Friday, November 15, 2019

Why Facebook Filtering Will Ultimately Fail

In its content-moderation report released this week, Facebook revealed that it had removed a whopping 3.2-billion fake accounts from March through September 2019.

That’s a lot of disinformation, wrote tech reporter Aditya Srivastava: “To put it in perspective, the number is [nearly] half of living human beings on planet earth.”

Facebook also claims to have removed or labeled 54-million pieces of content flagged as too violent and graphic, 18.5-million items deemed sexual exploitation, 11.4-million posts breaking its anti-hate speech rules, and 5.7 million that violated its bullying and harassment policies.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Facebook’s News Initiative Papers Over a Deeper Problem

Originally published at Seattle Times

On Friday, Facebook unveiled its “News Tab,” a feature that will promote to the social network’s users news articles from a handpicked collection of outlets.

Facebook says it created the feature because “we want new forms of journalism in the digital age, including individual, independent journalism, to flourish.”

In exchange, some of the participating news outlets will be compensated for their content, receiving up to $3 million a year. The social-media giant rolled out the News Tab to a limited subset of Facebook’s 2.5-billion users; the company hopes to expand the feature so it’s available to more people by early 2020.

While the News Tab isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, it doesn’t address a larger issue that’s long festered between Facebook and the news business... [More at Seattle Times]

Friday, November 01, 2019

How Twitter and Facebook Both Get Political Ads Wrong

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s decision to ban political ads from the platform lit up Twitter with praise Wednesday night.

But this issue isn’t as straightforward as many believe.

To his credit, Dorsey’s announcement is a clear rebuke of Facebook’s hands-off approach to campaign ads, which amounts to giving politicians carte blanche to lie and mislead voters.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Can Anyone Stop Facebook from Poisoning Democracy?

Freedom (to lie) isn’t free. For the campaign to re-elect Donald Trump it costs $1.5 million. And that’s just last week’s Facebook tab.

In exchange, Trump’s team gets to spread false and misleading political ads across the social network. This includes a 30-second ad that makes the unsubstantiated claim that former Vice President Biden used his influence to block an investigation of a Ukrainian energy company with ties to his son. CNN rejected the ad, noting it contained inaccuracies. But it passed muster with Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube, where it’s been viewed millions of times.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

A Pivot to Digital Shouldn't Spell the End of Local News

Originally published by Common Dreams

By vowing to increase support for public media and dedicate funds to newsgathering, a proposal put forth by Bernie Sanders is raising a question that’s rarely come up in political debates: How can policymakers intervene to help revitalize local news and put journalists back to work?

Last Saturday, the final printed edition of the Vindicator rolled off the presses in Youngstown, Ohio. After 150 years, the city’s last remaining daily closed its doors, handing its subscription list and masthead to the Tribune Chronicle, based in nearby Warren, which has begun to produce a dramatically pared-down online version of the “Old Vindy.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Exposing D.C.’s Anti-Democratic Opposition to Net Neutrality

Tracking the influence economy that fuels Washington, D.C., is no easy task.

Powerful corporate special interests are experts at concealing their expenditures through dark-money groups, Astroturf fronts, unethical think tanks and other influence-laundering operations.

Powerful corporate special interests are experts at concealing their expenditures through dark-money groups, Astroturf fronts, unethical think tanks and other influence-laundering operations.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Playing Whack-a-Mole with Broadband-Industry Shills

Defending Net Neutrality in the media is like an endless game of Whack-a-Mole.

So many Op-Eds and letters to the editor that oppose the Save the Internet Act are written by people with financial ties to the broadband industry. And far too few of these ties are disclosed in the media.

Time to get the hammer!

The latest mole to emerge takes the form of a misleading letter to the editor in the New York Times. Its author is Ev Ehrlich, who’s affiliated with the ESC Company and the so-called Progressive Policy Institute. But you wouldn’t know that from reading his letter in the Times, as neither he nor the newspaper acknowledges these ties.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Tax Social Media to Invest in Journalism

Originally published at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 

One of the most remarkable testimonies before Congress occurred in 1969 as the Senate Communications Subcommittee was weighing heavy cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the entity charged with distributing federal money to public television and radio stations.

Subcommittee Chairman John Pastore was skeptical about the need for publicly funded media. He called to testify a soft-spoken Presbyterian minister from Pittsburgh who had recently moved into WQED studios to produce a childrens’ television program for a handful of local stations.

Over the next six-and-a-half minutes, Fred Rogers made such a compelling case for public broadcasting that it gave Mr. Pastore goosebumps. Mr. Rogers ended his testimony with a children’s song. Pastore’s position softened on the spot and he voted to restore funding.

In the 50 years since, public broadcasting has survived similar funding threats. Today, most of the CPB’s annual allotment from Congress (around $450 million) goes to support noncommercial television and radio programming. And while “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” stopped airing in 2001, PBS and NPR programs like All Things Considered, Frontline, Morning Edition and PBS NewsHour remain popular among U.S. audiences.  (....more at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Tax Online Ad Revenue to Fund Local and Independent Journalism

Originally published in the New York Daily News

The past year has been a bumpy ride for Facebook — and even worse for its users. But in 2019 we have a chance to clean up some of the mess Facebook has made by taxing the company to support local journalism.

In the spring of 2018, news broke that data firms and troll farms, including Cambridge Analytica and Russia’s Internet Research Agency, had misused Facebook data to spread misinformation and divide U.S. voters.

In November, an investigation revealed that Facebook executives had orchestrated a multi-year effort to cover up evidence of widespread abuse of their platform and enabled an anti-Semitic smear campaign against the company’s growing list of critics. And just last week, another investigation found the company allowed advertisers to target messages to people with an affinity for Holocaust perpetrators and neo-Nazi propaganda.

Want to Save Journalism? Tax the Attention Economy

Originally published in The Hill

Way, way back in 2009 as Facebook was celebrating its fifth anniversary, CEO Mark Zuckerberg blogged that the company was founded “to give people the tools to engage and understand the world around them.”

In the 10 years since then, Facebook’s user base has multiplied more than 10 times. But instead of giving people the tools to better understand the world, Zuckerberg’s creation has hastened the global spread of misinformation designed to divide populations and manipulate voters.

At the same time, news organizations are laying off scores of hard-working journalists, those we rely on to set the record straight. Since 2004, about 20 percent of U.S. newspapers have stopped printing, leaving nearly 200,000 newsroom employees without work and at least 900 communities without anyone covering local news.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

On 'Surveillance Capitalism' and the Fate of Journalism

An interview earlier this week between Recode’s Kara Swisher and Harvard Professor Shoshana Zuboff is a must listen for anyone seeking to understand the "attention economy" and its threat to democratic society as we know it.

It’s spawned what Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism” -- a system that has created massive disparities of power and wealth between those who control it and those upon whom it feeds.

“It’s almost like we woke up and suddenly the internet was owned and operated by private capital under a kind of regime, a new economic logic that really was not well understood,” she tells Swisher.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Unsettled Sound

The Puget Sound is a sorrowful sea that’s separated from the Pacific Ocean by the Olympic Mountains to the west.

The large body of water lies above the tectonically active edge of North America. Glaciers occupied the Sound during the last ice age, advancing from the north. When they retreated some 13,000 years ago they left behind large deposits of interglacial sediment. These deposits in turn were carved by frequent rain and sea erosion to form high, unstable coastal bluffs, which were soon covered by a dense blanket of cedar, hemlock, maple, alder and fir.

As erosion progresses these trees slide down high bluffs in slow cascades that often take decades to complete from hilltop to shore. The process is sped up when the northwest rains are heaviest. Landslides can carry trees, sedimental clay and underbrush to the beach in an instant. Once they’ve settled on the shore the floral detritus enters the marine ecosystem, where it functions as nutrient, shelter and barrier.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Fake Comments, FCC Obstruction and the 'Dirty Trickster'

It’s been more than a year and a half since we first saw and heard reports of a concerted effort to use faked comments to undermine the FCC’s 2017 Net Neutrality proceeding.

From the start FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been reluctant to help reporters, technologists and investigators seeking to get to the bottom of the scandal, and to figure out exactly who is behind the millions of fraudulent comments that found their way into the agency docket.

Thanks to Gizmodo, we now know that Pai’s reluctance may be due to the revelation that the likely culprits behind this fraud were stuffing the docket with comments favorable to his plans to repeal Net Neutrality protections.

While official investigations into the matter are ongoing, a pattern of abuse is emerging.

Here’s the timeline:

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Ajit Pai Is No Jedi

The latest news for free-market Jedi Ajit Pai isn’t good.

The FCC chairman’s rationale
for ending Net Neutrality in 2017 was that existing Title II rules had supposedly shackled the forces of the marketplace, “deter[ing] the massive infrastructure investment that we need.” If the rules were allowed to stand, he said, we’d “pay the price in terms of less innovation.”

In an ill-advised effort to make his point for the online masses, Pai starred in a video dressed as a Star Wars Jedi, brandishing a lightsaber against evil internet-user safeguards.

But his wizardry isn’t working, and none of his claims from 2017 have turned out to be true.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

The Real Crisis Is Not at the Border. It’s How the Media Enables Trump’s Lies.

Two years before CBS booted him for sexual misconduct, then-Executive Chairman Les Moonves was asked about the circus surrounding Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

“It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS," he said. “Who would have expected the ride we're all having right now? … The money's rolling in and this is fun," he said.

If that sounds familiar, you might also remember CNN President Jeff Zucker praising candidate Trump’s constant availability to the media as reason enough for the network to run wall-to-wall coverage of nearly every Trump rally in the weeks prior to the general election.

Their decisions to go all-in on Trump in 2016 may sound a distant echo today. But it’s one that is still being heard and felt in the wake of the networks’ decision to air Trump’s Tuesday-night speech about a border crisis that doesn’t exist and a wall that U.S. taxpayers don’t want to pay for.