Tech Blame Around New Zealand Shooting

Good Monday morning. It’s March 18th. Spring allegedly begins this week.

Google makes a mystery announcement on Tuesday that they’ve teased will “unveil its vision for the future of gaming.” The current state of gaming is around $140 billion annually so their take would be interesting. Just like search and advertising, about half of that amount comes from mobile.

News to Know Now

  • Facebook’s outage on Thursday included Instagram and other Facebook properties. It’s the biggest outage the company endured since allowing widespread public access in 2006.  
  • Social media was criticized by many in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s gun massacre in New Zealand. But we’ll look at the facts of what people can reasonably expect in situations with fast breaking news.
  • Google confirmed a “core algorithm change” took place March 1. Core updates occur only a couple of times each year and affect Google’s main search engine algorithms rather than the specific, more focused changes that happen daily.
This is part of  Silver Beacon’s live website traffic display.

We can toggle them to different metrics and watch multiple clients throughout the day.  But it’s important to remember issues like seasonality (which caused the growth in the second site shown) and different externalities. 

Knowing the history helps us understand any shifts.

1.  Murder Videos Online

Facebook stopped 1.2 million copies of the video streamed during the New Zealand massacre from being uploaded. Another 300,000 were taken down after they were uploaded. The white supremacist who murdered people at worship seemed to have a good working knowledge of how social media works online.

  • This had nothing to do with Facebook or YouTube any more than the post office is involved with an illegal scam or the phone company when someone calls in a bomb threat.
  • Stop and ask this question: who tried to upload the video 1.5 million times to Facebook? Those are the people deserving of your anger.
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren was upset when Facebook automatically removed ads her campaign posted calling for its breakup. Facebook replied this week that ads using its logo are blocked. 
    • Uploads happened all over the Internet, not just Facebook and Youtube. 
    • A Reddit channel called r/watchpeopledie showed images of people hit by cars and other deaths for 7 years. There are 300,000 subscribers.
    • Where does Facebook draw the line between recognizing problem imagery?
    • Are trailers for R-rated movies okay? What about news coverage of wars?

YouTube has the same problem. So does every website. There were still copies of the video available on Sunday on many different websites in New Zealand. YouTube told The Verge that they can stop child pornography well, but their systems aren’t designed for “urgent situations”. That’s fair. No one is going to catch a murder or suicide being live-streamed. And the company deliberately errs on the side of having news-related videos stay online. Think the Arab Spring, riots in Venezuela, and war throughout the world.  

YouTube Kids exists for children under the age of 13. The company is explicit that children under the age of 13 are not permitted to use the main service. That’s reasonable although we’ve all seen parents and others plop a kid in front of videos.  I’m sympathetic. After once grounding one of my children from the Internet, the then-enterprising student used his game console to access a neighbor’s WiFi signal and went about whatever it was he did online then.

Humanity has shown that we are not good at putting genies back in bottles. We are hopeful Big Tech will solve this problem, but let’s not forget that 1.5 million attempts were made to upload this horrific video to Facebook in only 24 hours.

2.  Facebook’s Troubling Carousel

Facebook is an easy target. No one seems to really like it except for the couple of billion people who access it as much as several times a day. Much was made of 15 million U.S. users quitting last year.  The company deserves to be pilloried for some of the ways it has handled data in the last decade, but it’s certainly not alone. 

Last week was especially bad for the social media giant besides the ridiculously long outage on Thursday  that TechCrunch reported caused 3 million people to sign up for new Telegram accounts. Besides the outage, the Christchurch videos, and temporarily blocking Senator Warren’s ads, these things happened:

  • Chris Cox, the company’s #3 exec, announced Thursday that he was leaving. So did another executive who was running Whats App after that company’s founders left. Their moves are widely regarded to be a response to the idea of combining Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. But it’s a big shakeup because Cox was an early Facebook tech voice.
  • Brian Acton, who co-founded WhatsApp and received nearly $4 billion in Facebook money when it was sold to them, repeated his advice that users should “delete Facebook now”.  Acton left the company in November of 2017 after Facebook monetized WhatsApp traffic by placing ads inside the app.
  • Data deals that Facebook signed with more than 150 companies are under criminal  investigation by a grand jury according to The New York Times.
    • It’s not just data causing trouble at Facebook. A Fast Company article in February reported that “a shockingly large majority of health news shared on Facebook is fake or misleading.”  Read it here.
    • The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard links many problems back to Facebook’s de-emphasis of news sites. Their analysis published this week is “One year in, Facebook’s big algorithm change has spurred an angry, Fox News-dominated-and very engaged!-News Feed.

The bottom line: Facebook will survive and continue thriving despite fines and legal brickbats until people find a substitute for the communication need the site currently fulfills.

Also in the Spotlight

Worth your time this week:

  • More than 600,000 people in Michigan may have had their health records compromised by a data breach affecting a company that works with providers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and McLaren Health Care. Attorney General Dana Nessel’s announcement.
  • Google introduced Be My Eyes last year. The free app connects visually impaired people with sighted volunteers for assistance describing an area or situation. Now the company has announced that it will work with Be My Eyes to set up free help from Google Disability Specialists each weekday. Their announcement.
  • Firefox Send is a new free service. The service allows people to send an encrypted file safely from a browser. And it will even be available on Android later this year. Files up to 1GB can be sent free by anyone while files up to 2.5GB require a free registration. Neither the sender nor the recipient need to use a Firefox browser to access the file. Details.

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