Facebook’s Libra Dissolves on the Launch Pad and Free Speech Collides With Post-Truth as…

Source: Deep Learning on Medium

Facebook’s Libra Dissolves on the Launch Pad and Free Speech Collides With Post-Truth as Governments Battle Silicon Valley

This week in tech

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The consortium behind Facebook’s digital currency, Libra, officially launched on Monday but is down to only 21 of the original 27 pledged members. First, PayPal defected. Then, lawmakers sent letters to Visa, Mastercard and Stripe, urging them to follow PayPal out the door. Those companies bailed along with eBay, and Mercado Pago and Booking Holdings Inc. jumped ship a few days later. Libra has boasted there are 180 suitors waiting in the wings to replace the seven defectors. That’s probably true, but there’s also a reason those 180 organizations were waitlisted. The departures leave a major hole in Libra’s payments department and it’s hard to imagine the replacements will carry as much collective weight in payments as PayPal, Visa, Mastercard and Stripe.

Libra isn’t giving up though, and the political games will continue. For example, Mark Zuckerberg has been set to testify before congress on October 23rd to answer questions about Libra. Now that the consortium has been officially launched they are claiming that Zuckerberg can no longer speak on behalf of the organization.

This is just the latest in the ongoing tet-a-tet between governments and crypto, and we should expect more. Governments would rather be the sole proprietors of fiat currency and have been wary of cryptocurrency from the start. France and Germany made that position clear last month when government officials announced they would block Libra completely. Other governments like China and Venezuela have decided to operate their own digital currencies, beating would-be corporate competitors to the punch. Two former members of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission suggested the United States do the same thing in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal this week.

Disruption of status-quo hierarchies was kind of the point for the cypherpunks who invented the cryptocurrency concept back in the 90s. But, I can’t imagine the titans of “surveillance capitalism” would be Eric Hughes’ choice as the leader of that disruption. The encrypted messaging company Telegram — a company much closer to the founding vision of the cypherpunks — is facing a blockade of their cryptocurrency’s initial coin offering by the SEC.

Mark Zuckerberg defended free speech in a speech of his own at Georgetown University. The speech came in tandem with Facebook’s decision to allow politicians to publish lies on their platform. Zuckerberg was probably right when he said, “I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100% true.” No one wants to live in a world where Facebook is the primary arbiter of truth. Still, leaving out the fact that Facebook’s policy is now explicitly to widely distribute even demonstrably false political propaganda in exchange for money is absurdly disingenuous.

Facebook can defend free speech and protect democracy and avoid this whole debate by banning political advertising on their platform. Politicians would still be able to post whatever they like on the platform (within the bounds of Facebook’s community standards) and Facebook wouldn’t have such an obvious conflict of interest.

Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren — who has already been embroiled in a battle with Facebook — leaned into her adversarial relationship with the corporation. Following Facebook’s policy announcement, she made a deliberately false advertisement and paid Facebook to distribute her criticism of the new policy, which the company did.

Twitter is also embroiled in a debate about political free speech. Like Facebook, Twitter has announced that they’re going to treat politicians differently on the platform. Amid controversy involving Donald Trump (of course), the company released a blog post detailing exactly what the president would have to do to get banned from Twitter. Both companies are essentially arguing that preserving and documenting posts by politicians is inherently in the public interest, even if those posts violate their community standards.

The debate over free speech and editorial responsibility is raging in Congress, too. This week’s hearing about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — which shields social media companies from liability for content posted by users — was actually quite substantive. Lawmakers discussed a variety of topics from the live-streaming of mass shootings to political disinformation campaigns. At this point most people agree that social media firms need to improve their content moderation apparatus. The message from lawmakers in the hearing was: if corporations don’t improve their self-regulation efforts congress will take action. Congressional action could include repealing the protections of Section 230, something social media companies desperately want to avoid.

In general, governments are taking aim at the technology sector. There are ongoing antitrust probes at both the state and federal level focused mostly on major tech firms such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon. A senator from Colorado proposed a new bill that would make it illegal not to disclose the existence of cameras and microphones in consumer goods, pushing back against “surveillance capitalism.” California passed two laws limiting the use of so-called deepfake technology. One bans the mimicry of politicians in specific ways, the other lets people sue if their picture is used in deepfaked pornography — which accounts for 96% of known deepfakes — without their consent. Plus, the city of San Francisco formed a new Office of Emerging Technology designed to better manage the deployment of new technologies and combat the infamous “ask for forgiveness over permission” attitude of firms like Bird, Airbnb, and Uber.

Some Tidbits:

  • Karen Hao makes the case that the real risk of deepfake tech is the power it gives bad actors to deny the veracity of video evidence.
  • Surprising no one, the FBI violated the law while accessing NSA surveillance data, according to a newly released Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruling.
  • A Turkish ISP blacked out social media in specific parts of the country during the recent Turkish attack on Syria.
  • U.S. Authoraties followed the Bitcoin to a major child pornorgraphy ring, leading to 337 arrests worldwide.
  • And a robotic hand learned to solve a Rubik’s Cube, but the impressive part isn’t the solution to the puzzle (i.e. the series of moves) but the subtle mechanical control required to actually manipulate the cube’s independently rotating sections.