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We Must Curtail Online Manipulation Before It’s Too Late: Here Are Four Things We Can Do

 

A new Netflix documentary called The Great Hack explores the Cambridge Analytica scandal from the perspective of several of the company’s former employees. Its title and narrative suggest we focus on how the personal information of up to 87 million Facebook users wound up in Britain at a company whose mission was to support ultra-conservative causes like Brexit and political candidates like Donald Trump. The activity was so egregious that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission levied a $5 billion dollar fine against Facebook, the largest ever for a technology company. But it’s not the hack that should concern us, but the ability of all kinds of bad actors to manipulate us in ways that are not in our best interests.

There’s a plentiful supply of such manipulators and they are working relentlessly to impose their hidden agendas. In fact, on August 1, Facebook announced that it had just removed 259 Facebook accounts, 102 Facebook Pages, five Facebook Groups, four Facebook Events and 17 Instagram accounts for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that focused primarily on a number of countries in the Middle East. According to Facebook, the people behind this network were connected to marketing firms in Egypt and the UAE. They used compromised and fake accounts to run Pages, disseminate content, comment in Groups, impersonate public figures, pose as local news organizations in targeted countries and post frequently about local news, politics and elections. Said Facebook, “We’re constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people.”

Manipulation isn’t new. Its godfather was Edward Bernays, the “father of public relations,” an Austrian-American whose pioneering techniques for influencing public opinion and behavior date all the way back to the first decade of the 20th century. (Fittingly, he was a double nephew of Sigmund Freud.) During World War I, Bernays worked with the U.S. Committee on Public Information crafting propaganda campaigns to build support among Latin American business leaders for the war. When Bernays realized that the wartime techniques for swaying opinion could be applied in peace time, war propaganda evolved into modern public relations.

 After the war, Bernays founded his own firm, which became legendary for its ability to spur consumer desires in order to scale demand for clients’ products. Early on, Bernays was hired by the Beechnut Packing Company to create more demand for its bacon. Polling physicians about healthy eating habits, Bernays latched onto the fact that many believed in the salutary benefits of a hearty breakfast. He framed the results of his informal inquiry as a full-fledged medical recommendation for bacon and eggs every morning, soon featured in Beechnut’s advertising. Business boomed and bacon has been a staple of American breakfast ever since.

The American Tobacco Company approached Bernays to help stimulate demand among women for cigarettes at a time when smoking was considered masculine. Getting women to light up would double demand. Bernays created a campaign called “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet,” fostering the impression that smoking aided weight loss. The campaign featured images of slender women smoking cigarettes. Much to the detriment of public health for a century to come, women bought into it.

August 2019, CICO writer Derek Lidow – Staff Reporter.

 

What Role Should Carbon Pricing Play In Addressing Climate Change?

 

As the U.S. and Europe are in the midst of unprecedented summer heatwaves, forcing the toll that climate change and carbon emissions take to the forefront, a carbon tax is one of the few devices for dealing with climate change that shows any sign of garnering bipartisan U.S. support. This is the simple idea that putting a price on carbon emissions will illustrate the otherwise-intangible costs of carbon. But according to a new paper from the DC-based Center for Progressive Reform (CPR), market-driven approaches should not be the only tool for addressing climate change; the brief says that carbon pricing is essential for addressing the climate crisis, but alone, it is “insufficient.”

This analysis comes at a time when even relatively mild climate measures are failing to pass muster with lawmakers. In June, a group of Oregon state senators fled the state until Democrats retreated on a cap and trade bill, and last fall, Washington State’s ballot question on a carbon tax failed, albeit narrowly. At the same time, the need for decisive action on the climate situation is increasingly urgent, as we approach the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2030 deadline for slashing global emissions by 45% in order to avoid irreversible environmental harms.

But approaches striving for bipartisan appeal, such as those in Oregon and Washington, may actually not be the best way to garner support for climate policy, according to University of San Francisco Environmental Law Professor Alice Kaswan, the author of the recent CPR paper. Kaswan’s view is that such solutions should fall under broad-brush plans and overarching visions for a green transition, like the Green New Deal, which calls for sweeping changes in U.S. energy sources and environmental protections.

 Market-driven approaches—such as cap and trade or a carbon tax—do have their place:  Although the “invisible hand of the market” should not first among climate efforts, she says, “carbon pricing has a vital role to play in a clean energy transition.”

The CPR brief echoes that thought, noting that because carbon pricing deals only with the question of carbon reduction, it “misses the wide range of other considerations relevant to a clean transition.”

The answer, according to Kaswan, lies in a combination of both carbon pricing and broader policy solutions: “You have the tax humming along in the background, but then you have the policies that are going to help you move in the direction of reducing the payments [imposed by a tax or cap and trade],” she said.

“We need to have reductions and requirements,” Kaswan adds, “but we also need to provide some assistance to industries that may face significant transition costs.”

While these initiatives such as carbon pricing are important, according to Kaswan, it is most effective to group them with a broad outline for tackling climate change across sectors: “If we look at the public, people are more attracted to a vision of green transition,” she says. “It is more inspiring—it gives more of a sense that we are moving toward something.”

August 2019, CICO writer Olivia Gieger – Staff Reporter.
 

Communication Tactics & Tools:

Ethiopian Rappers Challenging Israel Police Through Song

 

In his song “Handcuffed,” rapper Teddy Neguse addresses police brutality against young Israeli men of Ethiopian descent. Although the song came out in 2017, it has recently reached new heights in the wake of street protests across the country following the killing of an Ethiopian Israeli teen by an off-duty police officer last month. This week the 23-year-old artist was invited to perform his song live on the popular news website Ynet. Neguse’s appearance on Ynet illustrates the growing Ethiopian Israeli presence in the local music scene. But it also reflects the ongoing struggles against alleged racism and discrimination, some three decades after Ethiopian Jews began arriving in Israel. Large numbers of Ethiopian Jews began arriving in Israel via secret airlifts in the 1980s. The new arrivals from a rural, developing African country struggled to find their footing in an increasingly high-tech Israel. Throughout the decades, Ethiopians have suffered discrimination. In the late 1990s, it was discovered that Israel’s health services were throwing out Ethiopian blood donations over fears of diseases contracted in Africa. Accusations have also been raised that Israel has deliberately tried to curb birth rates in its Ethiopian communities. Today there’s around 150,000 people in the Israel Ethiopian community, some 2% of the country’s 9 million citizens. While some Israelis of Ethiopian descent have made gains in areas like the military, the police force and politics, the community continues to struggle with a lack of opportunity and high poverty rate. Against this backdrop, Israeli artists of Ethiopian heritage are breaking out in the entertainment world, especially in the growing hip hop and dancehall scenes. In his music video for “Handcuffed,” Neguse is dressed up as a soldier, riding a bicycle, when he encounters two policemen. The officers then, seemingly unprovoked, beat him up. The music video depicts a 2015 incident in which two policemen were filmed beating a uniformed Ethiopian Israeli soldier, sparking mass protests. The most recent demonstrations erupted after the unarmed Solomon Teka, 18, was fatally shot by a police officer in a Haifa suburb on June 30. At the height of the unrest, protesters angrily swore at police officers, hurled firebombs, vandalized vehicles and set a car ablaze in the heart of Tel Aviv. Police say over 110 officers were wounded in the protests, and at least 150 protesters were arrested. The officer in question, who has claimed the youth was accidentally hit by a warning shot he had fired at the ground, is being investigated by internal affairs and remains under protective custody. Another up-and-coming Ethiopian Israeli musician, Yael Mentesnot, says that in the past, the community has been “restrained” and “we end up coming off a bit naive.” But this time she says the community is beginning to truly feel the despair. “All the protests, they are not orchestrated, nothing there was organised,” she said. “Everyone went to the streets frustrated and released their anger.” While most of Mentesnot’s young solo career has been filled with upbeat party songs, she said the recent events have inspired her to address the Ethiopian Israelis’ struggle. “Our whole life is a struggle, we face challenges, and we overcome them,” she said. “I want the public to see it. To understand what we feel.” Neguse said he is pleased that Ethiopian musicians are on the rise, but said the recent protests should be seen as “a call for help, a cry of an entire community.”

August 2019, CICO writer: CICO  Staff Reporter in association with The Associated Press.
 

Can We Retain Our Privacy With New Technology?

 

Privacy and free speech are two of the top techno-cultural issues that have been ricocheting about since the rise of the internet. Free speech has become a lynchpin for democracy advocates who wish to maintain that the US Constitution is upheld online as well as off. Yet, privacy issues are inextricably intertwined with free market capitalism as internet sales are more and more dependent upon the exchange and analysis of private data. Where is the balance between our freedom to use public spaces—both real and virtual—to include our rights to privacy and the freedoms of businesses to cull information that they deem publicly available (or at the very least made available at the end of a long clickable blurb)?

First, there is a legal grey area where companies like Checkr offer facial biometrics services along with other companies such as Berbix and Onfido. One company, Biometrica Systems, is offering what they call “Advanced Facial Recognition” which takes a customer’s photo and compares it to records in a database in order to identify anyone suspicious. More worryingly, this company uses the biometric information to provide constant criminal background checks and it will notify organizations in near real-time when an employee has potentially been arrested.

What this means, is that aside from private companies enlisting themselves in law enforcement, even tangentially, private individuals are now being inculcated into the larger structure of biodata by force. In the same way that those people who refused to get credit cards in opposition to big banking policies and high rates of interest were forced into signing up for credit cards with the onslaught of economic electronic transactions, we are facing a similar paradigm today where employment and purchasing may very well be dominated by biometric data systems.

 And there is good reason for caution since the data which companies cull on private citizens falls into grey legal areas where now private companies are operating without full disclosure to those whose information they hold. Moreso, these companies act with an unofficial power, not necessarily state-granted, to pass on such data to state authorities. Additionally, there are privacy issues related to employment background checks that verge on the forced surrender of these rights in exchange for the ability to eat and pay rent. As these practices become more widespread, so too do stealth and even unethical practices such as employers fishing social media accounts for private information. Add to this the many companies operating through spam market with emails that read “Someone might have run a background check on you,” it is easy to feel insecure that not only are you being spied upon but that there is little to no legal oversight of your privacy rights.

It is easy to feel surveilled in this era of hyper-surveillance. As more users are opting to surf the internet through VPN technology, there are just as many others worried about government spying, hence many web surfers opt for services that hide IP addresses or they opt for web-based anonymizers. Privacy advocates like the ACLU have warned that such technology is encroaching on our human freedoms and these extend far beyond just the internet. There has been much discussion in recent months over the expansion of satellites used to survey private citizens beyond international spying. And the fast-paced advances in this technology is outpacing the government’s ability to regulate it. In short, the legal limitations of spying through new technology can soon mean that more privacy issues are a grey area legally speaking.

August 2019, CICO writer: Julian Vigo  Staff Reporter.

 

Building Social Mobility For Leadership

 
A report on power and influence in the U.K. identifies what many have suspected for a long time; individuals holding leadership positions are likely to be educated in independent schools and hold coupled with Oxbridge degrees. The results are predictable for the Government, public sector, and business yet more surprising results for sport, music, and media.  The Sutton Trust, an education think tank focusing on social mobility,  collaborated with the Social Mobility Commission to report on the education composition of leadership across different sectors in the U.K. and published these findings in a report titled Elitist Britain.
 

The report identifies that 39% of leaders in the U.K. attended private schools compared to 7% of the national average enrolled in private education.The differences across sectors vary considerably from 65% in the public sector to 27% in the FTSE 350. In terms of University education, the range of leadership who are Oxbridge educated range from 71% of in the public service to 27% in business, FTSE 350 CEOs.

The education system has a primary focus to educate students in the broadest possible way, and market forces are becoming more influential. Increasingly, parents are making correlations between the investment in their child’s education and the expected benefits. A study published by UCL funded by the Nuffield Foundation found that parents anticipated more significant investment would lead to higher earning potential by the age of 30.

When making choices about degrees, various league tables will rank programs based on the earning potential of degrees and the place of study. As organizations create robust pools of selection from Oxbridge, Russell Group or other prestigious universities, the message to parents is clear: these universities will provide the most significant potential return on investment for your financial and non-financial resources plowed into your offspring.

August 2019, CICO writer: Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj   Staff Reporter.