Wednesday, November 06, 2019

2020: A Goldilocks Solution for False Political Ads on Social Media is Emerging

Zuckerberg has rationalized that Facebook should do nothing about lies, and Dorsey has Twitter copping to the other extreme of an indiscriminate ad ban. But a readily actionable Goldilocks solution has emerged in response – and there are reports that Facebook is considering it.*

[This post focuses on stopgap solutions for controversial and urgent concerns leading in to the 2020 election. My prior post, Free Speech, Not Free Targeting! (Using Our Own Data to Manipulate Us), addresses the deeper abuses related to microtargeting and how everything in our feeds is filtered.]

[Update 5/29/20:]
Two bills to limit microtargeting of political ads have been introduced in Congress, one by Rep. Eshoo, and one by Rep. Cicilline.  Both are along the lines of the proposals described here. (More at end.)

The real problem

While dishonest political ads are a problem, that in itself is nothing new that we cannot deal with.  What is new is microtargeting of dishonest ads, and that has created a crisis that puts the fairness of our elections in serous doubt.  Numerous sophisticated observers – including the chair of the Federal Election Commission and the former head of security at Facebook -- have identified a far better stopgap solution than an outright ban on all political ads (or doing nothing).

Since the real problem is microtargeting, the “just right” quick solution is to limit microtargeting (at least until we have better ways to control it).  Microtargeting provides the new and insidious capability for a political campaign to precisely tailor its messaging to microsegments of voters who are vulnerable to being manipulated in one way, and while sending many different, conflicting messages to other microsegments who can be manipulated in other ways – by precision targeting down to designated sets of individual voters (such as with multifacet categories or with Facebook Custom Audiences). The social media feedback cycle can further enlist those manipulated users to be used as conduits ("useful idiots") to amplify that harm throughout their social graphs (much like the familiar screech of audio feedback that is not properly damped). This new kind of message amplification has been weaponized to incite extreme radicalization and even violent action.

We must be clear that there is a right of speech, but only limited rights to amplification or targeting. We have always had political ads that lie. America was founded on the principle that the best counter to lies is not censorship, but truth. Policing lies is a very slippery slope, but when a lie is out in the open, it can be exposed, debunked, and shamed. Sunlight has proven the best disinfectant. With microtargeting there is no exposure to sunlight and shame.
  • This new microtargeted filtering service can direct user posts or paid advertising to those most vulnerable to being manipulated, without their informed permission or awareness.
  • The social media feedback cycle can further enlist those manipulated users to be used as conduits ("useful idiots") to amplify that harm throughout their social graphs (much like the familiar screech of audio feedback that is not properly damped). 
  • These abuses are hidden from others and generally not auditable. That is compounds the harm of lies, since they can be targeted to manipulate factions surreptitiously. 
Consensus for a stopgap solution

In the past week or so, limits on microtargeting have been suggested to take a range of forms, all of which seem workable and feasible:
  • Ellen Weintraub, chair of the Federal Election Commission (in the Washington Post), Don’t abolish political ads on social media. Stop microtargeting, suggests “A good rule of thumb could be for Internet advertisers to allow targeting no more specific than one political level below the election at which the ad is directed.
  • Alex Stamos, former Facebook security chief, in an interview with Columbia Journalism Review, suggests “There are a lot of ways you can try to regulate this, but I think the simplest is a requirement that the "segment" somebody can hit has a floor. Maybe 10,000 people for a presidential election, 1,000 for a Congressional.”
  • Siva Vaidhyanathan, in the NT Times, suggesting "here’s something Congress could do: restrict the targeting of political ads in any medium to the level of the electoral district of the race."
  • In my prior postI suggested “allow ads to only be a way that is no more targeted than traditional media…such as to users within broad geographic areas, or to a single affinity category that is not more precise or personalized than traditional print or TV slotting options.
This seems to be an emerging consensus that this is the best we can expect to achieve in the short run, in time to protect the 2020 election. This is something that Zuckerberg, Dorsey, and others (such as Google) could just decide to do -- or might be pressured to do. NBC News reported yesterday that Facebook is considering such an action.

We should all focus on avoiding foolish debate over naive framing of this problem as a dichotomy of "free speech" versus "censorship." The real problem is not the right of free speech, but the more nuanced issues of limited rights to be heard versus the right not to be targeted in ways that use our personal data against our interests.

The longer term

In the longer term, dishonest political ads are only a part of this new problem of abuse of microtargeting, which applies to speech of all kinds -- paid or not, political or commercial, or not. Especially notable is the fact that much of what Cambridge Analytica did was to get ordinary people to spread lies created by bots posing as ordinary people. To solve these problems, we need to change how the platforms not only how identity is known, but also how content is filtered into our feeds. Filtering content into our feeds is a user service that should be designed to provide the value that users, not advertisers seek

There are huge opportunities for innovation here. My prior post explains that, shows how much we are missing because the platforms are now driven by advertiser needs for amplification of their voice, not user needs for filtering of all voices, and it points to how we might change that.

See my prior post for more, plus links to related posts.

*[Update 11/7:] WSJ reports Google is considering political ad targeting limits as well.
[Update 11/20:] Google has announced it will impose political ad targeting limits -- Zuck, your move.
[Update 11/22:] WSJ reports Facebook is considering similar political ad targeting limits.

The downside of targeting limits. Meanwhile, there are reports, notably in NYTimes, that highlight the downside of limiting targeting precision in this way. That is why it is prudent to view blanket limits not as a final cure, but a stopgap:

  • Political campaigns rightly point out how these limits harm legitimate campaign goals: “This change won’t curb disinformation...but it will hinder campaigns and (others) who are already working against the tide against bad actors to reach voters with facts.” “Broad targeting kills fund-raising efficiency”
  • That argues that the real solution is to recognize that platforms do have the right and obligation to police ads of all kinds, including paid political ads, in order to enable an appropriate mix of targeting privileges to legitimate campaigns -- when placing non-abusive ads -- to those who choose to receive them.
  • But since we are nowhere near a meaningful implementation of such a solution in time for major upcoming elections, we need a stopgap compromise now. That is why I originally advocated this targeting limit, while noting that it was only a stopgap.
[Update 5/29/20:]
Related to the update at the top, about the bills introduced in Congress, a nice statement quoted in the 5/26/20 Eshoo press release explains the problem in a nutshell:
It used to be true that a politician could tell different things to different voters, but journalists would check whether the politician in question was saying different things to different people and write about it if they found conflicting political promises. That is impossible now because the different messages are shown privately on social media, and a given journalist only has his or her own profile. In other words, it's impossible to have oversight. The status quo, in other words, is bad for democracy. This new bill would address this urgent problem. --Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy and CEO of ORCAA, an algorithmic auditing firm.

[Supplement 11/8:] These 11/5 updates from my prior post seem worth repeating here as added background

(Alex Stamos from CJR)
In a 10/28 CJR interview by Mathew Ingram, Talking with former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos, Stamos offers this useful diagram to clarify key elements of Facebook and other social media that are often blurred together. He clarifies the hierarchy of amplification by advertising and recommendation engines (filtering of feeds) at the top, and free expression in various forms of private messaging at the bottom. This shows how the risks of abuse that need control are primarily related to paid targeting and to filtering. Stamos points out that "the type of abuse a lot of people are talking about, political disinformation, is absolutely tied to amplification" and that at the rights of unfettered free expression get stronger at the bottom, "the right of individuals to be exposed to information they have explicitly sought out."

Stamos argues that "Tech platforms should absolutely not fact-check candidates organic (unpaid) speech," but, in support of the kind of targeting limit suggested here, he says "I recommended, along with my partners here at Stanford, for there to be a legal floor on the advertising segment size for ads of a political nature."

Ben Thompson, in Tech and Liberty, supports Stamos' arguments and distinguishes rights of speech from "the right to be heard." He notes that "Targeting... both grants a right to be heard that is something distinct from a right to speech, as well as limits our shared understanding of what there is to debate."

See the Selected Items tab for more on this theme.


  1. Enjoyed reading this article throughout.Nice post! Digital Marketing is the trendy course right now and is going to be in
    a great demand in near future as jobs for this domain will be sky rocketted.To be on par with the current trend we have to
    gain complete knowledge about the subject. For the complete course online
    360Digitmg Data Science training

  2. I really enjoy simply reading all of your weblogs. Simply wanted to inform you that you have people like me who appreciate your work. Definitely a great post. Hats off to you! The information that you have provided is very helpful.
    360Digitmg machine learning course in hyderabad

  3. I am looking for and I love to post a comment that "The content of your post is awesome" Great work!
    Data-science course in chennai

  4. I am looking for and I love to post a comment that "The content of your post is awesome" Great work!
    360digitmg Machine learning course in hyderabad

  5. We are offering Best AWS cloud practitioner course Online. Build your cloud skills with updated modules, instructor led live online courses & certifications. Enroll today.

  6. Good day! I just want to give you a big thumbs up for the great information you have got right here on this post.Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    Google AdWords Course in Hyderabad

  7. All the people involved can publish and let you know approximately whether they are coming or no longer and who all they may be planning to deliver alongside.wikipro

  8. this is very informative article We are Indian visa passport service provider you can visit our website for know more us

  9. This post is very simple to read and appreciate without leaving any details out. Great work!
    data science course noida

  10. nice blog!! i hope you will share a blog on Data Science.
    certification of data science

  11. Whatsapp Number Call us Now! 01537587949
    please visit us: SEO Training
    sex video: iphone repair in Novi
    pone video usa: iphone repair in Novi
    pone video usa: Social Bookmarking Sites List 2021

  12. Nice article. I liked very much. All the information given by you are really helpful for my research. keep on posting your views.
    best data science course in delhi

  13. nice blog
    Our Digital Marketing course in Hyderabad focuses on Making you employeable.

    We make sure you have the right skill to get a job in Digital Marketing.
    digital marketing course in hyderabad

  14. Watch movies online, watch new movies, series Netflix HD 4K, ดูหนังออนไลน์ watch free movies on your mobile phone, Tablet, watch movies on the web.

    SEE4K Watch movies, watch movies, free series, load without interruption, sharp images in HD FullHD 4k, all matters, ดูหนังใหม่ all tastes, see anywhere, anytime, on mobile phones, tablets, computers.

    GangManga read manga, read manga, read manga online for free, fast loading, clear images in HD quality, all titles, อ่านการ์ตูน anywhere, anytime, on mobile, tablet, computer.

    Watch live football live24th, watch football online, ผลบอลสด a link to watch live football, watch football for free.

  15. SamudraBet Situs Judi Online Terbaik, Terpercaya dan Terbesar di Indonesia. Menyediakan permainan :

    Judi bola terbaik

    Judi slot online terpercaya

    Poker online terbaru

    Live casino online

    Judi sabung ayam

  16. i am glad to discover this page : i have to thank you for the time i spent on this especially great reading !! i really liked each part and also bookmarked you for new information on your site.
    cyber security training in bangalore

  17. I am glad to discover this page. I have to thank you for the time I spent on this especially great reading !! I really liked each part and also bookmarked you for new information on your site.
    Data Science Training in Chennai

  18. Thanks for posting the best information and the blog is very marketing institute in hyderabad

  19. เราคือผู้นำด้านเกมพนันออนไลน์ Major168 เราคือผู้ให้บริการ คาสิโนออนไลน์ ที่ได้รับรองว่าดีที่สุดในประเทศไทย มีค่ายเกมส์ให้เล่นมากมาย Sagaming, Sexy bacarat, Dreamgame, Ebet, Wm casino, Vivo gaming ไม่ผ่านเอเย่นต์ ระบบปลอดภัยมีทีมงานดูแลตลอด 24ชม.

    SAGAME88 แหล่งรวมเกมส์พนันออนไลน์ คาสิโนสด บาคาร่า กำถั่ว คาสิโนออนไลน์ ไฮโล รูเล็ต รับเครดิตฟรีเล่นได้ทุกเกมส์ โบนัสสมาชิกใหม่เพียบ พร้อมระบบฝากถอนออโต้ 10วิ เรามีทุกค่ายเกมส์ให้คุณเลือกเดิมพัน SA Game Sexy bacarat Dreamgame WM Casino VIVO Gaming Ebet เล่นได้ทุกเกมส์

    Our website ufabet provides betting services in the system of Auto Deposit-Withdrawal. Our members are not only in Thailand. Online football betting UEFA Bet market And this makes a guarantee that Ufabet168 is another reliable football betting website

    ufa through the website UFABET1688 a web gambling online , one that integrated all the bets from online casinos , online casino , online , and also have a game a lot more to be chosen to play such games.

  20. This is the best blog annualeventpost I ever see. Thanks for sharing information with us.

  21. Impressive blog to be honest definitely this post will inspire many more upcoming aspirants. Eventually, this makes the participants to experience and innovate themselves through knowledge wise by visiting this kind of a blog. Once again excellent job keep inspiring with your cool stuff.

    data science certification in bangalore

  22. so happy to find good place to many here in the post, the writing is just great, thanks for the post.
    business analytics course

  23. Great post! MRSA is also known as Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. This is a medical based subject and gets very difficult for the student to understand the subject and write their assignments according to it. MRSA assignment help is the best place to seek help and guidance to complete the assignment before the deadline.

  24. Nice and very informative blog, glad to learn something through you.
    data science course aurangabad

  25. Just saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the fantastic lucidity in your writing. I will instantly grab your feed to stay informed of any updates.
    data scientist course

  26. I see some amazingly important and kept up to length of your strength searching for in your on the site
    data scientist course

  27. Clinical Research and Pharmacovigilance Course Certification Training Institute In Hyderabad

    Gratisol labs provides Clinical Research course and it is a leading Clinical Research training Institute providing Clinical Research Certification Coures . This Clinical Research Certification Course is covered with 4 Modules of Certification. Pharmacovigilance Certification Training, Clinical Data Management Certification Training,Regulatory Affairs Course and Medical Writing course and SAS Certification Training.
    link text
    link text
    link text
    link text
    link text
    link text

  28. Today, I was just browsing along and came upon your blog. Just wanted to say good blog and this article helped me a lot, due to which I have found exactly I was looking. wiki

  29. ISC888 เกมยิงปลาออนไลน์ เกมสล็อต2021 หวยออนไลน์ แทงบอลออนไลน์ รูเล็ต โป๊กเกอร์ ไฮโล เสือมังกร ไพ่แบล็คแจ็ค พนันไก่ชน แข่งม้าออนไลน์ หวยฮานอย isc888 สมัครสมาชิก หวยออนไลน์ออกรางวัลทุกวัน เราก็มีบริการอีกเช่นกัน.

  30. You have written a lovely article; the importance of education is now spreading fire between people, especially in underdeveloped countries. Get an Online Class Software to simplify education.

  31. virtual event platform No doubts this is one of the most exciting arenas for event technology developers. There is true value to be generated. Questions such as who is attending what demanded an answer. It looks like answers are piling up. falling jokes, happy first day of fall and birthday messages for sister

  32. This post is very simple to read and appreciate without leaving any details out. Great work!
    data scientist course in aurangabad

  33. Our elite team is trained in anti-surveillance techniques and identifying unnatural behaviour.private security We’re skilled at situational awareness; that is, having a sharp eye and being constantly aware of everything that’s happening around you – the Principal.

  34. Technological advancements indeed have availed many devices and tools that bodyguard company
    assist in security operations, but there are some qualities that security personnel must possess so they can use these devices and tools effectively. UK Close Protection Services is the industry leader when it comes to the provision of private security services.

  35. I am glad to discover this page. I have to thank you for the time I spent on this especially great reading !! I really liked each part and also bookmarked you for new information on your site.
    Data Science Course in Delhi