Facebook Fact Checks Under Fire – Spotlight #348

Good Monday morning. It’s July 20th. Workers around the world plan to walk off their jobs today in the Strike for Black Lives. Organizers ask workers to leave and for all people to kneel or pause for eight minutes and forty-six seconds of silence at noon local time.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,385 words, about a 5 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. Twitter was hacked the old fashioned way last week according to investigative reporting by Motherboard. Criminals were able to pay a Twitter employee to provide access to Twitter internal software that allowed them to change the email addresses associated with famous account holders. The crooks were then able to tweet out get rich quick schemes from verified accounts owned by Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and even corporate accounts at Uber and Amazon. There was no flashy or new technology, merely an employee who provided internal access to crooks. Read the rest of the story here.

b. Google’s Project Loon is now actively providing internet connectivity to Kenya. The project includes 35 balloons that are similar to floating cell towers with 200 times the reach. Quartz has more details here.

c. T-Mobile, fresh from acquiring tens of millions of former Sprint customers, announced that it would provide free software that blocks robocalls and spam texts. The company announced other changes like free identity theft protection, free telephone number changes each year, and scam shield software that replaces your outgoing phone number with a proxy (fake) number. Read their announcement here.

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins — the gold standard
Florida data — Unofficial, but great data and presentation
NEW: Event Risk Assessment – from Georgia Tech
NEW: School Reopening Plan Tracker from Johns Hopkins

Tech News
Amazon Dash Cart to Allow Cashierless Checkout In Stores – TechCrunch
Facebook to Launch Section Debunking Coronavirus Myths – CNBC
Snap Out Of Doomscrolling – New York Times
Stuck in Lockdown Rut – Wired UK
Surveillance Company Palantir Signs NHS Contract in UK – TNW

CountryTime Has Whimsical (But Real) Bailout Program

Our favorite COVID-19 marketing this week comes from the folks at Kraft subsidiary County Time who announced “The Littlest Bailout” that will provide up to one thousand $100 awards to kids and parents who operate a lemonade stand. This promotion is so on brand that we think it should win awards even before award season. Check out their video below.

3. Search Engine Optimization News

Another COVID-19 change is coming to Google search results regarding business hours. You probably remember that Google encouraged businesses to update their listings on Google My Business to let searchers know if and when they’re open. With the pandemic reaching new heights and localities perhaps initiating lockdowns again, Google will now display the date when the business hours were last changed. Search Engine Journal put together the story from Twitter.

The auto retail industry usually doesn’t do well online, and search is no exception. Local search company Whitespark examined data in 200 top markets in North America and reported that most listings were sparse. Among their findings:

  • One-third have not claimed their listing at all.
  • More than 60% have never made a post on Google.
  • More than 90% don’t have a free link for appointments
  • And nearly 25% don’t even have a link to their website.
  • Staying with our theme of availability, 13% don’t have any hours listed.

Please don’t be like these companies. We can help you set up this free Google program for your organization. You can write directly to me by clicking reply now.

4. Also in the Spotlight — Facebook Fact Checks Under Fire

Facebook fact checks are receiving new criticism from politicians and advocates. Last week, a group of four Democratic senators detailed their complaints in a letter to Facebook. They believe a loophole exists that allows opinion pieces to escape fact checks, including a widely publicized essay criticizing climate change studies.

Facebook fact checks have been under criticism since before the company’s botched handling of disinformation prior to the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, and things may not have improved much since then. Using a third party contractor force to provide fact checks, Facebook faces shortages of resources and delays. One analysis earlier this year showed that there were only seven people doing Facebook fact checks in all of Australia.

Critics such as journalist Judd Legum have attacked the choice of Facebook fact check companies, specifically citing Tucker Carlson-founded Daily Caller as a Facebook contractor. Legum published multiple examples online including the Daily Caller citing information as fake that accurately said President Donald Trump told rallygoers that the coronavirus was “a hoax.” 

Hyperpartisan sites masquerading as local news sites are compounding the disinformation crisis. Some are benign and show a slight left or right bias. Others are unapologetic partisans. The Nieman Lab at Harvard identified 450 sites funded by politicians, political operatives, and PACs that appear to be organized into twelve networks owned by five corporate entities. 

As Facebook relaunches its news initiative, these sites pose a serious issue for an underresourced part of the company with a large impact on national and global affairs.


Australia Has 17 Million Facebook Users and Seven Facebook Fact Checkers — BuzzFeed
Hundreds of hyperpartisan sites are masquerading as local news (map) — Nieman Lab
Elizabeth Warren Wants Answers on Facebook Fact Checks Loophole — Recode
The Daily Caller uses status as Facebook fact-checker to boost Trump — Popular Info

5. Following Up: TurboTax and H & R Block Used “Unfair and Abusive Practices”

We’ve told you several times over the last year about growing discontent at the IRS and among consumer advocates regarding the free E-file Tax program’s administration at large for-profit companies including Intuit and H & R Block.

Now the New York Department of Financial Services found that the companies “undermined the [Free File] Program by creating and marketing their own ‘free’ products that directly competed with the Program, with the purpose of upselling customers to pay for their services.”

Read more at ProPublica, which broke the story and continues to provide great coverage.

6. Debugging: Sorry, Pepys Didn’t Write That

The meme marveling at serendipity claims that diarist Samuel Pepys wrote in 1665 that “the taverns are full of gadabouts making merry this eve. And though I may press my face against the window … a dram in exchange for the pox is an ill bargain indeed.”

Now, look, we’ve probably had similar literature reading lists in high school. We’ve slogged through Pepys, and we want some credit for doing that, darn it, so here’s a meme with some vintage looking guy and this quote.

Except he never wrote it. Here’s the Snopes story.

7. ProTip: 15 Best Mac Apps to Make Everyday Life Easier

Wired put together a nice list of free and inexpensive products to add to your Mac. Many are also available in Windows version so this is worth your time to check out. If you have Linux, I dunno, smarty-pants, go build your own apps.

Here’s the full list with links and descriptions

8. Great Data: One Million vs. One Billion

Nearly everyone has trouble conceptualizing one million of anything. Forget conceptualizing one billion by yourself. I often tell students or clients that one million seconds is equal to 12 days and that one billion seconds is about 32 years. 

See? It’s nearly impossible. 

YouTuber Tom Scott decided to try the visualization a different way. He starts by walking the distance that one million bills would take when horizontally stacked. Then he travels the distance for one billion bills. 

You won’t conceptualize better, but you’ll understand the scale better. Click below to watch.

Screening Room: Choptober at Lowes Foods

Look for more goofy and low budget local and regional spots as the pandemic bites into advertising budgets and technical availability. This chain of 80 grocery stores channels a little Crazy Eddies, a lot of Peoples Court, and some old school ambulance chasers for a lovely break from inspirational ads.

10. Coffee Break: Peacock’s Terms of Service

We told you last week about Peacock, the new streaming service from NBC. They’re following the whimsical rather than inspirational path too and embedded a cake recipe and an FAQ about peacock tails in their terms and conditions. 

Check out the screen shots on Twitter because we wouldn’t ask you to read the actual terms no matter how jokes are hidden in them.

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