Category Archives: Web Communications

What are deepfakes?

“Deepfakes” is an artificial intelligence-based human image synthesis technique. It is used to combine and superimpose existing images and videos onto source images or videos, usually without permission. Such digital impersonation is on the rise. Deepfakes raise the stakes for the “fake news” phenomenon in dramatic fashion (quite literally). Lawfare offers examples:

  • Fake videos could feature public officials taking bribes, uttering racial epithets, or engaging in adultery.
  • Politicians and other government officials could appear in locations where they were not, saying or doing horrific things that they did not.
  • Fake videos could place them in meetings with spies or criminals, launching public outrage, criminal investigations, or both.
  • Soldiers could be shown murdering innocent civilians in a war zone, precipitating waves of violence and even strategic harms to a war effort.
  • A deep fake might falsely depict a white police officer shooting an unarmed black man while shouting racial epithets.
  • A fake audio clip might “reveal” criminal behavior by a candidate on the eve of an election.
  • A fake video might portray an Israeli official doing or saying something so inflammatory as to cause riots in neighboring countries, potentially disrupting diplomatic ties or even motivating a wave of violence.
  • False audio might convincingly depict U.S. officials privately “admitting” a plan to commit this or that outrage overseas, exquisitely timed to disrupt an important diplomatic initiative.
  • A fake video might depict emergency officials “announcing” an impending missile strike on Los Angeles or an emergent pandemic in New York, provoking panic and worse.

For more, see:

The impending war over deepfakes, Axios, July 22, 2018

Here’s why it’s so hard to spot deepfakes, CNN, Aug. 8, 2018

Deep Fakes: A Looming Crisis for National Security, Democracy and Privacy?, Lawfare, Feb. 21, 2018

— Joe

United States Legislative Markup (USLM) XML

Yesterday, the GPO announced that it was “collaborating with the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, and the Office of the Federal Register on parallel projects to convert a subset of enrolled bills, public laws, the Statutes at Large, the Federal Register, and the Code of Federal Regulations into United States Legislative Markup (USLM) XML. A draft of the United States Legislative USLM 2.0.0 schema, a schema review guide, and sample USLM XML files are now available for comment on GPO’s GitHub repository.” — Joe

Who or what is QAnon?

QAnon refers to a conspiracy theory centered on Q, an online handle used on several image boards by a presumably American pseudonymous individual or group of individuals claiming to have access to classified information involving the Trump administration and its opponents in the United States, and detailing a supposed secret counter-coup against the alleged “deep state”. OAnon believers have been showing up at Trump MAGA events. Here’s three profiles:

What Is QAnon? The Conspiracy Theory Tiptoeing Into Trump World (NPR)

QAnon: latest Trump-linked conspiracy theory gains steam at president’s rallies (The Guardian)

#QAnon, the scarily popular pro-Trump conspiracy theory, explained (Vox)

— Joe

Facebook removes “bad actors” ahead of 2018 elections

Facebook has removed pages and accounts that were using “coordinated inauthentic behavior” intended to “mislead” other users ahead of the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, the company announced. From today’s press release:

Today we removed 32 Pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram because they were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior. This kind of behavior is not allowed on Facebook because we don’t want people or organizations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing.

It’s clear that whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has in the past. We believe this could be partly due to changes we’ve made over the last year to make this kind of abuse much harder.

— Joe

Is Twitter a public forum?

From the introduction to Sidewalks, Streets, and Tweets: Is Twitter a Public Forum? (LSB10141, May 30, 2018):

On May 23, 2018, a federal district court in New York in Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump held that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment prohibited President Trump from blocking Twitter users solely based on those users’ expression of their political views. In so doing, the court weighed in on the now-familiar but rapidly evolving debate over when an online forum qualifies as a “public forum” entitled to special consideration under the First Amendment. Significantly, the district court concluded that “the interactive space for replies and retweets created by each tweet sent by the @realDonaldTrump account” should be considered a “designated public forum” where the protections of the First Amendment apply. This ruling is limited to the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account but implicates a number of larger legal issues, including when a social media account is operated by the government rather than by a private citizen, and when the government has opened up that social media account as a forum for private speech. The ability of public officials to restrict private speech on Twitter may be of particular interest to Congress, given that almost all Members now have a Twitter account.

— Joe

The altmetrics of tweets to scholarly documents

From the abstract of Stefanie Haustein’s Scholarly Twitter Metrics:

Twitter has arguably been the most popular among the data sources that form the basis of so-called altmetrics. Tweets to scholarly documents have been heralded as both early indicators of citations as well as measures of societal impact. This chapter provides an overview of Twitter activity as the basis for scholarly metrics from a critical point of view and equally describes the potential and limitations of scholarly Twitter metrics. By reviewing the literature on Twitter in scholarly communication and analyzing 24 million tweets linking to scholarly documents, it aims to provide a basic understanding of what tweets can and cannot measure in the context of research evaluation. Going beyond the limited explanatory power of low correlations between tweets and citations, this chapter considers what types of scholarly documents are popular on Twitter, and how, when and by whom they are diffused in order to understand what tweets to scholarly documents measure. Although this chapter is not able to solve the problems associated with the creation of meaningful metrics from social media, it highlights particular issues and aims to provide the basis for advanced scholarly Twitter metrics.

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

Systemic social media regulation

Here’s the abstract for Frank Fagan’s Systemic Social Media Regulation, Duke Law & Technology Review, Forthcoming:

Social media platforms are motivated by profit, corporate image, long-term viability, good citizenship, and a desire for friendly legal environments. These managerial interests stand in contrast to the gubernatorial interests of the state, which include the promotion of free speech, the development of e-commerce, various counter terrorism initiatives, and the discouragement of hate speech. Inasmuch as managerial and gubernatorial interests overlap, a self-regulation model of platform governance should prevail. Inasmuch as they diverge, regulation is desirable when its benefits exceed its costs. An assessment of the benefits and costs of social media regulation should account for how social facts, norms, and falsehoods proliferate. This Article sketches a basic economic model. What emerges from the analysis is that the quality of discourse cannot be controlled through suppression of content, or even disclosure of source. A better approach is to modify, in a manner conducive to discursive excellence, the structure of the forum. Optimal platform architecture should aim to reduce the systemic externalities generated by the social interactions that they enable, including the social costs of unlawful interference in elections and the proliferation of hate speech. Simultaneously, a systemic approach to social media regulation implies fewer controls on user behavior and content creation, and attendant First Amendment complications. Several examples are explored, including algorithmic newsfeeds, online advertising, and invited campus speakers.

— Joe

Case study on information war: Examination of recent Russian information warfare activities and capabilities

Three snips from the conclusion of Volodymyr Lysenko and Catherine Brooks, Russian information troops, disinformation, and democracy, 23 First Monday no. 7 (May 7, 2018:

This work illuminates some of the activities, investments, and strategies behind a case of contemporary information war, an approach that will be ever more prevalent in this increasingly digital world. We provide evidence showing these kinds of patterns emanating from Russia, given the potential effects Russia’s information-based strategies may be having around the globe, and especially in electoral processes (e.g., in the U.S., France, and Germany). Indeed these findings show that in this exemplary case of Russian information-based activities, digital hacking is so far an “easy and cheap road” for Russia to deploy the kinds of disruptions that can interrupt democratic processes or governing efforts around the world. We investigate Russian information-based global influences or “hacks” in order to generate new ideas about disruptive digital activities that can emanate from any country and bring effects that are potentially global in size.

we can see an important chain of command worth reviewing. Based on our findings, we argue that Putin’s geopolitical advisors point to areas of concern and political tension, and those get translated into hacking assignments taking place in the FSB, GRU, possibly the SVR (Sluzhba vneshney razvedki, Foreign Intelligence Service), or by paid civil trolls or “unpaid” cyber-patrol “volunteers”. These assignments are sent via curators in these contexts who, in turn, distribute assignments to their subordinate hackers and trolls. Such chain of command may explain why the DNC was independently and simultaneously hacked by the APT 29 (FSB) and APT 28 (GRU). That is, the assignments were likely passed along to the FSB and GRU independently, to increase the likelihood of the successful hack.

Putin admitted in May 2017 that there may exist some “patriotic” hackers who may fight for Russia globally on their own, and may have interfered in a recent U.S. election. At the same time, he denied state-level interference. We assert that this kind of reference to volunteer patriots is similar to his reasoning about Russian involvement in Ukrainian disruptions, that attacks were simply activities of average citizens and not of state-sponsored employees and troops. There’s a blurring of lines we find in the case of Russia between state-sponsored workers and those can be viewed as average citizens being encouraged and rewarded for hacking activities.

As hybrid war is on the rise — that is, war involving both physical military strategies and information/cyber tactics — new kinds of information/cyber strategies will continue to emerge. The type of attacks or disinformation efforts will shift over time, by country, and with rapid advancements in digital life. With this work, we offer an in-depth investigation of a case of hybrid war, focusing on information/cyber strategies in particular. From this case we can consider other cases underway and ideally, begin to consider the kinds of peace-keeping strategies in an information era in order to maintain a healthy geopolitical climate.

Recommended. — Joe

FCC establishes portal for ISP disclosures

From the FCC public notice dated May 21, 2018:

As required by the Restoring Internet Freedom Order the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, in coordination with the Wireline Competition Bureau, establishes a portal for Internet service provider (ISP) transparency disclosures. The Order becomes effective on June 11, 2018, and the revised transparency rule – 47 CFR § 8.1(a) – requires ISPs to publicly disclose information about their service in one of two ways – by providing the disclosure on a publicly available, easily accessible website or by submitting it to the FCC for posting.

ISPs choosing to submit their required disclosures to the FCC should do so electronically, in a format that is accessible to people with disabilities, through http://www.fcc.gov/isp-disclosures. On May 29, 2018, this portal will be available for both ISPs submitting their disclosures to the FCC and consumers searching for any disclosures submitted to the FCC.

An ISP that does not submit its required disclosure to the FCC through this portal will be deemed as having elected to provide it on a publicly available, easily accessible website of its choosing. An ISP that submits its required disclosure to the FCC and later elects to provide it on a publicly available, easily accessible website of its choosing should inform the FCC of this change by filing via the FCC portal a clear statement of the change, including the website where consumers can find the required disclosure.

Consumers will be able to use the FCC portal to access ISP disclosures or information on where to find the disclosure for each ISP that previously submitted a disclosure to the FCC. For an ISP that has made no submissions through the FCC portal, consumers should contact the ISP or search for its disclosure on the web.

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

Facebook Launches Searchable Archive of U.S. Political Ads

The New York Times is reporting that yesterday Facebook launched an archive of U.S. political ads that appear on the world’s largest social network, showing who paid for them and other details. From the Facebook press release:

We believe that increased transparency will lead to increased accountability and responsibility over time – not just for Facebook but advertisers as well. We’re investing heavily in more people and better technology to proactively identify abuse. But if you see an ad which you believe has political content and isn’t labeled, please report it. Tap the three dots at the top right-hand corner of the ad, select “report,” and then “it refers to a political candidate or issue.” Facebook will review the ad, and if it falls under our Political Advertising policy, we’ll take it down and add it to the archive. The advertiser will then be banned from running ads with political content until they complete our authorization process. And we’ll follow up to let you know what happened to the ad you reported. This is the tool that makes it easier for you to find problems, which we want. We invite you to report any ad so we get better, faster.

Here’s the link to the Political Ads Archive (FB login required). — Joe

What Does GDPR Mean for Libraries Worldwide? ARL Releases Issue Brief

From the ARL press release: “To help libraries consider what they need to do in response to the GDPR, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has published an issue brief on the topic by Anne T. Gilliland, scholarly communications officer for University Libraries at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”

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

Facebook’s influence on the Irish abortion referendum

On May 25, 2018, Irish voters will vote on repealing Article 40.3.3 – known as the eighth amendment – which since 1983 has given unborn foetuses and pregnant women an equal right to life, in effect enshrining a ban on abortion in the country’s constitution. Following the controversy around Cambridge Analytica and its influence on the US presidential election and Brexit referendum, there has been concern that outside influence could swing the vote, in a country with just 3.2m eligible voters.

In May, Google announced a ban on all ads relating to the referendum and Facebook announced that it was blocking all foreign referendum advertising. However, Facebook is still a major factor in this campaign. In an attempt to build a picture of how both sides of the referendum are using Facebook to influence voters, the Transparency Initiative Referendum has been examining adverts, including boosted posts, that have appeared in the feeds of 600 Irish-based Facebook users. For a report on the study, see The Guardian’s How Facebook is influencing the Irish abortion referendum. — Joe

Ready for GDPR compliance?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union. It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU. The GDPR aims primarily to give control to citizens and residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU. It was adopted on April 14 2016, and after a two-year transition period, becomes enforceable on May 25 2018. Any company that stores or processes personal information about EU citizens within EU states must comply with the GDPR, even if they do not have a business presence within the EU.

What types of privacy data does the GDPR protect?

  • Basic identity information such as name, address and ID numbers
  • Web data such as location, IP address, cookie data and RFID tags
  • Health and genetic data
  • Biometric data
  • Racial or ethnic data
  • Political opinions
  • Sexual orientation

Kelly LeBlanc’s Europe’s GDPR to Set New Standards in Data Protection and Privacy Law focuses on the GDPR’s over-arching purpose and mission, common misconceptions, and the road to compliance. Recommended. — Joe

Court rules President cannot block his Twitter account [text]

From the US District Court for the Southern District of New York’s holding in Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump, 17-Civ-5205, May 23, 2018:

Turning to the merits of plaintiffs’ First Amendment claim, we hold that the speech in which they seek to engage is protected by the First Amendment and that the President and Scavino exert governmental control over certain aspects of the @realDonaldTrump account, including the interactive space of the tweets sent from the account. That interactive space is susceptible to analysis under the Supreme Court’s forum doctrines, and is properly characterized as a designated public forum. The viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum is proscribed by the First Amendment and cannot be justified by the President’s personal First Amendment interests.

— Joe

A practical guide to the European Union’s GDPR for American businesses

American businesses operating or serving customers in the EU must comply with the EU’s GDPR which becomes effective on May 25. A recent survey found that 91 percent of American businesses lack awareness surrounding the details of the GDPR, while 84 percent don’t understand the GDPR’s implications for their specific business. On Recode, Nancy Harris offers a practical guide to the European Union’s GDPR for American businesses. — Joe

Senate passes joint resolution to restore net neutrality [text]

S.J.Res.52 restores net neutrality by nullifying the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission entitled “Restoring Internet Freedom.” The rule published on February 22, 2018: (1) restores the classification of broadband Internet access service as a lightly-regulated “information service”; (2) reinstates private mobile service classification of mobile broadband Internet access service; (3) requires Internet service providers to disclose information about their network management practices, performance characteristics, and commercial terms of service; and (4) eliminates the Internet Conduct Standard and the bright-line rules. There is no expectation that the joint resolution will pass in the House. — Joe

The Trump Twitter Archive

While approximately 4,000 tweets deleted prior to September 2016 will not be found in the Trump Twitter Archive, the Archive monitors Trump’s Twitter account in real time. — Joe

Rethinking presidential immunity in the time of Twitter

From the abstract for Douglas McKechnie, @POTUS: Rethinking Presidential Immunity in the Time of Twitter, 72 Univ. of Miami Law Review 1 (2017):

President Donald Trump’s use of Twitter portends a turning point in presidential communication. His Tweets animate his base and enrage his opponents. Tweets, however, like any form of communication, can ruin reputations. In Nixon v. Fitzgerald, the Supreme Court determined that a president retains absolute immunity for all actions that fall within the “outer perimeter” of his official duties. This Article explores the “outer perimeter” of presidential immunity. It suggests the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments in-form the demarcation of the “outer perimeter,” and that when a president engages in malicious defamation, his speech falls outside this perimeter and is not protected by presidential immunity.

The Article begins by examining Twitter as a social media platform and how it facilitates and affects the way we communicate. It then focuses on how Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump incorporated the use of Twitter into their presidencies. I then explore four distinct lines of jurisprudence that I argue inform how to identify the “outer perimeter” of a president’s official duties: (1) presidential immunity; (2) immunity for executive branch officials; (3) the constitutional implications of defamation; and (4) the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments’ prohibition on government action motivated by animus. I posit that considering these four doctrines, along with the method and manner of communication facilitated by Twitter, malicious defamation falls outside the “outer perimeter” of official presidential duties, and thus, presidential immunity is inapplicable.

— Joe

State-by-state net neutrality laws

Since the FCC’s Restore Internet Freedom Order, officials across 26 states have taken action aimed at preventing ISPs from engaging in throttling or blocking content or services, engaging in paid prioritization of traffic, or otherwise mismanaging data traffic traveling over broadband networks within state lines. Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of local net neutrality state laws. — Joe

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