Political Bias Online – Spotlight #349

Good Monday morning. It’s July 27th. The leaders of Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple make a rare public appearance before a House Judiciary subcommittee about antitrust matters beginning Wednesday at noon. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s wealthiest person and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is the fourth. Joining them are Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,569 words, about a 6 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. Facebook has agreed to pay each Illinois user between $200 and $400 to settle claims that it violated the state’s facial recognition law. The $650 million plan still needs Judge James Donato’s approval.  Donato previously rejected Facebook’s $550 million offer, saying, “That’s a lot. But the question is, is it really a lot?  That is a significant reduction from the $1,000 that the Illinois legislature set as the baseline.” (Recode)

b. Title insurance giant First American Financial is also in legal hot water according to new reporting by Krebs on SecurityNew York officials have charged the company for exposing millions of mortgage data records covering a sixteen year period. A hearing is set for October 26.

c. The U.S. Army has been accused of offering fake contests on video game streaming platform Twitch and has agreed to stop recruiting efforts there. It’s not the Army’s first foray into video gaming. They publish their own series of games called America’s Army. And don’t sleep on Twitch as a platform that attracts nearly 40 million monthly active users. (The Guardian)

d.  William Safire prepared a contingency speech for then-President Nixon if the first moonwalk had ended in tragedy. MIT’s Center for Advanced Virtuality has made a film of an AI-powered Nixon giving that speech. This growing availability of deepfake technology terrifies futurists. Here is the project’s trailer.

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
Johns Hopkins — the gold standard
Florida data — Unofficial, but great data and presentation
Event Risk Assessment from Georgia Tech
School Reopening Plan Tracker from Johns Hopkins
NEW: College Crisis Initiative (Open or Hybrid) from Davidson College

Tech News

5 charts illustrating economic trends during the pandemic — CNBC
COVID-19 data collection offers benefits, poses hazards — Johns Hopkins
Expanded payment capability for more online SNAP purchases — Governing
No end to COVID-19 webcam shortage — BBC 
Pandemic purchases lead to record reports of unreceived goods — FTC

Some videoconferencing fun: Bored with video call bingo?  There is a new Chrome extension that turns your Google Meet video conference into a game of 1970s-era Space Invaders using the faces of your unsuspecting co-workers. Here’s the trailer for their extension and here’s the link to their extension

3. Search Engine Optimization News

Google Shopping continues improving its feature set and integrating it within search results.

The company’s latest moves are seen as a challenge for Amazon’s third-party sellers that are coping with new rules. After first announcing free product listings, Google has now enabled commission-free Buy on Google checkout via PayPal or Shopify, according to Search Engine Land. That means that visitors will be able to buy products directly from Google Shopping search results, which are just a click away from the main search results. 

Google Shopping is also making Amazon-like use of product feeds. In a follow-up SEL article, T-shirts were shown in Google’s main search results with data pulled from the product feed to show the type of material that was used. If you’re already using Google Shopping, you should be reading Ginny Marvin’s coverage. You should talk with us if you’re interested in starting to sell products on Google. Just press your reply key and let us know your thoughts.

Google is also helping future mortgage buyers by showing a mortgage explainer article and mortgage tools from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on related searches. The tools include mortgage calculators and rate tracking. 9 to 5 Google has details.

Google Guaranteed status that includes a green check mark in Google My Business listings, is available to more businesses. Local search expert Greg Sterling reports that businesses advertising locally can apply for the mark and “guaranteed” language for $50/month.

4. Also in the Spotlight — Political Bias Online

A majority of Americans think social media companies have too much influence in politics according to a new Pew study. Researchers say that Democratic and Republican supporters feel the same way, but the feeling is much more prevalent among Republican voters. 

In the spotlight: few acknowledge that political bias online works on them. And the time to have this discussion is now when tech company leaders are scheduled to appear before a House Judiciary subcommittee.

The companies are expected to testify that they’ve tried to protect users from inaccurate claims made by politicians and their supporters. Twitter and Facebook have labeled inaccurate statements the president has made, but there is no way to effectively police the content posted by one third of the humans on the planet without also putting everyone’s content through onerous filters, false positives, and long wait times for approval.

No single platform is to blame. Instagram has emerged as a news platform that equals Twitter’s popularity among news seekers, according to a twelve country study released earlier this month. And researchers at Northeastern University report that after accounting for ” the prevalence of hate speech and misinformation, they found no differences between comment moderation on right- and left-leaning videos” after studying more than 84,000 comments on YouTube. 

Months ago, the president’s reelection campaign preemptively purchased the advertising masthead area on YouTube for the days leading up to Election Day. The campaign has also purchased hundreds of Facebook ads that accuse Twitter of silencing the president.

As George Mason marketing professor Shaun Dakin showed me when I sent him an archive of the Facebook ad library database, the Trump campaign also used aggressive tactics in promoting the same ads via accounts owned by the president, the vice president, and then-campaign manager. Dakin challenged me to figure out what they were doing, and it took a yeoman’s effort by The New York Times several days later to figure it out.

We have no answers for you regarding political bias online and recommend you watch Eli Pariser’s short TED talk about filter bubbles. The premise is still sound even though the details have changed slightly. We also recommend reading the twelve page Northeastern study, “Bias Misperceived”, and checking out the rest of our Smartlinks.

Beware online filter bubbles by Eli Pariser — TED
Bias Misperceived (PDF) — Northeastern University

Americans: Social Media Companies Have Too Much Power — Pew Research
Instagram on Pace to Overtake Twitter as News Source — eMarketer
Researchers Have Already Tested YouTube for Bias — Ars Technica
Roger Stone Removed from Instagram, Linked to Fake Accounts — CNN
Trump Ads Take Over YouTube’s Homepage on Election Day — Bloomberg
Trump: $325K on Facebook Ads featuring Parscale’s Page — NY Times

5. Following Up: Amazon Robots & Twitter Hackers

Those Twitter hackers who gained access to the personal accounts of famous people two weeks ago apparently also read some of their private messages. Twitter reported that the crooks accessed the direct messages of 36 well-known account holders and downloaded the archived data of eight other users who don’t have “verified accounts.”

We also told you almost one year ago about Amazon Scout, the company’s delivery robots that were first tested in suburban areas of Los Angeles and Seattle. Amazon announced last week that the test is broadening to suburban communities near Atlanta and Nashville.

6. Debugging: That Eagle Carrying the Shark

The video making the rounds last month of a big bird carrying a shark over a beach was the perfect metaphor for 2020.  Except it wasn’t a shark.  Or an eagle.

TrackingSharks.com has the scoop because of course they do.

7. ProTip: How to Tell You’ve Been Hacked

We mean really hacked, not the “someone on Facebook copied my profile picture and is using my name” stuff, but had an account taken over by someone.

Wired has a nice common sense explainer with tips.

8. Great Data: Google Search Trends by State…for a Decade… and Animated

Search engine logs are the most boring reading imaginable. Top Search on Google? Facebook.  Don’t snicker. Google came in at #5 overall on its own search engine. It’s the same in every search of every database regardless of size.

But the folks at V1 Analytics did something smart by grabbing the top trending search on Google in every state for every day of the last decade.

Groupthink creeps in sometimes when all fifty states have the same top trending search. That happened on February 4, 2011 for Adele the week before her second romp through the Grammy Awards when she won all four major trophies. And it happened again for two weeks when Game of Thrones’ first season ended.

See all the trends for all the states here.

Screening Room: A Burger King Christmas

Burger King thinks that we need some Christmas in July after 2020’s crazy start. They broke a big ad barrier by making light of how tough things are, and it works in a we’re all in this together way.

10. Coffee Break: The Loneliest Wave

The Phillie Phanatic was at the ballpark this weekend to cheer on the ball club but it was awfully hard starting The Wave, as seen in this bite-sized video

It’s the highest form of flattery to have you read Spotlight. Thank you for starting your week here and please tell a friend that they can also get a free copy each week. This is the link that they need.

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