All posts by Thomas L. Knapp

X Marks the Spot Where Advertisers Must Decide What Their Advertising is For

Wellcome Images. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.
Wellcome Images. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

On November 20, X Corp. — the corporate entity through which Elon Musk owns X, formerly known as Twitter — filed suit against Media Matters for America, which styles itself a “progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.”

At issue is a Media Matters expose claiming that X, contrary to CEO Linda Yaccarino’s promise that advertisers are “protected from the risk” of having their ads placed next to unsavory content, has been running ads next to “pro-Nazi” posts.

In the wake of the Media Matters piece, a number of big players — including IBM, Apple, and Disney — decided to pull their advertising off the platform.

Musk calls the whole episode a “fraudulent attack” on X.

The ads in question do, in fact, appear next to the content in question in the screenshots that Media Matters published.

But Musk claims Media Matters engineered a highly atypical “user experience” by reloading posts hundreds of times — posts that otherwise had nearly no views or reposts (what used to be called “retweets”) —  until they finally saw the ads they wanted to take those screenshots of.

Is that fraud, or is it just exploiting a convenient algorithmic weakness to produce a technically true/valid result?

I’m personally more interested in the advertiser response than in the answer to that question, because it raises different questions:

What is advertising for? Is the purpose of advertising changing? And if so, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

At least until recently, the purpose of advertising was to sell the advertisers’ products and services, either directly/one-off (“buy this pair of shoes”) or long-term by inculcating “brand consciousness” in viewers (“when you think of shoes, think of us”).

Now, it seems to have become “avoid, at all costs, having it noticed that our ads appear near content that pisses people off.”

Those purposes seem incompatible to me.

I can’t bring myself to believe that Apple really, truly, deeply cares whether the person who purchases a MacBook Air, or Disney gives a flying flip whether someone who uses that laptop to stream Avengers: Endame, is a Republican, Democrat, Nazi, mail carrier, stamp collector, or Rotarian. Their money all spends the same.

From the consumer point of view, when I check out at the grocery store, I have no idea — and can’t be bothered to care — whether the cashier or assistant manager might be a devil-worshiper, wine aficionado, pedophile, NASCAR fan, or Trump voter. I was there to get my groceries. I got my groceries. End of story. Why would I care one way or another whether the laptop or streaming service I’m seeing advertised is also being advertised to those other people?

Yes, such “brand associations” can be (to use a current buzz word) weaponized to power boycotts/ buycotts among people with too much time on their hands and too few real worries.

But should advertisers play the game of attempting to appease that approach? That seems like poor long-term business decision-making.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


War: Thanks But No Thanks

The Battle of Missionary Ridge, fought the day before  the "Thanksgiving Day" proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln.
The Battle of Missionary Ridge, fought the day before the “Thanksgiving Day” proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I seldom think of the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people dining together (likely sans turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie) in Massachusetts in 1621.

Rather, my thoughts wander to Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation inviting his fellow citizens “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

What was Lincoln thankful for? “Fruitful fields and healthful skies” …  and Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

“In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.”

Wartime Thanksgiving holidays are the rule, not the exception. As Christian Oord reports at War History Online, the United States has enjoyed a whopping 17 years of peace in its 247 years of existence. It’s been at war 93% of the time since 1776 (that article was written in 2019, but nothing’s changed in a big way since then).

America’s wars are seldom formally declared. Nor does the US regime always go whole hog — in many cases, it fights through proxies, arming, funding, and looming threateningly behind client states (as in Ukraine’s war with Russia and Israel’s war with the Palestinian Arabs).

I’m not thankful for America’s wars.

I suppose I SHOULD be thankful that it’s been more than two decades since those wars last  came closer to my home in the form of major “blowback,” but I find it hard to dredge up much gratitude.

The deaths, injuries, and dispossessions caused partially or wholly by US foreign military adventurism — the toll comes to millions even if we write off everything prior to 9/11 — constitute a huge karmic debt, put on all our tabs in a perpetual dine-and-dash by the American political class.

We may not be noticeably paying that bill down now, but we’ll beyond doubt pay eventually, with interest … at which point the warmongers who brought the next terrible thing down on our heads will whine bitterly, from their secure bunkers in undisclosed locations, that the debt collectors “hate us for our freedom” and that the only solution is yet another round of war.

Is all that a little dark for a Thanksgiving column? Yeah, I guess so. But it’s where my thoughts are turning this week, which also marks 60 years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, likely by elements of the very national security state that keeps the US constantly at war and its people constantly in danger.

I am, of course, thankful for my family, my friends, my readers, etc. And as the American holiday season kicks off, my wish for all of you is that ever-elusive goal: An America, and a world, at peace. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Is Reading This Column Really a Choice? And Does That Matter?

Her Own Free Will (1924) - 1

Maybe I didn’t really want to write this column. According to Robert Sapolsky I just couldn’t help myself.

Sapolsky, a Stanford biology professor and author of Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will, argues that everything we do is pre-destined. Not by an all-knowing and completely controlling god, but by biology. Our brains work in certain ways and we do as they command, not vice versa.

I’ve not read the book yet, but look forward to it and have read reviews and listened to some of Sapolsky’s interviews. Maybe I’ll learn differently, but his main point seems to encapsulate well in a quote from the Los Angeles Times:

“The world is really screwed up and made much, much more unfair by the fact that we reward people and punish people for things they have no control over … We’ve got no free will. Stop attributing stuff to us that isn’t there.”

If we’ve got no free will, can ANY human conduct be “fair” or “unfair?” Aren’t those doing the rewarding and the punishing just as constrained by biology to do whatever they’re doing as those being rewarded or punished?

If the philosophers who have expounded throughout history on systems of ethics grounded in notions of free will had no free will themselves, how would that invalidate those systems? After all, they had no choice in the matter. If free will doesn’t exist, their explicit and implicit claims that it does, and the systems based on those claims are … well, predestined!

“A difference which makes no difference,” as psychologist William James pointed out, “is no difference at all.”

We either HAVE free will, or are doomed to believe we have it, and to act AS IF we have it.

Naturally, I find it comforting to believe that I have free will: That I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul.

Perhaps I believe that, and find it comforting, because all those chemical reactions in my brain require me to, rather than because it’s true … but I believe it and find it comforting either way.

Why do I not lie awake at night pondering the particular question of free will versus predestination?

Well, maybe that’s because I have no choice as to what I lie awake pondering.

Or maybe it’s because I understand that the answer to the question is a difference that makes no difference.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.