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Tech on the Brink...🧨[HTC #60]
Welcome to Hold the Code #60!
In this edition, we’ll hear from our writer Nadia Bidarian, as she takes a look at Elon Musk’s trending interview with BBC journalist James Clayton. Lastly, writer Zoey Soh features her opinion on TikTok’s potential to be banned within the United States.
This edition also premiers a new weekly feature for HTC called Debunking AI Myths. If you have any concerns about AI itself or want a common misconception to be cleared up, list them in our feedback form below!
Myth: AI Steals Jobs
As AI becomes more advanced, many people worry that AI will ultimately replace human jobs. However, history has shown that as technology advances, new jobs and industries are also created. AI has the potential to automate repetitive and mundane tasks, which can free up humans to focus on more creative, strategic, and complex tasks.
For example, in fields like healthcare, AI can assist in diagnostics and personalized treatment plans, but human expertise and compassion are still crucial in providing patient care. As AI technology advances, there will also be a growing demand for skilled professionals in areas such as AI ethics, data governance, and AI policy-making, to name a few. Human skills such as adaptability, emotional intelligence, and social skills are highly valuable in the age of AI and cannot be easily replicated.
There are also many areas where the use of AI is arguably incompatible. For instance, in law, an AI algorithm could be used to predict something like the probability of a person committing some crime, but this would not be able to truly answer the ethical question of what kind of sentence, if any, that person should receive. AI is ultimately very good at making calculations and detecting numerical trends in vast amounts of data, but not all aspects of the world can be accurately quantified in this way. As a tool that requires human input for training, fine-tuning, and validation, it will likely always be crucial to have human oversight and ethical decision-making to ensure that AI systems are deployed responsibly.
While AI has the potential to automate certain tasks, it is unlikely to fully replace humans in all areas. Human skills, oversight, and ethical considerations are still critical to ensure responsible use of AI. Rather than replacing humans, AI has tremendous potential to improve our lives and create new opportunities for us.
Don’t dish what you can’t take
Written By: Nadia Bidarian
Image Source: Tesla Intelligence UK
To say that Elon Musk “destroyed” or “obliterated” BBC journalist James Clayton in their interview on April 12 is a bit extreme. But he did embarrass him.
Let’s talk about it.
The viral interview between Clayton and multi-billionaire entrepreneur Musk was “hastily arranged,” according to the BBC. Clayton emailed Musk asking for an interview at lunchtime, and he responded “Sure, how about tonight?”
The BBC posted a truncated five-minute version of the interview the following day, which streamed live in its 100-minute entirety on the audio platform Twitter Spaces. Those five minutes included Musk’s benign takes on Twitter layoffs and sleeping in the office, while Clayton sat in front of him listening silently.
More important than what the five minutes included, though, was what they failed to include: Clayton asking Musk his questions, and his inability to answer the questions Musk asked of him in turn.
There is a viral clip circulating online. In it, Clayton asks Musk about an increase in hate speech on Twitter. When Musk pressed Clayton to give an example of the hate speech he claimed to have seen firsthand – asking Clayton 10 times for an example, to be exact – the reporter continuously came up short.
As Clayton insisted with a nervous smile to “move on, we have – we only have a certain amount of time,” Musk said “Wow” and “You just lied.” Talk about awkward.
Why it Matters
This interview was Musk’s most extensive since enacting his outlandish changes on Twitter. For example, on April 20, he removed all legacy blue checks from Twitter, leaving the Twitter handles of everyone from Doja Cat to Pope Francis unlabeled unless they agree to pay $8 per month to subscribe to Twitter Blue.
Yet instead of asking hard-hitting questions that put Musk’s feet to the fire, Clayton panicked, repeatedly checking his phone and referencing his “list of things” he wanted to ask Musk. By the end of the interview, Musk seemed to take pleasure in Clayton’s discomfort as he continued the interview with questions that users submitted through Twitter Spaces.
At the same time, Clayton made several attempts to end the interview.
“If you want to carry on answering questions on this [Twitter Spaces], then go for it, but I’m not going to.” James Clayton
Clayton should have felt embarrassed. He sounded unprepared and unprofessional as he failed to answer questions Musk asked of him, even if they were clarifying ones. Viewers don’t care whether or not it’s Clayton’s job as the interviewer to answer Musk’s questions as the interviewee. From their perspective, Clayton simply proves that journalists can be even better at evading questions than their powerful and controversial interviewees.
But Clayton wasn’t embarrassed, at least not outwardly. In his published synopsis the day after the interview called “What it’s like to interview the billionaire Twitter boss,” Clayton wrote, “The billionaire loves chaos and messing with the media. Several times it felt like he was trying to interview me.”
It is true that Musk loves messing with the media. In addition to removing all legacy blue checks from Twitter, Musk claimed in the interview that he got “delight” in removing the blue check from the New York Times, a publication frequently critical of Musk.
Musk also falsely labeled NPR “state-affiliated media,” the same term it uses for propaganda outlets in China and Russia. NPR receives less than 1% of its annual budget from federal funds. The label caused enough upset at NPR to cause the platform to leave Twitter, taking its 52 official accounts with it.
So even though the interview was labeled an overview of Musk’s first six months at Twitter, it was really an argument about something quite different: The inherent legitimacy of the press.
Muckraker vs. Musk-raker
What makes this interview so frustrating is that at a time when Musk has weaponized Twitter against the media, even tweeting that the Twitter feed of the New York Times is the equivalent of “diarrhea,” we needed a well-prepared journalist to grill him about his leadership and advocate for the worries many hold about the spread of misinformation on his platform.
Instead, we were left with an unprepared and defensive journalist reading off a “list of things” on his iPhone, a journalist whose final question to Musk was prefaced by “I can’t remember if I’ve asked you this.”
A member of the BBC was gifted all the time in the world to grill the world’s second richest man. He failed.
I’m not saying that Clayton is a bad person or even that bad of a journalist. I can’t make such a claim after watching only one interview, especially one planned so last minute. But people’s lives are changing right now, and the relationship that the media has with the American public is changing with it. 38% of Americans don’t trust the media at all, according to a recent Gallup poll, and that percentage is on an upward trend. The BBC publishing an edited five-minute version of the interview on its YouTube that excludes all of the viral quotes I’ve mentioned only adds to that distrust.
Journalists need to put their best foot forward if they want to hold powerful people accountable. That means preparing for an interview well before you’ve even sent an email requesting a conversation. That also means pocketing your “list of things” and really listening to the answers you’re being given.
If Clayton had done that, we might have a better understanding of what runs through Musk’s head as the arbiter of the powerful digital town square that is Twitter. Instead, he unwittingly opened the doors for thousands more to join Musk’s fan club.
The TikTok Ban is Unnecessarily RESTRICTive
Written By: Zoey Soh
Image Source: J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
In the past few months, increased calls to ban TikTok on the grounds of national security have resulted in concrete action: the state of Montana banned TikTok on personal devices and countries such as the US, UK and Canada banned TikTok on government devices.
Proposed senate legislation such as the RESTRICT Act would grant the government greater power to investigate and regulate technology products and services that could threaten national security. As the US inches closer to a federal ban, commentators have warned that these laws to ban the app have wider implications on surveillance and freedom of speech.
We spoke with Bruce Lambert, a Communications Studies professor at Northwestern who also runs a TikTok channel @howcommunicationworks. Lambert warns:
“The Senate bill to ban TikTok dramatically expands the government's powers over social media, surveillance and punishment.”
What is the RESTRICT act?
In March, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act, or RESTRICT Act. This bill would allow the federal government to impose tight restrictions on “technology from foreign adversaries,” including TikTok. These countries include China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela.
The White House issued a statement of support for the RESTRICT act, quoting that it “presents a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the security and safety of Americans.
However, critics of the act claim that it is too vague and broad. For example, TikTok is never explicitly mentioned in the bill and digital rights experts warn that virtual private networks (VPNs) could be targeted.
In addition, civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Democracy & Technology argue that banning TikTok would be a clear violation of the First Amendment. As a foreign-owned company, TikTok itself isn’t protected by the constitution, but the Supreme Court has long held that the First Amendment protects the right of Americans to receive information, no matter their source.
In the interview, Lambert emphasizes that politicians have a political incentive for restricting an important platform for communication like TikTok.
“Politicians don't necessarily like ordinary people to have a mechanism to have a voice and to organize themselves that's not under their control. So I think we have to examine the politicians' motives in banning TikTok. I don't think they're completely idealistic motives that they only want to protect us from the Chinese government's surveillance,” said Lambert.
So is the TikTok ban just a cover for the expansion of government powers over digital media?
More executive power
When former President Trump tried to ban TikTok, he invoked the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) that authorizes the president to regulate international commerce to protect the national security of the country. However, this was challenged by the Berman amendments that
prevents the IEEPA from being used to restrict the transfer of “any information or informational materials,” regardless of the “format or medium of transmission.” Obviously, TikTok is a platform that transmits information.
To bypass these constraints, the RESTRICT Act would create a separate set of authorities to override the Berman amendments. This is why some call the act “the PATRIOT act on steroids,” as it grants the executive branch unchecked power to ban information technologies and technology services with little transparency and congressional oversight.
What about American social media platforms?
Though the RESTRICT Act would be effective in preventing the foreign misuse of data, critics say it does not do anything to address the domestic invasion and manipulation of data.
Lambert points out that the foreign surveillance risks of TikTok apply to American social media platforms:
“I don't want the Chinese government to have so much surveillance over American citizens. I think that's a legitimate concern. But there is some foreign investment in all of those companies, either (through) the stock market or original investments. It’s not like TikTok is the only foreign interest that has access to this surveillance information.”
Being an American social media platform doesn’t exempt it from foreign influence. We’ve seen how Facebook was used to promote a Russian disinformation campaign during the 2016 US presidential elections. Both Facebook and Twitter have taken investments from Russian and Saudi Arabian governments.
The economics of a TikTok ban
Even more incriminating for American social media platforms, it was revealed last year that Facebook paid a Republican consulting firm to promote the narrative that TikTok was a danger to the US through a nationwide media and lobby campaign.
Clearly, American rivals of TikTok like Meta and Alphabet have a significant economic interest in a TikTok ban: the redistribution of advertising market share from TikTok to their own business.
It would also redirect consumers to platforms, such as YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, that have all released features for sharing short-form content that TikTok popularized. According to the Cowen survey of 2,500 social media users, a quarter of TikTok users would turn to Instagram Reels if TikTok were banned.
As Lambert explains:
“Like, if you were Ford, wouldn't you like the US government to ban Toyota in the United States so you didn't have to compete with them?”
Perhaps all this fear around the national security risks of TikTok serves an economic purpose.
Comprehensive consumer data privacy legislation is vital and it should be encouraging that efforts in this space are receiving bipartisan support. However, the RESTRICT Act is not the way to do so. Not only does it violate First Amendment rights by allowing a ban on an important platform for communication, it dramatically expands the executive branch's power to ban technology services with no explanations needed.
Congress should prioritize implementing consumer data privacy legislation that safeguards individuals' data regardless of the platform they use. Instead of solely trying to protect data from foreign adversaries, why can’t laws be passed to prevent the misuse of data by all social media companies?
Congress could start by forcing companies to be transparent about what data is collected and make it easy for users to opt in or out. Limiting targeted advertising, especially for children, would also decrease the incentive for companies to collect data in the first place. Essentially, there are more ways to protect user data than dramatic bans that don’t address the root issue.
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