Two outside research groups used data obtained from Silicon Valley giants by the Senate Intelligence Committee to paint a sweeping picture of Russia’s online disinformation efforts both before and after the 2016 presidential election in reports released Monday. The groups’ findings, according to Axios, bolster the public’s understanding of the Russian campaign and provide new details on how it operated:
- The Internet Research Agency troll farm focused much of its attention on black audiences, creating “an expansive cross-platform media mirage targeting the Black community, which shared and cross-promoted authentic Black media to create an immersive influence ecosystem,” per the New Knowledge report. The group’s cultivation of sometimes-unsuspecting on-the-ground collaborators was “substantially more pronounced on Black-targeted accounts.”
- It engaged in voter suppression. New Knowledge said that “the suppression narratives were targeted almost exclusively at the Black community on Instagram and Facebook” in the lead-up to the 2016 election. The IRA simultaneously targeted right-leaning audiences with content raising fears of voter fraud.
- The group’s efforts didn’t slow down after they became clear to the public. “Surprisingly, these campaigns did not stop once Russia’s IRA was caught interfering in the 2016 election. Engagement rates increased and covered a widening range of public policy issues, national security issues, and issues pertinent to younger voters,” said researchers from Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project.
Read the reports here.
The New York Time has published a complete list of the 550 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter current to December 7, 2018. The list covers tweets since Trump declared his candidacy and can be viewed in alphabetical or chronological order.
From the abstract for Roy Shapira, Law As Source: How the Legal System Facilitates Investigative Journalism, 37 Yale Law & Policy Review ___ (2018, Forthcoming):
Legal scholars have long recognized that the media plays a key role in assuring the proper functioning of political and business markets. Yet we have understudied the role of law in assuring effective media scrutiny. This Article develops a theory of law as source. The basic premise is that the law not only regulates what the media can or cannot say, but also facilitates media scrutiny by producing information. Specifically, law enforcement actions, such as litigation or regulatory investigations, extract information on the behavior of powerful players in business or government. Journalists can then translate the information into biting investigative reports and diffuse them widely, thereby shaping players’ reputations and norms. Levels of accountability in society are therefore not simply a function of the effectiveness of the courts as a watchdog or the media as a watchdog, but rather a function of the interactions between the two watchdogs.
This Article approaches, from multiple angles, the questions of how and how much the media relies on legal sources. I analyze the content of projects that won investigative reporting prizes in the past two decades; interview forty veteran reporters; scour a reporters-only database of tip sheets and how-to manuals; go over syllabi of investigative reporting courses; and synthesize insights from the communication science and economics of information literatures. The triangulation of these different methods produces three sets of insights. First, this Article establishes that legal sources matter: in today’s information environment, court documents, depositions, and regulatory reports are often the most instrumental sources of accountability journalism. Second, the Article identifies how and why legal sources matter: they extract quality information on the (mis)behavior of powerful players in a credible, libel-proof manner. Finally, recognizing the function of law as source opens up space for rethinking important legal institutions according to how they contribute to information production. In the process, we get to reevaluate timely debates, such as the desirability of one-sided arbitration clauses, which have been at the center of recent Trump Administration orders and Supreme Court decisions.
From the DOJ press release:
An indictment was unsealed today charging Bijan Rafiekian, aka Bijan Kian, 66, of San Juan Capistrano, California, and Kamil Ekim Alptekin, 41, of Istanbul, and a Turkish national, with conspiracy, acting in the United States as illegal agents of the government of Turkey, and making false statements to the FBI.
According to allegations in the indictment, the two men were involved in a conspiracy to covertly influence U.S. politicians and public opinion against a Turkish citizen living in the United States whose extradition had been requested by the Government of Turkey. The plot included using a company founded by Rafiekian and a person referred to as “Person A” in the indictment. The company, referred to as “Company A” in the indictment, provided services based upon Person A’s national security expertise.
Read the indictment here.
Wired reports that there are 17 ongoing Trump and Russian investigations stemming from at least seven different sets of prosecutors and investigators. That total does not count any congressional inquiries, nor does it include any other inquiries into other administration officials unrelated to Russia. Wired’s A Complete Guide to All 17 (Known) Trump and Russia Investigations summarizes and provides a status report on each of the ongoing investigations.
Cass R. Sunstein has posted Algorithms, Correcting Biases on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
A great deal of theoretical work explores the possibility that algorithms may be biased in one or another respect. But for purposes of law and policy, some of the most important empirical research finds exactly the opposite. In the context of bail decisions, an algorithm designed to predict flight risk does much better than human judges, in large part because the latter place an excessive emphasis on the current offense. Current Offense Bias, as we might call it, is best seen as a cousin of “availability bias,” a well-known source of mistaken probability judgments. The broader lesson is that well-designed algorithms should be able to avoid cognitive biases of many kinds. Existing research on bail decisions also casts a new light on how to think about the risk that algorithms will discriminate on the basis of race (or other factors). Algorithms can easily be designed so as to avoid taking account of race (or other factors). They can also be constrained so as to produce whatever kind of racial balance is sought, and thus to reveal tradeoffs among various social values.
In Texas v. United States, Judge Reed O’Connor (N.D. Tex.) Friday issued a sweeping and breathtaking ruling striking the entire Affordable Care Act. Judge O’Connor ruled that the individual mandate could no longer be supported by Congress’s taxing power; that the individual mandate is not severable from the rest of the ACA; and that therefore the entire ACA must fail. For an analysis, see this Constitutional Law Professor Blog post.
From the abstract for Abbe Gluck & Richard Posner, Statutory Interpretation on the Bench: A Survey of Forty-Two Judges on the Federal Courts of Appeals (2018):
The vast majority of statutory interpretation cases are resolved by the federal courts of appeals, not by the Supreme Court, even though the Supreme Court’s practice has received nearly all of the attention from academics and practitioners. In part due to this myopia, the Court and many academics have been mired for decades in a by-now boring debate about “textualism” versus “purposivism.” That debate, while ostensibly about the judge’s relationship to Congress and its work, has centered in practice on little more than the most appropriate evidentiary tools of interpretation: text, statutory purpose, legislative history, interpretive presumptions, and so on. Many contend that these arguments have reached detente, with most Justices now unabashedly of the “textfirst” persuasion, opting for dictionaries, interpretive presumptions, and, only after those materials, a much stingier approach to legislative history. This shift is well captured by Justice Kagan’s penchant for proclaiming, like many academics, that “we’re all textualists now.”
From the summary of The Committee Markup Process in the House of Representatives (RL30244, Dec. 10, 2018):
Committees do not actually change the texts of the bills they mark up. Instead, committees vote on amendments that their members want to recommend that the House adopt when it considers the bill on the floor. The committee concludes a markup not by voting on the bill as a whole, but by voting on a motion to order the bill reported to the House with whatever amendments the committee has approved. A majority of the committee must be present when this final vote occurs. For all other stages of markups, committees may set their own quorum requirements, so long as that quorum is at least one-third of the committee’s membership.
Special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday filed his response to former national security adviser and cooperating witness Michael Flynn’s sentencing memo. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last year about his contacts with Russian officials and is set to be sentenced on Dec. 18.
Here is an updating calculation of the president’s approval rating, accounting for each poll’s quality, recency, sample size and partisan lean by FiveThirtyEight.
Compiled by Justia in 2018, here’s a 50-state survey on recording phone calls and conversations.
From the abstract for Guy A. Rub, Amazon and the New World of Publishing, 14 ISJLP 367 (2018)
In 2012 the Department of Justice sued Apple and the major book publishers for their role in a conspiracy to raise the prices of eBooks. The publishers settled while the Apple case proceeded to trial in which the company was found liable for violating the Sherman Act. Chris Sagers’s upcoming book, Apple, Antitrust, and Irony (Harvard University Press) explores the conspiracy and the events that led Apple to orchestrate it. Through the Apple conspiracy, Sagers examines developments in antitrust law and competition policy in recent decades.
This essay offers several observations concerning Sagers’s comprehensive account, the Apple conspiracy, and mainly its aftermath. Analyzing that aftermath means focusing on the entity that was left in control of the market once the dust settled: Amazon.
The essay argues that Amazon’s dominance in the book and eBook markets is troubling and that shielding it from legal scrutiny is problematic. Nevertheless, it explains that while Amazon’s actions gradually push the major publishers out of the market, their potential demise is not necessarily bad. Technological changes reduced the value of many of the major publishers’ services to the point in which the publishers and Amazon are two types of intermediaries in a market that might need only one. As such, the conflict between Amazon and the major publishers is partly unavoidable as it is just another example of the tension between vested short-term interests and socially desirable long-term disruptive reforms.
In Custodia Legis is one of the honorees of the ABA Journal’s Best Law Blogs of 2018.
From the abstract for Zachary Price, Precedent in a Polarized Era, 94 Notre Dame Law Review ___ (2019, Forthcoming):
Randy J. Kozel’s new book, Settled Versus Right: A Theory of Precedent, [Amazon] makes an important contribution to the age-old debate over stare decisis. Advocating an institutional rather than personal view of judicial authority, Kozel urges judges and justices operating in the present-day environment of “interpretive pluralism” to focus on non-merits factors such as workability, factual accuracy, and reliance in deciding whether to overrule most types of constitutional precedent. Increasingly polarized views of constitutional law make Kozel’s book exceptionally timely, but the same developments may well limit its influence, as evidenced by two cases overruling precedent in the Supreme Court’s most recent term.
From the summary of The Legislative Process on the House Floor: An Introduction (95-563, Dec. 13, 2018):
The standing rules of the House include several different parliamentary mechanisms that the body may use to act on bills and resolutions. Which of these will be employed in a given instance usually depends on the extent to which Members want to debate and amend the legislation. In general, all of the procedures of the House permit a majority of Members to work their will without excessive delay.
See also Points of Order, Rulings, and Appeals in the House of Representatives (98-307, Dec. 12, 2018).
From the summary of Abortion: Judicial History and Legislative Response (RL33467, Dec. 7, 2018):
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded in Roe v. Wade that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy. In a companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, the Court found that a state may not unduly burden the exercise of that fundamental right with regulations that prohibit or substantially limit access to the procedure. Rather than settle the issue, the Court’s rulings since Roe and Doe have continued to generated debate and have precipitated a variety of governmental actions at the national, state, and local levels designed either to nullify the rulings or limit their effect. These governmental regulations have, in turn, spawned further litigation in which resulting judicial refinements in the law have been no more successful in dampening the controversy.
From the abstract for Pete Souza, Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents (Little, Brown, Oct. 16, 2018):
Shade is a portrait in Presidential contrasts, telling the tale of the Obama and Trump administrations through a series of visual juxtapositions. Here, more than one hundred of Souza’s unforgettable images of President Obama deliver new power and meaning when framed by the tweets, news headlines, and quotes that defined the first 500 days of the Trump White House.
What began with Souza’s Instagram posts soon after President Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 has become a potent commentary on the state of the Presidency, and our country. Some call this “throwing shade.” Souza calls it telling the truth.
In Shade, Souza’s photographs are more than a rejoinder to the chaos, abuses of power, and destructive policies that now define our nation’s highest office. They are a reminder of a President we could believe in, and a courageous defense of American values.
Google has released its annual year-end roundup of the things people inquired about the most on its search platform in 2018 (so far). The list covers the 10 most searched terms across news, politics, entertainment and sports, as well as the most asked “How to…” and “What is…” questions. Interesting.
This year marks the I Love My Librarian Award’s 10-year anniversary. ALA has received thousands of nominations over the last decade, but only 110 librarians have received the honor. Ten librarians have been honored with the 2018 I Love My Librarian Award. Selected from more than 1,000 nominations submitted by library users nationwide, the winning librarians are being recognized for their leadership in transforming lives and communities through education and lifelong learning. This year’s recipients include four academic, three public, and three school librarians.