Category: Social issues involving home computing

When use of multiple public accounts isn’t appropriate

Article

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There are times where use of public accounts isn’t appropriate

The murky world of politicians’ covert social media accounts (sbs.com.au)

My Comments

Just lately there have questions raised about how Australian politicians and their staff members were operating multiple online personas to disparage opponents, push political ideologies or “blow their own trumpet”.

It is being raised in connection with legislative reforms that the Australian Federal Government are working on to place the onus of responsibility regarding online defamation on whoever is posting the defamatory material in a comments trail on an online service. This is different to the status quo of having whoever is setting up or managing an online presence like a Website or Facebook Page being liable for defamation.

Here, it is in the context of what is to be expected for proper political communication including any “government-to-citizen” messaging. This is to make sure we can maintain trust in our government and that all political messaging is accurate and authentic in the day and age of fake news and disinformation.

I see this also being extended to business communication, including media/marketing/PR and non-profit advocacy organisations who have a high public profile. Here, it is to assure that any messaging by these entities is authentic so that people can build trust in them.

An example of a public-facing online persona – the Facebook page of Dan Andrews, the current Premier of Victoria

What I refer to as an “online persona” are email, instant-messaging and other communications-service accounts; Web pages and blogs; and presences on various part of the Social Web that are maintained by a person or organisation. It is feasible for a person or organisation to maintain a multiplicity of online personas like multiple email accounts or social-media pages that are used to keep public and private messaging separate, whether that’s at the business or personal level.

The normal practice for public figures at least is to create a public online persona and one or two private online personas such as an intra-office persona for colleagues and a personal one for family and friends. This is a safety measure to keep public-facing communications separate from business and personal communications.

Organisations may simply create particular online personas for certain offices with these being managed by particular staff members. In this case, they do this so that communications with a particular office stay the same even as office-holders change. As well, there is the idea of keeping “business-private” material separate from public-facing material.

In this case, the online personas reference the same entity by name at least. This is to assure some form of transparency about who is operating that persona. Other issues that come in to play here include which computing devices are being used to drive particular online personas.

This is more so for workplaces and businesses that own computing and communications hardware and have staff communicate on those company-owned devices for official business. But staff members use devices they bought themselves to operate non-official online personas. This is although more entities are moving towards “BYOD” practices where staff members use their own devices for official work use and there are systems in place to assure secure confidential work from staffer-owned devices.

But there is concern about some Australian politicians creating multiple public-facing personas in order to push various ideologies. Here, these personas are operated in an opaque manner in order to create multiple discrete persons. This technique, when used to appear as though many vouch for a belief or ideology, is referred to under terms like sockpuppetry or astroturfing.

This issue is being raised in the context of government-citizen communication in the online era. But it can also be related to individuals, businesses, trade unions or other organisations who are using opaque means to convey a sense of “popular support” for the same or similar messages.

What I see as being appropriate with establishing multiple online personas is that there is some form of transparency about which person or organisation is managing the different online personas. That includes where there are multiple “child” online personas like Websites operated by a “parent” online persona like an organisation. This practice comes in to being where online personas like email addresses and microsites (small Websites with specific domain names) are created for a particular campaign but aren’t torn down after that campaign.

As well, it includes what online personas are used for what kind of communications. This includes what is written on that “blue-ticked” social-media page or the online addresses that are written on business cards or literature you had out to the public.

Such public-communications mandates will also be required under election-oversight or fair-trading legislation so people know who is behind the messaging and these are important if it is issues-based rather than candidate-based. If an individual is pushing a particular message under their own name, they will have to state whether an entity is paying or encouraging them to advance the message.

This is due to most of us becoming conscious of online messaging from questionable sources. It is thanks to the popular concern about fake news and disinformation and its impact on elections since 2016 thanks to the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s presidential victory in the USA. It is also due to the rise of the online influencer culture where brands end up using big-time and small-time celebrities and influencers to push their products, services and messages online.

Legal attempts to pry open app stores have come to fruition

Articles

Google Play Android app store

There is action taking place that is prying open the app-store marketplace for mobile platform devices

Spotify and Google Give You Choice in Paying Them (droid-life.com)

Apple will allow third-party app stores, because the EU mandates it | Mashable

Apple is reportedly preparing to allow third-party app stores on iOS | Engadget

Previous Coverage on HomeNetworking01.info

USA to pry open mobile-app-store market

My Comments

Thanks to the “Fortnite” saga where Google and Apple were accused of slugging Epic Games with commissions for selling in-app commodities via their mobile-platform app stores, there has been a shake-up regarding how these app stores are run.

This has also been intensified with various jurisdictions instigating work on or passing legislation and regulation regarding a competitive market for online app stores. One of these is the European Union with the Digital Markets Act which targets large online services that have a gatekeeper role, along with the USA with its Open App Markets Act which targets app stores appearing on mobile and desktop computing platforms and other devices like games consoles or smart TVs.

The Europeans see their effort not just to pry open app stores but also search engines, social networks, video-sharing sites, digital ad platforms, public cloud platforms, even so-called intermediary services like AirBnB, Uber, Uber Eats and Booking.com. There are similar efforts also taking place within UK and Australia with this effort resulting in codes of practice being established for online services.

What has happened so far

Google has taken steps to enable user-choice billing for in-app purchases normally made through their Play Store.

Firstly, they allowed people who use Bumble online-dating apps to subscribe directly with Bumble or via the app store. Now they have enabled Spotify subscribers to pay for their subscription either through the Play Store or direct with Spotify. Of course, some online services like Netflix and Britbox allow for direct payment for their subscriptions by requiring you to manage your account through the service provider’s Website.

But Google will implement this feature at the checkout point in your purchase by allowing you to select payment via Google Play or directly with the software developer. When you pay directly, you will see the online service payment user-experience provided by the developer including the ability to redeem their service’s gift vouchers, pay using PayPal or pay using a payment card platform they have business relations with. Or you pay using Google Play Store’s payment user interface that you would be familiar with.

When your payment-card statement arrives, you will see a reference to Google if you paid for the online commodity through them or a reference to the software developer / online service if you paid directly.

Paying directly would mean that software developer or online service gets your money without having to pay a “cut” to Google for accepting payment via the Google Play Store. As well, the software developer or online service is at liberty to sign up with other payment means like PayPal, other credit cards like AMEX or Discover / Diners Club, or national account-linked payment platforms like EFTPOS, Carte Bleue or EC-Karte. There is also the ability for them to offer gift vouchers that go towards their offerings.

Another benefit that will come about if you pay for a subscription directly is that if you change to a different mobile platform, your subscription is kept alive rather than you having to reinstigate your subscription with the new platform’s app store and payment mechanism.

It also positions the Google Play Store’s online payment arrangement in competition with the software developer or online service thus improving the terms of business for accepting payment from customers. An example of this is both service providers providing a link with payment-anchored loyalty programs as a way to incentivise customers towards payment through their platforms.

Another direction being taken towards prying open the app stores is Apple baking  support for third-party app stores into iOS 17 which is the next major feature release of iOS. This is in addition to offering newer versions of the iPhone with USB-C ports rather than MFi Lightning ports for external connectivity. Here, this is due to intense European pressure to open themselves up to open markets by the European Union. But the support for third-party app stores would also come down to the Open App Markets Act that is being pushed through the US Congress.

Issues to be resolved

One issue that will have to be resolved is how the average smartphone or tablet user can install a competing app store to their device.

This is more about where a smartphone manufacturer or mobile operating system developer can get away with burying this option behind a “developer mode” or “advanced-user mode”. Or it could be about onerous requirements placed on software developers by mobile platforms when it comes to creating or publishing their software such as access to application-programming interfaces or software development kits.

The app stores will also have to be about selling good-quality compelling software and games. This is so they don’t end up as the equivalent of bulletin boards, download sites and optical discs attached to computer magazines where these resources were full of poor-quality software, known as “shovelware”.

Then there is the appeal of competing app stores to consumers and software developers. Personally I see these stores have initial appeal in the gaming sector with the likes of Steam or GOG existing on mobile platforms. Also I would see some software developers operate their own app stores as a way to maintain end-to-end control of their apps.

Conclusion

There are steps being taken by Google and Apple to liberate their mobile-platform software ecosystem even though it is under pressure from competition authorities in significant jurisdictions.

Where to go now that Elon Musk has taken over Twitter

Recently Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, had bought out Twitter.

This takeover has been seen not as the kind of takeover where one wants to invest in a company but more of a political move. It came about in the runup to the 2002 Midterm elections in the USA, an election cycle that impacts members of Congress and significant state-level officials like governors and secretaries of state.

This is because this Midterm election cycle is a “do-or-die” moment for American democracy due to whether state officials or members of Congress that support Donald Trump and his election-denial rhetoric come in to power, with it being the first Midterms after the January 6 2021 insurrection on the Capitol which was about denying the legitimate result of the 2020 Presidential election.

The goal of this takeover was to convert Twitter in to a so-called “free-speech” social media platform like Parler, Gab or TruthSocial including to reinstate Donald Trump’s Twitter presence. This included the laying off of at least 4000 staff especially those involved in content moderation.

Here, Twitter has lost it as far as brand-safety and social respect is concerned with a significant number of household names removing their advertising or online presence from Twitter. As well, increasingly most of us are considering or taking steps to limit our presence on or remove ourselves from Twitter.

As well, this takeover has ended up in a spat between Elon Musk and Apple about the possibility of Apple removing the Twitter native mobile app from the iOS App Store. This is part of Apple’s effort to make the iOS App Store a clean bouse with content and apps that are fit for work and the family home. Lately, this has manifested in Apple destroying their Twitter account and removing its posts.

Competing social platforms

Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Hive Social

The Meta-run social-media platforms i.e. Facebook and Instagram are acquiring new appeal as a business-to-consumer social-media presence. This is in addition to LinkedIn acquiring a stronger relevance in the business-to-business space. It is because these social networks are maintaining some form of proper content moderation that keeps them brand-safe and with some form of social licence.

For example, these platforms are being used by brands, public figures and the like as a means to distribute information “from the horse’s mouth” like press releases. This is in addition to them buying space on them to run their campaigns. Similarly, the established media are maintaining their presence on these platforms, typically as an “on-platform” presence for their news services.

Another network being put on the map is Hive Social which is being run as an alternative to Twitter with the same user experience. This is yet another platform with a centralised user experience but is facing some early problems due to its success as a Twitter alternative. Here, you may find that the service availability may not be strong and there will be some security issues.

Mastodon and the Fediverse

Another platform that has gained a lot of heat over the last few weeks is Mastodon. This is a decentralised Twitter-style social network where each “Instance” server works similar to a small bar or café where the staff have the finger on the pulse as far as the patrons are concerned. But each Mastodon Instance is linked to each other via the Fediverse which works in a similar way to email.

The Fediverse uses the ActivityPub publish-and-subscribe protocol and relies on interconnected servers and decentralised networking protocols. It is used by Mastodon and other services like PeerTube and Pieroma. In this space, each server for a platform is called an Instance and these link or “federate” with other servers to give the appearance of a large social network. But the Instance owner has the upper hand on what goes on in that Instance server.

These setups could also be seen as being similar to the bulletin-board systems that existed before the Internet was popular where most of them were interconnected using FidoNet as a means to store and forward messages and emails between the BBS systems.

When you create an account on a Mastodon Instance, you can add a link to a Website you run and this is used as a way to authenticate you. But you also have to add a link on your Website to your Mastodon presence for you to be authenticated, which then leads to a blue tick.

At the moment, there is support for only one user account per Mastodon Instance server so you can’t really run a “private” and a “public” account on the same Instance. It could work for people who use a particular Mastodon Instance associated with their work for public-facing posts as well as a private account for personal posts on a community Mastodon server. There doesn’t seem to be support for “group” accounts that can be operated by multiple users at the moment.

But with other open-source software efforts, Mastodon will be subject to continual tweaks and revisions to bring it to what people will want out of it. There may also be activity taking place to improve the establishment of Mastodon Instance servers such as porting to popular business server environments or integration with business-computing account datasets.

Other technologies worth considering

Online forums and similar technologies

Old-school “pre-social-media” technologies like online forums of the phpBB or vBulletin kind, or email-list platforms like listservs may have to be used. As well, the group functionality offered by Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, Signal and Telegram come in to their own here as a limited-circulation Twitter replacement.

Blogs and news Websites

The traditional blog and the regularly-up;dated news Website or “update page” are becoming more relevant in this time. Here, these will be augmented with an RSS Webfeed or an email update offered by the site that comes out on a regular basis.

What can organisations, content authors and public figures do?

Organisations, content authors and public figures can keep a Website alive with the latest information if they aren’t already doing this. This would work really well with a blog or news page that is always up-to-date and these resources are best augmented with at least one RSS Webfeed that reflects the updates that are made.

The RSS Webfeed can be used to feed a reputable email-publishing platform like Feedblitz or Mailchimp so that people get the updates in their email inbox. Your LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or other brand-safe social-media presences can come in to their own here as well when you post a link to your latest posts there and are worth maintaining. As well, you could consider setting up shop on Hive Social which is becoming a viable alternative to Twitter.

Small-time operators should work with a Webhost that offers a range of online services at reasonable prices. These should include email, Website hosting and hosting one or two online services in a secure manner.

If you can, you may have to investigate creating a business-wide Mastodon instance. This is about having your own space that you control and is something that your IT staff or Webhost can offer, especially if they are familiar with Linux. Here, you could have usernames that reflect your workgroups or staff who want to have a public Mastodon account.

Let’s not forget creating online forums using the likes of bbPress, phpBB or vBulletin for your company or industry. Even vertical-market software that suits your organisation’s type or the industry it works in like religion or education could come in to its own.

Conclusion

The takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk as a political affair is showing that there is the risk of online services falling in to the wrong hands. Here, an emphasis is being placed on a plurality of social media and other online services that can be moderated to preserve sanity on the Internet.

What is prebunking in the context of news accuracy?

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Prebunking is used to rebut potential disinformation campaigns on social media

As you hear about how different entities are managing fake news and disinformation, you may hear of “prebunking” in the war against these disinformation campaigns. Here, it is about making sure the correct and accurate information gets out first before falsehoods gain traction.

Fact-checkers operated by newsrooms and universities and engaged by media outlets and respectable online services typically analyse news that comes their way to see if it is factual and truthful. One of the primary tasks they do is to “debunk” or discredit what they have found to be falsehoods by publishing information about rebuffs the falsehood.

But the war against fake news and disinformation is also taking another approach by dealing with potential disinformation and propaganda in a pre-emptive manner.

Here, various organisations like newsrooms, universities or government agencies will anticipate and publish a line of disinformation that is likely to be published while concurrently publishing material that refutes the anticipated falsehood. It may also be about rebutting possible information manipulation or distortion of facts by publishing material that carries the accurate information.

This process is referred to as “prebunking” rather than debunking because of it forewarning the general public about possible falsehoods or information manipulation. It is also couched in terms analogous to inoculation or vaccination because a medical vaccine like one of those COVID jabs establishes a defence in your body against a pending infection thus making it hard for that infection to take hold in your body.

Prebunking is seen as a “heads-up” alert to a potential disinformation campaign so we can be aware of and take action against it. One way of describing this as prebunking as the “guardrail at the top of the cliff” and debunking as the ”ambulance at the bottom of the cliff”. These efforts are also a way to sensitise us to the techniques used to have us believe distorted messaging and disinformation campaigns by highlighting fearmongering, scapegoating and pandering to our base instincts, emotions and biases.

Prebunking efforts are typically delivered as public-service announcements or posts that are run on Social Web platforms by government entities, advocacy organisations or similar groups. Other media platform like television or radio public-service announcements can be used to present prebunking information. Where a post or announcement leads to any online resources, this will be in the form of a simple-language landing page that even provides a FAQ (frequently-asked questions) article about the topic and the falsehoods associated with it. Examples of this in Australia are the state and federal election authorities who have been running posts in social media platforms to debunk American-style voter-suppression disinformation that surfaces around Australian elections.

Such campaigns are in response to the disinformation risks that are presented by the 24-hour news cycle and the Social Web. In a lot of cases, these campaigns are activated during a season of high disinformation risk like an election or referendum. Sometimes a war in another part of the world may be the reason to instigate a prebunking campaign because this is where the belligerent states will activate their propaganda machines to make themselves look good in the eyes of the world.

But the various media-literacy efforts ran by public libraries, educational institutions, public-service broadcasters and the like are also prebunking efforts in their own right. For example the ABC’s “Media Watch” exposes where traditional and social media are at risk of information manipulation or spreading disinformation with this show, for example, highlighting tropes used by media organisations to manipulate readers or viewers. Or the ABC running a “Behind The News” video series during 2020 about media literacy in the era of fake news and disinformation with “The Drum” cross-promoting it as something for everyone to see. A similar video-lecture series and resource page has also been made available by the University of Washington on this topic.

What prebunking is all about is to disseminate correct and accurate information relevant to an issue where there is a strong likelihood of misinformation or disinformation in order to have people aware of the proper facts and what is likely to go around.

What is the Declaration For The Future Of The Internet about?

Articles

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

Internet services now under a worldwide declaration

US signs Declaration for the Future of the Internet alongside 60 global partners | Windows Central

US Pledges to Keep an Open Internet With Dozens of Other Countries – CNET

Governments Pledge to Keep an Open Internet, Not Russia, China (gizmodo.com)

From the horse’s mouth

The White House, USA

FACT SHEET: United States and 60 Global Partners Launch Declaration for the Future of the Internet | The White House

Declaration-for-the-Future-for-the-Internet_Launch-Event-Signing-Version_FINAL.pdf (whitehouse.gov)

My Comments

The US, European Union, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries signed a declaration regarding the Internet. This declaration, called the “Declaration For The Future Of The Internet” is an effort by the Biden White House to reinforce what the Internet is to be about as an open network of networks with a fair playing field.

This is a response by these countries against digital authoritarianism that has been shown by authoritarian regimes like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. It encompasses domestic and international online repression efforts like censorship along with international political destabilisation efforts like election / referendum interference, disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks.

There is also the same fear that due to populist strongman politics taking place ins some Western and other countries not associated with that kind of politics, the Internet as a symbol of freedom of expression could be under threat in those countries.

It is a reference for public policymakers, citizens, the business community and civil society organisations, but is non-binding. This is seen as a sticking point amongst some because sone countries like the USA aren’t toeing the line when it comes to a free and open Internet with issues like civilian surveillance. But some policymakers in some governments, international organisations and civil society could see this as a “gold standard” for what the Internet should be about.

The goal in this Declaration is to maintain what the Internet was about when it came about in the 1990s – an open network of networks that is freely accessible to all.

It is about protecting fundamental human rights and freedoms for all people in the online space. As well, it is about the global Internet that facilitates the free flow of information for citizens and businesses. That also includes inclusive and affordable connectivity to the Internet, which also factors in access from rural and remote areas. As well, there should be an increase in our digital skills so we can work the Internet competently.

Trust in the global online ecosystem is also underscored, including protection of the privacy and confidentiality of end-users. This is about safe secure private Internet use. For businesses of all sizes, it is about allowing them to compete, innovate and thrive in their own merits.

This goal is to be facilitated using reliable secure interoperable and sustainable infrastructure around the world. Here it would be managed in a multiple stakeholder approach to assure common benefit.

An issue that will need to he looked at is how online services are operated by the private sector. This is with expectations regarding end-user privacy along with their operation as a social good. It may also have to include support for healthy competition between online service providers so as to support innovation and service affordability.

I do see a strong possibility that the Declaration For The Future Of The Internet as a “Gold Standard” for what is expected of the Internet as part of a democratic society.

Australian Electoral Commission takes to Twitter to rebut election disinformation

Articles Australian House of Representatives ballot box - press picture courtesy of Australian Electoral Commission

Don’t Spread Disinformation on Twitter or the AEC Will Roast You (gizmodo.com.au)

Federal Election 2022: How the AEC Is Preparing to Combat Misinformation (gizmodo.com.au)

From the horse’s mouth

Australian Electoral Commission

AEC launches disinformation register ahead of 2022 poll (Press Release)

Previous coverage on HomeNetworking01.info

Being cautious about fake news and misinformation in Australia

My Comments

This next 18 months is to be very significant as far as general elections in Australia go. It is due to a Federal election and state elections in the most populous states taking place during that time period i.e. this year has the Federal election having to take place by May and the Victorian state election taking place by November, then the New South Wales state election taking place by March 2023.

Democracy sausages prepared at election day sausage sizzle


Two chances over the next 18 months to benefit from the democracy sausage as you cast your vote
Kerry Raymond, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Oh yeah, more chances to eat those democracy sausages available at that school’s sausage sizzle after you cast that vote. But the campaign machine has started up early this year at the Federal level with United Australia Party ads appearing on commercial TV since the Winter Olympics, yard signs from various political parties appearing in my local neigbbourhood and an independent candidate for the Kooyong electorate running ads online through Google AdSense with some of those ads appearing on HomeNetworking01.info. This is even before the Governor General had served the necessary writs to dissolve the Federal Parliament and commence the election cycle.

Ged Kearney ALP candidate yard sign

The campaigns are underway even before the election is called

This season will be coloured with the COVID coronavirus plague and the associated vaccination campaigns, lockdowns and other public-health measures used to mitigate this virus. This will exacerbate Trump-style disinformation campaigns affecting the Australian electoral process, especially from anti-vaccination / anti-public-health-measure groups.

COVID will also exacerbate issues regarding access to the vote in a safe manner. This includes dealing with people who are isolated or quarantined due to them or their household members being struck down by the disease or allowing people on the testing and vaccination front lines to cast their vote. Or it may be about running the polling booths in a manner that is COVID-safe and assures the proper secret ballot.

There is also the recent flooding that is taking place in Queensland and NSW with it bringing about questions regarding access to the vote for affected communities’ and volunteers helping those communities. All these situations would depend on people knowing where and how to cast “convenience votes” like early or postal votes, or knowing where the nearest polling booth is especially with the flooding situation rendering the usual booths in affected areas out of action.

The Australian Electoral Commission who oversees elections at a federal level have established a register to record fake-news and disinformation campaigns that appear online to target Australians. They will also appear at least on Twitter to debunk disinformation that is swirling around on that platform and using common hashtags associated with Australian politics and elections.

Add to this a stronger wider “Stop And Consider” campaign to encourage us to be mindful about what we see, hear or read regarding the election. This is based on their original campaign ran during the 2019 Federal election to encourage us to be careful about what we share online. Here, that was driven by that Federal election being the first of its kind since we became aware of online fake-news and disinformation campaigns and their power to manipulate the vote.

There will be a stronger liasion with the AEC and the online services in relation to sharing intelligence about disinformation campaigns.

But the elephant in the room regarding election safety is IT security and cyber safety for a significant number of IT systems that would see a significant amount of election-related data being created or modified through this season.

Service Victoria contact-tracing QR code sign at Fairfield Primary School

Even the QR-code contact-tracing platforms used by state governments as part of their COVID management efforts have to be considered as far as IT security for an election is concerned – like this one at a school that is likely to be a polling place

This doesn’t just relate to the electoral oversight bodies but any government, media or civil-society setup in place during the election.

That would encompass things ranging from State governments wanting to head towards fully-electronic voter registration and electoral-roll mark-off processes, through the politicians and political parties’ IT that they use for their business process, the state-government QR-code contact tracing platforms regularly used by participants during this COVID-driven era, to the IT operated by the media and journalists themselves to report the election. Here, it’s about the safety of the participants in the election process, the integrity of the election process and the ability for voters to make a proper and conscious choice when they cast their vote.

Such systems have a significant number of risks associated with their data such as cyber attacks intended to interfere with or exfiltrate data or slow down the performance of these systems. It is more so where the perpetrators of this activity extends to adverse nation states or organised crime anywhere in the world. As well, interference with these IT systems is used as a way to create and disseminate fake news, disinformation and propaganda.

But the key issue regarding Australia’s elections being safe from disinformation and election interference is for us to be media-savvy. That includes being aware of material that plays on your emotions; being aware of bias in media and other campaigns; knowing where sources of good-quality and trustworthy news are; and placing importance on honesty, accuracy and ethics in the media.

Here, it may be a good chance to look at the “Behind The News” media-literacy TV series the ABC produced during 2020 regarding the issue of fake news and disinformation.  Sometimes you may also find that established media, especially the ABC and SBS or the good-quality newspapers may be the way to go for reliable election information. Even looking at official media releases “from the horse’s mouth” at government or political-party Websites may work as a means to identify exaggeration that may be taking place.

Having the various stakeholders encourage media literacy and disinformation awareness, along with government and other entities taking a strong stance with cyber security can be a way to protect this election season.

YouTube to examine further ways to control misinformation

Article

YouTube recommendation list

YouTube to further crack down on misinformation using warning screens and other strategies

YouTube Eyes New Ways to Stop Misinformation From Spreading Beyond Its Reach – CNET

From the horse’s mouth

YouTube

Inside Responsibility: What’s next on our misinfo efforts (Blog Post)

My Comments

YouTube’s part in controlling the spread of repeated disinformation has been found to be very limited in some ways.

This was focused on managing accounts and channels (collections of YouTube videos submitted by a YouTube account holder and curated by that holder) in a robust manner like implementing three-strikes policies when repeated disinformation occurs. It extended to managing the content recommendation engine in order to effectively “bury” that kind of content from end-users’ default views.

But new other issues have come up in relation to this topic. One of these is to continually train the artificial-intelligence / machine-learning subsystems associated with how YouTube operates with new data that represents newer situations. This includes the use of different keywords and different languages.

Another approach that will fly in the face of disinformation purveyors is to point end-users to authoritative resources relating to the topic at hand. This will typically manifest in lists of hyperlinks to text and video resources from sources of respect when there is a video or channel that has questionable material.

But a new topic or new angle on an existing topic can yield a data-void where there is scant or no information on the topic from respectable resources. This can happen when there is a fast-moving news event and is fed by the 24-hour news cycle.

Another issue is where someone creates a hyperlink to or embeds a YouTube video in their online presence. This is a common way to put YouTube video content “on the map” and can cause a video to go viral by acquiring many views. In some cases like “communications-first” messaging platforms such as SMS/MMS or instant-messaging, a preview image of the video will appear next to a message that has a link to that video.

Initially YouTube looked at the idea of preventing a questionable resource from being shared through the platform’s user interface. But questions were raised about this including limiting a viewer’s freedoms regarding taking the content further.

The issue that wasn’t even raised is the fact that the video can be shared without going via YouTube’s user interface. This can be through other means like copying the URL in the address bar if viewing on a regular computer or invoking the “share” intent on modern desktop and mobile operating systems to facilitate taking it further. In some operating systems, that can extend to printing out material or “throwing” image or video material to the large screen TV using a platform like Apple TV or Chromecast. Add to this the fact that a user will want to share the video with others as part of academic research or news report.

Another approach YouTube is looking at is based on an age-old approach implemented by responsible TV broadcasters or by YouTube with violent age-restricted or other questionable content. That is to show a warning screen, sometimes accompanied with an audio announcement, before the questionable content plays. Most video-on-demand services will implement an interactive approach at least in their “lean-forward” user interfaces where the viewer has to assent to the warning before they see any of that content.

In this case, YouTube would run a warning screen regarding the existence of disinformation in the video content before the content plays. Such an approach would make us aware of the situation and act as a “speed bump” against continual consumption of that content or following through on hyperlinks to such content.

Another issue YouTube is working on is keeping its anti-disinformation efforts culturally relevant. This scopes in various nations’ historical and political contexts, whether a news or information source is an authoritative independent source or simply a propaganda machine, fact-checking requirements, linguistic issues amongst other things. The historical and political issue could include conflicts that had peppered the nation’s or culture’s history or how the nation changed governments.

Having support for relevance to various different cultures provides YouTube’s anti-disinformation effort with some “look-ahead” sense when handling further fake-news campaigns. It also encompasses recognising where a disinformation campaign is being “shaped” to a particular geopolitical area with that area’s history being weaved in to the messaging.

But whatever YouTube is doing may have limited effect if the purveyors of this kind of nonsense use other services to host this video content. This can manifest in alternative “free-speech” video hosting services like BitChute, DTube or PeerTube. Or it can be the content creator hosting the video content on their own Website, something that becomes more feasible as the kind of computing power needed for video hosting at scale becomes cheaper.

What is being raised is YouTube using their own resources to limit the spread of disinformation that is hosted on their own servers rather than looking at this issue holistically. But they are looking at issues like the ever-evolving message of disinformation that adapts to particular cultures along with using warning screens before such videos play.

This is compared to third-party-gatekeeper approaches like NewsGuard (HomeNetworking01.info coverage) where an independent third party scrutinises news content and sites then puts their results in a database. Here various forms of logic can work from this database to deny advertising to a site or cause a warning flag to be shown when users interact with that site.

But by realising that YouTube is being used as a host for fake news and disinformation videos, they are taking further action on this issue. This is even though Google will end up playing cat-and-mouse when it comes to disinformation campaigns.

The Spotify disinformation podcast saga could give other music streaming services a chance

Articles

Spotify Windows 10 Store port

Spotify dabbling in podcasts and strengthening its ties with podcasters is placing it at risk of carrying anti-vaxx and similar disinformation

Joni Mitchell joins Neil Young’s Spotify protest over anti-vax content | Joni Mitchell | The Guardian

Nils Lofgren Pulls Music From Spotify – Billboard

My Comments

Spotify has over the last two years jumping on the podcast-hosting wagon even though they were originally providing music on demand.

But just lately they were hosting the podcast output of Joe Rogan who is known for disinformation about COVID vaccines. They even strengthened their business relationship with Joe Rogan using the various content monetisation options they offer and giving it platform-exclusive treatment.

There has been social disdain about Spotify’s business relationship with Joe Rogan due to social responsibility issues relating to disinformation about essential issues such as vaccination. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell had pulled their music from this online music service and an increasing number of their fans are discontinuing business with Spotify. Now Nils Lofgren, the guitarist from the E Street Band associated with Bruce Springsteen is intending to pull music he has “clout” over from Spotify and encourages more musicians to do so.

Tim Burrowes, who founded Mumbrella, even said in his Unmade blog about the possibility of Spotify being subject to what happened with Sky News and Radio 2GB during the Alan Jones days. That was where one or more collective actions took place to drive advertisers to remove their business from these stations. This could be more so where companies have to be aware of brand safety and social responsibility when they advertise their wares.

In some cases, Apple, Google and Amazon could gain traction with their music-on-demand services. But on the other hand, Deezer, Qobuz and Tidal could gain an increased subscriber base especially where there is a desire to focus towards European business or to deal with music-focused media-on-demand services rather than someone who is running video or podcast services in addition.

There are questions about whether a music-streaming service like Spotify should be dabbling in podcasts and spoken-word content. That includes any form of “personalised-radio” services where music, advertising and spoken-word content presented in a manner akin to a local radio station’s output.

Then the other question that will come about is the expectation for online-audio-playback devices like network speakers, hi-fi network streamers and Internet radios. This would extend to other online-media devices like smart TVs or set-top boxes. Here, it is about allowing different audio-streaming services to be associated with these devices and assuring a simplified consistent user experience out of these services for the duration of the device’s lifespan.

That includes operation-by-reference setups like Spotify Connect where you can manage the music from the online music service via your mobile device, regular computer or similar device. But the music plays through your preferred set of speakers or audio device and isn’t interrupted if you make or take a call, receive a message or play games on your mobile device.

What has come about is the content hosted on an online-media platform or the content creators that the platform gives special treatment to may end up affecting that platform’s reputation. This is especially where the content creator is involved in fake news or disinformation.

Being aware of astroturfing as an insidious form of disinformation

Article

Astroturfing more difficult to track down with social media – academic | RNZ News

My Comments

An issue that is raised in the context of fake news and disinformation is a campaign tactic known as “astroturfing”. This is something that our online life has facilitated thanks to easy-to-produce Websites on affordable Web-hosting deals along with the Social Web.

I am writing about this on HomeNetworking01.info due to astroturfing as another form of disinformation that we are needing to be careful of in this online era.

What is astroturfing?

Astroturfing is organised propaganda activity intended to create a belief of popular grassroots support for a viewpoint in relationship to a cause or policy. This activity is organised by one or more large organisations with it typically appearing as the output of concerned individuals or smaller community organisations such as a peak body for small businesses of a kind.

But there is no transparency about who is actually behind the message or the benign-sounding organisations advancing that message. Nor is there any transparency about the money flow associated with the campaign.

The Merrian-Webster Dictionary which is the dictionary of respect for the American dialect of the English language defines it as:

organized activity that is intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising, grassroots movement in support of or in opposition to something (such as a political policy) but that is in reality initiated and controlled by a concealed group or organization (such as a corporation).

The etymology for this word comes about as a play on words in relation to the “grassroots” expression. It alludes to the Astroturf synthetic turf implemented initially in the Astrodome stadium in Houston in the USA., with the “Astroturf” trademark becoming a generic trademark for synthetic sportsground turf sold in North America.

This was mainly practised by Big Tobacco to oppose significant taxation and regulation measures against tobacco smoking, but continues to be practised by entities whose interests are against the public good.

How does astroturfing manifest?

It typically manifests as one or more benign-sounding community organisations that appear to demonstrate popular support for or against a particular policy. It typically affects policies for the social or environmental good where there is significant corporate or other “big-money” opposition to these policies.

The Internet era has made this more feasible thanks to the ability to create and host Websites for cheap. As online forums and social media came on board, it became feasible to set up multiple personas and organisational identities on forums and social-media platforms to make it appear as though many people or organisations are demonstrating popular support for the argument. It is also feasible to interlink Websites and online forums or Social-Web presences by posting a link from a Website or blog in a forum or Social-Web post or having articles on a Social Web account appear on one’s Website.

The multiple online personas created by one entity for this purpose of demonstrating the appearance of popular support are described as “sockpuppet” accounts. This is in reference to children’s puppet shows where two or three puppet actors use glove puppets made out of odd socks and can manipulate twice the number of characters as each actor. This can happen synchronously with a particular event that is in play, be it the effective date of an industry reform or set of restrictions; a court case or inquiry taking place; or a legislature working on an important law.

An example of this that occurred during the long COVID-19 lockdown that affected Victoria last year where the “DanLiedPeopleDied” and “DictatorDan” hashtags were manipulated on Twitter to create a sentiment of popular distrust against Dan Andrews.  Here it was identified that a significant number of the Twitter accounts that drove these hashtags surfaced or changed their behaviour synchronously to the lockdown’s effective period.

But astroturfing can manifest in to offline / in-real-life activities like rallies and demonstrations; appearances on talkback radio; letters to newspaper editors, pamphlet drops and traditional advertising techniques.

Let’s not forget that old-fashioned word-of-mouth advertising for an astroturfing campaign can take place here like over the neighbour’s fence, at the supermarket checkout or around the office’s water cooler.

Sometimes the online activity is used to rally for support for one or more offline activities or to increase the amount of word-of-mouth conversation on the topic. Or the pamphlets and outdoor advertising will carry references to the campaign’s online resources so people can find out more “from the horse’s mouth”. This kind of material used for offline promotion can be easily and cheaply produced using “download-to-print” resources, print and copy shops that use cost-effective digital press technology, firms who screen-print T-shirts on demand from digital originals amongst other online-facilitated technologies.

An example of this highlighted by Spectrum News 1 San Antonio in the USA was the protest activity against COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in that country. This was alluding to Donald Trump and others steering public opinion away from a COVID-safe USA.

This method of deceit capitalises on popular trust in the platform and the apparently-benign group behind the message or appearance of popular support for that group or its message. As well, astroturfing is used to weaken any true grassroots support for or against the opinion.

How does astroturfing affect media coverage of an issue?

The easily-plausible arguments tendered by a benign-sounding organisation can encourage journalists to “go with the flow” regarding the organisation’s ideas. It can include treating the organisation’s arguments at face value for a supporting or opposing view on the topic at hand especially where they want to create a balanced piece of material.

This risk is significantly increased in media environments where there isn’t a culture of critical thinking with obvious examples being partisan or tabloid media. Examples of this could be breakfast/morning TV talk shows on private free-to-air TV networks or talkback radio on private radio stations.

But there is a greater risk of this occurring while there is increasingly-reduced investment in public-service and private news media. Here, the fear of newsrooms being reduced or shut down or journalists not being paid much for their output can reduce the standard of journalism and the ability to perform proper due diligence on news sources.

There is also the risk of an astroturfing campaign affecting academic reportage of the issue. This is more so where the student doesn’t have good critical-thinking and research skills and can be easily swayed by spin. It is more so with secondary education or some tertiary education situations like vocational courses or people at an early stage in the undergraduate studies.

How does astroturfing affect healthy democracies

All pillars of government can and do fall victim to astroturfing. This can happen at all levels of government ranging from local councils through state or regional governments to the national governments.

During an election, an astroturfing campaign can be used to steer opinion for or against a political party or candidate who is standing for election. In the case of a referendum, it can steer popular opinion towards or against the questions that are the subject of the referendum. This is done in a manner to convey the veneer of popular grassroots support for or against the candidate, party or issue.

The legislature is often a hotbed of political lobbying by interest groups and astroturfing can be used to create a veneer of popular support for or against legislation or regulation of concern to the interest group. As well, astroturfing can be used a a tool to place pressure on legislature members to advance or stall a proposed law and, in some cases, force a government out of power where there is a stalemate over that law.

The public-service agencies of the executive government who have the power to permit or veto activity are also victims of astroturfing. This comes in the form of whether a project can go ahead or not; or whether a product is licensed for sale within the jurisdiction. It can also affect the popular trust in any measures that officials in the executive government execute.

As well, the judiciary can be tasked with handling legal actions launched by pressure groups who use astroturfing to  create a sense of popular support to revise legislation or regulation. It also includes how jurors are influenced in any jury trial or which judges are empanelled in a court of law, especially a powerful appellate court or the jurisdiction’s court of last resort.

Politicians, significant officials and key members of the judiciary can fall victim to character assassination campaigns that are part of one or more astroturfing campaigns. This can affect continual popular trust in these individuals and can even affect the ability for them to live or conduct their public business in safety.

Here, politicians and other significant government officials are increasingly becoming accessible to the populace. It is being facilitated by themselves maintaining Social-Web presence using a public-facing persona on the popular social-media platforms, with the same account-name or “handle” being used on the multiple platforms. In the same context, the various offices and departments maintain their social-Web presence on the popular platforms using office-wide accounts. This is in addition to other online presences like the ministerial Web pages or public-facing email addresses they or the government maintain.

These officials can be approached by interest groups who post to the official’s Social-Web presence. Or a reference can be created to the various officials and government entities through the use of hashtags or mentions of platform-native account names operated by these entities when someone creates a Social Web post about the official or issue at hand. In a lot of cases, there is reference to sympathetic journalists and media organisations in order to create media interest.

As well, one post with the right message and the right mix of hashtags and referenced account names can be viewed by the targeted decision makers and the populace at the same time. Then people who are sympathetic to that post’s message end up reposting that message, giving it more “heat”.

Here, the Social Web is seen as providing unregulated access to these powerful decision-makers. That is although the decision-makers work with personal assistants or similar staff to vet content that they see. As well, there isn’t any transparency about who is posting the content that references these officials i.e. you don’t know whether it is a local constituent or someone pressured by an interest group.

What can be done about it

The huge question here is what can be done about astroturfing as a means of disinformation.

A significant number of jurisdictions implement attribution requirements for any advertising or similar material as part of their fair-trading, election-oversight, broadcasting, unsolicited-advertising or similar laws. Similarly a significant number of jurisdictions implement lobbyist regulation in relationship to who has access to the jurisdiction’s politicians. As outlined in the RNZ article that I referred to, New Zealand is examining astroturfing in the context of whether they should regulate access to their politicians.

But most of these laws regulate what goes on within the offline space within the jurisdiction that they pertain to. It could become feasible for foreign actors to engage in astroturfing and similar campaigns from other territories across the globe using online means without any action being taken.

The issue of regulating lobbyist access to the jurisdiction’s politicians or significant officials can raise questions. Here it could be about whether the jurisdiction’s citizens have a continual right of access to their elected government or not. As well, there is the issue of assuring governmental transparency and a healthy dialogue with the citizens.

The 2016 fake-news crisis which highlighted the distortion of the 2016 US Presidential Election and UK Brexit referendum became a wake-up call regarding how the online space can be managed to work against disinformation.

Here, Silicon Valley took on the task of managing online search engines, social-media platforms and online advertising networks to regulate foreign influence and assure accountability when it comes to political messaging in the online space. This included identity verification of advertiser accounts or keeping detailed historical records of ads from political advertisers on ad networks or social media or clamping down on coordinated inauthentic behaviour on social media platforms.

In addition to this, an increasingly-large army of “fact-checkers” organised by credible newsrooms, universities and similar organisations appeared. These groups researched and verified claims which were being published through the media or on online platforms and would state whether they are true or false based on their research.

What we can do is research further and trust our instincts when it comes to questionable claims that come from apparently-benign organisations. Here we can do our due diligence and check for things like how long an online account has been in operation for, especially if it is synchronous to particular political, regulatory or similar events occurring or being on the horizon.

Here you have to look out for behaviours in the online or offline content like:

  • Inflammatory or manipulative language that plays on your emotions
  • Claims to debunk topic-related myths that aren’t really myths
  • Questioning or pillorying those exposing the wrongdoings core to the argument rather the actual wrongdoings
  • A chorus of the same material from many accounts

Conclusion

We need to be aware of astroturfing as another form of disinformation that is prevalent in the online age. Here it can take in people who are naive and accept information at face value without doing further research on what is being pushed.

The US now takes serious action about electoral disinformation

Article

Now Uncle Sam is taking action on voter suppression

US arrests far-right Twitter troll for 2016 election interference | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

United States Department Of Justice

Social Media Influencer Charged with Election Interference Stemming from Voter Disinformation Campaign (Press Release)

My Comments

Previously, when I have talked about activities that social media companies have undertaken regarding misinformation during election cycles, including misinformation to suppress voter participation, I have covered what these companies in the private sector are doing.

But I have also wanted to see a healthy dialogue between the social-media private sector and public-sector agencies responsible for the security and integrity of the elections. This is whether they are an election-oversight authority like the  FEC in the USA or the AEC in Australia; a broadcast oversight authority like the FCC in the USA or OFCOM in the UK; or a consumer-rights authority like the FTC in the USA or the ACCC in Australia. Here, these authorities need to be able to know where the proper communication of electoral information is at risk so they can take appropriate education and enforcement action regarding anything that distorts the election’s outcome.

Just lately, the US government arrested a Twitter troll who had been running information on his Twitter feed to dissuade Americans from participating properly and making their vote count in the 2016 Presidential Election. Here, the troll was suggesting that they don’t attend the local polling booths but cast their vote using SMS or social media, which isn’t considered a proper means of casting your vote in the USA. Twitter had banned him and a number of alt-right figureheads that year for harrassment.

These charges are based on a little-known US statute that proscribes activity that denies or dissuades a US citizen’s right to exercise their rights under that country’s Constitution. That includes the right to cast a legitimate vote at an election.

But this criminal case could be seen as a means to create a “conduit” between social media platforms and the public sector to use the full extent of the law to clamp down on disinformation and voter suppression using the Web. I also see it as a chance for public prosecutors to examine the laws of the land and use them as a tool to work against the fake news and disinformation scourge.

This is a criminal matter before the courts of law in the USA and the defendent is presumed innocent unless he is found guilty in a court of law.