Digital Deception Decoder 

September 28, 2018

MapLight and the Digital Intelligence (DigIntel) Lab at the Institute for the Future have teamed up on a free newsletter to help you track the most important news, research, and analysis of deceptive digital politics. Each week, we'll send you coverage of the webs of entities that seek to manipulate public opinion, their political spending ties, and the actors working to safeguard our democracy. Know someone who might be interested? Ask them to sign up!
  • Sam Woolley from the Digital Intelligence Lab at the Institute for the Future previews a future full of “astroturfing” and outlines the high stakes for confronting computational propaganda in a piece for Quartz’s “What Happens Next” series.  As Woolley explains, “If social media companies, governments and the public don’t begin to generate actual solutions...then the next generation of children may be born into a world where it is nearly impossible to tell truth from fiction both on and offline.”

  • More investigative reporting about big tech is on the way. Beginning in early 2019, The Markup will focus on “illuminating the societal harms
 of emerging technologies,” thanks in part to a $20 million gift from Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.  The New York Times’ Nellie Bowles profiles the new outfit -- complete with The Markup Editor-in-Chief Julia Angwin’s colorful comparison of technology to canned food.

  • Advances in transparency:  Last year, California passed a law requiring the top three campaign funders of political ads for candidates and ballot measures to be prominently displayed on television, radio, and print ads.  Now, Gov. Brown has signed another bill extending the requirements for political ads on social media as well. Meanwhile, U.S. Senate candidates will finally begin filing campaign finance reports online instead of by paper.  The new system puts the Senate in line with other federal candidates and should save time and money while helping the public to track campaign money.

  • Facebook has been turning its lobbying attention to the states.  Josefa Velasquez at Sludge finds Facebook’s state-level lobbying expenditures have been steadily increasing -- from $728K in 2015, to $952K in 2016, and up to $1.3M in 2017.  The story outlines a pattern in which state “efforts to regulate the social media company were introduced but subsequently stalled” in several states where Facebook lobbied.

  • In other Facebook news, the company provided an example of it’s ramped up enforcement policies this week by removing numerous partisan (left and right) pages with a combined 30 million fans, according to Craig Silverman at Buzzfeed.  The removed pages were spamming readers and promoting links on the conservative website

  • Twitter is collecting feedback on its new policy to address “dehumanizing speech.”  The option for users to provide feedback on the policy is new for Twitter, and company VP Del Harvey tells Wired the new system is intended to “bring people sort of along with us on the process.”

  • Across the pond: Several tech companies, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter, signed a “Code of Practice” put forth by the European Commission to help tackle the spread of fake news on their platforms. Natasha Lomas explains in TechCrunch why the vague and non-specific nature of the agreement means we probably shouldn’t get too excited.

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