Tag: ads

Facebook and Google reportedly helped set up anti-Muslim election ads

It looks like Russia wasn't the only one buying ads online to help sway the election last year. Facebook and Google worked closely with conservative non-profit Secure America Now and advertising firm Harris Media on ad campaigns targeting swing state voters with anti-Muslim and anti-refugee messages, and linking Democratic candidates to terrorists, according to a report from Bloomberg. "Unlike Russian efforts to secretly influence the 2016 election via social media, this American-led campaign was aided by direct collaboration with employees of Facebook and Google," the publication says.

One ad is a mock tourism video titled "Book Your Trip to the Islamic State of France." It features an Eiffel Tower with a crescent moon and star atop it, terrorist training camp footage and Muslims praying while a narrator describes a burka-clad Mona Lisa as finally looking "how a woman should."

"Under Sharia Law, you can enjoy everything the Islamic State of France has to offer, as long as you follow the rules," the narrator says.

The ads apparently ran in Nevada and North Carolina during the final weeks of the election, and caused at least one Harris Media employee to feel uncomfortable about their content.

Bloomberg's sources say that Facebook's and Google's sales team worked closely with Secure America Now to improve their multimillion dollar ad campaigns. Google eventually pulled a number of the ads because they violated the company's policies.

Facebook's "eager" sales team supposedly went as far as using Secure America Now's ads for A/B testing a new vertical video format at scale:

"The video they used was 'Are We Safe?', which contrasts colorful scenes of Main Street America with black-and-white pictures of Muslims who have carried out attacks in the US. Facebook tested 12 different versions of the video."

Facebook also worked with a Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany party, also a Harris Media client, to target voters with anti-immigration ads in the country this year.

This report comes after it was discovered that Russia bought some 3,000 ads and cut Facebook a check for over $100,000 during the 2016 election. It was found that Russian agents also purchased ads with Google leading up to last November.

We've reached out to Facebook and Google for more information and will update this post should it arrive.

Source: Bloomberg


Junk technology: A ridiculous history of fast-food PR stunts

Who doesn't love a good, over-the-top marketing stunt? Recently we've seen a lot of those, including Pizza Hut's Pizza Parka, a coat made out of the same insulating materials as its delivery pouches. Because why not? That ridiculous product from Pizza Hut shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, this is the same company that made shoes that can order a pie for you. But Pizza Hut isn't the only one trying to get creative using technology to promote its brand.

Over the past few years, other food chains, like Domino's, KFC and McDonald's, have also used tech as a marketing tool. The hope is that whatever they make, be it a delivery robot or a chicken box with a built-in charger, is ridiculous enough that it'll go viral. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. Either way, we're here to show you a history of marketing stunts that have taken things too far. Or not far enough, depending on your taste.


Facebook locks down key data as researchers analyze Russian influence

The truth behind Facebook's involvement in Russian voter hacks continues to get more complicated. The social media company apparently knew about Russian meddling even before last year's US election. Mark Zuckerberg's company reported that 10 million people saw Russian political ads, and has handed over Russia-linked ads to Congress. According to a report in The Washington Post, however, Facebook recently scrubbed the internet of thousands of posts related to social media analyst Jonathan Albright's research that apparently concluded that at least twice as many people had seen the ads than Facebook reported.

Needless to say, the researcher is upset. "This is public interest data," Albright told the Post. "This data allowed us to at least reconstruct some of the pieces of the puzzle. Not everything, but it allowed us to make sense of some of this thing."

Facebook confirmed to The Washington Post that while the posts had been removed, it was due to a bug in its analytics tool CrowdTangle. According to the company, Albright should never have been able to see this information. When the "bug" was quashed, Facebook told the Post, advertisers (and analysits like Albright) could no longer see information from "cached" posts that had already been taken down on Facebook (and Instagram). "We identified and fixed a bug in CrowdTangle that allowed users to see cached information from inactive Facebook Pages," Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told the Post. "Across all our platforms we have privacy commitments to make inactive content that is no longer available, inaccessible."

It's hard not to see this as a convenient excuse to hide tens of millions of potentially damning data, of course, especially as COO Sheryl Sandberg has committed the company to transparency around the fake Russian ads. Social media analysis has become a large part of figuring out what happens in our society, and not allowing access to even "taken down" posts can seem alarming. We've reached out to Facebook for comment on this matter and will update the post when we hear back.

Source: The Washington Post


House intel committee will release Russian-funded Facebook ads

A month ago, Facebook revealed that a Russian group bought $100,000 worth of ads on the social network in an apparent effort to influence the 2016 US Presidential election. After more was revealed about the far-reaching impact of the ads, the social media titan handed them over to the House Intelligence Committee last week. Now Congress is planning to release the advertisements to the American public, according to CNBC -- but not before a November 1st hearing that will include Facebook, Twitter and Google.

After Congressional pressure, Facebook handed over the over 3,000 ads, which 10 million people saw. As recently as July 20th, the social media titan insisted that Russian actors hadn't bought advertisements on the network -- though, to their credit, the contractors Facebook uses to scan potential ads weren't trained to screen out political content or propaganda. Information surfacing in the last month revealed that the Russian hacking operation Internet Research Agency had bought the ads.

The advertisements' content and delivery show a pattern of intentional manipulation. For one, the content intentionally stoked tension by inflaming racial issues, like promoting Black Lives Matter in one ad while portraying it as an existential threat to America in another. Plus, the ads targeted key demographics in swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin.

Source: CNBC


Facebook will hand-review every ad targeting politics and race

When Facebook said it was hiring 1,000 more people to manually review ads, it wasn't necessarily clear to everyone what that entailed -- just what was the focus, and would it affect upstanding advertisers? While the company touched on what whats happening before, there's no ambiguity now. According to Axios, Facebook is telling advertisers that it now requires manual review for any ad targeting people based on "politics, religion, ethnicity or social issues." In other words, Facebook is determined to avoid any attempt to use ads to stoke social tensions, even if that means slowing down its ad system. The social network warns marketers that they're "likely to experience a delay" to the start of their ad campaigns, at least until Facebook finds a way to streamline the process.

When asked for comment, Facebook pointed to its earlier news post, which only made reference to "certain types" of ads going through human reviews. It didn't touch on the specific content or the expected delays.

It's not shocking that Facebook would limit manual reviews to more sensitive subjects, but the absolute requirement for reviews covering a wide range of subjects is notable. It's a more direct acknowledgment that the company's previous reliance on automated screening let shady ads slip through the cracks, and that manual inspection might be necessary to catch people trying to game the system. And simply speaking, this could represent a survival tactic. Facebook knows it's under government scrutiny for Russia-linked ads, and it may have decided that voluntarily slowing down its ad system was better than risking government intervention.

Source: Axios


Facebook: 10 million people saw Russian political ads

Approximately 10 million people saw the ads a Russia-based organization bought on Facebook to sow political discord in the US. That's one of the things the social network has revealed in a post talking about the 3,000 Russia-linked advertisements it handed over to Congress. Most of them, Facebook disclosed, focused on "divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum," including issues about race, LGBT matter, immigration and gun rights.

According to The Washington Post, one of the ads showed a black woman firing a rifle without a bullet. Another ad used pictures of Hillary Clinton behind bars, which supported her critics' "Lock Her Up" campaign after it was revealed that she used a private email server. The ads also encouraged people to follow Pages about the topics, which aligns with what Facebook reported discovering in early September.

If you'll recall, the company found around $100,000 in ad spend connected to Pages spreading fake political news leading to the US Presidential elections. It traced all 470 Pages and accounts that bought the ads back to Russia. Facebook said people saw 44 percent of the ads before the election and 56 percent after the election was done. Audiences never saw around 25 percent of the ads, though, because they didn't target anyone's interest. Half of those ads cost less than $3, though one percent of the total number cost over $1,000.

In addition to the advertisements' statistics, Facebook has provided replies to some tough questions a lot of probably want to ask. It admitted having a hard time catching advertisements that broke its rules due to the massive number it deals with per week. The social network also explained that it won't stop foreigners from speaking out on issues in the US and users from posting opinions it doesn't agree with, because it believes in free speech.

However, it promises to implement new features that can help it catch and filter out ads that break its rules. Going forward, the company promises to tighten restrictions on advertiser content and increase its requirements for authenticity. US election-related advertisers will now have to authenticate their businesses. Facebook promises to provide industry and political watchdog groups access to the ad transparency tool it's building, as well.

The social network will now also require ads that target certain types of interests to go through additional human review and approval. Any ad that aims to spread messages of hate or violence, such as those anti-Semitic ads ProPublica found on the website, will be rejected or removed. "Facebook's Community Standards strictly prohibit attacking people based on their protected characteristics, and our advertising terms are even more restrictive, prohibiting advertisers from discriminating against people based on religion and other attributes," Elliot Schrage, Facebook Policy and Communications VP, wrote in the post.

Schrage said Facebook's investigation is far from finished. The company knows there might be ads leading to fake news Pages that it still hasn't found, so it hasn't stopped looking for "abuse and bad actors" on the platform.

Source: Facebook, The Washington Post


Facebook is hiring 1,000 people to fight shady ads

Now that Facebook has given Russia-linked ads to Congress, it's outlining what it'll do to prevent such a suspicious ad campaign from happening in the future. To begin with, it's promising to make ads more transparent -- it's writing tools that will let you see all the ads a Page runs, not just the ones targeting you. In theory, this could help concerned people spot questionable advertising without requiring help from Facebook or third parties. Most of Facebook's efforts, however, center around toughening the ad review process and the standards that guide them.

The social network is hiring 1,000 more people for its global ads review teams in the space of the next year, and is "investing more" in machine learning to help with automated flagging for ads. Advertisers will need "more thorough" documentation if they're running ads related to US federal elections, such as confirming the organization they work with. Facebook is also tightening its policies to prevent ads promoting "more subtle expressions of violence," which might include some of the ads stoking social tensions.

The site is aware that it isn't alone in grappling with Russia-backed campaigns, for that matter. It's "reaching out" to government and industry leaders to both share info and help establish better standards so that this won't happen elsewhere.

Facebook's moves look like they could catch dodgy ad campaigns, particularly those attempting election influence campaigns. However, this is part of an all too familiar pattern at Facebook: the company implements broad changes (usually including staff hires) after failing to anticipate the social consequences of a feature. While it would be difficult for a tech company to anticipate every possible misuse of its services, this suggests that Facebook needs to extensively consider the pitfalls of a feature before it reaches the public, rather than waiting for a crisis.

Via: Recode

Source: TechCrunch


Roku’s IPO pushes its value to over $2 billion

When Roku announced it was chasing an IPO, its sights were to raise $100 million. The end result is more than double that, according to Bloomberg. As of press time, investors had bought some $219 million in stock and the company has been valued at $2.1 billion. What's the streaming outfit planning to do with all that cash? Probably wrangle together more ad-supported programming.

"Our business model has really transitioned from hardware to our platform businesses, which is selling advertisements and distributing [shows and movies]," CEO Anthony Wood told Bloomberg. "The fastest-growing category on Roku is ad-supported [programming]." Sounds like you'll have more ad-supported free channels coming your way.

Source: Bloomberg


Russia-linked Facebook ads sought to exploit US social divisions

There's been a lot of fuss over a Russian group buying Facebook ads in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, to the point where it's handing the ads to Congress as it investigates the scope of Russia's influence campaign. But what's in those ads, exactly? We might have a better idea. Washington Post sources say that the 3,000 ads headed to Congress were built to exploit American social divisions. Some championed activist groups like Black Lives Matter, while others portrayed them as existential threats. Others aimed to split opinions through hot-button issues like Islam, LGBT rights, gun rights and immigration.

The members of Congress involved in the investigation haven't seen the ads yet, but have confirmed at least some of the content following briefings. House Intelligence Committee lead Rep. Adam Schiff doesn't believe the ads were intended to drive incensed voters to the polls -- rather, they were meant as an act of "voter suppression" that discouraged involvement. That's backed by strategies seen elsewhere, such as attempts to fuel voter boycotts among Bernie Sanders supporters upset he didn't win the Democratic nomination.

While it's still not certain that the Russian government was directly behind the ads, they line up with strategies the country has used for decades, such as paying for ads in newspapers and even creating activist groups. The difference, of course, would be the scale that the internet involves. The $100,000 in ads may not sound like much, but that can get you a lot of views (BlitzMetrics' Dennis Yu believes it could be "hundreds of millions") with relatively little effort. Russia could have paid a relatively minuscule amount to achieve the effect of fostering division and discouraging voters.

Source: Washington Post


Facebook knew about Russian meddling well before the US election

Despite once saying that it was "crazy" to believe Russians influenced the 2016 election, Facebook knew about a possible operation as early as June, 2016, the Washington Post reports. It only started taking it seriously after President Obama met privately with CEO Mark Zuckerberg ahead of Trump's inauguration. He warned that if the social network didn't take action to mitigate fake news and political agitprop, it would get worse during the next election. Obama's aids are said to regret not doing more to handle the problem.

At the time, Zuckerberg admitted the social network knew about problems, but told Obama that it wasn't widespread and that there wasn't a lot Facebook could do in any case. In June 2016, Facebook's security team found suspicious accounts set up by the Kremlin-backed APT28 hacking team, also known as Guccifer 2.0, the Post says.

However, it found no solid proof of Russian disinformation and turned over everything it found to the US government. Reportedly, neither US law enforcement nor national security personnel met with Facebook to share or discuss the information.

After Obama pulled Zuckerberg aside, Facebook starting taking the problem more seriously, but again failed to find clear links to Russian operatives, the WaPo says. On July 20th this year, Facebook actually told CNN that "we have seen no evidence that Russian actors bought ads on Facebook in connection with theh election."

It finally uncovered proof of suspicious activity after tracking a firm called the Internet Research Agency, a known Russian hacking operation. By working backwards, it discovered over 3,000 ads around social and political issues it had posted between 2015 and 2017.

Right now they are operating in an arena where they have some, but very few, legal responsibilities. We are going to keep seeing examples of this kind, and at some point the jig is going to be up and the regulators are going to act.

Putin-backed Russian groups paid up to $100,000 to buy the ads, and boosted anti-immigrant rallies in Idaho, among other activities. Facebook recently turned over the ads to the US Intelligence Committee and congressional investigators, who say the findings are likely just "the tip of the iceberg." Facebook executives will also testify before a Senate Intelligence committee.

While it appears that Facebook turned over any evidence to US law enforcement as soon as it found it, ads and fake news are filtered mostly by algorithms. Facebook's human content gatekeepers, often contractors, are mostly on the watch for violent or sexually explicit materials, not foreign propaganda.

In response the latest report, a company spokesman says that "we believe in the power of democracy, which is why we're taking this work on elections integrity so seriously, and have come forward at every opportunity to share what we've found."

However, many observers think that Facebook can't be trusted on the problem. "It's rooted in their overconfidence that they know best, their naivete about how the world works, their extensive effort to avoid oversight and their business model of having very few employees so that no one is minding the store," Professor Zeynep Tufekci from UNC Chapel Hill told the Post.

Other critics believe that Facebook is going to need much more oversight. "Right now they are operating in an arena where they have some, but very few, legal responsibilities," Stanford Law School scholar Morgan Weiland told The Atlantic earlier this month. "We are going to keep seeing examples of this kind, and at some point the jig is going to be up and the regulators are going to act."

Source: The Washington Post