Google Search and Hot News: Sensitivity and Relevance

November 10, 2017

I read “Google Is Surfacing Texas Shooter Misinformation in Search Results — Thanks Also to Twitter.” What struck me about the article was the headline; specifically, the implication for me was that Google was not responding to user queries. Google is actively “surfacing” or fetching and displaying information about the event. Twitter is also involved. I don’t think of Twitter as much more than a party line. One can look up keywords or see a stream of content containing a keyword or a, to use Twitter speak, “hash tags.”

The write up explains:

Users of Google’s search engine who conduct internet searches for queries such as “who is Devin Patrick Kelley?” — or just do a simple search for his name — can be exposed to tweets claiming the shooter was a Muslim convert; or a member of Antifa; or a Democrat supporter…

I think I understand. A user inputs a term and Google’s system matches the user’s query to the content in the Google index. Google maintains many indexes, despite its assertion that it is a “universal search engine.” One has to search across different Google services and their indexes to build up a mosaic of what Google has indexed about a topic; for example, blogs, news, the general index, maps, finance, etc.

Developing a composite view of what Google has indexed takes time and patience. The results may vary depending on whether the user is logged in, searching from a particular geographic location, or has enabled or disabled certain behind the scenes functions for the Google system.

The write up contains this statement:

Safe to say, the algorithmic architecture that underpins so much of the content internet users are exposed to via tech giants’ mega platforms continues to enable lies to run far faster than truth online by favoring flaming nonsense (and/or flagrant calumny) over more robustly sourced information.

From my point of view, the ability to figure out what influences Google’s search results requires significant effort, numerous test queries, and recognition that Google search now balances on two pogo sticks. Once “pogo stick” is blunt force keyword search. When content is indexed, terms are plucked from source documents. The system may or may not assign additional index terms to the document; for example, geographic or time stamps.

The other “pogo stick” is discovery and assignment of metadata. I have explained some of the optional tags which Google may or may not include when processing a content object; for example, see the work of Dr. Alon Halevy and Dr. Ramanathan Guha.

But Google, like other smart content processing today, has a certain sensitivity. This means that streams of content processed may contain certain keywords.

When “news” takes place, the flood of content allows smart indexing systems to identify a “hot topic.” The test queries we ran for my monographs “The Google Legacy” and “Google Version 2.0” suggest that Google is sensitive to certain “triggers” in content. Feedback can be useful; it can also cause smart software to wobble a bit.

Image result for the impossible takes a little longer

T shirts are easy; search is hard.

I believe that the challenge Google faces is similar to the problem Bing and Yandex are exploring as well; that is, certain numerical recipes can over react to certain inputs. These over reactions may increase the difficulty of determining what content object is “correct,” “factual,” or “verifiable.”

Expecting a free search system, regardless of its owner, to know what’s true and what’s false is understandable. In my opinion, making this type of determination with today’s technology, system limitations, and content analysis methods is impossible.

In short, the burden of figuring out what’s right and what’s not correct falls on the user, not exclusively on the search engine. Users, on the other hand, may not want the “objective” reality. Search vendors want traffic and want to generate revenue. Algorithms want nothing.

Mix these three elements and one takes a step closer to understanding that search and retrieval is not the slam dunk some folks would have me believe. In fact, the sensitivity of content processing systems to comparatively small inputs requires more discussion. Perhaps that type of information will come out of discussions about how best to deal with fake news and related topics in the context of today’s information retrieval environment.

Free search? Think about that too.

Stephen E Arnold, November 10, 2017

Twitter Customer Support and Access Control

November 6, 2017

I noted that an alleged employee of Twitter allegedly terminated the Twitter account of the alleged real Donald J. Trump. I scanned a number of news stories about this incident. I representative example is “A Rogue Twitter Employee Shut Down Donald Trump’s Account.” Now that’s access control. But what I found intriguing was an article on a Web site charmingly named Weasel Zipper. That site’s story was “Twitter Employee Who Deactivated Trump’s Account Was Not A Full-Time Employee, Rather A Contractor.” Perhaps Weasel Zipper was influenced by the New York Times’ story from November 4, 2017, which offered the “contractor did it” information? Who knows? The interesting angle for me is that Twitter has controls which allow an employee in “customer service” to kill an account. From my point of view, that’s “real” customer service and exemplary access control. What else can Twitter customer support do with regard to users, access, content, and filtering? Probably nothing: Just a fluke in a well-managed company.

Stephen E Arnold, November 5, 2017

Social Media Should Be Social News

October 18, 2017

People are reading news more than ever due to easy information access on the Internet.  While literacy rates soar, where people are reading news stories has changed from traditional news outlets to something comparatively newer and quite questionable.  According to Pew Research, “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2017,” people are obtaining their news stories from social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others.  The Pew Research survey discovered that 67% of Americans get some of their news from social media, which has grown from 62% in 2016.  The growth comes from people who are older, nonwhite and are less educated.  That is an interesting statistic about American social groups:

Furthermore, about three-quarters of nonwhites (74%) get news on social media sites, up from 64% in 2016. This growth means that nonwhites1 are now more likely than whites to get news while on social media. And social media news use also increased among those with less than a bachelor’s degree, up nine percentage points from 60% in 2016 to 69% in 2017. Alternatively, among those with at least a college degree, social media news use declined slightly.

The information is different from what Pew Research has recorded in the past and there are two ways to interpret the data: compare the share of each social media’s users that get news on that specific Web site and the total percentage of Americans that get news on social media sites.  Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube she a significant growth in user shared news and these directly correspond to investments the companies made to in developing their usability.  Facebook remains the number one social media Web site that distributes news, while YouTube is a close second.  The data also shows that users visit multiple social media sites to read the news, but that they also rely on traditional news platforms as well.

Social media is a major component to how people communicate with the world around them.  Perhaps traditional news outlets should look at ways to incorporate themselves more into social media.  Will Facebook, YouTube, and/or Twitter hire journalists in the future?

Whitney Grace, October 18, 2017

European Tweets Analyzed for Brexit Sentiment

September 28, 2017

The folks at Expert System demonstrate their semantic intelligence chops with an analysis of sentiments regarding Brexit, as expressed through tweets. The company shares their results in their press release, “The European Union on Twitter, One Year After Brexit.” What are Europeans feeling about that major decision by the UK? The short answer—fear. The write-up tells us:

One year since the historical referendum vote that sanctioned Britain’s exit from the European Union (Brexit, June 23, 2016), Expert System has conducted an analysis to verify emotions and moods prevalent in thoughts expressed online by citizens. The analysis was conducted on Twitter using the cognitive Cogito technology to analyze a sample of approximately 160,000 tweets in English, Italian, French, German and Spanish related to Europe (more than 65,000 tweets for #EU, #Europe…) and Brexit (more than 95,000 tweets for #brexit…) posted between May 21 – June 21, 2017. Regarding the emotional sphere of the people, the prevailing sentiment was fear followed by desire as a mood for intensely seeking something, but without a definitive negative or positive connotation. The analysis revealed a need for more energy (action), and, in an atmosphere that seems to be dominated by a general sense of stress, the tweets also showed many contrasts: modernism and traditionalism, hope and remorse, hatred and love.

The piece goes on to parse responses by language, tying priorities to certain countries. For example, those tweeting in Italian often mentioned “citizenship”, while tweets in German focused largely on “dignity” and “solidarity.” The project also evaluates sentiment regarding several EU leaders. Expert System  was founded back in 1989, and their Cogito office is located in London.

Cynthia Murrell, September 28, 2017

Let the Tweets Lead Your Marketing, Come What May

September 14, 2017

It seems that sales and marketing departments just can’t keep up with consumer patterns and behaviors. The latest example of this is explained in a DMA article outlining how to utilize social media to reach target leads. As people rely more on their own search and online acumen and less on professionals (IRL), marketing has to adjust.

Aseem Badshah, Founder, and CEO of Socedo, explain the problem and a possible solution:

Traditionally, B2B marketers created content based on the products they want to promote. Now that so much of the B2B decision making process occurs online, content has to be more customer-centric. The current set of website analytics tools provide some insights, but only on the audience who have already reached your website. Intent data from social media can help you make your content more relevant. By analyzing social media signals and looking at which signals are picking up in volume over time, you can gain new insights into your audience that helps you create more relevant content.

While everything Badshah says may be true, one has to ask themselves, is following the masses always a good thing? If a business wants to maintain their integrity to their field would it be in their best interest to follow the lead of their target demographic’s hashtags or work harder at marketing their product/service despite the apparent twitter-provided disinterest?

Catherine Lamsfuss, September 14, 2017

Dataminr Presented to Foreign Buyers Through Illegal Means

April 4, 2017

One thing that any company wants is more profit.  Companies generate more profit by selling their products and services to more clients.  Dataminr wanted to add more clients to their roster and a former Hillary Clinton wanted to use his political connections to get more clients for Dataminr of the foreign variety.  The Verge has the scoop on how this happened in, “Leaked Emails Reveal How Dataminr Was Pitched To Foreign Governments.”

Dataminr is a company specializing in analyzing Twitter data and turning it into actionable data sets in real-time.  The Clinton aide’s personal company, Beacon Global Strategies, arranged to meet with at least six embassies and pitch Dataminr’s services.  All of this came to light when classified emails were leaked to the public on DCLeaks.com:

The leaked emails shed light on the largely unregulated world of international lobbying in Washington, where “strategic advisors,” “consultants,” and lawyers use their US government experience to benefit clients and themselves, while avoiding public scrutiny both at home and overseas.

Beacon isn’t registered to lobby in Washington. The firm reportedly works for defense contractors and cybersecurity companies, but it hasn’t made its client list public, citing non-disclosure agreements. Beacon’s relationship with Dataminr has not been previously reported.

The aide sold Dataminr’s services in a way that suggest they could be used for surveillance.  Beacon even described Dataminr as a way to find an individual’s digital footprint.  Twitter’s development agreement forbids third parties from selling user data if it will be used for surveillance.  But Twitter owns a 5% stake in Dataminr and allows them direct access to their data firehose.

It sounds like some back alley dealing took place.  The ultimate goal for the Clinton aide was to make money and possibly funnel that back into his company or get a kickback from Dataminr.  It is illegal for a company to act in this manner, says the US Lobbying Disclosure Act, but there are loopholes to skirt around it.

This is once again more proof that while a tool can be used for good, it can also be used in a harmful manner.  It begs the question, though, that if people leave their personal information all over the Internet, is it not free for the taking?

Whitney Grace, April 4, 2017

Whither the Tech Industry Under Trump Administration?

March 30, 2017

The Silicon-Valley-based tech industry has done quite well under the Obama administration, we’re reminded in the Hill’s article, “Tech’s Power Shifts as Obama fades to Trump.” Lobbying efforts by internet companies have escalated over the past eight years, catching up to the traditional telecommunications industry. Writers Ali Breland and David McCabe quote a mysterious source:

‘Everybody is amazed by Google’s sort of cozy relationship with the White House,’ said one communications industry insider who asked to remain anonymous. ‘They don’t even try to hide it.’

Ah, dear Google. What now?

The writers cite Noah Theran, of the Internet Association—a group that represents Google, Twitter, and Amazon—as they emphasize the importance of working closely with government. If policy makers don’t understand what is happening in the tech industry, it will be nigh impossible for them to regulate it sensibly.

To complicate matters, apparently, these upstart internet companies have ruffled the feathers of the old-school telecoms, who seem to believe the FCC and Obama administration unfairly favored their new rivals, Google in particular. The article continues:

The tension wasn’t always present. Silicon Valley at one point had famously dismissed Washington, D.C., assessing that it could be the new capital of change in the U.S. That attitude shifted as the tech industry saw a greater need to work with Washington. A touchstone was the Justice Department antitrust suit against Microsoft. After having to appeal an initial order to break into two separate business, Microsoft quickly learned that it needed to have a Washington, D.C. presence if it wanted to preemptively ease regulatory problems later on. …

Trump’s presidency may change how the battles play out for the next four to eight years, however. Trump has had a rockier relationship with some tech companies, including Apple. He at one point during the campaign suggested a boycott of the company’s products over its encrypted phone.

Hoo boy. Hang on to your hats, technology-supporters; this could be a bumpy ride.

Cynthia Murrell, March 30, 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

Twitter Fingers May Be Sharing News Story Links but That Does Not Mean Anyone Read the Article

December 14, 2016

The article on ScienceDaily titled New Study Highlights Power of Crowd to Transmit News on Twitter shows that Twitter is, in fact, good at something. That something is driving recommendations of news stories. A study executed by Columbia University and the French National Institute found that the vast majority of clicks on news stories is based on reader referrals. The article details the findings:

Though far more readers viewed the links news outlets promoted directly on Twitter… most of what readers shared and read was crowd-curated. Eighty-two percent of shares, and 61 percent of clicks, of the tweets in the study sample referred to content readers found on their own. But the crowd’s relative influence varied by outlet; 85 percent of clicks on tweets tied to a BBC story came from reader recommendations while only 10 percent of tweets tied to a Fox story did.

It will come as no shock that people are getting a lot more of their news through social media, but the study also suggests that people are often sharing stories without reading them at all. Indeed, one of the scientists stated that the correlation between likes, shares, and actual reads is very low. The problem inherent in this system is that readers will inevitably only look at content that they already agree with in a news loop that results in an even less informed public with even more information at their fingertips than ever before. Thanks Twitter.

Chelsea Kerwin, December 14, 2016

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