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May 22, 2019
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Facebook still a great place to amplify pre-election junk news, EU study finds

in deception/Delhi/digital media/election security/Emmanuel Macron/Europe/european commission/European Union/Facebook/fake news/France/India/junk news/misinformation/online disinformation/Oxford Internet Institute/oxford university/Politics/presidential election/Security/sensationalism/Social/social media/Sweden/Twitter by

A study carried out by academics at Oxford University to investigate how junk news is being shared on social media in Europe ahead of regional elections this month has found individual stories shared on Facebook’s platform can still hugely outperform the most important and professionally produced news stories, drawing as much as 4x the volume of Facebook shares, likes, and comments.

The study, conducted for the Oxford Internet Institute’s (OII) Computational Propaganda Project, is intended to respond to widespread concern about the spread of online political disinformation on EU elections which take place later this month, by examining pre-election chatter on Facebook and Twitter in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Spanish, and Swedish.

Junk news in this context refers to content produced by known sources of political misinformation — aka outlets that are systematically producing and spreading “ideologically extreme, misleading, and factually incorrect information” — with the researchers comparing interactions with junk stories from such outlets to news stories produced by the most popular professional news sources to get a snapshot of public engagement with sources of misinformation ahead of the EU vote.

As we reported last year, the Institute also launched a junk news aggregator ahead of the US midterms to help Internet users get a handle on manipulative politically-charged content that might be hitting their feeds.

In the EU the European Commission has responded to rising concern about the impact of online disinformation on democratic processes by stepping up pressure on platforms and the adtech industry — issuing monthly progress reports since January after the introduction of a voluntary code of practice last year intended to encourage action to squeeze the spread of manipulative fakes. Albeit, so far these ‘progress’ reports have mostly boiled down to calls for less foot-dragging and more action.

One tangible result last month was Twitter introducing a report option for misleading tweets related to voting ahead of the EU vote, though again you have to wonder what took it so long given that online election interference is hardly a new revelation. (The OII study is also just the latest piece of research to bolster the age old maxim that falsehoods fly and the truth comes limping after.)

The study also examined how junk news spread on Twitter during the pre-EU election period, with the researchers finding that less than 4% of sources circulating on Twitter’s platform were junk news (or “known Russian sources”) — with Twitter users sharing far more links to mainstream news outlets overall (34%) over the study period.

Although the Polish language sphere was an exception — with junk news making up a fifth (21%) of EU election-related Twitter traffic in that outlying case.

Returning to Facebook, while the researchers do note that many more users interact with mainstream content overall via its platform, noting that mainstream publishers have a higher following and so “wider access to drive activity around their content” and meaning their stories “tend to be seen, liked, and shared by far more users overall”, they also point out that junk news still packs a greater per story punch — likely owing to the use of tactics such as clickbait, emotive language, and outragemongering in headlines which continues to be shown to generate more clicks and engagement on social media.

It’s also of course much quicker and easier to make some shit up vs the slower pace of doing rigorous professional journalism — so junk news purveyors can get out ahead of news events also as an eyeball-grabbing strategy to further the spread of their cynical BS. (And indeed the researchers go on to say that most of the junk news sources being shared during the pre-election period “either sensationalized or spun political and social events covered by mainstream media sources to serve a political and ideological agenda”.)

“While junk news sites were less prolific publishers than professional news producers, their stories tend to be much more engaging,” they write in a data memo covering the study. “Indeed, in five out of the seven languages (English, French, German, Spanish, and Swedish), individual stories from popular junk news outlets received on average between 1.2 to 4 times as many likes, comments, and shares than stories from professional media sources.

“In the German sphere, for instance, interactions with mainstream stories averaged only 315 (the lowest across this sub-sample) while nearing 1,973 for equivalent junk news stories.”

To conduct the research the academics gathered more than 584,000 tweets related to the European parliamentary elections from more than 187,000 unique users between April 5 and April 20 using election-related hashtags — from which they extracted more than 137,000 tweets containing a URL link, which pointed to a total of 5,774 unique media sources.

Sources that were shared 5x or more across the collection period were manually classified by a team of nine multi-lingual coders based on what they describe as “a rigorous grounded typology developed and refined through the project’s previous studies of eight elections in several countries around the world”.

Each media source was coded individually by two separate coders, via which technique they say was able to successfully label nearly 91% of all links shared during the study period. 

The five most popular junk news sources were extracted from each language sphere looked at — with the researchers then measuring the volume of Facebook interactions with these outlets between April 5 and May 5, using the NewsWhip Analytics dashboard.

They also conducted a thematic analysis of the 20 most engaging junk news stories on Facebook during the data collection period to gain a better understanding of the different political narratives favoured by junk news outlets ahead of an election.

On the latter front they say the most engaging junk narratives over the study period “tend to revolve around populist themes such as anti-immigration and Islamophobic sentiment, with few expressing Euroscepticism or directly mentioning European leaders or parties”.

Which suggests that EU-level political disinformation is a more issue-focused animal (and/or less developed) — vs the kind of personal attacks that have been normalized in US politics (and were richly and infamously exploited by Kremlin-backed anti-Clinton political disinformation during the 2016 US presidential election, for example).

This is likely also because of a lower level of political awareness attached to individuals involved in EU institutions and politics, and the multi-national state nature of the pan-EU project — which inevitably bakes in far greater diversity. (We can posit that just as it aids robustness in biological life, diversity appears to bolster democratic resilience vs political nonsense.)

The researchers also say they identified two noticeable patterns in the thematic content of junk stories that sought to cynically spin political or social news events for political gain over the pre-election study period.

“Out of the twenty stories we analysed, 9 featured explicit mentions of ‘Muslims’ and the Islamic faith in general, while seven mentioned ‘migrants’, ‘immigration’, or ‘refugees’… In seven instances, mentions of Muslims and immigrants were coupled with reporting on terrorism or violent crime, including sexual assault and honour killings,” they write.

“Several stories also mentioned the Notre Dame fire, some propagating the idea that the arson had been deliberately plotted by Islamist terrorists, for example, or suggesting that the French government’s reconstruction plans for the cathedral would include a minaret. In contrast, only 4 stories featured Euroscepticism or direct mention of European Union leaders and parties.

“The ones that did either turned a specific political figure into one of derision – such as Arnoud van Doorn, former member of PVV, the Dutch nationalist and far-right party of Geert Wilders, who converted to Islam in 2012 – or revolved around domestic politics. One such story relayed allegations that Emmanuel Macron had been using public taxes to finance ISIS jihadists in Syrian camps, while another highlighted an offer by Vladimir Putin to provide financial assistance to rebuild Notre Dame.”

Taken together, the researchers conclude that “individuals discussing politics on social media ahead of the European parliamentary elections shared links to high-quality news content, including high volumes of content produced by independent citizen, civic groups and civil society organizations, compared to other elections we monitored in France, Sweden, and Germany”.

Which suggests that attempts to manipulate the pan-EU election are either less prolific or, well, less successful than those which have targeted some recent national elections in EU Member States. And logic would suggest that co-ordinating election interference across a 28-Member State bloc does require greater co-ordination and resource vs trying to meddle in a single national election — on account of the multiple countries, cultures, languages and issues involved.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment on the study’s findings.

The company has put a heavy focus on publicizing its self-styled ‘election security’ efforts ahead of the EU election. Though it has mostly focused on setting up systems to control political ads — whereas junk news purveyors are simply uploading regular Facebook ‘content’ at the same time as wrapping it in bogus claims of ‘journalism’ — none of which Facebook objects to. All of which allows would-be election manipulators to pass off junk views as online news, leveraging the reach of Facebook’s platform and its attention-hogging algorithms to amplify hateful nonsense. While any increase in engagement is a win for Facebook’s ad business, so er…

News Source = techcrunch.com

Twitter launches new search features to stop the spread of misinformation about vaccines

in Delhi/Health/India/Politics/Public health/social media/TC/Twitter/vaccines by

As measles outbreaks in the United States and other countries continue to get worse, Twitter is introducing new search tools meant to help users find credible resources about vaccines. It will also stop auto-suggesting search terms that would lead users to misinformation about vaccines.

In a blog post, Twitter vice president of trust and safety Del Harvey wrote “at Twitter, we understand the importance of vaccines in preventing illness and disease and recognize the role that Twitter plays in disseminating important public health information. We think it’s important to help people find reliable information that enhances their health and well-being.”

When users search for keywords related to vaccines, they will see a prompt that directs them to resources from Twitter’s information partners. In the U.S., this is Vaccines.gov, a website by the Department of Health and Human Services. A pinned tweet from one of Twitter’s partners will also appear.

One of Twitter’s new tools to stop the spread of vaccine misinformation

In addition to the U.S., the vaccine information tools will also appear on Twitter’s iOS and Android apps and its mobile site in Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and Spanish-speaking Latin American countries.

Harvey wrote that Twitter’s vaccine information tools are similar to ones it launched for suicide and self-harm prevention last year. The company plans to launch similar features for other public health issues over the coming months, she added.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said measles cases in the U.S. had increased to 839. Cases have been reported in 23 states this year, with the majority—or almost 700—in New York.

Social media platforms have been criticized for not doing more to prevent the spread of misinformation about vaccines and, as measles cases began to rise, started taking measures. For example, YouTube announced earlier this year that it is demonetizing all anti-vaccine videos, while Facebook began downranking anti-vaccine content on its News Feed and hiding it on Instagram.

News Source = techcrunch.com

After year-long lockout, Twitter is finally giving people their accounts back

in Apps/Delhi/GDPR/India/Politics/Social/tweets/Twitter by

Twitter is finally allowing a number of locked users to regain control of their accounts once again. Around a  year after Europe’s new privacy laws (GDPR) rolled out, Twitter began booting users out of their accounts if it suspected the account’s owner was underage — that is, younger than 13. But the process also locked out many users who said they were now old enough to use Twitter’s service legally.

While Twitter’s rules had stated that users under 13 can’t create accounts or post tweets, many underage users did so anyway thanks to lax enforcement of the policy. The GDPR regulations, however, forced Twitter to address the issue.

But even if the Twitter users were old enough to use the service when the regulations went into effect in May 2018, Twitter still had to figure out a technical solution to delete all the content published to its platform when those users were underage.

The lock-out approach was an aggressive way to deal with the problem.

By comparison, another app favored by underage users, TikTok, was recently fined by the FTC for being in violation of U.S. children’s privacy law, COPPA. But instead of kicking out all its underage users for months on end, it forced an age gate to appear in the app after it deleted all the videos made by underage users. Those users who were still under 13 were then redirected to a new COPPA-compliant experience.

Although Twitter was forced to address the problem because of the new regulations, lest it face possible fines, the company seemingly didn’t prioritize a fix. For example, VentureBeat reported how Twitter emailed users in June 2018 saying they’d be in touch with an update about the problem soon, but no update ever arrived.

The hashtag #TwitterLockOut became a common occurrence on Twitter and cries of “Give us back our accounts!” would be found in the Replies whenever Twitter shared other product news on its official accounts. (Well, that and requests for an Edit button, of course.) 

Twitter says that it’s now beginning — no, for real this time! — to give the locked out users control of their accounts. The process will roll out in waves as it scales up, with those who have waited the longest getting their emails first.

It also claims the process “was a lot more complicated” than anticipated, which is why it took a year (or in some cases, more than a year) to complete.

However, there are some caveats.

The users will first need to give Twitter permission to delete any tweets posted before they were 13, as well as any likes, DMs sent or received, moments, lists, and collections. Twitter will also need to remove all profile information besides the account’s username and date of birth.

In other words, the company is offering users a way to reclaim their username but none of their content.

Though many of these users have since moved on to new Twitter accounts, they may still want to reclaim their old username if it was a good one. In addition, their follower/following counts will return to normal after up to 24 hours after they take control of their account once again.

Twitter says it’s beginning to email those who are eligible starting today with these details. If the user doesn’t have an email address, they can instead log into the account where they’ll see a “Get Started” button to kick off the process instead.

To proceed, users will have to confirm their name and either the email or phone number that was associated with the account.

The account isn’t immediately unlocked after the steps are completed, users report. But Twitter’s dialog box informs the users they’ll be notified when the process is finalized on Twitter’s side.

Hopefully, that won’t take another year.

Image credits (of the process): Reddit user nyuszika7h, via r/Twitter 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Daily Crunch: Twitter tweaks Retweets

in Daily Crunch/Delhi/India/Politics/TC/Twitter by

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Twitter gives Retweets an upgrade

Twitter will now allow users to add a photo, video or GIF to a Retweet, instead of only text. The feature is live on iOS, Android and Twitter’s mobile website.

Though a seemingly minor upgrade, the addition could significantly increase the amount of media that’s shared on Twitter.

2. Microsoft launches Visual Studio Online, an online code editor

The emphasis here is on Visual Studio Online being a “companion.” It’s not meant to become a developer’s default environment but instead as a way to make a quick edit, review a pull request or join a Live Share session.

3. Google refreshes Android Auto with new features and a darker look

Android Auto — the in-car platform that brings the look and functions of a smartphone to the vehicle’s central screen — is getting a new look and improved navigation.

CUPERTINO, CA – SEPTEMBER 12: Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre on the Apple Park campus on September 12, 2017 in Cupertino, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

4. iOS reportedly getting its very own swipe-to-type keyboard

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has published a big list of little software tweaks that his sources say are coming to iOS at WWDC.

5. US digital advertising exceeded $100B in 2018 (IAB report)

And that money is increasingly concentrated, with 77% going to the top 10 ad sellers.

6. GM Cruise raises $1.15B at a $19B valuation from SoftBank and Honda

GM Cruise has one of the most aggressive timelines among companies hoping to deploy a commercial self-driving vehicle service. It’s grown from a small startup with 40 employees to more than 1,000 today at its San Francisco headquarters.

7. Where top VCs are investing in media, entertainment & gaming

We asked nine top VCs to share where they’re putting their money. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

News Source = techcrunch.com

Jungle Ventures hits $175M first close on its third fund for Southeast Asia

in Artificial Intelligence/Asia/b capital/Cisco Investments/Co-founder/Delhi/Eduardo Saverin/engineer/Europe/Facebook/funding/Fundings & Exits/golden gate ventures/Google/homeaway/India/internet access/JD.com/jungle ventures/kredivo/Lakestar/Middle East/openspace ventures/Politics/rakuten/Sequoia/Singapore/SoftBank/Southeast Asia/temasek/Twitter/U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission/United States/Vertex Ventures/World Bank by

Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem is set to get a massive injection of funds after Jungle Ventures reached a first close of $175 million for its newest fund, TechCrunch has come to learn.

Executives at the Singapore-based firm anticipate that the new fund, which is Jungle’s third to date, will reach a final close of $220 million over the coming few months, a source with knowledge of the fund and its plans told TechCrunch. If it were to reach that figure, the fund would become the largest for startup investments in Southeast Asia.

Jungle Ventures declined to comment.

An SEC filing posted in December suggested the firm was aiming to raise up to $200 million with the fund. Its last fund was $100 million and it closed in November 2016. Founding partners Anurag Srivastava and Amit Anand started the fund way back in 2012 when it raised a (much smaller) $10 million debut fund.

Digging a little deeper, our source revealed that the new Jungle fund includes returning LPs World Bank affiliate IFC and Cisco Investments — both of which invested in Jungle’s $18 million early-stage ‘SeedPlus’ fund — and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek. One new backer that we are aware of is German financier DEG although we understand that Jungle has spent considerable time fundraising in the U.S. market, hence the SEC filing. Beyond Europe and the U.S, the firm is also said to have pitched LPs in Asia — as you’d expect — and the Middle East.

Jungle is focused on Series A and Series B deals in Southeast Asia with the occasional investment in India or the rest of the world where it sees global potential. One such example of that is Engineer.ai, which raised $29.5 million last November in a round led by Jungle and Lakestar with participation from SoftBank’s AI unit DeepCore.

Jungle Ventures founding partners (left to right): Anurag Srivastava and Amit Anand

The meat and drink of the fund is Southeast Asia, and past investments there include cloud platform Deskera (most recent round $60 million), budget hotel network Reddoorz (raised $11 million last year), fintech startup Kredivo (raised $30 million last year) and digital fashion brand Pomelo, which has raised over $30 million from investors that also include JD.com.

In India, it has backed b2b sales platform Moglix and interior design startup Livspace among others. Past exits include Travelmob to HomeAway, Zipdial to Twitter, eBus to IMD and Voyagin to Rakuten.

We understand that the new fund has already completed five deals. Jungle’s pace of dealmaking is typically half a dozen investments per month, and we understand that will continue with fund three.

Executives at the fund are bullish on Southeast Asia, which is forecast to see strong growth economic growth thanks to increased internet access and digital spending. A much-cited report from Google and Temasek issued last year predicts that the region’s ‘digital economy’ will triple to reach $240 billion from 2025.

A 2018 report from Temasek and Google predicts significant growth in Southeast Asia’s digital economy

Other major VC funds in Southeast Asia include Vertex Ventures ($210 million fund), Golden Gate Ventures — $100 million and a $200 million growth fund — Openspace Ventures ($135 million), and EV’s $150 million growth fund.

There’s also B Capital from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin which recently passed $400 million for the first close of its second fund, although that doesn’t invest exclusively in Southeast Asia, and Sequoia which has a $695 million fund for India and Southeast Asia. Other global names that you might see cutting deals in the region include Burda, which has a local presence and starts at Series B, TPG Global and KKR.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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