For Facebook, Trump is, above all, a valued customer

BuzzFeed reports:

In the days following Donald Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg placed a secret, previously unreported call to the president-elect during which, sources told BuzzFeed News, he congratulated the Trump team on its victory and successful campaign, which spent millions of dollars on advertising with Facebook.

The private call between Zuckerberg and Trump, which was confirmed by three people familiar with the conversation, is just one in a series of private endorsements from Facebook employees of the Trump campaign’s ad efforts on the platform. The company declined to comment on the call. The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment.

While Facebook has been reluctant to publicly acknowledge how well Trump used its social network to reach voters, it has celebrated the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign internally as one of the most imaginative uses of the company’s powerful advertising platform. In addition to interviews with Trump campaign staffers and former Facebook employees, BuzzFeed News obtained company presentations and memos that show the social media giant viewed Trump’s campaign as an “innovator” of a fast-moving, test-oriented approach to marketing on Facebook.

These memos and presentations indicate Facebook took the methods it learned from the Trump campaign to further refine a marketing model called “Test, Learn, Adapt” (TLA), which it currently uses to assess its own advertising. These internal documents are a candid recognition by Facebook of the GOP candidate’s advertising success and reveal the degree to which the company views Trump not just as a potential regulator or a source of misinformation, but also, above all, a valued customer. [Continue reading…]

How emoji are changing the way we communicate

Wired reports:

Two years ago, Sanjaya Wijeratne—a computer science PhD student at Wright State University—noticed something odd in his research. He was studying the communication of gang members on Twitter. Among the grandstanding about drugs and money, he found gang members repeatedly dropping the ⛽ emoji in their tweets.

Wijeratne had been working on separate research relating to word-sense disambiguation, a field of computational linguistics that looks at how words take on multiple meanings. The use of ⛽ jumped out as a brand new problem. “They were using the gas pump emoji to refer to marijuana,” says Wijeratne. “As soon as I saw this new meaning associated with the emoji, I thought, what about emoji-sense disambiguation?”

That moment caused Wijeratne to redirected his PhD research toward emoji. This week, he put together the first interdisciplinary academic conference on emoji in research.

At Stanford University this week, a collection of linguists, data scientists, computer researchers, and emoji enthusiasts gathered for the International Workshop on Emoji Understanding and Applications in Social Media, itself a smaller piece of the AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media. They brought with them research on how emoji are changing the way we communicate online, how gender and political affiliation are reproduced online through emoji, and the challenges emoji pose for natural-language processing in computers. The assembled academics also debated basic questions about the nature of emoji: Like, if emoji is something akin to a language, why can’t anyone agree on what individual emoji mean? [Continue reading…]

The escalating hatred faced by journalists

Julie Beck writes:

The majority of Americans do not trust the news media. There are many complex reasons why, and there’s enough blame to go around to many different parties, journalists included. So it’s hardly surprising that they get some rude messages. “But I’m not talking about the rudeness. I’m talking about intimidation,” says Elana Newman, a psychologist who works with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. “I’ve been working for the Dart Center for 20 years in some capacity, and when we used to ask people what the most stressful parts of journalism are, they would talk about the hours, or getting it right. They would talk about all sorts of things. Now what comes up is really this kind of stuff.”

According to research by the psychologist Kelsey Parker in 2015, 63 percent of journalists from several English-speaking countries said they had experienced occupational intimidation in the past 12 months. Globally, almost two-thirds of female journalists “experienced acts of ‘intimidation, threats and abuse’ in relation to their work,” a report from the International Women’s Media Foundation and the International News Safety Institute found. Another study, of Swedish journalists, found that a third had experienced a threat in the past year. A far greater number—74 percent—had received “abusive comments which are unpleasant but do not involve any direct threat.”

Journalists have had their families harassed, had their addresses and other personal information published (a practice known as doxxing), and had SWAT teams sent to their houses by trolls.

“Raise your hand if you know (or are) a journalist who has received a death threat in the last year,” Sam Escobar, the deputy director of Allure magazine, tweeted on Thursday after the shooting. The tweet received replies from journalists on every beat imaginable—health, politics, music, gender, tech, beauty—and a cartoonist. [Continue reading…]

News and the forgotten value of waiting

If someone wanted to create a parody of cable news, it would be hard to satirize the form more effectively than to cast Wolf Blitzer as the lead character in a goofy show called The Situation Room, where all news all the time is breaking news.

The irony of the fact that CNN’s news show of that name is, on the contrary, meant to be taken seriously, is that it does indeed capture the zeitgeist of the news media environment in which we now live — an environment, driven largely by social media, that maximizes the value of the nowness of news while eviscerating the value of its content.

News nowadays has such a short shelf-life, it’s already stale before it gets packaged.

The obvious explanation for this state of affairs is that while journalism is and always has been a mad race to get there first, the driving forces behind that race now operate outside the control of traditional news organizations.

Yet that dynamic does not, it seems to me, fully account for what’s going on.

The over amplified urgency of news, mirrors a much broader social malaise. People everywhere, but especially in America, have been conditioned to feel that there is no experience in life more intolerable than having to wait.

To wait is to be tortured by a cavity that urgently demands filling.

Waiting destabilizes the nervous system and seemingly the only way most people can prevent an imminent seizure or some other kind of systemic breakdown these days is by clutching the ubiquitous grounding device upon which everyone now depends: their smart phone — a grounding device that helps each user feel connected by disconnecting them from where they are.

In response to a pandemic of impatience, the news media, like Amazon Prime, caters to and cultivates a sense that waiting is one step away from dying and conversely that a life lived to the full is a life in which we never have to wait — for anything. We want everything now.

In truth, as we lose the capacity to wait, we regress to (or never grow out of) a state of infantilism. Our expectation that everything should be available on demand, far from shaping the perfect life, has instead become an unremitting source of stress.

We have become enslaved by our impatience — there is no liberty in this addiction.

Impatience is the incapacity to find ease in the present moment.

Rather than treating the present as a fertile space in which the unexpected can freely emerge, we demand that it conform to our expectations. We struggle to shape what will be while continuously turning away from what is.

In so doing, we are forever struggling to inhabit a world of our designs, while shielding ourselves from the world in which we live.

Since so much of what passes for news describes circumstances in which people have died, it is strange that questions about life and death somehow fall outside the purview of most journalists — as though cold facts are all that matter.

The shooting at the offices of The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, yesterday afternoon illustrate how thinly sliced a story becomes when reduced to a short string of facts — the names of the gunman and his victims, statements from law enforcement, gleanings from social media, and then a robotic presidential response.

Jarrod Warren Ramos will have his day in court, while his random victims have been deprived of theirs. Maybe he’ll dispute the suggestion that his killing spree was random. Strangely, the local police, while emphasizing that their investigation would be slow and thorough, nevertheless went out of their way to dampen speculation that this might be a random attack on journalists incited by Donald Trump and the alt right — as though by describing Ramos’ attack as “targeted,” they had sealed off the crime scene from the media-hostile environment in which it took place.

There may come a day when the full story is told, yet the faster the spinning top of news coverage turns, the smaller the space in which patient storytelling can unfurl.

In our eagerness to consume the news as fast as it comes, like a snake eating itself, we consume our capacity to digest information, ruminate on its meaning and engage the world thoughtfully with reflective minds and open hearts.

Jaron Lanier is convinced that social media is toxic, making us sadder, angrier and more isolated

The Guardian reports:

Many of the ideas in Jaron Lanier’s new book start off pretty familiar – at least, if you are active on social media. Yet in every chapter there is a principle so elegant, so neat, sometimes even so beautiful, that what is billed as straight polemic becomes something much more profound.

The concept of random reinforcement, for example: addiction fed not by reward but by never knowing whether or when the reward will come, is well known. But Lanier puts it like this: “The algorithm is trying to capture the perfect parameters for manipulating a brain, while the brain, in order to seek out deeper meaning, is changing in response to the algorithm’s experiments … Because the stimuli from the algorithm doesn’t mean anything, because they genuinely are random, the brain isn’t responding to anything real, but to a fiction. That process – of becoming hooked on an elusive mirage – is addiction.”

The restless scrolling, the clammy self-reproach afterwards … we could recognise that as addiction quite easily, but the mathematical mechanism for having created it makes horrible sense (Lanier isn’t that interested in culprits, though he finds all of Silicon Valley pretty callow).

He wears his tech credentials lightly, as he can afford to, having been there for the creation of the internet; he was chief scientist of the engineering office of Internet2 and there in the very first chat-rooms, whence he draws the conclusion that I found the least convincing: even at its incipience, online communication tended towards the hostile. “Sometimes, out of nowhere, I would get into a fight with someone … It was so weird. We’d start insulting each other, trying to score points.” Since this all predated algorithmic manipulation, and cannot be blamed on Facebook, he concludes that we have pack behaviours and solitary behaviours: in a pack, we become locked in internecine competition; on our own “we’re more free. We’re cautious, but also more capable of joy.” [Continue reading…]

ABC only did the right thing when it could no longer get away with ignoring Roseanne’s racism

Roxane Gay writes:

On Twitter on Tuesday, Roseanne Barr wrote that if “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby =vj.” The message referred to President Barack Obama’s former senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and in it Ms. Barr traded on age-old racist ideas about black people and primates. Then she shared some incorrect nonsense about Chelsea Clinton marrying into the Soros family.

It was the kind of thing Roseanne Barr has been doing online for years. This time, however, the backlash was immediate and vigorous. Ms. Barr apologized for her “joke” that wasn’t really a joke and said she was leaving Twitter as if Twitter were responsible for her racist behavior. That apology was not enough. ICM Partners, her agents, stopped representing her. The comedian Wanda Sykes, who was a consulting producer on the reboot of “Roseanne,” announced that she was quitting the show. Within a matter of hours, ABC canceled the new “Roseanne” and the original show’s reruns were pulled from TV Land, CMT and the Paramount Network.

For once, a major network did the right thing. But before it did the right thing, it did the wrong thing. It is not new information that Roseanne Barr makes racist, Islamophobic and misogynistic statements and is happy to peddle all manner of dangerous conspiracy theories. ABC knew this when it greenlighted the “Roseanne” reboot. ABC knew this when it quickly renewed the reboot for a second season, buoyed, no doubt, by the show’s strong ratings.

The cast, the writers and the producers knew what Ms. Barr stood for when they agreed to work on the show. Everyone involved made a decision to support the show despite its co-creator’s racism. They decided that their career ambitions, or desire to return to network television, or financial interests would best be served by looking the other way. It was only when Ms. Barr became an immediate liability that everyone involved finally looked at her racism and dealt with it directly. [Continue reading…]

Trump violates First Amendment by blocking Twitter users, judge says

The New York Times reports:

Apart from the man himself, perhaps nothing has defined President Trump’s political persona more than Twitter.

But on Wednesday, one of Mr. Trump’s Twitter habits — his practice of blocking critics on the service, preventing them from engaging with his account — was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in Manhattan.


In her ruling, Federal District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote of seven plaintiffs who sued Mr. Trump and several of his aides after being blocked by Mr. Trump’s Twitter account that “the speech in which they seek to engage is protected by the First Amendment.” Judge Buchwald added that Mr. Trump and Dan Scavino, the White House social media director, “exert governmental control over certain aspects of the @realDonaldTrump account.” [Continue reading…]

How social media exploits our moral emotions

Scott Koenig writes:

A few years ago, Justine Sacco, then the senior director of corporate communications at the holding company InterActiveCorp, tweeted about the nuisances of air-travel during a long, multi-leg journey from New York to South Africa. She started with sardonic observations—one about a smelly passenger at JFK Airport, another about London’s peculiar food and predictably inclement weather. Then came this one, shortly before her final flight: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

As she settled in to sleep, she had good reason to expect that that tweet would fade away into the hectic ether of Twitter. She had only 170 followers, after all. But no. While her phone was off, Sacco became the number one worldwide trending topic on Twitter, as tens of thousands of users across the globe filled her feed with their outrage. When she landed in Cape Town, she found herself receiving the full brunt of the online community’s capacity for public shaming. Her public persona destroyed, Sacco was fired from her job and saw much of her social circle—both online and offline—wither away. “I thought there was no way that anyone could possibly think it was literal,” she later told author Jon Ronson for his book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

This wasn’t the first time caprice was punished with viral outrage. Sacco’s tweet is just one of countless examples of provocative online behavior drawing a seemingly disproportionate social punishment. Why does this keep happening? Because the architecture of social media exploits our sense of right and wrong, reaping profit from the pleasure we feel in expressing righteous outrage. The algorithms that undergird the flow of information on social media are, like the sensationalist print media and incendiary talk radio that came before them, designed to maximize ad revenue by engaging consumers’ attention to the fullest extent possible. Or as novelist John Green puts it, “Twitter is not designed to make you happier or better informed. It’s designed to keep you on Twitter.”

Columbia Law professor Tim Wu, author of The Attention Merchants, calls this “attention harvesting.” And as a business model, it’s extremely lucrative. Many are aware on some level that those persistent, weirdly personal ads on our devices have a lot to do with how Twitter, Facebook, and Google make money. What some may not be aware of, though, is exactly how those platforms manage to hold our attention well enough to make their ads so profitable. [Continue reading…]

USA Today read every one of the 3,517 Facebook ads bought by Russians. Here’s what they found

USA Today reports:

The Russian company charged with orchestrating a wide-ranging effort to meddle in the 2016 presidential election overwhelmingly focused its barrage of social media advertising on what is arguably America’s rawest political division: race.

The roughly 3,500 Facebook ads were created by the Russian-based Internet Research Agency, which is at the center of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s February indictment of 13 Russians and three companies seeking to influence the election.

While some ads focused on topics as banal as business promotion or Pokémon, the company consistently promoted ads designed to inflame race-related tensions. Some dealt with race directly; others dealt with issues fraught with racial and religious baggage such as ads focused on protests over policing, the debate over a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and relationships with the Muslim community.

The company continued to hammer racial themes even after the election.

USA TODAY Network reporters reviewed each of the 3,517 ads, which were released to the public this week for the first time by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The analysis included not just the content of the ads, but also information that revealed the specific audience targeted, when the ad was posted, roughly how many views it received and how much the ad cost to post. [Continue reading…]

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Where countries are tinderboxes and Facebook is a match

The New York Times reports:

Past the end of a remote mountain road, down a rutted dirt track, in a concrete house that lacked running water but bristled with smartphones, 13 members of an extended family were glued to Facebook. And they were furious.

A family member, a truck driver, had died after a beating the month before. It was a traffic dispute that had turned violent, the authorities said. But on Facebook, rumors swirled that his assailants were part of a Muslim plot to wipe out the country’s Buddhist majority.

“We don’t want to look at it because it’s so painful,” H.M. Lal, a cousin of the victim, said as family members nodded. “But in our hearts there is a desire for revenge that has built.”

The rumors, they believed, were true. Still, the family, which is Buddhist, did not join in when Sinhalese-language Facebook groups, goaded on by extremists with wide followings on the platform, planned attacks on Muslims, burning a man to death.

But they had shared and could recite the viral Facebook memes constructing an alternate reality of nefarious Muslim plots. Mr. Lal called them “the embers beneath the ashes” of Sinhalese anger.

We came to this house to try to understand the forces of social disruption that have followed Facebook’s rapid expansion in the developing world, whose markets represent the company’s financial future. For months, we had been tracking riots and lynchings around the world linked to misinformation and hate speech on Facebook, which pushes whatever content keeps users on the site longest — a potentially damaging practice in countries with weak institutions. [Continue reading…]