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Digital Deception Decoder 
November 16, 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!

  • The big story this week is The New York Times’ deep dive into Facebook’s leadership failures in response to two years of crises. Reporters conducted over 50 interviews to piece together this behind-the-scenes portrait of a company struggling with major ethical challenges. Among other serious missteps, they hired a PR firm, Definers Public Affairs, that tried to smear critics by tying them to George Soros, and engaged in political wrangling to weaken government responses. Since the story was posted, Facebook has ended its relationship with Definers. The Times’ story emerges in the context of already-diminished trust in Facebook, as this Harris Poll commissioned by Fortune shows.
  • Tech reporting doyenne Kara Swisher writes of Facebook’s setting near the raging Northern California fires, “the toxic smoke is a bleak backdrop and an apt metaphor for where Silicon Valley now finds itself.” Swisher offers five suggestions for the tech industry to revive itself: “embrace transparency,” “hold leaders accountable,” “avoid groupthink,” “invest in diversity,” and “don’t be afraid of self-reflection.”
  • Meanwhile, Facebook continues to share information about its election security efforts in a bid to restore its reputation. This week, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy, published more information about the pages and accounts taken down last week and discussed the company’s collaborations with government, third-party researchers, and other companies. And on a call with reporters, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company will be creating a “court” to provide independent oversight of content moderation.
  • During hearings before Congress, Zuckerberg touted artificial intelligence as a magic bullet. In the MIT Technology Review, Karen Hao discusses a new initiative out of Harvard, led by Dipayan Ghosh, intended to educate lawmakers about AI’s promise and limitations to drive effective policy. Part of this new initiative includes an anthology of essays from experts about the ethics of AI that promises to be fascinating: “The Ethical Machine.”
  • In the Boston Review, Deborah Chasman talks with Harvard’s Yochai Benkler about his new book, Network Propaganda, in which he argues that traditional media is more to blame for disinformation and our radically polarized political environment than social media. Benkler suggests that the media can help counter this trend by shifting editorial practice from drawing false equivalences between factual and non-factual claims to focusing on verifiability.
  • Global stage: Fifty-one countries and 218 companies—including Google, Facebook, and Microsoft—have signed on to a cybersecurity pledge calling for regulation of the internet, including cooperation to eradicate election meddling and combat censorship and hate speech. The pledge, launched by France, has not been backed by the U.S., Russia, or China.
  • Writing for Nieman Lab, the Wall Street Journal’s Francesco Marconi and Till Daldrup discuss the publication’s efforts to prep journalists against the rise of deepfakes, describing techniques used to create false images, audio clips, and videos and ways to detect them. As they point out, most of the technologies that will enable a deepfake dystopia are currently being developed to enhance production in the entertainment industry—but present major risks for society.
We want to hear from you! If you have suggestions for items to include in this newsletter, please email hamsini@maplight.org. - Hamsini Sridharan
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