Cambridge Analytica: A Few More Alleged Factoids

July 17, 2018

It is 2018 and the 2016 US presidential election remain news. Nature wrote an interesting article that digs into the data used to target Facebook users: “The Scant Science Behind Cambridge Analytica’s Controversial Marketing Techniques.” It was revealed in March that Cambridge Analytica collected Facebook user data without consent and that was later used to send false news to voters. It involves something called psychographic targeting.

Psychographic targeting, in which psychographic marketing is based on, uses people’s personality traits to send them targeted information, such as ads. The scary thing is that psychographic targeting actually works, at least when it comes to shopping. Voting is a different matter:

“But these effects were small in absolute terms, points out Brendan Nyhan, a political researcher at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. And what works in consumer purchasing might not apply to voting, he says. “It’s surely possible to leverage personality information for political persuasion in some way, but, as far as I know, such effects are not proven or known to be of a substantively meaningful magnitude,” Nyhan adds. He points to other studies3,4,5 that suggest that political ‘microtargeting’ — sending specific kinds of messages to specific voters — has limited effectiveness.”

Cambridge Analytica might have built a model from the Facebook data, but no one is sure. In fact, no one is exactly sure how to even copy Cambridge Analytica’s methods. Some scientists are trying to reverse engineer the firm’s methods and a journalist and academic group is trying to get Cambridge Analytica to share its data.

Whitney Grace, July 17, 2018

Social Media: Mass Behavior Modification and Revenue

July 16, 2018

File this one under “Things That Are Not Big Shock,” but experts have recently been taking a closer look at the trends in social media that tend to ruin this platform. Big surprise, the fact that money is to be made is usually the root of a lot of bad behavior, as we discovered from this cheeky, but somewhat useful Guardian story, “Six Reasons Why Social Media is a Bummer.”

While it lists its gripes against social media in alphabetical order, the points are pretty good, like:

“The mass behavior modification machine is rented out to make money. The manipulations are not perfect, but they are powerful enough that it becomes suicidal for brands, politicians, and other competitive entities to forgo payments to Bummer enterprises. Universal cognitive blackmail ensues, resulting in a rising global spend on Bummer.”

It’s difficult to imagine that social media will change its tune or suddenly go non-profit. Not with the fact that it is a platform custom made to attract the eyes and wallets of millions of users. Just look in the news and you’ll see a controversy that bubbled up on Twitter nearly every day. We can’t see patterns changing when so much money is to be made from so much attention.

Patrick Roland, July 16, 2018

No University of Virginia Honor Code in Algeria

July 5, 2018

Anyone who has a child or young member of their family probably knows about the looming threat of the Internet on cheating. Whether it is the scourge of plagiarism on papers to using phones in class to lookup answers, there seems to be a runaway train in our schools and no way to stop it. Unless, of course, you live in Algeria. We learned more about their fascinating solution to this educational problem from a recent Science Alert story, “A Whole Country Just Turned Off Its Internet to Stop Students from Cheating on Exams.”

For six days, Algeria shut off the Internet so students could take their finals:

“It is of course a big step to take – but the country has a big problem with cheats. In 2016, some 300,000 students had to retake exams after papers were leaked early on the web and circulated around social media.

“Last year attempts were made to restrict access to social media platforms, but ultimately those measures weren’t effective enough – so this year the authorities are going all in. Both cell networks and broadband are getting switched off during the allotted periods.”

While it’s pretty extreme, we like Algeria’s moxy. This is a much more effective way to curb cheating, than say banning wristwatches. Could this method work in a country like America? We’re willing to bet that grownups can’t live without their cat memes long enough to find out.

Patrick Roland, July 5, 2018


WhatsApp: Brazilians Like to Party via Text Messaging

June 21, 2018

WhatsApp, the social messaging wunderkind app, has been making major headway in the market, nearing usage rates of early Facebook and Twitter. Nowhere is WhatsApp making a greater impact than in Brazil, where the political landscape itself is being transformed via the app, as we discovered in a recent Washington Post story, “WhatsApp is Upending the of Unions in Brazil, Next it May Transform Politics.”

According to the story:

“Nearly two-thirds of Brazil’s 200 million people use WhatsApp to share memes, set up meetings and, increasingly, vent about politics. Now, the messaging app is helping Brazilians undermine established power structures, injecting a level of unpredictability and radicalization into a country beset by economic and political crises.”

It’s not just Brazil that is being impacted by WhatsApp and its ability to connect people. The South American nation is only one of a handfuls of examples, many of the life-and-death variety. For example, The Guardian claims that several political activists embedded in repressive regimes have been using WhatsApp to skirt punishment and organize groups aimed at upending the government. This is promising news and a great example of the disruption that many Silicon Valley startups envisioned when they created their social media platforms. Encrypted messaging apps may not be quite as popular with some government authorities either.

Patrick Roland, June 21, 2018

Social Media: Some Influence, Some Impacts

June 17, 2018

Many experts have been calling for the death of mainstream media for years—with newspapers and televised news in a strange downturn in impact—a new mainstream media is arising. We learned more about how social media isn’t the death of the old guard, but actually a new wrinkle in that world from a Los Angeles Times story, “Stop Calling Them ‘Social’: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Et al Are The New Mainstream Media.”

According to the story:

“In the new mainstream media, there is no context, and you are always on the record — to your own followers, the potential millions of those who retweet you and any other media outlet, whose members are constantly scanning social platforms for sources, announcements, trends, feel-good moments, spats and offensive statements.”

This logic has been supported recently, by reports that most adults in the US get their news from a social media source. According to these numbers 62% of adults get their news from social media. This is a staggering number that spells out just how much power the platform has.

We noted USA Today’s analysis of falling IQs. The culprit according to the newspaper is schools and nutrition. (See “IQ Scores Have Been Falling for Decades, and a New Study Blames Schools and Nutrition.”) Television, broken families, digital distractions—not a problem.

The article itself illustrates the trend.

Patrick Roland, June 17, 2018

Self Regulation: How Does That Work for Teen Aged Science Club Members?

June 15, 2018

I like the Platonic ideal of self regulation. Better yet let’s try for crowd sourced regulation. Tie dye T shirts are cool too.

Sometimes, it seems, humans are the answer. Unpaid, helpful humans. Motherboard profiles the little-sung YouTube “super users” in, “‘Are You Batman?’: How YouTube’s Volunteer Army Gets Channels Undeleted.” Writer Adrianne Jeffries opens with an anecdote in which an individual known as @Contributors_YT may have helped an unfortunate YouTube broadcaster get his channel back. She then explains:

“Increasingly, YouTube creators are getting help from anonymous YouTube super-users, including @Contributors_YT, who have access to a backchannel that allows them to escalate complaints to YouTube employees and sometimes get mistaken channel deletions or ‘false strikes’ against videos reversed. These super-users volunteer for YouTube through a company initiative that used to be called ‘YouTube Heroes’ but is now known as two separate programs, Trusted Flaggers and YouTube Contributors. They patrol the official YouTube Help Forum and social media, where many of them use TweetDeck to sift for keywords that signal distressed YouTubers. Most of the time, the volunteers simply add expertise, offering advice on everything from how to get more subscribers to technical support. They know YouTube’s Community Guidelines inside and out, and can usually figure out why action was taken and help fill in the gaps around YouTube’s notoriously poor communication with creators. Sometimes they pass along messages from YouTube staffers related to specific cases. But lately, as YouTube ramps up enforcement due to negative press coverage about the prominence of violent videos and conspiracy theories on the platform, they’ve been intervening more and more when videos or channels are incorrectly penalized. For YouTubers who get wrongly caught up in the company’s enormous, faceless content moderation machine, these volunteer crusaders are their last hope.”

See the article for several more examples of these YouTube do-gooders helping those who have been wronged by the zealous algorithm. It is worth remembering that, by now, some of these broadcasters have put years of work into their YouTube presences, and many rely on them for income. Should social media sites embrace the old school notion of editorial control and responsibility?

Nah. Nothing is more satisfying than watching self regulation in action. From Amazon reviews to comments offered to viewers of a live stream of the Hawaii volcano eruption, good judgment is on display.

Cynthia Murrell, June 15, 2018

Social Media: Must Have Information

June 13, 2018

At the intel and LE conference in Prague, one of the items of received wisdom was, “Social media is very, very useful.” What struck me last week was that this view seemed to be held by authorities throughout the world. Just a few years ago, social media was a great unknown. Today it is known and highly desired.

Text-based social media tools, such as Twitter and Facebook remain the kings of social media in English-speaking countries like the United States and Great Britain. However, this is not the case around the world, where visual social media tools are overtaking them. We learned more from a recent ZD Net story, “What’s Driving Middle East’s Rush to Social Media?”

According to the story, Facebook is very popular in Saudi Arabia and UAE, but Snapchat, Instagram and the like are absolutely exploding.

“However, in some Middle East countries, Facebook use has dropped substantially, by up to -20 percent, since 2013. Reasons for this decline aren’t clear but may include privacy concerns and preferences to use newer and more visually orientated social networks.”

Eastern Europe and the Middle East are two geographic areas where visual social media has gained traction. The marketing world is already hip to this trend. Many wise ad agencies and brand-centric marketers are touting the power of visual social media to construct a company’s narrative and brand. This is not just a blip on a radar, but a global phenomenon that is poised to leave text-based social media in the dust.

Local and regional data sources complement the information generated by their US based counterparts.

Patrick Roland, June 13, 2018

Facebook Versus YouTube: Understanding 13 to 17 Year olds

June 1, 2018

I read “Teens Have Abandoned Facebook”. The source is the Daily Mail, and I believe everything I read in the British tabloid. What caught my attention was the big usage gap, if the data are accurate. A couple of highlights:

  • In 2014, more than 70 percent of those 13 to 17 used Facebook. Today that usage figure is 51 percent. (Like most surveys, the nuts and bolts of the method are not provided.)
  • Also, teens in the sample voted with their eyeballs. More than 80 percent use Alphabet Google’s YouTube.
  • Finally, I learned that more than 90 percent of the 13 to 17 crowd own or have access to a smartphone, not a plain vanilla cheapo device. A smartphone.

The source of the data is the Pew outfit. Since I am not too interested in teenagers and their “usage patterns,” check out the write up.

Stephen E Arnold, June 1, 2018

Cambridge Analytica: Those Greek Tragedians Understood Bad Decisions

May 2, 2018

Here in Harrod’s Creek, the echoes of the khoros are sometimes audible. For example, we heard that Cambridge Analytica, the zippy data outfit has folded its tents. The firm’s offices in the US and elsewhere are shuttered or in the process of turning out the lights and unplugging from the interwebs.

We noted this statement in Gizmodo:

The news was announced during a conference call led by Julian Wheatland, the current chairman of the SCL Group who was reportedly tapped to take over as Cambridge Analytica’s next CEO. Both companies will now close their doors. During the call, Wheatland said that the board determined that rebranding the company’s current offerings in the current environment is “futile.”

In the online information the Beyond Search team has been reviewing, there was no reference to this statement, allegedly crafted by Sophocles:

I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating.

CNBC reported:

The firm is shuttering in part due to mounting legal fees associated with its investigation into whether there had been any wrongdoing with regard to Facebook data, according to the Wall Street Journal who first reported the shuttering.

That “real” news report did not include this statement, allegedly penned by Euripides:

Cleverness is not wisdom.

Will other clever individuals bump into Greek truisms?

The odds in Harrod’s Creek that trouble will be coming to some social media outfits are the same as those on Justified, the favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

Race tracks do need workers to clean their Augean stables. The work is less sporty than crunching data of mysterious origins, but it pays because horses are often more reliable than some humans. Plus there is a party for workers after the race on Saturday.

Stephen E Arnold, May 2, 2018

Removing Drug Information from Social Media May Be Difficult

April 27, 2018

There is an opioid dealer nearby. In fact, this drug kingpin is not standing on the corner or lurking on college campuses, this supplier is right at your fingertips. Thanks to a recent article, the plague of drug sales through popular and public social media platforms has caught the attention of some powerful people. We learned about these developments in a recent Wired article, “One Woman Got Facebook to Police Opioid Sales on Instagram.”

While it’s a little confusing, the basic story goes that one woman who discovered opioid sales on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) reached out to Facebook, urging them to take action, through a rival social platform, Twitter. The tactic worked, even getting the FDA involved.

According to the story:

“It shouldn’t take this much effort to get people to realize that you have some responsibility for the stuff on your platform…A 13 year old could do this search and realize there’s bad stuff on your platform — and probably has — you don’t need the commissioner of the FDA to tell you that.”

However, the act of policing drug sales on social media platforms and the dark web is not as easy as one might think. Yes, they shut down offending accounts, but beyond that there is little that can be done. According to the story, it outlawed certain hashtags, like it had done before. “Instagram previously restricted the drug-related hashtags, #Xanax and #Xanaxbar and banned #weedforsale and #weed4sale.”

It’s a small step, but hopefully one that will lead to greater and greater progress. For more information, learn more about CyberOSINT (the Dark Web) here.

Patrick Roland, April 27, 2018

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