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Panelists, Including Facebook Executive, Call For Increased Content Moderation

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WASHINGTON, July 22, 2019 — The primary responsibility of moderating online platforms lies with the platforms themselves, making Section 230 protections essential, said panelists at New America’s Open Technology Institute on Thursday.

Although some policymakers are attempting to solve the problem of digital content moderation, Open Technology Institute Director Sarah Morris noted that the First Amendment limits the government’s ability to regulate speech, leaving platforms to handle “the vast majority of decision making.”

“Washington lawmakers don’t have the capacity to address these challenges,” said Francella Ochillo, executive director of Next Century Cities.

It’s up to tech companies to do more than they are currently doing to tackle hate speech on their platforms, said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

Facebook Public Policy Manager Shaarik Zafar acknowledged that the tech community needs to do a better job of enforcing its policies—and on creating those policies in the first place.

Content moderation is an extremely difficult process, he said. Although algorithms are fairly good at detecting terrorism and child exploitation, other issues can be more difficult, such as trying to distinguish between journalists and activists raising awareness of atrocities versus people glorifying violent extremism.

No single solution can eliminate hate speech, and any solution found will have to be frequently revisited and updated, said Ochillo. But that doesn’t mean that platforms and others shouldn’t be a significant effort, she said, pointing out that people suffer real-world secondary effects from hateful content posted online.

Zafar emphasized Facebook’s commitment to onboarding additional civil rights expertise as the platform continues to tackle the problem of hate speech.

He also highlighted Facebook’s recently announced external oversight board, which will be made up of a diverse group of experts with experience in content, privacy, free expression, human rights, safety, and other relevant disciplines.

Facebook would defer to the board on difficult content moderation questions, said Zafar, and would follow their recommendation even when company executives disagree.

But as companies take steps to fine-tune and enforce their terms of service, transparency is of the utmost importance, Snyder said.

Content moderation algorithms should be made public so that independent researchers can test them for bias, suggested Sharon Franklin, OTI’s director of surveillance and cybersecurity policy.

Franklin also highlighted the Santa Clara Principles, a set of guidelines for transparency and accountability in content moderation. The principles call on companies to publish the numbers of posts removed and accounts suspended, provide notice to users whose content or account is removed, and create a meaningful appeal process.

Allowing content moderation under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has spurred innovation and made it possible for individuals and companies to have access to massive audiences through social media, said Zafar.

Without those protections, he continued, companies might choose to forgo content moderation altogether, leaving all sorts of hate speech, misinformation, and spam on the platforms to the point that they might actually become unusable.

The other potential danger of repealing the law would be companies airing on the side of caution and over-enforcing policies, said Franklin. Section 230 actually leads to less censorship because it allows for nuanced content moderation.

The Open Technology Institute supports Section 230 and is very concerned about the recent attacks that have been made on it, Franklin added.

Section 230 is “far from perfect,” said Snyder, but it’s much better than any of the plans that have been proposed to modify it or than not having it at all.

Facebook and other platforms give voice to a wide range of ideologies, and people from all backgrounds are able to successfully gain significant followings, said Zafar, emphasizing that the company’s purpose is to serve everybody.

(Photo of New America event by Emily McPhie.)

Reporter Em McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for the student newspaper. In addition to agency and freelance marketing experience, she has reported extensively on Section 230, big tech, and rural broadband access. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer programming skills to underprivileged children.

Artificial Intelligence

AI Should Compliment and Not Replace Humans, Says Stanford Expert

AI that strictly imitates human behavior can make workers superfluous and concentrate power in the hands of employers.

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Photo of Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Stanford Digital Economy Lab, in January 2017 by Sandra Blaser used with permission

WASHINGTON, November 4, 2022 – Artificial intelligence should be developed primarily to augment the performance of, not replace, humans, said Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Stanford Digital Economy Lab, at a Wednesday web event hosted by the Brookings Institution.

AI that complements human efforts can increase wages by driving up worker productivity, Brynjolfsson argued. AI that strictly imitates human behavior, he said, can make workers superfluous – thereby lowering the demand for workers and concentrating economic and political power in the hands of employers – in this case the owners of the AI.

“Complementarity (AI) implies that people remain indispensable for value creation and retain bargaining power in labor markets and in political decision-making,” he wrote in an essay earlier this year.

What’s more, designing AI to mimic existing human behaviors limits innovation, Brynjolfsson argued Wednesday.

“If you are simply taking what’s already being done and using a machine to replace what the human’s doing, that puts an upper bound on how good you can get,” he said. “The bigger value comes from creating an entirely new thing that never existed before.”

Brynjolfsson argued that AI should be crafted to reflect desired societal outcomes. “The tools we have now are more powerful than any we had before, which almost by definition means we have more power to change the world, to shape the world in different ways,” he said.

The AI Bill of Rights

In October, the White House released a blueprint for an “AI Bill of Rights.” The document condemned algorithmic discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, or age and emphasized the importance of user privacy. It also endorsed system transparency with users and suggested the use of human alternatives to AI when feasible.

To fully align with the blueprint’s standards, Russell Wald, policy director for Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, argued at a recent Brookings event that the nation must develop a larger AI workforce.

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Artificial Intelligence

Workforce Training Needed to Address Artificial Intelligence Bias, Researchers Suggest

Building on the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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Russell Wald. Credit: Rod Searcey, Stanford Law School

WASHINGTON, October 24, 2022–To align with the newly released White House guide on artificial intelligence, Stanford University’s director of policy said at an October Brookings Institution event last week that there needs to be more social and technical workforce training to address artificial intelligence biases.

Released on October 4, the Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights framework by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy is a guide for companies to follow five principles to ensure the protection of consumer rights from automated harm.

AI algorithms rely on learning the users behavior and disclosed information to customize services and advertising. Due to the nature of this process, algorithms carry the potential to send targeted information or enforce discriminatory eligibility practices based on race or class status, according to critics.

Risk mitigation, which prevents algorithm-based discrimination in AI technology is listed as an ‘expectation of an automated system’ under the “safe and effective systems” section of the White House framework.

Experts at the Brookings virtual event believe that workforce development is the starting point for professionals to learn how to identify risk and obtain the capacity to fulfill this need.

“We don’t have the talent available to do this type of investigative work,” Russell Wald, policy director for Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, said at the event.

“We just don’t have a trained workforce ready and so what we really need to do is. I think we should invest in the next generation now and start giving people tools and access and the ability to learn how to do this type of work.”

Nicol Turner-Lee, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, agreed with Wald, recommending sociologists, philosophers and technologists get involved in the process of AI programming to align with algorithmic discrimination protections – another core principle of the framework.

Core principles and protections suggested in this framework would require lawmakers to create new policies or include them in current safety requirements or civil rights laws. Each principle includes three sections on principles, automated systems and practice by government entities.

In July, Adam Thierer, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University stated that he is “a little skeptical that we should create a regulatory AI structure,” and instead proposed educating workers on how to set best practices for risk management, calling it an “educational institution approach.”

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Artificial Intelligence

Deepfakes Pose National Security Threat, Private Sector Tackles Issue

Content manipulation can include misinformation from authoritarian governments.

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Photo of Dana Roa of Adobe, Paul Lekas of Global Policy (left to right)

WASHINGTON, July 20, 2022 – Content manipulation techniques known as deepfakes are concerning policy makers and forcing the public and private sectors to work together to tackle the problem, a Center for Democracy and Technology event heard on Wednesday.

A deepfake is a technical method of generating synthetic media in which a person’s likeness is inserted into a photograph or video in such a way that creates the illusion that they were actually there. Policymakers are concerned that deepfakes could pose a threat to the country’s national security as the technology is being increasingly offered to the general population.

Deepfake concerns that policymakers have identified, said participants at Wednesday’s event, include misinformation from authoritarian governments, faked compromising and abusive images, and illegal profiting from faked celebrity content.

“We should not and cannot have our guard down in the cyberspace,” said Representative John Katko, R-NY, ranking member of House Committee on homeland security.

Adobe pitches technology to identify deepfakes

Software company Adobe released an open-source toolkit to counter deepfake concerns earlier this month, said Dana Rao, executive vice president of Adobe. The companies’ Content Credentials feature is a technology developed over three years that tracks changes made to images, videos, and audio recordings.

Content Credentials is now an opt-in feature in the company’s photo editing software Photoshop that it says will help establish credibility for creators by adding “robust, tamper-evident provenance data about how a piece of content was produced, edited, and published,” read the announcement.

Adobe’s Connect Authenticity Initiative project is dedicated to addressing problems establishing trust after the damage caused by deepfakes. “Once we stop believing in true things, I don’t know how we are going to be able to function in society,” said Rao. “We have to believe in something.”

As part of its initiative, Adobe is working with the public sector in supporting the Deepfake Task Force Act, which was introduced in August of 2021. If adopted, the bill would establish a National Deepfake and Digital task force comprised of members from the private sector, public sector, and academia to address disinformation.

For now, said Cailin Crockett, senior advisor to the White House Gender Policy Council, it is important to educate the public on the threat of disinformation.

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