Algorithmic Optimization has Begun

My first reaction to this video was to yell Head Like a Hole at the screen.

… Head like a hole.
Black as your soul.
I’d rather die than give you control.
Head like a hole.
Black as your soul.
I’d rather die than give you control.
Bow down before the one you serve.
You’re going to get what you deserve.
Bow down before the one you serve.
You’re going to get what you deserve. …

With that bit of catharsis, let’s take a deeper look at the first video.

A doctored video of Pelosi that surfaced this week has been viewed millions of times and some social media giants are refusing to take it down.

By the way, the “doctoring” in this video was just slowing it down, not some scary-sounding “deep fake” like the scene where Forrest Gump met JFK. (Good luck distinguishing between “slowed down” and your average humorous “reaction” video.)

Social media sites like Youtube and Facebook have traditionally taken the view that they basically let people post whatever they want, without supervision, and then take it down if 1. they receive a complaint and 2. it is illegal or otherwise violates their terms of service. Aside from a Youtube algorithm that catches pirated music, these sites rely on users’ reports because they have no way to scan and check the contents of 100% of posts.

So before a company takes down a video, you have make a credible argument to them that the video is in some way illegal or violating their TOS. If the copyright holder claimed violation, the video would probably be instantly gone, because social media sites are legally required to take down copyright violations.

But merely remixing someone else’s video, maybe adding some music or a laugh track or a bit of your own commentary, happens all the time and is usually allowed–sans a copyright claim, “this video has been edited” does not violate Youtube or Facebook’s terms of service.

So one sentence in, and already this reporter is showing a fundamental misunderstanding of how social media companies handle content complaints. They are not “refusing to take it down;” they are “not taking it down because they have not decided that it violates one of their policies.”

… I think what’s different now is the way that this kind of content can be weaponized. …

Sure, the Malleus Maleficarum, 1487, might have contributed to thousands of innocent people being tortured and burned to death during the European witch trials; Nazi propaganda might have contributed to the Holocaust; communist propaganda might have contributed to mass famines, Holodomor, the Great Leap Forward, etc., but now this kind of content can be weaponized!

… There are now websites out there where you can ask people for ten, twenty bucks to make deep fakes for you…

Deepfakes are legitimately interesting in their own right and we do need to have a real, sit-down think about the possibility of all video and photographs becoming unreliable, but this isn’t a deepfake. This is a video slowed down with ordinary video editing software like the one I use to make videos of the kids for grandma.

They’re trying to scare you with the ominous sounding “deepfake” because “slowed down a bit” doesn’t sound like nearly so big a threat to civilization.

Facebook’s actions drew strong criticism from media watchers, … so, what should viewers expect from Facebook and other social media sites when it comes to authenticating media on their platform?

Nothing. They should expect nothing because Facebook does not “authenticate” things on its platform, nor does it have the ability to.

Anyone who thinks, “I saw it on Facebook, therefore it must be true,” should not be allowed out of the house without supervision (nor should they be allowed on Facebook).

So, the video reflects this problem that we’re going to increasingly face, which is that we can’t trust our own eyes so it’s not that easy for the average citizen to make sense of what’s true and what’s false, what gets circulated or goes viral on Facebook, so they need to defer to people with expert opinions…

I think that popping sound was me turning into a Marxist.

Seriously, though, deferring political decisions to “experts” just leads to people competing over what “experts” believe. We discussed this back in my review of Tom Nichols’s The Death of Expertise:

Nichols ends with a plea that voters respect experts (and that experts, in turn, be humble and polite to voters.) After all, modern society is too complicated for any of us to be experts on everything. If we don’t pay attention to expert advice, he warns, modern society is bound to end in ignorant goo.

The logical inconsistency is that Nichols believes in democracy at all–he thinks democracy can be saved if ignorant people vote within a range of options as defined by experts like himself, eg, “What vaccine options are best?” rather than “Should we have vaccines at all?”

The problem, then, is that whoever controls the experts (or controls which expert opinions people hear) controls the limits of policy debates. This leads to people arguing over experts, which leads right back where we are today. As long as there are politics, “expertise” will be politicized, eg:

“Experts quoted in the piece.”

And where do these experts come from? I study these things; am I an expert? Do I get to decide which Youtube videos are Fake News?

What, someone’s complaining that I demonetized all of their pro-antifa videos? Too bad. I’m the expert, now.

“Experts” have brought us many valuable things, like heart surgery and airplanes. They have also had many mistakes. They once swore that witches were a serious problem, that the Earth stood still at the center of the universe, and that chemicals in the water were causing the frogs to change sex. Wait, that last one is true. Experts once claimed that homosexuality was a mental illness; today they proclaim that transsexual children should go on hormone blockers. Experts claimed that satanic ritual abuse was definitely a real thing and that there was an international conspiracy of Satanic preschools, resulting in real people actually going to prison.

The potential for the rich, powerful, and well-connected to hire their own experts and fund studies that coincidentally show they deserve to keep making lots of money and aren’t doing anything that could harm your health or well being (like the time gas companies paid for studies claiming leaded gas was harmless, or tobacco companies paid experts to claim cigarettes didn’t cause cancer.)

This is why courts let both sides bring their own experts to a case–because there are always experts on both sides.

Back to the video:

I think the republic begins to suffer if people are getting extremely bad information and the authorities, the elites, the gatekeepers, are basically throwing up their hands and just saying, “not my problem.”

Don’t worry about that popping sound.

The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. –Marx,  A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. –Marx, The German Ideology

Back to the guy in the video:

In the last election, we saw how outside actors came in and tried to manipulate the American electorate, spreading misinformation and Facebook was their primary platform for spreading misinformation.

The guy who just said that the Republic begins to suffer if people are getting misinformation just spread misinformation about “outside interference” in the 2016 election, and he thinks there exists some sort of politically disinterested “experts” who can determine which videos are true or not?

So what happens when those actors, when the Russians, or some bad political actors here, try to use manipulated video that does’t just change a snippet in a clip, but invents things wholecloth?

Like the time the New York Times ran a story attacking a student from Covington highschool based on deceptively edited video footage?

Or is it okay when the New York Times, the paper of record whom millions of people trust for their news does it, but bad when Alex Jones, the guy who thinks chemicals in the water are turning the frogs gay, does it?

I don’t see how, once that firehose [of fake videos] is unleashed, we have any choice but to have some authority step in and make those distinctions about what’s real and what’s not.

It’s amazing how quickly we went from “Hooray the internet is spreading the Arab Spring” to “Oh no the internet is threatening our hold on political power; shut it down!”

For the sake of both my need to sleep and everyone’s rage levels, let’s continue this in the next post.

12 thoughts on “Algorithmic Optimization has Begun

  1. You mention the problem of dueling experts. But just as bad, if not worse, is the problem where there is expert consensus — and it is wrong. But science! We fucking love science! How can science be wrong? A brave question. And yet… there it is.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That is a very good point – I can think of a couple of examples of that happening. Stomach ulcers, for one, were long thought to be caused by excessive stress, and the expert recommended treatment was relaxation & antacids. Then this Aussie doctor noticed some bacteria in his patient’s stomachs; he had to dose himself with those bacteria to show that they caused most stomach ulcers.

      And of course there are cases where the government picks the wrong expert, and suppresses the right ones. Lysenkoism crippled the Soviet Union in plant & animal breeding for decades.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s a reason the MSM has been howling about this video. Real videos highlighting Nancy Pelosi speaking like she’s either drunk, senile, a stroke victim, or some combination of the three, have been on the rise for quite a while now. Even when the video in question is readjusted to normal speed, she’s not quite all there, but in other footage she’s far, far worse — they wouldn’t have made a story like this if somebody had slightly slowed down one of those. The idea is to plant in people’s heads a cognitive kill switch, a reason to stop engaging with anybody who suggests there’s something wrong with Pelosi and to respond, “No, that was just a doctored video, you idiot”.

    A more bizarre version of this occurred a little while back with Joe Biden. “There’s a DOCTORED video of Joe Biden appearing to creep up and put his hands on Joe Biden’s shoulders and sniff Joe Biden’s hair!” It doesn’t matter that this is mind-bogglingly retarded; the point is that it provides an excuse to avoid mentioning the substance of the matter whenever somebody brings up Biden’s habit of molesting 9-year-olds in public.

    You’ll notice that this is exactly how a small, mentally fragile child behaves when confronted with an unpleasant truth that has been expressed with ambiguous wording in order to avoid narcissistic injury.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Or the experts at DuPont who discovered that one of their most widely-used products, which was about to lose patent protection, was destroying the ozone layer. There must have been a lot of leaky refridgerators in Antarctica to create such an ozone hole!

    Anyway, DuPont’s second-generation refridgerants are about to go off patent, so right on cue, they’re pushing new refridgerants with “reduced global warming potential”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. […] Evolutionist X on musical ability and sexual selection, and also on the function of rubbing breakfast burritos on your privates. Also, a potential translation of the Voynich manuscript. She’s got a new logical fallacy: Argumentum ab Papuan, or why assuming the behavior of some is the norm leads to bad conclusions. Policing content on the internet is in our future: Algorithmic Optimization Has Begun. […]

    Like

  5. Some years ago, early in our era of computer generated audio and video, someone opined that eventually the courts would reject all documentary, video and audio evidence and rely solely on eyewitness accounts and oral testimony.

    Like

    • Block chain, more or less, is going to be increasingly important. One video can be doctored, but it is much harder to doctor multiple people’s videos and videos that have been instantly uploaded to multiple servers.

      Like

  6. “They once swore that witches were a serious problem, that the Earth stood still at the center of the universe, and that chemicals in the water were causing the frogs to change sex. Wait, that last one is true. “\

    Really?

    Like

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