How social media and government will control and censor online speech

  • Software will use artificial intelligence to accurately identify prohibited speech and automatically censor online posts. This is what they are doing now but suffers from false positives, censoring speech that should not be censored in a world that believes in free speech. The general vibe is that in a world of social media, false positives – and censoring valid speech – is acceptable.
  • Require posters to register with a government or officially recognized authority in order to log in. Some nations are doing this now.
  • Facebook has proposed that purchases of political ads on Facebook must be confirmed via a mailing to a U.S. postal address. This is so easy to get around it is silly.
  • Require posters to be licensed (slightly different than registration).
  • Charge a small fee for each post or share. This would discourage the viralness of propaganda memes, except those from billionaires. (My spell checker suggest “evilness” in place of “viralness”).
  • Let users of social media flag content for review. This is already done and is actively used to censor political speech with viewpoints others disagree with. In other words, this doesn’t work but it is being done anyway. This is censorship via proxy – a group can gang up on someone’s posts and then get a 3rd party – the social media company – to censor the speech.
  • Related to the above, is simply ganging up on individuals. Anyone who posts content with “wrong public opinion” is ganged up on, directly, by other posters and thoroughly ostracized. Or worse, doxxed by filing false police reports leading to police raids on innocent parties. This is already done routinely, worldwide.
  • Combinations of the above are used and will be used to identify “fake news”. Fake news, of course, is different than valid political speech. Such algorithms will have a high false positive rate, flagging legitimate posts as fake news.

The best and most effective propaganda is based on facts. It works by leveraging the targets pre-conceived biases and by providing selective information such that “All you see is all there is”, causing people to make erroneous judgments. Propaganda posts that contain solely factual information cannot be determined as “fake” by algorithms. The idea that algorithms will solve this problem is silly and foolish.

Social media is in quite a mess at this point and there is at this time,  no clear path forward to fix this. It may not be fixable.

U.S. government indicts Russian social media propagandists

Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday indicted 13 Russians for violating U.S. laws to interfere with the 2016 elections.

The indictment says the Russians acted in favor of Donald Trump and against Hillary Clinton — but also says the Trump campaign’s connection to them was “unwitting.”

They also acted against Trump rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and in favor of Clinton rival Bernie Sanders.

Source: 13 Russians charged with interfering in U.S. elections – MarketWatch

Assuming the allegations are true, this does not solve the propaganda problem on social media. Social media propaganda operations are conducted by individuals world-wide, including in the U.S., each with a variety of messaging goals. The alleged Russia-related activities are just one part of global propaganda operations conducted by many actors. If we hyper focus on one actor and ignore the others, we are not solving the social media propaganda problem.

Similarly, election officials are working to improve security of election related information systems. As the NY Times notes, “Experts have warned for years that state and local election equipment and security practices were dangerously out of date…” Until claims of Russia-related hacking came along, officials did not seem concerned about their security deficiencies – which says a lot about the competency of those running election systems.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission issued a set of guidelines for election related technology systems. Sadly, their recommended requirements have been missing in many election related systems up until now.

“Computational propaganda”

I just saw this term on Twitter. It refers to the use of automation to deliver propaganda messaging on social media.

We’ve heard of “bots” and “bot networks” – as examples, but it could also include automated tech and sales support systems that use algorithms to respond to customer inquiries.

The term highlights a new direction in propaganda for the 21st century – “computational propaganda” – and points to the automation of propaganda messaging as a key advancement in propaganda techniques.

(This terminology follows the form of “computational linguistics”, “computational finance”, “computational photography” and more.)