The Four-Day School Week, AI and Social Media Manipulation, School Safety: RAND Weekly Recap


RAND Weekly Recap

September 8, 2023

This week, we discuss how artificial intelligence is ushering in a new era of social media manipulation, the costs and benefits of a four-day school week, whether patients have a choice between virtual and in-person behavioral health care, government-run services to compete with the likes of Amazon and DoorDash, how the United States can deter Russia and Iran, and the effects of placing police officers inside schools.

Illustration of a puppet master controlling social media symbols, image by rudall30/Getty Images

Image by rudall30/Getty Images

AI Brings a New Era of Social Media Manipulation

Last week, Meta—which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp—revealed a multi-year effort to remove thousands of accounts that were part of a Chinese influence campaign aimed at discrediting the United States and other adversaries. It was reportedly the largest such takedown in Meta's history, and the seventh Chinese influence operation the company has removed in the last six years.

A new RAND paper examines this real and growing threat, focusing on how Beijing may use generative artificial intelligence (large language models like ChatGPT, for example) to conduct its malign influence operations.

As AI models get better at sounding human and generating realistic images—and doing so at scale—false and deceptive messages coming from China, as well as Russia and Iran, will likely become more effective and harder to detect.

“We are at the start of a new era of potential social media manipulation,” the authors write. And while there are no easy solutions, there are technical, policy, and diplomatic mitigation strategies to consider. What's most important is for the U.S. government and the broader technology and policy community to proactively address this threat now.

Elementary students with backpacks walking in a school hallway, photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Four-Day School Week: Costs and Benefits

This week, Labor Day gave students across the country a four-day school week. What if students spent one less day in the classroom every week? This idea has taken off in recent years, and RAND researchers have been studying the potential costs and benefits. Unsurprisingly, teachers and families love the extra time a four-day schedule affords them. A shorter week can also help small, rural districts attract teachers and cut costs. But there's a big trade-off: delays in student achievement.

Young Black man using telemedicine durung a therapy appointment, photo by Anchiy/Getty Images

Photo by Anchiy/Getty Images

Virtual or In-Person Behavioral Health Care? Many Patients Don't Get to Choose

A new RAND study finds that many patients don't have the option to choose whether their behavioral health visit is in-person or virtual. About one-third of patients going to therapy or visiting a behavioral health provider for medication said their clinicians didn't offer both telehealth and in-person care. Additionally, 32 percent said they did not typically receive the type of visit they wanted, and 45 percent did not believe their clinician considered their preference. This highlights the importance of implementing telehealth “in a manner that expands, rather than contracts, behavioral health access and options for patients,” said lead author Jessica Sousa.

Delivery workers congregate outside of a row of restaurants in the Union Square neighborhood of New York, August 16, 2022, photo by Richard B. Levine/Reuters

Delivery workers congregate outside of a row of restaurants in the Union Square neighborhood of New York, August 16, 2022

Photo by Richard B. Levine/Reuters

A Government-Run Amazon or DoorDash?

Millions of people rely on services like Amazon, DoorDash, and Uber Eats every day. But the companies that offer these services may be engaging in practices that limit competition and harm users and businesses. So far, policies aimed at regulating these platforms have had mixed results. According to Swaptik Chowdhury of the Pardee RAND Graduate School and RAND researcher Timothy Marler, there's another way to approach regulation: The U.S. government could offer direct services that compete with tech companies. Such a strategy would require careful steps and the right investments, but it may be worth exploring.

A colorful silhouette of an aircraft is superimposed on maps of Russia and Iran, images by Belterz/Getty Images, Kevin Smart/Getty Images, and KeithBinns/Getty Images

Images by Belterz/Getty Images, Kevin Smart/Getty Images, and KeithBinns/Getty Images

Deterring Russia and Iran

The United States makes significant investments in military activities designed to deter Russian and Iranian aggression. How can Washington continue to do this effectively without crowding out investments in other priorities, including competing with China? RAND researchers examine this question in a new report (completed before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine). They look at three key areas: U.S. forward presence, exercises and short-term deployments, and security cooperation.

A school resource officer greets at student at school in Fredericksburg, Virginia, photo courtesy of Fredericksburg Police Department

A school resource officer greets at student at school in Fredericksburg, Virginia

Photo courtesy of Fredericksburg Police Department

Police in Schools: What the Evidence Says (and Doesn't Say)

More students may be seeing police officers in their schools as they head back to class this fall. The increased use of school resource officers, as they are known, is primarily driven by a fear of mass shootings. But according to a study by Lucy Sorensen and Montserrat Avila-Acostaof the University at Albany (SUNY) and RAND's John Engberg and Shawn Bushway, there isn't enough evidence to know whether placing officers in schools changes the probability of a shooting. Further, although the presence of an officer appears to reduce fights and petty crimes in schools, it also leads to more suspensions, expulsions, and arrests among students—all of which have measurable negative downstream effects.

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