A little-known fact about New York’s Central Park is that it was created in part by evicting 1,600 or so people who lived there, including the residents of Seneca Village, Manhattan’s first significant settlement of black property owners and the epicenter of black political power in Manhattan during the mid-19th century. The village occupied land along what is now Central Park’s western edge, between roughly 83rd and 89th Streets. From its modest beginnings in 1825, the village had grown over three decades to include homes, gardens, a school, cemeteries and perhaps as many as 300 residents. By the time it was razed more than 30 years later, the settlement counted several distinguished citizens among its property owners, including a boarding-house for sailors that served as a crucial stop on the Underground Railway.
Note: This is something I originally wrote for the daily newsletter at the Columbia Journalism Review, where I’m the chief digital writer
Facebook’s still-controversial decision to exempt political advertising on the platform from the fact-checking process has focused a lot of attention not just on the state of disinformation in general (News flash: It’s bad) but on the practice of fact-checking itself. There are more people and places than ever debunking and checking the facts on every tweet or statement from Donald Trump, and yet the volume of inaccuracies and outright falsehoods never seems to diminish. How did we get here? And what are the best practices when fact-checking in a chaotic, real-time news environment like the one we’re living in now? Can we say with any certainty that fact-checking is working at all, in the sense of correcting people’s impressions of misinformation? To explore these and other related questions, CJR convened a virtual symposium of experts and practitioners on our Galley discussion platform, including NewsGuard co-founder Gordon Crovitz, Snopes founder David Mikkelson, Jonathan Albright of Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Baybars Orsek of the International Fact-Checking Network, and Renee DiResta of the Stanford Internet Observatory.
Albright, who runs the Digital Forensic Research unit at the Tow Center, says that his research shows many of the basic disinformation strategies from the 2016 election — aimed at reinforcing polarization and institutional distrust — are being leveraged this time around, built on the same wedge issues as before: religion, immigration, science. But the tactics being used are evolving quickly, he says. When it comes to political advertising, Albright said fact-checking isn’t enough. “We need a [Federal Election Commission]-style portal on how citizen data is used in political campaigns, not separate platform political ad APIs.” Orsek says that Facebook’s decision not to fact-check political ads is a mistake. “I think fact-checkers should be able to flag not only political advertisements but also political claims and statements on Facebook, not necessarily with demotion enforcement, but in a way to promote fact-checkers work on areas where there is public interest for users to know more about,” he says.
Rampant disinformation may seem like a modern invention, but Kelly Weill of The Daily Beast pointed out that “the US is a country that’s always held conspiratorial thinking close to its heart. The signers of the Declaration of Independence believed a number of falsehoods about plots by King George III against America.” Conspiratorial thinking often comes with new communication methods as well, Weill notes: the modern Flat Earth movement got its start when newspapers became widely available in the UK in the mid 1840s. Brooke Binkowski, a former managing editor at Snopes.com who now works for a fact-checking site called Truth or Fiction, said fact-checkers need to adopt a more aggressive stance for these times. “You have to be prepared to stand up for the truth and defend it, in this Disinformation Age,” she says. “This isn’t ‘view from nowhere’ journalism — you have to be willing and prepared to get into peoples’ faces a bit, to tell them they’re wrong, to point your finger at them in the public square and say, Look. This is a lie, and here is the liar who is spreading it.”
Nathan Walter, a disinformation researcher at Northwestern University, co-wrote a meta-analysis of research into whether fact-checking works or not, and says his team found evidence that fact-checking does work, in the sense that it “people’s beliefs become more accurate and factually consistent” after seeing a fact-checking message. However, Walter said the research also shows that these effects become very weak, and in fact come close to disappearing entirely, when fact-checking involves political campaign statements. And attempts to add relevant context, he says, can actually make the problem worse. Alexios Mantzarlis, who ran the International Fact-Checking Network for several years before moving to the Google News Lab, said that in the time he led the IFCN, fact-checking “went from this niche of journalism that was under-covered to being perhaps over-covered. We went from not thinking about it enough to hoping it could be a silver bullet and ultimately to fighting among ourselves because it didn’t stand up to those expectations.”
DiResta says that disinformation is “a chronic condition, and we’re now in the process of figuring out the best way to manage it.” What we need to do, she says, is to develop a much deeper understanding of how and when people internalize the messages they receive, “particularly in an era in which they’re barraged with messages and attention-grabbing content every time they pick up their phone.” Fact-checker Maarten Schenk, who runs a site called Lead Stories, said that disinformation has evolved over the past year or so. “Operations are becoming larger and more complex, with widespread use of fake or stolen accounts to spread links around, often coming from dozens of websites that are all part of the same network,” he said. Paradoxically, however, this evolution also shows that the countermeasures implemented by Facebook and others are working, he says. “It means the proverbial ‘teenager from Macedonia’ has it a lot harder now. Creating a fake Facebook account is much more difficult these days, for example, with some of them getting caught within minutes for displaying non-human behavior.”
Here’s more on disinformation and the challenges of fact-checking:
Non-responsive: Snopes founder David Mikkelson talked in a Galley interview about why his site quit working with Facebook. “We impressed upon Facebook after our last agreement with them expired at the end of 2018 that we needed them to address some issues before we could renew, and they were completely non-responsive,” he says. “It did not make sense for us as an organization to continue expending resources to benefit a platform that seemed unconcerned about the welfare of their partners or about making sincere efforts to improve.”
The long game: Angie Drobnic Holan, editor of PolitiFact at Poynter, said that she tries hard not to get disillusioned about whether fact-checking is having an impact or not. “I’ve said often to friends and family lately that I’m playing the long game with fact-checking,” she says. “My goal is to keep alive factual analysis and evidence-based methods, so they’re not lost from the world. We all need help to see the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be. I fact-check because I think the truth in and of itself is a precious thing that needs to be valued and defended.”
Infectious info: Researchers at Stanford University are tracking the spread of viral disinformation using tools designed to track infectious diseases like Ebola. One of the researchers said he wasn’t concerned about large fake news events, but was more worried about “death by a thousand cuts –– that this contributes to the erosion and the undercutting of the institutions of democracy, but it does so slowly and over time, so that we don’t recognize the gravity of what’s going on until perhaps it’s too late.”
Other notable stories:
Two students were killed and three other teens were wounded in a shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita on Thursday morning. The attack began just after 7:30 am, when students were supposed to be in their first classes of the day. The sheriff’s department arrived at the school to find six students with gunshot wounds, two of whom later died. Police initially thought the shooter had fled the scene, but later determined that one of the injured students was the perpetrator, who had shot himself in the head. According to several reports, it was the shooter’s 16th birthday.
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has quietly launched what he hopes could someday become a rival to Facebook and Twitter. WT:Social allows users to share links to articles and discuss them in a Facebook-style news feed, and will rely on donations from a small subset of users to allow the network to operate without the advertising that Wales blames for encouraging the wrong kind of engagement on social media. “The business model of social media companies, of pure advertising, is problematic,” he told the Financial Times. “It turns out the huge winner is low-quality content.”
The Daily Beast set up a test of the advertising rules at the major social platforms by submitting anti-vaccination ads to Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Snapchat. According to the site, most of the services rejected ads with fake health claims, but Google and Twitter both approved ads that repeated widely debunked claims about the risks of vaccination, and linked to conspiracy theory websites. Google not only approved the two advertisements with blatant language—“Don’t get vaccinated” and “Vaccines aren’t safe”—but even sent multiple prompts via email to tell the publication how to better optimize them.
A single US website that specializes in anti-vaccination misinformation accounts for almost a third of all the anti-vaxx propaganda found on social media in Brazil, where 13 percent of people don’t vaccinate themselves or their children, according to a new study from the Brazilian Society of Immunizations and Avaaz, a non-profit human rights activist network. The site had its account removed by Facebook, and was blocked by both YouTube and Twitter, but the misinformation it published has continued to be distributed in Brazil and a number of other countries.
Emily Tamkin, CJR’s public editor for CNN, writes about the network’s use of the “chyron” or superscript/caption portion of the TV screen to convey fact-checking information about its news programming. “The chyrons are clever. They’re cute. They’re wry. I am amused by the chyrons,” Tamkin writes. “But the chyron undermining Bannon’s claim that a civil rights hero would support a profoundly divisive president does not change the fact that CNN is still covering Bannon’s words.”
Isaac Bailey wrote an open letter to the editor of the Northwestern University student paper, which recently apologized for the way it reported on a student protest. Bailey, the first black primary columnist for a daily newspaper in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, told editor Troy Closson that “your instinct to empathize with marginalized groups who have for too long been overlooked or demonized or misconstrued throughout the history of the American media is a strong one. Don’t lose that.”
A Reuter’s news article that called Wednesday’s impeachment hearing “dull” sparked a social media revolt, former Intercept writer Dan Froomkin notes at Presswatchers. The Reuters report drew criticism from New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, as well as Atlantic writer James Fallows — who said that “public-affairs writing suffers when it’s similar to theater reviews” — Sara Kendzior, host of the Gaslit Nation podcast, and New York Times Magazine writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, who said that the report “is emblematic of a deep need for a reset in political reporting.”
Apple signed on 200,000 subscribers to Apple News+ in its first 48 hours after launching in March, but has been stuck in neutral since that time, according to a report from CNBC. Apple News+ includes magazines such as People and Vanity Fair, newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal, and online publications like Vox, New York Magazine and theSkimm. Bloomberg News reported Thursday that Apple is considering bundling Apple News+ with Apple Music and Apple TV+ as soon as next year.
Media analyst Ken Doctor writes that the combined company that results from the merger of Gatehouse Media and Gannett could be looking for as much as $400 million in cost savings to justify the deal. “What does that mean? Almost certainly, even more reduction in headcount than had been anticipated. How much? In any room of eight people at a current GateHouse or Gannett operation, one is likely to see her job gone in 2020,” Doctor says in a report for the Nieman Journalism Lab.
The News Media Alliance says that a study it did of Spanish media sites following the departure of Google News from that country in 2014 shows that “the closure of Google News in Spain [was] not detrimental to the Spanish news publishing industry as a whole.” The organization says the Spanish news publishers included in their analysis “were minimally affected and that the reduction in traffic following the closing of Google News was, if anything, low and temporary.” Google has said it will restrict the amount of information it provides for links to French publishers because of the introduction of a new copyright law similar to the one Spain enacted in 2014.
Note: This is something I originally published at the Columbia Journalism Review, where I’m the chief digital writer
When journalists want to talk among themselves about something difficult, the anonymous Google Doc seems to have become a go-to mechanism for doing so. First there was the “Shitty Media Men” document, which was circulated in 2017, and eventually grew into a long list of alleged sexual harassers, working at some of the leading media outlets in the country. Now, there is a document circulating in which journalists are being encouraged to share the details of their salaries (Note: CJR hasn’t verified any of the salary information in the document).
The salary list doesn’t generate quite the same kind of ethical quandaries as the SMM list did, of course. Although the latter got a lot of favorable attention for shedding light on a chronic problem, some questioned the morality of identifying men as sexual harassers based solely on anonymous reports (a Poynter report called it “Wikipedia wrapped in razor blades). That said, however, it did have a positive impact, despite the fact that it was only online for about 12 hours (creator Moira Donegan took it down after reports that BuzzFeed was writing about it). The list reportedly helped contribute to the departures of a number of those who were named, including Leon Wieseltier of The Atlantic and Paris Review editor Lorin Stein.
You might think talking about salaries would be a lot less contentious than naming sexual abusers, but what people get paid has always been a touchy subject in the media business, in part because it dredges up all sorts of awkward and uncomfortable issues like lower pay for women and people of color (something a recent Washington Post salary survey confirmed is still a problem). On top of that, everyone is either ashamed to admit how small their salary is, or embarrassed to admit how large it is. Which presumably explains why the list is anonymous.
The trend towards anonymous Google Docs as a source of insider information is fascinating for a number of reasons (journalists doing anonymous journalism about journalism), and examples like the SMM list definitely bring up ethical implications that should be considered. But in the long run, we would probably all be better off — and certainly women and people of color might be — if the salary list sparked a healthy conversation about who is paying whom how much, and for what. So feel free to add yourself — don’t be shy! — and circulate it widely.
This is a newsletter that is made up of links I’ve either found on Twitter or Facebook, or that have been shared by my social network. More here: http://nuzzel.com/mathewi
‘Game-Changer’ Warrant Let Detective Search Genetic Database
The New York Times – Kashmir Hill – Nov 5, 12:14 PM
For police officers around the country, the genetic profiles that 20 million people have uploaded to consumer DNA sites represent a tantalizing resource that could be used to solve cases both new and cold. But for years, the vast majority of the…More info…
Perspective | NBC needs a transparent, external investigation of its failure to air Ronan Farrow’s #MeToo reporting
The Washington Post – Margaret Sullivan – Nov 5, 10:35 AM
In recent weeks, NBC has made a loud and clear statement about its values: Profits matter more than journalism, ratings more than truth. The official words, of course, say something different. But actions — actually lack of actions —…More info…
Turns Out Blogging Is Hard
vice – Anna Merlan – Nov 5, 11:41 AM
The first time I logged onto Gawker.com as a writer, it was early evening, my name was temporarily Enid, and I was clutching my asthma inhaler, toying with the outlines of a panic attack. I’d already worked a full day at my staff writing job at the…
New York Times Co. Says It’s on Pace for 10 Million Subscribers by 2025
The New York Times – Edmund Lee – Nov 6, 4:03 AM
Readers continue to shower The New York Times with money. Advertisers, not so much. The publisher added 273,000 new online subscribers in the third quarter, for a total of four million digital readers, the company reported Wednesday. The number of…More info…
Reveal has been fighting a lawsuit for three years. Now we’re speaking up about it
Reveal – Christa Scharfenberg – Nov 5, 1:49 PM
In 2016, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting began publishing stories resulting from a wide-ranging investigation into Planet Aid, an international charity that had received U.S. government funds for aid programs in impoverished…More info…
Note: This is something I originally wrote for the daily newsletter at the Columbia Journalism Review, where I’m the chief digital writer
Most of the attention on Facebook and disinformation in the past week or so has focused on the platform’s controversial decision not to fact-check political advertising, along with the choice of right-wing site Breitbart News as one of the “trusted sources” for Facebook’s News tab. But these two developments are just part of the much larger story about Facebook’s role in distributing disinformation of all kinds, an issue that is becoming more crucial as we get closer to the 2020 presidential election. And according to one recent study, the problem is getting worse instead of better, especially when it comes to news stories about issues related to the election. Avaaz, a site that specializes in raising public awareness about global public-policy issues, says its research shiws fake news stories got 86 million views in the past three months, more than three times as many as during the previous three-month period.
The study isn’t online yet, but Avaaz supplied a preview of its research to Judd Legum, who writes the progressive newsletter Popular Information (the study was also reported on by Associated Press, Venturebeat, CNN and Vice News). According to Legum, the report says that in the first ten months of this year, “politically relevant disinformation was found to have reached over 158 million estimated views, enough to reach every reported registered voter in the US at least once.” The report looked at the top 100 fake news stories about US politics on the platform, as defined by Crowdtangle, the Facebook-owned traffic-measurement tool that tracks the network’s most popular pages and links. Avaaz says it looked at viral stories that had already been fact-checked and debunked by reputable US fact-checking organizations at the time of the study, and found that they were still drawing in vast amounts of viewership.
According to Legum’s summary of the study, Avaaz found that almost all of the fake news stories that went viral on the network — more than 90 percent — were negative, and the majority of those were about Democrats or liberals. Positive news was only a tiny proportion of the total, the study says, and 100 percent of it was about Republicans or conservatives. One significant exception to this general trend, according to Avaaz, was the top most-viewed fake story, which was about Donald Trump’s father, Fred, which came from a purported news website calling itself The American Herald Tribune. The story said the elder Trump was “a pimp and tax evader,” and that Fred’s father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan (none of these allegations are supported by any factual evidence). Despite being debunked by an official Facebook fact-checking partner, the Trump article was viewed more than 29 million times, according to Avaaz.
The second biggest fake news story was aimed at Nancy Pelosi: An article from a site called Potatriots Unite claimed that she was diverting billions from Social Security to cover impeachment costs. Avaaz noted that the piece was labeled as satire, but that this wasn’t immediately apparent to anyone reading the story. It also points out that the story was debunked by Politifact, a Facebook fact-checking partner, and that — as is standard with such fact-checked pieces — anyone who attempted to share the link would be faced with a popup message telling them that it contained false information. The popup also warns that those who shared such misinformation regularly might find their “overall distribution reduced or be restricted in other ways.” Nevertheless, the story was shared more than 24 million times, Avaaz says.
In a statement sent to Vice and other outlets, a Facebook spokesperson said other studies have shown the company has cut the amount of fake news on its platform since the 2016 election, and that the company has been investing more in warning labels and other notifications. If nothing else, what the Avaaz study shows is that, despite all of these efforts by Facebook, fake news stories about candidates and election topics are not only circulating widely — more widely than just about anything else on the network — but warning labels seem to be doing little or nothing to stop them. All of which suggests that even if Facebook did decide to fact-check political advertising after all, it might not change anything about the spread of disinformation on the platform. Hundreds of millions of Facebook users seem to be more than happy to share — and possibly even believe — things that are clearly labelled as being fake.
Here’s more on Facebook and disinformation:
Manipulation built in: In an op-ed piece for the Washington Post, Yaël Eisenstat — the former head of election integrity for Facebook and a former CIA officer — says the problem with Facebook is that “it profits partly by amplifying lies and selling dangerous targeting tools that allow political operatives to engage in a new level of information warfare.” Tinkering around the margins of the platform’s advertising policies won’t fix these serious issues, Eisenstat writes. “As long as Facebook prioritizes profit over healthy discourse, they can’t avoid damaging democracies.”
Zuck on targeting: Dylan Byers of NBC News reports that several high-ranking sources inside Facebook say CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn’t prepared to budge on whether to fact-check political ads or not, but that he “remains open to ideas about how to curb the spread of false ads, including limiting the ability of candidates to target narrow groups of users.” The head of the Federal Election Commission, Ellen Weintraub, wrote in a recent op-ed for the Washington Post that Facebook should stop allowing campaigns to micro-target users with messaging.
Misinfo from inside: NBC has published a cache of more than 7,000 pages of leaked Facebook documents, including confidential internal emails, web chats, notes, and presentations. The news site says the documents show how Mark Zuckerberg worked to consolidate the social network’s power and control competitors, while claiming that the changes being made were for user privacy. The documents are part of a lawsuit that a startup called Six4Three brought against Facebook for cutting off access to the platform. Some were previously released by a UK government committee.
Other notable stories:
Right-wing media sites such as Breitbart News have published stories in which they claim to have identified the whistleblower behind the allegations involving Donald Trump and Ukraine — reports that were retweeted by Donald Trump Jr., among others — but management of Fox News have reportedly instructed the network’s hosts not to repeat the name, according to a report from CNN that quoted internal emails. Fox anchor Sean Hannity said Monday that he had “confirmed independently” the identity of the whistleblower, but stopped short of naming the person on air.
Reveal, the reporting arm of the Center for Investigative Reporting, revealed that it has been fighting a lawsuit for more than three years that has already cost it millions of dollars in legal fees. The case stems from an investigative report the site did into Planet Aid, an international charity that had received U.S. government funds for aid programs in impoverished areas of southern Africa. Among other things, the site reported that employees of a Planet Aid subcontractor in Malawi routinely were required to kick back portions of their salaries to a bank account controlled by a cult-like organization.
The Washington Post union has published a report looking at pay discrepancies among the editorial staff of the newspaper. The Guild says a team spent four months analyzing data provided by the Post, a reporting effort led by Pulitzer Prize-winning data journalist Steven Rich. Among the conclusions are that women as a group are paid less than men who work at the paper; that employees of color are paid less than white men, even when controlling for age and job description, and that the pay disparity between men and women is most pronounced among journalists under the age of 40.
Jonathan Albright, director of the Digital Forensics Initiative at Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, writes in Wired magazine about a study he helped write that looked at trolling behavior targeted at two Muslim congressional candidates, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Albright writes that the study reinforced his view that “social platforms are increasingly populated by machines: bots, conversational AI, etc. Their agenda includes silencing real people who voice opposition and support for certain views.”
BuzzFeed News writes about a network of fake local news sites, with names like Albany Daily News and City of Edmonton News, that based on their traffic and digital ad rates, may have earned more revenue from programmatic ads than the leading news outlets in the cities they are named after, according to research from a firm called Social Puncher. The Albany Daily News reportedly racked up nearly 10 million pageviews in August, roughly five times that of the 160-year-old Times Union newspaper, a legitimate publication based in Albany.
Lauren Harris writes for CJR about what happens when women make sexual harassment allegations and then those allegations are reported on, something that can subject them to even more unwanted scrutiny. “It’s exhausting for survivors because it’s not like you speak out once and then it’s over,” says Felicia Sonmez, a reporter who made allegations against a former co-worker. “In my case, it’s been a process of having to keep reasserting myself and making sure my own voice was heard. When people have tried to put their own spin on my story, I’ve had to push back.”
The Society of Professional Journalists is asking Congress to “support the right of unimpeded communication” between federal employees, including scientists, and journalists. Over the last 25 years, the group says there has been “a rapid trend toward federal agencies and others prohibiting staff members from communicating to journalists without reporting to some authority, often public information officers.” These restrictions, the SPJ says, have become “an effective form of censorship by which powerful entities keep the American people ignorant about what impacts them.”
The UK’s Tory party is under fire for circulating a video clip on its social-media channels that show an opposition MP apparently unable to come up with a response to a question about the Labour party’s position on Brexit. In fact, the MP provided a lengthy answer to the question. Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan said that the MP’s answer might have been “unconvincing,” but the way the video was edited by the Tories was “misleading and unfair”.
The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund and the World Trade Center Health Program are both available for members of the media who covered the terrorist attack in New York in September of 2001, CNN reports. Two journalists who reported on the disaster and have since contracted cancer — Bruce David Martin, a former news operation manager and photojournalist for WWOR-TV and former NBC staffer Vincent Novak — spoke with CNN because they said they wanted to spread the word to other journalists that they could be covered by the funds as well.
Slate spoke to three of the former editorial staff at Deadspin, all of whom quit the site, along with the rest of their more than a dozen former colleagues, after a directive from the site’s owner, G/O Media, that Deadspin should “stick to sports.” Former editor-in-chief Megan Greenwell, senior editor Barry Petchesky and writer Tom Ley talked about the events that led up to the mass resignations. Editorial director Paul Maidment, the man who handed down the directive, resigned earlier this week, saying he was leaving to pursue an “entrepreneurial opportunity.”
Note: This is something I originally wrote for the daily newsletter at the Columbia Journalism Review, where I’m the chief digital writer
A number of Facebook’s recent decisions have fueled a storm of criticism that continues to follow the company, including the decision not to fact-check political advertising and the inclusion of Breitbart News in the company’s new “trusted sources” News tab. These controversies were stoked even further by some of the things CEO Mark Zuckerberg brought up in his speech at Georgetown University last week, where he tried — mostly unsuccessfully — to portray Facebook as a defender of free speech. CJR thought all of these topics and more were worth discussing with free-speech experts and researchers who focus on the power of platforms like Facebook, so we convened an interview series this week on our Galley discussion platform, featuring guests like Alex Stamos, former chief technology officer of Facebook, veteran tech journalist Kara Swisher, Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain, and Stanford researcher Kate Klonick.
Stamos, one of the first to raise the issue of potential Russian government involvement on Facebook’s platform while he was the head of security there, said he had a number of issues with Zuckerberg’s speech, including the fact that he “compressed all of the different products into this one blob he called Facebook. That’s not a useful frame for pretty much any discussion of how to handle speech issues.” Stamos said the News tab is arguably a completely new category of product, a curated and in some cases paid-for selection of media, and that this means the company has much more responsibility when it comes to what appears there. Stamos also said that there are “dozens of Cambridge Analyticas operating today collecting sensitive data on individuals and using it to target ads for political campaigns. They just aren’t dumb enough to get their data through breaking an API agreement with Facebook.”
Ellen Goodman, co-founder of the Rutgers Institute for Information Policy & Law, said that Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the first to have to struggle with tensions between free speech and democratic discourse, “it’s just that he’s confronting these questions without any connection to press traditions, with only recent acknowledgment that he runs a media company, in the absence of any regulation, and with his hands on personal data and technical affordances that enable microtargeting.” Kate Klonick of Stanford said Zuckerberg spoke glowingly about early First Amendment cases, but got one of the most famous — NYT v Sullivan — wrong. “The case really stands for the idea of tolerating even untrue speech in order to empower citizens to criticize political figures,” Klonick said. “It is not about privileging political figures’ speech, which of course is exactly what the new Facebook policies do.”
Evelyn Douek, an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center For Internet & Society, said that most of Zuckerberg’s statements about his commitment to free speech were based on the old idea of a marketplace of ideas being the best path to truth. This metaphor has always been questionable, Douek says, “but it makes no sense at all in a world where Facebook constructs, tilts, distorts the marketplace with its algorithms that favor a certain kind of content.” She said Facebook’s amplification of certain kinds of information via the News Feed algorithm “is a cause of a lot of the unease with our current situation, especially because of the lack of transparency.” EFF director Jillian York said the political ad issue is a tricky one. “I do think that fact-checking political ads is important, but is this company capable of that? These days, I lean toward thinking that maybe Facebook just isn’t the right place for political advertising at all.”
Swisher said: “The problem is that this is both a media company, a telephone company and a tech company. As it is architected, it is impossible to govern. Out of convenience we have handed over the keys to them and we are cheap dates for doing so. You get a free map and quick delivery? They get billions and control the world.” Zittrain said the political ad fact-checking controversy is about more than just a difficult product feature. “Evaluating ads for truth is not a mere customer service issue that’s solvable by hiring more generic content staffers,” he said. “The real issue is that a single company controls far too much speech of a particular kind, and thus has too much power.” Dipayan Ghosh, who runs the Platform Accountability Project at Harvard, warned that Facebook’s policy to allow misinformation in political ads means a politician “will have the opportunity to engage in coordinated disinformation operations in precisely the same manner that the Russian disinformation agents did in 2016.”
Here’s more on Facebook and speech:
Internal revolt: Several hundred Facebook employees have signed an internal letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg protesting the company’s decision not to fact-check political advertising, according to a report in the New York Times, which obtained a copy of the letter from an anonymous source. The letter says that “our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform.”
Twitter for the win: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey dropped a bomb on Wednesday, and in the process one-upped his social networking rival, by announcing in a thread that Twitter will no longer take political ads of any kind, a ban that includes “issue” ads (LinkedIn and Pinterest have also done this). Dorsey said the company believes “political message reach should be earned, not bought.” There was much cheering (including from a prominent former presidential candidate), but a few observers noted that figuring out what exactly constitutes an “issue” ad is a fairly significant problem.
Keeping it real: Judd Legum, who writes the progressive Popular Information newsletter, reported recently that the right-wing site The Daily Wire uses a network of Facebook pages to drive traffic and social engagement, in what appears to be a contravention of Facebook’s rules against “co-ordinated inauthentic behavior.” The company said the pages could remain, since they were run by “real people,” but Legum found that two of them are owned or controlled by The Daily Wire.
Spare a penny: Facebook has agreed to pay a fine of about $645,000 levied by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which personal data on hundreds of millions of users was sold to a data-mining political strategy firm after being collected by someone using an online survey. That fine amounts to about one one-thousandth of Facebook’s annual revenue, which means it would take the company about 10 minutes to make enough to pay the fee.
Other notable stories:
At least eight Deadspin writers quit their jobs on Wednesday to protest changes made by the site’s owner, G/O Media, which acquired the former Gawker Media site after that company went bankrupt following a successful defamation lawsuit. The management of G/O had directed the staff of Deadspin to stick to sports coverage instead of writing about pop culture and other topics, which resulted in the departure of deputy editor Barry Petchesky on Tuesday. G/O management said in a statement that they were “sorry [staff] couldn’t work within this incredibly broad coverage mandate” and that they were “excited about Deadspin’s future.”
The Facebook executive overseeing the launch of the News tab appeared to defend the company’s controversial decision to include Breitbart, a far-right website known for publishing misinformation, as one of its sources, CNN reports. Campbell Brown, head of global news partnerships at Facebook, wrote in a blog post that she believed when “building out a destination for news on Facebook” content should be included “from ideological publishers on both the left and right.”
Digital news employees at NBC News announced on Wednesday that they plan to unionize in an attempt to lobby for fair pay and newsroom diversity, but also for the ability to address the handling of sexual-harassment allegations without fear of retribution.The plans were announced amid the ongoing controversy sparked by Ronan Farrow’s book, Catch and Kill, which alleges that NBC management tried to quash his reporting on Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct.
A group of investors have agreed to acquire Nautilus, the literary science magazine. The buyers include media entrepreneur Nicholas White, the co-founder and CEO of The Daily Dot, who will take the same position at Nautilus. The investment group says the magazine has more than 10,000 monthly paying subscribers and an online reach of more than 10 million, and that they plan to implement a new digital strategy and website that will roll out over the next year, involving “aggressive investment in editorial, reader experience, and new products.”
Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple says an analysis of Fox News’ coverage of stories that are broken by CNN shows that Fox routinely fails to provide credit to CNN for stories that it discusses on air. “Liars, captives of the Democratic Party, source of all evil — that’s essentially the portrait of CNN that Fox News’s two leading opinionators seek to advance on their programs,” Wemple writes. “To provide credits would be an admission that the slanders of its top opinion hosts were just that — knowing, false characterizations. Far better to just steal CNN’s reporting.”
A Wall Street Journal editorial argues that the media’s anger over Mark Zuckerberg’s free-speech policies “is especially odd. Shouldn’t reporters want to know what candidates are saying so they can dissect and report on it?” Instead, the paper argues that journalists are offering “sophisticated-sounding arguments for why political speech should be controlled by tech companies.” The Journal editorial says that “media and political elites” are effectively demanding that Zuckerberg should “put his thumb on the political scales,” and that’s why so many Americans have lost trust in them.
Brut, a French digital-media company that produces what it calls “socially conscious” news and entertainment videos for millennials, has launched in the U.S. and received $40 million in funding. The company, founded in 2017 and headquartered in Paris, said it would use the capital injection “to continue its worldwide expansion.” The company claims it has a global audience of 2 billion in more than 57 countries, and that it hit 10 billion video views in the past year, and generated more than one billion views in September alone across all its platforms.
Facebook has suspended three networks of Russian accounts that attempted to interfere in the domestic politics of eight African countries, and were tied to a Russian businessman accused of meddling in past U.S. elections, according to Reuters. The campaigns used almost 200 fake and compromised accounts to target people in Madagascar, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Sudan and Libya. Between them, the accounts amassed more than 1 million followers. All the networks were connected to “entities associated with Russian financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin.”
Former NBC reporter and producer Jake Heller has launched a print magazine called Enemy that he says is dedicated to reporting on abuses of power, particularly in underrepresented communities and news deserts across the United States. “Our plan is to help fill the gap in local accountability reporting that’s being left as newspapers and other news organizations are gutted and shut down across the country,” Heller says. “Think of us as a mix between ProPublica and Monocle. A quarterly magazine that looks great on your coffee table, but that’s committed to telling those crucial stories that are falling through the cracks.”