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Detourning the Web

Detourning Breitbart: An experiment in web scraping.

Like most of the people I’ve talked to this week, I’m overwhelmed by both the scale and the velocity with which the Trump/Bannon administration has undermined basic constitutional rights within the first week of office. Furthermore, the administration sends message that are just false (“The ban isn’t a Muslim ban”, “The ban doesn’t affect U.S. green card holders”, “Protesters are being organized and funded by CAIR”). Part of the issue is that the Trump administration provided no guidance to the Department of Homeland Security as to how the Executive Order was to be enforced, leaving such decisions to the vagaries of local law enforcement.

In recent days, it’s become more clear that such pronouncements have Steve Bannon’s fingerprints all over them. A white nationalist with isolationist impulses, Bannon has been disseminating his views as editor of Breitbart. As an organization, Breitbart generates false, unverified stories aimed at stoking fear among white nationalists.

I decided to scrape the headlines from Breitbart’s homepage and run them through a Markov chain to generate newer, even faker headlines. If the original headlines were dubious, the new ones are even more suspect. Here’s a sample:

You can find all my code here.

I also found a video online of Bannon lecturing in front of (no joke) a painting that includes the Bill of Rights, an American flag, and the Liberty Bell. So I threw in real Breitbart headlines I’d scraped and made this:

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