2H 2022 Quick Links, Part 5 (Censorship & More)


* Wired: China Is Tightening Its Grip on Big Tech

* NY Times: ‘An Invisible Cage’: How China Is Policing the Future

* NY Times: How Russian Trolls Helped Keep the Women’s March Out of Lock Step

* Wired: Elon Musk and the Dangers of Censoring Real-Time Flight Trackers

* Jodi Short et al, “The Dog That Didn’t Bark: Looking for Techno-Libertarian Ideology in a Decade of Public Discourse about Big Tech Regulation.” A group of researchers documented how political rhetoric and media coverage has increasingly embraced pro-censorship themes, which has laid the foundation for dangerous censorial regulatory interventions. They say: “techno-libertarian (or even just plain old libertarian) ideas about free markets and information freedom play a surprisingly small role in the public discourse, despite the technology corporations’ relentless emphasis on them. Indeed, we find that the most common themes in the discourse about big tech and regulation concern the need to regulate big tech companies.” Oddly, the authors apparently celebrate this development rather than viewing it as a enablement of censorship.

Content Moderation

* Karsten Muller & Carlo Schwarz, The Effects of Online Content Moderation: Evidence from President Trump’s Account Deletion (Dec. 7, 2022):

We study the effects of online content moderation on user behavior in the context of a prominent case study: the deletion of President Donald Trump’s Twitter account on January 8th, 2021. We provide four key findings. First, the toxicity of tweets sent by Trump followers relative to a representative sample of US Twitter users dropped by around 25% after the account deletion. Second, this effect is larger for pro-Trump tweets and Republican users. Third, Trump’s suspension reduced the total number of tweets, suggesting a drop in engagement. Fourth, we find effects on individuals who did not follow Trump directly but followed somebody that did, suggesting network spillovers. This evidence suggests that removing a prominent, polarizing individual can reduce the toxicity of online discourse.

More evidence that Trump’s account was poisoning Twitter and required Twitter’s intervention, despite its long-standing acquiescence.

* Tarleton Gillespie, Do Not Recommend? Reduction as a Form of Content Moderation

* Understanding how platforms with video-sharing capabilities protect users from harmful content online, August 2021

Annual expenditure on measures to protect users online varies significantly by platform size. Total annual expenditure ranged from hundreds of pounds for the very smallest platforms to over £1.5bn for the largest platforms included in our research. Large platforms benefit from significant economies of scale when implementing online safety measures. The cost per user ranged from £0.25 to £0.50 for large platforms included in our research, with evidence suggesting costs for some of the largest platforms may be materially lower. In comparison, small platforms included in our research (some of which may be loss-making start-ups) spent over £45 per user on online safety measures… significant incremental investment is required to make marginal improvements to measures.

This raises obvious question about Section 230’s role in lowering entry costs compared to the European experience (this was a UK study) and how increased regulation will surely consolidate the market further.

* The Royal Society, “The online information environment: Understanding how the internet shapes people’s engagement with scientific information”

Although misinformation content is prevalent online, the extent of its impact is questionable. For example, the Society’s survey of members of the British public found that the vast majority of respondents believe the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, that human activity is responsible for climate change, and that 5G technology is not harmful. The majority believe the internet has improved the public’s understanding of science, report that they are likely to fact-check suspicious scientific claims they read online and state that they feel confident to challenge their friends and family on scientific misinformation.

* The existence of echo chambers (where people encounter information that reinforces their own beliefs, online and offline) is less widespread than may be commonly assumed and there is little evidence to support the filter bubble hypothesis (where algorithms cause people to only encounter information that reinforces their own beliefs)

* Uncertainty is a core aspect of scientific method, but significant dispute amongst experts can spill over to the wider public. This can be particularly challenging when this uncertainty is prolonged, and the topic has no clear authority. This gap between uncertainty and certainty creates information ‘deserts’ online with platforms being unable to clearly guide users to trustworthy sources. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations such as the World Health Organization and the National Health Service were able to act as authoritative voices online. However, with topics such as 5G telecommunications, it has been more difficult for platforms to quickly identify trustworthy sources of evidence and advice.

* The concept of a single ‘anti-vax’ movement is misleading and does not represent the range of different reasons for why some people are reluctant to be vaccinated. Those with anti-vaccination sentiments can have distinct concerns including child safety, or act not out of scepticism about the evidence, but out of distrust of governments. In addition, there are various actors involved in creating and spreading anti-vaccination material. These include political actors, particularly when a relevant event (eg a pandemic) is dominating the news cycle.”

* Daily Beast: Don’t Be So Certain That Social Media Is Undermining Democracy

Partisan Politics

* Verge: Google built a spam backdoor for Republicans — and they aren’t using it

* Bulwark: The Republican Project to Break Your Email Account. [See also the Republican National Committee’s complaint.]

* Pew: The Role of Alternative Social Media in the News and Information Environment.

  • “Alternative social media sites have small, largely Republican audiences; prominent accounts tend to emphasize right-leaning identities and religious and patriotic values.”
  • “Notwithstanding their allegiance to free speech, almost all of the sites analyzed have at least some restrictions on content. Every one of the sites, with the exception of Gab, moderates user content beyond the existing legal requirements to remove illegal content and cooperate with law enforcement requests.” [Keep that in mind when discussing the Florida and Texas social media censorship laws.]

* NY Times: On Conservative Radio, Misleading Message Is Clear: ‘Democrats Cheat’

* New York Intelligencer: Why Republicans Stopped Talking to the Press

* Techdirt: Arizona GOP Secretary Of State Candidate Insists ‘Deep State’ Google Is Blocking His Website; Turns Out He Requested It Not Be Indexed

Emojis and Memes

* Verge: Microsoft open sources its 3D emoji to let creators remix and customize them

* DEA, Emoji Drug Code Decoded

* Land v. State, 2022 WL 10224790 (Tex. Ct. App. Oct. 18, 2022): “A defendant’s choice of “memes” and posts on Facebook, like his personal drawings, can reflect his character and/or demonstrate a motive for his crime.”


* Rumble Inc. v. Google LLC, 2022 WL 3018062 (N.D. Cal. July 29, 2022): “Plaintiff has adequately alleged a Section 2 claim. First, it alleges that Defendant obtained and maintains monopoly power in the online video platform market, asserting that YouTube controls 73% of global online video activity. And second, Plaintiff alleges among other things that Defendant, with no valid business purpose or benefit to users, designs its search engine algorithms to show users YouTube links instead of links to its competitors’ sites.”

* Jones v. Google LLC, No. 21-16281 (9th Cir. Dec. 28, 2022): COPPA doesn’t preempt state law equivalents, even if they provide a private right of action and COPPA does not.

* NY Times: For Gen Z, TikTok Is the New Search Engine

* Cousins v. Goodier, 2022 WL 3365104 (Del. Supreme Ct. Aug. 16, 2022): Lawyer files a personal lawsuit to defend an offensive Native American sports logo. Private citizen complains to his firm, which sends him packing. He sues the citizen for sending the letter. The Delaware Sup. Ct. rejects his lawsuit.

* NY Times: It Came From the ’80s. “We asked four young stars of the present to watch the influential sci-fi films that seemed futuristic back in the day. Here’s what they thought.”

* The Atlantic: The secret history of the U.S. government’s family-separation policy

* Nashville Scene: Code Snitching: Nashvillians Are Weaponizing Metro Codes Against ‘Undesirable’ Neighbors