Tag Archives: First Amendment

Did technology kill the truth?

By Tom Wheeler – We carry in our pockets and purses the greatest democratizing tool ever developed. Never before has civilization possessed such an instrument of free expression.

Yet, that unparalleled technology has also become a tool to undermine truth and trust.

The glue that holds institutions and governments together has been thinned and weakened by the unrestrained capabilities of technology exploited for commercial gain. The result has been to de-democratize the internet.

We exist in a time when technological capabilities and economic incentives have combined to attack truth and weaken trust. It is not an act of pre-planned perdition. Unchecked, however, it will have the same effect.

For a century-and-a-half, the economic model for media companies was to assemble information in order to attract eyeballs for advertising. To maximize that reach, traditional outlets curated that information for veracity and balance.

In stark contrast, the curation of social media platforms is not for veracity, but for advertising velocity. more>

How Americans became vulnerable to Russian disinformation

By Kent Harrington – Last week, Congress unveiled legislation that http://blogs.strategygroup.net/wp2/economy/?p=63300&preview=truewould force Facebook, Google, and other social media giants to disclose who buys online advertising, thereby closing a loophole that Russia exploited during the election.

Strip away the technobabble about better algorithms, more transparency, and commitment to truth, and Silicon Valley’s “fixes” dodge a simple fact: its technologies are not designed to sort truth from falsehoods, check accuracy, or correct mistakes. Just the opposite: they are built to maximize clicks, shares, and “likes.”

Despite pushing to displace traditional news outlets as the world’s information platforms, social media’s moguls appear content to ignore journalism’s fundamental values, processes, and goals. It is this irresponsibility that co-sponsors of the recent advertising transparency bill are seeking to address.

Still, Russia’s success in targeting American voters with bogus news could not have succeeded were it not for the second problem: a poorly educated electorate susceptible to manipulation. The erosion of civics education in schools, the shuttering of local newspapers – and the consequent decline in the public’s understanding of issues and the political process – conspire to create fertile ground for the sowing of disinformation. more>

Using “public interest algorithms” to tackle the problems created by social media algorithms

By Tom Wheeler – Technology and capitalism have combined to deliver us to a decidedly undemocratic outcome. The internet was once heralded as the great democratizing tool. That vision was smashed by the algorithms of the social media platforms. By fracturing society into small groups, the internet has become the antithesis of the community necessary for democratic processes to succeed.

This is bigger than the current discussion of political advertising rules for the internet. The questionable ads and postings are the result of the problem, not the cause of it. That problem is how the software algorithms that determine what you see on social media prioritize revenue over veracity.

In social media parlance, identifying users who like similar content is described as assembling a community. In reality, these groups are the un-community. Algorithms deliver only what they want to see, creating silos of prejudices and preferences that tear at the collective fabric required for a representative democracy. As the Russians demonstrated, organizing Americans into self-reinforcing echo chambers is ripe for exploitation.

Today, public interest groups of all political stripes monitor the mainstream media. With a public interest API they could also built public interest algorithms to accomplish the same for social media. To date, algorithms have been problem-creators.

It’s time for social media open APIs to enable problem-solving through public interest algorithms. more>

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How Big Tech Became a Bipartisan Whipping Boy

By Nitasha Tiku – A few years ago, successful technology companies were widely envied as paragons of American business. No longer.

Against the backdrop of the 2016 election, social-media platforms that had been viewed as free, frictionless, neutral connections to the world looked instead like tools to undermine democracy.

Now concerns about their outsized influence on public debate, the real cost of their convenience, their voracious appetite to swallow markets and competitors, and their control over Americans’ personal data have formed a fog of suspicion that has many in Washington questioning the lax rules that facilitated their rise—and has politicians and public figures on all sides taking on big tech to score populist points. more>

Are corporations becoming the new arbiters of public morality?

After Charlottesville, CEOs have become our public conscience. Here’s what that says about capitalism in America.
By Tara Isabella Burton – The CEOs’ resignations are part of a broader trend of major corporations taking a public stand on issues of social justice. Web hosting site GoDaddy took down neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer after the Charlottesville violence, and Google later declined to host the site.

(It reappeared, briefly, on the dark web, then subsequently with a Russian address.)

Airbnb deleted the accounts of members it deemed to be white supremacists looking for Charlottesville accommodation. GoFundMe took down a crowd-funding campaign to raise money for the legal fees of the white nationalist who killed counterprotester Heather Hayer with his car.

“There is nothing on the internet,” Ridge Montes says, not a forum, a comments section of a news site, or a social media platform used to coordinate political protest events, “that isn’t owned by somebody.” In other words, political discourse and discourse about social goods is shaped at every level, for better or for worse, by companies with a financial interest in that discourse.

We affirm our values — and identity — at the shopping till as much as, or more than, the altar. more> https://goo.gl/kP9BJG

Did Google and GoDaddy Set a Dangerous Precedent by Dropping a Neo-Nazi Website?

By Jack Denton – GoDaddy’s decision comes at a particularly fraught moment in the debate over whether freedom of speech can be reconciled with attempts to quell hateful discourse and actions. Additionally, with the Internet becoming the preferred mode of public discourse, abusive trolling and rampant falsehoods have led some to call for increased accountability from Internet service providers and social media companies for the content they host and support.

The central question of this debate continues to be: Is freedom worth its consequences?

Preventing people from reaching the Daily Stormer’s website does nothing to actually combat the ideas. There’s the old, famous saying that the remedy for bad speech is more speech—it’s not silencing the bad speech. Hate speech is legal in the United States. And people are going to continue to express themselves in awful ways, and cutting off the domain name isn’t helpful for the dialogue.

Any attempt to try to hold service providers responsible is absolutely bound to backfire. In the marketplace of ideas, we need to have exposure to all sorts of ideas. Good ones, bad ones, fake ones—all of them are valuable in their own way. The reader is the only one whose judgment matters.

The problems in Charlottesville were not problems of speech, they were problems of violence. more> https://goo.gl/YBkDkM

Want to strengthen democracy? Exercise your freedom of religion

By Steven Paulikas – If Washington is correct, then the long-term decline of religious participation in America and other democratic countries is one of the root causes for the type of political decay we are experiencing—and the absence of a “national morality” is at the core of this. The first American president was not a religious zealot, but he nonetheless saw religious practice as an essential act of citizenship, especially among those of “refined education.”

There is a multitude of good reasons why Americans are deserting the faith institutions their forebears built, not the least of which is the litany of inexcusable abuses many have suffered in the name of religion. (And to be sure, not every faith group is dedicated to upholding peace and common human dignity.)

But the scale of exodus leaves one to wonder if the abandonment of “organized” religion is not something akin to the type of apathy that led left-leaning people like me to become complacent about our political institutions.

After all, the American state is guilty of just as many sins as religion, and yet there is no movement to abandon our institutions of democracy. more> https://goo.gl/Plgl03

All The Things Wrong With the Web Today, According to its Inventor

By Joon Ian Wong – Tim Berners-Lee isn’t particularly pleased with the way things have gone with his creation.

Advertising’s pernicious effect on the news. The web is cleaving into the haves and have-nots of news readership. Wealthy readers will pay to opt out of advertising; less privileged readers will have to stick with news that’s ad-supported,

Social networks are ignoring their responsibility to the truth. Social networks absorb their users’ personal data, but wind up “disempowering” those same users by isolating them from the wider web,

Online privacy is a “human right” that’s being trampled. Government surveillance and corporate monetization of personal data threaten web users’ right to privacy. more> https://goo.gl/kqgTNp

90 years later, the broadcast public interest standard remains ill-defined

By Jack Karsten – The public interest standard has governed broadcast radio and television since Congress passed the Radio Act of 1927. However, decades of successive court cases and updated telecommunications laws have done little to clarify what falls into the public interest.

Prior to the public interest standard, free speech advocates argued with the broadcasting industry over who should have editorial control over content. Industry groups opposed a common carrier approach that would have allowed anyone to buy airtime. The resulting compromise established a short-term renewable licensing regime, overseen by the Federal Communications Commission since 1934, which required broadcasters to act on behalf of all others who did not receive a license. Congress granted the FCC the flexibility to revise its interpretation of the public interest standard to reflect changing circumstances. Since its founding, the FCC has repeatedly refused to set forth its own concrete definition of the public interest.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 updated the 1934 Communications Act, but did not address the public interest standard beyond maintaining the status quo. more> https://goo.gl/AfmULj

The rise of personalist rule

By Torrey Taussig – Over the last decade, authoritarians have pushed back against the world’s prevailing democratic order. For the 11th year in a row, Freedom House has announced an overall drop in freedom worldwide.

Most countries today (55 percent) are considered not free or partly free according to the civil liberties and political rights citizens enjoy. At the same time, highly personalized regimes are taking control of autocratic and even democratic political systems.

There are four primary reasons that personalist systems can lead to more aggressive foreign policies.

First, the inherent characteristics of the kinds of individuals who become personalist rulers—ambitious, cut-throat and divisive—drive them to pursue more adventurist international goals than leaders of other kinds of regimes.

Second, personalist leaders perceive lower costs of fighting than leaders of democracies or more constrained autocratic systems because they have fewer normative aversions to force, do not internalize the costs of fighting, and view force as more effective than other tools of statecraft.

Third, personalist leaders do not fear defeat to the extent that other leaders do because of the lack of strong institutions able to punish the leader for his mistakes.

Fourth, subordinates to personalist leaders are typically unwilling to challenge a leader’s personal biases, leading to profound “groupthink” and overestimation of the likelihood of victory. more> https://goo.gl/D32rxA

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