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July 18, 2018
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Policy

Dems and GOP unite, slamming Facebook for allowing violent Pages

in Apps/Censorship/conspiracy theories/Delhi/Facebook/fake news/Google/Government/house of representatives/India/infowars/Opinion/Policy/Politics/Social/YouTube by

In a rare moment of agreement, members of the House Judiciary Committee from both major political parties agreed that Facebook needed to take down Pages that bullied shooting survivors or called for more violence. The hearing regarding social media filtering practices saw policy staffers from Facebook, Google and Twitter answering questions, though Facebook absorbed the brunt of the ire. The hearing included Republican Representative Steve King ask “What about converting the large behemoth organizations that we’re talking about here into public utilities?”

The meatiest part of the hearing centered on whether social media platforms should delete accounts of conspiracy theorists and those inciting violence, rather than just removing the offending posts.

The issue has been a huge pain point for Facebook this week after giving vague answers for why it hasn’t deleted known faker Alex Jones’ Infowars Page, and tweeting that “We see Pages on both the left and the right pumping out what they consider opinion or analysis – but others call fake news.” Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management Monica Bickert today reiterated that “sharing information that is false does not violate our policies.”

As I detailed in this opinion piece, I think the right solution is to quarantine the Pages of Infowars and similar fake news, preventing their posts or shares of links to their web domain from getting any visibility in the News Feed. But deleting the Page without instances of it directly inciting violence would make Jones a martyr and strengthen his counterfactual movement. Deletion should be reserved for those that blatantly encourage acts of violence.

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida) asked about how Infowars’ claims in YouTube videos that Parkland shooting’s survivors were crisis actors squared with the company’s policy. Google’s Global Head of Public Policy and Government Relations for YouTube Juniper Downs explained that “We have a specific policy that says that if you say a well-documented violent attack didn’t happen and you use the name or image of the survivors or victims of that attack, that is a malicious attack and it violates our policy.” She noted that YouTube has a “three strikes” policy, it is “demoting low-quality content and promoting more authoritative content,” and it’s now showing boxes atop result pages for problematic searches, like “is the earth flat?” with facts to dispel conspiracies.

Facebook’s answer was much less clear. Bickert told Deutch that “We do use a strikes model. What that means is that if a Page, or profile, or group is posting content and some of that violates our polices, we always remove the violating posts at a certain point” (emphasis mine). That’s where Facebook became suddenly less transparent.

“It depends on the nature of the content that is violating our policies. At a certain point we would also remove the Page, or the profile, or the group at issue,” Bickert continued. Deutch then asked how many strikes conspiracy theorists get. Bickert noted that “crisis actors” claims violate its policy and its removes that content. “And we would continue to remove any violations from the Infowars Page.” But regarding Page-level removals, she got wishy-washy, saying, “If they posted sufficient content that it would violate our threshold, then the page would come down. The threshold varies depending on the different types of violations.”

“The threshold varies”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) gave the conservatives’ side of the same argument, citing two posts by the Facebook Page “Milkshakes Against The Republican Party” that called for violence, including one that saying “Remember the shooting at the Republican baseball game? One of those should happen every week.”

While these posts have been removed, Gaetz asked why the Page hadn’t. Bickert noted that “There’s no place for any calls for violence on Facebook.” Regarding the threshold, she did reveal that “When someone posts an image of child sexual abuse imagery their account will come down right away. There are different thresholds for different violations.” But she repeatedly refused to make a judgement call about whether the Page should be removed until she could review it with her team.

Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Showing surprising alignment in such a fractured political era, Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin of Florida said “I’m agreeing with the chairman about this and I think we arrived at the same exact same place when we were taking about at what threshold does Infowars have their Page taken down after they repeatedly denied the historical reality of massacres of children in public school.”

Facebook can’t rely on a shadowy “the threshold varies” explanation any more. It must outline exactly what types of violations incur not only post removal but strikes against their authors. Perhaps that’s something like “one strike for posts of child sexual abuse, three posts for inciting violence, five posts for bullying victims or denying documented tragedies occurred, and unlimited posts of less urgently dangerous false information.”

Whatever the specifics, Facebook needs to provide specifics. Until then, both liberals and conservatives will rightly claim that enforcement is haphazard and opaque.

For more from today’s hearing:

News Source = techcrunch.com

House Rep suggests converting Google, Facebook, Twitter into public utilities

in Apps/Delhi/Facebook/Google/Government/house of representatives/India/Policy/Politics/Social/TC/Twitter by

Amidst vague and uninformed questions during today’s House Judiciary hearing with Facebook, Google, and Twitter on social media filtering practices, Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) dropped a bombshell. “What about converting the large behemoth organizations that we’re talking about here into public utilities?”

King’s suggestion followed his inquiries about right-wing outlet Gateway Pundit losing reach on social media and how Facebook’s algorithm worked. The insinuation was that these companies cannot properly maintain fair platforms for discourse.

The Representative also suggested that there may be need for “review” of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that protects interactive computer services from being treated as the publisher of content users post on their platforms. If that rule was changed, social media companies could be held responsible for illegal content from copyright infringement or child pornography appearing on their platform. That would potentially cripple the social media industry, requiring extensive pre-vetting of any content they display.

The share prices of the tech giants did not see significant declines upon the Representative’s comments, indicating the markets don’t necessarily fear that overbearing regulation of this nature is likely.

Representative Steve King questions Google’s Juniper Downs

Here’s the exchange between King and Google’s Global Head of Public Policy and Government Relations for YouTube Juniper Downs:

King: “Ms Downs, I think you have a sense of my concern about where this is going. I’m all for freedom of speech, and free enterprise, and for competition and finding a way that competition itself does its own regulation so government doesn’t have to. But if this gets further out of hand, it appears to me that Section 230 needs to be reviewed.

And one of the discussions that I’m hearing is ‘what about converting the large behemoth organizations that we’re talking about here into public utilities?’ How do you respond to that inquiry?”

Downs: “As I said previously, we operate in a highly competitive environment , the tech  industry is incredibly dynamic, we see new entratnts all the time. We see competitorsacross  all of our products at google, and we believe that the framework that governs our services is an appropriate way to continue to support innovation.”

Unfortunately, many of the Representatives frittered away their five minutes each asking questions that companies had already answered in previous congressional hearings or public announcements, allowing them to burn the time without providing much new information.

One surprise was when Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) motioned to cut the hearing for an executive session to discuss President Trump’s comments at the Helsinki press conference yesterday that he said were submissive to Russian president Vladimir Putin. However, the motion was defeated 12-10.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The 21st Century Internet Act aims to enshrine net neutrality in law

in Congress/Delhi/FCC/Government/India/net neutrality/Policy/Politics/TC by

Congress may soon vote on a new bill that would set net neutrality down as a matter of law rather than a set of rules to be changed every few years by the FCC. The “21st Century Internet Act,” introduced by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), would ban blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, and eliminates all questions of jurisdiction.

The bill, announced online and at an event in Washington, DC today, would modify the Communications Act of 1934 (greatly built upon by the 1996 Telecommunications Act) and add a new “Title VIII” full of stipulations specific to internet providers.

This would settle the decades-long dispute over whether internet access is an “information service” or a “telecommunications service,” a legal distinction that either reins in (the former) or unleashes (the latter) the FCC on ISPs.

Instead of quibbling over whether the FCC has authority to write the rules or not, and then quibbling over the rules themselves, the act just codifies the rules as law and sets the FCC as the official watchdog.

The Commission shall have the authority to initiate investigations, bring enforcement actions, issue declaratory rulings, conduct rulemakings, and take other such actions… necessary to implement the requirements of this title.

It would no longer be a question of whether the FCC wants to have net neutrality rules or not — net neutrality would be the law and it would unequivocally be the Commission’s job to enforce it.

The basic blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization bans are very similar to the 2015 rule’s, and the law even institutes the “general conduct” rule that many complained was too vague. This catch-all rule says an ISP “may not unreasonably interfere with or disadvantage” users or edge providers from accessing or providing lawful content and services.

Because it isn’t specific, it means practices that may or may not be legal, such as zero rating, have to be evaluated case by case. That can be a lot of work — but it’s hard to think of a better way to provide against the shifting tactics of crafty ISPs.

Interestingly the act would require the FCC to investigate “unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” something that is frequently on the FTC’s plate — false advertising, misrepresenting the product, that kind of thing. Presumably this is to settle any jurisdictional dispute there, though the FTC may still come into play here and there.

Broadband providers would be eligible to receive money from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, which it uses to help fulfill its mainline duty of making sure communications infrastructure is up to snuff. And while it could ask ISPs to contribute to the fund, the FCC is barred from rate regulation — telling providers what they can and can’t charge for their services. It was a worry that under the 2015 rules, the only thing stopping the Commission from doing so was voluntary forbearance (the technical term for opting out of statutory authority) from the capability to do so.

They also wouldn’t count as “common carriers,” a designation that comes with other responsibilities and oversight. This choice is practical if not, some may argue, completely correct: internet providers really do seem to qualify as common carriers as they are generally defined. But before the main reason for designating them as such was to justify the application of Title II, which granted the FCC authority to enforce the 2015 rules.

It’s all very confusing, right? This law, however, really cuts through a lot of the cruft of the past few decades and clearly establishes the “bright line” rules consumers know and understand.

Who will oppose it and why? Broadband providers will of course say first that the act is unnecessary because they’ve pledged to follow the rules voluntarily, and second that it will prevent them from innovating with services that technically break rules but are in fact beneficial to consumers. Don’t be fooled — these services don’t exist and never did. The only one that comes close is zero rating, and it’s a sham.

Remember, broadband providers also loudly called for “regulatory certainty” instead of the seesawing rules of the last five years. Be careful what you wish for!

Conservatives may oppose it because it expands regulations rather than reduces them, which is at least a valid position to take, as little as consumers may agree with it. The rules also have their origins in the Obama administration, which makes them burn partisan politicians at the touch.

It’s always hard to say whether a bill will be a success, and the processes are so slow anyway that it might be a year or more before we see this on the floor of the House. As for the President, it’s hard to say what he’ll do, as with so many other issues. That it would be difficult to cast the bill in partisan terms, practical as it is and introduced by a Republican Congressman, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be vetoed anyway.

Notably Rep. Coffman is lighting the candle under the FCC at both ends (if you’ll permit the confused metaphor) by supporting the House’s Congressional Review Act petition to undo the current administration’s rules: “While my bill moves through the Congress, I am taking an ‘all of the above’ approach by simultaneously signing the discharge petition on the CRA, and introducing my bill.”

At the very least the bill seems a good example of a law that takes the short path to providing consumers with net neutrality protections: direct and to the point, with no sweetheart clauses or funny business as far as I can tell. That said, it may yet be butchered in committee. We’ll follow its progress carefully.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Apple announces clean energy fund in China

in Apple/Delhi/Gadgets/India/Policy/Politics by

Apple has announced a new investment fund to foster clean energy usage in China. The company isn’t just trying to switch its own offices and facilities. Apple is also working with its suppliers to expand the use of clean energy across the board.

For this fund in particular, Apple and 10 suppliers will invest $300 million over the next four years. Overall, the company expects to finance multiple clean energy projects to produce 1 gigawatt of renewable energy in China.

Apple isn’t going to manage the fund itself. The company is partnering with DWS Group, a division of Deutsche Bank. DWS will also participate in the fund.

The company started working on renewable energy projects a few years ago. Earlier this year, Apple claimed that 100 percent of its offices, retail stores, data centers and Apple-owned facilities are now powered by renewable energy.

Apple is not there yet when it comes to suppliers. The company has launched the Supplier Clean Energy Program back in 2015 with 23 manufacturing partners, and regularly shares updates — Foxconn seems to be missing so far.

By 2020, Apple and its suppliers hope to generate 4 gigawatts of clean energy. And let’s be honest, this is great news for the planet.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook would make a martyr by banning Infowars

in Apps/Delhi/Facebook/Facebook Fake News/Facebook News Feed/fake news/Government/India/infowars/Opinion/Policy/Politics/Social/TC by

Alex Jones’ Infowars is a fake news-peddler. But Facebook deleting its Page could ignite a fire that consumes the network. Still, some critics are asking why it hasn’t done so already.

This week Facebook held an event with journalists to discuss how it combats fake news. The company’s recently appointed head of News Feed John Hegeman explained that, “I guess just for being false, that doesn’t violate the community standards. I think part of the fundamental thing here is that we created Facebook to be a place where different people can have a voice.”

In response, CNN’s Oliver Darcy tweeted: “I asked them why InfoWars is still allowed on the platform. I didn’t get a good answer.” BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel meanwhile wrote that allowing the Infowars Page to exist shows that “Facebook simply isn’t willing to make the hard choices necessary to tackle fake news.”

Facebook’s own Twitter account tried to rebuke Darcy by tweeting, “We see Pages on both the left and the right pumping out what they consider opinion or analysis – but others call fake news. We believe banning these Pages would be contrary to the basic principles of free speech.” But harm can be minimized without full-on censorship.

There is no doubt that Facebook hides behind political neutrality. It fears driving away conservative users for both business and stated mission reasons. That strategy is exploited by those like Jones who know that no matter how extreme and damaging their actions, they’ll benefit from equivocation that implies ‘both sides are guilty,’ with no regard for degree.

Instead of being banned from Facebook, Infowars and sites like it that constantly and purposely share dangerous hoaxes and conspiracy theories should be heavily down-ranked in the News Feed.

Effectively, they should be quarantined, so that when they or their followers share their links, no one else sees them.

“We don’t have a policy that stipulates that everything posted on Facebook must be true — you can imagine how hard that would be to enforce,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “But there’s a very real tension here. We work hard to find the right balance between encouraging free expression and promoting a safe and authentic community, and we believe that down-ranking inauthentic content strikes that balance. In other words, we allow people to post it as a form of expression, but we’re not going to show it at the top of News Feed.”

Facebook already reduces the future views of posts by roughly 80 percent when they’re established as false by its third-party fact checkers like Politifact and the Associated Press. For repeat offenders, I think that reduction in visibility should be closer to 100 percent of News Feed views. What Facebook does do to those whose posts are frequently labeled as false by its checkers is “remove their monetization and advertising privileges to cut off financial incentives, and dramatically reduce the distribution of all of their Page-level or domain-level content on Facebook.”

The company wouldn’t comment directly about whether Infowars has already been hit with that penalty, noting “We can’t disclose whether specific Pages or domains are receiving such a demotion (it becomes a privacy issue).” For any story fact checked as false, it shows related articles from legitimate publications to provide other perspectives on the topic, and notifies people who have shared it or are about to.

But that doesn’t solve for the initial surge of traffic. Unfortunately, Facebook’s limited array of fact checking partners are strapped with so much work, they can only get to so many BS stories quickly. That’s a strong endorsement for more funding to be dedicated to these organizations like Snopes, preferably by even keeled non-profits, though the risks of governments or Facebook chipping in might be worth it.

Given that fact-checking will likely never scale to be instantly responsive to all fake news in all languages, Facebook needs a more drastic option to curtail the spread of this democracy-harming content on its platform. That might mean a full loss of News Feed posting privileges for a certain period of time. That might mean that links re-shared by the supporters or agents of these pages get zero distribution in the feed.

But it shouldn’t mean their posts or Pages are deleted, or that their links can’t be opened unless they clearly violate Facebook’s core content policies.

Why downranking and quarantine? Because banning would only stoke conspiratorial curiosity about these inaccurate outlets. Trolls will use the bans as a badge of honor, saying, “Facebook deleted us because it knows what we say is true.”

They’ll claim they’ve been unfairly removed from the proxy for public discourse that exists because of the size of Facebook’s private platform.

What we’ll have on our hands is “but her emails!” 2.0

People who swallowed the propaganda of “her emails”, much of which was pushed by Alex Jones himself, assumed that Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails must have contained evidence of some unspeakable wrongdoing — something so bad it outweighed anything done by her opponent, even when the accusations against him had evidence and witnesses aplenty.

If Facebook deleted the Pages of Infowars and their ilk, it would be used as a rallying cry that Jones’ claims were actually clairvoyance. That he must have had even worse truths to tell about his enemies and so he had to be cut down. It would turn him into a martyr.

Those who benefit from Infowars’ bluster would use Facebook’s removal of its Page as evidence that it’s massively biased against conservatives. They’d push their political allies to vindictively regulate Facebook beyond what’s actually necessary. They’d call for people to delete their Facebook accounts and decamp to some other network that’s much more of a filter bubble than what some consider Facebook to already be. That would further divide the country and the world.

When someone has a terrible, contagious disease, we don’t execute them. We quarantine them. That’s what should happen here. The exception should be for posts that cause physical harm offline. That will require tough judgement calls, but knowing inciting mob violence for example should not be tolerated. Some of Infowars posts, such as those about Pizzagate that led to a shooting, might qualify for deletion by that standard.

Facebook is already trying to grapple with this after rumors and fake news spread through forwarded WhatsApp messages have led to crowds lynching people in India and attacks in Myanmar. Peer-to-peer chat lacks the same centralized actors to ban, though WhatsApp is now at least marking messages as forwarded, and it will need to do more. But for less threatening yet still blatantly false news, quarantining may be sufficient. This also leaves room for counterspeech, where disagreeing commenters can refute posts or share their own rebuttals.

Few people regularly visit the Facebook Pages they follow. They wait for the content to come to them through the News Feed posts of the Page, and their friends. Eliminating that virality vector would severely limit this fake news’ ability to spread without requiring the posts or Pages to be deleted, or the links to be rendered unopenable.

If Facebook wants to uphold a base level of free speech, it may be prudent to let the liars have their voice. However, Facebook is under no obligation to amplify that speech, and the fakers have no entitlement for their speech to be amplified.

Image Credit: Getty – Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, Flickr Sean P. Anderson CC

News Source = techcrunch.com

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