At a glance.
- Coordinated inauthenticity and content moderation.
- Education for media literacy.
- Detecting and unmasking deepfakes.
- The karaoke threat, as seen from Beijing.
Facebook takes down coordinated disinformation spread by inauthentic sites.
Facebook reported in its July report on coordinated inauthenticity that it had taken down two major cases of coordinated inauthenticity.
One originated in Myanmar, where the company removed seventy-nine Facebook accounts, thirteen Pages, eight Groups, and nineteen Instagram accounts linked to Myanmar's military. The intent was to influence a domestic audience, and Facebook sees some continuity between this effort and similar activity it bopped back in 2017.
The company also took down sixty-five Facebook and two-hundred-forty-three Instagram accounts. These were multinational in an interesting way, originating in Russia but using the services of the UK-based marketing firm Fazze, which had been trying to recruit influencers to spread COVID vaccine information. (Fazze itself is now also unwelcome on Facebook's platforms.)
The effort apparently enjoyed only indifferent success, but the concentration on influencers was an interesting development, a tribute to the place influencers have assumed in the marketing and advertising racket generally. That concentration was also in this case the campaign's downfall. Reuters reports that Fazze approached various influencers with offers to pay them for distributing anti-vaccine content, and two of the influencers, one French, the other German, blew the gaffe by complaining publicly about the approach. That prompted investigation and, eventually, ejection.
The anti-vaccine themes were the familiar Russian wheezes about the shots would for sure be turning people into chimpanzees, but of course such reversion back isn't happening (and trust us, we'd have noticed--we got vaccinated a few months ago and haven't so much as hankered for a banana).
Facebook takes a great deal of stick from both politicians and the press over its policies with respect to content. This New York Times story about the White House's hardening line on what Facebook should do with respect to vaccine information offers some good examples. President Biden accused Facebook of "killing people," an accusation he later walked back a bit, but that's probably a fair representation of Administration sentiment with respect to the social network. For its part, Facebook has raised the counter-accusation that the Administration is scapegoating Menlo Park for Washington's failure to reach its national vaccination goals. It's also trying to walk a fine line. As the Times puts it:
"Facebook told White House officials that it grappled with content that wasn’t explicitly false, such as posts that cast doubt about vaccines but don’t clearly violate the social network’s rules on health misinformation. Facebook allows people to express their experiences with vaccines, such as pain or side effects after receiving a shot, as long as they don’t explicitly endorse falsehoods."
Twitter's approach has been more direct, with outright bans for expression it determines to be harmful or inaccurate. The New York Times reports that Twitter suspended the account of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (Republican, Georgia 14th) for tweeting "'The FDA should not approve the covid vaccines.' She said there were too many reports of infection and spread of the coronavirus among vaccinated people, and that the vaccines were 'failing' and 'do not reduce the spread of the virus & neither do masks.'"
But if we may be permitted an expression of opinion, it strikes us that Facebook's approach to, and concentration on, coordinated inauthenticity, and their efforts toward establishing transparency with respect to foreign or government interference, have been underappreciated. It's not a complete or total solution to the problem of lies and nonsense, but it's a partial and valuable contribution that seems to do minimal violence to civil liberties. And the legal status of social media seems, for now, more platform than publisher.
Media literacy in Illinois schools.
NPR reports that schools in the US state of Illinois are undertaking media literacy instruction for their students in the hope of equipping them to distinguish reliable from unreliable sources. Lateral comparison of various news sources seems one of the central approaches, as will be class discussion of source reliability.
Adobe has an op-ed in TheHill in which it expresses strong support for a national task force to combat deepfakes. Specifically, the company urges passage of S.2559 - the Deepfake and Digital Provenance Task Force Act, introduced in the Senate on July 31st by Senator Portman (Republican of Ohio). The proposed bill would establish a national task force to be led by the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Science and Technology Policy that would undertake to monitor the ways in which convincing digital fakes could be produced (especially by artificial intelligence) and by which the provenance of digital artifacts might be reliably assessed.
Drop the mic (and put your hands up).
China's government is taking action against what it evidently fears is the creeping mindshare being earned by divisive, subversive songs, especially when they're available for karaoke performance. Henceforth, CNN reports. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is promulgating a list of karaoke tunes that will, effective October 1st, no longer be permitted. The general principle the Ministry enunciated is, as glossed by CNN, that, "[K]araoke must not endanger national unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity, incite ethnic hatred or undermine ethnic unity, promote cults or superstition or violate the state's religious policies. Songs must also not encourage obscenity, gambling, violence, drug-related activities or crime, nor should they insult or slander others." The goal of the regulation is, in the Ministry's words, to "promote socialist core values, and maintain national cultural security and ideological security."
Which songs will figure on the prohibited list isn't yet clear, but we offer this list of karaoke "throwback classics" as a possible watchlist. It's from Teen Vogue, and Teen Vogue ought to know:
- "Don't Stop Believin," by Journey
- "I Wanna Dance with Somebody," by Whitney Houston
- "Hit the Road Jack," by Ray Charles
- "Dancing Queen," by ABBA
- "Mamma Mia," by ABBA
- "I Will Survive," by Gloria Gaynor
- "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," by Cyndi Lauper
- "Come on Eileen," by Dexys Midnight Runners
- "Uptown Girl," by Billy Joel
- "Walking on Sunshine," by Katrina and the Waves
- "Stayin' Alive," by Bee Gees
- "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)," by The Proclaimers
- "Total Eclipse of the Heart," by Bonnie Tyler
- "Africa," by TOTO
- "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," by Elton John
- "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover," by Sophie B. Hawkins
- "Sweet Caroline," by Neil Diamond
- "Hey Jude," by The Beatles
- "Come Fly with Me," by Frank Sinatra
- "Something's Gotta Give," by Sammy Davis Jr.
- "I Love Rock n' Roll," by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
- "Sweet Home Alabama," by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- "Jessie's Girl," by Rick Springfield
- "Sexual Healing," by Marvin Gaye
"Walkin' on Sunshine" might pass muster, but "Hit the Road Jack" is probably divisive, and "Sweet Home Alabama?" Forget about it. Sing 'em while you still can.