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Misinformation Expert Warns About the Great Risks of Political Tampering In the 2020 Election

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Photo of Craig Silverman contemplating celebrity trolls by David Jelke

WASHINGTON February 19, 2020— A “very complicated media infrastructure” that is both corrupt and creative is developing in the world of political misinformation, warned Craig Silverman, the media editor for BuzzFeed in a talk at George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics this Tuesday.

There has been an increase in attention and concern about misinformation among the general public since the 2016 Election, said Silverman. However, the public has generally not heard of a new crop of small-time – yet equally disruptive – players in the fake news economy. Indeed, he warned that voters are more at risk of political tampering in 2020 than they were in 2016.

These range from individual actors, “black PR” firms, and whole governments. Silverman listed a litany of examples.

A former NASDAQ analyst was determined by a BuzzFeed investigation to be the actor behind a slew of an imposter local media websites.

These websites flood their pages with outdated news stories and post broken links in attempts to give the appearance of legitimacy. For example, an imposter website for Albany, New York, garnered more clicks than any other local Albany publication, and advertisers who can’t tell the difference divert revenue to the pockets of those imposters.

Silverman related how political opponents of Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte have adopted the same duplicitous social media tactics that Duterte used to dupe voters and rise to power as a strongman. Filipino politicians seemed to have chosen to adapt rather than fight, stated Silverman.

Most strikingly, of the 27 attempts by “black-hat affiliate marketers” to influence politics dating back to 2011 in Bahrain, 19 of them have occurred in 2019. In 2018, only one occurred. Even though these kinds of campaigns have yet to occur in the U.S., Silverman warned that the time when that happens is not far off.

One particularly egregious example was that of an Israeli “black PR” firm called Archimedes Group that tried to influence several African elections. Their motto was “molding reality to our clients’ wishes.”

This concept of a fluid morality reappeared in Silverman’s analysis of both far-right and far-left misinformation in the U.S.

Silverman documented the rise of fringe conspiracy blog QAnon and its declaration of a global pedophile cabal. “If you want to live in those communities, you can do that,” lamented Silverman.

Silverman also dissected an incident last week where Pete Buttigieg’s campaign communications adviser was falsely accused by Bernie Sanders’ supporters of impersonating a pro-Buttigieg Nigerian man on Twitter.

Section 230

Parler Policy Exec Hopes ‘Sustainable’ Free Speech Change on Twitter if Musk Buys Platform

Parler’s Amy Peikoff said she wishes Twitter can follow in her social media company’s footsteps.

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Screenshot of Amy Peikoff

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2022 – A representative from a growing conservative social media platform said last week that she hopes Twitter, under new leadership, will emerge as a “sustainable” platform for free speech.

Amy Peikoff, chief policy officer of social media platform Parler, said as much during a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday, in which she wondered about the implications of platforms banning accounts for views deemed controversial.

The social media world has been captivated by the lingering possibility that SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk could buy Twitter, which the billionaire has criticized for making decisions he said infringe on free speech.

Before Musk’s decision to go in on the company, Parler saw a surge in member sign-ups after former President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter for comments he made that the platform saw as encouraging the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021, a move Peikoff criticized. (Trump also criticized the move.)

Peikoff said she believes Twitter should be a free speech platform just like Parler and hopes for “sustainable” change with Musk’s promise.

“At Parler, we expect you to think for yourself and curate your own feed,” Peikoff told Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark. “The difference between Twitter and Parler is that on Parler the content is controlled by individuals; Twitter takes it upon itself to moderate by itself.”

She recommended “tools in the hands of the individual users to reward productive discourse and exercise freedom of association.”

Peikoff criticized Twitter for permanently banning Donald Trump following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and recounted the struggle Parler had in obtaining access to hosting services on AWS, Amazon’s web services platform.

Screenshot of Amy Peikoff

While she defended the role of Section 230 of the Telecom Act for Parler and others, Peikoff criticized what she described as Twitter’s collusion with the government. Section 230 provides immunity from civil suits for comments posted by others on a social media network.

For example, Peikoff cited a July 2021 statement by former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki raising concerns with “misinformation” on social media. When Twitter takes action to stifle anti-vaccination speech at the behest of the White House, that crosses the line into a form of censorship by social media giants that is, in effect, a form of “state action.”

Conservatives censored by Twitter or other social media networks that are undertaking such “state action” are wrongfully being deprived of their First Amendment rights, she said.

“I would not like to see more of this entanglement of government and platforms going forward,” she said Peikoff and instead to “leave human beings free to information and speech.”

Screenshot of Drew Clark and Amy Peikoff during Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast’s Online Event

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Mr. Musk Goes to Washington: Will Twitter’s New Owner Change the Debate About Social Media?

The acquisition of social media powerhouse Twitter by Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, raises a host of issues about social media, free speech, and the power of persuasion in our digital age. Twitter already serves as the world’s de facto public square. But it hasn’t been without controversy, including the platform’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump in the wake of his tweets during the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Under new management, will Twitter become more hospitable to Trump and his allies? Does Twitter have a free speech problem? How will Mr. Musk’s acquisition change the debate about social media and Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act?

Guests for this Broadband Breakfast for Lunch session:

  • Amy Peikoff, Chief Policy Officer, Parler
  • Drew Clark (host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Amy Peikoff is the Chief Policy Officer of Parler. After completing her Ph.D., she taught at universities (University of Texas, Austin, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, United States Air Force Academy) and law schools (Chapman, Southwestern), publishing frequently cited academic articles on privacy law, as well as op-eds in leading newspapers across the country on a range of issues. Just prior to joining Parler, she founded and was President of the Center for the Legalization of Privacy, which submitted an amicus brief in United States v. Facebook in 2019.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

Illustration by Mohamed Hassan used with permission

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As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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Section 230

Leave Section 230 Alone, Panelists Urge Government

The debate on what government should — or shouldn’t — do with respect to liability protections for platforms continues.

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Photo of Josh Hammer, Paul Larken and Niam Yaraghi by Douglas Blair via Twitter

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2022 – A panelist at a Heritage Foundation event on Thursday said that the government should not make changes to Section 230, which protects online platforms from being liable for the content their users post.

However, the other panelist, Newsweek Opinion Editor Josh Hammer, said technology companies have been colluding with the government to stifle speech. Hammer said that Section 230 should be interpreted and applied more vigorously against tech platforms.

Countering this view was Niam Yaraghi, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation.

“While I do agree with the notion that what these platforms are doing is not right, I am much more optimistic” than Hammer, Yaraghi said. “I do not really like the government to come in and do anything about it, because I believe that a capitalist market, an open market, would solve the issue in the long run.”

Addressing a question from the moderator about whether antitrust legislation or stricter interpretation of Section 230 should be the tool to require more free speech on big tech platforms, Hammer said that “Section 230 is the better way to go here.”

Yaraghi, by contrast, said that it was incumbent on big technology platforms to address content moderation, not the government.

In March, Vint Cerf, a vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google, and the president of tech lobbyist TechFreedom warned against government moderation of content on the internet as Washington focuses on addressing the power of big tech platforms.

While some say Section 230 only protects “neutral platforms”, others claim it allows powerful companies to ignore user harm. Legislation from the likes of Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., would exempt 230 protections for platforms that fail to address Covid mis- and disinformation.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., agreed that Section 230 only protected “neutral platforms,” or that it allowed tech companies to ignore user harm. Wyden, one of the authors of the provision in the 1996 Telecom Act, instead believes that the law is a “sword and shield” to protect against small companies, organizations and movements against legal liability for what users post on their websites.

Additional correction: A previous version of this story misattributed a statement by Niam Yaraghi to Josh Hammer. The story has been corrected, and additional context added.

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Free Speech

FCC Commissioner Carr Hopes Musk Follows Through on Proposed Twitter Speech Reforms

Carr said he’s “very glad to hear” of Musk’s Twitter purchase, but still thinks Section 230 reform is necessary.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr (left), Commissioner Nathan Simington and former Acting Chair Mignon Clyburn by Drew Clark

WASHINGTON, May 6, 2022 – On Friday Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr praised billionaire Elon Musk’s proposed free speech policy for Twitter following Musk’s purchase of the platform.

Musk has pledged that under his ownership, Twitter will permit any speech from users.

Speaking at the Free State Foundation’s Annual Policy Conference, Carr stated that he is “very glad to hear” of Musk’s purchase but that speech reform online should not depend upon trusting a billionaire owner and thus Section 230 reform should still take place.

During the event Carr also offered insights on issues ranging from the outlook of the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s deployment to spectrum debates in the release of 5G.

He called for aggression from the FCC in enforcing spectrum matters, saying the FCC was entitled to approve the release of 5G networks early this year when the safety of such releases were successfully challenged and delayed by the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation.

Praising the opportunity of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Carr stated that for the first time he is aware of there are now “enough federal resources to end the digital divide in this country.”

Later in the event, representatives from industry groups spoke to what they said are significant challenges facing deployment of infrastructure bill funds.

Former FCC chairman and NCTA ­– The Internet & Television Association president and CEO Michael Powell said that challenges lie in the Commerce Department and Treasury’s disbursement of bill funds because they have much less skill and experience working with broadband than other government departments do.

He also said the existence of multiple, unintegrated broadband access maps to base disbursement on is a potential road bump as well as the issue of whether individual states can overrule federal maps should they prefer any maps they’ve created on their own.

US Telecom’s president and CEO Jonathan Spalter said that for many of his group’s members it will be difficult to meet the Buy America requirements of the infrastructure bill.

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