Facebook Moderation Problems – Spotlight #353

Good Monday morning. It’s August 31st. Wednesday is the 75th anniversary of American and Japanese leaders meeting to sign the papers ending World War II aboard the USS Missouri docked in Tokyo Bay. There are still veterans of that war alive today. Here is more info at the History Channel.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,675 words, about a 6 minute read. That will have to tide you over for a while because we’re off next week for Labor Day.

Breaking Sunday: Twitter removed a post retweeted by President Donald Trump that contained inaccurate information about coronavirus death statistics. The original post was made by a QAnon conspiracy theorist and then amplified by the president.

The information inaccurately quoted CDC information. Later in the day, the Trump campaign tweeted the link to an article with the inaccurate information, and that had not yet been removed by Sunday evening.

1. News to Know Now

a.  Apple and Facebook’s fight over online privacy in the new iOS spilled into public last week.  Short version: every iOS and Android device has a unique id number. That number allows individual users to be tracked for everything from law enforcement to advertising. Apple’s next operating system will be released this fall and block that ability. In a public post, Facebook said the move will hurt small developers and cut Facebook’s revenue by $500 million. Apple countered with their own post doubling down on user privacy.

Apple is also being assailed by Fortnite software developer Epic which sued Apple over the company’s 30 percent commission charged on in-app sales after the companies publicly fought for weeks. Apple launched another salvo in the war on Friday when it terminated Epic’s software developer license, effectively removing all of its products from the App Store.

Worth noting is that Epic created a scathing parody of Apple’s sacred “1984” commercial two weeks ago. The parody is based on a Ridley Scott directed commercial often referred to as one of advertising’s most significant creative pieces. Epic reimagined the spot as Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite.

b. Amazon announced a new wellness product called Halo that is a wearable band and companion app. Halo monitors heart rate, steps walked, body fat percentage, and the user’s mood by analyzing their voice. The data for those last two measurements come from photos that users take with the app and from recording a user’s voice. Priced at $100, Halo has a continuing $3.99 monthly charge. Here is the Amazon announcement.

c.Google and Facebook blocking functions that allowed targeting advertisements by race, marital status, gender, age, and other protected demographics are beginning to reach the market. Last week I confirmed that Facebook political ads can no longer be targeted by race. Meanwhile, Google said that its prohibitions on this data targeting housing, employment, and credit ads will be in effect on October 19. While it is already illegal to selectively advertise for employment using age and other criteria, it was possible to do so using the online consoles at both companies.

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Covid Tracking Project — useful for its annotations
Johns Hopkins Dashboard or Animations — the gold standard
COVID-19 Forecast Hub – Collects multiple models

NEW: Google Mobility Reports – county level info on people locations in broad categories like businesses, parks, and grocery stores

Tech News
Boston Library branches offer internet outdoors – Mass Live
Calif makes tablets available to nearly 1 million children – EdSource
Closing the digital divide is more critical than ever – CNET podcast
College students are scrambling for housing, Wi-Fi – USA Today
Doctors battle another scourge: misinformation – NY Times
How WeChat Censored the Coronavirus Pandemic – Wired
Online child predators more dangerous during pandemic – NJ.com
Your tween has been on this gaming site – NY Times

3. Search Engine Optimization News

Google My Business continues to be a prime source for the company to help fuel search requests related to local businesses. The average profile includes a lot of data according to reporting by Search Engine Land.

  • 73 reviews averaging 4.1 stars
  • 45 photos
  • 5 posts

Two studies suggest that one-third to one-half of businesses do not maintain their GMB profile.

We’ve also learned a lot lately from Google about how it views links to and from your website. Google exec John Mueller shared that website managers should ” … focus on the basics instead of worrying about [links] … Make a better site … Links are definitely not the most important SEO factor.” 

When asked if links were important, just not the most important factor, he responded, “We use lots of factors with it comes to search crawling, indexing, and ranking.”

Muller was even more specific last week, writing on Reddit, “Randomly dropping a link into Wikipedia has no SEO value and will do nothing for your site. All you’re doing is creating extra work for the Wikipedia maintainers who will remove your link drops. It’s a waste of your time and theirs. Do something that’s useful in the long term for your site instead, build something of persistent value.” 

Finally, Mueller weighed in on the use of keywords in an URL, writing on Twitter that “the SEO effect … is minimal once the content is indexed.” That important caveat jibes with what we know about Google using cues on a website page to determine or confirm the page’s topic.

4. Also in the Spotlight — Facebook Moderation

Facebook is facing inner turmoil and external criticism after a companywide meeting on Thursday. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussed the company’s failure to remove a group calling itself “Kenosha Guard” posted a “call to arms” that remained visible even after two protesters were killed in Kenosha Tuesday night.

The timing was especially bad for Facebook, which had published a detailed data science paper on Tuesday, explaining how it would use its data to help guard against fakes and misinformation. Called the TIES system, Facebook believes that it will help detect some of the millions of fake accounts and their activity by using machine learning to detect trends beyond the capability of human analysts. 

One week earlier, Facebook removed 790 QAnon groups and 10,000 accounts to fight conspiracy theory misinformation on its Facebook and Instagram sites as well as top apps Messenger and WhatsApp. 

The action seemed big but came weeks after an op-ed by influential digital writer Abby Ohlheiser, now a senior editor at MIT Technology Review,” wrote that “Twitter and Facebook won’t be able to deal with the “omniconspiracy” without “rethinking the entire information ecosystem.” Ohlheiser quoted anonymous sources that tipped her off to Facebook’s similar ban weeks later.

Facebook and Twitter aren’t alone, and QAnon isn’t their only problem requiring constant content moderation. Online sites face a blizzard of pornography, violence including streamed suicides and murders, and hate speech. Anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists led by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. filed a lawsuit last week arguing that Facebook didn’t have the right to fact check its information.

And then there is outright disinformation, the act of deliberately using misinformation, plaguing all sites. NBC News reported last week that Twitter stopped a spam operation that pushed messages from fake accounts about Black people abandoning the Democratic Party.

Smartlinks
Anti-Vaxxers Are Suing Facebook: Fact-Checking is “Censorship” — Gizmodo
Facebook chose not to act on militia complaints — The Verge
Facebook employees outraged — BuzzFeed News
Facebook System for Detecting Fakes & Misinformation — Social Media Today
Facebook Removes 790 QAnon Groups to Fight Conspiracy Theory — NY Times
It’s too late to stop QAnon with fact checks & account bans — MIT Tech Review
Leveraging online social interactions for enhancing integrity — Facebook
Viral pro-Trump tweets by fake African American spam accounts — NBC

5. Following Up: TikTok 

We’ve been writing about TikTok every week because it’s important and has millions of U.S. users. We thought the biggest news of the week was Walmart potentially working with Microsoft to acquire the U.S. operations of the company. That was until Sunday afternoon when China announced that TikTok owner ByteDance will require Chinese government approval to sell any assets.

Here is Bloomberg’s coverage of the tech company as proxy cold war.

6. Debugging: Fake Meme about Police Injuries

A meme purportedly showing four different Seattle and Portland police officers injured with bloody uniforms and dazed expressions actually shows police from four different incidents in Australia dating back as long as fourteen years ago.

The Associated Press has a fact check.

7. ProTip: See AR Museum Exhibits on Google

The Google Arts & Culture app includes lots of neat augmented reality museum content, which is awfully convenient during a pandemic. 

TNW shows you how to use the app on your phone.

8. Great Data: Animate a Shocking Data Point

You know that the best way to tell a story is to engage as many senses as possible. You might think that’s hard to do online, but check out this animation of global temperature trends from data scientist Bob Gregory. The smooth cadence in the initial data leads to a shocking conclusion that is then held as the final frame in another color. 

Elevate your storytelling to a wow level.

Screening Room: Amazon Web Services

Amazon Web Services is the company’s IT infrastructure that generates annual revenue of more than $25 billion (with a B). Consumers don’t directly interact with the platform, but here Amazon shows how it helps the world through a pandemic by powering big consumer brands.

10. Coffee Break:  The Great Pea Debate

Guerrilla marketing is beautiful when it works. Kraft used a simple ASCII drawing and, erm, controversial opinion, to spark conversation about its brand. I noticed it online as people argued for one side or another so I began copying it to casual groups. The same thing happened, sometimes at a very passionate level. But almost no one said, “I hate this brand or this food.” 

The tweet reinforced nostalgic feelings about the brand. You can do the same thing. Try it this week.

“Mark Zuckerberg” by Alessio Jacona is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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