Editor’s Note: One of the major news stories this week involves Donald Trump’s public condemnation of tech and social media companies’ ongoing censorship of customer and user content. This was accompanied by the president’s introduction of the Twitter hash, #StoptheBias. In a statement that should foster a broad national conversation, a cursory query on the Google search engine itself reveals a general blackout of the president’s commentary in major media, with The Daily Beast the only major US-based mainstream outlet highlighted in “top coverage”–with a misleading headline suggesting that Trump’s remark suggests the creation of a forthcoming political strategy. CNN and MSNBC predictably highlighted Google’s denial of any bias against conservatives.
US President Donald Trump continued to blast away at Google on Wednesday, as he accused the tech company of showing favoritism to former President Barack Obama’s administration.
Trump posted a video to his Twitter page that alleges that Google promoted Obama’s State of the Union addresses multiple times on its homepage, but has not done the same when he has addressed Congress. He posted the video with a hashtag, “#StopTheBias.”
CNBC has confirmed that photos of the Google of pages that appear in the video are accurate. It’s not immediately clear if the video was created by the Trump administration, or if it was made by a third party and shared by the President.
Editor’s Note: California may set the tone for a national conversation and perhaps even set of laws addressing what the state’s lawmakers deem “false information … spread online.” Since political motivation and ideology often underly what one deems “fake news” this proposed move should be especially concerning for those who truly cherish free thought and expression. As the article below suggests, Facebook’s recent nod to corporate media outlets as an antithesis to “fake news” has demonstrated how such an effort is likely to be instituted in California and elsewhere. The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that the law is dangerous because it places the governing body in a position to determine what is true and false.
The proposed speech legislation was introduced by California State Senator Richard Pan, a practicing pediatrician and the principal lawmaker behind SB277, the state’s mandatory vaccination law. A voter-driven campaign in 2015 to have Pan ousted from office was not successful.
California is considering creating a “fake news” advisory group in order to monitor information posted and spread on social media.
Senate Bill 1424 would require the California Attorney General to create the advisory committee by April 1, 2019. It would need to consist of at least one person from the Department of Justice, representatives from social media providers, civil liberties advocates, and First Amendment scholars.
The advisory group would be required to study how false information is spread online and come up with a plan for social media platforms to fix the problem. The Attorney General would then need to present that plan to the Legislature by December 31, 2019. The group would also need to come up with criteria establishing what is “fake news” versus what is inflammatory or one-sided.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation opposes the bill, calling it “flawed” and “misguided.” The group argues the measure would make the government and advisory group responsible for deciding what is true or false. It also points out the First Amendment prevents content-based restrictions, even if the statements of “admittedly false.”
A recent study by Massachusetts-based MindEdge Learning was conducted with 1,000 young adults, ages 18 to 31-years-old. According to MindEdge’s nine-question survey, 52 percent of the respondents incorrectly answered at least four questions and received a failing grade. The number of young adults who could detect false information on the internet went down by all of the group’s measures. Only 19 percent of the college students and grads scored an “A” by getting eight or nine questions correct. That number is down from 24 percent in last year’s survey.
Facebook recently did away with its “Trending News” section – calling it outdated and unpopular. That section was criticized in the past after reports came out claiming the human editors were biased against conservatives. After Facebook fired those editors, the algorithms it replaced them with couldn’t always distinguish real news from fake.
After the 2016 election, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg denied that fake news spread on the social site he oversees influenced the outcome- calling the idea “crazy.”
A previous bill, AB 155, would have required schools to teach students the difference between “fake news” and “real news.” It died in the Assembly Committee on Appropriations.
The current bill SB 1424 was authored by Senator Dr. Richard Pan. It passed the Senate on May 30, 2018 by a vote of 25-11. It will be heard by the Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports, tourism, and Internet Media Committee on Tuesday.
Social media behemoth Facebook, with over two billion users worldwide, has issued a censorship report for the first quarter of 2018. The document states that its recently-deployed artificial intelligence censor-bots flag or eliminate over 85% of images posted containing “graphic violence.”
The same techniques have been successful in addressing 1.9 million in the same period posts promoting “terrorist propaganda,” the company said.
Facebook’s automated censors have much greater difficulty detecting “racist or homophobic hate speech,” because it “racist is often quoted on posts by their targets or activists,” AFP reports.
“It may take a human to understand and accurately interpret nuances like… self-referential comments or sarcasm,” the report said, noting that Facebook aims to “protect and respect both expression and personal safety”.
Facebook took action against 2.5 million pieces of hate speech content during the period, a 56 increase over October-December. But only 38 percent had been detected through Facebook’s efforts — the rest flagged up by users.
The posts that keep the Facebook reviewers the busiest are those showing adult nudity or sexual activity — quite apart from child pornography, which is not covered by the report.
Some 21 million such posts were handled in the period, a similar number to October-December 2017.
That was less than 0.1 percent of viewed content — which includes text, images, videos, links, live videos or comments on posts — Facebook said, adding it had dealt with nearly 96 percent of the cases before being alerted to them.
Announcement Made as Zuckerberg Hob-Nobs “Off the Record” with Major News Media Execs
Facebook is the foremost platform where individual users alongside mainstream and alternative news media share news and perspectives. Now the links shared on Facebook will be promoted or suppressed based on what the social media giant calculates as their “trustworthiness” or lack thereof. The new program is costing “billions” of dollars, which is being spent on both artificial intelligence and “tens of thousands of human moderators.” Facebook’s efforts are allegedly intended to combat “fake news” and “deliberate propaganda, especially in elections.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday that the company has already begun to implement a system that ranks news organizations based on trustworthiness, and promotes or suppresses its content based on that metric.
Zuckerberg said the company has gathered data on how consumers perceive news brands by asking them to identify whether they have heard of various publications and if they trust them.
“We put [that data] into the system, and it is acting as a boost or a suppression, and we’re going to dial up the intensity of that over time,” he said. “We feel like we have a responsibility to further [break] down polarization and find common ground.”
Zuckerberg met with a group of news media executives at the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel in Menlo Park after delivering his keynote speech at Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference Tuesday.
The meeting included representatives from BuzzFeed News, the Information, Quartz, the New York Times, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, NBC, Recode, Univision, Barron’s, the Daily Beast, the Economist, HuffPost, Insider, the Atlantic, the New York Post, and others.
The event, called “OTR” (shorthand for “off the record”), is an annual gathering meant for new media news executives to talk shop. It is in its second year. Zuckerberg’s remarks were initially meant to be, like the name of the conference, off the record, but he agreed to answer questions on the record.
Even if it does not continue to overtly sideline conservative content, Facebook’s AI-guided censorship squad faces an uphill battle with an American public that is deeply divided along political lines, and 54% of whom believe Facebook and Twitter are part of the problem, according to a recent Gallup/Knight Foundation study.
Politico summarizes the paper’s findings thus,
Americans have a negative view of the media, believe coverage is more biased than ever and are sharply divided in their views along partisan lines.
The study’s sponsors and academic observers fault conservatives and supporters of President Trump for creating distrust of corporate media by subscribing to “‘Trump’s cult of personality credo that anything or anyone critiquing him is not real.’” Of course, such a view simplifies Trump’s stance toward the unmistakable, across-the-board negative coverage of his campaign and administration from almost all quarters of the major news media.
One might wish to consider how alternative perspectives and conflicting information might be shared on Facebook or similar platforms once such “trustworthiness” guidelines are in play and in the wake of a complex public event, such as a mass shooting or terrorist attack. One can gather from past instances that major media coverage and commentary are primarily devoted to publicizing the official, state-sponsored narrative. Anomalies and contradictions will be deemed “untrustworthy” and accordingly tossed down the digital memory hole.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal was never really about Cambridge Analytica.
As we’ve pointed out, neither Facebook nor Cambridge Analytica have been accused of doing anything explicitly illegal (though one could be forgiven for believing they had, based on the number of lawsuits and official investigations that have been announced).
Instead, the backlash to these revelations – which has been justifiably focused on Facebook – is so severe because the public has been forced to confront for the first time something that many had previously written off as an immutable certainty: That Facebook, Google and the rest of the tech behemoths store reams of personal data, essentially logging everything we do.
Personal Experiences From the Land of Orwellian Censorship
By James F. Tracy
Social media sites that have for many years allowed for the free and unimpeded discussion and exchange of ideas are now eliminating the posts and even entire accounts of content producers sharing observations and analyses that question the official narratives of complex events. This is straight out of a dystopian novel and entirely alarming. It won’t be surprising if colossal blog-hosting outlets such as WordPress.com eventually follow suit.
In late February 2018 YouTube has taken aim at several channels of well-known alternative media personalities using the platform, including David Seaman, Ron Johnson, Scott Creighton, and The Richie Allen Show. The common denominator of all these outlets is that they examine the relationships between the intelligence community, transnational forces, and political institutions.
RED ALERT: I am hearing that You Tube just TERMINATED the David Seaman, Ron Johnson, Dustin Nemos and Anti School/Isaac Green channels. To quote our friend in truth James Munder, "this is beyond Nazi Germany."
Allen, for example, has over the years hosted an array of guests, many of whom hold nonconformist, “conspiracy”-oriented positions on political concerns and complex public events. At the time YouTube terminated Allen’s channel he had around 70,000 subscribers and his videos had many millions of views. Allen’s channel is one of many that YouTube has summarily pulled the plug on based on the company’s own subjective judgement and reaction to third party pressure.