Tag: political influence

Keeping the same character within your online community

Article

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Online communities do represent a lot of hard work and continuous effort including having many moderators

General Election 2019: Has your local Facebook group been hijacked by politics? | BBC News

My Comments

The past UK General Election highlighted an issue with the management of online communities, especially those that are targeted at neighbourhoods.

In the BBC News article, a local Facebook group that was used by a neighbourhood specifically for sharing advice, recommending businesses, advertising local events, “lost-and-found” and similar purposes was steered from this purpose to a political discussion board.

You may or may not think that politics should have something to do with your neighbourhood but ordinarily, it stays very well clear. That is unless you are dealing with a locally-focused issue like the availability of publicly-funded services like healthcare, education or transport infrastructure in your neighbourhood. Or it could be about a property development that is before the local council that could affect your neighbourhood.

How that came about was that it was managed by a single older person who had passed away. Due to the loss of an administrator, the group effectively became a headless “zombie” group where there was no oversight over what was being posted.

That happened as the UK general election was around the corner with the politics “heating up” especially as the affected neighbourhood was in a marginal electorate. Here, the neighbourhood newsgroup “lost it” when it came to political content with the acrimony heating up after the close of polls. The site administrator’s widow even stated that the online group was being hijacked by others pushing their own agendas.

Subsequently, several members of that neighbourhood online forum stepped in to effectively wrest control and restore sanity to it. This included laying down rules against online bullying and hate speech along with encouraging proper decent courtesy on the bulletin board. It became hard to effectively steer back the forum to that sense of normalcy due to pushback by some members of the group and the established activity that occurred during the power vacuum.

This kind of behaviour, like all other misbehaviour facilitated through the Social Web and other Internet platforms, exploits the perceived distance that the Internet offers. It is something you wouldn’t do to someone face-to-face.

What was being identified was that there was a loss of effective management power for that online group due to the absence of a leader which maintained the group’s character and no-one effectively steps up to fill the void. This can easily happen with any form of online forum or bulletin board including an impromptu “group chat” set up on a platform like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Viber.

It is like a real-life situation with an organisation like a family business where people have put in the hard yards to maintain a particular character. Then they lose the effective control of that organisation and no-one steps up to the plate to maintain that same character. This kind of situation can occur if there isn’t continual thought about succession planning in that organisation’s management especially if there aren’t any young people in the organisation who are loyal to its character and vision.

An online forum should have the ability and be encouraged to have multiple moderators with the same vision so others can “take over” if one isn’t able to adequately continue the job anymore. Here, you can discover and encourage potential moderators through their active participation online and in any offline events. But you would need to have some people who have some sort of computer and Internet literacy as moderators so they know their way around the system or require very minimal training.

The multiplicity of moderators can cater towards unforseen situations like death or sudden resignation. It also can assure that one of the moderators can travel without needing to have their “finger on the pulse” with that online community. In the same vein, if they or one of their loved ones falls ill or there is a personal calamity, they can concentrate on their own or their loved one’s recovery and rehabilitation or managing their situation.

There will be a reality that if a person moves out of a neighbourhood in good faith, they will have maintained regular contact with their former neighbours. Here they would be trying to keep their “finger on the pulse” regarding the neighbourhood’s character.  This fact can be exploited with managing a neighbourhood-focused online community by them being maintained as a “standby moderator” where they can be “roped in” to moderate the online community if there are too few moderators.

To keep the same kind of “vibe” within that online community that you manage will require many hands at the pump. It is not just a one-person affair.

Google to keep deep records of political ads served on their platforms

Articles

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

Are you sure you are casting your vote without undue influence?

Google Releases Political Ad Database and Trump Is the Big Winner | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Introducing A New Transparency Report For Political Ads (Blog Post)

Transparency Report – Political Advertising On Google (Currently relevant to federal elections in the USA)

Advertising Policies Help Page – Political Advertising (Key details apply to USA Federal elections only)

My Comments

If you use YouTube as a free user or surf around the Internet to most ad-facilitated blogs and Websites like this one, you will find that the display ads hosted are provided by an ad network owned or managed by Google. Similarly, some free ad-funded mobile apps may be showing ads that are facilitated through Google’s ad networks. Similarly, some advertisers pay to have links to their online resources placed at the top of the Google search-results list.

Online ad - to be respected like advertising in printed media

Google to keep records of political ads that appear on these sites so they have the same kind of respect as traditional print ads

Over the past few years, there has been a strong conversation regarding the authenticity of political advertising on the online space thanks to the recent election-meddling and fake news scandals. This concern has been shown due to the fact that the online space easily transcends jurisdictional borders and isn’t as regulated as traditional broadcast, print and away-from-home advertising especially when it comes to political advertising.

Then there is also the fact that relatively-open publishing platforms can be used to present content of propaganda value as editorial-grade content. The discovery of this content can be facilitated through search engines and the Social Web whereupon the content can even be shared further.

Recently Facebook have taken action to require authentication of people and other entities behind ads hosted on their platforms and Pages or Public Profiles with high follower counts. This ins in conjunction to providing end-users access to archival information about ad campaigns ran on that platform. This is part of increased efforts by them and Google to gain control of political ads appearing on their platforms.

But Google have taken things further by requiring authentication and proof of legitimate residency in the USA for entities publishing political ads through Google-managed ad platforms that targeting American voters on a federal level. As well, they are keeping archival information about the political ads including the ads’ creatives, who sponsored the ad and how much is spent with Google on the campaign. They are even making available software “hooks” to this data for researchers, concerned citizens, political watchdog groups and the like to draw this data in to their IT systems for further research.

If you view a political ad in the USA on this site or other sites that use display advertising facilitated by Google, you will find out who is behind that ad if you click or tap on the blue arrow at the top right hand corner of that ad. Then you will see the disclosure details under the “Why This Ad” heading. Those of you who use YouTube can bring up this same information if you click or tap on the “i” (information) or three-dot icon while the ad is playing.

Google are intending to roll these requirements out for state-level and local-level campaigns within the USA as well as rolling out similar requirements with other countries and their sub-national jurisdictions. They also want to extend this vendor-based oversight towards issues-based political advertising which, in a lot of cases, makes up the bulk of that kind of advertising.

Personally I would also like to see Google and others who manage online ad platforms be able to “keep in the loop” with election-oversight authorities like the USA’s Federal Election Commission or the Australian Electoral Commission. Here, it can be used to identify inordinate political-donation and campaign-spending activity that political parties and others are engaging in.

Google and Facebook are starting to bring accountability to political advertising

Articles

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

Are you sure you are casting your vote without undue influence? (Courtesy of Australian Electoral Commission)

Facebook announces major changes to political ad policies | NBC News

Facebook reveals new political ad policies in wake of U.S. election | VentureBeat

What Can and Can’t You Do with Political Advertising on Facebook? | Spatially

Google Joins Facebook In Banning All Ads Related To Ireland’s Big Abortion Vote | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Facebook

Update on Our Advertising Transparency and Authenticity Efforts {Press Release)

Facebook will not be accepting referendum related ads from advertisers based outside of Ireland {Press Release)

Google

Supporting election integrity through greater advertising transparency (Blog Post)

My Comments

Over the last five months, a strong conversation has risen surrounding electioneering and political advertising on the online platforms including social media and online advertising.

The trends concerning this activity is that the political advertising spend is moving away from traditional print and broadcast media towards online media as we make more use of highly-portable computing devices to consume our information and entertainment.

Issues that have also been raised include the use of fake comments and pre-programmed auto-responding “bots” as part of political campaigns. This is alongside the rise of very divisive political campaigns during the 2016 Brexit and US Presidential election cycles that played on racial and religious prejudices. There is also the fact that nation states with improper intentions are seeing the idea of poisoning the information flow as another weapon in their cyber-warfare arsenal.

It has also been facilitated through the use of highly-focused data-driven campaign-targeting techniques based on factors like race, gender, location and interests, with this practice being highlighted in the Cambridge Analytica saga that caught up Facebook and Twitter.

As well, the online advertising and social media platforms have made it easy to create and maintain an advertising or editorial campaign that transcends jurisdictional borders. This is compared to traditional media that would be dependent on having the advertising material pass muster with the media outlet’s advertising staff in the outlet’s market before it hits the presses or the airwaves.

This issue will become more real with the use of addressable TV advertising which is currently practised with some advertising-based video-on-demand services and some cable-TV platforms but will become the norm with traditional linear TV being delivered through through the increasing use of interactive-TV platforms.

This technology would facilitate “hyper-targeting” of political campaigns such as municipal-level or postcode/ZIP-code targeting yet maintain the same “air of legitimacy” that the traditional TV experience provides, making it feasible to destabilise elections and civil discourse on the local-government level.

Election-oversight authorities in the various jurisdictions like the Australian Electoral Commission or the UK’s Electoral Commission have been doing battle with the online trend because most of the legislation and regulation surrounding political and election activities has been “set in stone” before the rise of the Internet. For example, in most jurisdictions, you will see or hear a disclosure tag after a political advertisement stating which organisation or individual was behind that ad. Or there will be financial reporting and auditing requirements for the election campaigns that take place before the polls.

Facebook and Google are having to face these realities through the use of updated advertising-platform policies which govern political advertising, But Facebook applies this to candidate-based campaigns and issues-based campaigns while Google applies this to candidate-based campaigns only at the time of writing.

Firstly there is a prohibition on political advertising from entities foreign to the jurisdiction that the ad is targeted for. This is in line with legislation and regulation implemented by most jurisdictions proscribing foreign donations to political campaigns affecting that jurisdiction.

This is augmented through a requirement for political advertisers to furnish proof of identity and residence in the targeted jurisdiction. In the case of Facebook, they apply this policy to pages and profiles with very large followings as well as ads. Similarly, they implement a postcard-based proof-of-residence procedure where they send a postcard by snail mail to the user’s US-based home / business address to very presence in the USA.

Facebook augments this requirement by using artificial-intelligence to flag if an ad is political or not, so they can make sure that the advertiser is complying with the requirements for political advertising on this platform.

Like with traditional media, political ads on both these platforms will be required to have a disclosure tag. But Facebook goes further by making this a hyperlink that end-users can click on to see details like verification documents, why the viewer saw the ad along with a link to the sponsoring organisation’s Facebook Page. This has more utility than the slide shown at the end of a TV or online ad, the voice-announcement at the end of a radio ad or small text at the bottom of a print-media ad or billboard poster which most of these tags represent.

Both of the Internet titans will also make sure details about these campaigns are available and transparent to end-users so they know what is going on. For example, Facebook requires advertisers to maintain a Facebook Page before they buy advertising on any of the Facebook-owned platforms. This will have a “View Ads” tab which includes details about targeting of each current and prior campaign with a four-year archive allowance.

Google has taken things further by making sure that political organisations, politicians, the media and journalists are aware of the resources they have to assure data security for their campaigns and other efforts. Here, they have prepared a “Protect Your Election” Webpage that highlights the resources that they provide that are relevant for each kind of player in a political campaign. This includes Project Shield to protect Websites against distributed denial-of-service attacks, along with enhanced security measures available to operators of Google Accounts associated with critical data.

Both companies have been implementing these procedures for North America with Facebook trying them out in Canada then “cementing” them in to the USA before the midterm Congress election cycle there. Both companies then took action to suspend political ads from foreign entities outside Ireland during the election cycle for the Eighth Amendment abortion referendum taking place in that country. Here, they have applied the prohibition until the close of polls on May 25 2018. Let’s not forget that these standards will be gradually rolled out in to other jurisdictions over time.

But what I would like to see is for companies who run online advertising and social-media activity to liaise strongly with election-oversight officials in the various jurisdictions especially if it affects a currently-running poll or one that is to take place in the near future. This is in order to advise these officials of any irregularities that are taking place with political advertising on their online platforms or for the officials to notify them about issues or threats that can manifest through the advertising process.

 

Seattle starts attempts to regulate online political advertising

Article Seattle Space Needle photo by Chris Noland (Wikimedia Commons)

Seattle demands Facebook disclose campaign ad information | Engadget

Seattle says Facebook violated a political advertising law | FastCompany

My Comments

In most of the Western democracies, the election process is subjected to oversight by various local, regional or federal government election-oversight departments. These departments oversee the campaign activities that the political parties or candidates engage in during the election cycle; and this includes oversight of the kind of advertising that is being shown to the populace as part of a campaign.

As well, traditional radio and TV broadcasters, whether they are public or private, free-to-air or subscription-driven, are subject to oversight by federal or regional broadcast authorities. These authorities also work with the election-oversight authorities to oversee radio or TV election-campaign advertising in the context of the election process’s integrity.

All this oversight is to achieve a level playing field for the candidates and issues along with identifying and working against sources of undue influence upon the voters. This oversight also enforces various rules and practices regarding pre-poll campaign blackouts, mandatory sponsor identification for campaign messages and reporting of when and where the advertising appears.

But the online advertising platforms including the Social Web have, for a long time, escaped the stringent oversight of the various governments’ election-oversight and broadcasting-oversight authorities and this has recently raised questions in relationship to the integrity of a number of recent polls around the Western world such as the US Presidential Election.

Here, questions have been raised about the presence of troll ads sponsored by the Russian Government appearing on Facebook concurrent with the UK Brexit poll, the US Presidential Election and recent national elections that took place in France and Germany. Now the Seattle local government are raising issues with Facebook regarding advertising that was booked through that platform regarding their council elections. This was about Facebook violating a city bylaw that required advertising platforms like newspapers, radio or TV broadcasters to disclose who is buying political advertising targeted at that election.

One of the issues that are being raised include the ability with online advertising platforms for an individual or organisation no matter where they are located to target particular geographic areas down to the size of a suburb or town; or other particular user classes based on one or more particular attributes with a particular message.

It can become more disconcerting whenever firms in the TV and video industry implement directly-addressable advertising as part of their TV-advertising product mix, which allows for advertising campaigns to be directed at particular households or neighbourhoods like what happens with online advertising. This is because households seem to give a significant amount of trust to what is shown on the big screen in the living room when it comes to advertising.

Another is for the advertising to be presented as though it is part of legitimate editorial content in order to lower one’s “advertising-awareness” radar. This can be through comments that appear in a social-network’s main user feed or spam comments inserted in a comment trail or discussion forum. Similarly bloggers, podcasters and other influencers could also be paid to post political content supporting a particular candidate by a sponsoring entity.

This could breed situations where misinformation could be targeted at a “suburb of disadvantage” or an ethnically-focused community in order for them not to show up to vote or to vote against a candidate they are normally sure about and who represents their interests. This situation is considered of high risk in the USA where the election process supports voluntary attendance along with a significant number of citizens there not being “politically literate” and able to cast their votes astutely.

If Seattle tests this issue before the USA’s judiciary, other jurisdictions within and beyond the USA could watch these cases to observe how they can regulate online content and advertising in relation to the integrity of civic life.

Politics creeps in to the world of the voice-driven assistant

Articles

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Is Amazon Alexa and similar voice-driven assistants becoming a new point of political influence in our lives?

Amazon’s Alexa under fire for voicing gender and racial views | The Times via The Australian

Alexa, are you a liberal? Users accuse Amazon’s smart assistant of having a political bias after she reveals she is a feminist who supports Black Lives Matter | Daily Mail

Amazon’s Alexa is a feminist and supports Black Lives Matter | Salon

My Comments

An issue that has started to come on board lately is how Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana respond to highly-polarising political questions especially in context to hot-button topics.

This talking point has come up just lately in the USA which has over the last year become highly polarised. It has been driven by the rise of the alt-right who have been using social media to spread their vitriol, the fake news scandals, along with Donald Trump’s rise to the White House. Even people from other countries who meet up with Americans or have dealings with any organisation that has strong American bloodlines may experience this.

Could this even apply to Apple’s Siri assistant or Google Assistant that you have in your smartphone?

What had been discovered was that Amazon’s Alexa voice-driven assistant was being programmed to give progressive-tinted answers to issues seen to be controversial in the USA like feminism, Black Lives Matter, LGBTI rights, etc. This was causing various levels of angst amongst the alt-right who were worried about the Silicon-Valley / West-Coast influence on the social media and tech-based information resources.

But this has not played off with the UK’s hot-button topics with Alexa taking a neutral stance on questions regarding Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May and similar lssues. She was even challenged about what a “Corbynista” (someone who defends Jeremy Corbyn and his policies) is. This is due to not enough talent being available in the UK or Europe to program Alexa to achieve answers  to UK hot topics in a manner that pleases Silicon Valley.

The key issue here is that voice-driven assistants can be and are being programmed to answer politically-testing questions in a hyper-polarised manner. How can this be done?

Could it also apply to Cortana on your Windows 10 computer?

The baseline approach, taken by Apple, Google and Microsoft, can be to give the assistant access to these resources that matches the software company’s or industry’s politics. This can be pointing to a full-tier or meta-tier search engine that ranks favourably resources aligned to the desired beliefs. It can also be about pointing also to non-search-engine resources like media sites that run news with that preferred slant.

The advanced approach would be for a company with enough programming staff and knowledge on board could programmatically control that assistant to give particular responses in response to particular questions. This could be to create responses worded in a way to effectively “preach” the desired agenda to the user. This method is infact how Amazon is training Alexa to respond to those topics that are seen as hot-button issues in the USA.

Government regulators in various jurisdictions may start to raise questions regarding how Alexa and co are programmed and their influence on society. This is with a view to seeing search engines, social media, voice-driven assistants and the like as media companies similar to newspaper publishers or radio / TV broadcasters and other traditional media outlets, with a similar kind of regulatory oversight. It is more so where a voice-driven assistant is baked in to hardware like a smart speaker or software like an operating system to work as the only option available to users for this purpose, or one or more of these voice-driven assistants benefits from market dominance.

At the moment, there is nothing you can really do about this issue except to be aware of it and see it as something that can happen when a company or a cartel of companies who have clout in the consumer IT industry are given the power to influence society.