Law and Legal
Full Fact has been fact-checking Facebook posts for six months. Here’s what they think needs to change
Nieman Lab – “Organizations (ABC News, Snopes, PolitiFact, FactCheck.org, and the AP) to help stem the flow of false information on the platform. Over time, it’s expanded these third-party fact-checking partnerships: It now has more than 50 partners globally, fact-checking in 42 languages. Full Fact, the independent U.K. fact-checking organization, signed on as one of Facebook’s third-party fact-checking partners in January. (All partners must be members of Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network, though that hasn’t completely prevented disputes over who should qualify to be a fact-checker; some original partners like Snopes have dropped out.) Six months in, the organization has released a report about its experience so far — what it’s learned, what it likes, and what it thinks needs to change. Full Fact’s two major concerns about the fact-checking program are scale and transparency — ongoing complaints among Facebook’s partners. “Facebook’s focus seems to be increasing scale by extending the Third Party Fact Checking Program to more languages and countries,” the report notes. “However, there is also a need to scale up the volume of content and speed of response” — being available in a lot of countries isn’t enough if individual country partners are only able to skim the surface of misleading content..”
NBC News has assembled for the first time a record of the black vote for each competitive Democratic presidential campaign since exit polling began. ” Not that long ago, they were just a slender fraction of the party, one kept at arm’s length by presidential candidates. But today, black voters have emerged as a muscular political force and one of the most intensely courted constituencies in Democratic politics. In 2020, they are likely to account for at least one out of every four ballots cast in the party’s presidential primaries, more than tripling — and perhaps even quadrupling — the share they accounted for just a few decades ago. It’s a political and demographic revolution over the course of 40 years that we are able to document here through exit polling, which major media organizations have been sponsoring on a wide scale in every Democratic presidential primary race since 1976. But until now, much of this data has been hard to come by, unavailable online, walled off in academic archives, even discarded by the news media outlets that sponsored it. But thanks to the assistance of William Mayer, a political scientist at Northeastern University and an expert on presidential campaigns, NBC News has assembled for the first time a publicly available state-by-state record of the black vote for each of the nine competitive national Democratic campaigns since the inception of widespread exit polling. (Read about our methodology here.)…”
Center for International Policy – U.S. Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia: The Corporate Connection, by William Hartung and Cassandra Stimpson, July 29, 2019 – “This report provides information on arms offers to Saudi Arabia involving the four largest U.S. arms suppliers to that nation: Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics. Over 90% of U.S. arms offers to Saudi Arabia by value involved one of these top four supplying firms. The analysis covers offers notified to Congress, not all of which have yet resulted in final deliveries of the equipment; and data on weapons deliveries gathered from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) arms transfer database.”
Science Alert – “It may sound strange at first, but a team of researchers in Australia has come up with a method to predict your personality traits using just the accelerometer in your phone. Well, that and your call and messaging activity logs. Also, the system works for some traits better than others. But it’s an interesting take on how we may find connections through such seemingly unrelated things. There’s a wealth of previous research investigating how different aspects of your smartphone and social media use – such as your language in messages, how you style your Facebook profile, or how much physical activity you do – can be used to predict your personality traits.
“Activity like how quickly or how far we walk, or when we pick up our phones up during the night, often follows patterns and these patterns say a lot about our personality type,” said one of the team, computer scientist Flora Salim from RMIT University in Australia. In this case, we start at the Big Five personality traits. These have been used in psychology since the 1980’s to help classify five dominant parts of our personalities…” (The study has been published in Computer – Predicting Personality Traits From Physical Activity Intensity [paywall])
National Geographic – Using flowers, leaves, twigs, and seeds, Canadian artist Raku Inoue creates intricate portraits of insects. “Tropical plants aren’t abundant in the northern latitudes of Montreal, Canada. Nor are the planet’s most diverse animals, insects. Even so, Montreal-based artist and photographer Raku Inoue finds a way to showcase both with his colorful portraits of insects and other animals made from flowers, leaves, twigs, seeds, and stems. “Insects have always been symbolic for me,” says Inoue, who grew up in Japan. Each summer his grandmother would leave the door open to cool their house in the countryside near Hiroshima and welcome in dragonflies, an insect that she believed represented the presence of her late husband…”
TED Talk – “Backed by mathematical analysis, network theorist Albert-László Barabási explores the hidden mechanisms that drive success — no matter your field — and uncovers an intriguing connection between your age and your chance of making it big.”… creative and scientific accomplishment do not depend on youth. [Rock my friends on!]
MIT Technology review: Big tech firms are trying to read people’s thoughts, and no one’s ready for the consequences. “In 2017, Facebook announced that it wanted to create a headband that would let people type at a speed of 100 words per minute, just by thinking. Now, a little over two years later, the social-media giant is revealing that it has been financing extensive university research on human volunteers. Today, some of that research was described in a scientific paper from the University of California, San Francisco, where researchers have been developing “speech decoders” able to determine what people are trying to say by analyzing their brain signals. The research is important because it could help show whether a wearable brain-control device is feasible and because it is an early example of a giant tech company being involved in getting hold of data directly from people’s minds. To some neuro-ethicists, that means we are going to need some rules, and fast, about how brain data is collected, stored, and used.
In the report published today in Nature Communications, UCSF researchers led by neuroscientist Edward Chang used sheets of electrodes, called ECoG arrays, that were placed directly on the brains of volunteers…”
“As part of its continued efforts to help make the Do Not Call (DNC) data it collects more transparent and easier for consumers to use, the Federal Trade Commission today announced the debut of a new interactive public web page containing a wealth of information about the National DNC Registry and unwanted telemarketing robocalls. The page allows consumers to search the data interactively, for example, by clicking on a specific state or county. The information will be updated quarterly. In the past, similar DNC and robocall complaint data was only available to the public annually in the FTC’s Do Not Call Data Book. Using a Tableau Public interface, consumers can now access reports about the number of DNC and robocall complaints filed from their state, and see how that information compares with complaints filed by consumers in other states or nationally. Users also can do specific searches to determine what types of telemarketing calls consumers are reporting, such as live calls versus robocalls. In addition, because consumers often specify the type of telemarketing call they are reporting, users can explore the database by topic. Finally, the new page will let users search for the types of calls that are currently prompting the most complaints to the Commission, and track the complaints over time to look for trends in the data. The page also contains the more basic DNC and robocall statistics the FTC collects, including the number of consumers with numbers on the Registry, the number and types of entities that are accessing the Registry to scrub their call lists, and the number of robocall complaints by month.
- Explore the FTC’s Do Not Call data, fraud data, and identity theft data by visiting ftc.gov/exploredata.”
The National Review: It misinterprets the rule against indicting a sitting president. “Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony was such a bumbling fiasco that it was easy for a viewer to be confused — and stay that way — about the main bone of Democratic contention regarding his report: the “OLC guidance” that prevents the Justice Department from charging a president with crimes while he is in office. Specifically, how did it factor into the special counsel’s decision — or, rather, non-decision — on the main question he was appointed to answer: Did President Trump obstruct justice? How did the special counsel’s dubious reliance on it as a rationale for abdicating on this question affect the publication and ramifications of the Mueller report?
We’ve plowed this ground before, but it is worth revisiting. We will do that in this weekend’s two-part series. This is Part 1…”
Center for Data Innovation: “FiveThirtyEight has created data visualizations illustrating where Democrats and Republicans live in the 153 largest metro areas in the United States, highlighting distinct political polarization based on geography in many cities. The visualizations combines data about each voting precinct’s two-party margin in the 2016 presidential election with mapping data from OpenStreetMap. The visualizations show that population density correlates with more Democratic voters and that most cities exhibit partisan segregation, with large areas of distinctly Democrat- or Republican-leaning populations…”
Kelley Green Law Blog , Joseph Green, July 20, 2019: “With the release last month of proposed new EPA regulations on how the agency intends to handle responses to requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), critics have raised concerns about provisions that would give authority to senior management officials (i.e., political appointees) to issue final determinations, including on “whether to release or withhold a record or a portion of a record on the basis of responsiveness or under one or more exemptions under the FOIA, and to issue ‘no records’ responses.” While these critics question whether political appointees have sufficient knowledge of the scope of potentially responsive records as career staff supposedly do, this assumes that the current status quo is working to produce timely and substantive responses to FOIA requests. In my experience, that is simply not the case. The status quo is mere kabuki theater, with government officials going through the bureaucratic motions to dismiss FOIA requests without providing the requested data, even in circumstances in which the release of such data is mandated and clear under existing FOIA guidelines…”
Pew Report – U.S. adults generally can answer basic questions about the Bible and Christianity, but are less familiar with other world religions – “Most Americans are familiar with some of the basics of Christianity and the Bible, and even a few facts about Islam. But far fewer U.S. adults are able to correctly answer factual questions about Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, and most do not know what the U.S. Constitution says about religion as it relates to elected officials. In addition, large majorities of Americans are unsure (or incorrect) about the share of the U.S. public that is Muslim or Jewish, according to a new Pew Research Center survey that quizzed nearly 11,000 U.S. adults on a variety of religious topics. Our surveys often ask people about their opinions, but this one was different, asking 32 fact-based, multiple-choice questions about topics related to religion (see here for full list of questions). The average U.S. adult is able to answer fewer than half of them (about 14) correctly. The questions were designed to span a spectrum of difficulty. Some were meant to be relatively easy, to establish a baseline indication of what nearly all Americans know about religion. Others were intended to be difficult, to differentiate those who are most knowledgeable about religious topics from everyone else. The survey finds that Americans’ levels of religious knowledge vary depending not only on what questions are being asked, but also on who is answering. Jews, atheists, agnostics and evangelical Protestants, as well as highly educated people and those who have religiously diverse social networks, show higher levels of religious knowledge, while young adults and racial and ethnic minorities tend to know somewhat less about religion than the average respondent does…”
“This report examines the legal approaches of 15 countries, representing all regions of the world, to the emerging problem of manipulation with “fake news” using mass and social media, especially the impact of fake news on ongoing political processes and elections, and the legislative measures undertaken to counteract the dissemination of false information. With the exception of Japan, the widespread distribution of false information and its impact on decision making and democratic processes is becoming a challenge worldwide. The individual country surveys analyze current and proposed initiatives to limit the spread of false information undertaken at the national level, each country’s challenges associated with these efforts, and efforts undertaken by national governments to secure the validity and accuracy of legal information.” Full Report April 2019.
Joseph O’Neil – August 15, 2019 Issue – Reviewing: This America: The Case for the Nation by Jill Lepore Liveright, 150 pp., and This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto by Suketu Mehta Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 306 pp.
“A poignant quality of anachronism threatens these exigent, idealistic books by the writer-professors Jill Lepore and Suketu Mehta. The product of admirable research and serious reflection, they appear at a time when the very project of carefully acquiring and disseminating insights about the world, and the United States in particular, has been marginalized by the historic momentum of Republican authoritarianism. Presumably these manuscripts were completed by January 2019. Since then, things have moved at an extraordinary speed into extraordinary terrain. The House of Representatives, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Office of Special Counsel, the Office of Legal Counsel, the United States Geological Survey: each of these historically sturdy institutions has been stunned by the Trump administration like a cow in a slaughterhouse; numerous states have criminalized abortion services; the US Navy has proved willing to conceal the name “McCain” from the sight of the president.
These and other autocratic advances have been met by an anguished storm of theories and speech acts—including the very words you are reading. Countless books, think pieces, Twitter threads, comedy shows, and podcasts have scrutinized the diseased body politic down to its smallest, rottenest internal part. The insight industry is booming. Interesting forms of expertise and cultural capital have been developed. Stars of analysis, wit, and protestation have been born. We are alert as never before to the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, the rules of Congress, racial and economic injustice, the techniques of propaganda, the elements of malignant narcissism. The ship may be about to hit the iceberg, but we have excellent hypotheses about the captain’s complex childhood and the shortcomings of the hull design. We know who the commerce secretary is…”
“This report examines the scope of protection extended to freedom of speech in 13 selected countries. In particular, the report focuses on the limits of protection that may apply to the right to interrupt or affect in any other way public speech. The report also addresses the availability of mechanisms to control foreign broadcasters working on behalf of foreign governments. The terms “freedom of speech” and “freedom of expression” as used in this report are interchangeable.” Full Report Prepared June 2019.
Book Riot – “If you needed yet another reason to love libraries: they help during heatwaves. Libraries in Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Ohio, Oregon, and other places have been providing refuge from searing heat and humidity. Visitor numbers are up as a result…”
Washington Post – As reports surface regarding how the online advertising giant tracks consumers, some try to reclaim their online footsteps. “…Kelly is one of a hearty few who are taking the ultimate step to keep their files and online life safe from prying eyes: turning off Google entirely. That means eschewing some of the most popular services on the Web, including Gmail, Google search, Google Maps, the Chrome browser, Android mobile operating software and even YouTube. Such never-Googlers are pushing friends and family to give up the search and advertising titan, while others are taking to social media to get word out. Online guides have sprouted up to help consumers untangle themselves from Google. These intrepid Web users say they’d rather deal with daily inconveniences than give up more of their data. That means setting up permanent vacation responders on Gmail and telling friends to resend files or video links that don’t require Google software. More than that, it takes a lot of discipline.
People like Kelly are trying to build barriers to Google and other tech giants largely due to increasing concerns about the massive data collection. A series of privacy scandals showing how these companies collect and use consumer data has raised alarm bells for many people about how much they’ve traded for customization and targeted ads. For example, a Washington Post investigation last month found more than 11,000 requests for tracking cookies in just one week of Web use on Google’s Chrome browser…”
Artificial Lawyer – Guest Post by Jake Heller, CEO, Casetext, the AI-driven legal research platform – “This article follows an invitation to several other legal research companies to do a live side-by-side comparison versus Casetext. Last year, Casetext invited ROSS, this time they invited Thomson Reuters’ Westlaw, BloombergLaw, and LexisNexis. As no rivals turned up, Casetext did their own reviews of the other systems (see video posted in this article) and compared them to their CARA system. This all took place at the Washington DC meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries. It follows a similar event last year that came to be known in a light-hearted way as the ‘Legal Robot Battle‘…”
The New York Times – There’s new evidence that viewing habits can affect your thinking, political preferences, even cognitive ability. “Other than sleeping and working, Americans are more likely to watch television than engage in any other activity. A wave of new social science research shows that the quality of shows can influence us in important ways, shaping our thinking and political preferences, even affecting our cognitive ability. In this so-called golden age of television, some critics have pointed out that the best of the form is equivalent to the most enriching novels. And high-quality programming for children can be educational. But the latest evidence also suggests there can be negative consequences to our abundant watching, particularly when the shows are mostly entertainment. The harm seems to come not so much from the content itself but from the fact that it replaces more enlightening ways of spending time. Cognitive ability is a complex characteristic that emerges from interactions between biological dispositions, nutrition and health, parenting behaviors, formal and informal educational opportunities, and culture. Studying the connection between intelligence and television consumption is far from straightforward, but researchers have developed compelling ways to isolate the effects of television…” [Note – I stopped watching TV in 2008 (true) – for some very good reasons – it takes hours each evening (after work) to research and post BeSpacific, walk with the collies, and of course, cycle.]
“The Plain View Project is a database of public Facebook posts and comments made by current and former police officers from several jurisdictions across the United States. We present these posts and comments because we believe that they could undermine public trust and confidence in our police. In our view, people who are subject to decisions made by law enforcement may fairly question whether these online statements about race, religion, ethnicity and the acceptability of violent policing—among other topics—inform officers’ on-the-job behaviors and choices. To be clear, our concern is not whether these posts and comments are protected by the First Amendment. Rather, we believe that because fairness, equal treatment, and integrity are essential to the legitimacy of policing, these posts and comments should be part of a national dialogue about police…”