Disinformation Campaigns Growing – Spotlight #358

Good Monday morning. It’s October 19th. The World Series starts Tuesday night and hopefully provides a little normalcy during this topsy-turvy time. 

Today’s Spotlight is 1,621 words — about a 6 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. Amazon Prime Day was a $3.5 billion event for the company’s independent third-party sellers. The company didn’t release overall sales volume although Amazon has said in the past that third party sellers account for nearly 60% of sales. The top selling items in the U.S. included automated vacuums and garage door openers, water filters, and the Kids Against Maturity card game. (Amazon)

b. More self-driving cars will be on public streets soon. Separately, Alphabet’s Waymo unit announced it will begin regular driverless taxi service in Phoenix while GM subsidiary Cruise has received permission to do the same in San Francisco. There will be no human driver acting as a safety backup in these programs. (Wired)

c. Businesses on Yelp accused of racist behavior will now be flagged by the platform. The program is part of a new initiative that also flags suspicious review activity and public threats from a business to a consumer. One issue Yelp says it experiences is an influx of noncredible reviews after a business is involved in public controversies. The new flags also suspend all new review posting. (Yelp)

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins Dashboard or Animations
COVID-19 Forecast Hub
Google County Level Mobility Reports
Long-Term Care COVID Tracker

COVID-19 Tech News
Amazon to Launch Reserve Grocery Slots — Recode 
New Algos Help Gov’t Fight COVID Misinformation — Gov Tech
Tools to Deal with COVID Information Overload — Quartz
When False Info Goes Viral, Patient Groups Fight Back — NPR
Zoom’s Revenue Skyrockets On Pandemic Boost — Statista

3. Search Engine Optimization News

Your brand names and industry jargon may not be as prevalent as you think. One change Google announced this week is a new spelling algorithm because 10% of all search queries are misspelled.

We also learned that ranking of a passage on a webpage will be more prevalent in the future. Google says that it will rank “not just the overall page, [but] we can find that needle-in-a-haystack information.” The company says that results will improve for 7% of all search queries as a result. You may have already seen versions of this type of logic that point you to a specific moment in a video rather than the entire video. Google has been testing that functionality for months and expects it to affect 10% of searches.

Google will now also post answers from verified data sets directly in search. This program is called Data Commons and extracts facts from organizations like The World Bank or the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Google’s example: asking “how many people work in Chicago” creates this result directly in the results. Note that there are comparisons and multiple sources.

That’s a good thing for searchers, but not so good for website managers.

4. Also in the Spotlight — Disinformation Campaigns 

Big Tech critics continue accusing Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other companies of censorship, which is fair, since they are censoring content. They’re allowed to do so, and as we often say, you should ask Twitter or Facebook for a refund of your membership fees if you don’t like using them.

There is no free speech issue. These private entities are allowed to make their own rules. Break a company’s rules, and they can simply remove your content or permanently ban your account. Twitter has long been under fire for treating content on President Donald Trump’s account more leniently than other accounts. Twitter said in 2018 that blocking a world leader or removing their content would hide important information.

What few predicted was the president’s behavior in 2020. He has routinely amplified disinformation campaigns and false information that could cause harm to people or suppress votes. Politicians understand that platforms can do as they like regarding content on their site, but that hasn’t stopped Republican senators this week from calling for testimony from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. 

The president and his allies are not only amplifying disinformation campaigns, but creating their own deliberate misinformation. Presidential adviser Scott Atlas tweeted yesterday a false claim that face masks don’t prevent the spread of COVID-19. Twitter removed the information as it has removed or blocked other false claims, including when the president has touted false COVID-19 cures.

In addition to rules about false claims that can cause physical harm, the platforms also now ban explicit physical threats and hate speech. Facebook, for example, recently announced that it will no longer allow content to be posted promoting the false Q-Anon conspiracy theory or claims denying that the Holocaust occurred. 

Disinformation campaigns are growing and can be run by unethical agencies. Facebook banned an Arizona marketing firm and its political candidate CEO following a Washington Post expose about Turning Point Action. The conservative political organization hired the firm that then created hundreds of accounts and dozens of Facebook pages to function as a Donald Trump-supporting troll farm in Arizona. 

Facebook and Twitter have removed doctored video posted by the president and his allies in recent weeks, creating concerns that the period leading up to and following the presidential elections will be marred by disinformation campaigns. Facebook has taken the extreme step of halting all political and issue advocacy advertising after the polls close on Election Day. The company is also locking down advertising content beginning the week before the election and will not allow new advertising to be submitted.

Please verify everything with at least two trusted nonpartisan sources during this time when even U.S. politicians are promoting disinformation campaigns, doctored video, and false conspiracy theories. One of the most recent is a Donald Trump tweet that accused his political rival of orchestrating the murders of Navy Seal Team Six, the U.S. Special Forces troops who killed Osama bin Laden.

The president told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie about that tweet, ” … that was an opinion of somebody, and that was a retweet. I put it out there, people can decide for themselves, I don’t take a position.”

Disinformation Campaign Smartlinks
Candidate for Legislature gets suspended and firm gets banned from social media — AZ Central
Facebook bans marketing firm running ‘troll farm’ for pro-Trump youth group — The Washington Post
Facebook bans QAnon across all its platforms — Axios
Facebook removes Trump post falsely saying flu is more lethal than Covid — CNN
Facebook to ban content that denies or distorts the Holocaust — The Guardian
Facebook bans ads supporting QAnon and militarized social movements — CNBC
Trump Promotes Seal Team Six Conspiracy Theory — Snopes
Twitter Explains Why It Still Hasn’t Banned President Donald Trump — The Verge
Twitter removes tweet from top Trump Covid-19 adviser saying masks don’t work — NBC News

5. Following Up: Belarus Protesters Use AI to Identify Riot Police

We wrote about the state of law enforcement technology last month and its increasing reliance on algorithms, biometrics, and other nontraditional policing methods.

There’s news about a U.S. based digital artist who is attempting to create a facial recognition system using only a person’s eyes, which are often the only visible part of of an officer’s face behind a shield.

See it here because genies don’t go back in bottles.

6. Debugging: Go Viral Game

The University of Cambridge has a new simulator that allows you to take the reins of a social media account and attempt to go viral with disinformation campaigns.

Play for free in about 5 minutes.

7. ProTip: Fantastic Keyboard Shortcuts

This is where you fall in love with Spotlight all over again. Using a PC? Control+L sends your browser’s cursor to the address bar without you touching the mouse. Have a Mac? Substitute the Command key.

You’re welcome. Read the rest here.

8. Spotlighters Ask: Facebook Posts without Comments

Don’t forget to send us your Spotlighters Ask questions. We answer them all via email and post one each week. 

If you post on your Facebook profile or a business page, there is no way for you to stop comments although you can delete them. Facebook group administrators have some different functionality, including the ability to turn off comments for a specific post. 

A neat trick you may not know: a Facebook business page administrator can hide your comment so that it is only visible to you and people who are connected to you as a friend. Let us know if you run a Facebook page and want to learn how to do that.

Screening Room: Snickers & The First Visitors

Snickers released this hilarious spot earlier this summer, but are giving it a lot more play now. Remember: shared pain can also be comedy. 

10. Coffee Break: Pandas on the Slide

You deserve a reward after reading so much about disinformation campaigns, Enjoy these four roly-poly critters on their slide. 

It will keep looping if you’re having that kind of day.

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