Tag: socialmedia

Does social media threaten the illusion of news neutrality?

For journalists, social media can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they can use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to share their opinion on a wide range of matters, from sports to politics. But at the same time, they have to remember to exercise caution, because whatever they say can be taken out of context and have major implications on the publications they work for. If a reader who follows your tweets or Facebook posts doesn't agree with you, that can motivate them to claim your entire newsroom is biased.

That's why we're now seeing publications having to change their digital strategy. Last week, The New York Times published an "updated and expanded" set of social media guidelines for its journalists. These new rules outline how every staff member (not just editors and reporters) is expected to behave online. In an article posted last week, The Times said that while social media "plays a vital role" in its journalism, since it can act as a tool to better engage with readers and help reach fresh audiences, it can also be a complicated medium. "If our journalists are perceived as biased or if they engage in editorializing on social media," The Times said, "that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom."


Put simply, The Times wants its journalists to "take extra care to avoid expressing partisan opinions" through social media on issues that it covers, even if the reporter or editor isn't attached to a specific story's byline. Dean Banquet, The New York Times' executive editor, said in a memo that the guidelines are "rooted in the very experience of our journalists." Several reporters who are prominent on Twitter, including Maggie Haberman and Max Fisher, were involved in the process, offering "very helpful" input and, ultimately, their endorsement.

Rukmini Callimachi, a correspondent for The New York Times covering ISIS, suggested in the same memo that her colleagues block abusive people, rather than engaging in a argument that may turn ugly. At the same time, however, the guidelines say that staffers should avoid muting or blocking people who are simply criticizing their work.

Meanwhile, chief White House correspondent Peter Baker, warned reporters and editors that any tweet about President Trump from them could be taken as a statement from The New York Times. That's why it's probably best to keep your thoughts to yourself. "The White House," he said, "doesn't make a distinction. In this charged environment, we all need to be in this together." Baker's example is important because it signals that The New York Times doesn't just want to protect itself from reader criticism, but also President Trump and his staff. Don't make you and your colleagues an easy target, Bakers seems to suggest.

It's clear the idea is to avoid giving anyone reason to claim the paper isn't fair or neutral. That's understandable, but many journalism experts believe the move was driven by recent political events. The decision comes at a time when Trump is constantly bashing the publication, with "the failing New York Times" being his favorite epithet. And he often follows that by claiming that The Times and the rest of the "mainstream media" are "fake news." That said, the paper may be doing this as a way to shield itself against growing scrutiny.

The thing is that while other news organizations, such as The Wall Stret Journal, have similar guidelines in place, those don't tend to be publicly available. The New York Times made the choice to share them with its readers, and by doing so, it's opening itself up to critiques.

So why now?

Cynthia Collins, Social Media Editor at The New York Times, told Engadget that these guidelines have been in the works for months. Though she didn't elaborate on why this was the right time to share these rules publicly, Collins said that The Times felt it would be "interesting or useful for other newsrooms, journalism schools and most importantly to us, our readers." As for what's changed from the old rules, she said only that the new ones were shaped by incorporating reporters' voices.

If our Journalists are perceived as biased or if they engage in editorializing on social media, that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom.

The New York Times

"Although stricter policies are in place for journalists who directly cover topics like sports or culture," said Collins, "journalists who work outside of those departments can reasonably discuss their leisurely pursuits on social media." She said that staffers should ask themselves a couple of key questions before posting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or any other social media app: "If readers see your post and notice that you're a Times journalist, would that affect their view of The Times's news coverage as fair and impartial?" and "Could your post hamper your colleagues' ability to effectively do their jobs?"

If the answer is "yes" to either of those, she said, then it's best for journalists to just bite your tongue. (We reached out to a couple of NYT current and former staffers, but they declined to speak on the record.)

"I am very concerned that The Times' dictum might come in response to pressure and criticism from the right," said Jeff Jarvis, Director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Naturally, The Times won't say whether the new rules are, indeed, based on pressure from right-wing. Buf if that were to be the case, the paper would be making itself vulnerable. "In this age, it is more necessary than ever for journalists to connect with the publics they serve on a human level with direct communication, with empathy and with honesty. Journalists are not superhuman beings who have no opinions, no bias, no perspective, no worldview, no background."

When asked about whether reporters should avoid sharing their personal opinion, be it on Trump or other matters, Jarvis said that this shouldn't have to be the case. "I believe that we as journalists need to be transparent about our worldviews and experience," he said. "Indeed, one of the reasons the conservative half of America does not trust news media is, I believe, because we were not honest about journalists being predominately liberal in our outlook. If they could not trust us to be open about that, then they came to believe they could not trust us about other things we report."

Jarvis said he does understand The Times' desire to be somewhat more prescriptive, particularly when it comes to reporters using social media to make consumer complaints. On Twitter, for instance, journalists are often verified. That means they can use their position to grab a company's attention faster than someone without a blue check mark on their profile. Still, Jarvis said, "I feel for them as I find that public discussion can be the best way to find consumer justice."

It will be interesting to see if more publications follow in The New York Times' footsteps. Not just in demanding that staffers be less opinionated on social media but also making any revised guidelines public. Given the current state of affair, wherein readers who agree with something may shout "fake news," it wouldn't be surprising to see more news organizations change or be more transparent about their social media rules for staff members.

Now Twitter’s quest to become a ‘safer’ place has a schedule

You no longer have to wonder when you'll see Twitter implement the new rules promised by its CEO and outlined in that leaked email. The social network has released a "Safety Calendar," which details when it will roll out a series of new rules to make the platform a safer place. As the internal email said, the company plans to crack down on hate and violence on its website: on November 3rd, it promises to start suspending accounts of "organizations that use violence to advance their cause."

Avatars and headers with hateful imagery and symbols will no longer be allowed and tweets that contain them will be placed behind a filter. Twitter says it will release examples of what it considers "hateful imagery" once the policy is finalized so there can be no doubts what kind of symbols aren't welcome anymore. In addition, Twitter will begin blocking people's ability to sign up with hateful names on November 22nd.

The platform's Safety Calendar also outlines when the rules it announced in the past will go live, including new measures to protect victims of non-consensual nudity and unwanted sexual advances. Further, Twitter will update its witness reporting procedure to take user relationships into account, so it can act faster if it's more likely that the reporter truly has witnessed rule violations. We'll find out how the microblogging platform plans to enforce its new rules soon, as well: it will reveal the factors it considers when reviewing user reports on November 14th.

Source: Twitter

UK collected social media data as part of its mass surveillance

It's no secret that the UK has been engaging in mass surveillance over the past few years. Since Edward Snowden's leaks revealed the extent of their program, the UK's security and intelligence organization GCHQ has been under fire for possible violation of privacy laws, as well as the possibility that too much data had compromised the organization's ability to analyze it fully. Now, Privacy International, a privacy rights group, claims to have documents that show that GCHQ has been collecting social media information on millions of people.

GCHQ, which stands for Government Communications Headquarters, has been collecting this information over years, even decades, and sharing these databases with foreign intelligence and law enforcement services. Their oversight body, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, has been out of the loop in regard to this practice. GCHQ reportedly obtained the data through access to private companies' databases. It's unclear what information has been collected and what it's being used for, but it is sorted into "biographical data," "financial activities," "travel" and more.

The documents stemmed from the organization's overall challenge at how the UK government is using its investigatory powers to gather mass surveillance data. In this case, Privacy International's specific issue concerns the role of private contractors. These third-party contractors have administrator access to the data, and there are currently no safeguards in place to prevent them from misusing it.

"The intelligence agencies' practices in relation to bulk data were previously found to be unlawful," says Millie Graham Wood, a solicitor at Privacy International. "After three years of litigation, just before the court hearing we learn not only are safeguards for sharing our sensitive data non-existent, but the government has databases with our social media information and is potentially sharing access to this information with foreign governments." It's understanding why this information is concerning -- oversight is necessary when it comes to intelligence operations. Hopefully Privacy International's case has some positive results.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Privacy International

Why I kicked my morning Twitter habit

Up until a week ago, the first thing I did every morning after waking up was reach for the nightstand and grab my iPhone. Then, after hitting the snooze on the alarm a couple of times, I'd open Twitter or Instagram and scroll through my feeds for 10-15 minutes before getting ready for work. Once dressed and prepared to face another day, I'd walk to the train, hop on, take my phone out and check social media again. For 40 minutes, almost the entire length of my commute, I scrolled through people's posts for what felt like an eternity. Wash, rinse, repeat -- save for the weekends. And I imagine many people can relate.

Liking posts on Twitter and Instagram before my day really started became routine; it was a way to catch up with what the world had been up to for the six or seven hours I was asleep. What news did I miss? What were my friends doing? You know, the usual. Some call that FOMO (fear of missing out), but I'd say it's just a bad habit. I'd even go as far as calling it an addiction. I feel the need to be glued to my phone, particularly social-media apps, as if my brain is wired to open them every chance I get.

Via Twitter, Trump Threatens To Cancel Mexico Visit To White House Over Wall

Recently though, it's all become too much -- especially on Twitter, where oftentimes the first thing I'd see were tweets about politics and how the world is basically falling apart. It wasn't just Trump's questionable tweets, either, or people's reactions to them, but also things like the discussions around the Las Vegas Route 91 mass shooting. (Instagram is less toxic, because my feed is made up mostly of friends at bars, fashion and sports.)

Don't get me wrong: I love Twitter and Instagram, and I might even say the same about Facebook if I had an account (but probably not). However, that negativity eventually took a toll on me mentally. I noticed that by the time I got to the Engadget office in the morning, I was already in a bad mood. Things that were out of my control sometimes made it hard to focus on my work. And who wants to start the day like that?

That's why I decided to impose a social media diet on myself, in hopes of sparing me a few hours of dealing with the world's problems. No more Twitter or Instagram until after I'm in the office, at my desk and I've had time to settle into the day. Instead, I spend my commute playing games on my Nintendo Switch or reading a book.

I'm not alone in wanting to break from the shackles of social media. Celebrities like Solange Knowles have taken digital sabbaticals recently, citing the need to stay away from "racist ugly ass fuck bois who reek of citronella" on Twitter and Instagram. She made that decision three days after the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 15th. As a reporter, it's hard for me to completely tune out, given that my job requires me to stay informed with what's happening around us. But if anything needs my immediate attention, I have notifications for breaking news set up, and I still check my work email at home and on the train.

A couple of friends have suggested wiping the slate clean on Twitter -- unfollowing everyone and starting from scratch. Thing is, that probably wouldn't change much -- I'd just end up just following most of the same people and media accounts. My colleague Dan Cooper took a break from Twitter for an entire week, but I just can't bring myself to do that. Where else am I going to get live reactions to sporting events? Especially right now that the Yankees are on their way to snag another World Series pennant. (Editor's note: Cubs, two years in a row!)

Honestly, I wish I could go back to last year, when the majority of New York City's subway lines didn't have cell service. That said, I also understand there are people out there who need to stay connected for more important reasons, not just to check Twitter constantly. Plus, it's not the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) fault I have no self-control.

I've enjoyed my experiment so far, and now my mornings feel more pure and free from bad vibes. I'm less disappointed in humanity when I get to work, and it's great not starting my day by worrying whether or not Trump has started World War III. Sure, that all changes as soon as I check Twitter at the office, or when I absent-mindedly break my diet for a brief second, but there's no way to avoid reality. The only thing I can do is change the way I use social media, at least if I want to stay sane.

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

Fear of the US government led me to censor myself on Twitter

The day I've been dreading for months is drawing near. On October 18th, the Department of Homeland Security's modified system of records is scheduled to go into effect. The updated policy would affect all US immigrants, whether they are new, existing or permanent residents or even naturalized citizens, and how they are identified by the government. More accurately, it would allow the DHS, Border Patrol and other immigration authorities to collect social media handles as part of an individual's official record. As someone who's working in the US on a visa, I was immediately worried about how it would affect my standing.

The reason the DHS gave for the update is that it is beginning to conduct "more immigration actions in an electronic environment" and that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is adjudicating "more immigration benefits and requests for action in its USCIS Electronic Immigration System." Basically, people are increasingly applying online, and the changes would reduce the existing reliance on paper records. What the DHS wants to do is be able to officially identify you by your online persona in addition to existing attributes like your name, birthday and address. The update would also add an individual's "country of nationality; country of residence; the USCIS Online Account Number; social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results" to one's records.

A DHS spokesperson said in a statement, "This amendment does not represent a new policy." The notice published on September 18th was "an effort to be transparent (and) comply with existing regulations" and "due to updates in the electronic immigration system." Multiple requests for clarity on what would change for immigrants -- whether they would have to fill out new forms asking for their social media handles or what would happen for those with private profiles, were not answered.

I was raised in Singapore, where political criticism can get you sued (if interpreted as libel), arrested (if seen as inciting violence) or even jailed. At my first full-time job, as a marketing executive for a local oil and gas company, my boss told me not to speak in meetings -- playing dumb was always better than potentially making a mistake, he said. For most of my life, I learned to swallow my feelings. My mother's mantra was "Keep your opinions to yourself," and she sternly repeated it as we made our way to family gatherings and social functions.


When I first came to live in the US, in 2008, I was surprised by how liberally people expressed themselves. I learned that individuals' thoughts have value but also, more important, that we are entitled to them. The notion of freedom of speech was new to me, but as I observed the thriving arts and culture in American society, I understood what liberty was worth. Just as people grow and improve by accepting and learning from different opinions, so a country flourishes by embracing and encouraging open discourse.

I got used to the freedom to air my thoughts on any topic in public forums like Twitter and Instagram. I still refrain from saying anything that would make me look insensitive or give away too much personal information, though. Part of me also continues to fear the wrath of the Singapore government; I worry about what could happen to me when I return to visit family should I unwittingly say something too critical. But for the most part I feel carefree. My posts tend to be a mix of my own articles, random musings, funny videos or frustrating stories about poor customer service and bad PR.

Something changed a few months ago, after I first heard of the DHS' plans to incorporate social media into its visa application process. I started to second-guess myself. I avoided weighing in on topics that would show my political leanings. I dutifully wished my followers a happy Fourth of July, shared the results of the Super Bowl and retweeted posts honoring the fallen victims of 9/11. I sent these tweets mostly out of goodwill, but a small part of me felt it was better to look like I participate in American activities.

I started posting what I imagined a immigration officer would like to see, rather than show an unfiltered version of my thoughts. Truth is, Chinese New Year matters more to me than Fourth of July does, and I didn't really care if the Patriots won. I love America, and I love many of its festivities and people, but I can't change the fact that I grew up elsewhere. And honestly, I shouldn't have to.

I continued to tweet, trying mostly to stay on neutral topics. Occasionally, I let myself express anger at institutions or people, but I only feel safe ranting about issues that people agree on regardless of political views.

I don't want to let my fear get in the way of me expressing myself, but it already has.

But it's what people don't see that I found the most telling. I agonized over whether to soften a jokingly violent tweet about New York's subway system. I didn't want someone to come across those thoughts, assume I was serious, and decide I'm a dangerous individual. Who knows what an immigration officer might think? Eventually, I toned down the language and added qualifiers like "I guess" to make it clear I was merely musing.

There are times I've avoided posting altogether. I kept quiet during the white nationalist rally in Virginia and generally don't comment on things Donald Trump does. But things came to a head when I found myself holding back from sharing negative tweets about American gun laws and political gridlock after the Las Vegas shootings. As my feed filled up with statistics showing how the US and its (lack of) gun control policies have led to massive loss of lives, I longed to retweet and share. But I didn't. Instead, I vented in private messages to trusted friends. I felt like I was back in Singapore.

I'm torn. I don't want to let my fear get in the way of me expressing myself, but it already has.

Maybe I'm being paranoid. A DHS spokesperson said the agency already does "and continues to monitor publicly-available social media to protect the homeland." They might already know everything they need to about me from years of unfiltered tweeting. But when your job, life and future depend on how strangers in some government agency perceive you, wouldn't you be careful too? Yes, my profile is public and anyone can already access it and judge me. But it's one thing to allow random people online to decide if they like you -- it's almost debilitating when your beliefs or personality are used to officially determine if you can visit a country.

The good news is, based on the thousands of comments on the proposal's forum, an overwhelming majority of people are against the upcoming update. Many of them argue that the move would be a violation of the First and Fourth Amendments. Some even claim this is a slippery slope toward a Big Brother–like future with the government monitoring the social media of citizens and immigrants alike. It's still unclear exactly how the changes would affect us, or how they are new, given the vague responses from the USCIS and the DHS. At this point though, my social media is no longer an accurate representation of the person I actually am. It's some facade I've created for the powers that be. Which really makes monitoring it useless anyway.

Twitter is developing a ‘Save for Later’ bookmarking feature

While most tweets are a quick read, a lot of people still want a way to save those worthy of a more in-depth inspection. After getting tons of requests for a "Save for Later" feature, the company has finally started developing a Bookmarking tool during its annual Hack Week activities. Twitter product manager Jesar Shah has announced the feature on the platform and posted a quick demo of the prototype they created at the event.

Apparently, they plan to replace the "send via DM" icon on the bottom right portion of tweets with an overflow menu. That menu will house both the "share via DM" and the upcoming "Add to Bookmark" features, though the final version could take on a different form. All the tweets added to Bookmarks can then be accessed through a list in settings.

Shah also revealed that users currently make do by Liking or sending tweets to themselves via DM. When the feature comes out, they no longer have to do either of those whenever they see tweets with photos containing a longer message, those that mark the beginning of a series or those that link to long pieces they'd like to access when they have more time on their hands.

Source: Keith Coleman (Twitter), Jesar Shah (Twitter)

Instagram tool finally lets you cross-post Stories to Facebook

You'll probably have a lot more Facebook Stories to watch in the near future... except you can also watch most of them on Instagram. According to TechCrunch, the social network has begun rolling out a feature that allows you to cross-post Instagram Stories to Facebook Stories if you're in the US. The company began testing the feature in August, but as always, only a handful of people were lucky enough to get access to it. Now that it's officially out in the US, the feature will arrive on your Instagram app in the near future if it hasn't yet, giving you an easy way to share what's going on with your life with nan and pop.

The social network also told TechCrunch that while you can only cross-post from Instagram to Facebook, it hasn't ruled out the possibility of building a tool that could do the opposite. Instagram Stories has amassed over 250 million users, though, surpassing even Snapchat's version that's been around longer. Considering Facebook Stories is reportedly not doing as well, building a cross-posting tool from Facebook to Instagram might not be a priority for the social network.

Source: TechCrunch

Russian Facebook ads reportedly targeted crucial swing states

More details are emerging about the Russia-linked ads Facebook handed over to Congressional investigators just days ago. According to multiple sources who spoke to CNN, a number of the paid posts specifically targeted two states that were crucial to Trump's victory in November: Michigan and Wisconsin. Facebook has already revealed that the 3,000 ads (viewed by roughly 10 million people) focused on "divisive social political messages," including issues about race, LGBT topics, immigration, and gun rights. But, the latest info sheds light on the geographic and demographical targeting of the promotional messages -- two aspects Facebook has not discussed in detail.

Trump beat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Michigan by just 10,704 votes. Wisconsin too was a tight race, with Trump grabbing victory by 22,700 votes. Just days after the results were announced, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg swiped back at his critics by claiming it was "crazy" to think that fake news on his platform swayed the election. He's since said he regrets those remarks. But, bogus articles were just part of the machinery used by nefarious forces, along with promoted events, and ads. The latter saw Facebook's comprehensive (and controversial) ad targeting tool utilized to target groups in key areas of Michigan and Wisconsin, people with knowledge on the matter told CNN.

Facebook is cooperating with the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russia's alleged social media interference during the elections. However, it's not the only one in the dock. Twitter also recently handed over evidence of over 1,800 Russia Today accounts that posted targeted ads in the US. Total Spend on the advertisements, which were also created during the 2016 election, came to $274,100. Despite its willingness to hand over data, it seems the company has not shut down several accounts associated with the so-called propagandist news outlet. As Recode points out, the @RT_com, @RT_America, and @ActualidadRT are still fully active. What's more, they have not reportedly been banned from advertising on the platform.

Elsewhere, Russia Today has lost a powerful soapbox. Google -- which is also being rounded up as part of the Senate's extensive investigation -- just removed Russia Today from its premium YouTube ad program (known as Google Preferred). Facebook, Google, and Twitter will be questioned by Senate lawmakers on November 1st.

Source: CNN, Recode

EU tells tech companies to curb hate speech or face consequences

The European Union (EU) has proposed a raft of new measures to tackle online hate speech, telling social media companies that they can expect legal consequences if they don't get rid of illegal content on their platforms. Despite companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google pledging to do more to fight racist and violent posts, the European Commission says they're not acting fast enough, and that it's prepared to initiate a rigorous framework to hold them to account.

The proposed guidelines, which address issues such as the detection of hate speech, effective removal and the prevention of its reappearance, will act as a sounding board for the EU when it considers future instances of illegal content. If things go wrong for a company, the EU can use the guidance as proof that it's not toeing the line. If the company repeatedly messes up, the guidance means the EU has the power to implement binding laws on the matter. Punishments could be severe -- the EU is known for taking a tough stance against companies that don't play by its rules. Earlier this year, for example, it ordered Google to pay out $2.7 billion in an antitrust ruling.

The guidelines also suggest that companies should "invest in automatic detection technologies", which has called into question the issue of censorship. Speaking to Fortune, Marietje Schaake, a Dutch liberal member of the European Parliament, said that automated measures would be "extremely dangerous", and that "there can be no room for upload filters or ex-ante censorship in the EU". She added that such measures could inspire worrying laws in technology-restricting countries such as China and Russia. However, EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova said, "We cannot accept a digital Wild West... if the tech companies don't deliver, we will do it." The EU, it seems, is running out of patience.

Source: europa.eu