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Judge sends strong message about Elon Musk's attacks on disinformation experts

Plus, Vladimir Putin is getting help spreading propaganda from unlikely sources, and Ron DeSantis gets a little antisocial. Here are the top tech stories from the last week.

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Happy Tuesday, all! Here's your Tuesday Tech Drop, the top stories in tech and politics from the past week.

Musk's intimidation tactics take a hit

Tech billionaire Elon Musk took an embarrassing loss in court on Monday after a federal judge tossed out his lawsuit accusing a disinformation watchdog of attempting to hurt his social media company’s bottom line. 

Judge Charles Breyer agreed to throw out the lawsuit Musk filed against the Center for Countering Digital Hate, in which he alleged the nonprofit organization’s reporting on the rise of hate speech on X, his social platform, was part of a “scare campaign” to deter advertisers from buying ads on the site. 

The opening paragraph of Breyer’s ruling makes clear the judge condemns the premise of Musk’s lawsuit, in which he claimed research shared by the Center for Countering Digital Hate hurt his company’s bottom line. 

He wrote:

Sometimes it is unclear what is driving a litigation, and only by reading between the lines of a complaint can one attempt to surmise a plaintiff’s true purpose. Other times, a complaint is so unabashedly and vociferously about one thing that there can be no mistaking that purpose. This case represents the latter circumstance. This case is about punishing the Defendants for their speech.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate is one of several organizations that’s been attacked by conservatives like Musk and Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, who pushed the false claim that anti-disinformation efforts — by the government, by private organizations, or through some collaboration of the two — amount to anti-conservative censorship. Musk and other conservatives clearly don’t like the idea that their, or their allies’, extremist behavior online might be studied and possibly even regulated in any way. In fact, Musk filed a lawsuit against media watchdog Media Matters that’s virtually identical to his lawsuit against the CCDH. But Judge Breyer’s ruling goes a long way in the effort to highlight the dubiousness of the anti-anti-disinformation crowd's arguments. 

Read more from NBC News

Trump's new moneyman, Jeff Yass

Last week, it was reported that Jeff Yass, the uber-rich, right-wing megadonor, is part-owner of a company that just merged with Donald Trump's media company, potentially netting the multitime indictee a crucial lifeline as he faces steep payments rooted in criminal and civil lawsuits filed against him. For the ReidOut Blog this week, I wrote about what Yass stands to gain from essentially buying a presidential candidate, and why this is disturbingly shameless oligarchy in action.

Read my post here.

Russia relies on deepfakes after attack

The immediate aftermath of an ISIS-led attack in a Russian theater highlighted the danger artificial intelligence can pose to the dissemination of facts during times of crisis. Mother Jones has a report on Russian officials and a state-run television network in Russia who spread deepfakes falsely depicting a Ukrainian appearing to take credit for the deadly attack. 

Read more at Mother Jones.

Putin's ostensibly Black propagandists

Since we’re on the topic of Russia-based disinformation, I want to raise awareness about the pro-Putin propaganda being spread across tabloids centered on Black culture. WorldStarHipHop and SayCheeseTV, two popular tabloid-style sites with large social media followings, have become frequent peddlers of Russophilic propaganda, as of late. (Take a gander at WorldStar’s fawning Putin posts here, and some from SayCheeseTV here and here). That pattern came to mind after I noticed both outlets shared links last week purporting to show Putin acknowledging that Jesus was Black (shocker: the claim is false). It fits a trend I’ve written about a lot over the past couple years: ostensibly Black tabloids pushing conservative-friendly propaganda and disinformation. Stay woke, y’all.  

Warrant woes for police

NBC News published a report last week on the looming obstacles for police and other law enforcement authorities to use “geofence warrants,” a controversial investigative tool that uses a mobile device’s geolocation data to determine who was in a particular area at a particular time. As NBC News explains, law enforcement officials are concerned about changes coming to Google that could make it much harder for police to get this data and use it for their investigations. But as I discussed with artificial intelligence ethicist Albert Fox Cahn last year, there have also been concerns by civil rights activists that geofence warrants can be used to violate people’s privacy. 

Read more at NBC News.

DeSantis goes anti-social

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 3, the latest in several states’ attempts to restrict youths’ access to social media sites and other sites alleged to be harmful to children. The law bars children 14 and younger from having social media accounts and requires children under 16 to get parental consent if they want one. Similar laws in Arkansas, Utah and Ohio have all faced legal challenges.  

Fulton County Tech Troubles

Georgia investigative reporter George Chidi is a potential witness in the Trump RICO case and he’s been closely following a somewhat similar RICO case being tried in Fulton County — the one involving rapper Young Thug. He sat for a newly released interview on clout-chasing YouTuber VladTV’s channel that sounded alarms for me. In it, he explained how recent hacks of Fulton County’s government servers underscore the technological threats District Attorney Fani Willis’ is facing — potentially from backers of Trump and Young Thug — that could hamper her investigations or make a mistrial more likely in either case. 

Watch a clip of Chidi’s VladTV interview here.