Fight Fake News with Science

February 1, 2017

With all the recent chatter around “fake news,” one researcher has decided to approach the problem scientifically. An article at Fortune reveals “What a Map of the Fake-News Ecosystem Says About the Problem.” Writer Mathew Ingram introduces us to data-journalism expert and professor Jonathan Albright, of Elon University, who has mapped the fake-news ecosystem. Facebook and Google are just unwitting distributors of faux facts; Albright wanted to examine the network of sites putting this stuff out there in the first place. See the article for a description of his methodology; Ingram summarizes the results:

More than anything, the impression one gets from looking at Albright’s network map is that there are some extremely powerful ‘nodes’ or hubs, that propel a lot of the traffic involving fake news. And it also shows an entire universe of sites that many people have probably never heard of. Two of the largest hubs Albright found were a site called Conservapedia—a kind of Wikipedia for the right wing—and another called Rense, both of which got huge amounts of incoming traffic. Other prominent destinations were sites like Breitbart News, DailyCaller and YouTube (the latter possibly as an attempt to monetize their traffic).

Albright said he specifically stayed away from trying to determine what or who is behind the rise of fake news. … He just wanted to try and get a handle on the scope of the problem, as well as a sense of how the various fake-news distribution or creation sites are inter-connected. Albright also wanted to do so with publicly-available data and open-source tools so others could build on it.

Albright also pointed out the folly of speculating on sources of fake news; such guesswork only “adds to the existing noise,” he noted. (Let’s hear it for common sense!) Ingram points out that, armed with Albright’s research, Google, Facebook, and other outlets may be better able to combat the problem.

Cynthia Murrell, February 1, 2017

Facebook and Google: The M Word Is Not Enough. The C Word Arises.

January 19, 2017

I believe everything I read on the Internet. I am so superficial. Perhaps I am the most superficial person living in rural Kentucky. The write up “The Google-Facebook Online Ad Cartel is the Biggest Competition Problem” seems to be the work of a person who specializes in future Internet competition. He has worked for presidents and written op eds for “real” journalistic outfits. I am convinced… almost.

The main point of the write up is that Facebook and Google operate as a cartel. I highlighted this statement:

Google commands ~90% market share of mobile search and search advertising. It protects those monopolies with an anti-competitive moat around Alphabet-Google by cross-subsidizing the global offering over 200 expensive-to-create, products and services for free, i.e. dramatically below Google’s total costs. Those many expensive subsidized products and services make Google’s moat competitively impregnable, because no competitor could afford to recreate them without a highly profitable online ad business, and the Goobook ad cartel forecloses that very competitive possibility.

The statement echoes Chaos Monkeys, the tell all about the high flying world of Silicon Valley.

I also noted:

In early 2013, Facebook launched its alternative to Google search, called “Facebook Graph Search” in partnership with Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Then in 2014, Google and Facebook obviously, abruptly, and relatively quietly, chose to no longer directly compete with one another. In the first half of 2014, Google reversed course in social, defunding Google+, ending its forced integration, and announcing the shutdown of Orkut, Google’s 300 million user social network. In the second half of 2014, Facebook quietly dropped its Facebook Graph Search alternative to Google search and its search partnership with Microsoft’s Bing.

One consequence is:

Goobook’s customers – advertisers — pay higher ad prices and have less cohesive and effective ad campaigns under the Goobook ad cartel than they would have if Google and Facebook continued to compete. No material competition to keep them honest, also means Google and Facebook can avoid third party accountability for the core advertising activity metrics that they use to charge for their ad services.

The net net is that US laws and policies:

favors free-content models over paid content models, ultimately produces monopolies and monopolies colluding in cartel behaviors that are hostile to property rights. Monopsonies [sic] de facto forcing property owners to offer their property for sale at a wholesale price at zero, is anti-competitive and predatory. Free is not a price, it’s a subsidy or a loss.

No monopoly word. The cartel word is the moniker for these two esteemed outfits grouped under the neologism “Goobook.” WWTD? Oh, that means “What will Trump do?” Perhaps the Trump White House will retain the author as a policy adviser for cartels?

Stephen E Arnold, January 19, 2017

The Government Has a Sock Puppet Theater

January 13, 2017

Law enforcement officials use fake social media accounts and online profiles to engage with criminals.  Their goal is to deter crime, possibly even catching criminals in the act for a rock solid case.  While this happened way back in 2011, the comments are still coming.  In light of the recent presidential election and the violent acts of the past year, it is no wonder the comments are still fresh.  Tech Dirt talked about how the, “US Military Kicks Off Plan To Fill Social Networks With Fake Sock Puppet Accounts.”

The goal was for a company to develop a software that would allow one person to create and manage various social media profiles (including more than one profile on the same platform).  These accounts will then, and we are speculating on this given how dummy accounts have been used in the past, to catch criminals.  The article highlights how the government would use the sock puppet accounts:

Apparently a company called Ntrepid has scored the contract and the US military is getting ready to roll out these “sock puppet” online personas. Of course, it insists that all of this is targeting foreign individuals, not anyone in the US. And they promise it’s not even going to be used on US-based social networks like Facebook or Twitter, but does anyone actually believe that’s true?

Then the comments roll in a conversation that a span of five years the commentators argue about what it means to be American, reaffirming that the US government spies on its citizens, and making fun of sock puppets.

Whitney Grace, January 13, 2017

Yahoo Takes on ISIS, in Its Way

January 9, 2017

The article on VentureBeat titled Yahoo Takes Steps to Remove Content Posted From ISIS and Other Terrorist Groups remarks on the recent changes Yahoo made to its community guidelines. The updated guidelines now specify that any content or accounts involved with terrorist organizations, even those that “celebrate” violence connected to terrorist activity are up for deletion or deactivation. The article speaks to the relevance of these new guidelines that follow hard upon the heels of Orlando and San Bernardino,

Twitter has responded as well, “suspending over 125,000 accounts” related to terrorism. Messaging app Telegram has also blocked 78 channels that engaged in ISIS-related activity. Kathleen Lefstad, Yahoo’s policy manager for trust and safety, wrote that this new category is in addition to other types of content that are flagged, including hate speech, bullying or harassment, and sharing adult or sexualized content of someone without their consent.

ISIS has grown infamous for its social media presence and ability to draw foreign supporters through social media platforms. Yahoo’s crackdown is a welcome sign of awareness that these platforms must take some responsibility for how their services are being abused. Priorities, folks. If Facebook’s machine learning content security can remove any sign of a woman’s nipple within 24 hours, shouldn’t content that endorses terrorism be deleted in half the time?

Chelsea Kerwin, January 9, 2017

Infomania, the FOMO Struggles of Millennials

January 9, 2017

The article titled Drowning In a Sea of Information on Clayton d’Arnaut’s online magazine Digital Culturist questions the effect of unlimited information on the audience that can’t seem to stop looking for more. Like bears preparing for hibernation, we seek out connections, news, memes, ideas, and opinions. Perhaps we believe that if we “know” enough, we can never die. But what does it mean if all the information we search on Google, we take in, but then almost immediately discard? Decreased attention spans, concentration, chronic distraction, creativity, these are just a few of the symptoms of our maniacal dependence on information. The article concludes,

A few months ago I took part in Infomagical, an experiment hosted by the WNYC podcast Note to Self. The purpose of this experiment is “to turn all of your information portals into overload-fighting machines.” It worked. After a full week of information consumption challenges and monitoring my progression, I felt clear, focused, organized, and more creative. I felt like someone took my brain and wrung it out like a wet sponge?—?refreshed and ready to tackle the next thing.

This sort of cleanse might be difficult, but it might be necessary to prevent us from losing our minds, literally and figuratively, if d’Arnault is to be believed. I have, on occasion, closed a tab open to Facebook only to be confronted with another tab open to Facebook. Did I close that one immediately or check the second tab? An Infomanic never consumes and tells.

Chelsea Kerwin, January 9, 2017

Austrian Ministers Wants to Look into Your Private Communications

January 2, 2017

Under the garb of curbing terrorist activities, an Austrian minister has proposed setting up of federal Trojan or an agency that can read encrypted messages over WhatsApp and Facebook.

DeepDotWeb in an article titled Austrian Government Wants a Federal Trojan to Patrol the Dark Web says:

Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP) is preparing to implement a “federal trojan” to patrol the dark net. With this state spying software, Austrian law enforcement authorities hope they can prevent cybercriminal activity on the dark web.

The minister is demanding that government should possess a Trojan or technology that will allow it to read what messages exchanged by people over WhatsApp and Facebook messenger. This ze feels is necessary to foil terrorist attacks in Austria.

The entire argument hinges on:

Multiple researches have proven that the Islamic State uses social media platforms and encrypted messaging for recruiting potential terrorists and for other communications. The German government is also working on a similar device by the Central Agency for Information Technology in the security area (Zitis). Currently, about 400 IT professionals are on the project.

This is the second attempt by the Interior Minister to get a Bill passed that allowed federal agencies to snoop on private citizens. The minister wants unfettered access to messages and other data of citizens; terrorists or not.

If the Bill is passed, it will have serious implications on privacy of citizens. However, what would be more interesting is to see how companies like Facebook, Google and Apple respond to it.

Vishal Ingole January 2, 2017

In Pursuit of Better News Online

December 20, 2016

Since the death of what we used to call “newspapers,” Facebook and Twitter have been gradually encroaching on the news business. In fact, Facebook recently faced criticism for the ways it has managed its Trending news stories. Now, the two social media firms seem to be taking responsibility for their roles, having joined an alliance of organizations committed to more competent news delivery. The write-up, “Facebook, Twitter Join Coalition to Improve Online News” at Yahoo News informs us about the initiative:

First Draft News, which is backed by Google [specifically Google News Lab], announced Tuesday that some 20 news organizations will be part of its partner network to share information on best practices for journalism in the online age. Jenni Sargent, managing director of First Draft, said the partner network will help advance the organization’s goal of improving news online and on social networks.

Filtering out false information can be hard. Even if news organizations only share fact-checked and verified stories, everyone is a publisher and a potential source,’ she said in a blog post. ‘We are not going to solve these problems overnight, but we’re certainly not going to solve them as individual organizations.

Sargent said the coalition will develop training programs and ‘a collaborative verification platform,’ as well as a voluntary code of practice for online news.

We’re told First Draft has been pursuing several projects since it was launched last year, like working with YouTube to verify user-generated videos. The article shares their list of participants; it includes news organizations from the New York Times to BuzzFeed, as well as other interested parties, like Amnesty International and the International Fact-Checking Network. Will this coalition succeed in restoring the public’s trust in our news sources? We can hope.

Cynthia Murrell, December 20, 2016

How the Future of Mobile Looks Like the past of TV for Advertising

December 15, 2016

The article titled How Mobile Today Is Like TV Six Decades Ago on The Atlantic explores the radical changes in advertising in the last five years. The era of advertising through newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio is effectively over, replaced by digital advertising, which is almost exclusively mobile. That mobile content is split between Facebook and Google. Those two giants account for half of all digital media advertising. The article explains what this means for news,

For newspapers, magazines, and websites, there are several paths forward. First, billionaires can rescue media organizations from the stormy seas of the mobile Internet and fund journalism that the ad market won’t support. Second, companies like Facebook may determine that it is in their own interest to preserve some news and entertainment publishers, and they will directly pay media companies, the same way cable companies pay carriage to television channels.

The article also considers a return to the subscription model, or companies shifting to event and marketing strategies for revenue. But any company that tries to ignore the seismic shifts in the news landscape is in for an abrupt and painful shock. The article preaches an optimistic approach based in the history of TV. News is here to stay, but how it is paid for and what the advertising looks like is going to change.

Chelsea Kerwin, December 15, 2016

Google Aims to Try Social Media Again with YouTube

December 12, 2016

One of the biggest problems that Google faced in social media was that it was trying to compete against Facebook.  Ever hear the saying, “don’t fix it, if it is not broke?” It is not that Google was trying to fix Facebook, but it was trying to offer a solution to something that was not broken to begin with.  What was broken?  We are still trying to figure that out, but rest assured it was more than likely Google selling a Facebook knockoff.

Google, however, already owns one of the largest social media Web sites, if not the most popular: YouTube.  Google might open a new section of YouTube called Backstage that allows users to communicate, share links, share links, videos, and polls.  Does that not already sound like Facebook?

There is more:

Backstage will introduce new types of posts to YouTube. Google plans to differentiate between regular videos and Backstage videos. The latter allows channels to push videos only to subscribers and not to users discovering the channel through search or other means.  Backstage is an internal project currently and it is unclear if and when it will be made available. While YouTube is highly popular when it comes to video publishing and watching, it lacks in the social department. While users may post comments under videos or channels, there is little in terms of communication going elsewhere.

People already socialize on YouTube through the comments section.  Backstage might simply add more order to an already chaotic comments block.

Whitney Grace, December 12, 2016

When Censorship Means More Money, Facebook Leans In

December 8, 2016

The article on Vanity Fair titled Facebook Is Reportedly Building a Censorship Tool to Win Over China suggests that the people nervous about what it will mean to address the fake news proliferation are correct. The fear that Facebook managing fake news stories might lead to actual censorship of the news is not so far-fetched after all. The article states,

Auditing fake news is considered to be a slippery-slope problem for the company, which is just now starting to use fact-checkers to “grade” the veracity of news stories shared on its Web site and to crack down on false or partially false news stories shared on Facebook. Still, beneath it all, Facebook remains a publicly traded company with a fiduciary duty to its shareholders—and that duty is to make money.

Zuckerberg’s interest in capturing China’s 700M+ internet users has led to the creation of a censorship tool that can “automatically suppress content in specific geographic areas.” The tool has not been implemented (yet), but it suggests that Zuckerberg has a flexible relationship with freedom of information, especially where money is at stake. And there is a lot of money at stake. The article delves into the confusion over whether Facebook is a media company or not. But whatever type of company it is, it is a company. And that means money comes first.

Chelsea Kerwin, December 8, 2016

Next Page »