Disinformation and censorship

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The Global Disinformation Index (GDI) is a British organization that evaluates news outlets' susceptibility to disinformation. The ultimate aim is to persuade online advertisers to blacklist dangerous publications and websites.
GDI's recent report on disinformation notes that the organization exists to help "advertisers and the ad tech industry in assessing the reputational and brand risk when advertising with online media outlets and to help them avoid financially supporting disinformation online."

The U.S. government evidently values this work; in fact, the State Department subsidizes it. The National Endowment for Democracy—a nonprofit that has received $330 million in taxpayer dollars from the State Department—contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to GDI's budget, according to an investigation by The Washington Examiner's Gabe Kaminsky.

Should the State Department spend public money to help an organization pressure advertisers to punish U.S. media companies? The answer, quite obviously, is no: The First Amendment prohibits the U.S. government from censoring private companies for good reason, and government actors should not seek to evade the First Amendment's protections in order to censor indirectly or exert pressure inappropriately.


Related articles (including news about Microsoft dumping GDI after The Washington Examiner's reporting broke):

The GDI, which receives financial support from the National Endowment for Democracy, purports to offer "neutral" estimates of the likelihood that a website will promote disinformation. Counterintuitively, its "risk" ratings do not require any actual examples of inaccurate reporting, let alone deliberate misrepresentations.
The GDI combines dubious methods with a dodgy definition of "disinformation." You might think that disinformation, as distinct from misinformation, requires an intent to deceive. But the organization disavows that requirement because it "cannot be directly measured."


Notably, Applebaum was also listed on the GDI's website as one of its principle journalistic advisors. Given GDI's misguided approach to the lab leak theory, I wondered if Applebaum was partly responsible—or whether she would now advise GDI to change course. So I emailed her.

Her response was surprising, to say the least.

"Until a few days ago I was not aware that I was listed as an advisor on the GDI website," writes Applebaum. "I last spoke to them when they were still raising money—probably 2018 or 2019—and have not advised them on anything or had any contact since. I have asked to have my name taken off their website, which they agreed to do."

GDI misrepresenting Applebaum as a member of its advisory panel is especially hypocritical, given the organization's stated reasons for placing Reason on its list of "ten riskiest online news outlets." GDI dinged Reason for not displaying "information regarding authorship attribution, pre-publication fact-checking, or post-publication corrections processes." It is not clear exactly what the organization meant by this; GDI did not respond to a request for comment.

But GDI's own website has clearly committed a transgression that sounds remarkably similar: It listed an advisor who actually had nothing to do with the organization, and nowhere on GDI's website does it currently explain the mistake. There is no statement along the lines of, Anne Applebaum was erroneously listed as an advisor to GDI and we regret the error. It seems like GDI lacks clarity regarding its own authorship attribution and fact-checking processes.

I think this was mentioned in one of the banking threads, but it should be included here too:

During a conference call about the Silicon Valley Bank bailout yesterday, Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) asked representatives from the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, and the Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation (FDIC) if they had a way to censor information on social media to prevent a run on the banks, according to Republican members of the House of Representatives who were on the call.

The members said there were roughly 200 people on the Zoom call, including Senators, House members, and staff members from both parties. “On our conference call, led by [Senate President Chuck] Schumer, with Fed, FDIC, and Treasury, a democrat senator asked the three agencies if there was a program underway on social media to censor information that would lead to a bank run,” Rep. Thomas Massie told Public.

“I believe he couched it in a concern that foreign actors would be doing this,” said Massie, “but he didn’t suggest the censorship should be limited to foreigners or to things that were untrue. The people from the three agencies couldn’t answer him and just sort of took a pass on the question.”

Last month, I noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had repeatedly exaggerated the scientific evidence supporting face mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Facebook attached a warning to that column, which it said was "missing context" and "could mislead people."

According to an alliance of social media platforms, government-funded organizations, and federal officials that journalist Michael Shellenberger calls the "censorship-industrial complex," I had committed the offense of "malinformation." Unlike "disinformation," which is intentionally misleading, or "misinformation," which is erroneous, "malinformation" is true but inconvenient.


Here's a twist:
... Although it's still early, it's clear that A.I. will be too powerful to ignore or restrict entirely. But the nature of LLM-style A.I., with its holistic, contextual, quasi-mysterious approach to synthesizing knowledge, will inevitably mean exposure to facts, arguments, ideas, and concepts that would have been censored under the Great Firewall. In order for China to keep up with the West, it will have to let those complex A.I. systems in, and that will mean letting all the previously objectionable things those A.I.s "know" in as well. Furthermore, as A.I. tech advances and decentralizes, becoming operable based on smaller devices, it will become even more difficult to censor information at scale.


Related articles (including news about Microsoft dumping GDI after The Washington Examiner's reporting broke):

From the article: government actors should not seek to evade the First Amendment's protections in order to censor indirectly or exert pressure inappropriately.

that's all just about any of our politicians do, is seek ways to evade the limits on their power. The only ones who don't, are the Ron Paul types.
...and I can count the number of those that we've had in the past 50 years on less than my 10 fingers.
GoGuardian is a student monitoring tool that watches over twenty-seven million students across ten thousand schools, but what it does exactly, and how well it works, isn’t easy for students to know. To learn more about its functionality, accuracy, and impact on students, we filed dozens of public records requests and analyzed tens of thousands of results from the software. Using data from multiple schools in both red and blue states, what we uncovered was that, by design, GoGuardian is a red flag machine—its false positives heavily outweigh its ability to accurately determine whether the content of a site is harmful. This results in tens of thousands of students being flagged for viewing content that is not only benign, but often, educational or informative.
To illustrate the shocking absurdity of GoGuardian's flagging algorithm, we have built the Red Flag Machine quiz. Derived from real GoGuardian data, visitors are presented with websites that were flagged and asked to guess what keywords triggered the alert. ...
But the inaccurate flagging is just one of the dangers of the software.
Though some privacy invasions and errors may be written off as the unintentional costs of protecting students, even commonly used features of these monitoring apps are cause for concern. GoGuardian lets school officials track trends in student search histories. It identifies supposedly “at risk” students and gathers location data on where and when a device is being used, allowing anyone with access to the data to create a comprehensive profile of the student. It flags students for mundane activity, and sends alerts to school officials, parents, and potentially, police.
... The use of “edtech” software has grown considerably, and with monitoring-specific apps like GoGuardian and Gaggle, students are being taught by our schools that they have no right to privacy and that they can always be monitored.

Knowing how you’re being surveilled—and how accurate that surveillance is—must be the first step to fighting back, and protecting your privacy. This blog is a run-down of some of the most common GoGuardian features.

More (long):

Here's the quiz:

The referenced Economist article requires a subscription (which I do not have). The twitter post has a short thread with some info and more Economist article references. Posting here for posterity:


Some good news for a change:
As we put it in a blog post last month, no single country should be able to restrict speech across the entire internet. That's why EFF celebrates the news that Australia's eSafety Commissioner is dropping its legal effort to have content on X, the website formerly known as Twitter, taken down across the globe. This development comes just days after EFF and FIRE were granted official intervener status in the case.

In April, the Commissioner ordered X to take down a post with a video of a stabbing in a church. X complied by geo-blocking the post in Australia, but it declined to block it elsewhere. The Commissioner then asked an Australian court to order a global takedown — securing a temporary order that was not extended. EFF moved to intervene on behalf of X, and legal action was ongoing until this week, when the Commissioner announced she would discontinue Federal Court proceedings

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