At a glance.
- Secondary Infektion's influence campaign in Sweden.
- Content control, Beijing style.
- Internet management, Moscow style.
- Content moderation, New York and San Francisco style.
Secondary Infektion continues to push fake news in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe.
Recorded Future this week updated its reporting on Secondary Infektion, a Russian government influence campaign that's distributed bogus statements and other fake news items designed to advance Russian interests by fomenting mistrust within NATO and NATO's potential partners. In this case the operation faked and flacked phony posts to Flashback (a popular Swedish online forum) that misrepresented themselves as being from a Liberalna Part legislator, Fredrik Malm, calling for both Sweden and Ukraine to join NATO for mutual protection against Russia. In this case, as in so many others, the imposture was betrayed by poor linguistic skills: Secondary Infektion appears to have used machine translation to generate the text.
CyberScoop notes the similarities between Secondary Infektion's campaign and those of its cousin in the Russian intelligence services, Ghostwriter. Both have devoted some effort to pushing disinformation through the political right, the better to confuse the right and inflame the left.
China's policy with respect to content moderation.
Don't much care for influencer culture, or for the ways in which celebrities lead their followers around? Neither does the Chinese Communist Party. Beijing is working to reduce, WIRED reports, the disproportionate effects of "fandom" on, of course, the young. They're not entirely wrong--the effects of popular culture on young minds have worried thoughtful people since something that might be called "popular culture" has been recognized. China's situation is distinctive in its economic model. Celebrities make money in China largely through endorsements, in the usual influencer way, and a youth economy that supports them has responded proportionately.
The technological potential to create influencers at scale has compounded the concerns the authorities have. Some of the restrictions, like government-imposed limitations on screentime, have been heavy-handed, but WIRED suggests that some in the influencer industry welcome some restraint. “Creating a celebrity has never been so easy and so fast—and the same goes for ruining one,” one pioneer in the sector says. “It’s a new thing for everyone, including the regulators. These new restrictions might not be perfect, but hopefully they will drive celebrities to become ethical idols.”
Content control and censorship aren't confined to domestic channels. Beijing recognizes the international nature of online culture, and it seems interested in exerting its influence well outside China. Foreign Policy explains that the controls it exerts are diplomatic, legal, economic, and even technical (like Chinese-manufactured smart phones programmed to block certain content).
Russia advances its control over an increasingly autarkic Internet.
Russia has long aspired to operate an autarkic national Internet. It's recently advanced that goal by applying technical controls over potentially objectionable content. The New York Times describes how a series of laws and regulations pushed Internet service providers and platforms to comply with requirements to install monitoring systems. Should a platform--like Twitter, in the case the Times leads with--be dilatory in taking down posts the Kremlin deems illegal (that is, finds politically objectionable) the security organs will simply throttle the service until it becomes effectively unusable.
And there's an appetite for control in the US as well, more diffuse, but there nonetheless.
In the US, Facebook continues to come under widespread criticism for its failure to do more to screen out misinformation, hate, and the other stuff that the Internet might seem to have been designed to disseminate. (It wasn't so designed, of course. If you look back at its ARPANET roots, the Internet was built to enable National Laboratories to exchange information. But the web has since become the biggest kainotype the world has ever seen. It's discovered its purposes through use, not through design requirements.)
Some of that criticism has been expressed in Congress, but more of it has come from the mainstream media, whose Facebook Project exceeds in scope and interest the Pegasus Project that exposed abuse of intercept tools. Much of the reporting has focused on the rift between Facebook's internal documents and its public statements, as in this Washington Post story about Facebook's (limited and disingenuous, in the Post's account) cooperation with US Administration concerns over vaccine misinformation.
Platformer offers a Facebook insider's perspective on how to read the internal documents that have leaked. Facebook's internal posting policies and culture are flat and open, and it's easy, the insider told Platformer, to fail to understand that the internal posters fall into their own influencer hierarchy. Not everything seen in the leaked papers should be given equal weight.
The platforms seem to be trying to moderate content that might be harmful, "inappropriate" in some way, but with the sorts of unintended consequences and missteps one has come to expect with content moderation. The adult site Only Fans, for example, is now cast in the surprising role of cultural hero and artistic preservationist as museum realize that Facebook, for one, is screening out artistic nudes as "inappropriate." A few years ago Facebook removed a photo of the familiar Venus of Willendorf, a limestone figure of a woman some 25,000 years old, from the Vienna Museum of Natural History’s page several years ago. It was judged “pornographic.” Now the Vienna Tourist Board has concluded that Only Fans is a reasonable alternative to philistine moderation. Take a look at the New York Times piece on the affair. If you can see the Venus of Willendorf as pornographic, don't say, "for shame, New York Times," but seek help (and we mean that in the most appropriate, affirming, and nonjudgmental way possible).