The Left and the Right Speak Different Languages—Literally

A study analyzing patterns in online comments found that liberals and conservatives use different words to express similar ideas.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University collected more than 86.6 million comments from more than 6.5 million users on 200,000 YouTube videos, then analyzed them using an AI technique normally employed to translate between two languages.

The researchers found that people on opposing sides of the political divide often use different words to express similar ideas. For instance, the term “mask” among liberal commenters is roughly equivalent to the term “muzzle” for conservatives. Similar pairings were seen for “liberals” and “libtards” as well as “solar” and “fossil.”

“We are practically speaking different languages—that’s a worrisome thing,” KhudaBukhsh says. “If ‘mask’ translates to ‘muzzle,’ you immediately know that there is a huge debate surrounding masks and freedom of speech.”

In the case of politically tinged comments, the researchers found that different words occupy a similar place in the lexicon of each community. The paper, which has been posted online but is not yet peer reviewed, looked at comments posted beneath the videos on four channels spanning left- and right-leaning US news—MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, and OANN.

KhudaBukhsh says social networks might use techniques like the one his team developed to build bridges between warring communities. A network could surface comments that avoid contentious or “foreign” terms, instead showing ones that represent common ground, he suggests. “Go to any social media platform; it has become so toxic, and it’s almost like there is no known interaction” between users with different political viewpoints, he says.

But Morteza Dehghani, an associate professor at the University of Southern California who studies social media using computational methods, finds the approach problematic. He notes that the Carnegie Mellon paper considers “BLM” (Black Lives Matter) and “ALM” (all lives matter) a “translatable” pair, akin to “mask” and “muzzle.”

“BLM and ALM are not translations of each other,” he says. “One makes salient centuries of slavery, abuse, racism, discrimination, and fights for justice, while the other one tries to erase this history.”

Dehghani says it would be a mistake to use computational methods that oversimplify issues and lack nuance. “What we need is not machine translation,” he says. “What we need is perspective-taking and explanation—two things that AI algorithms are notoriously bad at.”

Cory Doctorow’s New Book Explains ‘How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism’

If we’re going to break Big Tech’s death grip on our digital lives, we’re going to have to fight monopolies. That may sound pretty mundane and old-fashioned, something out of the New Deal era, while ending the use of automated behavioral modification feels like the plotline of a really cool cyberpunk novel… But trustbusters once strode the nation, brandishing law books, terrorizing robber barons, and shattering the illusion of monopolies’ all-powerful grip on our society. The trustbusting era could not begin until we found the political will — until the people convinced politicians they’d have their backs when they went up against the richest, most powerful men in the world. Could we find that political will again…?

That’s the good news: With a little bit of work and a little bit of coalition building, we have more than enough political will to break up Big Tech and every other concentrated industry besides. First we take Facebook, then we take AT&T/WarnerMedia. But here’s the bad news: Much of what we’re doing to tame Big Tech instead of breaking up the big companies also forecloses on the possibility of breaking them up later… Allowing the platforms to grow to their present size has given them a dominance that is nearly insurmountable — deputizing them with public duties to redress the pathologies created by their size makes it virtually impossible to reduce that size. Lather, rinse, repeat: If the platforms don’t get smaller, they will get larger, and as they get larger, they will create more problems, which will give rise to more public duties for the companies, which will make them bigger still.

We can work to fix the internet by breaking up Big Tech and depriving them of monopoly profits, or we can work to fix Big Tech by making them spend their monopoly profits on governance. But we can’t do both. We have to choose between a vibrant, open internet or a dominated, monopolized internet commanded by Big Tech giants that we struggle with constantly to get them to behave themselves…

Big Tech wired together a planetary, species-wide nervous system that, with the proper reforms and course corrections, is capable of seeing us through the existential challenge of our species and planet. Now it’s up to us to seize the means of computation, putting that electronic nervous system under democratic, accountable control.

With “free, fair, and open tech” we could then tackle our other urgent problems “from climate change to social change” — all with collective action, Doctorow argues. And “The internet is how we will recruit people to fight those fights, and how we will coordinate their labor.

“Tech is not a substitute for democratic accountability, the rule of law, fairness, or stability — but it’s a means to achieve these things.”

Facebook Confirms Its ‘Standards’ Don’t Apply To Politicians

Facebook this week finally put into writing what users — especially politically powerful users — have known for years: its community “standards” do not, in fact, apply across the whole community. Speech from politicians is officially exempt from the platform’s fact checking and decency standards, the company has clarified, with a few exceptions. Facebook communications VP Nick Clegg, himself a former member of the UK Parliament, outlined the policy in a speech and company blog post Tuesday. Facebook has had a “newsworthiness exemption” to its content guidelines since 2016. That policy was formalized in late October of that year amid a contentious and chaotic US political season and three weeks before the presidential election that would land Donald Trump the White House.

Facebook at the time was uncertain how to handle posts from the Trump campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported. Sources told the paper that Facebook employees were sharply divided over the candidate’s rhetoric about Muslim immigrants and his stated desire for a Muslim travel ban, which several felt were in violation of the service’s hate speech standards. Eventually, the sources said, CEO Mark Zuckerberg weighed in directly and said it would be inappropriate to intervene. Months later, Facebook finally issued its policy. “We’re going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest — even if they might otherwise violate our standards,” Facebook wrote at the time.
Facebook by default “will treat speech from politicians as newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard.” It won’t be subject to fact-checking because the company does not believe that it is appropriate for it to “referee political debates” or prevent a politician’s speech from both reaching its intended audience and “being subject to public debate and scrutiny.”

Newsworthiness, Clegg added, will be determined by weighing the “public interest value of the piece of speech” against the risk of harm. The exception to all of this is advertising. “Standards are different for content for which the company receives payment, so if someone — even a politician or political candidate — posts ads to Facebook, those ads in theory must still meet both the community standards and Facebook’s advertising policies,” reports Ars.

Politicians Can Break Our Content Rules, YouTube CEO Says

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said this week that content by politicians would stay up on the video-sharing website even if it violates the company’s standards, echoing a position staked out by Facebook this week.

“When you have a political officer that is making information that is really important for their constituents to see, or for other global leaders to see, that is content that we would leave up because we think it’s important for other people to see,” Wojcicki told an audience at The Atlantic Festival this morning. Wojcicki said the news media is likely to cover controversial content regardless of whether it’s taken down, giving context to understand it. YouTube is owned by Google. A YouTube spokesperson later told POLITICO that politicians are not treated differently than other users and must abide by its community guidelines. The company grants exemptions to some political speech if the company considers it to be educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic in nature.

“5 Years on, US Government Still Counting Snowden Leak Costs”

The top U.S. counterintelligence official said journalists have released only about 1 percent taken by the 34-year-old American, … “This past year, we had more international, Snowden-related documents and breaches than ever,” Bill Evanina, who directs the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said at a recent conference. “Since 2013, when Snowden left, there have been thousands of articles around the world with really sensitive stuff that’s been leaked.”

18 November 2016. DoD claims 1,700,000 files, ~.04% of that released. ACLU lists 525 pages released by the press. However, if as The Washington Post reported, a minimum of 250,000 pages are in the Snowden files, then less than 1% have been released.

Vint Cerf: Modern Media Are Made for Forgetting

“Vint Cerf, the living legend largely responsible for the development of the Internet protocol suite, has some concerns about history. In his current column for the Communications of the ACM, Cerf worries about the decreasing longevity of our media, and, thus, about our ability as a civilization to self-document—to have a historical record that one day far in the future might be remarked upon and learned from. Magnetic films do not quite have the staying power as clay tablets.

At stake, according to Cerf, is “the possibility that the centuries well before ours will be better known than ours will be unless we are persistent about preserving digital content. The earlier media seem to have a kind of timeless longevity while modern media from the 1800s forward seem to have shrinking lifetimes. Just as the monks and Muslims of the Middle Ages preserved content by copying into new media, won’t we need to do the same for our modern content?”

As media becomes more ephemeral across technological generations, the more it depends on the technological generation that comes next.”

Also, depends on the mindset of the generation that comes next too… What if we don’t even want to remember?

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

How technology disrupted the truth

Coinciding with a continued rise in public cynicism and a legitimate mistrust of mainstream media beholden to systems of power that are discredited, it seems most people turn to social media networks to get their news now. But this seemingly doesn’t fix the problem. Rather than a “democratisation” of the media and/or a mass reclamation of investigative journalism (as technology pundits continuously purport), there’s arguably been the opposite.

Now, with the convergence of closed social media networks that are beholden to nefarious algorithms such as The Filter Bubble and the personalisation of information, as an article in the Guardian explains, “Social media has swallowed the news – threatening the funding of public-interest reporting and ushering in an era when everyone has their own facts. But the consequences go far beyond journalism.”

“Twenty-five years after the first website went online, it is clear that we are living through a period of dizzying transition. For 500 years after Gutenberg, the dominant form of information was the printed page: knowledge was primarily delivered in a fixed format, one that encouraged readers to believe in stable and settled truths.

Now, we are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour, kindness and cruelty; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated; between the open platform of the web as its architects envisioned it and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob.

What is common to these struggles – and what makes their resolution an urgent matter – is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth. This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means, as this year has made very clear, that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.

Increasingly, what counts as a fact is merely a view that someone feels to be true – and technology has made it very easy for these “facts” to circulate with a speed and reach that was unimaginable in the Gutenberg era (or even a decade ago).

Too much of the press often exhibited a bias towards the status quo and a deference to authority, and it was prohibitively difficult for ordinary people to challenge the power of the press. Now, people distrust much of what is presented as fact – particularly if the facts in question are uncomfortable, or out of sync with their own views – and while some of that distrust is misplaced, some of it is not.

In the digital age, it is easier than ever to publish false information, which is quickly shared and taken to be true – as we often see in emergency situations, when news is breaking in real time.”

It’s like the well-oiled tactics of the tobacco industry that have since permeated pretty much all industries—confuse the hell out of people so they don’t know what’s true anymore. It’s a popular PR tactic honed over decades for social control and manipulation of democracy, and it’s that element that exists and is especially reinforced online (particularly in real time), in the giant echo chamber of corporate social media networks, where the user is constantly subjected to streams and streams of information about current events—most devoid of context, analysis, or even significant depth in the time and space of a tweet.

The grounding that gives rise to physical reality and epistemological truths goes missing when we’re tied to screens that simply reflect our projections.

In the words of Sherry Turkle, the issues facing our planet right now cannot be solved in the time-space of texting/tweeting. So if the way we understand, perceive and relate to the world through the prism of media (mainstream media and social media alike) is in decline, it should tell us volumes about the state of democracy…

Global Voices’ adds: “The need for fact-checking hasn’t gone away. As new technologies have spawned new forms of media which lend themselves to the spread of various kinds of disinformation, this need has in fact grown. Much of the information that’s spread online, even by news outlets, is not checked, as outlets simply copy-paste — or in some instances, plagiarise — “click-worthy” content generated by others. Politicians, especially populists prone to manipulative tactics, have embraced this new media environment by making alliances with tabloid tycoons or by becoming media owners themselves.

UPDATE 29/7 — Example, of sorts. “#SaveMarinaJoyce conspiracy theories about British YouTuber go viral.” News reporting social media rumours, facts from source ignite disbelief and cynicism, confirmation bias at work, etc.

The Outrage Machine

This short video explores how the online world has overwhelmingly become the popular outlet for public rage by briefly illustrating some of the many stories of everyday people which have suddenly become public enemy number one under the most misunderstood of circumstances and trivial narratives. With the web acting like a giant echo-chamber, amplifying false stories and feeding on the pent-up aggression of the audience watching the spectacle, The Outrage Machine shows how these systems froth the mob mentality into a hideous mess, as a good example of where the spectacle goes and how its intensity has to keep ratcheting up in order maintain the audience attention, in a culture of dwindling attention spans, distraction and triviality.

Filmmaker and author Jon Ronson also recently wrote a book about this topic too, which is quite good. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. His TED talk is essentially a 17 min overview:

And a longer presentation with interview and Q&A from earlier this year: