But for consent to be meaningful, it must be informed consent. Our history contains many battles over access to information: from pamphlets to newspapers to radio to TV to the Internet. And major abuses of the role of the press (the news media). The Spanish-American War occurred because of media manipulation. And recent wars and other major decisions have seen large portions of the media shilling for the government rather than exploring and challenging claims.(foot#1) The Internet has enabled a level of citizen journalism to fill the large gaps left by the retreat of legacy media.
There has been escalating concern about the excessive power of social media companies, and the opportunities for abuses that could easily go undetected. Election interference -- past and future -- is one current focus. Over recent months there have been too many reports in this regard and it is increasingly hard to dismiss those actions as unintended results of "the algorithm", or of rogue employees, or of simple human error. The pattern is decidedly in one direction. Is this the cultivated corporate culture or just condoned?
For some of the companies, a strong case can be made for the former. For others, there currently isn't enough evidence to say that it isn't the latter. I will include here bits of the evidence here but I will not lay out the larger case: It involves too large a collection of related incidents where there isn't adequate confirmation because the social media companies hide behind uninformative and highly ambiguous statements. What is needed is for more of their employees to produce more evidence about the actual goings-on, and we, as the communities to which these ^whistleblowers^ belong, need to support them.
In "election interference", I include interfering with candidates' campaigns and interfering with voters' ability to learn about the issues and the candidates' positions to a degree that they can't do a meaningful compare-and-contrast.
The potential for election interference by the social media companies is great, and can be extremely hard to detect from outside. Well before the 2016 election, academic researchers had explored the impacts that Google and Facebook could have. They considered what was presented, how it was presented, and in what order. They projected swings of up to 10%. A swing of a few percent -- sometimes a fraction of a percent -- is enough to change the winner in any serious election. And the methods to achieve this would be essentially invisible to the users.
Concern among US Conservatives about election interference was ratcheted up by the combined behavior of social media companies against the campaigns for British Members of the European Parliament (MEP). The targeted candidates were members of a minor party that was in disarray and that was (correctly) expected to not win any seats.
Why did they bother? The common conjecture is that the companies were trying to accumulate precedents to cite subsequently in important elections.
What did they do? Twitter deleted the accounts used by the party's campaign coordinators to announce candidate appearances and similar event. One of those candidates had established a successful YouTube business with almost a million subscribers and had made it his full-time job. YouTube removed him from their program that allowed him to make money from his videos, for example, by ad placements.
Further heightening the beliefs about pending interference was a series of releases from Project Veritas from whistleblowers and a hidden camera interview (more below).
There have long been disproportionate actions against sites with a Conservative, even Classical Liberal, viewpoints but the patterns have been at the level of "It looks like a duck; it walks like a duck; it quacks like a duck; it's probably a duck." Faith in the honesty of elections is essential to democracy. It is a "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion" situation, not a "Can you prove it beyond a reasonable doubt" without being able to force disclosure, that is, with only publicly available information.
Whistleblowers can't expect to remain anonymous for long: With the amount of data now readily available, hunting them down has never been so practical. The loss of your job also means being cut off from many of your social contacts. In your hunt for a new job, being a whistleblower can be a huge stigma. And since you would be standing up to ideologues, you should expect them to use their social networks to sabotage your job prospects. And it doesn't stop there. The national "news" media often acts as virtual public relations attack-dogs for those companies. They vilify the whistleblower, misrepresent the revelations and dismiss the conclusions as "conspiracy theory".
Who would voluntarily take all that on? The culture I grew up in put high value on Honor, Duty and Courage. I do not remember ever hearing someone saying that they wished they hadn't stood up for what was right because the sacrifice was too great. On the other hand, many expressed deep regret that they hadn't stood up, or had delayed too long, even about events far in the past. While I know our culture still produces many like that, I have no sense about the relevant sub-cultures in the social media companies.
Potential whistleblowers may well remain silent if they don't see similar concerns within their social and professional circles or if they don't see that there will be enough public support to make their sacrifices meaningful. The power of martyrdom is to inspire others to stand up and fight for those principles.
Support for whistleblowers comes in many forms, both before and after they make their disclosures. Psychological support is among the most important. You should first clarify your own thoughts on corporate influences on elections, and then try to spread awareness of your concerns to social media employees, either directly or through your own social networks.
- Many corporations "donate" to candidates and/or PACs (^Political Action Committee^). Is there any difference between that and using an internal budget to exert the same influence?
- Do you oppose big money in politics (^Citizens United^ Supreme Court decision, ^Super PACs^, ...)?
- Do you support transparency in who is funding political activities? For example, PACs can delay disclosures of contributors until after the election. Or a series of PACs can "launder" contributions to obscure the connection between the original contributors and the actions taken.(foot#2)
- In the commercial sphere, there has long been a debate about the moral responsibilities of a company for the actions of its suppliers, especially contractors to which it has outsourced work. How much does this apply to analogous situations in the political sphere?
"While most states have an army, the Prussian army has a state" - Voltaire (mid-1700s?)
This is a reminder that the normal power relationships have their exceptions. In the past, corporations have controlled countries through finance (bribes, mercenaries, ...) and political influence. I can think of one successful coup that was almost entirely psychological/information warfare.(foot#3)
One defense of the social media companies' actions is that they are private companies and have the right to do whatever. This obfuscates the real concern: In order to check abuses, a balance of power is needed within society.
"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority" - Lord Acton.
The public-private boundary is an illusion because it is so easily erased by quid pro quo and other arrangements. Not long ago, it was often asked "Is Fox News Channel the propaganda arm of the Republican Party, or is the Republican Party the political arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp?" Currently there are similar questions about the relationships between the Democratic Party and MSNBC/NBC, CNN, Washington Post, New York Times, Vox Media Group, ... And there already evidence that media companies are already trying to manipulate the results of the 2020 Democratic Presidential primaries, most egregiously by MSNBC's trying to make Andrew Yang invisible.(foot#4)
----Example of Bias----
--Un-personing and deleting history--
This spring a group of the social media companies simultaneously banned a group of users. In an attempt to prevent other users from circumventing these bans by providing links to the banned users' content elsewhere, it was decreed that those users could only be mentioned negatively. Of course, their algorithms and manual reviewers immediately proved incapable of handling context. Some blindingly obvious criticisms were classified as positive. Some historians' accounts of the evils of Nazi Germany apparently were deleted for "normalizing" Nazism. Have an existing description of a disfavored person that a YouTube reviewer classified as "neutral"? Well, that now counts against you.
Can you say "Failure to denounce"? "Ex post facto"?
An example of how absurdly far YouTube has pushed this involves an entirely peripheral mention of such a person. A lawyer in Quebec does interesting videos on the law and the practice of law. He did a pair of videos on a deposition in a civil case, critiquing the attorneys.
Problem: The case involved a personality who the social media giants have decreed to be one of "he whose name shall not be spoken". YouTube received a complaint about the second video and put it into limited state. The lawyer appealed, and was denied, purportedly after a manual review. Two weeks later, the video was deleted.
Question: If the video had so badly broken YouTube's rules, why didn't the previous manual review spot that?
YouTube publicly posted that it had been removed for "hate speech". Again he appealed, and again he was denied, supposedly after a manual review, Then, after YouTube's policies made the news, the video was restored, without notice or explanation.(foot#5)(foot#6)
Understand that "hate" and "hate speech" are commonly used by the dominant faction of "Progressives" in attempts to suppress ideas that they disagree with. Similarly, words expressing those ideas can be described as "violence", partly to suppress the ideas and partly to justify action, including physical violence, against others. These notions seem to be widely present within the social media companies. For example, among feminists there is a heated argument about gender. Simply saying that there are only two genders has gotten feminists banned from various social media platforms.
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter: "...conservative-leaning folks in the company as well, and to be honest, they don't feel safe to express their opinions at the company. They do feel silenced by just the general swirl of what they perceive to be the broader percentage of leanings within the company, and I don't think that's fair or right." ^Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey talked to NYU's Jay Rosen for an hour, on the record. Read and listen to the full interview here^ in Recode, 2018-09-14. Yet the problems seem to have gotten worse.
Apple CEO Tim Cook in a speech to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said "At Apple, we are not afraid to say that our values drive our curation decisions."(foot#7) Although you may not think of Apple as a company controlling the flow of information, its ability and willingness to ban apps from the Apple Store can raise the difficulty enough to discourage iPhone users from accessing that information.
Google/YouTube is the most prominent current offender. Just after the 2016 election, in a company-wide meeting whose video was later leaked, the company's top leadership made presentations that could easily be interpreted by employees as charging them to use the company's resources to ensure certain election results.(foot#8) Project Veritas released a hidden camera discussion with a Google executive in the area of detecting webpages that Google wants to classify at various levels of inappropriateness. The most troubling comments were "... everybody got screwed over so we're rapidly been like, what happened there and how do we prevent it from happening again?" and "Elizabeth Warren is saying that we should break up Google. And, like, I love her but she's very misguided, like, that will not make it better. It will make it worse, because now all these smaller companies who don't have the same resources that we do will be charged with preventing the next Trump situation. It's, like, a small company can't do that." - Jen Gennai, Head of Responsible Innovation at Google. I recommend watching the whole video (25:10 long).(foot#9)(foot#10)(foot#11)
Supported Bernie Sanders in 2016? In 2019, Google labels you as rightwing.
In an interview of a purported "Google insider" interviewed by Project Veritas, (foot#9) the Google insider cited online reporter and political commentator ^Tim Pool^ as being regarded inside Google to be rightwing.(foot#12) He is definitely Center-Left to Traditional Left in his politics. In 2016, he supported Bernie. He is currently encouraging his viewers to consider Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang as potential Democratic nominees for President. For him to be classified as Rightwing reveals much about the politics inside Google. My suspicion? Pool opposes the Identitarianism and Identity Politics both of the extreme Right (neo-Nazis, White Nationalist/Supremacists ...) and of the dominant faction of "Progressives". The latter sees the world in terms of power relationships between groups identified by race, sex, gender ... with the different groups cast as victims or oppressors. It is this brand of "Progressives" that appears to dominate inside the social media companies, often with a self-righteous ferocity against heretics, schismatics, infidels, ...
Jewish Conservatives are Nazis?
It is common among the dominant faction of "Progressives" to classify Conservatives, including Jews, as Nazis, ... An instance of this occurred in April inside the California Avenue Starbucks (and made national news).(foot#13) One of the Project Veritas revelations is a purported internal Google email doing just this.(foot#14) Two of the commentators named are Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust. That this wasn't unacceptable behavior -- warning, discipline, firing -- suggests much about Google's culture. If Google is unwilling to treat people and viewpoints accurately is there any real chance that they will treat them fairly?
Fired for being harassed for "wrongthink"
When conflict arises between a company's employees, you can infer the company's values from who gets disciplined or fired. There are now several known incidents where Google fired employees who were being harassed for conservative perspectives. In late May, Google fired software engineer Mike Wacker who was openly a Republican. In an open letter ^Google's Outrage Mobs and Witch Hunts^ (at Medium.com) that gave examples of harassment for wrongthink and official punishment by HR (Human Resources). He had had his own difficulties with HR and harassment, and was fired shortly after publishing this document.
Another infamous incident occurred in August 2017 when Google software engineer James Damore wrote an internal memo on improving the company's diversity efforts.(foot#15) Unfortunately for him, he hadn't realized that Google was what I would call a neo-Lysenko-ism organization,(foot#16) He was fired and vilified in the national (partisan) press.
--Wedge Issue: Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life--
This is a highly contentious issue with many Americans on both sides of the major divides. Yet, many of the social media companies have consistently shown strong bias against the Pro-Life position, often to the extent of classifying those positions as invalid, hateful, ...
In what was correctly expected to be a hotly contested race for an open US Senate seat in 2018, Twitter blocked the campaign kickoff video of a major party's candidate, explaining that a brief passage was "deemed an inflammatory statement". Since this was such a controversial issue, shouldn't voters know not just the candidate's position, but how the candidate thought about the issue, especially those who disagreed/opposed that position?(foot#17) If you want to see how/if the political party and issue affect your judgment on this, it is in the footnotes.(foot#18) On Google's internal activists' mailing list, this candidate was denounced as a "terrorist".
Recognize that although this individual incident is minor, it does establish an important precedent: A candidate's communication with the electorate can be blocked or deleted if it is contrary to the political positions of a social media company.
Google has acknowledged that its search algorithm can recognize special cases and modify the search parameters to prioritize certain results.(foot#19) In May 2018, Ireland held a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment to their Constitution, one prohibiting abortion. Unconfirmed leaks from Google/YouTube indicate "special treatment" was triggered by a range of search terms related to that referendum.(foot#20)
Pinterest blocked links to a prominent Pro-Life/Anti-Abortion site by classifying it as pornography. Similarly for various Conservative websites. They also reportedly flagged a Conservative African-American (Candice Owens) to be monitored for "white supremacist" content. Similarly for commentator Ben Shapiro who is a traditional Conservative and who criticizes the far Right and alt-Right.(foot#21)
Although some prominent Democrats and Republicans in Congress have commented on this issue, it has been just talk. I don't see any push that would turn calls for action into real action.(foot#22) At least one of the politicians arguing for the reduction of the power of the social media companies has called on those companies to use their power to suppress inconvenient items.
I think that the only way we will see needed changes is if there is public outrage that forces the politicians and mainstream media to see it as a serious problem. The only way I see this happening is through the cumulative effect of whistleblowers stepping forward. But the coverage is likely to be only in the alt-media, so broad awareness of the revelations will come through citizens recommending these leaks to those who would otherwise be unlikely to see it.
We here in Silicon Valley have a special responsibility and opportunity because these potential whistleblowers are our friends and neighbors and their friends and colleagues and ... We need to create an environment that encourages potential whistleblowers to stand up and then to support them against the consequences.
1. Media shilling for government:
Benjamin Rhodes was the Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications in the Obama White House and was reported to be Obama's most influential advisor on national security policy. He was profiled in ^The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru^ by David Samuels - NY Times, 2016-05-08. He discussed how the news media had become so hollowed out that "All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus ...They call us to explain to them what's happening in Moscow and Cairo... The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That's a sea change. They literally know nothing."(to find this quote, search for "bureau").
2. Laundering contributions, explanation:
A PAC receives contributions from a group of individuals, then it contributes portions of its funds to a group of other PACs, and those PACs are also receiving contributions from other sources (including other PACs). There often are additional iterations. This provides complete deniability to the original contributors because there is no paper trail of their intentions on how their money should be used.
3. Overthrowing a government with information warfare:
A classic example was the United Fruit Company in Guatemala. It became unhappy with the official government when it sought to reduce exploitive labor practices and to acquire unused land from the company for redistribution to peasants. In a "too clever by half" move, the government wanted to pay what the company declared as the value of the land for taxation purposes. Is there any clearer sign that a foreign government is evil than its trying to protect its citizens from a US corporation?
The company lobbied the US to provide a coup, which was facilitated by its friends high up in the US government.CIA director Alan Dulles was a board member. His brother and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had been a lawyer for the company. And several other top officials in relevant parts of the State Department were also closely associated with the company. The 1954 coup in Guatemala was achieved on the cheap, with ^US psychological warfare^ (disinformation, "fake news", ...)causing panic and desertions from the government. Worries about the US intervening militarily caused the president to resign and flee.
4. MSNBC and Andrew Yang:
^Yang’s Muted Mic Concern Is Not the First Time His Supporters Were Worried About MSNBC Coverage^ - Heavy.com, 2019-06-28.
Related: ^Marianne Williamson Says Her Mic Was Muted in the Debate Too, Just Like Andrew Yang^ - Heavy.com, 2019-06-29.
5. Video critiquing lawyers deemed "hate speech" : ^Should I Sue YouTube for Defamation? Viva Frei Vlawg^ (11:05), 2019-06-27.
Earlier (between deletion and restoration): ^YouTube Removed One of My Videos... Viva Frei Vlawg^ (12:28), 2019-06-18.
The deleted and restored video: ^Real Lawyer Analyzes ((he whose name shall not be spoken))'s Deposition - Part 2 - viva Frei Law Vlaw^ (8:50), 2019-04-10.
6. Aside: Recommendation for videos on the law:
^YouTuber Law^: Lior Lesser, who specializes in Technology, Internet and Software Law. Currently leading a group of volunteers putting together a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)in which Paypal withdrew services from SubscribeStar, which was gaining customers from Patreon after Patreonantagonized an important portion of their customer base. The timing strongly suggests that Paypal was attempting to sabotage SubscribeStar to help Patreon.
7. Tim Cook remark in context:
"From the earliest days of iTunes, to Apple Music today, we have always prohibited music with a message of white supremacy. Why... Because it's the right thing to do. And as we showed this year, we won't give a platform to violent conspiracy theorists on the App Store. Why... Because it's the right thing to do. My friends, if we can't be clear on moral questions like these, then we've got big problems. At Apple, we are not afraid to say that our values drive our curation decisions. And why should we be? Doing what's right -- creating experiences free from violence and hate, experiences that empower creativity and new ideas -- is what our customers want us to do. Technology should be about human potential. It should be about optimism. And we believe the future should belong to those who use technology to build a better, more inclusive and more hopeful world."
8. Google leadership statements to employees: Two examples:
Sergei Brin: (on the election of Trump): "I certainly find the selection deeply offensive and I know many of you do too. ... it conflicts with many of our values."
Ruth Porat (CFO): "The reason I comment on Hillary's statement that we have to continue to believe that we can fight for that which we value and it's all of our obligat(ion). We can't be complacent. We have to know what our values are, and we have to fight for them and protect them."
^LEAKED VIDEO: Google Leadership’s Dismayed Reaction to Trump Election^ - Breitbart, 2018-09-12.This article has the hour-long video and an index into various portions of the talk.
9. Project Veritas source:
Although Project Veritas has been justly criticized for how it cuts the videos and frames the clips, I have often seen much much worse in the establishment press. Project Veritas does not provide the full video to allow you to check the context. So you need to be skeptical and caution: Pay attention to where the cuts are and consider why.
10. Google prepares for 2020 election:
Insider Blows Whistle & Exec Reveals Google Plan to Prevent "Trump situation" in 2020 on Hidden Cam - Project Veritas, 2019-06-24.
Both quotes I cited occur in the intro @1:35 and @3:00. A longer clip containing the former is @13:35.
11. Taken out of context?
Hidden camera subject Jen Gennai posted a response ^This is not how I expected Monday to go!^ - Medium.com.
I expect a claim that comments were taken out of context to provide at least one explanation of how the context was very different, and preferably explanations for multiple quotes. I didn't see that. There is a possibility that this was intended to be an interim response until she could get a corporate-approved response, but I haven't seen such.
12. "Google insider" statement about Tim Pool:
"They described that they were going to have more content filtering, and right after that happened a lot of the content creators started to get demonetized, and their videos started to get deranked. I'm talking about Dave Rubin, I'm talking about Carpe Diem, I'm talking about Tim Pool, and a lot of the other content creators that are within YouTube ecosystem just saw their view counts just go through the floor.
//So, Google is targeting what they consider rightwing news commentators so that includes Tim Pool, Dave Rubin, Steven Crowder, and a host of other rightwing people that they are coming in and they're deciding that they don't want these opinions to have a wide appeal. And so they're coming in and they're putting their thumb down, and they're deciding which content the users are allowed to see.
//They're playing narrative control. And what they're doing it is they're applying their human, the human component, which is they're going through – with an army people – and they are manually intervening, and removing your content from, from their servers, and they are saying that the algorithms did it. And in that case for the high profile people, it's not just ML Fairness that you guys have to worry about, it's actual people that have their head filled with this SJW mindset, they're going through and removing the content because it – because they don't agree with it." (ML = Machine Learning; SJW = Social Justice Warrior)
The statements about those content creators declining view counts correspond to what they have been reporting for months: reported policy reflected in observed reality.
13. Confrontation in Starbucks:
^Political polarization sparks confrontation at Starbucks, triggering online fury: On social media, woman tries to "dox" MAGA-hat-wearing man, becomes target of "doxing" herself^ by Sue Dremann - Palo Alto Online, 2019-04-03.
14. Jewish Conservatives are Nazi in Google-land:
^New Google Document Leaked Describing Shapiro, Prager, as "nazis using the dogwhistles"^ - Project Veritas, 2019-06-25.
15. "Google Memo" by James Damore
My blog "^'Google memo' : a lesson in not trusting news media^", 2017-08-09.
This is my term -- I haven't seen it in common use.
^Trofim Lysenko^was a Soviet agronomist and biologist who was able to get his pseudo-scientific theories adopted as national policy through the backing of Dictator Joseph Stalin. It is estimated that thousands of scientists were purged, jailed and even executed for refusing to denounce real scientific theory and practices. Lysenko's program contributed to famines in which tens of millions died.
"Neo-Lysenko-ism" is my term for when science is held to be subservient to politics and ideology rather than a search for truth.
17. Censoring politicians' positions can be counterproductive: Example:
While US reporter was in London covering a pro-Free Speech demonstration, had an argument with a supporter of Richard Spenser (US alt-Right leader, ethno-nationalist). Pool brought up a racial slur that Spenser had made and was told Spenser never said that. Pool Google'd for it and couldn't find it. Then he saw a warning some of the search results had been removed under European protection laws: To "protect" people from encountering racist ideas, you will also be "protected" from learning who promotes those ideas. In effect, you are sanitizing racists. The anti-racist laws were giving cover to people like Richard Spenser for things they said in the past because you can't now dig it up, because that would be racist. Pool: You are sanitizing racists.
Source: ^@8:12 in Helen Dale and Sargon of Akkad Speak in Defense of Count Dankula following Protest^ (30:54) - Tim Pool, 2018-04-23.
18. Campaign kickoff blocked:
Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn) who won the Senate seat in 2018.The inflammatory phrase: "the sale of baby body parts"(fetal tissue in medical research).
"^ Twitter shuts down Rep. Marsha Blackburn campaign announcement video^" - CBS News, 2017-10-09.
19. Google search includes different handling of special cases:
^Google tweaked algorithm after rise in US shootings: Mass murders present challenge for search engine to deliver accurate results^ - The Guardian, 2019-07-02.
20. Google interference in Irish Constitutional Referendum?
^Blacklisted: Leaked YouTube doc appears to show election interference^ - Project Veritas, 2019-06-26.
21. Pinterest bans links to Pro-Life/Anti-Abortion site and triggers on phrases:
^Tech Insider Blows Whistle on How Pinterest Listed Top Pro-Life Site as Porn, "Bible Verses" Censored^ - Project Veritas, 2019-06-11.Non-anonymous interview video: ^Project Veritas Features – Pinterest Insider Speaks Out: "The tech companies can’t fight us all"^ - 2019-06-13.
22. Words not actions:
Unless there is major public outcry, I don't expect either the Democrats nor the Republicans to take significant action. The Democrats benefit from the current partisanship of these companies and have shown little awareness that those companies could easily turn against them. For example, these companies tend to be predominantly anti-regulation, although they recognize that regulations are often crafted to protect the incumbents from competition, from liability and from the public interest.
The establishment Republicans are so wedded to beliefs in plutocrats and corporate power that they refuse to see that that could threaten their reelection. For Conservatives, social media has been an antidote to national mainstream media that is predominantly so relentlessly partisan that news articles are routinely in large part opinion and propaganda. The suppression of Conservative social media channels and other sites has been going on for quite some time and recently been noticeably increasing. Yet establishment Republicans have paid no heed to those channels' attempts to get them to respond to the threat. Overcoming their inertia and actually accomplishing anything significant may take longer than they have.
Note: I am in my late 60s and my cynicism has been earned from experience.
An ^abbreviated index by topic and chronologically^ is available.
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