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A Marginal Sociologist on How to Understand Media Bias and Combat Fake News: A Case Study of a World Cup Tweet

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Having studied a lot about media and society, I am keenly aware of media bias. Sadly, it is something that is all around us. Since the advent of mass media (which really kicked off with the television), Horkheimer and Adorno’s culture industry has become deeply intertwined with news media. In fact, recently, it has become more and more difficult to separate fact from fiction and—most alarmingly—news from entertainment. The French Sociologist Jean Baudrillard understood just how this new hyperreality works; as the boundaries between information and entertainment implode, news commentators “disguise culture industry hype as ‘facts’ and ‘information’ (Best and Kellner, 1991: 120). Given that this is the state of the world we all live in, it makes sense to pay a little bit of attention to how media bias operates, and how it can frame our opinions of even the most basic of topics and events (indeed, it is a topic I have written on before).

One way to better understand how media bias works is to pick a topic you are familiar with and also knowledgeable about (so just “Googling” this topic occasionally likely does not mean you are “knowledgeable”). Once you have your topic, then look at the ways in which varying news outlets report on—or view—the topic you chose. Ideally, since you will be very familiar with the topic at hand, you will be able to pick out bias and fake news from miles away.

In my case, the topic I chose for this short example is football and American politics, with the specific topic being U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent Tweet Regarding the “North American bid” (a joint bid between NAFTA(!) members Canada, Mexico, and the United States) to host the 2026 World Cup. This particular Tweet is interesting because 1) while Mr. Trump Tweets prolifically, it is not usually about football; and 2) because Mr. Trump’s Tweets themselves embody the blurring of the line between information and entertainment; indeed the responses from most media outlets seem to suggest that bashing Donald Trump has become a national sport (i.e., entertainment). Thus, the topic is perfect for a look at how media bias perpetuates itself, while preying on those who cannot be bothered to check things out for themselves.

 

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The Tweet in Question. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

 

For this short example, I just used the first six websites to come up on a simple Google search with the term “donald trump fifa” [sic]. Because this is a quick look it is by no means “scientific”, but it is still instrumental in terms of showing just how media bias works in both blatant and more subtle ways. In fact, given Google’s tendency to filter out results it doesn’t like, this small search is likely even more representative of the “hyperreal” state of modern mass media.

 

The Search

The first thing that is clear is the fact that most of the headlines are nearly identical—if that does not imply media censorship, than I don’t know what does (Image courtesy of:. The second thing that is clear is that many of the outlets that reported on this event have a certain bias embedded in their interpretations. Below, I provide a brief discussion of each outlet’s presentation of the story, followed by my own judgement.

 

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The Search Results Look as if There is no Diversity in Thought! Image Courtesy Of: https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&ei=TmnlWs7SE4mYjwSiqKiIBQ&q=donald+trump+fifa&oq=donald+trump+fifa&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0l2j0i22i30k1l2.3155.5396.0.5632.11.11.0.0.0.0.165.1222.0j10.10.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..1.10.1219…0i131i67k1j0i131k1j0i10k1.0.TPuv10s-Ibw)

 

CNN.com

Article by Sophie Tatum: (27 April 2018) “FIFA points to its ethics guidelines following Trump tweet”. The first thing to notice in this article, clearly, is the headline—it stresses “ethics”. The implication here is that, in some way, FIFA is standing up for ethics in the face of Mr. Trumps unethical Tweet. Within the article, however, there is no mention of FIFA’s own considerable corruption (Cite own work here). This inability to give the whole story makes me rate this item fairly neutral towards Mr. Trump with a pro-FIFA slant.

 

Huffington Post

Article by Mary Papenfus: (27 April 2018) “FIFA Cites Ethics Rules After Trump’s Threatening World Cup Tweet”. Here we again see the stress of “ethics” in the headline, along with an important value judgement as it calls Mr. Trump’s Tweet “threatening”. Like all news stories, this one also has filler; in this case it is background information on Trump’s travel ban and the “shithole” countries fiasco which all amounts to a bizarre conclusion by the author that there is a “perception that the U.S. is increasingly hostile to foreigners”. It even contains this gem of a sentence: “The U.S. won’t be playing in the World Cup competition in Russia this summer because its men’s team wasn’t strong enough to advance”, where the writer seems to take a dig at the “men’s team”; when radical feminism is at the point where we gloat at the failures of our nation’s athletes you know you are reading a biased—and far-left wing—piece. Only in the last sentence is there a mention of FIFA’s own past ethnical issues, contextualized by what the author sees as a “surprising” low for Mr. Trump, being “schooled” on ethics by FIFA. Overall this article is very slanted negatively towards Mr. Trump with a slight pro-FIFA slant.

 

Reuters

Article by Simon Evans: (26 April 2018) “FIFA points to ethics rules after Trump tweets threat to World Cup bid opponents”. Again there is a stress on “ethics” in this headline, along with an interpretation of Mr. Trump’s Tweet as “threatening”. Reuters then has a short paragraph referring to—but not detailing— FIFA’s having faced “repeated ethics questions over past bids to host the tournament”. Nowhere in this article do we see the kind of filler used by the Huffington Post. Overall, this makes Reuters’ piece about as neutral as we can get in this day and age.

 

Yahoo Sports

Article by Henry Bushnell (26 April 2018) “Dear President Trump, please never tweet about soccer again”. This article is the only one of the bunch to not use a similar headline as the others; indeed, it is phrased as a suggestion to Mr. Trump and implies the author’s view of President Trump from the outset. The second sentence sets the tone for the article: “Donald Trump tweeted about soccer on Thursday. And, in a wholly unsurprising development, he had no idea what he is talking about.” As the piece goes on, the author slams Mr. Trump for his threatening language and calls his Tweet “about the worst thing the president” could have done in terms of supporting the U.S. bid. Apparently, in the author’s mind, Mr. Trump has already hurt the bid simply because of his existence, noting that the U.S. is looking for votes from “207 people, or groups of people, whose fellow citizens don’t like the U.S. because they don’t like Trump”. In order to back up this “claim”, the author cites a Gallup poll which reveals that “the worldwide approval rating of U.S. leadership has dipped to 30 percent, the lowest recorded since the poll was first conducted over a decade ago”. Perhaps the author is an ardent imperialist—and is lamenting the fact that the U.S. is not “leading” the world”—or the author is simply un-informed; the “lowest” approval rate in “nearly a decade” is hardly an informative statistic as it doesn’t include, for instance, the Vietnam era (indeed, if this statistic is to be of any value, one might want to read it as a reflection not of Mr. Trump but of his predecessor, whose attempts at “king-making” were on full display around the world from Ukraine to Libya). In this article, like a few of the others, there is absolutely no mention of Fifa’s own ethnical questions and scandals. Because of this failure to present both sides, this article is highly biased, with a negative slant against Mr. Trump and a fairly favorable position on FIFA (which is praised, throughout the article, as a “democratic” group—after all, the author claims that “Germany’s vote counts for as much as Guam’s”).

 

ESPN.com

Article by ESPN Staff (27 April 2018) “FIFA points to ethics rules after Trump tweets support of World Cup bid”. As part of the main (lame)stream media, it is not perhaps surprising that ESPN’s article should be a little biased. Again, we see a similar headline to some of the other articles mentioned here, stressing “ethics”. In their filler section, ESPN refers to some of Donald Trump’s missteps, albeit in a much less abrasive manner than Huffington Post, noting that the vote between the U.S. and Morocco is closer than expected “due in part to Trump’s foreign policies — including a travel ban against mostly Arab countries — and rhetoric in describing poorer countries. Lingering resentment over the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into FIFA corruption has also hampered the U.S.-led bid’s effort to attract votes”. Indeed, the second sentence of this passage is the only one which mentions the FIFA corruption scandal.  Given ESPN’s inability to properly point out FIFA’s own questionable ethics, I must rate this story biased, with a negative slant against Mr. Trump and a slightly favorable to neutral slant towards FIFA.

 

The Hill.com

Article by Max Greenwood (27 April 2018) “FIFA refers to ethics rules after Trump tweets on US World Cup Bid”. Like other articles, this headline also focuses on FIFA’s “ethics”.  While this article also provides an interpretation of Mr. Trump’s Tweet—calling it a “veiled threat”—it is much less negative than many of the aforementioned articles. Additionally, The Hill’s filler has no mention of Trump’s travel ban or rhetoric regarding poorer countries, but does contain the lengthiest statement regarding FIFA’s own history of corruption: “FIFA has its own history of scandal. It is facing criminal investigations into the bidding process and allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments in Russia and Qatar, respectively.” Given that this article spells out FIFA’s own history of corruption, I would say that this article is neutral, with a neutral to slightly negative presentation of Mr. Trump and a slightly negative to neutral slant towards FIFA.

 

So what does this exercise in media literacy teach us, in the end? I believe that it shows just how slanted the news media—and main(lame) stream media in the United States has become. Given that just two out of six of the aforementioned articles have any reference to FIFA’s own (in)famous scandals—while three of the six refer to irrelevant and non-football related topics like the “travel ban” and Mr. Trump’s “rhetoric regarding poorer countries”—it is clear that most media outlets have some sort of an agenda. They are looking to, depending on their perspective, further a certain narrative. In one case, it is that anything Mr. Trump does is inherently bad and has negative consequences for the United States; in order to further this narrative journalists tend to use filler to disparage the U.S. President. In another case, it is to further the idea that somehow FIFA—which itself is a major globalist entity—has a democratic ethos; in order to further this narrative, of course, media has to conveniently ignore the problematic aspects of FIFA’s past actions (a topic I have written about before).

It is important to recognize implicit media bias like this, because false reporting—or agenda-setting reporting—affects us all. Regardless of ones’ personal opinions about Donald Trump or his presidency, the general public would do well to recognize that biased reporting does nothing to emancipate human beings on a wider scale. In fact, it just serves to further imprison people into their own ideological cages. Given that many social media studies show that many people tend to get their news from social media—which itself tends to segregate people into camps based on political ideology—this means that many people do not look at 6, or even four, articles about the same news story. Instead, they tend to look at just one; often sent to them by a friend who thinks similarly. Imagine, for a moment, if the only piece about Trump’s World Cup Tweet that you read was the aforementioned Huffington Post piece? This would give you a very biased—and very incomplete—picture of the events. In fact, you might even believe that FIFA is some paragon of virtue—which is really the wrong take-away. This is why it is important to always do a thorough search of the news items on any topic so as to ensure that you are always striving to find a balanced portrayal of the events in question. This will help to create a more aware public and, hopefully, one less susceptible to manipulation by the mass media. Fake news is a very real problem, and the only solution to it can be found by using the human mind in a critical and discerning manner.

 

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Indeed, As Is the Case With So Many Globalist Entities, FIFA Pays Lip Service to the World While Making Off With Huge Profits. Image Courtesy Of: http://theconsul.org/2015/11/when-a-huge-corruption-takes-place-in-a-huge-nonprofit-organization-the-2015-fifa-corruption-scandal/

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.cartoonmovement.com/cartoon/2668

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.indianlink.com.au/backup_old/fifa-corruption-affects-us-all/ 

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://anticap.wordpress.com/tag/qatar/
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The Two-Faced Nature of the Political Narrative in the United States Reveals the Depth of Corporate Media Control in the United States: The Perspective of a Marginal Sociologist

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The great American Sociologist C. Wright Mills once wrote that the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) were analogous entities. Mills pointed out that while in the Soviet Union intellectuals were crushed physically, in the United States intellectuals were crushed morally; this is to say that if one said something against the dominant narrative in the USSR they were sent to a gulag (like Dostoyevsky), while in the United states they are shamed morally and—thus—lose their legitimacy in the public eye (one recent example would be the globalist news outlet The Guardian’s odd shaming of pop artist Taylor Swift for not voicing political opinions). Of course, Mills was not the first to note the odd similarities between the two world superpowers in the Cold War era; the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR” noted the similarities between their very names.

And, in 2018, it seems that we are still noting the similarities between the United States—the “leader of the free world”—and the Soviet Union’s successor, Russia. Again, The Guardian provides a great example of the narrative I mentioned in the title: In a 2017 article, The Guardian slams the Russian media for being state-owned. Predictably, The Guardian’s analysis is blatantly biased, inevitably connecting the topic to—as the narrative would have it—U.S. President Donald Trump:

 

There are, of course, many lessons to be learned and many parallels to draw with the current fraught relationship between Donald Trump and the US media. But it’s important to keep in mind that Putin has amassed far more power than Trump can possibly hope to during his time in power. However, one thing is clear: both in the US and in Russia, the media are often distracted with outrage over absurd behaviour and nonsensical public statements while ignoring what those in power want to be ignored.

 

There is, however, a small problem with the globalist main (lame)stream media’s narrative here. It is that Donald Trump has so little control over the media in the United States. In fact, the situation is not at all parallel to that in Russia. The U.S. news media is against Mr. Trump’s position and, it seems, will go to extreme lengths to paint over the very real problem created by their inherent biases.

On 31 March 2017, Mr. Trump slammed Amazon.com for what he calls “scamming” the U.S. Postal Service. Of course, America’s state television channel (when a channel has contracts which guarantee it a monopoly on televisions in airports across the country, it becomes state media), CNN, slammed Mr. Trump for slamming Amazon.com! While Mr. Trump certainly has a right to criticize Amazon.com for its role in pushing out small businesses (how many bookstores exist in the United States anymore?) and for skirting around sales taxes—Amazon.com is, effectively, a faceless corporate monopoly which cares little for the people as long as it profits off of them—this (more important) problematic aspect of Amazon.com’s role in corporate America was not discussed in the U.S. news media (even though Mr. Trump’s political rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, agrees). This is because the U.S. news media is—like its counterpart in Russia—hardly free. Rather, it is beholden to political lobbyists.

 

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Mr. Bezos and Mr. Trump. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.stern.de/wirtschaft/news/amazon–trump-attacke-kostet-bereits-milliarden—persoenliche-fehde-mit-jeff-bezos–7922072.html

 

Please take the recent Washington Post article as an example. In his 31 March article, Philip Rucker writes:

 

Trump is typically motivated to lash out at Amazon because of The Post’s coverage of him, officials have said. One person who has discussed the matter repeatedly with the president explained that a negative story in The Post is almost always the catalyst for one of his Amazon rants.

 

While Rucker’s rationalization of Mr. Trump’s criticism of Amazon’s business practices (which are well deserved) leaves much to be desired, one passage in particular seemed to be an insult to any Washington Post reader with an independent mind. Rucker writes:

 

The president also incorrectly conflated Amazon with The Post and made clear that his attacks on the retailer were inspired by his disdain for the newspaper’s coverage. He labeled the newspaper “the Fake Washington Post” and demanded that it register as a lobbyist for Amazon. The Post is personally owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, and operates independently of Amazon.

 

If one were to assume—as the Washington Post would like people to—that there is no conflict of interest here, they would have to be extremely naïve, to say the least. That Mr. Rucker goes on to lament that Mr. Trumps tweets caused the company’s shares to fall goes to show that the Washington Post may—indeed—be a lobbyist for Amazon. Yet, instead of Americans questioning the legitimacy of their news media—and questioning corporations, like Amazon, for their role in shaping political opinion as purveyors of the culture industry—we see that most Americans are all too happy to support corporate interests over the people’s interest. It is made all the more shocking when looking at how the main (lame)stream media in the United States responds to events like this in other countries.

On 21 March 2018—just ten days before Trump’s fallout with The Washington Post—fellow traveler in the state media The New York Times was quick to criticize the take over of one of Turkey’s major media groups, Dogan Media, by a pro-government conglomerate owned by Demiroren Holding. The New York Times explained:

 

The Dogan Media group owned the newspapers Hurriyet and Posta, and two of Turkey’s main entertainment and news channels, Kanal D and CNN Turk. The government had accused the company of being biased against it and the governing party.

 

A well-respected Turkish journalist, Kadri Gursel (who was recently released from an 11 month stint in jail for being critical of the government), Tweeted that “The process of gathering the Turkish media industry in one hand according to the Putin model is completed”. Given that Dogan media owned much of the sports media in Turkey as well, it is clear that the new ownership of Mr. Demiroren, whose son Yildirim is the head of the Turkish Football Federation, will affect the Turkish football world as well. In a sense, it is a further “Erdoganicization” of the Turkish culture industry and, by extension, Turkish football.

 

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Both Mr. Demirorens and Mr. Erdogan. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gundemotuzbes.com/dogan-medya-grubu-erdogan-demiroren-e-satildi/38776/

 

The point of this post is to show that when corporate interests take over the media in order to further political agendas in foreign countries, it is seen as an unquestionably bad thing. Yet, when the same thing happens in the United States it seems that people do not even bat an eye. Remember that Jeff Bezos—the owner of both Amazon.com and The Washington Post—has strong progressive leanings and his purchase of the Post has worried many commentators even in liberal circles. It seems that we should be more worried than ever about the connection between corporate wealth, politics, and the media. It is a connection that sociologist Thorstein Veblen made clear more than a century ago, and it is one which should concern people all over the world; as my example from Turkey shows, this problematic melding of news media, big business, and politics affects people regardless of their country of citizenship. If only the main (lame)stream media in the United States could drop their (perhaps racist) tendency to criticize other countries (like Turkey) at the drop of a hat and instead do their jobs—which is to keep their own societies honest.

 

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Sage Words From a Great Writer. Image Courtesy Of: http://dream-prophecy.blogspot.com/2015/12/cia-mind-control-over-american-and.html

 

United_States.jpg  This Is Why People Must Take Back Their Countries, Before They Are Subsumed By Commercial Interests at the Expense of Their Citizens. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/pictures/flags/unitedstates.html

The View of a Marginal Sociologist: The Culture Industry and Music in the Age of One-Dimensional Thought . . . And Mark Hoppus is a Chelsea Fan?!

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In class this morning our professor kindly gave us a respite from our discussions of criminological theory and instead had us watch the 2002 film Gangs of New York. It was, in itself, an exercise in theory building. The film itself touches on many topics which are pertinent to the modern world, such as immigration: While some interpretations focus on the elements of nativism in American society which were prevalent in the mid 1800s, resistant to increasing immigration from Ireland, other elements within the film show the tendency of American politicians to use gangs in order to exploit immigration in order to garner votes for their cause. Needless to say, the film provided a useful opportunity to debate both sides of the current state of American society.

And when I got home, I researched the film further—and that’s what provided me another opportunity to tie the film to current American society. Apparently, Gangs of New York’s star actress Cameron Diaz is now married to Good Charlotte band member Benji Madden; apparently she was introduced by her (now) sister-in-law Nicole Richie, who is married to another Good Charlotte member, Joel Madden. As someone who grew up in the late 1990s in the United States, I am very familiar with Good Charlotte—in fact, I listened to them.

Now, almost two decades later, these (former?) rockers show just how the culture industry (to borrow from Theodor Adorno) perpetuates itself in American society, despite its contradictory messages. It is a perfect example of Herbert Marcuse’s theory of “repressive tolerance”; that which is critical of capitalism is turned around to perpetuate capitalism.

Fans of Good Charlotte will remember them for their songs critical of America’s capitalist society. “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” (2002) had the lyrics “Lifestyles of the rich and the famous/They’re always complainin’/Always complainin’/If money is such a problem/Well, they got mansions/Think we should rob them” [Emphasis mine]. The band’s first major hit “The Little Things” (2001) opened with the following call to the marginalized:

Yeah, This song is dedicated (This is Good Charlotte)/To every kid who ever got picked last in gym class (You know what I’m saying, this is for you)/To every kid who never had a date to no school dance (Run to your mother)/To every one who’s ever been called a freak This is for you.

That these lyrics seem to be the antithesis of the lives that the band members of Good Charlotte now live—married to members of the Hollywood elite—should not be surprising. Yet, what is surprising is that most Youtube comments on the aforementioned songs are nostalgic for this music; even I must admit that this kind of music is missing on current American airwaves. Indeed, some might even go so far as to say that rock is dead—the kids have smartphones and social media to amuse themselves with, they no longer need this aspect of the culture industry. And here we also see that the culture industry, in the early 2000s, sent us messages against the proverbial “man”, only for those same messengers—who were artists—to become the proverbial “man”. This is how the culture industry tends to perpetuate our own continued subordination to the system.

 

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From Punk Rock . . . Image Courtesy of: https://www.odt.co.nz/entertainment/music/patient-wait-good-charlotte-fans

 

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. . . To Hollywood Elite. Image Courtesy of: http://www.instyle.co.uk/celebrity/madden-brothers-benji-joel-bond-missing-wives-cameron-diaz-nicole-richie

 

This should not be seen as a criticism of the marriages of these individuals, everyone is free to marry whomever they choose and indeed I wish nothing but happiness to both couples; rather this is a criticism of the culture industry itself. Purveyors of the culture industry send us political messages without actually believing it themselves; this is why—in the age of extreme capitalism—even art has become a tool of mass culture indoctrination. It sells us things in the name of “resistance” without actually carrying any substance. And this is very real problem. Not only has “art” been co-opted–and the “distance” between “artist” and “viewer” widened–but it has been co-opted in a bid to influence our very thought. Yet, this is a culture industry that a generation of Americans grew up on; it sent messages of victimhood (“to every kid that never had a date to no school dance) that tie into psychologist Jordan Peterson’s (astute) critique of men who have become “adrift, arrogant, hostile and vengeful” (among other things) in the modern era.

Another band from the late 1990s that I (still) enjoy is Blink-182, and I was surprised to learn that (co)-lead man Mark Hoppus had become a Chelsea fan since moving to London. For me, it was interesting that Mr. Hoppus would become . . . a Chelsea fan; after all, it is the team that embodies the trends of industrial football: foreign ownership, distance from local fan communities, etc . . . yet it is a team that also embodies the “success” and “greed” that extreme capitalist society encourages, so I suppose it is not surprising.

But it is also indicative of something larger. This is how the culture industry sustains itself. It sells us the messages we want to hear without actually following the meanings behind these messages. It is empty. For instance, as a football fan and with all due respect to Mr. Hoppus whose music I enjoy (and not that I would ever tell someone what team to support), it seems to me that it would make more sense for a “punk” rocker to support, say, West Ham United than Chelsea (even if the latter is his “hometown” team due to proximity). But such is the culture industry; it is—for all its “reality”—all too fake. That said, judging by a graffito I saw on a wall in Istanbul, it is clear that the influence of the culture industry (and Blink-182) is still alive and well in 2018. Given that the messages of popular culture are so prevalent in our societies, it is worthwhile that we parse out what these messages really mean so as to become more than mere passive receivers of “culture” itself. In this Brave New World, culture itself is more politicized than ever.

 

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Above is the Hashtag #Hayir, in Reference to Last Spring’s Referendum. Below it is a Love Note to Mr. Hoppus’s Band-Mate, Tom Delonge. Here, the Culture Industry Meets Politics on the Streets of Istanbul. Image Courtesy Of the Author.