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UK eyeing disclosure labels for online political campaigning

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The U.K. government is considering changes to the law that would require online political campaign material to carry labels disclosing who is promoting and funding the messaging.

The proposal, which is being put through a public consultation until November, follows years of warnings over the lack of regulation around online political ads.

The government said the measures would mean voters get the same transparency from online campaign material as they do from leaflets posted through their letterbox.

A variety of platforms would be covered, per the current proposal, including social media and video sharing apps, general websites and apps, online ads, search engines, some forms of email, digital streaming services and podcasts.

“There is growing concern about the transparency of the sources of political campaigning online, which is starting to have a negative impact on trust and confidence in our elections and democracy,” the minister for the constitution & devolution, Chloe Smith, writes. “The Government committed in its last manifesto to protect the integrity of our democracy. That is why this Government will refresh our election laws so that citizens are empowered to make informed decisions in relation to election material online.”

Commenting in a press statement, she added: “People want to engage with politics online. That’s where campaigners connect with voters and is why, ahead of elections, almost half of political advertising budgets are now spent on digital content and activity. But people want to know who is talking. Voters value transparency, so we must ensure that there are clear rules to help them see who is behind campaign content online.

“The measures we have outlined today are a big step forward towards making UK politics even more transparent and would lead to one of the most comprehensive set of regulations operating in the world today.”

The government is calling for digital imprints to apply to all types of campaign content, regardless of the country it is being promoted from, and across a variety of digital platforms.

The requirement for imprints would also apply all year round, not only during election or referenda periods.

Imprints would be required to be displayed as part of the digital content — or where that’s not possible located in an “accessible alternative location linked to the material,” per the proposal.

The government argues that the requirement for digital imprints on political campaign material will help existing regulators better monitor who is promoting election material and enforce spending rules.

The U.K.’s 2016 EU referendum vote was mired by the Election Commission’s finding, after the fact of Brexit, of improper spending by the official Vote Leave campaign. The campaign channeled money to a Canadian data firm, AggregateIQ, to use for microtargeting political advertising on Facebook’s platform, via undeclared joint working with another Brexit campaign, BeLeave.

As we said at the time, more stringent regulations and transparency mechanisms were needed to prevent powerful social media platforms from quietly absorbing politically motivated money and messaging without recognizing any responsibility to disclose the transactions, let alone carry out due diligence on who or what may be funding the political spending.

But whether the government’s current proposal goes far enough in updating regulations looks questionable.

U.K. parliamentarians on the DCMS committee have been calling for “urgent action” to update national election laws for years — warning in a report back in 2018 that democratic integrity and trust in democratic processes are at risk from rampant data-fueled digital manipulation.

Damian Collins, who was chair of the DCMS committee during a multi-month investigation into the impact of online disinformation, criticized the government for continued delay in taking action — also attacking the proposals for not going far enough.

“This is important but there have already been government consultations and multiple inquiries which have recommended transparency for who is running political ads online. We should legislate to make this happen now,” he said via Twitter, in response to news of the consultation.

“We need to go much further to protect our elections: Clamp down on deepfakes, foreign donation loopholes, and generally bring in line political ads with the standards of the rest of ad-land,” he added.

Political broadcasts on U.K. television and radio are very heavily regulated — with stringent limits placed on the length and frequency of such broadcasts. Paid political ads simply aren’t permitted there. But no such limits are being proposed for online political ads, where it’s trivially easy and cheap to deploy glossy video ads targeted at specific, niche groups of voters.

Meanwhile, some tech firms have voluntarily deleted this type of advertising from their platforms in response to concerns about how it can be used to hijack, manipulate and skew genuine democratic debate.

Last year some of Facebook’s own employees raised public concerns that its advanced targeting and behavioral tracking tools make it “hard for people in the electorate to participate in the public scrutiny that we’re saying comes along with political speech,” as congressman David Cicilline noted during the third meeting of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation.

Given all that, the U.K. government’s proposal for digital imprints on political ads looks like an enabling framework for digital campaigning — and one that risks glossing over the democratic threat inherent in allowing voters to be treated as just so many online consumers to be profiled and targeted in the same way as internet users are spied upon to sell a holiday, fitness gear or a particular shampoo brand.

In 2018 the U.K.’s data watchdog called for an ethical pause on behavioral targeting of voters. In a report entitled “Democracy Disrupted? Personal information and political influence,” the regulator warned: “Without a high level of transparency – and therefore trust amongst citizens that their data is being used appropriately – we are at risk of developing a system of voter surveillance by default. This could have a damaging long-term effect on the fabric of our democracy and political life.”

Its warnings then fell on deaf ears — with the Conservative party going on to use some very similar-looking data-grabbing campaign techniques for last year’s general election as were deployed to target voters during the Brexit referendum. (Vote Leave’s campaign director, Dominic Cummings, is now PM Boris Johnson’s chief advisor.) So, tl;dr, the U.K.’s governing party is fully in bed with big data for election campaigns.

(Not to mention flush with Russian money, per a more recent U.K. parliamentary committee report, which appears to have encouraged ministers to look the other way vis-à-vis democratic threats posed by foreign-funded online disOps.)

In a statement accompanying the government’s press release, Facebook’s head of U.K. public policy, Rebecca Stimson, sounded pleased with the government’s enabling approach to regulating political ads — taking the opportunity to promote steps it’s taken toward what she couched as “online transparency” by highlighting a platform requirement, introduced in the wake of the Brexit Facebook ad scandal, which means political ads on Facebook need to be badged with a “paid for by” disclaimer (and retained in an ad archive for a set number of years).

“We look forward to further engaging with the government on this important consultation,” she added.

The U.K. proposal suggests two tests for determining when digital content should require an imprint: Either where it’s “intended to achieve the electoral success of registered political parties and candidates, or the material relates to a referendum”; or where paid and organic digital content is being promoted by either: Registered political parties, registered third party campaigners, candidates, holders of elected office and registered referendum campaigners.

For other types of campaigners the digital imprint requirement will only apply to paid digital content (i.e. ads). “Imprint rules will… not apply to unregistered campaigners that are not paying to promote content, so that members of the public remain able to exercise their right to free speech,” the government notes on that.

It looks as if the latter will open up a loophole for unofficial campaign content to slip under the imprint radar — i.e. if manufactured opinion content can be passed off as “individual” speech. In much the same way as Russia was able to pass off disinformation targeting the U.S. election by seeding it through a network of fake profiles controlled by its bot agents.

Platforms remain terrible at identifying and labeling bots, and continue to be allowed to choose their own adventure when it comes to making fake account disclosures. So dark political messaging that’s natively hidden from regulatory oversight will continue to flourish without far closer regulation of these tech giants.

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[OPINION] The promise of technology is the promise of people

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[OPINION] The promise of technology is the promise of people

I would like for you to imagine the promise of technology. Facebook promises to be the gateway to your friends and family, ridesharing and delivery apps efficiency and connection against the grueling commute, your internet service provider cutting-edge reliability and speed. Sometimes, they even give you the promise of the world. When we strip away the allure of technology, what are we left with? A world of disconnect fueled by antagonism and shock that is filtered by content moderators, a non-solution to a systemic transportation crisis that leave us stories of drivers exploited, and aggravated calls on your internet plan. You haven’t quite been given the world — you can’t even connect to your meeting. 

I would like for you to imagine who is behind technology. These promises, delivered or not, are given to us by tech CEOs and eagerly embraced across the world. We hunger for solutions to age-old problems from communication, transportation, news, education, energy, and love — and are eager to receive engineered solutions to these. In turn, those wielding technology offer endless streams to support new entrepreneurs, startups, and products to move us towards wealth and prosperity, each one supposedly more innovative than the last.

Our lives continuously cede to these platforms: our memories live in Facebook albums or the cloud, the rise and fall of political movements can be witnessed online — sometimes excusing us from on-the-grounds participation, developments in artificial intelligence offer us quicker answers, and we favor the simplicity offered a tap away. A hyper-efficient world aided by machines seems to solve society’s ills, until it becomes a sickness in itself.

The invisible laborers behind technology

In truth, our technological futures are built atop of obscured human labor. A phenomenon termed as “ghost work” by anthropologist Mary L. Gray refers to “work performed by a human which a customer believes is being performed by an automated process.”

Take ChatGPT, a general-purpose chatbot released in November 2022 that provides text responses near-instantaneously. It can help you with anything: writing emails, synthesizing data, or even programming itself. 

No machine thinks for itself. Models like ChatGPT are only able to impress us because they build on the breadth of human work, and thus carry the constraints and failures that accompany it. This begins a questioning of this “breadth” in the first place: who designs these models (and their intent), the data these models are trained on, and how this data is classified — of which all steps involve humans.

Widely lauded, universities are rushing to find solutions to potential cheating aided by ChatGPT. College-educated workers, even programmers themselves, begin to worry about employment as their labor seems increasingly replaceable by machines, even if it’s just new labor under the hood that we’re bending towards. 

ChatGPT’s success can largely be attributed to its palatability. While chatbots are not new, the lack of obscenity and profanity in one is. Human input is present at every step of design. The best and worst of humanity is fed into language models (hence the previous issues with obscenity and extremism). Human-aided supervision and reinforcement learning guide these model’s outputs. To ensure ChatGPT was unlike its predecessors, OpenAI recruited an outsourcing firm in Kenya to help design a safer model. The process? To have these outsourced workers manually label examples of profanity, violence, and hate speech to be filtered out, in exchange for pay about $2 (P108) an hour.

This is not a far cry. The Global South has long endured these roles, becoming the invisible army that powers every impressive technology.

Take Facebook for instance, ubiquitous enough that there are countries that understand it as the internet itself. A study conducted by Helani Galpaya showed that more respondents across several countries (including the Philippines) self-reported being “Facebook users” than “internet users.” Meanwhile, Filipino content moderators under intensely-surveilled working conditions screen reports, exposing themselves to graphic sexual content, violence, and extremism on a daily basis. It is incredibly dehumanizing, mentally taxing work that many of us cannot fathom because we’ve never seen it. It is of our best interest to only see the light. It appears that those who gate the internet are often the most gated from the internet themselves.

Who gets to be called a technologist?

Millions of Filipinos enter Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), data-labeling, or content moderation jobs to support the technological infrastructure and rapid pace of “innovation.” Enticed with decent pay, often posted with little to no qualifications necessary, and done in recruitment hub hiring sprees, it’s hard to deny the opportunity to join the workforce and indulge in the industry’s economic promise. Silicon Valley startups (or even the Filipino “Sinigang Valley”) use the excuse of economic opportunity to justify remote outsourcing.

Even those not literally invisible are devalued with this mindset. Underexploited laborers act as the on-demand service providers beneath the shiny interfaces on our phones: our food delivery drivers, content moderators that clean our TikTok feeds, and support staff. Technology is something that can be summoned and controlled, people cannot be — or shouldn’t be.

After all, for technology to be consumable, it has to be palatable. Palatability involves shrouding the violent, intensive human labor needed to maintain technologies. This is why we are moved when we see the Facebook post of a delivery driver left to bear the brunt of canceled orders, wading through weather. Or with “older” technologies: how we turn a blind eye to ruthless production factories that power the fast fashion industry. It reminds us, for a brief moment, of the humanity in everything around us. Instead, companies continue to express technology as the stuff of magic. Perfectly cheap, efficient, and convenient. Then we are moved to hit checkout.

Even Silicon Valley’s model of classically educated laborers are no longer safe themselves. Microsoft has begun talks to invest $10 billion into OpenAI, while at the same time announcing layoffs for 10,000 workers. They are joined by Google and Amazon among others, all companies previously touted to push the boundaries of innovation. As we head towards a global economic downturn, it appears that this at-will treatment previously reserved for the global south now spares no one.

Tech workers, whether working as ride-share drivers, content moderators, or BS Computer Science-educated software engineers — must come together in solidarity with consumers against an industry that has historically erased its people. 

We need to call into question who the “technologists” that drive innovation are, especially when this innovation is at the expense of people. We need to recognize the breadth of forms that a technologist takes, and the truth that the massive forces of labor that write code, serve content, and protect us are continuously exploited. We need to know that maintaining a myopic view of the role of a “technologist” glorifies “technology” alone, detaching it from the human workforce that powers it. Without these laborers, these technologies would effectively be nothing. 

At the end of the day, technology is nothing but a tool. Technology is shaped by people, for people.

I’m not discounting technology’s potential for economic empowerment; I disparage how technology has been used as an exploitative force rather than a transformative one. It is time to reclaim technology and look towards its potential for hope — where this act of reclamation begins with power placed on all tech workers rather than the few.

I want a world where technology is used to put us in dialogue with one another, breaking down barriers instead of enacting more walls that hide us from one another. I want a world where machines don’t replace artists, but instead help more people make more art. I believe in a world where technology is a tool rather than the solution, where we have agency to use it as we please. I believe in a world where we think of people, first and foremost, not over-optimization and hyper-efficiency. I believe in a world where technology is a communal medium in which we can imagine better futures, where everyone is a technologist and engineer, not a tool wielded by the few. 

As technology is a tool, it is time for us to take it back. The truly magical part about technology is that it might be the most human thing about us. It is shaped by people, for people. – Rappler.com

Chia Amisola is Product Designer based in San Francisco, California who graduated with a BA in Computing and the Arts from Yale University in 2022. They are the founder of Developh and the Philippine Internet Archive.

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How a meme gave Khe Huy Quan his most significant role

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How a meme gave Khe Huy Quan his most significant role

(Credits: Far Out / Press / A24)

Film

Oscar nominee Ke Huy Quan’s acting career has come in two parts, several decades distanced from one another. Having played Short Round in 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and also performed in The GooniesEncino Man and Head of the Class, Quan took the decision to quit acting in 1992 as he struggled to make the significant progress he was hoping for.

Fast forward to 2021, and Quan secured the role in one of the most celebrated films of last year, Everything Everywhere All at Once, for which he won a Golden Globe and was this week nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Asked how the two Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) came to cast Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once during a Hollywood Reporter Actor’s Roundtable, Quan responded: “I decided to get back to acting. It was when the Daniels saw somebody did a joke on Facebook, and it was a picture of Andrew Yang running for President. The caption said Short Round is all grown up and he’s running for President, which triggered him to go, ‘Oh, I wonder what Khe is doing?’”

Thankfully for Quan, somebody online made that stupid meme. He added: “[Daniel] started searching, and he was doing the calculations, ‘Oh, he’s about the same age as his character’. It was at the same time that I called an agent friend of mine – I didn’t have an agent for decades – so I was practically begging him to represent me. He said yes.”

Fortunately, the two Daniels were looking for someone of Quan’s ilk just as he had decided to give acting another shot – some 30 years later. Quan went on: “Literally two weeks later, I got a call about the script, and I read it, and I was blown away by the script. Not only was it beautifully written, but it was a script I wanted to read. I was so hungry, so eager for a script like this, for a role like this.”

In fact, the script was so good that Quan remembers staying up all night “reading it until like 5am”. He added: “I sat there, and in my head, I had all these ideas that I wanted to do with this role, and I was watching out the window, the sun was rising, and I said, ‘Oh, I have to go to sleep’, because my audition was in the afternoon.”

However, despite his desire to secure the part, a wave of doubt overcame Quan. “Right before I went to bed, I go, ‘There’s no way they would offer me this.’ It was like impossible; it stars Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis,” he said. But Quan’s wife reassured him of his abilities and “kept encouraging” him.

Quan noted that it had been 25 years since he last auditioned for a part, so naturally, he was nervous. However, he was made comfortable by the Daniels and the film’s casting director, whom he called “amazing” and “so sweet”. Yet he must have feared the worst when he did not hear back for two months. I auditioned and didn’t hear from them for two months. 

The long wait left Quan feeling “miserable” because he “wanted this role so bad.” Then, the call suddenly came in. “I went in to audition for the second time,” he said, which laid the foundations for one of the most important phone calls Quan would ever receive. He added: “You hear those three words, ‘We want you’, and I was screaming so loud, I was jumping up so high, and to this day, I cannot believe how everything came to be.

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Mystery shaking, rumbling felt along Jersey Shore again. No earthquakes reported.

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Mystery shaking, rumbling felt along Jersey Shore again. No earthquakes reported.

For the second time this month, residents across southern New Jersey have been reporting long periods of shaking inside their homes Thursday afternoon, with windows and walls rattling. And just like before, there have been no earthquakes reported anywhere in the eastern United States.

There also have been no thunderstorms reported in or near New Jersey on Thursday, but some residents are speculating the rattling inside their homes — along with some reports of loud booms — may be linked to military planes and helicopters flying over the Garden State.

Naval Air Station Patuxent River, a U.S. naval station based in St. Mary’s County in Maryland, issued a noise advisory on its Facebook page Tuesday, saying it would be conducting “noise-generating testing events” between Tuesday and Friday.

“Pilots at NAS Patuxent River will be conducting Field Carrier Landing Practices (FCLPs). FCLPs are simulated carrier landings conducted to prepare the pilot to land safely on an aircraft carrier,” the agency said in its Facebook post.

“The practices consist of series of touch-and-go maneuvers, called ‘bounces.’ Airspeed, altitude and power are all precisely choreographed in order for a pilot to approach the ship within an acceptable window to land on the deck safely,” the post added.

“Residents may notice increased noise levels due to these operations,” the post said.

It wasn’t immediately known how far away the noise would carry. But Facebook has been packed with reports of shaking in homes and businesses across South Jersey Thursday afternoon. The first was around 11 a.m. and the second about two hours later.

Several residents noted they have felt some shaking or heard some loud booms in the past, but they said they never felt the rattling become as intense as it was on Thursday.

Among the towns or sections of towns where rattling was reported were Erma, Cape May, Galloway, Middle Township, North Cape May, Rio Grande and Smithville. Some residents said they felt their houses shake but heard no booms, while others said they heard loud booms.

“My whole house shook. Windows rattle(d), bed moved back and forth. And it was long,” one resident wrote on the Facebook page of South Jersey weather forecaster “Nor’easter Nick” Pittman. “I do hear the jets as I’m in Galloway near the airport, but this just seemed different. No boom, just steady shaking. At first I thought it was the wind but it got stronger.”

Another Facebook user in Atlantic County said: “In Smithville we just shook for a good 45-60 seconds with a small pause, but the dog and cats did not like it, this time was more than the sonic boom or break that we feel at 2 p.m. It was freaky!!”

On Friday, Jan. 13, residents from as far south as Cape May and up to Manahawkin along the coast and as far west as Glassboro in Gloucester County reported feeling shaking in their homes. They said the rattling lasted at least 10 seconds.

A supersonic military airplane was flying a few miles off the coast that day, and could have been the cause of the rumbling, the Press of Atlantic City reported at the time. The military has an Atlantic test track for flights about 3 miles off the eastern seaboard, and a sonic boom would occur if a plane was flying fast enough to break the sound barrier.

South Jersey isn’t alone when it comes to feeling and hearing loud noises. In early January, a loud boom — which some described as being as loud as an explosion — was reported by many people in northern New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania.

The cause of that boom was not immediately determined.

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© 2023 Advance Local Media LLC

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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