Daily Media Links 3/20: Cambridge Analytica Was Doing Marketing, Not Black Magic, Federal Election Commission official invites Mark Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs to testify, and more…

March 20, 2018   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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Free Speech

Reason: Some Pundits Say There’s No Campus Free Speech ‘Crisis.’ Here’s Why They’re Wrong.

By Robby Soave

We shouldn’t overgeneralize anecdotes, and some critics of college culture do spin Middlebury-type events into a dubious narrative of constant and increasing censorship. But whether things are getting worse or not, we should agree to condemn the students who physically attacked Murray and his entourage, who forced Heather MacDonald to flee, who responded to Yiannopoulos by smashing windows and setting fires, who shouted down Christina Hoff Sommers, who no-platformed the American Civil Liberties Union, who invaded Suzanne Goldberg’s classroom. Meanwhile, illiberal students’ threats of violence have caused colleges to spend prohibitively large amounts of money on security measures-sometimes passing those costs along to the student group sponsoring a controversial speaker. Again, whether this constitute a “crisis” depends upon your definition of the word, and your frame of reference. There’s less illiberalism in community colleges and some state schools, and more of it in the most elite liberal arts colleges-Middlebury, Yale, Reed, the Claremont colleges, etc.

All that said, critics of the crisis narrative are right to push back on the most extreme declarations of doom on campus. It’s certainly true that there are bigger threats to free speech than illiberal college students. (President Donald Trump is no defender of free expression.) And pundits on the right frequently commit two mistakes related to political correctness: They overdramatize the danger to their own beliefs and minimize the danger for everyone else.

Supreme Court

Washington Post: Crisis pregnancy centers have the right to remain silent

By George F. Will

Governments routinely behave badly, but sometimes their mean-spiritedness comes to the Supreme Court’s attention. On Tuesday, it will hear oral arguments concerning the constitutionality of measures that California’s government has taken to compel pro-life entities to speak against their own mission…

A 2015 California law requires licensed pregnancy crisis centers to tell clients (in pamphlets, in waiting-room signs) this: “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care and abortion for eligible women.” Unlicensed centers are required to notify clients that the center “is not licensed as a medical facility by the state of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.” …

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, whose reasoning is frequently novel and whose rulings are frequently reversed, upheld California’s law on the grounds that government often can regulate the practice-related speech of professionals that it licenses. The Supreme Court has never embraced this carve-out from the First Amendment, which would give government an open-ended power to require whomever the government deems a “professional” to communicate whatever message the government favors.


Talking Points Memo: FEC Unlikely To Launch NRA-Russia Probe

By Allegra Kirkland

News broke late last week that the Federal Election Commission had opened a preliminary inquiry into whether Russians illegally channeled money to the National Rifle Association to support Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

But the FEC’s move, which came after a complaint from a Democratic group, amounts to little more than a standard response, experts say. It will likely be months before the matter moves up through the appropriate channels and the controversy-averse panel of commissioners votes on whether to launch a formal investigation. And they’re highly unlikely to vote to do so.

“Until the commission actually acts and votes – and they need four votes to open an actual investigation – it’s not really an investigation,” former FEC chairwoman Ann Ravel told TPM in a Monday phone call. “It’s just a sort of looking at the publicly available facts.”

According to Ravel, a Democrat appointed by President Barack Obama, that preliminary look could include examining existing campaign finance records already filed by the NRA, but won’t involve requesting new documents from the group.

“There is no evidence gathering from the NRA, as a preliminary matter,” she said. “This would be highly unusual.”

CNBC: Federal Election Commission official invites Mark Zuckerberg and other tech CEOs to testify

By Sara Salinas

A top official at the Federal Election Commission has invited Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Larry Page to testify at a public hearing in June.

Commissioner Ellen Weintraub Monday tweeted images of the letters sent to the heads of Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet – with an eager encouragement to save the date.

Representatives for the tech giants have been pulled in front of congress a handful times of in recent months to testify on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and terrorism online.

But the three top executives have yet to appear, sending instead general counsels and other company leaders.

“Given the prominence of [Facebook, Twitter and Google] in the public discourse of this nation, it is important the Federal Election Commission hear from you,” Weintraub’s letters read.

Political Advertising

Reason: Cambridge Analytica Was Doing Marketing, Not Black Magic

By Elizabeth Nolan Brown

CA says it didn’t use the Facebook data to target potential Trump voters, and it says it didn’t know that Kogan wasn’t supposed to share the data his app had collected. But even if it did use the data that way, and even if it did know where it came from, the only real violation would be using Facebook user data in a way that company itself sanctioned until four years ago. Calling such actions “a project to turn tens of millions of Facebook profiles into a unique political weapon” (as The Guardian does) hovers somewhere between hyperbolic and flat-out wrong. It drastically mischaracterizes the nature and novelty of microtargeted political ads, in a way strongly reminiscent of the whole “Russian election hacking” hoopla as a whole.

There’s an emerging tendency-one seen repeatedly when new forms of media emerge-to regard any form of online advertising or social media campaigns as deceptive and devious if political actors are involved…

This would be a fine opportunity to discuss how much Facebook users really understand about who sees their data, or how we can improve Americas’ privacy, or how Facebook tries to be all things to all people. Instead, a lot of people want to force this into a narrative about election influence. In doing so, they ascribe way too much power and sophistication to advertisers and political consultants, and way too little responsibility and literacy to the rest of us.

The Verge: Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook data abuse shouldn’t get credit for Trump

By Angela Chen and Alessandra Potenza

Even if Cambridge Analytica did affect Donald Trump’s election in 2016, everything we know about political microtargeting suggests that its role was insignificant. “We don’t really know much about the effects of microtargeting, let alone targeting on the basis of someone’s psyche,” says Dobber. “I think Cambridge Analytica is a better marketing company than a targeting company.”…

[U]sing digital data to decide who to target can easily go wrong. Often, this extra information doesn’t tell you anything you couldn’t get from a public voter database, and it becomes less useful over time as people’s preferences change. Plus, messages that work for one campaign might not work for another. Microtargeting might be more effective in settings with less information, like a state legislative race, says Hersh from Tufts, but there’s a lot of information being shared in an American presidential election. “The idea that some additional piece of information in this overwhelming wave of data going into people’s head is going to trick them. It doesn’t give people enough credit,” he says…

“It is not rocket science to infer someone’s political preferences on the basis of someone’s Likes if those people have actually Liked a lot of pages,” Dobber tells The Verge in an email. But it’s a huge leap to say that being able to infer some things from Facebook means swaying voter behavior.

Forbes: Why Are We Only Now Talking About Facebook And Elections?

By Kalev Leetaru

Yet, perhaps of greatest relevance to the controversy surrounding Cambridge Analytica is how the Obama campaign leveraged Facebook. As Carol Davidsen, former Director of Integration of Media Analytics for Obama for America put it last night in a series of tweets reflecting back on the 2012 campaign: “Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing. They came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.” Yet, she caveated the campaign’s use of the data noting that the project “felt creepy” but that they “played by the rules.” …

In short, according to the Times’ reporting, which is borne out by many other reports of the time, the Obama campaign engaged in nearly identical activity to what Cambridge Analytica is claimed to have done: they took a set of users who willingly contributed their data to a cause and quietly mined their friend lists, downloading immense volumes of private material from unwitting individuals that never authorized, let alone had any idea, that a political campaign was harvesting their information from Facebook simply because a person they were connected with had given the organization permission to harvest their information.

The Guardian: ‘It might work too well’: the dark art of political advertising online

By Julia Carrie Wong

Finally, in 1998, Gould found a political candidate who was so far behind in the polls, and so strapped for cash, that he was willing to take a risk and spend $100,000 on banner ads on the New York Times homepage. Peter Vallone, then a New York City council member challenging George Pataki for the governorship, gave Gould the green light for an ad buy that has since entered the history books as the first significant use of online advertising in a political campaign…

If this all seems positively dystopian, one person who is surprisingly sanguine is Alan Gould.

Gould left politics soon after the Vallone campaign, founded an advertising analytics firm, sold it, and is now a tech investor. He does have concerns about media literacy and Facebook’s tendency to trap people in filter bubbles, but says: “If people choose to stay in that bubble and not explore anything outside of it, that’s a statement about who they are and not about the technology.

“If you’re going to have a representative democracy, then you have to have a way to communicate with the voters and you’re going to use whatever is available, whether that’s newspapers or mail or email or Snapchat,” he said. “I don’t regret it at all.”

The States

Spokesman-Review: Washington expands voting and campaign laws

By Jim Camden

The fifth bill signed Monday was the Disclose Act, which requires nonprofit organizations that make $25,000 or more in contributions to election campaigns to register with the Public Disclosure Commission starting next year. They must list their top contributors, committee officers and the candidates or ballot measures they support or oppose.

CT Post: Pols face off over public financing for political campaigns

By Emilie Munson

Republicans and state election officials faced off over public financing for political campaigns Monday, debating whether to reinforce the program or ditch it altogether.

The House Republican Caucus claimed the Citizens’ Election Program, which gives money to candidates for governor, general assembly and other state offices, is too costly and no longer provides the “clean elections” promised…

The Secretary of the State’s Office and State Elections Enforcement Commission both asked legislators to consider their bills to fix the program, instead of throwing it out…

Proposals from the SEEC would allow the program to claim any money it needs during any election year to give to qualified candidates…

The Commission also suggested making a supplemental grant available to gubernatorial candidates, in 2019 and beyond, to help candidates compete against high spending and independent expenditures. It also would expand campaign finance disclosure requirements.

The Government Administration and Elections Committee is expected to vote on whether it wants to change or repeal the program before the end of the month.

Kansas City Star: Subpoenas issued as part of investigation of Greitens’ use of charity donor list

By Jason Hancock and Lindsay Wise

Gov. Eric Greitens’ use of the resources of a veteran’s charity for his 2016 gubernatorial campaign has prompted subpoenas by the Missouri attorney general, St. Louis prosecutor and a state House investigative committee, The Kansas City Star has learned.

The subpoenas indicate that investigations that initially focused on allegations of blackmail by the governor have expanded to include his political campaign finances.

Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office last week subpoenaed documents from The Mission Continues, a charity Greitens founded in 2007, as part of his probe under the consumer protection and charitable registration and reporting law.

Also seeking information from the charity is the St. Louis circuit attorney’s office, which is prosecuting Greitens for felony invasion of privacy, and a Missouri House committee investigating the governor as a first step toward possible impeachment.

Alex Baiocco

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