Protego Press Weekly Round Up- October 30th, 2019

It’s the last week of October, and Halloween isn’t the only thing providing frights these days. From Facebook’s week, to tracking students at school, deepfakes and free speech, and radicalization-  it’s all in this week’s Protego Press Weekly Round Up.

In Case You Missed It: Fake news hardens biases & prejudices, leading to oppression, insecurity, and the erosion of democracy. Mary Anne Franks and Ari Waldman summarized their recent Maryland Law Review (78 Md. L. Rev. 892) article, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape”. The problem of deepfakes, Franks and Waldman argue, exposes the limitations of conventional free speech discourse and the civil libertarian position.  Read more here.

In Case You Missed It II: Justin Hendrix writes a review of a new paper by Nicholas Diakopoulos and Deborah Johnson which explores the ethical implications of so-called “deepfake” technologies for elections. The paper crowdsourced short stories based on stimulus materials including examples of face swapping and audio synthesis and used this stimulus material to develop a framework for how to understand the potential harms and mitigate them, including an analysis of the responsibility of various stakeholders in doing the work of mitigation. Read more here.

YouTube and Radicalization: Over the past few years, YouTube has become a media powerhouse where political discussion is dominated by right-wing channels offering an ideological alternative to established news outlets. And, according to new research from Penn State University political scientists Kevin Munger and Joseph Phillips, these channels are far from fringe—they’re the new mainstream, and recently surpassed the big three US cable news networks in terms of viewership. 

The paper challenges the popular school of thought that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is the central factor responsible for radicalizing users and pushing them into a far-right rabbit hole. “The true threat posed by YouTube is the capacity to create radical alternative political canons and interpretive communities to match,” they write in the paper.  Munger and Phillips further argue that on YouTube people adopt new ideas the same way that they do in real life: they must be persuaded based on new information, they don’t simply adopt far-right beliefs because a video was recommended to them. 

Facebook’s Ongoing Challenges:  Earlier this month, Facebook stated that while certain content of posts and articles, posts and ads by politicians are exempt from review on that basis, as are ads posted by campaigns

This was promptly tested by a Political Action Committee, the Really Online Lefty League, testing the claims. The PAC ran an ad on Facebook that falsely claimed Republican Senator Lindsey Graham supported the Green New Deal proposed by some Democrats. A company spokesman told Reuters that the ad was eligible for a fact-checking review since it came from a political action group rather than a politician.  Adriel Hampton, a founder and treasurer of the PAC behind the ad, tweeted that he was running for governor of California specifically to press Facebook on the issue. In doing so, Hampton believed he would be able to run “fake news” ads on the platform himself, completely in line with Facebook’s new policies.   

However, on Tuesday evening, a Facebook spokesperson told CNN Business, “This person has made clear he registered as a candidate to get around our policies, so his content, including ads, will continue to be eligible for third-party fact-checking.”

All this has led to more than 250 Facebook employees penning a letter to executive Mark Zuckerberg decrying his decision to allow politicians to post advertisements on the platform that include false claims. The letter, which was posted on an internal communication message board for the company, the New York Times reported Monday. In the letter, Facebook employees argues that the company “is on track to undo the great strides [its] product teams have made in integrity over the last two years”. “Misinformation affects us all,” the letter continued. “Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands.”

And, finally, Rep. David Cicilline has had enough, and is working on legislation targeting Facebook’s policy of allowing politicians to lie in ads, insisting that Congress has a “responsibility to prohibit” the social media giant from making money off information it knows to be false. 

Tracking Privacy: Tracking consumers continues to raise concerns. The Washington Post looks at tracking of students while in school, focusing on an app called e-Hallpass,which tracks student’s trips to the bathroom, the nurse’s office, the principal or other places on campus. It collects the data for each student’s comings and goings so approved administrators can see pass histories or look for patterns. Heather Kelly further highlights how hundreds of applications, big and small, are being used at schools across the country to do everything from track homework to modify behavior. They can collect data about intelligence, disciplinary issues, personalities and schedules.

And, Gina Kolata from the NYT writes about a disturbing experiment, where imaging and facial recognition technologies were used to match research subjects to their M.R.I. scans. In fact, the experiment, a team led by Christopher Schwarz, a computer scientist at the Mayo Clinic, looked at the brain scans of 84 volunteers then tested against photographs. A facial recognition program correctly matched 70 subjects.  With this data set, privacy experts questioned whether the process could be replicated on a much larger scale with today’s technology., 

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