Accurate, Focused Research on Law, Technology and Knowledge Discovery Since 2002

Category Archives: Censorship

Questions We Should Be Asking About Facebook’s Smear Campaign Against Its Critics

EFF: “The New York Times published a blockbuster story about Facebook that exposed how the company used  so-called “smear merchants” to attack organizations critical of the platform. The story was shocking on a number of levels, revealing that Facebook’s hired guns stooped to dog-whistling, anti-Semitic attacks aimed at George Soros 1 and writing stories blasting Facebook’s competitors on a news site they managed. As Techdirt points out, however, while the particulars are different, the basic slimy tactics are familiar. Any organization that runs public campaigns in opposition to large, moneyed corporate interests has seen some version of this “slime your enemies” playbook. What is different here is that Facebook, the company seeking to undermine its critics, has a powerful role in shaping whether and how news and information is presented to billions of people around the world. Facebook controls the hidden algorithms and other systems that decide what comes up in Instagram and Facebook experiences. And it does so in a way that is almost completely beyond our view, much less our control. This fact—that Facebook can secretly influence what we see (like, perhaps, criticism against it), both through what it promotes and what it allows to be posted by others—is deeply disturbing. Users deserve some answers from Facebook to these basic questions:

  • We know that Facebook had staffers embedded in the Donald Trump presidential campaign to help the organization best craft and target its messages. What did Facebook do regarding attacks on its critics detailed in the Times story? Did it use its power to ensure a wide or specifically-targeted distribution of this smear campaign? Did Facebook use its control over how Facebook works to help aim the smears at people who would be most receptive to them? To key policymakers or their staff? If so, how?
  • Did Facebook help develop different versions of the smear campaign to appeal to different audiences, as the Russians have done? If so, we should see all of them.
  • What is the boundary between what Facebook’s policy teams wish to tell the public and how users experience Facebook and Instagram? Is there a firewall and how is it policed?..”

How China Walled Off the Internet

The New York Times – “Today, China has the world’s only internet companies that can match America’s in ambition and reach. It is years ahead of the United States in replacing paper money with smartphone payments, turning tech giants into vital gatekeepers of the consumer economy. And it is host to a supernova of creative… Continue Reading

How China Made Its Own Internet

The New York Times – Today, China has the world’s only internet companies that can match America’s in ambition and reach. It is years ahead of the United States in replacing paper money with smartphone payments, turning tech giants into vital gatekeepers of the consumer economy. And it is host to a supernova of creative… Continue Reading

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

“Journalists in the United States face hostility from local and federal governments, along with a number of legal threats to themselves and their sources. This nonpartisan website aims to be the first to provide reliable, easy-to-access information on the number of press freedom violations in the United States—from journalists facing charges to reporters stopped at… Continue Reading

Google Is Teaching Children How to Act Online. Is It the Best Role Model?

The New York Times: “The tech giant is positioning itself in schools as a trusted authority on digital citizenship at a moment when the company’s data-handling practices are under growing scrutiny – “Google is on a mission to teach children how to be safe online. That is the message behind “Be Internet Awesome,” a so-called… Continue Reading

Department of Interior’s proposal to destroy records may be of interest

“As I mentioned a while back, I’ve started a new project to bring much-needed transparency to the process whereby agencies get permission to destroy their records at fixed intervals (chosen by the agencies and okayed by the National Archives). I’m obtaining and posting every such request, which have never appeared online before. This project is… Continue Reading

Leaked Google presentation shows company grappling with censorship and free speech

The Verge: “A leaked research presentation [note – the Verge includes a link to the entire presentation posted on Scribd] put together by employees of Google shows the extent to which the search giant is grappling with decisions around freedom of speech and censorship. The presentation, leaked to Breitbart News this week and published in… Continue Reading

Google China Prototype Links Searches to Phone Numbers

The Intercept: “Google built a prototype of a censored search engine for China that links users’ searches to their personal phone numbers,thus making it easier for the Chinese government to monitor people’s queries, The Intercept can reveal. The search engine, codenamed Dragonfly, was designed for Android devices, and would remove content deemed sensitive by China’s… Continue Reading

White House’s website deleted the whole archive of its daily newsletters

Quartz: “American citizens can get daily updates on the government directly from the White House’s “1600 Daily” newsletter, which was launched in March 2017. The newsletter shares daily updates from the White House, together with a feed of positive news about Donald Trump’s administration (primarily from conservative outlets supportive of the government, such as Breitbart… Continue Reading

AP – EU proposed to give internet firms 1 hour to remove extremist content

Via ABCNews.com: “European authorities are planning to slap internet companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook with big fines if they don’t take down extremist content within one hour. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a speech Wednesday that the Commission is proposing the new rules as part of efforts to step up the bloc’s… Continue Reading

Pew – Americans are changing their relationship with Facebook

“Just over half of Facebook users ages 18 and older (54%) say they have adjusted their privacy settings in the past 12 months, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Around four-in-ten (42%) say they have taken a break from checking the platform for a period of several weeks or more, while around a… Continue Reading

Bias of Big Tech news not substantiated by the facts

NextDraft: “…This week, President Trump has been attacking Google (and by extension, all of big tech) for being biased against him and the other “victims” who support him. As Kara Swisher rightfully explains in the NYT, “the idea that Google and Twitter are rigging their platforms against him is patently false.” In The Atlantic, Alexis… Continue Reading