Facebook Never Faced The Music
October 14, 2020
The Good News
- A Dose of Optimism, as the Pandemic Rages On (NYT, $)
- World War II-era ‘Candy Bomber’ turns 100. Those who caught his candy — now in their 80s — say thanks. (WaPo, $)
“Every time we repeat the same mistake, the price goes up.” — Paulo Coelho
Facebook Never Faced The Music
(Chris Jackson via Getty Images)
After the 2016 election — as it became more and more clear that Russian operatives were able to leverage social media to disseminate disinformation— there was a popular movement calling on sites like Facebook to get their act together. Stop allowing quasi-news outlets to publish political falsehoods. Fact check extreme statements from politicians themselves. Eliminate foreign meddling in elections.
Since then, Silicon Valley PR teams have been working double-time to convince us that these platforms have changed their ways. Billions of dollars and thousands of people were thrown at the problem — and entering the 2020 season, Facebook announced bold plans to ban all political ads in the week before the general election.
So has it worked? Have our de facto news aggregators cleaned up their act? In short, no. According to new research from the German Marshall Fund Digital, Facebook has yet to face the music for their 2016 mistakes. In fact, the misinformation problem has gotten much, much worse. Research shows that news outlets that regularly post falsehoods on Facebook are getting roughly three times the amount of likes, comments, and shares in the third quarter of 2020 than they did in the third quarter of 2016.
And about two-thirds of that online engagement is coming from 10 outlets, which the public policy think tank sorts into “manipulators” and “false content producers” using ratings from NewsGuard, who ranks new sites based on their adherence to nine journalistic principles. Manipulators sometimes distort and misrepresent facts, while false content producers straight up manufacture their own reality. The third quarter’s top manipulators? Fox News, Daily Wire, and Breitbart. The top false content producers? Red State Observer, The Federalist, and David Harris Jr. Media. Keep in mind that while conservative sites boast the most engagement, some liberal outlets also skirt by with misinformation — and those sites are also factored into the greater engagement calculation.
“We have these sites that masquerade as news outlets online. They’re allowed to,” said DMF Digital director Karen Kornbluh. “It’s infecting our discourse and it’s affecting the long-term health of the democracy.”
However, Facebook is pushing back on the notion that fake news has truly spiraled out of control. Spokesman Andy Stone contends that analyzing likes, comments, and shares is a “misleading” method when it comes to truly monitoring activity on Facebook. But this is the only data that the social media network makes publicly available — choosing to keep perhaps more illuminative data like the reach of posts to themselves. They also argue that engagement with all news articles is up due to the need for information in the COVID-19 era, but Kornbluh says that the growth rate of content from manipulators and false content producers surpasses that of “legitimate journalistic outlets” like Reuters and AP.
- Why Facebook Can’t Fix Itself (Atlantic, $)
- Facebook Has Finally Banned Holocaust Denial. Critics Ask What Took Them So Long (Time)
- Facebook bans anti-vaccine ads, but not organic misinformation (Axios)
- US election 2020: How to spot disinformation (BBC)
No-Nonsense In Nigeria
(Olukayode Jaiyeola via Getty Images)
- Just as they did in the United States this summer, a series of viral videos capturing violent treatment from a special forces unit has reignited nationwide protests to end police brutality this week in Nigeria. Political leaders and celebrities from Africa’s most populous country have called on citizens to take to the streets to demand the immediate disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad — prompting an international response from Nigerian and African communities across the world.
- President Muhammadu Buhari soon caved to the immense wave of pressure, announcing on Monday that he would dismantle the highly-controversial unit known as SARS, who patrolled the streets of Lagos wearing masks and riding around in unmarked vans. The force was initially created to stop organized crime, but as crime in the capital decreased, the rogue officers seem to have themselves turned into violent offenders. Amnesty International claims that more than 82 cases of abuse and extrajudicial killings have been documented by SARS officers from January 2017 to May.
- “The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms,” said President Buhari in a televised statement. “We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct are brought to justice.” As is so often the case, however, many protesters found this reactionary reform insufficient in meeting the needs of the people. Young Nigerians have been mobilized by this movement, going so far as to block major roads into cities across the country in protest.
- Demonstrations have persisted in the days following the disbanding of SARS, and many believe they will continue for some time to come. “We’re all still outside,” said 26-year-old activist Olasunkanmi in response to Buhari’s announcement. “People are just very wary because you can talk all you want, but if you don’t do anything we’re still going to be here. We’re coming back tomorrow. We don’t trust him, and we don’t believe him.” (CNN, NYT)
Additional World News
- Fifth of countries at risk of ecosystem collapse, analysis finds & This is my message to the western world – your civilisation is killing life on Earth | Nemonte Nenquimo (Guardian)
- Ice rage: Scientists Trapped In Ice for Past Year Return With a Dire Warning (Vice)
- Climate Change Prompts Energy Economists to Plan for Net-Zero CO₂ (Bloomberg)
- Nuclear arms talks spiral into confusion as Russia rejects US ‘delusion’ (Guardian)
- Gang of robbers join the police force: China and Russia elected to UN Human Rights Council (Axios)
- For Nagorno-Karabakh’s Dueling Sides, Living Together Is ‘Impossible’ (NYT, $)
- Tens Of Thousands Flee Latest Taliban Offensive, And Afghan Civilian Casualties Rise (NPR)
- What the U.S. election means for the Middle East (WaPo, $)
- NZ election: The people left behind in Ardern’s ‘kind’ New Zealand (BBC)
- Tried and Trudeau? In Pandemic Downturn, Canada’s Drive For Guaranteed Basic Income Picks Up Speed (NPR)
- US coronavirus: ‘Hunker down’ because the fall Covid-19 surge is here (CNN)
- How to Avoid a Winter COVID Catastrophe (Atlantic)
- Over $150,000 in Fines Issued on First Weekend of New N.Y.C. Lockdown (NYT, $)
- IMF estimates global Covid cost at $28tn in lost output (Guardian)
Second Time’s A Harm
- After a flurry of reports and speculation in May, scientists came forth and confirmed this week that a 25-year-old Nevada man was indeed infected with COVID-19 twice earlier this year. This marks the first confirmed reinfection case in the US and the fifth confirmed occurrence worldwide. This news confirms what many have feared for months: contracting the virus does not necessarily ensure immunity in the months following.
- In the case of the Nevada man, he is reported to have tested positive for the virus in April after experiencing symptoms. Then, in late May he fell ill again and tested positive in the hospital once again. In the case study published Monday, doctors claim the second bout with the mysterious virus was “symptomatically more severe than the first.” This follows a trend first established in Ecuador, where a patient was reported to suffer a more serious case the second time around.
- “There are many reasons why a person might get sicker the second time around,” says Yale immunobiology professor Akiko Iwasaki. Suggesting that “they may have been exposed to a lot higher levels of the virus the second time around.” However, Iwasaki emphasized that “this is all very speculative” and that little is still known about how the virus can infect the same host in consecutive months. (NPR)
A Green Tsunami in the Senate
- Feeling drowned out by aquatic political metaphors? Struggling to keep afloat amidst all the liquid discourse? Well, that’s too bad. According to an April briefing from National Republican Senatorial Committee director Kevin McLaughlin, there’s only one thing that Republicans fear more than a “blue wave.”
- If the GOP couldn’t get with the times and renovate their digital fundraising strategy, he said, they themselves would be washed out of their Senate seats by a “green tsunami” of Democratic spending. Now, six months later, a look at partisan spending figures reveals that such a tsunami has already reached the shore. Democratic Senate candidates are smashing previous third-quarter fundraising records, causing Republicans to question whether donor’s support of the President can transfer to down-ballot candidates.
- “The money is indicative [of] how much energy there is on their side, and the lack thereof on our side,” said Mike DuHaime, a Republican consultant. “I think we’re finding that Trump — the energy for Trump — is not always transferable, the same way it wasn’t transferable for Democrats from Obama.” And that poses some serious issues for Republicans who face tough reelection campaigns like Lindsay Graham, whose opponent raised a jaw-dropping $57 million in the third quarter in light of Graham’s notable SCOTUS flip-flop.
- Of the nine Senate candidates who surpassed $10 million in Q3 fundraising, seven are Democrats. A major source of that funding has come from ActBlue, the primary online fundraising platform for the DNC. The digital strategy has raised billions of dollars for progressive candidates since 2004, utilizing small-dollar donations to keep up with the GOP’s major donor base. Steven Law, the president of the Senate Leadership Fund, has expressed worries that Democrats could actualize a blue wave on the crest of their fundraising tsunami.
- In an interview, Law noted that the “decisive ingredient” that has made some many Senate races competitive is that many Democratic challengers boast an “overwhelming financial majority” over Republican senators. (Politico)
Additional USA News
- All The President’s Men (HuffPost)
- ‘He just thinks about himself’: America’s reckless, ill president (Guardian)
- How Biden could end 2020 on election night — and why Trump’s path is unlikely (Politico). Despite this speculation, this election is not a forgone conclusion. The onus is on you to vote for the future of our country.
- Democrats in Trump Country: They’re Not Shy Anymore About Liking Biden (NYT, $)
- Microsoft takes down massive hacking operation that could have affected the election (CNN). Gates-keepers of democracy.
- Andrew Cuomo, the King of New York (New Yorker)
- White woman calls the wife of Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor the n-word while grocery shopping (CNN)
- Global warming hits home: Florida Sees Signals of a Climate-Driven Housing Crisis (NYT, $)
- He’d Waited Decades to Argue His Innocence. She Was a Judge Who Believed in Second Chances. Nobody Knew She Suffered from Alzheimer’s. (ProPublica)
- Court packing has rich and highly partisan history at state level, study shows (WaPo, $)
- Why The Amy Coney Barrett Hearings Are Verging On The Absurd (FiveThirtyEight)
- Down for the count: Supreme Court lets the Trump administration end the census early (Vox)
Facing The Facts
- It has long been an old wive’s tale that couples who stay together long enough begin to adopt each other’s facial features. Can love and time really prove powerful enough to change one’s physical appearance to match that of their partner? Well, researchers at Stanford University decided to address the question using the full powers of modern technology.
- “It is something people believe in and we were curious about it,” said PhD student Pin Pin Tea-makorn. “Our initial thought was if people’s faces do converge over time, we could look at what types of features they converge on.” Her team decided to use the internet to compile a database of couples, using 517 different pairings with pictures taken right after their wedding and those taken after more than 20 years of marriage.
- Then, using this massive data set, they asked both volunteers and cutting-edge software to rank the similarity of a person’s spouse alongside five random faces. An original study using a similar methodology took place in 1987 at the University of Michigan, where researchers concluded that faces do grow similar over time due to shared experiences.
- However, the Stanford team came to a different, and perhaps the more logical conclusion. Instead of people’s faces evolving to match that of their partner, they suggested that humans naturally seek out partners who look similar to them to begin with. Michael Kosinski, the Stanford professor who oversaw the project, says that this study proves how it is important to consistently question old psychological theories.
- “This is definitely something the field needs to update,” said Kosinski. “One of the major problems in social sciences is the pressure to come up with novel, amazing, newsworthy theories. This is how you get published, hired, and tenured. As a result, the field is filled with concepts and theories that are reclaimed, over-hyped, or not validated properly.” (Guardian)
- Don’t make a laughingstock out of yourself: How to Hold Onto Your Money, Wherever the Market Takes You (NYT, $)
- ‘Every page makes you hungry’: 20 chefs pick their favourite starter cookbooks (Guardian)
- Working from home misery: Many people hate remote work. (Slate)
- Microsoft’s CEO is tired of working from home and he’s not alone (ZDNet). Makes a lot of sense…
- … But wait a minute: Microsoft will let employees work from home half the time (CNBC)
- The Digital Divide Starts With a Laptop Shortage (NYT, $)
- How We Lie to Ourselves About History (New Yorker)
- When the Vikings kicked off globalization (NPR). Turning a new Leif.
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