Category Archives: Web Communications

Who falls for fake news?

From the abstract for Gordon Pennycook and David G. Rand’s Who Falls for Fake News? The Roles of Analytic Thinking, Motivated Reasoning, Political Ideology, and Bullshit Receptivity:

Fake news represents a particularly egregious and direct avenue by which inaccurate beliefs have been propagated via social media. Here we investigate the cognitive psychological profile of individuals who fall prey to fake news. We find a consistent positive correlation between the propensity to think analytically – as measured by the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) – and the ability to differentiate fake news from real news (“media truth discernment”). This was true regardless of whether the article’s source was indicated (which, surprisingly, also had no main effect on accuracy judgments). Contrary to the motivated reasoning account, CRT was just as positively correlated with media truth discernment, if not more so, for headlines that aligned with individuals’ political ideology relative to those that were politically discordant. The link between analytic thinking and media truth discernment was driven both by a negative correlation between CRT and perceptions of fake news accuracy (particularly among Hillary Clinton supporters), and a positive correlation between CRT and perceptions of real news accuracy (particularly among Donald Trump supporters). This suggests that factors that undermine the legitimacy of traditional news media may exacerbate the problem of inaccurate political beliefs among Trump supporters, who engaged in less analytic thinking and were overall less able to discern fake from real news (regardless of the news’ political valence). We also found consistent evidence that pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity negatively correlates with perceptions of fake news accuracy; a correlation that is mediated by analytic thinking. Finally, analytic thinking was associated with an unwillingness to share both fake and real news on social media. Our results indicate that the propensity to think analytically plays an important role in the recognition of misinformation, regardless of political valence – a finding that opens up potential avenues for fighting fake news.

— Joe

Simon Fodden, 1944 – 2018

A pioneer in Canadian law blogging, Slaw founder Simon Fodden passed away on Feb. 10, 2018. Here’s the link to his obit on Slaw by Steve Matthews. — Joe

How YouTube’s algorithm distorts reality: The Guardian’s video explainer

The 2016 presidential race was fought online in a swamp of disinformation, conspiracy theories and fake news. A Guardian investigation has uncovered evidence suggesting YouTube’s recommendation algorithm was disproportionately prompting users to watch pro-Trump and anti-Clinton videos. See Paul Lewis’s ‘Fiction is outperforming reality’: how YouTube’s algorithm distorts truth, The Guardian, Feb. 2, 2018 for details. — Joe

Is a ‘marketplace for ideas’ an illusion?

From the abstract for Claudio Lombardi’s The Illusion of a ‘Marketplace for Ideas’: “Our behaviour on the internet is continuously monitored and processed through the elaboration of big data. Complex algorithms categorize our choices and personalise our online environment, which is used to propose, inter alia, bespoke news and information. It is in this context, that the competition between sources of information in the ‘market for ideas’, takes place. While these mechanisms bring efficiency benefits, they also have severe downsides that only very recently we have begun to uncover. These drawbacks regard not only deadweight losses caused by market distortions, but also public policy issues, in particular in case of politically relevant news. What are the public and private interest concerns impacted by this practice? Can this algorithm-driven selection of news be captured by competition laws? The digital news market, as constructed around online advertising, presents peculiarities which necessitate a reframing of standard approaches to traditional information markets, and of the creation and distribution of ideas.”

H/T to Media Law Prof blog. — Joe

New Jersey follows Montana and New York in protecting net neutrality by executive order

New Jersey is enforcing net neutrality with a new executive order that requires ISPs to follow neutrality rules if they sell Internet service to state agencies. — Joe

Fact-checking Trump tweets in real time with Washington Post plugins

The Washington Post has made available a Foxfire plugin and a Chrome plugin that will automatically display commentary next to Donald Trump’s tweets. Spearheaded by the Post’s politics team at The Fix, the plugins provides context and fact-checking of Trump tweets in real time. Recommended. — Joe

Trump, Twitter, and the Russians: The Growing Obsolescence of Federal Campaign Finance Law

From Anthony Gaughan’s Trump, Twitter, and the Russians: The Growing Obsolescence of Federal Campaign Finance Law, 27 Univ. of Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal ___ (2017):

Since the 1970s, federal campaign finance law has been built on four pillars. The first is contribution limits on donations to candidate campaigns and political party committees. The contribution limits are designed to reduce the role of money in politics by preventing large donors from corrupting elected officials. The second is the ban on foreign contributions to American political campaigns. The prohibition is intended to prevent foreign influence on American elections and to ensure that candidates rely exclusively on American sources of support for getting their campaign messages out to voters. The third is the mandatory public disclosure of the identities of campaign contributors. Disclosure laws are intended to enable voters to evaluate the sources of a candidate’s support and to guard against corruption. The fourth pillar is the Federal Election Commission, which is charged with enforcing the law in an effective and bipartisan manner.

The 2016 presidential campaign made it starkly apparent that all four pillars of federal campaign finance law have become woefully outdated in the age of the internet, social media, and non-stop fundraising. First, contribution limits have not only failed to reduce the role of money in politics but have instead severely distorted our political system. Second, the federal ban on foreign contributions failed to prevent a massive level of foreign intervention in the 2016 presidential election. Third, FECA’s requirement that all contributions to political committees be reported and publicly disclosed no longer keeps the public adequately informed. Fourth, FECA’s foundational presumption that the FEC would enforce the law in a bipartisan and vigorous fashion has collapsed amid finger-pointing, personal acrimony, and profound ideological divisions among the commissioners.

A vestige of the post-Watergate reforms of the 1970s, FECA no longer adequately regulates the campaign finance world of 21st century American politics. The time has come for a sweeping reform and restructuring of the law. This article proposes 4 major reforms to modernize federal campaign finance law: the elimination of FECA’s contribution limits, the closing of the dark and gray money loopholes, the clarification and expansion of federal regulation of foreign government influence on American elections, and the fundamental restructuring of the FEC. By adopting those reforms, FECA will finally be brought out of the 1970s and into the age of the internet, iPhones, Twitter, and Facebook.

— Joe

New York follows Montana in preserving net neutrality by executive order

While 22 states, including New York, pursue a litigation solution, yesterday New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order [text] that would require internet service providers with state contracts to abide by net neutrality rules. See also, Net Neutrality Preserved by Governor’s Executive Order in Montana. — Joe

Net neutrality preserved by governor’s executive order in Montana

Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed an executive order to protect net neutrality in Montana by requiring that successful recipients of state contracts adhere to internet neutrality principles. Here’s the text of EO No. 3-2018. — Joe

Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

In Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, Robert Faris et al. analyze both mainstream and social media coverage of the 2016 United States presidential election. The article documents that the majority of mainstream media coverage was negative for both candidates, but largely followed Donald Trump’s agenda: when reporting on Hillary Clinton, coverage primarily focused on the various scandals related to the Clinton Foundation and emails. When focused on Trump, major substantive issues, primarily immigration, were prominent. Indeed, immigration emerged as a central issue in the campaign and served as a defining issue for the Trump campaign.

The authors find that the structure and composition of media on the right and left are quite different. The leading media on the right and left are rooted in different traditions and journalistic practices. On the conservative side, more attention was paid to pro-Trump, highly partisan media outlets. On the liberal side, by contrast, the center of gravity was made up largely of long-standing media organizations steeped in the traditions and practices of objective journalism.

The authors’ data supports lines of research on polarization in American politics that focus on the asymmetric patterns between the left and the right, rather than studies that see polarization as a general historical phenomenon, driven by technology or other mechanisms that apply across the partisan divide.

The analysis includes the evaluation and mapping of the media landscape from several perspectives and is based on large-scale data collection of media stories published on the web and shared on Twitter. — Joe

Are law profs who tweet on legal topics viewed as experts by readers?

Towards a Series of Academic Norms for #Lawprof Twitter by Carissa Byrne Hessick discusses the virtues and the vices of law professors participating in a now-popular form of public discourse: Twitter. It also offers some tentative thoughts on what professional norms ought to apply to law professors who identify themselves as law professors on Twitter. Specifically, it suggests that law professors should assume that, each time they tweet about a legal issue, they are making an implicit claim to expertise about that issue. It also suggests that law professors who participate on Twitter should do so primarily to help promote reasoned debate. — Joe

Bob Ambrogi joins LexBlog

Bob Ambrogi is joining LexBlog as publisher and editor-in-chief of a new arm of the company, one that “will make legal news, information and analysis more easily and intuitively accessible to legal professionals and the public and that will shine a light on the many bloggers who are writing all this.” More at Bob’s LawSites post. Congrats and good luck. — Joe

UK to make high-speed internet a guaranteed legal right by 2020

The Guardian is reporting that the British government has announced that it will make high-speed broadband internet a guaranteed legal right for all homes and businesses in the UK by 2020. The U.K.’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has committed to providing users the legal right to ask an ISP to provide a minimum 10 Mbps connection to their home, regardless of whether they live in an urban or rural area. — Joe

New York AG Schneiderman: “I Will Sue To Protect Net Neutrality”

Tim Berners-Lee, Vinton G. Cerf, et al. urge Congress to protect net neutrality

Internet experts, leaders, and pioneers, including Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf, are urging Congress to reconsider its plan to repeal net neutrality. In an open letter published Monday and signed by more than 20 individuals, the signatories accuse the plan of being “based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology.” From the letter:

This proposed Order would repeal key network neutrality protections that prevent Internet access providers from blocking content, websites and applications, slowing or speeding up services or classes of service, and charging online services for access or fast lanes to Internet access providers’ customers. The proposed Order would also repeal oversight over other unreasonable discrimination and unreasonable practices, and over interconnection with last-mile Internet access providers. The proposed Order removes long-standing FCC oversight over Internet access providers without an adequate replacement to protect consumers, free markets and online innovation.

— Joe

Net neutrality comments to FCC gamed

Pew reports that 21.7 million comments were submitted electronically to the FCC in response to the Commission’s call for comments on the FCC’s net neutrality rule. “[Pew] Center’s analysis of these submissions finds that the comments present challenges to anyone hoping to understand the attitudes of the concerned public regarding net neutrality. It also highlights the ways in which individuals and groups are using modern digital tools to engage in the long-standing practice of speaking out in order to influence government policy decisions” according to Public Comments to the Federal Communications Commission About Net Neutrality Contain Many Inaccuracies and Duplicates (Nov. 29, 2017).

Pew’s findings include the following:

  • 57% of the comments utilized either duplicate email addresses or temporary email addresses created with the intention of being used for a short period of time and then discarded
  • Of the 21.7 million comments posted, 6% were unique. The other 94% were submitted multiple times – in some cases, hundreds of thousands of times.
  • On nine different occasions, more than 75,000 comments were submitted at the very same second – often including identical or highly similar comments Three of these nine instances featured variations of a popular pro-net-neutrality message, while the others promoted several different anti-net-neutrality statements.

Interesting. H/T to beSpacific. — Joe

CRS releases report examining the net neutrality debate

From the summary of The Net Neutrality Debate: Access to Broadband Networks (Nov. 22, 2017 R40616):

As congressional policymakers continue to debate telecommunications reform, a major discussion point revolves around what approach should be taken to ensure unfettered access to the Internet. The move to place restrictions on the owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet, to ensure equal access and nondiscriminatory treatment, is referred to as “net neutrality.” While there is no single accepted definition of “net neutrality,” most agree that any such definition should include the general principles that owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that network, and they should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that network.

The FCC’s move to reexamine its existing open Internet rules has reopened the debate over whether Congress should consider a more comprehensive measure to amend existing law to provide greater regulatory stability and guidance to the FCC. Whether Congress will choose to address more comprehensive legislation to amend the 1934 Communications Act, to provide a broad-based framework for such regulation, remains to be seen.

— Joe

Google’s Role in Spreading Fake News and Misinformation

H/T to Legal Skills Prof Blog for calling attention to Google’s Role in Spreading Fake News and Misinformation by Danaë Metaxa-Kakavouli and Nicolás Torres-Echeverry. Here’s the abstract:

This paper analyzes Google’s role in proliferating fake news and misinformation in the months leading up to and immediately following the U.S. 2016 national election. It is one section of a longer report, Fake News and Misinformation: The roles of the nation’s digital newsstands, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Reddit, that serves as the first phase of a continuing inquiry over the 2017-18 academic year. This paper reviews the role of Google, and specifically Google Search, in the misinformation landscape. It tracks the problem of misinformation in search engines from the advent of search engine optimization and spam through the present day, focusing on Google’s efforts to curb its role in spreading fake news following the 2016 U.S. elections.

Part 1 describes the “arms race” between search engines and spammers exploiting weaknesses in search algorithms, which contributes to Google’s role in proliferating fake and/or biased news in the 2016 elections. As part of the continuing accounting of the impact of fake news and misinformation on the 2016 elections, this analysis tracks search results for senate and presidential candidates in that election, revealing that up to 30% of these national candidates had their search results affected by potentially fake or biased content.

Part 2 summarizes Google’s recent efforts in 2017 to curb misleading or offensive content through user reporting and human reviewers, along with the opinions of users and experts who are largely supportive of these changes. The section broadly reviews the influence of the Internet on journalism, and then describes Google’s recent efforts to invest in initiatives that bolster investigative journalism and news. It concludes with suggestions for policy and research directions, recommending in particular that Google and other companies increase data transparency, in particular for researchers, to better understand misinformation phenomena online. The study concludes that transparency and civilian oversight are the next critical steps towards a society which benefits fully from the ubiquitous and powerful technologies that surround us.

— Joe

Cybersecurity reports and resources compiled by CRS

Much is written on this topic, and Cybersecurity: Cybercrime and National Security Authoritative Reports and Resources (Nov. 14, 2017 R44408) directs the reader to authoritative sources that address many of the most prominent cybersecurity issues. The annotated descriptions of these sources are listed in reverse chronological order, with an emphasis on material published in the past several years. This report includes resources and studies from government agencies (federal, state, local, and international), think tanks, academic institutions, news organizations, and other sources. — Joe

Trump’s tweets in court

Three Washington Post stories cover judicial notice of President Trump’s tweets on topics litigated in court: sanctuary cities, travel ban and transgender military ban cases. — Joe