Friday, October 12, 2018
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- Op-Ed: Fighting disinformation with media literacy—in 1939 | Columbia Journalism Review
Stories From Abroad
Data from the Federal Communications Commission’s Disaster Information Reporting System shows that Hurricane Michael caused substantial communications outages along its destructive path. [The morning of Oct 11], my office and staff from the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau reached out to representatives of carriers and broadcasters to discuss the situation on the ground and how to restore service as quickly as possible In particular, we were pleased that carriers had pre-positioned equipment and were in the process deploying cells on wheels (COWs) and cells on light trucks (COLTs) in order to get wireless service up and running in many locations. In the hours and days ahead, the FCC will continue to work with our federal partners and the private sector to ensure that communications services are restored in those areas affected by Hurricane Michael. Our thoughts are with all of those who have been impacted by this historic storm.
While Democratic candidates and left-leaning groups are hoping the push to restore net neutrality nationwide will help drive their supporters to the polls come November, Republican leaders say they are skeptical the issue will play a decisive role in the midterm elections. While studies commissioned by pro-net neutrality groups like Mozilla and the Internet Freedom Business Alliance suggest voters are watching the issue, top GOP officials aren’t convinced.
“I think if you go survey on the issues that voters care about, it’s number 38 out of 37,” House Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) told reporters. “Some voters care about it, yeah, but they didn’t see the end-of-the-world dire predictions come true that the other side said would. What they really want us to do is focus on building out broadband, getting more connectivity, clearing the way for 5G, all those things that will actually connect America.” Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-SD) similarly told reporters he doesn’t “think that’s going to have the resonance” Democrats sought. “I don’t see any campaign talking about it,” he said, adding that it just doesn’t register with “the average person.”
But that hasn’t stopped some of its proponents from throwing cash at the issue. According to a review of political ads on Facebook’s archives, a number of top left-leaning organizations and candidates in recent months have purchased social media advertising calling on supporters to turn out for net neutrality. Most prominent among these are the ACLU and its chapters, which have launched dozens of “vote for net neutrality” ads, and Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), who launched ads in May blasting his opponent in the Senate race, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), over his opposition to net neutrality. Other progressives like Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) have also campaigned on their net neutrality support on Facebook, while the Fight for the Future consumer group is leading its own “vote for net neutrality” campaign.
Facebook said that it has purged more than 800 US publishers and accounts for flooding users with politically oriented content that violated the company’s spam policies, a move that could reignite accusations of political censorship. The accounts and pages, with names such as Reasonable People Unite and Reverb Press, were probably domestic actors using clickbait headlines and other spammy tactics to drive users to websites where they could target them with ads, the company said. Some had hundreds of thousands of followers and expressed a range of political viewpoints, including a page that billed itself as “the first publication to endorse President Donald J. Trump.” They did not appear to have ties to Russia, company officials said.
Facebook said it was not removing the publishers and accounts because of the type of content they posted but because of the behaviors they engaged in, including spamming Facebook groups with identical pieces of content, unauthorized coordination and using fake profiles. But the move to target US politically oriented sites, just weeks before the congressional midterms, is sure to be a flash point for political groups and their allies, who are already accusing the tech giant of political bias and arbitrary censorship of political content.
There's been a shift in the flow of online disinformation, falsehoods meant to mislead and inflame. In 2016, before the presidential election, state-backed Russian operatives exploited Facebook and Twitter to sway voters in the United States with divisive messages. Now, weeks before the midterm elections on Nov. 6, such influence campaigns are increasingly a domestic phenomenon fomented by Americans on the left and the right. “There are now well-developed networks of Americans targeting other Americans with purposefully designed manipulations,” said Molly McKew, an information warfare researcher at the New Media Frontier, a firm that studies social media.
The Federal Communications Commission told the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that it acted properly when it repealed the US government’s net neutrality rules in 2017, marking its first legal salvo in a campaign to battle back 22 states and tech companies including Mozilla, Facebook and Google that contend the agency’s move was illegal. The FCC said it was perfectly within its right to rethink how it regulated those internet service providers, citing a landmark Supreme Court decision outlining the agency’s powers from 2005. And the FCC said that its evidence showed the Obama-era net neutrality rules had stifled investment in broadband expansion, justifying the decision to wipe the protections off its books.
The FCC’s filing sets the stage for what is universally expected to be a protracted, heated legal battle over the government’s ability to regulate the Internet. State attorneys general, consumer advocates and top tech companies all have sharply rebuked the FCC’s rationale for eliminating net neutrality rules, pointing to the millions of web users who wrote the agency in defense of those federal protections, while telecom giants have backed the Trump administration’s move. In the end, their war could be destined for the Supreme Court. If that happens, experts are closely watching the court’s newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh, who questioned the FCC’s authority to adopt sweeping net neutrality protections as part of a dissent he wrote in a related case in 2017.
This guidebook has a twofold purpose. It is a practical guide for digital inclusion practitioners -- local community-based organizations, libraries, housing authorities, government agencies, and others working directly with community members in need of affordable home broadband service. This guidebook also contains recommendations for policymakers and internet service providers to improve current offers and establish new offers. The guidebook describes affordable broadband plans for disadvantaged American households offered by commercial internet providers (or in two cases, nonprofit resellers of a commercial service). Reliable information about these programs -- who's eligible and where, what they cost, what they provide, how to apply, and the practical experiences of getting people enrolled -- is a vital resource for digital inclusion programs and strategies.
Public Knowledge joined 20 rural advocacy organizations, rural healthcare providers, rural network operators, and public interest advocates (including the Benton Foundation) in a letter urging Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to preserve the existing Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) rules that enable small providers to offer service in rural areas.
We urge you and your fellow Commissioners to be genuine heroes for rural America. We beg you to stand up to the efforts of giant corporations to steal spectrum allocated for rural users and then choose not to offer all residents access to broadband. The existing CBRS rules were designed with the input of rural stakeholders to recognize the economic realities of deployment in rural America and on Tribal Lands. The changes in the draft R&O once again ignore these realities, and again threaten to leave rural America behind.
Three of the nation’s four largest wireless carriers are poised to bid in the upcoming Federal Communications Commission auctions of millimeter wave spectrum, according to a new FCC public notice. Millimeter wave spectrum is expected to support 5G wireless services offering speeds as high as a gigabit per second or more. And although some people have argued that millimeter wave 5G is unlikely to be deployed in rural areas, several small rural carriers also are on the list of potential millimeter wave auction bidders released by the commission.
Also among the potential bidders are US Cellular, the nation’s largest regional wireless carrier; along with Cox Communications, Frontier Communications, Windstream and others. Carriers expect to use a mixture of millimeter wave and lower-frequency spectrum to support 5G. AT&T and Verizon already have some millimeter wave spectrum holdings and their initial 5G deployment plans involve that spectrum, but undoubtedly the carriers are looking to expand those holdings. Some people have argued that the short range that millimeter wave spectrum can support makes it unsuitable for deployment in sparsely populated rural areas. Nevertheless, some rural carriers appear on the lists of potential millimeter wave auction bidders.
The Justice Department has minced no words in its reply to AT&T's defense of its purchase of Time Warner, telling a federal court that the company's brief was "little more than a revisionist 58-page summary of the district court’s opinion." Antitrust chief Makan Delrahim said AT&T's brief "never resolves the district court’s erroneous rejection of the economics of bargaining and the principle of corporate-wide profit maximization, which are the basis of our appeal.” DOJ sasy the court's main error was "that the merger will not increase AT&T’s bargaining leverage."
A Q&A with Sen Mark Warner (D-VA).
"I still believe myself to be a very tech-friendly policy maker," Sen Warner said, "But I was rubbed the wrong way by the arrogance of the technology companies and the presumption that they knew what was best for everyone. There was this whole idea: You policy guys just shouldn’t worry. We’re a lot smarter. We’ll take care of things. And particularly as we got into the social-media era, there was an infatuation with some of these companies in [Silicon] Valley in the Obama administration. But even in the Obama years, I was starting to see some of what I thought was the dark underbelly."
Later, Sen Warner said, "The social-media companies fight any changes to Section 230 [of the Communications Decency Act] as if it will provoke the complete destruction of the public square. Obviously, that is not the case. Because there have been changes. There have been changes around child pornography. And you can’t print how to make a bomb. Most recently, we’ve imposed restrictions around sex trafficking. Some of my colleagues have been very active in this space. I don’t want to steal their ideas. But perhaps there is a decency doctrine that might be industry-administered. Or is there some kind of mechanism we could impose that would say, if you don’t have some kind of self-cleanup, there will be legislative changes?
I’ve spent just over 30 years working to ensure that all Americans benefit from accessible, affordable, and open communications networks that promote democratic values. But none of that would have been possible without Everett Parker’s accomplishments. As this audience knows well, Everett worked hand-in-hand with the Rev. Martin Luther King and the civil rights community to challenge the broadcast license of WLBT-TV, a Jackson, Mississippi, station that broadcast racist propaganda and refused to cover the civil rights movement. That successful challenge led to a DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision giving citizens the right to challenge broadcast licenses, which, in turn, resulted in ordinary Americans having the right to participate in all measure of FCC proceedings. The influence of this 1966 decision, UCC v. FCC, went even further. When I went to work at the Ford Foundation, I spent several weeks in its dusty basement archives looking through the history of the foundation’s involvement in funding communications law and policy advocacy. While there, I found a note from then-Chief Judge of the DC Circuit, Warren Burger, who wrote the UCC decision and who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The note, with the UCC decision attached, was sent to new Ford Foundation President McGeorge Bundy, who had previously been National Security Advisor for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. The note was simple and in Burger’s handwriting. It said: “I think this might be of interest to you.” Shortly thereafter, the Ford Foundation became the first major funder of communications law and policy advocacy. Thanks to Everett Parker’s efforts, a new field was created, along with the resources needed to protect the public interest in communications.
Stories From Abroad
Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced dramatic gains in internet use in recent years. With this rapid growth in connectivity have come a host of potential problems, including fake news, political targeting and manipulation and financial scams, among others. Yet according to a new Pew Research Center analysis, most sub-Saharan Africans feel positively about the role the internet plays in their country. Large majorities say the increasing use of the internet has had a good influence on education in their country, and half or more say the same about the economy, personal relationships and politics.
Only when it comes to the issue of morality are sub-Saharan Africans somewhat more divided about the role the internet is playing. Across six major nations surveyed in the region, a median of 45% say the internet has had a positive impact on morality, while 39% say it is has been negative. These views vary substantially by country. For example, a majority of Nigerians (57%) believe the internet is having a good influence on morality, while more than half of Senegalese (54%) say the opposite.
Still, in some countries, evaluations of how the internet affects morality have improved since 2014. In Ghana today, 42% think that growing internet use has a positive effect on morality – up from 29% in 2014. Favorable assessments of the internet’s impact on economics and politics have risen even more over the same time period. For example, in 2017, around two-thirds of Nigerians (64%) said the increasing use of the internet had a positive influence on their country’s politics, compared with just 43% in 2014.
Benton (www.benton.org) provides the only free, reliable, and non-partisan daily digest that curates and distributes news related to universal broadband, while connecting communications, democracy, and public interest issues. Posted Monday through Friday, this service provides updates on important industry developments, policy issues, and other related news events. While the summaries are factually accurate, their sometimes informal tone may not always represent the tone of the original articles. Headlines are compiled by Kevin Taglang (headlines AT benton DOT org) and Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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