Arbiters of Truth
A TikTok Ban and the First Amendment
Over the past few years, TikTok has become a uniquely polarizing social media platform. On the one hand, millions of users, especially those in their teens and twenties, love the app. On the other hand, the government is concerned that TikTok's vulnerability to pressure from the Chinese Communist Party makes it a serious national security threat. There's even talk of banning the app altogether. But would that be legal? In particular, does the First Amendment allow the government to ban an application that’s used by millions to communicate every day?
On this episode of Arbiters of Truth, our series on the information ecosystem, Matt Perault, director of the Center on Technology Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Alan Z. Rozenshtein, Lawfare Senior Editor and Associate Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota, spoke with Ramya Krishnan, a staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, and Mary-Rose Papendrea, the Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law, to think through the legal and policy implications of a TikTok ban.
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How Are the TikTok Bans Holding Up in Court?49:27In May 2023, Montana passed a new law that would ban the use of TikTok within the state starting on January 1, 2024. But as of today, TikTok is still legal in the state of Montana—thanks to a preliminary injunction issued by a federal district judge, who found that the Montana law likely violated the First Amendment. In Texas, meanwhile, another federal judge recently upheld a more limited ban against the use of TikTok on state-owned devices. What should we make of these rulings, and how should we understand the legal status of efforts to ban TikTok?We’ve discussed the question of TikTok bans and the First Amendment before on the Lawfare Podcast, when Lawfare Senior Editor Alan Rozenshtein and Matt Perault, Director of the Center on Technology Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill, sat down with Ramya Krishnan, a staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, and Mary-Rose Papandrea, the Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law. In light of the Montana and Texas rulings, Matt and Lawfare Senior Editor Quinta Jurecic decided to bring the gang back together and talk about where the TikTok bans stand with Ramya and Mary-Rose, on this episode of Arbiters of Truth, our series on the information ecosystem.
Jeff Horwitz on Broken Code and Reporting on Facebook53:58In 2021, the Wall Street Journal published a monster scoop: a series of articles about Facebook’s inner workings, which showed that employees within the famously secretive company had raised alarms about potential harms caused by Facebook’s products. Now, Jeff Horwitz, the reporter behind that scoop, has a new book out, titled “Broken Code”—which dives even deeper into the documents he uncovered from within the company. He’s one of the most rigorous reporters covering Facebook, now known as Meta.On this episode of Arbiters of Truth, our series on the information ecosystem Lawfare Senior Editor Quinta Jurecic sat down with Jeff along with Matt Perault, the Director of the Center on Technology Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill—and also someone with close knowledge of Meta from his own time working at the company. They discussed Jeff’s reporting and debated what his findings tell us about how Meta functions as a company and how best to understand its responsibilities for harms traced back to its products.
Will Generative AI Reshape Elections?49:03Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard a great deal over the last year about generative AI and how it’s going to reshape various aspects of our society. That includes elections. With one year until the 2024 U.S. presidential election, we thought it would be a good time to step back and take a look at how generative AI might and might not make a difference when it comes to the political landscape. Luckily, Matt Perault and Scott Babwah Brennen of the UNC Center on Technology Policy have a new report out on just that subject, examining generative AI and political ads.On this episode of Arbiters of Truth, our series on the information ecosystem, Lawfare Senior Editor Quinta Jurecic and Lawfare’s Fellow in Technology Policy and Law Eugenia Lostri sat down with Matt and Scott to talk through the potential risks and benefits of generative AI when it comes to political advertising. Which concerns are overstated, and which are worth closer attention as we move toward 2024? How should policymakers respond to new uses of this technology in the context of elections?
The Crisis Facing Efforts to Counter Election Disinformation57:00Over the course of the last two presidential elections, efforts by social media platforms and independent researchers to prevent falsehoods from spreading about election integrity have become increasingly central to civic health. But the warning signs are flashing as we head into 2024. And platforms are arguably in a worse position to counter falsehoods today than they were in 2020. How could this be? On this episode of Arbiters of Truth, our series on the information ecosystem, Lawfare Senior Editor Quinta Jurecic sat down with Dean Jackson, who previously sat down with the Lawfare Podcast to discuss his work as a staffer on the Jan. 6 committee. He worked with the Center on Democracy and Technology to put out a new report on the challenges facing efforts to prevent the spread of election disinformation. They talked through the political, legal, and economic pressures that are making this work increasingly difficult—and what it means for 2024.
Talking AI with Data and Society’s Janet Haven46:22Today, we’re bringing you an episode of Arbiters of Truth, our series on the information ecosystem. And we’re discussing the hot topic of the moment: artificial intelligence. There are a lot of less-than-informed takes out there about AI and whether it’s going to kill us all—so we’re glad to be able to share an interview that hopefully cuts through some of that noise.Janet Haven is the Executive Director of the nonprofit Data and Society and a member of the National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee, which provides guidance to the White House on AI issues. Lawfare Senior Editor Quinta Jurecic sat down alongside Matt Perault, Director of the Center on Technology and Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill, to talk through their questions about AI governance with Janet. They discussed how she evaluates the dangers and promises of artificial intelligence, how to weigh the different concerns posed by possible future existential risk to society posed by AI versus the immediate potential downsides of AI in our everyday lives, and what kind of regulation she’d like to see in this space. If you’re interested in reading further, Janet mentions this paper from Data and Society on “Democratizing AI” in the course of the conversation.
What Impact did Facebook Have on the 2020 Elections?45:24How much influence do social media platforms have on American politics and society? It’s a tough question for researchers to answer—not just because it’s so big, but also because platforms rarely if ever provide all the data that would be needed to address the problem. A new batch of papers released in the journals Science and Nature marks the latest attempt to tackle this question, with access to data provided by Facebook’s parent company Meta. The 2020 Facebook & Instagram Research Election Study, a partnership between Meta researchers and outside academics, studied the platforms’ impact on the 2020 election—and uncovered some nuanced findings, suggesting that these impacts might be less than you’d expect.Today on Arbiters of Truth, our series on the information ecosystem, Lawfare Senior Editors Alan Rozenshtein and Quinta Jurecic are joined by the project’s co-leaders, Talia Stroud of the University of Texas at Austin and Joshua A. Tucker of NYU. They discussed their findings, what it was like to work with Meta, and whether or not this is a model for independent academic research on platforms going forward.(If you’re interested in more on the project, you can find links to the papers and an overview of the findings here, and an FAQ, provided by Tucker and Stroud, here.)
Brian Fishman on Violent Extremism and Platform Liability01:04:21Earlier this year, Brian Fishman published a fantastic paper with Brookings thinking through how technology platforms grapple with terrorism and extremism, and how any reform to Section 230 must allow those platforms space to continue doing that work. That’s the short description, but the paper is really about so much more—about how the work of content moderation actually takes place, how contemporary analyses of the harms of social media fail to address the history of how platforms addressed Islamist terror, and how we should understand “the original sin of the internet.” For this episode of Arbiters of Truth, our occasional series on the information ecosystem, Lawfare Senior Editor Quinta Jurecic sat down to talk with Brian about his work. Brian is the cofounder of Cinder, a software platform for the kind of trust and safety work we describe here, and he was formerly a policy director at Meta, where he led the company’s work on dangerous individuals and organizations.
Cox and Wyden on Section 230 and Generative AI29:52Generative AI products have been tearing up the headlines recently. Among the many issues these products raise is whether or not their outputs are protected by Section 230, the foundational statute that shields websites from liability for third-party content.On this episode of Arbiters of Truth, Lawfare’s occasional series on the information ecosystem, Lawfare Senior Editor Quinta Jurecic and Matt Perault, Director of the Center on Technology and Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill, talked through this question with Senator Ron Wyden and Chris Cox, formerly a U.S. congressman and SEC chairman. Cox and Wyden drafted Section 230 together in 1996—and they’re skeptical that its protections apply to generative AI. Disclosure: Matt consults on tech policy issues, including with platforms that work on generative artificial intelligence products and have interests in the issues discussed.
An Interview with Meta’s Chief Privacy Officers45:53In 2018, news broke that Facebook had allowed third-party developers—including the controversial data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica—to obtain large quantities of user data in ways that users probably didn’t anticipate. The fallout led to a controversy over whether Cambridge Analytica had in some way swung the 2016 election for Trump (spoiler: it almost certainly didn’t), but it also generated a $5 billion fine imposed on Facebook by the FTC for violating users’ privacy. Along with that record-breaking fine, the FTC also imposed a number of requirements on Facebook to improve its approach to privacy. It’s been four years since that settlement, and Facebook is now Meta. So how much has really changed within the company? For this episode of Arbiters of Truth, our series on the online information ecosystem, Lawfare Senior Editors Alan Rozenshtein and Quinta Jurecic interviewed Meta’s co-chief privacy officers, Erin Egan and Michel Protti, about the company’s approach to privacy and its response to the FTC’s settlement order.At one point in the conversation, Quinta mentions a class action settlement over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. You can read more about the settlement here. Information about Facebook’s legal arguments regarding user privacy interests is available here and here, and you can find more details in the judge’s ruling denying Facebook’s motion to dismiss.Note: Meta provides support for Lawfare’s Digital Social Contract paper series. This podcast episode is not part of that series, and Meta does not have any editorial role in Lawfare.