Tech News

Congress' social media hearing was a ‘stupid’ sideshow

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Tuesday marked another chapter in the “Tech Companies go to Congress” story, with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. The hearing, titled “Examining the Content Filtering Practices of Social Media Giants,” was supposed to shed light on how these companies are keeping their sites safe for users by filtering out toxic content. But, instead, we learned very little. Executives from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube simply echoed what they’ve been saying in other congressional hearings since 2017. They talked about how they’re using a combination of artificial intelligence and human reviewers to fight fake news, bots and toxic content like hate speech.

Those are efforts we were already aware of, though we did find out out that Facebook, apparently, can’t decide when it should ban offensive pages like InfoWars. But the fact that the latest hearing was another wasted opportunity, just like Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before Congress in April, isn’t completely Facebook, Twitter or YouTube’s fault.

Throughout yesterday’s session, US House Representatives from both sides of the aisle seemed to be more interested on their personal agenda. Republicans like Rep. Smith (TX) talked about how he felt conservatives were being censored, accusing Google of blocking his searches for “Jesus, Chick-fil-A and the Catholic religion.” Democrats, on the other hand, said the committee should be having hearings on Russian election interference and Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin instead. “This committee needs to proceed with hearings involving the question of the Russian intrusion and stealing of the 2016 election,” Rep. Lee (D-CA) said. “And I’ve come to a conclusion now that it was truly stolen. Dealing with these engines that have been effective for the United States on that issue seems to be a stretch and inappropriate.”

Rep. Lieu (D-CA) went as far as calling the hearing “dumb” and “stupid,” saying there were more important issues the House Judiciary Committee should be focusing on. “I served on active duty in the US military, I never thought I would see the American Commander-in-Chief deliver the talking points of the Kremlin. Are we having a hearing on that? No.” he said. “As we sit here today there [are] nearly three thousand babies and kids ripped away from their parents by the Trump administration, they have not been reunified yet. Are we having a hearing on that? No.” Instead, he added, “we’re having this ridiculous hearing on the content of speech of private sector companies. It’s stupid because there’s this thing called the First Amendment — we can’t regulate content. The only thing worse than an Alex Jones video is the government trying to tell Google not to do it, to prevent people from watching [it]. “

Meanwhile, Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) asked Facebook, Twitter and YouTube why the shouldn’t be regulated as non-utilities like hotels or clubs, which at a certain point have a legal liability for how consumers use their services. Goodlatte’s concern is that these social media giants

Tech News

Trump is one of the biggest political ad spenders on Facebook

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Mikhail Svetlov via Getty Images

In May, Facebook began requiring political ads to disclose who paid for them and started collecting all political ads in a searchable archive. Now, researchers are using that information to see how politicians are incorporating the social platform into their campaigns. As the New York Times reports, researchers at New York University have conducted an initial analysis of political Facebook ads and found that President Trump is a leading spender.

Of the 267,000 political ads that the research team was able to collect accurate information on from Facebook’s archive, Donald Trump’s campaign and his PAC were both top 10 ad sponsors based on how many impressions their ads attracted on the social media platform. Combined, the two spent at least $274,100 on 9,523 ads between May and June of this year, which attracted a minimum of 37.6 million impressions. Comparatively, Planned Parenthood, which had the second most impressions, spent at least $188,800 on 3,389 ads viewed by 24.5 million people. The only other politician in the top 10 list is, Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic Senate candidate from Texas who spent a minimum of $194,400 on Facebook ads.

Social media was a big part of President Trump’s campaign and Brad Parscale, the digital advisor for Trump’s 2016 run, has been selected as Trump’s 2020 campaign manager. “Facebook and Twitter were the reason we won this thing,” Parscale told Wired in 2016. “Twitter for Mr. Trump. And Facebook for fundraising.”

There are a few caveats to keep in mind about this analysis. First, all of the data was scraped from Facebook’s archive using keywords. And because of this, the researchers note that the data collected likely represent only a portion of the political ads posted on the platform. But the archive doesn’t yet allow for more thorough data collection as it currently stands. Facebook has said it will release an API later this year that could aid in this type of large-scale, automated research, but it isn’t available yet.

Secondly, the ad archive only provides ranges for the number of impressions garnered by an ad and how much was spent on it, and those ranges are fairly large. For impressions, ranges include 0 to 1,000 and 1,000 to 5,000 while spending ranges include $0 to $100 and $100 to $500, for example. In most cases, the researchers went with the lowest number in the range, so the numbers presented could actually be much higher in reality.

Additionally, there are handful of other limitations in how Facebook allows data to be searched and displayed and since it’s unclear exactly what types of ads aren’t being picked up by the researcher’s searches, it was hard for the research team to detect any sort of bias on their part in regards to the search words they used.

However, despite these limitations, the work shows how Facebook’s

Tech News

World Cup tweets were viewed 115 billion times

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Ian MacNicol via Getty Images

Twitter had high hopes that the World Cup would be a big hit on its platform. The previous games in 2014 happened before the platform released video features, but this time around, it secured a deal with the event’s US rights holder Fox Sports, as well as others across the world, for exclusive content like highlight clips and interviews. As the dust settles following the French team’s triumph over underdog Croatia’s squad in Sunday’s final game, Twitter has released its own numbers to give us an idea how the World Cup went for the platform.

For starters, the big number: Twitter had 115 billion impressions (i.e. views of tweets) during the World Cup. While that’s a lot, the company didn’t break that down to explain which matches attracted more interactions than others — even when reached for comment. Twitter told Engadget it wasn’t sharing specific numbers, like it did for the 2014 World Cup when it announced the Germany vs. Brazil finals attracted 35 million tweets.

Twitter explained that tweet volume didn’t necessarily correlate with an event’s ‘success’ on the platform, just how consumers reacted. Impressions, on the other hand, show how fans consumed content throughout the World Cup.

The Fox Sports-produced FIFA World Cup Now show that appeared exclusively on Twitter had clearer success, netting 7.1 million video views over the course of the matches. The other numbers were more interesting than revelatory As expected, the final game had the most tweets, with Brazil’s last two matches against Belgium and Mexico in second and third, respectively. Naturally, more tweets came from Brazil than any other country (with Japan and the UK following). Kylian Mbappé’s fourth goal for France against Croatia was the most-tweeted moment of the whole World Cup, while the most-mentioned player was, of course, Neymar, Jr.

Tech News

Twitter puts verification fixes on hold as elections loom

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Twitter has spent the past several months trying to fix its verification mess, but it looks like you’ll have to wait a while longer for a solution. New product lead Kayvon Beykpour has announced that Twitter is putting its verification reform efforts on hold to focus on “information quality” in the run-up to the US mid-term elections. The move is meant to help the social network “move faster” on areas it thinks are “most important,” Beykpour said.

The company will come back to the verification issue once it makes “more progress,” Beykpour added, referencing an email that hinted it might take a few weeks. He also acknowledge that the ad hoc verification in the meantime has produced “frustration” from people who already saw Twitter verification as a mysterious, inconsistent process.

The pause isn’t going to satisfy those who just wanted Twitter to stop verifying neo-Nazis and others who promote hate and harassment. Even CEO Jack Dorsey has acknowledged that the system “needs a complete reboot.” With that in mind, there’s no doubt that Twitter has plenty on its plate when it comes to the elections. It’s purging massive numbers of bots, grappling with breaking news hoaxes and otherwise trying to avoid the disinformation campaigns that plagued the 2016 presidential election. As important as verification may be, Twitter would risk a larger backlash if it didn’t fight attempts by Russia and others to cause havoc.

We’ve heard some questions recently about the status of Verification on Twitter, so wanted to address directly. Updating our verification program isn’t a top priority for us right now (election integrity is). Here’s some history & context, and how we plan to put it on our roadmap

— Kayvon Beykpour (@kayvz) July 17, 2018

Back in November we paused public Verification b/c we wanted to address the issue that verifying the authenticity of an account was being conflated with endorsement. Our intention was to hit the brakes until we had a fix across policy/enforcement/product.

— Kayvon Beykpour (@kayvz) July 17, 2018

Despite that goal, we still verify accounts ad hoc when we think it serves the public conversation & is in line with our policy. But this has led to frustration b/c our process remains opaque & inconsistent with our intented pause. This is far from ideal & we still intend to fix

— Kayvon Beykpour (@kayvz) July 17, 2018

Though we’ve made a lot of progress towards a holistic solution, the truth is that this work is still incomplete and we’re choosing not to prioritize it just now (attached is an email I sent our Health leadership team last week)

— Kayvon Beykpour (@kayvz) July 17, 2018

Instead, our team is focused on information quality ahead of the elections–

Tech News

Twitter reportedly suspended 58 million accounts in Q4 2017

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Roberto Baldwin / Engadget

Twitter reportedly suspended 70 million accounts across May and June of 2018 as part of its purge of fake users. Now, according to a tweet from the Associated Press, the social media company had already suspended at least 58 million accounts in the last quarter of 2017.

BREAKING: Data obtained by the AP shows Twitter suspended at least 58 million accounts in the last three months of 2017.

— The Associated Press (@AP) July 17, 2018

AP reports that the purges originated in Twitter’s “firehose” stream, a premium feed that breaks news in real time for subscribers.

In the past, Twitter has assured users that the account suspension was targeted on bots, rather than members that espoused conservative politics. The company went further to say that it was cleaning up its network to push for more genuine interactions between users, not to silence any legitimate voices. We’ve reached out to Twitter for more details on this current matter and will update this post if we hear back.

Tech News

Facebook can’t decide when a page should be banned

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0


Monika Bickert, Facebook’s president for global policy management at Facebook.

Another day, another congressional hearing on how tech companies are conducting themselves. This time it was Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that testified before the House Judiciary Committee today, in a hearing titled “Examining the Content Filtering Practices of Social Media Giants.” While much of the three-hour session was about information we’ve heard before, like what they’re all doing to fight against fake news and propaganda-driven bots, there was an interesting discussion about Facebook’s policies (or lack thereof). In particular, the company’s President for Global Policy Management, Monika Bickert, couldn’t give members of the committee a firm answer on what exactly it takes to ban offensive pages from Facebook.

Bickert was given an example by Rep. Gaetz (R-FL) about a page on Facebook called “Milkshakes Against the Republican Party,” which he said had multiple posts urging people to shoot members of his party. He said he reported the posts using the site’s flagging tools, but that he received a response saying they didn’t go against Facebook’s Community Standards. Gaetz said the posts were removed eventually, though the page in question still exists. “Any calls for violence violates our terms of service,” said Bickert. “So why is Milkshakes Against the Republican Party a live page on your platform?” asked Rep. Gaetz, adding that Facebook executives told him, “Well, we removed those specific posts, but we’re not going to remove the entire page.”

Rep. Gaetz then asked Bickert why Facebook wouldn’t just remove pages repeatedly posting harmful content, particularly if they’re threatening violence. She said the company removes pages, groups and profiles when “there’s a certain threshold of violations that has been met,” but that’s on a case-by-case basis. For example, Bickert said, if someone posts an image of child sexual abuse, their account will come down immediately. “How many times does a page have to encourage violence against Republican members at baseball practice before you ban the page?” Rep. Gaetz asked. Bickert didn’t seem to have an answer for the question and instead said she would be happy to look into the page.

Naturally, Facebook’s Bickert was also asked about Alex Jones’ InfoWars, a publication known for spreading conspiracy theories. “How many strikes does a conspiracy theorist who attacks grieving parents and student survivors of mass shootings get? How many strikes are they entitled to before they can longer post those types of horrific attacks?” asked Rep. Deutch (D-FL). “Allegations that survivors of a tragedy like Parkland are crisis actors, that violates our policy and we remove that content,” Bickert said, adding that Facebook will continue to remove any violations from the InfoWars page. “If they posted sufficient content that violated our threshold, that page would come down. That threshold varies, depending on the severity of different types of violations.”

But since it’s unclear what that

Tech News

Watch tomorrow's social media congressional hearing right here

July 16, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Getty Images

Hey, if you were wondering when we were going to get another congressional hearing about social media, you’re in luck. On Tuesday, executives from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube will testify before a House Judiciary Committee hearing titled “Examining the Content Filtering Practices of Social Media Giants.” The people representing these tech companies are members of their public policy teams, so expect them to be grilled by US Representatives about the toxic and harmful content that shows up on each of their sites.

This will be the latest chapter in the Social Media Goes to Congress book. Last year, Facebook, Twitter and Google all testified in front of House committee investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US Presidential election. Then, of course, there were the Mark Zuckerberg hearings earlier this year. You can watch tomorrow’s discussion live at 7AM PT/10AM ET via the video embed below or the House Judiciary Committee’s page.

[embedded content]

Tech News

Twitter bans Russia-linked accounts following indictments

July 14, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Reuters/Dado Ruvic

The US’ indictment of Russian officers over the DNC hacks is having an effect… at least, on Twitter. The social network has banned accounts for both DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 in response to the indictment. In a statement explaining the suspensions, the company told Engadget that they were “connected to a network of accounts” that had already been shut down for violating rules. At the same time, Twitter was aware that the shutdowns were considered overdue — DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 have long been linked to Russia, and the indictments just formalized the connections.

“We’re reviewing our policies in light of this and expect to make updates soon,” Twitter said in an additional statement to the New York Times‘ Jim Rutenberg. “We recognize that to promote healthy conversation we need to be responsive to ways the platform is being misused and we are committed to that here and everywhere.”

It’s not certain what those changes might be. However, Twitter has faced more than a handful of accusations that it only belatedly recognized the threat of electoral interference on its platform, with bot purges, candidate labels and other anti-manipulation tactics only coming after the 2016 US presidential vote. This may be an acknowledgment that it needs to be more proactive in dealing with accounts linked to hacking and other criminal activity, especially when politics are involved.

Tech News

Twitter adds advertising to its Explore tab

July 12, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Brendan McDermid / Reuters

One of Twitter’s biggest challenges (besides bots, abuse and Nazis) has been figuring out how to monetize the platform. Promoted tweets haven’t always been especially effective, after all. That’s why Twitter is currently eyeing its Explore feature as a way to make some cash. According to TechCrunch, the platform will begin allowing advertisers to take over the tab.

Explore was born out of Moments, which was Twitter’s push to highlight the biggest news and trending topics across the platform. Now, this tab will have Promoted Trend Spotlight ads, which will consist of a large visual banner above the regular explore content. These will appear the first two times per day you visit the tab, and then disappear after that.

TechCrunch reports that the first Explore tab takeover will be from Disney. The company will be promoting the upcoming movie Christopher Robin.

No one likes inserted advertising into organic experiences, but Twitter is free to use. It’s understandable that the company is searching for additional (and better) ways to monetize the service. The last quarter of 2017 was the first time that Twitter reported profitability; that continued in Q1 of 2018. Let’s just hope these ads doesn’t disrupt the user experience too much.

Tech News

Social media made the World Cup fun again

July 12, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Like a lot of England fans, I have a complicated relationship with our national football team. Nobody fetishizes a noble failure like, or hold a grudge for anyone deemed too successful, like we do. Tournament football is therefore an exercise in violent cognitive dissonance as we try to cultivate a sense of hope for the men’s team. Except this time, it wasn’t that painful at all, and watching this World Cup has actually been fun, and it’s all thanks to Social Media.

That’s a big claim, especially from someone who is almost constantly moaning about Twitter and Facebook’s pernicious effects on society. But they helped hook me in to a tournament that I’d intended to ignore, and helped me fall back in love with the team. Social media can be just what you need to create a collective sense of joy that’s often missing these days.

A lot of English folks weren’t too excited for this year’s tournament. Expectations were in the basement. The manager was something of a joke, and the squad was the second youngest in terms of average age. Recent history, too, wasn’t great: early exits at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, and a humiliating defeat in the 2016 European Championships. In 2010, streets and cars were decked with flags, every third house flying one from a window. By 2018, there were barely a handful. None of us believed.

As the games started, so did the tweets, each one as if you were listening to someone else enjoy the game from the other side of a wall. Their energy and passion grew increasingly infectious, and I was properly invested when South Korea played Germany. The updates that followed the first half were fine, but when things got incoherent in the second, I had to tune in.

Soon after, everyone made the same joke:

Football twitter seems a little too smug right now. If only the Germans had a word for taking pleasure from other people’s misfortune.

— Tom Millard (@tommillard) June 27, 2018

If only the Germans had a word for enjoying the misery of others #WorldCup2018

— Warren Clark (@wozbo) June 27, 2018

Germany is the bogey team of England’s male football team, and with them gone, people suddenly started to believe, even a little. Through social media, the whole nation seemed to conjure an in-joke that everyone was in on. As Football365 rightly said, the embrace of Three Lions wasn’t out of some po-faced belief that “England would win this World Cup.” Instead, its invocation became our way of “enjoying the journey.”

And that we did, with every subsequent game (and as more big-hitters, like Brazil and Spain crashed out of the tournament). There were the memes:

C’mon England🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿⚽️🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿. Even Del Boy says it’s #ComingHome 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

— Mark Simblett (@MarkSimblett) July 7, 2018

Can everyone please stop tweeting those #Itscominghome music replacement vids and saying “this one’s the