Category Archives: Current Affairs

False information distributed through web and social media platforms: A survey

Here’s the abstract for Srijan Kumar and Neil Shah’s False Information on Web and Social Media: A Survey (Apr. 23, 2018):

False information can be created and spread easily through the web and social media platforms, resulting in widespread real-world impact. Characterizing how false information proliferates on social platforms and why it succeeds in deceiving readers are critical to develop efficient detection algorithms and tools for early detection. A recent surge of research in this area has aimed to address the key issues using methods based on feature engineering, graph mining, and information modeling. Majority of the research has primarily focused on two broad categories of false information: opinion-based (e.g., fake reviews), and fact-based (e.g., false news and hoaxes). Therefore, in this work, we present a comprehensive survey spanning diverse aspects of false information, namely (i) the actors involved in spreading false information, (ii) rationale behind successfully deceiving readers, (iii) quantifying the impact of false information, (iv) measuring its characteristics across different dimensions, and finally, (iv) algorithms developed to detect false information. In doing so, we create a unified framework to describe these recent methods and highlight a number of important directions for future research.

H/T to Gary Price’s InfoDocket post. — Joe

Twitter and hate crime under Trump

Here’s the abstract for Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz’s Making America Hate Again? Twitter and Hate Crime Under Trump (Mar. 28, 2018):

Social media has come under increasing scrutiny for reinforcing people’s pre-existing viewpoints which, it is argued, can create information “echo chambers”. We investigate whether such reinforcement motivates real-life action, with a focus on hate crimes in the United States. We show that the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the US since Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been concentrated in counties with high Twitter usage. Consistent with a role for social media, Trump’s Tweets on Islam-related topics are highly correlated with anti-Muslim hate crime after, but not before the start of his presidential campaign, and are uncorrelated with other types of hate crimes. These patterns stand out in historical comparison: counties with many Twitter users today did not consistently experience more anti-Muslim hate crimes during previous presidencies.

— Joe

Chronology of U.S.-North Korean nuclear and missile diplomacy

The Arms Control Association has produced a chronology of US-North Korean nuclear and missile negotiations. You can view it here. — Joe

CRS report on legal authority and limitations on independent executive investigations

From the conclusion of Special Counsels, Independent Counsels, and Special Prosecutors: Legal Authority and Limitations on Independent Executive Investigations (R44857, Apr. 13, 2018):

Both Congress and the executive branch have employed a variety of means to establish independence for certain criminal investigations and prosecutions. The use of special prosecutors, independent counsels, and special counsels all have allowed for the investigation of executive branch misconduct. Nonetheless, efforts to provide independence for prosecutors from executive branch control often raise constitutional questions. In turn, proposals to statutorily protect a special counsel from removal thus raise important, but unresolved, constitutional questions about the separation of powers. As a general matter, simply insulating a future special counsel from removal except for specified reasons appears consistent with the Court’s opinion in Morrison. To the extent the current Court might depart from the functional reasoning of that case and apply a more formal approach to the question, however, such proposals might raise constitutional objections. Likewise, constitutional objections might arise against proposals aimed to insulate a special counsel in a manner beyond the framework approved in Morrison.

— Joe

Seventh Circuit affirms nationwide injunction in sanctuary cities case

The Seventh Circuit issued its decision in City of Chicago v. Sessions. The court upheld a nationwide injunction blocking the Trump administration from imposing restrictions on recipients of federal public safety grants. Here’s the text of the decision. — Joe

Comey memos leaked after DOJ released them to Congress [text]

You can view the redacted versions of the leaked Comey memos about his interactions with President Trump here. — Joe

Weekend reading: Madeleine Albright’s Fascism: A Warning

Two snips from Kirkus Reviews about Madeleine Albright’s Fascism: A Warning (Harper, Apr. 10, 2018):

Former Secretary of State Albright offers an authoritative and well-grounded analysis of the growing rise of fascism around the world. Why, she asks, “has international momentum toward democracy slowed, and why are so many charlatans seeking to undermine public confidence in elections, the courts, the media,” and science? She counts the current president among the charlatans.

Besides providing an overview of the careers of Mussolini and Hitler, Albright looks at leaders such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Putin, she observes, is not yet a “full-blown” fascist, but he “has flipped through Stalin’s copy of the totalitarian playbook and underlined passages of interest to call on when convenient.”

— Joe

Available tomorrow: James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

From the blurb for James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership (Flatiron Books, April 17, 2018):

Former FBI director James Comey shares his never-before-told experiences from some of the highest-stakes situations of his career in the past two decades of American government, exploring what good, ethical leadership looks like, and how it drives sound decisions. His journey provides an unprecedented entry into the corridors of power, and a remarkable lesson in what makes an effective leader.

— Joe

Searches of premises of subject attorneys [text from US Attorneys’ Manual]

The DOJ is institutionally cautious about searches involving attorneys acting in their role as legal counsels. The U.S. Attorney’s Manual has an entire section that limits how and when the offices of an attorney may be searched. View the US Attorneys’ Manual’s section here. — Joe

C-SPAN’s searchable transcript of Zuckerberg’s Senate hearing

H/T to beSpacific for locating the Zuckerberg transcript — Joe

Zuckerberg’s prepared statement for Congress [text]

Ahead of two days of congressional testimony, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s prepared statement can be read here. — Joe

The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump’s First Year

Here’s the blurb for Amy Siskind’s The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump’s First Year (Bloomsbury Publishing, Mar. 27, 2018):

In the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as president, Amy Siskind, a former Wall Street executive and the founder of The New Agenda, began compiling a list of actions taken by the Trump regime that pose a threat to our democratic norms. Under the headline: “Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember” Siskind’s “Weekly List” began as a project she shared with friends, but it soon went viral and now has more than half a million viewers every week.

Compiled in one volume for the first time, The List is a first draft history and a comprehensive accounting of Donald Trump’s first year. Beginning with Trump’s acceptance of white supremacists the week after the election and concluding a year to the day later, we watch as Trump and his regime chips away at the rights and protections of marginalized communities, of women, of us all, via Twitter storms, unchecked executive action, and shifting rules and standards. The List chronicles not only the scandals that made headlines but just as important, the myriad smaller but still consequential unprecedented acts that otherwise fall through cracks. It is this granular detail that makes The List such a powerful and important book.

Recommended. — Joe

Online political microtargeting

From the abstract of Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius, et al., Online Political Microtargeting: Promises and Threats for Democracy, 14 Utrecht Law Review 82 (2018):

Online political microtargeting involves monitoring people’s online behaviour, and using the collected data, sometimes enriched with other data, to show people-targeted political advertisements. Online political microtargeting is widely used in the US; Europe may not be far behind. This paper maps microtargeting’s promises and threats to democracy. For example, microtargeting promises to optimise the match between the electorate’s concerns and political campaigns, and to boost campaign engagement and political participation. But online microtargeting could also threaten democracy. For instance, a political party could, misleadingly, present itself as a different one-issue party to different individuals. And data collection for microtargeting raises privacy concerns. We sketch possibilities for policymakers if they seek to regulate online political microtargeting. We discuss which measures would be possible, while complying with the right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights.

— Joe

Was Cambridge Analytica really able to effectively target campaign messages to citizens based on their personality characteristics?

From the introduction to Matthew Hindman’s How Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook targeting model really worked:

The researcher whose work is at the center of the uproar over Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook data analysis and political advertising has revealed that his method worked much like the one Netflix uses to recommend movies.

In an email to me, Cambridge University scholar Aleksandr Kogan explained how his statistical model processed Facebook data for Cambridge Analytica. He claims it works about as well as more traditional voter-targeting methods based on demographics like race, age, and gender.

If confirmed, Kogan’s account would mean the digital modeling Cambridge Analytica used was hardly the virtual crystal ball a few have claimed. Yet the numbers Kogan provides also show what is—and isn’t—actually possible by combining personal data with machine learning for political ends.

Interesting. — Joe

Today is International Fact-Checking Day

International Fact-Checking Day is promoted by the International Fact-Checking Network in partnership with fact-checking organizations around the world. On this website you will find tip sheets and a reading list for everyday media consumers, course material for high school and college students, an interactive quiz and more. — Joe

ATL’s list of lawyers who just said “no” to representing Trump

Above the Law is maintaining a running list of lawyers and law firms who have refused to represent President Trump here. — Joe

Weekend reading: Look Away: Documenting the Crude and Sexist Items from the Trump Campaign Trial

Here’s the blurb for Paul Sherman’s Look Away: Documenting the Crude and Sexist Items from the Trump Campaign Trial (X Park Press, Oct. 5, 2017):

Crude, sexist, and racist political items helped galvanize Trump supporters during the 2016 election. Look Away documents and categorizes the vulgar and sexist signs, bumper stickers, T-shirts, and buttons that were part of the fabric of many Trump rallies. Many of the images in Look Away’s 176 pages are offensive and tough to stomach, yet they are a vital record of the past election. The book serves as an important reminder to future generations about the break in political discourse that occurred in 2016.

— Joe

FTC investigating Facebook for possible violation of 2011 consent decree

The 2011 consent decree was the result of a two-year-long investigation by the FTC into Facebook’s privacy practices. The current investigation probes the possible misuse of the personal information of as many as 50 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica.

— Joe

Trump’s new transgender military ban

Last Friday evening, the Trump administration issued a new directive to ban most transgender people from serving in the military. U.S. troops who require or have already had gender reassignment surgery would be disqualified from military service. Service members with a history or diagnosis of “gender dysphoria,” or those with discomfort with their biological sex, would also be banned — but with some exceptions. For more, see this Atlantic article. — Joe

How not to draft an NDA

Contract drafting guru Ken Adams characterizes the Daniels-Trump NDA as a “dumpster fire.” — Joe