Radicalising social media users


Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube knew that they were the main vehicles for radicalizing violent terrorists overseas no later than 2016. I know because I was sent by the White House to tell them. They did not give a shit. Now the violence is here.

Seems like an interesting angle for journalists to follow up.

Apple News’s Radical Approach: Humans Over Machines

New York Times:

There are ambitious plans for the product. Apple lets publishers run ads in its app and it helps some sign up new subscribers, taking a 30 percent cut of the revenue. Soon, the company aims to bundle access to dozens of magazines in its app for a flat monthly fee, sort of like Netflix for news, according to people familiar with the plans, who declined to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Apple also hopes to package access to a few daily-news publications, like The Times, The Post and The Wall Street Journal, into the app, the people said.

Apple’s executives grandly proclaim that they want to help save journalism. “There is this deep understanding that a thriving free press is critical for an informed public, and an informed public is critical for a functioning democracy, and that Apple News can play a part in that,” Ms. Kern said.

But there are early signs that Apple is not the industry’s savior. Many publishers have made little on ads in Apple News, and Apple’s 30 percent cut of subscriptions it helps sell does not help. Having experienced Google’s and Facebook’s disruption of their industry, many publications are wary of Apple, according to conversations with executives from nine news organizations, many of whom declined to comment on the record for fear of upsetting the trillion-dollar corporation. Some were optimistic that Apple could be a better partner than other tech giants, but were leery of making the company the portal to their readers.

Instead of bleating about Apple’s cut of the subscriptions, why on earth don’t major newspapers like the New York Times and the Guardian form their own one-stop news shop and sell subscriptions direct?  It would be an easy upsell for their own subscription base – “You’re a Guardian subscriber.  We can offer you a 80% off a New York Times subscription.”

The real value that Apple News gives me is discovery.  It does a better job of identifying (“surfacing”) Guardian articles for me to read than the Guardian’s own app.  That should worry the Guardian a lot (yet the Guardian journalist I mentioned it to was quite unperturbed).

Progress in computational photography

The Verge:

Night Sight is the next evolution of Google’s computational photography, combining machine learning, clever algorithms, and up to four seconds of exposure to generate shockingly good low-light images.

Amazing results.  If your subject’s stationary you simply don’t need a flash.

Facebook hires Nick Clegg as head of global affairs

Financial Times:

Facebook has hired Nick Clegg, the former UK deputy prime minister, to head its global affairs and communications team as it faces escalating problems over data protection and the threat of greater government regulation.

He agreed to take on the job after months of wooing by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, who told Sir Nick he would have a leading role in shaping the company’s strategy.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said Sir Nick was a “thoughtful and gifted leader” who “understands deeply the responsibilities we have to people who use our service around the world”.

She also acknowledged the need for Facebook to bring in new blood to help it manage its many issues. “Our company is on a critical journey. The challenges we face are serious and clear and now more than ever we need new perspectives to help us through this time of change.”

Sir Nick is the most senior addition to Facebook’s tight-knit leadership team from outside the company’s own top ranks since 2014, when former PayPal president David Marcus was recruited to run Messenger.

The decision by Facebook to hire Sir Nick, a former European Commission trade negotiator and member of the European Parliament, suggests the company is trying to boost its connections in Brussels, where Facebook is facing escalating battles over data privacy, online disinformation and hate speech.

Vera Jourova, EU justice commissioner, in charge of data protection and electoral integrity, said last year that she deleted her Facebook account, because the site had become a “highway for hatred”.

My emphasis.  We’ll see exactly what influence Clegg actually has.  His last negotiation was with Cameron and the subsequent electoral wipeout of the LibDems suggests that didn’t go too well.  And Zuckerberg would wipe the floor with that dilettante.

It is extremely unlikely Clegg can persuade Zuckerberg to appear before the Commons select committee.  There are lots of countries and it would set a difficult precedent that Zuckerberg cared about any of them apart from the US.

Where Clegg really could make an immediate, meaningful difference is by saying “At Facebook we only see a small picture of foreign influence in the UK’s affairs but it is enough for us to call for the UK to launch a full public enquiry – a Mueller style investigation into foreign meddling. We will support this investigation in every way possible as the UK’s democracy is under attack.” Yes, I’m sure he’ll say that. Before Christmas.

Carole Cadwalladr asks If you’re on the side of democracy, Nick Clegg, why are you going to work for Facebook?

Because what you don’t seem to have grasped is that the crisis gripping Britain and the one gripping Facebook are one and the same. They’re manifestations of each other. It isn’t technology that has blown apart our world – it’s Facebook’s business model. It’s the monetisation of fear and hatred and lies. And what we’re witnessing here in Britain is a compromised government colluding with a compromised technology platform to cover up the truth of what happened in the EU referendum.

We know Facebook that was the key to the vote. That almost all the money spent was funnelled through the platform. That spending limits were exceeded. That electoral laws were broken. That campaigns were illegally co-ordinated. That Russia targeted us. And that Facebook facilitated all this. Your company is refusing to hand over evidence, according to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee. And Zuckerberg has refused – three times – to testify to parliament.

My emphasis.

New ‘Dark Ads’ pro-Brexit Facebook campaign may have reached over 10M people, say researchers


A major new campaign of disinformation around Brexit, designed to stir up U.K. ‘Leave’ voters, and distributed via Facebook, may have reached over 10 million people in the U.K., according to new research. The source of the campaign is so far unknown, and will be embarrassing to Facebook, which only this week claimed it was clamping down on “dark” political advertising on its platform.

Researchers for the U.K.-based digital agency 89up allege that Mainstream Network — which looks and reads like a “mainstream” news site but which has no contact details or reporter bylines — is serving hyper-targeted Facebook advertisements aimed at exhorting people in Leave-voting U.K. constituencies to tell their MP to “chuck Chequers.” Chequers is the name given to the U.K. Prime Ministers’s proposed deal with the EU regarding the U.K.’s departure from the EU next year.

89up says it estimates that Mainstream Network, which routinely puts out pro-Brexit “news,” could have spent more than £250,000 on pro-Brexit or anti-Chequers advertising on Facebook in less than a year. The agency calculates that with that level of advertising, the messaging would have been seen by 11 million people. TechCrunch has independently confirmed that Mainstream Network’s domain name was registered in November last year, and began publishing in February of this year.

In evidence given to Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee today, 89up says the website was running dozens of adverts targeted at Facebook users in specific constituencies, suggesting users “Click to tell your local MP to bin Chequers,” along with an image from the constituency, and an email function to drive people to send their MP an anti-Chequers message. This email function carbon-copied an info@mainstreamnetwork.co.uk email address. This would be a breach of the U.K.’s data protection rules, as the website is not listed as a data controller, says 89up.

This is the evidence to the Commons select committee.

Instagram Has a Massive Harassment Problem

Via Charles Arthur, The Atlantic on Instagram (owned by Facebook so don’t be surprised if they share the same values):

When Instagram introduces new features, the moderation-team members receive no warning, Andy [who works as a moderator; that’s not his real name] said. Consequently, they are left scrambling to understand how they work and what constitutes harassment on each format. “When the Questions feature rolled out, same way as every other new feature, we had no idea,” he said. “We didn’t know which part is the question, which is the answer, who says what? That makes such a big difference on whether you’re going to delete or ignore the post. The mods are just totally not kept up to date on how people use features.”

Alex, the current Instagram employee who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym, said the company prioritizes growth above all else, often at costs to user experience. “The focus is still on getting people to spend more time, getting more users, getting more revenue. That doesn’t change much internally,” Alex said. “There’s been a lot of effort to shape the narrative, but the reality is that it doesn’t drive business impact.”

At Instagram and Facebook, Alex said, “features can make whatever progress … but can’t hurt the other metrics. A feature might decrease harassment 10 percent, but if it decreases users by 1 percent, that’s not a trade-off that will fly. Internally right now, no one is willing to make that trade-off.”

Allie, a former employee at Instagram, agreed. “Instagram has terrible tools. I think people haven’t really focused on it much because so many harassment campaigns are just more visible on other platforms,” she said. Throughout her time there, she said, “many of the efforts to reduce harassment were oriented toward PR, but very few engineering and community resources were put toward actually decreasing harassment.”

A Genocide Incited on Facebook, With Posts From Myanmar’s Military

New York Times:

In August, after months of reports about anti-Rohingya propaganda on Facebook, the company acknowledged that it had been too slow to act in Myanmar. By then, more than 700,000 Rohingya had fled the country in a year, in what United Nations officials called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The company has said it is bolstering its efforts to stop such abuses.

“We have taken significant steps to remove this abuse and make it harder on Facebook,” Mr. Gleicher said. “Investigations into this type of activity are ongoing.”


Tech execs will never come to a full realization of their platforms’ roles in genocide and the rise in authoritarianism, in part because doing it would require an overwhelmingly traumatic personal reckoning.