• #Facebook knew #Android #callscraping would be ‘high-risk,’ new documents reveal

    Facebook knew Android call-scraping would be ‘high-risk,’ new documents reveal

    Internal emails show Facebook weighing the privacy risks of collecting call records — then going ahead anyway

    Illustration by James Bareham / The Verge

    In March, many Android users were shocked to discover that Facebook had been collecting a record of their call and SMS history, as revealed by the company’s data download tool. Now, internal emails released by the UK Parliament show how the decision was made internally. According to the emails, developers knew the data was sensitive, but they still pushed to collect it as a way of expanding Facebook’s reach.

    The emails show Facebook’s growth team looking to call log data as a way to improve Facebook’s algorithms as well as to locate new contacts through the “People You May Know” feature. Notably, the project manager recognized it as “a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective,” but that risk seems to have been overwhelmed by the potential user growth.

    Initially, the feature was intended to require users to opt in, typically through an in-app pop-up dialog box. But as developers looked for ways to get users signed up, it became clear that Android’s data permissions could be manipulated to automatically enroll users if the new feature was deployed in a certain way.

    In another email chain, the group developing the feature seems to see the Android permissions screen as a point of unnecessary friction, to be avoided if possible. When testing revealed that call logs could be collected without a permissions dialog, that option seems to have been obviously preferable to developers.

    “Based on our initial testing,” one developer wrote, “it seems that this would allow us to upgrade users without subjecting them to an Android permissions dialog at all.”

    After the story broke in March, Facebook insisted that it had not collected any call logs without permission, and that any affected users had opted in to the feature. This contradicted the experience of many Facebook users, who reported installing Messenger with the bare minimum of permissions and nonetheless having logs collected.

    Facebook’s People You May Know feature has been the source of significant controversy for the company, often identifying connections through location or other obscure data sources. Most notably, the feature inspired Facebook to create so-called “shadow profiles” for contacts who haven’t signed up for Facebook, a practice some have criticized as overly aggressive.

    Reached for comment, Facebook said it stood by its original statement. “We of course discuss the options of keeping, removing, or changing features we offer,” a representative said. “This specific feature allows people to opt into giving Facebook access to their call and text messaging logs in Facebook Lite and Messenger on Android devices. We use this information to do things like make better suggestions for people to call in Messenger and ranking contact lists in Messenger and Facebook Lite.”

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  • #Facebook, This Is Not What “Complete User Control” Looks Like - #privacy #socialnetworks


    If you watched even a bit of Mark Zuckerberg’s ten hours of congressional testimony over the past two days, then you probably heard him proudly explain how users have “complete control” via “inline” privacy controls over everything they share on the platform. Zuckerberg’s language here misses the critical distinction between the information a person actively shares, and the information that Facebook takes from users without their knowledge or consent.

    Zuckerberg’s insistence that users have “complete control” neatly overlooks all the ways that users unwittingly “share” information with Facebook.

    Of course, there are the things you actively choose to share, like photos or status updates, and those indeed come with settings to limit their audience. That is the kind of sharing that Zuckerberg seemed to be addressing in many of his answers to Congressmembers’ questions.

    But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface are Facebook’s often-invisible methods for collecting and generating information on users without their knowledge or consent, including (but not limited to):

    Users don’t share this information with Facebook. It’s been actively—and silently—taken from them.

    This stands in stark contrast to Zuckerberg’s claim, while on the record with reporters last week, that “the vast majority of data that Facebook knows about you is because you chose to share it.” And he doubled down on this talking point in his testimony to both the Senate and the House, using it to dodge questions about the full breadth of Facebook’s data collection.

    Zuckerberg’s insistence that users have complete control is a smokescreen.

    Zuckerberg’s insistence that users have complete control is a smokescreen. Many members of Congress wanted to know not just how users can control what their friends and friends-of-friends see. They wanted to know how to control what third-party apps, advertisers, and Facebook itself are able to collect, store, and analyze. This goes far beyond what users can see on their pages and newsfeeds.

    Facebook’s ethos of connection and growth at all costs cannot coexist with users' privacy rights. Facebook operates by collecting, storing, and making it easy to find unprecedented amounts of user data. Until that changes in a meaningful way, the privacy concerns that spurred these hearings are here to stay.

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  • 8 facts about Americans and Facebook

    8 facts about Americans and Facebook

    Facebook is one of the most popular social media platforms among adults in the United States. At the same time, it has attracted scrutiny in recent years because of concerns over its ability to keep users’ personal information private and its role in the 2016 presidential election. Here are eight facts about Americans and Facebook, based on Pew Research Center surveys conducted in 2018:

    1 Around two-thirds (68%) of U.S. adults use Facebook, according to a survey conducted in January. That’s unchanged from April 2016, the last time the Center asked this question, but up from 54% of adults in August 2012.

    With the exception of YouTube – the video-sharing platform used by 73% of adults – no other major social media platform comes close to Facebook in terms of usage. Around a third of U.S. adults (35%) say they use Instagram, while smaller shares say they use Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter and WhatsApp.

    2 Among U.S. adults who use Facebook, around three-quarters (74%) visit the site at least once a day, according to the January survey. The share of adult users who visit Facebook at least once a day is higher than the shares who visit Snapchat (63%) and Instagram (60%) at least once a day. However, similar shares of Facebook and Snapchat users say they visit each site several times a day (51% and 49%, respectively).

    3 Facebook is popular among all demographic groups, though some adults are more likely to use it than others. Nearly three-quarters of women in the U.S. (74%) use the platform, compared with 62% of men. There are differences by community type and education level, too: Adults in urban areas are more likely to use it than those in suburban or rural areas, as are those with a college degree when compared with people who have lower levels of education.

    Around eight-in-ten (81%) of those ages 18 to 29 use Facebook – about twice the share among those 65 and older (41%). However, the share of older Americans who use the platform has doubled since August 2012, when just 20% of those 65 and older said they used it.

    4 Facebook is used by around half of America’s teens, but it no longer dominates the teen social media landscape as it once did, according to a survey of U.S. teens conducted in March and April. Today, 51% of those ages 13 to 17 say they use the platform, down from 71% in a 2014-2015 survey.

    The top sites among today’s teens include YouTube (85%), Instagram (72%) and Snapchat (69%). In the 2014-2015 survey, Facebook was the only platform used by a clear majority of teens.

    5 Lower-income teens are more likely than higher-income teens to use Facebook. U.S. teens generally use similar social media platforms regardless of their demographic characteristics. When it comes to Facebook, however, seven-in-ten teens living in households earning less than $30,000 a year say they use the platform, compared with 36% of those whose annual family income is $75,000 or more.

    6Facebook is a pathway to news for around four-in-ten U.S. adults

    Around four-in-ten U.S. adults (43%) get news from Facebook, according to a survey conducted in July and August. The share of U.S. adults who get news through Facebook is much higher than the shares who get news through YouTube (21%), Twitter (12%), Instagram (8%), LinkedIn (6%) and other platforms. Among U.S. adults who get news from Facebook, women are more likely than men to do this (61% vs. 39%), as are whites when compared with nonwhites (62% vs. 37%).

    742% of Facebook users have taken a break from the site in the past year

    Many adult Facebook users have a complex relationship with the platform. A little over half of adult Facebook users in the U.S. (54%) have adjusted their privacy settings in the past 12 months, according to a separate Center survey conducted in May and June. The survey followed revelations that former consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had collected data on tens of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge or permission.

    About four-in-ten adult Facebook users (42%) have taken a break from checking the platform for several weeks or more, and about a quarter (26%) have deleted the app from their phone at some point in the past year. Combined, 74% of adult Facebook users say they have taken at least one of these three actions.

    8 Many adult Facebook users in the U.S. lack a clear understanding of how the platform’s news feed works, according to the May and June survey. Around half of these users (53%) say they do not understand why certain posts are included in their news feed and others are not, including 20% who say they do not understand this at all.

    Just 14% of Facebook users believe ordinary users have a lot of control over the content that appears in their news feed, while twice as many (28%) say users have no control. (A 57% majority of Facebook users say they have a little control over what appears in their news feed.) Around six-in-ten Facebook users (63%) say they have not intentionally tried to influence or change the content that appears on their news feed.

    Note: This is an update of a post originally published on April 10, 2018.

    Topics: Online Communities, Social Media, Internet Activities, Technology Adoption

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  • Gab, Site Where Synagogue Shooting Suspect Posted, Is Suspended

    Gab, Site Where Synagogue Shooting Suspect Posted, Is Suspended

    Gab says it wants to avoid censorship.
     Towfiqu Photography/Getty Images

    Updated at 6:50 a.m. ET Monday

    The alternative social media network that was reportedly used by the suspect in the deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue is now down.

    Gab.com is a social network that touts itself as an alternative to Twitter and Facebook to give conservatives a platform for free speech. But it has also been criticized for providing a platform for anti-Semitism and white nationalism. The site has come in for increased scrutiny since the shooting.

    As of Monday, the site displayed a message saying it had been "systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processors."

    "We have been smeared by the mainstream media for defending free expression and individual liberty for all people and for working with law enforcement to ensure that justice is served for the horrible atrocity committed at Pittsburgh," it said.

    The platform's future is newly in doubt because an account linked to Robert Bowers, the 46-year-old Pittsburgh resident charged in the shootings, wrote on Gab Saturday morning: "HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in." HIAS is the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish nonprofit group that has the goal of helping immigrant refugees.

    In an interview with NPR, Gab CEO and founder Andrew Torba defended his website and condemned the shooting in Pittsburgh. He said the site has a rule about removing direct threats, but he suggested that Bowers' posting didn't sound like a concrete threat.

    "I don't know. Do you see a direct threat in there? Because I don't. What would you expect us to do with a post like that? You want us to just censor anybody who says the phrase 'I'm going in'? Because that's just absurd," Torba said. "And here's the thing: The answer to bad speech, or hate speech, however you want to define that, is more speech. And it always will be."

    PayPal confirmed to NPR that it had cut off the website off from its payment system. And two web-hosting sites also severed ties with Gab over the weekend. Torba told NPR he would work to keep the platform going. But hours later, gab.com was down with a statement posted.

    "As we transition to a new hosting provider Gab will be inaccessible for a period of time. We are working around the clock to get Gab.com back online," according to the statement on Gab's website.

    The mechanics of what caused the website to be taken down were not clear early Monday, but websites depend on support from with Web-hosting providers. It was also not clear how long the site would stay down.

    A casual scroll through Gab's message boards while it was up over the weekend revealed plenty of anti-Semitism, racism, Nazism and sexism running through its messages, along with conspiracy theories. The site boasts plenty of standard social media fare as well, including messages about music, art and sports.

    As NPR's Alina Selyukh reported last year, "many members of the far right and others who feel their views are stifled by mainstream sites like Twitter and Facebook" have gravitated toward Gab, with its promise of few restrictions on speech.

    The site often responds to critics by pointing blame at Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites for the speech that can be found on those platforms.

    Christopher Cantwell, a white nationalist who became known and was arrested after last year's Unite the Right rally in Charlotteville, Va., has a page on Gab.

    Gab said later on Saturday that its hosting provider Joyent pulled its service for the site effective Monday, meaning "Gab will likely be down for weeks because of this."

    The site's community standards have loose restrictions without an explicit ban on hate speech. They do, however, ban users from "calling for the acts of violence against others," and "threatening language or behavior that clearly, directly and incontrovertibly infringes on the safety of another user or individual(s)."

    Bowers used anti-Semitic slurs on Gab and called Jews an "infestation" and a "problem," according to the Anti-Defamation League. He also used the common white supremacist slogan "1488" in his profile, the group says, combining the classic white supremacist "14 words" with 88, which is code for "Heil Hitler."

    Gab was headquartered in Philadelphia as of March and also listed an address in Clarks Summit, Pa., in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in September. It says it has two employees.

    Gab launched in private beta in August 2016 before opening to the public in May 2017, according to a fundraising page for the site. Since then it has grown from 300,000 users in November of last year to about 800,000 today, the company says.

    In a filing with the SEC in March, the site's operators said they expected to appeal to "over 50 million conservative, libertarian, nationalist, and populist internet users" who use sites like Breitbart, DrudgeReport.com and InfoWars.com as people leave social networks that "censor conservative views."

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  • Here’s How Much Bots Drive Conversation During News Events - #socialmedia #propaganda #fakenews #Twitter #Bots #socialnetworks


    Here’s How Much Bots Drive Conversation During News Events


    Casey Chin; Getty Images

    Last week, as thousands of Central American migrants made their way northward through Mexico, walking a treacherous route toward the US border, talk of "the caravan," as it's become known, took over Twitter. Conservatives, led by President Donald Trump, dominated the conversation, eager to turn the caravan into a voting issue before the midterms. As it turns out, they had some help—from propaganda bots on Twitter.

    Late last week, about 60 percent of the conversation was driven by likely bots. Over the weekend, even as the conversation about the caravan was overshadowed by more recent tragedies, bots were still driving nearly 40 percent of the caravan conversation on Twitter. That's according to an assessment by Robhat Labs, a startup founded by two UC Berkeley students that builds tools to detect bots online. The team's first product, a Chrome extension called BotCheck.me, allows users to see which accounts in their Twitter timelines are most likely bots. Now it's launching a new tool aimed at news organizations called FactCheck.me, which allows journalists to see how much bot activity there is across an entire topic or hashtag.

    Take the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh over the weekend. On Sunday, one day after the shooting, bots were driving 23 percent of the Twitter activity related to the incident, according to FactCheck.me.

    "These big crises happen, and there’s a flurry of social media activity, but it's really hard to go back and see what’s being spread and get numbers around bot activity," says Ash Bhat, a Robhat Labs cofounder. So the team built an internal tool. Now they're launching it publicly, in hopes of helping newsrooms measure the true volume of conversation during breaking news events, apart from the bot-driven din.

    "The impact of these bot accounts is still seen and felt on Twitter."

    Ash Bhat, Robhat Labs

    Identifying bots is an ever-evolving science. To develop their methodology, Bhat and his partner Rohan Phadte compiled a sample set of accounts they had a high confidence were political propaganda bots. These accounts exhibited unusual behavior, like tweeting political content every few minutes throughout the day or amassing a huge following almost instantly. Unlike automated accounts that news organizations and other entities sometimes set up to send regularly scheduled tweets, the propaganda bots that Robhat Labs is focused on pose as humans. Bhat and Phadte also built a set of verified accounts to represent standard human behavior. They built a machine learning model that could compare the two and pick up on the patterns specific to bot accounts. They wound up with a model that they say is about 94 percent accurate in identifying propaganda bots. Factcheck.me does more than just track bot activity, though. It also applies image recognition technology to identify the most popular memes and images about a given topic being circulated by both bots and humans.

    The tool is still in its earliest stages and requires Bhat and his eight-person team to pull the numbers themselves each time they get a request. Newsrooms interested in tracking a given event have to email Robhat Labs with the topic they want to track. Within 24 hours, the company will spit back a report. Reporters will be able to see both the extent of the bot activity on a given topic, as well as the most shared pieces of content pertaining to that topic.

    There are limitations to this approach. It's not currently possible to the view the percentage of bot activity over a longer period of time. Factcheck.me also doesn't indicate which way the bots are swaying the conversation. Still, it offers more information than newsrooms have previously had at their disposal. Plenty of researchers have studied bot activity on Twitter as a whole, but FactCheck.me allows for more narrow analyses of specific topics, almost in real time. Already, Robhat Labs has released reports on the caravan, the shooting in Pittsburgh, and the senate race in Texas.

    Twitter has spent the last year cracking down on bot activity on the platform. Earlier this year, the company banned users from posting identical tweets to multiple accounts at once or retweeting and liking en masse from different accounts. Then, in July, the company purged millions of bot accounts from the platform, and has booted tens of millions of accounts that it previously locked for suspicious behavior.

    But according to Bhat, the bots have hardly disappeared. They've just evolved. Now, rather than simply sending automated tweets that Twitter might delete, they work to amplify and spread the divisive Tweets written by actual humans. "The impact of these bot accounts is still seen and felt on Twitter," Bhat says.


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  • How Facebook Groups sparked a crisis in France

    How Facebook Groups sparked a crisis in France

    The Yellow Vest movement was organized on Facebook — and now it has spilled into the streets


    Over the weekend, violence broke out in France, with more than 280,000 protesters fanning out across the country in what is known as the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) movement. What started as a reaction against a hike in the country’s gasoline tax has metastasized into something uglier. More than 400 people have been injured across some 2,000 rallies, and one person was killed after being run over by a car. In CityLab, Feargus O’Sullivan attempts to describe a rather amorphous protest:

    Unusually, the Yellow Vests is a grassroots mass protest movement with no explicit wider political agenda or links to existing groups. Having organized themselves via social media since May (when the movement was sparked by an online petition), the Yellow Vests have arrived somewhat out of the blue.

    There is also no clear media consensus as to what they are protesting beyond the cost of gas. To some observers, the protesters are primarily angry about what they see as President Emmanuel Macron’s apparent indifference toward tough conditions for working people. To others, the movement is evidence of a middle-class backlash. Meanwhile, it’s not automatically easy to say whether the protest cleaves more to the left or the right.

    What commentators are saying, both inside France and out, is that the movement has been organized primarily on Facebook. The writer Frederic Filloux described some of the group’s methods:

    Two weeks ago, more than 1,500 Yellow Vests-related Facebook events were organized locally, sometimes garnering a quarter of a city’s population. Self-appointed thinkers became national figures, thanks to popular pages and a flurry of Facebook Live. One of them, Maxime Nicolle (107,000 followers), organizes frequent impromptu “lives”, immediately followed by thousands of people. His gospel is a hodgepodge of incoherent demands but he’s now a national voice. His Facebook account, featuring a guillotine, symbol of the French Revolution and the device for death penalty until 1981, was briefly suspended before being reinstated after he put up a more acceptable image. Despite surreals, but always copious lists of claims, these people appear on popular TV shows. Right now in France, traditional TV is trailing a social sphere seen as uncorrupted by the elites, unfiltered, and more authentic.

    Writing for Bloomberg (and quoting a French-language column I couldn’t read myself), Leonid Bershidsky argues that Facebook’s decision to promote posts from groups in the News Feed may have exacerbated the protests.

    There’s nothing democratic about the emergence of Facebook group administrators as spokespeople for what passes for a popular movement. Unlike Macron and French legislators, they are unelected. In a column for Liberation, journalist Vincent Glad suggested that recent changes to the Facebook algorithm – which have prioritized content created by groups over that of pages, including those of traditional media outlets – have provided the mechanism to promote these people. Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg thought he was depoliticizing his platform and focusing on connecting people. That is not what happened.

    “Facebook group admins, whose prerogatives are constantly being increased by Zuckerberg, are the new intermediaries, thriving on the ruins of labor unions, associations or political parties,” Glad wrote.

    The result has been civil unrest with few modern precedents, John Lichfield writes in the Guardian. (He’s lived in the country for 22 years.)

    I have never seen the kind of wanton destruction that surrounded me on some of the smartest streets of Paris on Saturday – such random, hysterical hatred, directed not just towards the riot police but at shrines to the French republic itself such as the Arc de Triomphe. The 12-hour battle went beyond violent protest, beyond rioting, to the point of insurrection, even civil war.

    Reading the coverage, I’m reminded of Renee DiResta’s recent essay “The Digital Maginot Line,” which I first shared here last week. In it, she writes about how liberal democracies have proven more susceptible to the fomenting of violent political outrage than more authoritarian states. She writes about the American case here, but it’s just as easy to translate to the situation in France:

    We are (rightfully) concerned about silencing voices or communities. But our commitment to free expression makes us disproportionately vulnerable in the era of chronic, perpetual information war. Digital combatants know that once speech goes up, we are loathe to moderate it; to retain this asymmetric advantage, they push an all-or-nothing absolutist narrative that moderation is censorship, that spammy distribution tactics and algorithmic amplification are somehow part of the right to free speech.

    We seriously entertain conversations about whether or not bots have the right to free speech, privilege the privacy of fake people, and have Congressional hearings to assuage the wounded egos of YouTube personalities. More authoritarian regimes, by contrast, would simply turn off the internet. An admirable commitment to the principle of free speech in peace time turns into a sucker position against adversarial psy-ops in wartime. We need an understanding of free speech that is hardened against the environment of a continuous warm war on a broken information ecosystem. We need to defend the fundamental value from itself becoming a prop in a malign narrative.

    Think about how the Yellow Vests came about. A political decision was made, and discussed on Facebook. A small group began discussing it in groups. Algorithms and viral sharing mechanics promoted the group posts most likely to get engagement into the News Feed. Over the next few months, the majority of France that uses Facebook saw a darker, angrier reflection of their country in the News Feed than perhaps actually existed. In time, perception became reality. And now Arc de Triomphe is under attack.

    And group posts, you will recall, are one of Facebook’s most highly touted solutions to the social-networks-and-democracy problem.

    Of course, at this point we lack the evidence that Facebook caused the Yellow Vests to organize. But we can say that what we saw over the weekend is consistent with other angry populist movements that we have seen around the world — many of them violent, and many of them organized on social media. And we can predict with some confidence that more such movements will appear in the world’s liberal democracies, with equally unsettling results.


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  • Liberal Democrats more likely than other groups to be politically active on social media

    Liberal Democrats more likely than other groups to be politically active on social media

    (Towfiqu Photography/Getty Images)

    Many Americans have been politically active on social media, from encouraging others to take action to using issue-related hashtags. And liberal Democrats were more likely than other ideological and partisan groups to have engaged in these activities, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of survey data collected this summer.

    Liberal Democrats use social media for key civically minded activities more than other groupsLiberal Democrats are especially likely to use social media to mobilize others or find like-minded groups. Some 44% of liberal Democrats say they have used these sites in the past year to encourage others to take action on an issue that was important to them, while a similar share (43%) have taken part in a group that shares their interest in a cause, according to a survey of U.S. adults conducted May 29-June 11, 2018. These shares fall to around a third or fewer among conservative or moderate Democrats and among conservative, moderate or liberal Republicans. 

    At the time of the survey, liberal Democrats also stood out for recently looking up information about local rallies or protests on social media or using hashtags related to a political or social issue. (A separate survey conducted by the Center this summer found that liberal Democrats were far more likely than other ideological groups to report attending a political rally or event in the past year.) However, similar shares of liberal Democrats, conservative or moderate Democrats and liberal Republican say they have changed their profile picture to show support for a cause within the past year.

    Overall, two-thirds of liberal Democrats reported doing at least one of these five activities in the past year – compared with half or less of conservative or moderate Democrats (52%), moderate or liberal Republicans (48%) or conservative Republicans (44%).

    These differences are present among younger but not older groups. For example, 74% of liberal Democrats ages 18 to 49 have engaged in one or more of these activities. That is double the share of conservative Republicans in the same age range (37%). But among those 50 and older, similar shares of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans use social media in this way (55% vs. 48%). Beyond age, there are other factors – such as educational attainment or race and ethnicity – that may influence whether Americans are politically active on social media. And it is worth noting that while majorities of Republicans and Democrats use social media in one form or another, Democrats are more likely to use multiple platforms.

    There are also notable partisan differences when Americans were asked how important social media is to them personally as a venue for their own political engagement. Democrats who use social media are more likely than Republicans to say these sites are important for allowing them to find others who share their views (50% vs. 39%), getting involved with issues that are important to them (49% vs. 34%) or giving them a space to share their political views (43% vs. 33%).

    Liberal Democrats more likely to say social media is important for creating long-lasting movements – but all groups believe it helps get the eye of politiciansOne of the debates surrounding activism on social media is whether these platforms help spearhead change or if these actions have little to no impact on the political environment. The Center’s survey findings from this summer show that ideological differences extend to some attitudes about social media’s effectiveness in achieving political goals, as well as its broader impact on society. But these differences are more pronounced in some areas than in others.

    For example, close to nine-in-ten liberal Democrats (86%) believe these platforms are very or somewhat important for creating sustained social movements, compared with around seven-in-ten conservative or moderate Democrats (73%) and just over half of liberal or moderate Republicans (56%) and conservative Republicans (53%). Partisans’ views are more closely aligned when they are asked about the importance of these platforms for getting elected officials to pay attention to issues or influencing policy decisions.

    Ideological groups see both positive and negative effects of using social media for political engagementAt the same time, Democrats are more likely than their Republican counterparts to say these platforms can have a positive impact. For example, 77% of liberal Democrats say the statement “social media helps give a voice to underrepresented groups” describes these sites at least somewhat well, compared with 52% of conservative Republicans. A similar pattern exists for sentiments about social media’s ability to highlight important issues that may not get a lot of attention otherwise or make it easier to hold powerful people accountable.

    But there are fewer ideological differences when it comes to some of the potentially negative outcomes of political engagement on social media. Majorities in each of these groups feel that social media can distract people from more important issues or that these platforms make people think they are making a difference when they really are not.

    Topics: Social Media, Voter Participation, Internet Activities, 2018 Election, Political Issue Priorities

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  • Social Media Bots Draw Public’s Attention and Concern

    Social Media Bots Draw Public’s Attention and Concern

    While most Americans know about social media bots, many think they have a negative impact on how people stay informed

    About two-thirds of Americans have heard about social media bots, most of whom believe they are used maliciouslySince the 2016 U.S. presidential election, many Americans have expressed concern about the presence of misinformation online, particularly on social media. Recent congressional hearings and investigations by social media sites and academic researchers have suggested that one factor in the spread of misinformation is social media bots – accounts that operate on their own, without human involvement, to post and interact with others on social media sites.

    This topic has drawn the attention of much of the public: About two-thirds of Americans (66%) have heard about social media bots, though far fewer (16%) have heard a lot about these accounts. Among those aware of the phenomenon, a large majority are concerned that bot accounts are being used maliciously, according to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted July 30-Aug. 12, 2018, among 4,581 U.S. adults who are members of Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel (the Center has previously studied bots on Twitter and the news sites to which they link). Eight-in-ten of those who have heard of bots say that these accounts are mostly used for bad purposes, while just 17% say they are mostly used for good purposes.

    To further understand some of the nuances of the public’s views of social media bots, the remainder of this study explores attitudes among those Americans who have heard about them (about a third – 34% – have not heard anything about them).

    While many Americans are aware of the existence of social media bots, fewer are confident they can identify them. About half of those who have heard about bots (47%) are very or somewhat confident they can recognize these accounts on social media, with just 7% saying they are very confident. In contrast, 84% of Americans expressed confidence in their ability to recognize made-up news in an earlier study.

    Most believe a fair amount of the news people see on social media comes from bots …When it comes to the news environment specifically, many find social media bots’ presence pervasive and concerning. About eight-in-ten of those who have heard of bots (81%) think that at least a fair amount of the news people get from social media comes from these accounts, including 17% who think a great deal comes from bots. And about two-thirds (66%) think that social media bots have a mostly negative effect on how well-informed Americans are about current events, while far fewer (11%) believe they have a mostly positive effect.

    While the public’s overall impression of social media bots is negative, they have more nuanced views about specific uses of these accounts – with some uses receiving overwhelming support or opposition. For example, 78% of those who have heard about bots support the government using them to post emergency updates, the most popular function of the nine asked about in the survey. In contrast, these Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to the use of bots to post made-up news or false information (92%). They are also largely opposed to bots being used for political purposes and are more split when considering how companies and news organizations often use bots.

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  • The Business Case for #SocialNetwork #Subscriptions

    Social Network Subscriptions

    By Avtar Ram Singh, {grow} Contributing Columnist

    For the last few years, there’s been continuous discussion around the negative effects of using a social network.

    Perhaps this conversation first kicked off in 2012 when an article surfaced on Psychology Today, with research about the regular dopamine hits users of a social network get from interactions on platforms like Facebook.

    Since then, many posts and videos have roamed the web covering this phenomenon, complete with animations, illustrations, and ominous music. They were widely shared and caused a great amount of conversation … on social networks.

    In spite of these conversations and coverage, the use of social media has accelerated.

    We are however, at a crossroads.

    The social network of today is vastly different from what social networks will look like in a decade, and in my view, there will be one key difference.

    We will pay to use social networks in the future.

    The idea itself isn’t new, but in light of recent events — it’s newly relevant. I had this thought right after listening to the Marketing Companion Podcast’s episode – Is Facebook Evil?

    And here are a few reasons that lead me to believe we will pay for social networks … and why social network subscriptions are not necessarily a bad idea.

    1. The Spread of Misinformation

    Estimates state that close to 126 million Americans were exposed to Russia-linked election content that tried to influence the 2016 American Presidential election.

    Perhaps this is the first time the general public has come to terms with the significant societal effect a social network can have on the conscious and sub-conscious decisions we make on a day-to-day basis.

    Social Network Subscriptions

    This corruption of the political system and manipulation has made a negative impact on society and people’s perception of the role social networks play in our lives.

    The most telling, was Facebook’s Founding President Sean Parker’s incredibly candid interview on the topic.

    One thing is clear; for today’s social networks, the user is the product and the advertiser is the customer.

    2. Today’s Social Networks Thrive on Daily Active Users

    If you ask anyone about the greatest success metric of a social network – they’ll tell you that it’s either daily active users (DAUs), or average revenue per user (ARPU).

    But is the role of a social network to gather as many people on it as possible on a daily basis? Or how much money it makes off every user?

    Perhaps as a business – yes.

    Social Network Subscriptions

    The core success metric of a social network however, has to be something along the lines of the number of connections people have been able to make on it, or the conversations they’ve been able to have with their friends.

    Something true to its core value – why people sign up in the first place.

    Has a social network ever mentioned how much closer it got friends together?

    As social networks continue to strive for a higher DAU number, the smartest technologists on the planet are going to focus on one objective – to get us addicted to the social network they work for.

    The social networks we’re currently using focus on baiting us to continue to use the network, and don’t focus on enabling us to make better connections with our network.

    3. The Control of Information

    The highest authority that social networks answer to are governments. While in some cases such as in Thailand, where Facebook blocked pages that violated local laws, Facebook has also blocked content from a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, who documented an expose on the corruption of Malta’s Prime Minister.

    Is this in the interest of users?

    You can make arguments for and against both cases, but there’s a major takeaway. There’s very little transparency around what gets blocked and why, and whether social networks today have the best interests of their users at heart, or those of governments.

    4. Their Business is Data

    Social networks make money off of our data. The more they have of it, the better. The goal for social networks is to get us to take as many actions on a social network itself, in order to capture as many data points about us as possible.

    Social networks are amongst the least trusted in the world, when it comes to personal data misuse.

    That’s one of the key reasons why Facebook is trying to get people to buy products, order food, and watch TV shows and movies – all from within the Facebook ecosystem.

    Transitioning from a company that “connects people,” to one that actually harvests data — that’s a massive challenge. The only way a social network’s business grows, is if its data-points about its userbase grows as well.

    In fact, Facebook’s investment in original content is said to be in the region of a billion dollars next year. While this doesn’t hold a candle to the amount Netflix spends, it’s still a large amount, and a strong indicator of Facebook’s intent to keep people on the platform.

    Their recent deal with Universal Music, seems to be one of the first nascent steps Facebook is taking into becoming the multimedia platform of choice for the world – movies and music combined. Could this evolve into a far more solid entertainment service… perhaps backed by a subscription model?

    What will the social network of the future look like?

    Looking at just the above points, here’s a possible scenario:

    1. Social networks have to start positioning users as customers, and not as products
    2. The DAU and ARPU metrics are solid from a business point of view, but make more sense if it’s a subscription based service, like Netflix or Spotify
    3. Social networks need to have the best interests of their users at heart, and not those of governments, or advertisers
    4. A social network’s business should not be data, it should be connecting people

    Imagine if a social network popped up that allowed you to pay $10-$12/month, and made the following promises to you:

    1. They’ll never serve you ads
    2. They won’t share any of your data with a third-party, ever
    3. Their content regulation and censorship rules will always be 100% transparent
    4. The data they gather on you will only be used to serve you relevant organic content
    5. You have micro-control over websites, people and keywords that you see content about
    6. A radical one: No brands or companies will be allowed on the platform

    It’ll Take a Lot Before this Happens

    This idea of paying to use a network isn’t new. App.net tried out a pay-to-use model for a social network, and after years of struggle – it didn’t pan out.

    I believe they were ahead of their time.

    The discontent with social networks wasn’t as high as it is today as it was in 2012, and over the course of the next few years – there are only going to be more issues with censorship, data-sharing and privacy that crop up, as more users flock to the platforms and educate themselves on how they truly work, and what the potential negative effects are.

    In light of all that’s happened, and the direction in which social networks are going, would you choose to pay the $10 or $12 per month for a network that promised the above?

    Avtar Ram Singh
    is the Head of Strategy at FALCON Agency, a performance-led, business results oriented marketing agency that operates in South East Asia. He’s built marketing strategies and performance frameworks for brands on global and regional levels, across a variety of industries. You can find him on LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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  • Western Europeans Under 30 View News Media Less Positively, Rely More on Digital Platforms Than Older Adults

    Western Europeans Under 30 View News Media Less Positively, Rely More on Digital Platforms Than Older Adults

    Across eight Western European countries, adults ages 18 to 29 are about twice as likely to get news online than from TV. They also tend to be more critical of the news media's performance and coverage of key issues than older adults

    (iStock by Getty Images)
    (iStock by Getty Images)
    Younger Europeans are more critical of how the news media covers immigration

    People of all ages in Western Europe value the importance of the news media in society. Yet, younger adults – those under 30 – are less trusting of the news media and less likely to think the news media are doing a good job in their key responsibilities. And while younger adults rarely read the news in print, they often name established newspaper brands as their main source of news.

    This new analysis builds off Pew Research Center’s earlier findings about news media and political identities to understand age dynamics in eight Western European countries – Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Together, these eight European Union (EU) member states account for roughly 69% of the EU population and 75% of the EU economy.1

    Across the eight Western European countries surveyed, broad majorities in each of the three age groups say that news media are important to society. Among those under 30, the share who holds this view ranges from 75% in Italy to 94% in Sweden.

    Younger Western Europeans, however, are less approving of the news media. In five of eight countries polled, younger adults, defined here as those ages 18 to 29, are less likely to trust the news media than the oldest age group (those 50 and older). And when it comes to how the news media perform on key functions, in six countries adults under 30 give the news media lower ratings across at least three of the five performance areas measured than do those ages 50 and older.

    One issue where younger Europeans are noticeably less satisfied with the news media’s performance is coverage of immigration. In Denmark, for example, about half of those under 30 (49%) say the news media are doing a good job covering immigration, compared with 74% of those 50 and older, a gap of 25 percentage points. Similar but narrower gaps in how younger and older Europeans rate immigration coverage are evident in six of the seven other countries surveyed. Modest differences also emerge in ratings for coverage of the economy and crime, with younger adults giving the news media lower marks.

    These general patterns notwithstanding, the survey finds that Western Europeans under 30 can be more trusting of specific news outlets than older adults. For example, in the Netherlands, 59% of those ages 18-29 generally trust the news media, compared with 65% of those 30-49 and 72% of those 50 and above. Yet, about half of younger Dutch adults (53%) trust the specific newspaper De Telegraaf, compared with 36% of those 50 and older.

    Additionally, younger Europeans in these countries are almost twice as likely to get news online as they are from television. This stands in stark contrast to those 50 years and older, for whom television is the main pathway to news. At the same time, those ages 30 to 49, who bridge the gap between the youngest and the oldest age groups, also bridge the news consumption gap on these two platforms, with 61% getting news from TV and 68% getting it online. The greater appeal of digital among younger adults and television among the oldest age group is consistent across all eight countries studied, with majorities of those ages 18 to 29 getting news online daily. Within the digital realm, younger adults are also about twice as likely to get news daily through social media than those ages 50 and older.

    Younger Europeans more likely to get news online than from TVYounger Europeans also get news in print at much lower rates than those older than them. Those under 30 are about half as likely as those ages 30-49 to read print news sources on a daily basis – and the gap is even larger when compared to those 50 and older. But younger Europeans rely on – and trust – newspaper brands, suggesting that their consumption of news is more likely to be through newspaper websites or social media accounts.

    These are among the key findings of a new analysis of a Pew Research Center public opinion study that maps the media landscape in these eight Western European countries. The analysis is based on a survey of 16,114 adults across all eight countries conducted from Oct. 30 to Dec. 20, 2017, including 2,970 people under the age of 30.

    The survey also asked respondents to name the specific outlet they rely on most for news. Responses to the open-ended question vary by country, but some consistent differences by age emerge across the eight nations studied.

    Younger Europeans, for instance, are less likely than those 50 and older to name a public media outlet as their main source of news. This contrast is particularly pronounced in the three southern countries polled – France, Spain and Italy.2

    For example, in Spain, younger adults name the newspaper El País as their top main news source, while those ages 30-49 and those 50 and older name the public broadcaster RTVE. The UK is the one country surveyed where a public broadcaster (the BBC) dominates as the main news source across all age groups.

    Second, younger Europeans are much more likely to name social media and search engine sites as main sources of news. In seven of the eight countries, Facebook is named by at least 5% of younger adults. Twitter is also named as a main source by younger adults in one country (Spain), and Google is named in three countries (Spain, Germany and Italy). Across the eight countries, these sites are rarely named by those 50 and older as a main source: Just one site, Google, is named by at least 5% of this age group, and only in Italy.

    Younger Europeans are less likely than older adults to name public news media as top news source

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