The Information World War

Source: The Digital Maginot Line | ribbonfarm, by Renee DiResta

The Information World War has already been going on for several years. We called the opening skirmishes “media manipulation” and “hoaxes”, assuming that we were dealing with ideological pranksters doing it for the lulz (and that lulz were harmless).

In reality, the combatants are professional, state-employed cyberwarriors and seasoned amateur guerrillas pursuing very well-defined objectives with military precision and specialized tools.

Combatants evolve with remarkable speed, because digital munitions are very close to free. In fact, because of the digital advertising ecosystem, information warfare may even turn a profit. There’s very little incentive not to try everything: this is a revolution that is being A/B tested. The most visible battlespaces are our online forums — Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube — but the activity is increasingly spreading to old-school direct action on the streets, in traditional media outlets, and behind closed doors, as state-sponsored trolls recruit and manipulate activists, launder narratives, and instigate protests.

The combatants want to normalize the idea that the platforms shouldn’t be allowed to set rules of engagement because in the short term, it’s only the platforms that can.

Meanwhile, regular civilian users view these platforms as ordinary extensions of physical public and social spaces – the new public square, with a bit of a pollution problem. Academic leaders and technologists wonder if faster fact checking might solve the problem, and attempt to engage in good-faith debate about whether moderation is censorship. There’s a fundamental disconnect here, driven by underestimation and misinterpretation. The combatants view this as a Hobbesian information war of all against all and a tactical arms race; the other side sees it as a peacetime civil governance problem.

ultimately the information war is about territory — just not the geographic kind. In a warm information war, the human mind is the territory. If you aren’t a combatant, you are the territory. And once a combatant wins over a sufficient number of minds, they have the power to influence culture and society, policy and politics.

The 2014-2016 influence operation playbook went something like this: a group of digital combatants decided to push a specific narrative, something that fit a long-term narrative but also had a short-term news hook. They created content … then activated collections of bots and sockpuppets

Since running spammy automated accounts is no longer a good use of resources, sophisticated operators have moved on to new tactics. … Combatants are now focusing on infiltration rather than automation: leveraging real, ideologically-aligned people to inadvertently spread real, ideologically-aligned content instead.

The entities best suited to mitigate the threat of any given emerging tactic will always be the platforms themselves, because they can move fast when so inclined or incentivized. The problem is that many of the mitigation strategies advanced by the platforms are the information integrity version of greenwashing; they’re a kind of digital security theater

The key problem is this: platforms aren’t incentivized to engage in the profoundly complex arms race against the worst actors when they can simply point to transparency reports showing that they caught a fair number of the mediocre actors.

Platforms cannot continue to operate as if all users are basically the same; they have to develop constant awareness of how various combatant types will abuse the new features that they roll out, and build detection of combatant tactics into the technology they’re creating to police the problem. … They must recognize that they are battlespaces, and as such, must build the policing capabilities that limit the actions of malicious combatants while protecting the actual rights of their real civilian users.

AI-generated audio and video deepfakes will erode trust in what we see with our own eyes, leaving us vulnerable both to faked content and to the discrediting of the actual truth by insinuation. Authenticity debates will commandeer media cycles, pushing us into an infinite loop of perpetually investigating basic facts. Chronic skepticism and the cognitive DDoS will increase polarization, leading to a consolidation of trust in distinct sets of right and left-wing authority figures – thought oligarchs speaking to entirely separate groups.

An admirable commitment to the principle of free speech in peace time turns into a sucker position against adversarial psy-ops in wartime. We need an understanding of free speech that is hardened against the environment of a continuous warm war on a broken information ecosystem. We need to defend the fundamental value from itself becoming a prop in a malign narrative.

We have to move away from treating this as a problem of giving people better facts, or stopping some Russian bots, and move towards thinking about it as an ongoing battle for the integrity of our information infrastructure

More: Common-Knowledge Attacks on Democracy, by Henry John Farrell and Bruce Schneier

Surveillance Kills Freedom By Killing Experimentation, by Bruce Schneier

Source: Surveillance Kills Freedom By Killing Experimentation | WIRED, by Bruce Schneier

Excerpted from The End of Trust(McSweeney’s issue 54)

When we’re being watched, we conform. We don’t speak freely or try new things. But social progress happens in the gap between what’s legal and what’s moral.

It’s easy to imagine the more conservative among us getting enough power to make illegal what they would otherwise be forced to witness.

For social norms to change, people need to deviate from these inherited norms. People need the space to try alternate ways of living without risking arrest or social ostracization. People need to be able to read critiques of those norms without anyone’s knowledge, discuss them without their opinions being recorded, and write about their experiences without their names attached to their words. People need to be able to do things that others find distasteful, or even immoral. The minority needs protection from the tyranny of the majority.

Privacy makes all of this possible. Privacy encourages social progress by giving the few room to experiment free from the watchful eye of the many.

The idea of ‘intellectual property’ is nonsensical and pernicious | Aeon

Source: The idea of ‘intellectual property’ is nonsensical and pernicious | Aeon Samir Chopra

‘Intellectual property’ is a culturally damaging and easily weaponised notion. Its use should be resisted.

The grand term ‘intellectual property’ covers a lot of ground: the software that runs our lives, the movies we watch, the songs we listen to. But also the credit-scoring algorithms that determine the contours of our futures, the chemical structure and manufacturing processes for life-saving pharmaceutical drugs, even the golden arches of McDonald’s and terms such as ‘Google’. All are supposedly ‘intellectual property’. … But what kind of property is this? And why do we refer to such a menagerie with one inclusive term?

There are four areas of US federal law linked under the rubric of ‘intellectual property’ that we ought to keep separate in our minds. … copyright, patent, trademark and trade secret law were motivated by widely differing considerations. Their intended purposes, the objects covered and the permissible constraints all vary.

A general term is useful only if it subsumes related concepts in such a way that semantic value is added. If our comprehension is not increased by our chosen generalised term, then we shouldn’t use it. A common claim such as ‘they stole my intellectual property’ is singularly uninformative, since the general term ‘intellectual property’ obscures more than it illuminates. If copyright infringement is alleged, we try to identify the copyrightable concrete expression, the nature of the infringement and so on. If patent infringement is alleged, we check another set of conditions (does the ‘new’ invention replicate the design of the older one?), and so on for trademarks (does the offending symbol substantially and misleadingly resemble the protected trademark?) and trade secrets (did the enterprise attempt to keep supposedly protected information secret?). The use of the general term ‘intellectual property’ tells us precisely nothing. Furthermore, the extreme generality encouraged by ‘intellectual property’ obscures the specific areas of contention created by the varying legal regimes.

Why then does ‘intellectual property’ remain in use? Because it has polemical and rhetorical value. Its deployment, especially by a putative owner, is a powerful inducement to change one’s position in a policy argument. It is one thing to accuse someone of copyright infringement, and another to accuse of them of the theft of property. The former sounds like a legally resolvable technicality; the latter sounds like an unambiguously sinful act.

Property is a legally constructed, historically contingent, social fact. It is founded on economic and social imperatives to distribute and manage material resources – and, thus, wealth and power. … Law makes property part of our socially constructed reality, reconfigurable if social needs change.

Legal systems of property are pragmatic and outcome-oriented. They bring about desired social ends through a historically contingent, evolving blend of rights and duties for owners. There is no ‘natural’ or ‘objective’ basis for property; we deem something property because better social outcomes are realised by doing so.

legal protections offered to intellectual property assets are utilitarian grants – they are neither perpetual nor exclusive. (Tangible property is said to be perpetual because it is yours till you dispose of it.) Their terms are limited and amenable to nonexclusive use. Patent law offers exceptions for experimental use, and prior-use rights for business methods; copyright law for fair use; trademark law for nominative use; trade secrets for reverse engineering and independent discovery.

Intellectual property rights are granted reluctantly: here is your limited property right with exceptions for nonexclusiveness, so that your knowledge can flow back into the public domain, there to be built upon by others.

The resulting legal and economic landscape finds power concentrated in corporations with indefinitely extensible copyright terms, gigantic patent portfolios and politically influential trade secrets – each of which can trigger an endless series of litigious disputes in courts, and induce a chilling effect in the work of artists and innovators, and in the daily affairs of citizens.

This public domain is ours to draw upon for future use. The granting of temporary leases to various landlords to extract monopoly rent should be recognised for what it is: a limited privilege for our benefit. The use of ‘intellectual property’ is a rhetorical move by one partner in this conversation, the one owning the supposed ‘property right’. There is no need for us to play along, to confuse one kind of property with another or, for that matter, to even consider the latter kind of object any kind of property at all. Doing so will not dismantle the elaborate structures of rules we have built in order to incentivise artistic and scientific work. Rather, it will make it possible for that work to continue.

Improving the Mechanics of Government

Source: How to Salvage Congress | The Atlantic, by U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher (WI-R)

I have come to believe that the problem is not the people. The problem is a defective process and a power structure that, whichever party is in charge, funnels all power to leadership and stifles debate and initiative within the ranks.

Change the Congressional Calendar

Change How We Choose Committee Chairs

Streamline Committee Jurisdiction


Source: America’s Hidden Duopoly | Freakonomics, by Stephen J. Dubner

We all know our political system is “broken” — but what if that’s not true? Some say the Republicans and Democrats constitute a wildly successful industry that has colluded to kill off competition, stifle reform, and drive the country apart.

Having come to the conclusion that the political system operated more like a traditional industry than a public institution, Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter set down their ideas in a Harvard Business School report. It’s called “Why Competition in the Politics Industry Is Failing America.”

It’d be one thing if this large industry were delivering value to its customers — which is supposed to be us, the citizenry. But Gehl and Porter argue the political industry is much better at generating revenue for itself and creating jobs for itself while treating its customers with something close to disdain. … And the numbers back up their argument. Customer satisfaction with the political industry is at historic lows. Fewer than a quarter of Americans currently say they trust the federal government. In terms of popularity, it ranks below every private industry. That includes the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, the airline industry — and, yes, cable TV.

Gehl and Porter identify the “five key inputs to modern political competition: candidates, campaign talent, voter data, idea suppliers, and lobbyists.” Here’s what they write: “Increasingly, most everything required to run a modern campaign and govern is tied to or heavily influenced by one party or the other, including think tanks, voter data, and talent.” … Gehl and Porter argue that the political industry has essentially co-opted the media, which spreads their messages for free.

Perhaps most important, the two parties rig the election system against would-be disrupters. The rules they set allow for partisan primaries, gerrymandered congressional districts, and winner-take-all elections.

What we believe is, we need to create structural reforms that would actually better align the election process and the legislative process with the needs of the average citizen.

the first and probably the single most powerful [electoral reform] is to move to non-partisan, single-ballot primaries. … ranked-choice voting … non-partisan redistricting

changes to the rules around governing. … propose moving away from partisan control of the day-to-day legislating in Congress. And also, of course, in state legislatures as well.

If you take money out of politics without changing the rules of the game, you’ll simply make it cheaper for those using the existing system to get the self-interested results that they want without changing the incentives to actually deliver solutions for the American people. Having said that, we do believe that there are benefits to increasing the power of smaller donors. … For instance: having the government itself match donations from small donors.

We should note: most of the ideas Gehl and Porter are presenting here are not all that novel if you follow election reform even a little bit. Even we poked into a lot of them, a couple years ago, in an episode called “Ten Ideas to Make Politics Less Rotten.” I guess it’s one measure of how successful, and dominant, the political duopoly is that plenty of seemingly sensible people have plenty of seemingly sensible reform ideas that, for the most part, gain very little traction.