Category Archives: Web Communications

Search and politics

Search and Politics: The Uses and Impacts of Search in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United States reports the results of an online poll of Internet users about how they use search, social media, and other important media to get information about political candidates, issues, and politics generally. From the abstract:

Global debate over the impact of algorithms and search on shaping political opinions has increased following dramatic election results in Europe and the US. Powerful images of the Internet enabling access to a global treasure trove of information have shifted to worries over whether those who use search engines and social media are being fed inaccurate, false, or politically targeted information that distorts public opinion. There are serious questions over whether biases embedded in the algorithms that drive search engines and social media have major political consequences, such as creating filter bubbles or echo chambers. For example, do search engines and social media provide people with information that aligns with their beliefs and opinions or do they challenge them to consider countervailing perspectives? Most generally, the predominant concern is do these media have a major impact on public opinion and political viewpoints, and if so, for the better or worse.

— Joe

EdgeRack: Understanding the algorithmic basis of Facebook’s news feed

Reid Goldsborough describe the algorithmic basis for Facebook’s news feed, writing “The ever-changing algorithm behind Facebook’s news feed, called EdgeRank, is … crucial in today’s social media-infused world. It determines what you see when you check Facebook,” … adding … “Facebook is largely mum about EdgeRank, keeping many things private for competitive reasons. But based on what is publicly known as well as EdgeRank’s behavior, Facebook uses EdgeRank to help create your news feed mostly through Affinity Score, Edge Weight, and Time Decay.” Goldsborough proceeds by describing Affinity Score, Edge Weight, and Time Decay in layman’s terms. He also comments on the echo chamber effect of Facebook’s news feed in his Information Today article. Informative. — Joe

A manager’s guide for using Twitter in government

Like many technological tools, Twitter does not come with an instruction manual. To help both government executives who must decide whether Twitter is a useful tool for their organizations and frontline managers who will create and administer the Twitter account, Ines Mergel has written Working the Network: A Manager’s Guide for Using Twitter in Government, detailing the benefits—and risks—of hosting a Twitter feed, as well as the specifics on how to maintain a Twitter feed to achieve optimum results. From the executive summary:

Twitter updates are seen as public conversations and are increasing not only transparency and potentially accountability, but can also—when used appropriately—lead to increased inclusion of public opinion in policy formulation through information aggregation processes. Twitter can be used effectively to involve a large number of citizens and create conversations with an engaged, networked public. The outcome of these conversations can be new insights and even innovations in the public sector including suggestions on how to make government more effective, or rapidly accelerating emergency responses that help to improve public safety.

Perhaps someone will give President Trump this Twitter guide. — Joe

The law of emojis

In Surveying the Law of Emojis, Eric Goldman identifies three ways the emoji revolution will impact the law:

First, questions about what emojis mean will arise in a wide range of legal doctrines, from criminal law to contracts. Our standard interpretative tools generally can handle new communicative technologies, but several aspects of emojis will require careful consideration. Most significantly, senders and receivers will unexpectedly see different versions of an emoji due to technological intermediation, leading them to make reasonable—but different—interpretations of the same communication, with potentially adverse consequences for one or both parties. The article will explore some steps that would reduce the risks of these misunderstandings.

Second, emojis will often qualify for copyright and trademark protection. However, IP protection encourages platforms to differentiate their emoji implementations, which exacerbates the risks of miscommunications and misunderstandings. To mitigate this outcome, IP protections for emojis should be interpreted narrowly.

Third, emojis create some issues for judicial operations, including if and how judges will display emojis in their opinions, if emojis in court opinions will be searchable, and how best to present emojis as evidence to fact-finders.

— Joe

Trump truth hiders tracker launched by MoveOn

Following several LLB posts covering “Trump trackers,” here is an unusual addition to the list. On April 27th, MoveOn.org unveiled a new website, TrumpTruthHiders.com. The website is “an online tracker designed to expose how House Republicans have acted to hide the truth about Trump’s presidency—obscuring their votes in support of Trump’s agenda from their constituents.” In New Website Tracks GOP Voting Record Supporting Trump’s Dangerous Policy Agenda, Jo Comerford, campaign director for MoveOn.org. is quoted: “MoveOn worked with Members of Congress to launch TrumpTruthHiders.com so that the American people can see this infuriating display of hypocrisy in real time.” — Joe

Like having a personal assistant in your pocket: When AI-first becomes the new mobile-first

Two snips from David Skerrett’s very interesting EContent post, The Year AI-First Will Become the New Mobile-First:

For 6 years, achieving a mobile-first ethos has been a badge of honor within organizations and a genuine philosophy to solve problems for—or preview content on—the device users are most likely to turn to first. Now, true AI is progressing quickly, while there is already a proliferation of practical AI on our mobiles. Contextual assistants, bots, and digital concierges are right at our fingertips—notably Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Now. … However, these intelligent helpers aren’t so helpful when it comes to playing well together. Once these assistants are able to “talk” to each other, it will create a more connected experience for us all, enabling even greater business transformation in the next few years.

Basically, AI will be completely and seamlessly woven into the fabric of our lives and how we get things done. Microsoft can already scan your emails and see you have a flight coming up. Cortana then adds it to your diary and helps get things done via reminders and prompts. Depending on how much trust we put in our devices and into AI, it will be like having a personal assistant in your pocket.

— Joe

Gender and race inequality in the legal blogosphere

From the abstract of Reproducing Gender and Race Inequality in the Blawgosphere, a draft chapter in Fate of Legal Scholarship (Cambridge UP, Forthcoming)  by Jane C. Murphy (Baltimore) and Solangel Maldonado (Seton Hall):

The use of the Internet and other digital media to disseminate scholarship has great potential for expanding the range of voices in legal scholarship. Legal blogging, in particular, with its shorter, more informal form, seems ideal for encouraging commentary from a diverse group of scholars. This Chapter tests this idea by exploring the role of blogging in legal scholarship and the level of participation of women and scholars of color on the most visible academic legal blogs. After noting the predominance of white male scholars as regular contributors on these blogs, we analyze the relative lack of diversity in this emerging form of scholarship. Finally, we offer suggestions for reversing these trends and creating a more inclusive blogosphere and enriching its potential for lively, informed scholarship.

— Joe

How Facebook plans to combat fake news

For Facebook, Jen Weedon, William Nuland and Alex Stamos write that the Company has “had to expand our security focus from traditional abusive behavior, such as account hacking, malware, spam and financial scams, to include more subtle and insidious forms of misuse, including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive people. These are complicated issues and our responses will constantly evolve, but we wanted to be transparent about our approach.” That  approach is detailed by Facebook in Information Operations and Facebook (Apr. 27, 2017, version 1.0). — Joe

Net neutrality: If the Internet is not a utility, what is it?

“The theory goes something like this: as long as ISPs commit to protecting net neutrality in their terms of service, the FCC can eliminate its rules while the Federal Trade Commission would punish ISPs that fail to comply with their net neutrality promises.” — Jon Brodkin, “Unenforceable:” How voluntary net neutrality lets ISPs to call the shots, ars technica, Apr. 11, 2017.

Last Wednesday, FCC chairman Ajit Pai outlined his plans to loosen the government’s oversight of the Internet by rolling back the Commission’s Open Internet Order. See Pai’s speech on the future of Internet regulation and the chairman’s fact sheet, Restoring Internet Freedom for All Americans (Apr. 26, 2017). For a synopsis, see Ali Breland’s What killing net neutrality means for the internet, The Hill, Apr. 28, 2017. The proposal will be discussed at the FCC Open Meeting on May 18, 2017. (For background, see the FCC’s own explanation of its Open Internet Order when it was enacted.) “The chairman, Ajit Pai, said high-speed internet service should no longer be treated like a public utility with strict rules, as it is now. The move would, in effect, largely leave the industry to police itself.” Quoting from Cecilia Kang, F.C.C. Chairman Pushes Sweeping Changes to Net Neutrality Rules, NYT, Apr. 26, 2016.

In his NYT op-ed piece, Tim Wu notes that this action will be taken “despite [net neutrality’s] popularity, record of success and acceptance by most of the industry.” Quoting from Tim Wu, The ‘Fix’ for Net Neutrality That Consumers Don’t Need, NYT, Apr. 28, 2017. Writing for EFF, Kit Walsh warns “[r]olling back the FCC’s Open Internet Order would mean losing the only rules that meaningfully prevent ISPs from taking advantage of their control over your Internet connection to shape your Internet experience and the market for services and devices that rely on that Internet connection. Since most Americans have only one option for broadband service, ISPs would have unchecked power to extract tolls from you and from businesses that wish to reach you.” Quoting from FCC Announces Plan to Abandon Net Neutrality and ISP Privacy, EFF Deeplinks Blog, Apr. 26, 2017. Walsh adds

Today’s announcement cleverly pretends that the current “bright-line rules,” which clearly prohibit blocking and throttling, might survive. The law says otherwise. If Chairman Pai follows through on his intention to “reclassify” broadband service, it would be legally impossible for the FCC to enforce any such rules. How do we know this? Because the DC Circuit said so.

Last Thursday, the FCC released guidance for commenting on this rule-roll-back process. As expected advocacy groups like EFF are already speaking out in opposition. See, e.g., The FCC Wants to Eliminate Net Neutrality Protections. We Can’t Let That Happen, EFF Deeplinks Blog, Apr. 25, 2017. AALL also released a statement in opposition last week. From the press release:

“Without net neutrality, law libraries may be unable to provide equal access to the legal information their users need,” AALL President Ronald E. Wheeler Jr. said. “We oppose efforts by the new FCC chairman to roll back the Open Internet Order, and we will continue to work to protect an open internet. Without free and fair access to information, there is no access to justice.”

Only time will tell but it is not looking good for net neutrality despite its acceptance by most of the industry. — Joe

Interest in pending federal legislation grows as web traffic soars on Congress.gov

Data analytics reveals that Congress.gov has seen record-breaking traffic since January 2017 according to Andrew Weber’s In Custodia Legis post, Reaching a Web Traffic Milestone on Congress.gov. Weber writes

Besides the large increases in visits, there are other interesting changes in our web traffic. The percentage of traffic from mobile devices has greatly increased from 27% in 2016 to 52% in 2017, and traffic from social media hit a high of 40% of visits in February 2017, compared to an average of 5% in 2016. Legislation went viral on Facebook, with the bill summary for H.R.861 shared more than 200K times.

Weber concludes his blog post as follows: “While we can not be 100% certain that these large increases in web traffic will continue, we can see that legislation is currently of great interest to the general public, and many new users are discovering Congress.gov.” — Joe

Under the search bar: The web’s most valuable real estate for ads

In How Google Cashes In on the Space Right Under the Search Bar (NYT, Apr. 23, 2017), Daisuke Wakabayashi wrote, “[w]hen Google’s parent company, Alphabet, reports earnings this week, the internet giant’s big profits are expected to demonstrate yet again that the billboard space accompanying Google queries is the web’s most valuable real estate for advertisements,” adding

In the 17 years since Google introduced text-based advertising above search results, the company has allocated more space to ads and created new forms of them. The ad creep on Google has pushed “organic” (unpaid) search results farther down the screen, an effect even more pronounced on the smaller displays of smartphones.

The changes are profound for retailers and brands that rely on leads from Google searches to drive online sales. With limited space available near the top of search results, not advertising on search terms associated with your brand or displaying images of your products is tantamount to telling potential customers to spend their money elsewhere.

— Joe

GPO redesigns its website

According to the press release, some of the new features of the GPO’s new website, which is in beta at this time, include being mobile friendly, improved internal site search, improved user experience, easy access to GPO products and services, and easy access to GPO social media platforms. Once out of beta, this site will replace the GPO’s current website.

Give the new site a test drive at https://beta.gpo.gov/ . Visitors can submit general feedback to the GPO at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/betagpodotgov

— Joe

National Archive reminds White House to save all Trump tweets

To comply with the Presidential Records Act, the Trump administration has agreed to archive all of Trump’s tweets including the ones he deletes or corrects. No word on how precisely the White House will do that. See Stephen Braun’s National Archives to White House: Save all Trump tweets for more. Therein Braun also reports that apparently some senior administration staff are using their private RNC email accounts. — Joe

What impact did fake news in social media have in the 2016 presidential election?

In Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election, Hunt Allcott (NYU) and Matthew Gentzkow (Stanford) conclude “our data suggest that social media were not the most important source of election news, and even the most widely circulated fake news stories were seen by only a small fraction of Americans. For fake news to have changed the outcome of the election, a single fake news story would need to have convinced about 0.7 percent of Clinton voters and non-voters who saw it to shift their votes to Trump, a persuasion rate equivalent to seeing 36 television campaign ads.”

Here’s the abstract to their NBER report:

We present new evidence on the role of false stories circulated on social media prior to the 2016 US presidential election. Drawing on audience data, archives of fact-checking websites, and results from a new online survey, we find: (i) social media was an important but not dominant source of news in the run-up to the election, with 14 percent of Americans calling social media their “most important” source of election news; (ii) of the known false news stories that appeared in the three months before the election, those favoring Trump were shared a total of 30 million times on Facebook, while those favoring Clinton were shared eight million times; (iii) the average American saw and remembered 0.92 pro-Trump fake news stories and 0.23 pro-Clinton fake news stories, with just over half of those who recalled seeing fake news stories believing them; (iv) for fake news to have changed the outcome of the election, a single fake article would need to have had the same persuasive effect as 36 television campaign ads.

— Joe

The international and domestic consequences of failing to protect net neutrality in the US

In The Price of Paid Prioritization: The International and Domestic Consequences of the Failure to Protect Net Neutrality in the United States, 16 Geo. J. Int’l Aff. 98 (2015), Arturo Carrillo and Dawn Nunziato examine international trade and human rights obligations of the United States as they relate to net neutrality to determine the extent to which the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order complies with those obligations. From the abstract:

The authors argue that the 2015 FCC Order, contrary to its predecessors, largely meets the requirements of the international trade and human rights treaties to which the United States is a party. … Even so, we conclude that gaps in the 2015 Rules mean that the United States may still be liable under international law for potential failures to ensure that net neutrality and nondiscrimination principles are adequately protected. In particular, the dual issues of zero-rating and interconnection remain as potential threats to strong net neutrality in this country. This is because, as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and a party to the ICCPR, the United States is bound to respect principles of nondiscrimination and free expression when regulating essential communications media like the Internet. Any FCC rule that does not meaningfully protect net neutrality at all levels of interconnectivity would run afoul of these international obligations and expose the United States to legal action by other governments and individuals prejudiced by its actions.

Recommended. For a brief LLB backgrounder, see Net neutrality: If the Internet is not a utility, what is it? — Joe

S.J.Res. 34: Senate votes to undo broadband privacy rules that protect user data from their Internet providers

“Republican senators moved Thursday to dismantle landmark internet privacy protections for consumers in the first decisive strike against telecommunications and technology regulations created during the Obama administration, and a harbinger of further deregulation”, wrote Cecilia Kang in her  NYT story, Congress Moves to Strike Internet Privacy Rules From Obama Era (March 23, 2017). “The measure passed in a 50-to-48 vote largely along party lines. The House is expected to mirror the Senate’s action next week.”

The measure is S.J.Res. 34. Created on March 25th, a We the People petition calls for reinstating the privacy of customers of broadband and other telecom services because S.J.Res. 34 is expected to pass in the House and be signed by President Trump. — Joe

Ensuring President Trump “shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed:” There’s a blog for that

Take Care, a blog monitoring Trump’s adherence to the law of the land under Article II of the Constitution, has been launched and is staffed by an impressive list of contributors that includes Larry Tribe, Erwin Chemerinsky and more than 20 former Supreme Court clerks and numerous former senior Executive Branch officials. Recommended. — Joe

DocuTicker Shuts Down

DocuTicker, the resource for grey literature published by government agencies, think tanks, etc., announced that it stopped publishing in 2016. Since its launch in June 2004, the site has posted 35,754 items. DocuTricker observed that there are many other web resources that perform the same grey literature service.

HT to Information Today. — Joe

Policy implications for the Deep Web

In The Deep Web and the Darknet: A Look Inside the Internet’s Massive Black Box [SSRN], Dakota S. Rudesill (OSU Law), James Caverlee (Texas A&M) and Daniel Sui (OSU) write

The reality is that while the Surface Web manifests an often astonishing level of altruism for promoting the common good, and the Deep Web inevitably does to some (unknown) extent as well, the Deep Web and Darknet quite often reveal the darker, more antisocial side of human behavior. The markets for hacking programs, other cybercrime tools, and stolen data, in particular, have continued to grow with no signs of slowing down. There an urgent need for policymakers and the public to better understand the Deep Web and develop a more comprehensive law enforcement, regulatory, and national security response. This focus needs also to take into account the potential positive uses of the Deep Web.

The authors’ paper is a policy brief that “outlines what the Deep Web and Darknet are, how they are accessed, and why we should care about them. For policymakers, the continuing growth of the Deep Web in general and the accelerated expansion of the Darknet in particular pose new policy challenges.” It was published by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program.

From the Policy Implications section:

In particular, we would like to stress that policymakers should pay attention to the following:

  • Socio-cultural forces are involved in the “generation and sustainability” of criminal entities that use the Darknet. For example, some countries do not have functioning or sufficient markets in legal goods, a context in which the Darknet may actually facilitate increased social welfare and economic efficiency. States in such a situation may have little incentive to enforce cybercrime laws, while free-riding on the law enforcement, regulatory, and national security efforts against truly bad actors carried out by other states.
  • The Deep Web and the Darknet are attractive to many because of the prosecution, regulation, and national security surveillance efforts of states in the physical world and Surface Web. Illicit activity is being driven below the electronic thermocline of common search engines and usual investigative techniques, and states must be willing to dive beneath it to gather information and take action.
  • The transnationality of these networks frustrates eradication, regulatory, and prosecution efforts of any one state, creating cooperation, collective action, and law harmonization problems for state actors attempting to work together to counter illicit use of the Internet.
  • Rather than eradication, policymakers must focus systematically on bad actors and bad patterns, while striving to anticipate and favorably shape evolution of the Darknet. At times this effort might, like anti-terrorist efforts globally since 9/11, risk resembling “whack-a-mole” (the takedown of Silk Road represents one pelt). It will only succeed over time if a broader strategy including prevention, detection, and response is developed and followed with broad international participation and support.

— Joe

Internet Archive will host Zimmerman’s Research Guide

Following up on last month’s announcement that Zimmerman’s Research Guide will go dark on the Lexis Info Pro site comes news from Andy that arrangements have been made to host an archived version of the Guide’s final edition. Details here. — Joe