March 1, 2018 By Zak Mehan
This week President Trump announced he was appointing Brad Parscale, his digital media director from the 2016 campaign, as his overall campaign manager. As this Axios piece says, “Digital directors will no longer be passengers on campaigns but instead their pilots.” Some food for thought.
Last week, special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. It should come as no surprise that Facebook and Instagram were named 41 times in the indictment. As the game of social media whack-a-mole continues, up pops the latest trick: doctored images.
Big tech companies are deploying a number of tactics to spot disinformation, many algorithm-based. And while there are shrinking blind spots in identifying text-based misinformation or links to dubious sources, images are almost entirely missed. This weakness was exploited by Russian-backed accounts during the election, which often relied on images that were doctored or taken out of context. It was also used in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, FL, to discredit a local journalist.
Facebook isn’t the only company struggling to moderate content. YouTube came under fire last week after the site’s algorithm pushed a video promoting a Florida school shooting conspiracy theory to the number one position in the “Trending” section. YouTube removed the video hours after it appeared and noted that they’re working to improve their systems going forward, but many are calling for more sweeping reform.
Both these incidents underscore the trouble with algorithms: they’re easily fooled. As social media platforms continue to struggle adjusting to the “new norm” in which misinformation is rapidly disseminated by human and bot alike, we’re likely to see more and more conversations about the role of human oversite in regulating social media content. Facebook, notably, seems to be putting their eggs in the algorithm basket after firing the team in charge of curating their “Trending” section after a Gizmodo piece purported to uncover political bias in the editorial team. Companies will be scrambling to find a solution to the misinformation problem, before regulators do it for them.
Elon Musk, Carl Icahn and…Kylie Jenner? That’s right. Kylie Jenner recently joined ranks with Musk and Icahn as the author of a billion-(plus)-dollar-social post, after her tweet saying she “never open[s] Snapchat anymore” sank shares of the company by 6.1 percent, wiping out $1.3 billion in market value.
It’s important to note that Jenner’s tweet didn’t happen in a vacuum. Users have been complaining about the app’s unpopular redesign for weeks – there’s even a change.org petition with 1.2 million signatures asking the company to roll back the new design. This also certainly isn’t the first time a social media redesign has resulted in backlash. Facebook users were not fans of the News Feed when it was first unveiled in 2006, Twitter’s stock fell by 2.83% in 2016 after news that the platform was planning to unveil an algorithmic timeline, and along with copious complaints, Instagram has even inspired a new chronological rival.
Twitter and Facebook both recovered, but this could prove to be a defining moment for Snapchat, which has struggled since Instagram’s copycat Stories feature overtook the original last year. So far, CEO Evan Spiegel has remained unfazed, even going as far as to say that users’ complaints “validate” the reasons behind the redesign. We’ll see what he has to say at Snap’s next earnings call.
Two things that can be said about Snapchat is that it is almost misinformation-free and its users, although far from Facebook’s billions, are deeply loyal and savvy on the channel. Perhaps these reasons are why the platform has played such an outsized role in the fall out from the shooting in Florida. Students across the country have been walking out of schools in a show of solidarity, and teens have been turning to Snapchat to organize and document the walkouts.
Especially of note here is the use of the feature “Snap Maps,” launched in 2017, which plots users and videos against a map of the world. This feature (while a little creepy) allows users to find friends or view public posts in a certain area. In this case, these features proved critical in galvanizing would-be protestors and prompting them to abandon their classrooms. The platform has also made the feature web-friendly so non-Snapchat users can follow along. If Snapchat sticks around (and it seems like that could be a real “if”) Snapchat’s potential as a grassroots organizing tool could help bring the company back to life – especially with the 2018 elections right around the corner and swathes of Snap-savvy individuals hitting the legal voting age.
How Trump conquered Facebook – without Russian ads WIRED
Facebook slashes outdated ad metrics in bid for transparency Axios
Embed with the Devil Slate
Former Google employee files lawsuit alleging the company fired him over pro-diversity posts The Verge
KFC ran out of chicken, and its response to the #KFCCrisis was perfect.
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