By Cat Zakrzewski Cat Zakrzewski Technology
US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, leaves a photo opportunity with the female Democratic members of the 116th US House of Representatives outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 4, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)
But open government advocates are raising new concerns about how policymakers are using some of the more ephemeral features of social media — including “Stories” that expire after 24 hours on Instagram, Snap and even Facebook. Unlike traditional posts, these missives delete by default, which could leave no trace of political messages or policy stances.
“There is public interest value in the preservation of those stories,” said Alex Howard, a government transparency advocate who previously served as deputy director of the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation.
Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, has been one of the most prominent users of Instagram Stories. She's offered voters everything from videos of herself preparing Instant Pot macaroni and cheese to a behind-the-scenes look at her time on the Hill. Just yesterday she used it to respond to a CBS News "60 Minutes” piece about her.
And ephemeral messaging is only becoming more prevalent in the run-up to the 2020 campaign: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for instance, cracked open a beer in her Instagram Story last week after announcing her presidential bid. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who's weighing a 2020 run, was a frequent Instagram Stories user during his 2018 campaign for senator, showing personal moments even after he lost of himself eating guacamole while driving.
But these Stories no longer exist on their Instagram accounts — and Howard says the public shouldn't have to simply rely on journalists or other observers to screenshot them for posterity. Ocasio-Cortez's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on her use of social media or whether they were archiving the ephemeral stories in any way.
In a stark contrast from federal agencies and the White House, which must comply with strict record-keeping rules, members of Congress have broad discretion over what they archive.
Howard thinks it's time for new record-keeping rules, including ones account for social media and disappearing posts. Though much of the data created by congressional committees and administrative officers is considered official records and archived, individual members can decide what to do with papers and content created by their own offices. It’s considered their personal property, and they can determine what they want to preserve. “There’s lots of reasons that politicians choose not to have things be archived,” Howard says.
Compare that to how the executive branch has handled social media. The Presidential Records Act, which went into effect in 1978, mandated that all official presidential records belong to the public. Presidents have kept this law in mind even when using new technologies. For instance, when the White House joined Snapchat in 2016, a senior Obama White House official told BuzzFeed that it would fully comply with those requirements, saving and preserving Snaps for archives.
In the short-term, Howard would like to see technology companies step up and create archives of photos and videos that verified politicians post to their accounts. He wants journalists and researchers to be able to access these posts, even if the politicians themselves are not preserving them. He said the archives could be similar to those that some technology companies have set up under intense political pressure to allow third parties to review political ads purchased on their platforms.
“That would be the patch,” Howard said. “[The companies] created a bug in our democratic system of accountability.”
Right now politicians largely use this new form of social media to highlight light moments and seem more down-to-earth to voters, but some are worried about the impact this technology could have when it is used for more important policy announcements.
An Xiao Mina, the author of the upcoming book “Memes to Movements,” said in a tweet that the posts might seem innocuous because they are “interesting selfie videos of cooking meals and attending orientation.” But she warned disappearing posts could present problems as people try to document and understand the rise of political leaders:
What happens when, either in the US or elsewhere, we see the first authoritarian cult of personality built on IG stories and other ephemeral media? The archives will likely be lost to history, despite being critically important to understanding.— an xiao mina (@anxiaostudio) November 30, 2018
There is no archive of @jairbolsonaro’s @Instagram stories https://t.co/1Ex56eMreN— Alex Howard (@digiphile) January 6, 2019
There should be.
“What happens when, either in the U.S. or elsewhere, we see the first authoritarian cult of personality built on IG stories and other ephemeral media?”-@anxiaostudio pic.twitter.com/h9zPRX80h4
“It is one of the idiosyncrasies of this moment that we are in where private companies are hosting public squares,” Howard said.
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Customers at an Apple Store in Beijing in December. (Andy Wong/AP)
Apple's warning that its sales would fall short last week has contributed to fears about an economic slowdown and the overall stability of the technology sector. Apple is set to encounter multiple hurdles in China this year amid the trade dispute between Washington and Beijing as well as increasing competition from local rivals, Reuters's Josh Horwitz and Stephen Nellis reported. Apple also faces a preliminary injunction by a Chinese court banning sales of several iPhone models, but the ban has not been enforced yet. Apple is not expected to roll out a 5G phone in China before next year, which would place it behind competitors including Huawei, Xiaomi and Samsung, Reuters also reported.
The iPhone XR in particular struggles to convince Chinese consumers, as the Wall Street Journal's Yoko Kubota noted. “The XR hasn’t sold as expected in China because it is being passed over by both price-conscious buyers and status seekers, analysts say,” Kubota wrote. “Some Chinese consumers have perceived the sticker price of 6,499 yuan, or about $945, to be too expensive even though it is at least 25% cheaper than the higher-end iPhone XS and XS Max models.”
Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) on Capitol Hill in September. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
The operation, called Project Birmingham, used tactics such as a “false flag” effort to create bogus evidence that Russian bots supported Jones’s Republican opponent Roy Moore on Twitter, according to a 12-page document obtained by The Post. Another component of Project Birmingham was the creation of a deceitful Facebook page targeting conservative voters in Alabama and aiming to hamper Moore’s campaign.
In a second online effort against Moore, progressive Democratic operatives posed as conservatives on Facebook and Twitter and claimed to be part of a “Dry Alabama” movement that supported the Republican candidate, according to the New York Times’s Scott Shane and Alan Blinder. The Times reported that the Democratic operatives “thought associating Mr. Moore with calls for a statewide alcohol ban would hurt him with moderate, business-oriented Republicans” and help Jones.
A Ford vehicle that will eventually drive itself is photographed at the Ford terminal in Washington in October. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)
“When we think about the future of our city, we see less single-occupancy vehicle trips, more vehicle electrification and an emphasis on building the infrastructure and policy framework to support those goals,” Jeff Marootian, director of the District Department of Transportation, told my colleague. For instance, the city added electric buses to its Circulator fleet and has started a push to convert more than 75,000 streetlights into LEDs that save energy, according to Marootian.
In this Jan. 6, 2017, file photo attendees stand in front of a QLED TV at the Samsung booth during CES International in Las Vegas. Critics have been on the case of one of the tech industry’s largest trade shows for not including enough female speakers. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
Such a network would be about ten times as fast as the current speeds available to most consumers today, NCTA President Michael Powell tells me. Lab trials of the technology are already underway, and they expect field trials to begin in 2020. He says broadband at these speeds could enable a host of new technologies, by enabling better video streaming or making it easier to use connected home devices. Both trends are expected to be in the spotlight this week at the annual trade show.
"It’s more than just watching 'House of Cards,'" Powell said. He's hoping faster broadband speeds will enable innovations in fields like healthcare, where the technology could enable new ways to process medical images and videos. Powell's comments come as 5G , the fifth generation of cell networks technology, is setting the agenda at CES. Powell tells me every evolution in the mobile networks needs to be met with new technology in broadband networks. "The country critically needs both," Powell said.
Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos in Washington in September. (Cliff Owen/AP)
— Netflix is the latest example of software companies that seek to sell their services directly to consumers and circumvent Apple or Google, my colleague Brian Fung reported. Netflix “confirmed that new customers will no longer be able to pay their monthly subscription fees through iTunes. Instead, subscribers are being redirected to make payments on Netflix’s own website,” my colleague reported.
— More technology news from the private sector:
A Tesla Model 3 sits on display in a Tesla showroom in the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver on July 6, 2018. (David Zalubowski/AP)
— More technology news from the public sector:
An attendee uses an Apple Inc. iPhone to photograph a foam design made by the Steam CC Ripple Maker during the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. CES is expected to bring a range of announcements from major names in tech showcasing new developments in virtual reality, self-driving cars, drones, wearables, and the Internet of Things. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
“But really leveling the playing field often means more than inviting female CEOs to speak,” Ortutay wrote. “For starters, women and people of color are underrepresented in the tech industry, especially in leadership and technical roles. So, conference organizers might need to look harder, or be more flexible in who they invite to speak.”
The Huawei logo at the company's research and development center in Dongguan, China on Dec. 18, 2018. (Andy Wong/AP)
— More news about technology blunders:
- The CES technology show starts in Las Vegas tomorrow.
- Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao delivers a speech at CES in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
- The Brookings Institution hosts a discussion titled “How China and the U.S. are advancing artificial intelligence” on Jan. 14.
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