotlight and respond to online disinformation campaigns throughout the 2020 election cycle;

  • Encouraging 2020 Democratic and Republican party platforms to include language on addressing the fight against disinformation;

  • Mobilizing PEN America Members in all 50 states to press candidates and elected officials to reject the use of disinformation; and

  • Advocating for federal legislation that promotes information integrity and digital freedom.

“We face a set of complex challenges ahead of the 2020 US presidential election, especially when it comes to combatting the spread of disinformation and the harassment of journalists online.” said Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies. “PEN America’s holistic efforts will help prepare journalists and elected officials to preserve our democracy and elections in this information war.”

In 2017, PEN America surveyed writers and journalists to assess the impact of online abuse. The survey found that, of those who had experienced online harassment, two-thirds reported reacting severely, including refraining from publishing their work, permanently deleting their social media accounts, and/or fearing for their safety or the safety of their loved ones. These findings contributed to the creation of the organization’s Online Harassment Field Manual and online harassment self-defense trainings, which equip writers and journalists with the best available methods and means to protect themselves and their freedom to write. Thanks to this gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, PEN America will be able to continue this work.

This post is compiled courtesy of Wikipedia, PEN America, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and the United States Defense Department.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Craig Newmark Philanthropies was created by craigslist founder Craig Newmark to support and connect people and drive broad civic engagement. It works to advance people and grassroots organizations that are getting stuff done in areas that include trustworthy journalism & the information ecosystem, voter protection, gender diversity in technology, and veterans & military families.

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“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

PEN America Calls for Trump Administration to Open Migrant Camp to Journalists’ Scrutiny; What You Can Do to Close the Camps by Kella Hanna-Wayne

100-mile border region on the U.S.–Mexico border courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency / Public Domain

“A crude age. Peace is stabilized with cannon and bombers, humanity with concentration camps and pogroms. We’re living in a time when all standards are turned upside-down, Kern. Today the aggressor is the shepherd of peace, and the beaten and hunted are the troublemakers of the world. What’s more, there are whole races who believe it!” Erich Maria Remarque, Flotsam

Climbing the Mexico–United States barrier fence in Brownsville, Texas courtesy of Nofx221984 and generously released into Public Domain

PEN America issued the statement [below] in response to The Washington Post’s report that the Trump Administration is blocking journalists from accessing migrant detention camps on the southern border to see the facilities for themselves and speak to children, who are reportedly held in squalid conditions.

“It is shocking that the American public largely must learn about the dangerous conditions at these detention centers not through reporters being able to cover the news, but through second-hand reports from lawyers and advocates granted access under a legal agreement with the U.S. border patrol,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs. “The fact that journalists are being sealed off and held behind a wall of secrecy, unable to show the American people the faces and voices of those who are suffering in squalor is one more unconscionable aspect to this epic horror story on the southern border.”

“Cutting the press off from this story to hide what is going on is unacceptable and unwarranted; professional journalists are well-equipped to handle issues of privacy and consent, and this should pose no barrier to press access. The American public has a right to see for themselves what is happening in these camps through first-hand accounts, images and video documented by professional journalists. Indeed, the fact that every story that does make it to a reporter galvanizes public attention and action demonstrates the importance of that reporting. PEN America calls on the Trump administration to open the camps to the scrutiny of the press–and thus, the American people–immediately, and end this effort to keep what is happening in the detention centers a secret.”

PEN America has previously spoken out and advocated about press access to migrant detention centers and the situation for journalists covering the immigration crisis on the border. In October 2018, it hosted a panel discussion at the Texas Book Festival entitled “Stories (Un)told,” featuring journalists speaking to the challenges of covering child detention issues and immigration more broadly. Following months of tracking and public comments on the situation of lawyers and journalists being surveilled at the southern U.S.-Mexico border, PEN America joined a coalition of human rights and media freedom organizations in sending an open letter to the Department of Homeland Security in May, 2019, expressing concern for the privacy violations and explicit targeting by Customs and Border Protection of journalists, activists, and lawyers working on issues around the “migrant caravan”. Following our letter, the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged it had engaged in the surveillance and tracking of these individuals. PEN America has also condemned the unacceptable practice of the government’s surveillance of journalists reporting on this issue and authored a petition urging the administration to stop monitoring journalists at the border. That petition has garnered more than 58,000 signatures to date.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

From Kella Hanna-Wayne, poet, blogger, activist

“Today, I read something terrible; a story that possibly upset me more any other news story from our current administration and it filled me with helplessness.

“Over the past year, Trump’s immigration policies have become increasingly strict and dehumanizing. Detention centers, separation of families without keeping records, poor hygiene, inadequate access to food, water, and medical attention, children in cages– these were all themes among reports of the horrifying conditions our government was signing off on for immigrants, regardless of their documentation.

“But in the last week, it came to light that not only is Trump using Fort Sill– the base used to hold Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during WWII– to hold immigrant children, but that our government is now using concentration camps as a strategy to manage the influx in immigrants coming to the US. “

Kella goes on from these introductory remarks to provide a comprehensive list of tips and resources: What You Can Do to Close the Camps. I particularly appreciate it when folks don’t just regurgiate the bad news we’re all reading anyway but who go on to provide tools for mitigating the travesties. Bravo, Kella!

Stay tuned for a comprehensive interview with Kella here on The Poet by Day.


Recent in digital publications: 
* Four poemsI Am Not a Silent Poet
* Remembering Mom, HerStry
* Three poems, Levure littéraire
Upcoming in digital publications:
* Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review
* From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems)

A mostly bed-bound poet, writer, former columnist and the former associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove,I Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta/ Phor(e) /Play, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, a curated info hub for poets and writers. I founded The Bardo Group/Beguines, a vitual literary community and publisher of The BeZineof which I am the founding and managing editor.

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

Intellectual Integrity in the Age of Trump … “Wall Street Journal” Foreign Affairs Columnist, Bret Stephens, Speaks Out

A few days ago, February 18, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, Bret Stephens gave the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles. Time magazine reported on it and you can read the entire text HERE. I urge you to do so.

In his talk Intellectual Integrity in the Age of Trump Stephens, a conservative, warns us not to “dismiss President Trump’s attacks on the media as mere stupidity.” He writes that open-mined and diligent reporting is important and that “truth is not merely in the eye of the beholder.”

I admit to being beyond irritated with news-as-entertainment that caters to the sensational and salacious, that betrays us by serving up too much free on-air time to people with questionable intentions and morally deficient characters. This is unfortunate, but thankfully it is not descriptive of the whole of the American press.

Let’s give kudos were kudos are deserved: to those hard-working truth-seekers, our occupational cousins: professional journalists who put the truth first and work hard to bring it to us. They don’t deserve to be denigrated by a Republican administration that has lost its backbone participating in attempts to suppress what is crtical to the maintenance of a functioning democracy – an independent press working with impunity.

Our journalists – as with any other professional group – don’t deserve to be painted with one broad brush by us – their readers (customers). Let’s not confuse earnest journalists with celebrity journalists who often deliver nothing more substantive than political gossip.

Among Bret Stephen’s points:

“Many people say” is what’s known as an argumentum ad populum. If we were a nation of logicians, we would dismiss the argument as dumb.

“We are not a nation of logicians.

“I think it’s important not to dismiss the president’s reply simply as dumb. We ought to assume that it’s darkly brilliant — if not in intention than certainly in effect. The president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have on an argument.” MORE

Photo by Вени Марковски | Veni Markovski under CC BY-SA 3.o license

Nothing “so called” about the world’s journalists: seventy-eight died in 2016 to bring us accurate reports and important information

"Len Ganeway" by Derek Wernher (in Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina) Statue by Derek Wernher
Man reading a newspaper by Derek Wernher (in Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina) Statue by Derek Wernher

There are some institutions that are necessary to support healthy democracies … public libraries, good public education, freedom to assemble, free speech …. and a free press that is allowed to carry-out its moral mission with impunity. While our occupational cousins – professional journalists – are coming under attack from certain quarters, there are dedicated journalists who brave dangerous territory, horrible work and living conditions, and long stays away from family and friends to bring us important information, correct and timely reports. Many end up with PTSD. They are often physically wounded, maimed or killed in torn and sometimes out-of-the-way-places that politicians and oligarchs wouldn’t fly over much less dare to set foot to ground.

The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] reports today that in 2016 seventy-eight journalists (representing a diversity of counties, races, genders and religions) died to bring us accurate news reports. CPJ investigates the death of each journalist to confirm the motive. It reports that among the seventy-eight killings the motives for forty-eight are confirmed. Among the seventy-eight are also two media workers and twenty-eight journalists for whom the motive is unconfirmed. The deaths have been by murder, crossfire, or  while covering dangerous assignments. Beats covered in 2016 were:

4% Business
19% Corruption
17% Crime
13% Culture
17% Human Rights
38% Politics
4% Sports
75% War

According to the CPJ the numbers are rounded up and the percentage is over 100% because many covered more than one beat. The chart belongs to the CPJ and is protected under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.

Journalists at work in Montreal circa 1940s
Journalists at work in Montreal circa 1940s

I would also submit at this time that discussions of fake v true news are too simple and among other things they don’t often acknowledge the reader’s responsibility for careful selection, analyses, sharing and wide reading. Anyone who clicks on “click bait” for example, those links that start with “you wouldn’t believe what happened next” or ” he was walking down the street and …”  are accessing sites for sales and marketing not news outlets. On Facebook these are rife on the roll to the right of the screen. Shared posts on Facebook or Twitter or other social media like blogs should not be our primary sources of news information.  Conspiracy theories, satire, comedy “news” media and news aggregates (v. original stories) are not reliable resources nor are news sources that are partisan and consistently confirm our biases, whatever they may be.

Among the more balanced and accurate news outlets are: AP and Reuters news agencies, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Washington Post print news, and the BBC and NPR for broadcast media.

If we want our news outlets to hire the very best journalists and to fund in-depth research and reporting, we must use them, pay for them or donate to them as appropriate. I’m pleased to see that so many people are now subscribing to the New York Times in an effort to help keep this, the premier American newspaper, afloat.  The New York Times was founded in 1851. It has been in continuous publication since then and is widely considered to be “the newspaper of record” for the United States of America.

The video below is of Christiane Amanpour’s 2016 Burton Benjamin Memorial Award Acceptance Speech. She addresses the responsibilities of journalism and journalists in the context of a post-truth post-values era.It’s about fifteen minutes. There’s good substance here, much to chew on.  If you are reading this feature from an email subscription, you’ll have to link through to the site to view the video.

Photo licensing: Reading the newspaper header photograph is under CC BY-SA 2.0 license; Canadian journalists by Conrad Poirier from Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, reference number P48,S1,P23104 Public domain