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Hillicon Valley: Coronavirus content moderation complaints come to Reddit

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Amid a surge in new coronavirus cases driven by the delta variant, the role of internet platforms in spreading potentially harmful misinformation about vaccines and other mitigation strategies. At Reddit, which has been praised for its community driven approach to moderation, several users are demanding the company take a firmer stance on certain groups that they say are maliciously spreading bad information. Read more about the letter and Facebook's latest stab at moderation below.

MODERATORS WANT MODERATION: A group of Reddit community moderators released an open letter Wednesday calling on the platform to tackle misinformation about COVID-19 more aggressively.

"There needs to be a more active involvement in preventing the spread of the disinformation that is keeping us within a pandemic that at this point is entirely manageable," the moderators wrote. 

"Reddit as a global platform needs to take responsibility here," the letter continues. "We are calling on the admins to take ownership of their website, and remove dangerous medical disinformation that is endangering lives and contributing to the existence of this ongoing pandemic."

Coronavirus cases have been surging worldwide over the last few weeks on the back of the highly contagious delta variant despite a steady uptick in vaccination rates.

There are myriad reasons why vaccination rates are not higher, including faulty information that has spread online.

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman defended his platform's approach to misinformation Wednesday, noting in a post that the company has elevated experts and directed users to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the site's homepage.

Huffman pushed back on the call for more communities to be banned by arguing that "dissent is a part of Reddit and the foundation of democracy."

Read more.

GEARING UP FOR MIDTERM MODERATING: Facebook is considering forming an advisory board with academics and policy experts to advise the company on content moderation decisions related to global elections, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

The advisory commission would make decisions around how to handle election misinformation, a topic Facebook has faced fierce scrutiny over, five people with knowledge of discussions told the Times.

If the board is set up, the social media giant is expected to announce it this fall, ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, the Times reported.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment when reached by The Hill.

The election advisory commission would follow Facebook's launch of its Oversight Board, which assembled a group of journalists, academics and policy experts globally to review disputed Facebook content moderation decisions and make binding rulings for the company on whether to restore posts and accounts.

Read more here

FACIAL RECOGNITION COMING: At least 10 federal agencies are planning to expand their use of facial recognition technology in the next few years, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released earlier this week.

The departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Interior, Justice, State, Treasury and Veterans Affairs all told the watchdog that they will grow their capabilities by 2023.

The GAO surveyed 24 agencies overall about their use of the controversial technology, finding that most of them use it for things like allowing employees to unlock agency smartphones or enter buildings.

Six agencies reported using facial recognition for generating leads or identifying victims in criminal investigations.

The report comes amid rising scrutiny of the technology that is still unregulated at the federal level.

Researchers - most notably MIT's Joy Buolamwini and Deborah Raji - have found that facial recognition is consistently biased against people of color and women.

That finding has been buttressed by a National Institute of Standards and Technology study from 2019 that found the majority of facial recognition systems on the market have "demographic differentials" that can worsen their accuracy based on a person's age, gender or race. 

Read more.

ICYMI: ACTION TAKEN: The federal government and several major technology companies on Wednesday announced they are taking a host of steps to enhance the nation's cybersecurity, specifically focused on growing the cyber workforce and investing billions of dollars in the field. 

The announcements followed a meeting on cybersecurity at the White House with President Biden and key members of his administration on cybersecurity, and on the heels of months of high-profile cyberattacks.

Biden met with officials of over two dozen groups from a range of fields, including the leaders of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Bank of America, JPMorgan, Duke Energy, PG&E, Travelers insurance, and the University of Texas System. 

Following the meeting, several of the companies announced massive cybersecurity funding commitments and efforts to strengthen the cybersecurity workforce. 

Read more about the meeting here.

An op-ed to chew on: As Biden stands by, Chinese hackers build dossiers on US citizens


Hackers are trying to topple Belarus's dictator, with help from the inside (MIT Technology Review / Patrick Howell O'Neill)

Trial and error in Kuwait (CyberScoop / Sean Lyngaas) 

Little-known Federal Software Can Trigger Revocation Of Citizenship (The Intercept / Sam Biddle and Maryam Saleh)

Gavin Newsom's Recall Election Divides Silicon Valley's Elite (Wired / Arielle Pardes)