Info

A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged social media

This afternoon, I took a little light mockery from a friend for posting a Facebook update that looks like this:

Colour facebook post

He had assumed I was algorithm-gaming by posting my update as an image, not text. But I wasn’t. Instead, while making the post, I’d discovered a button in the interface I hadn’t had access to before:

Facebook colour options

This stirred a distant memory: it was announced and rolled out on Android back in December:

Colored status backgrounds are rolling out globally over the next few days. Only Android users will be able to create them, but everyone on iOS, Android, and web will be able to see them in the News Feed.

A spokesperson writes “We’re rolling out a change to help people make their text posts more visual. Starting today, people can update the background color of their text-only posts on Android.”

The Android experiment was clearly successful enough that the rollout is slowly happening to the web – some of my friends have it, others don’t. And it certainly gives short text updates more “oomph” in the feed, without being as ugly as the “huge font” short updates were. Using colours is a smart move, both through being eye-catching and because they’re emotionally resonant, which is the secret to making anything work in the feed.

But will it be enough to get people sharing personal information again?

Liveblogged notes from the “Fake News” event at City University, co-organised by The Media Society and the Student Publication Association. Prone to error, inaccuracy, horrible typos and screaming crimes against grammar and syntax. Post will be improved over the next 48 hours.

Jonathan Hewett, our chair, isn’t keen on the phrase “fake news”. What are we actually talking about? Intentionally produced misinformation, that’s designed to be propagated.

Megan Lucero and Jonathan Hewett discussing fake news

Alastair Reid, ex-First Draft News, now independent digital journalist

First Draft was initially set up to deal with user generated content from breaking news events – and the verification of it. But over the last 18 months the rapid growth of misinformation and disinformation has shifted that focus.

Megan Lucero, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

That phrase is not one she’ll be using. It’s being to delegitimise the press, and so we shouldn’t use it. Yes, a small sliver of it is bad journalism, but there’s far more misinformation, propaganda and so on. There’s a glut of information – we need more journalists to sift through it.

James Ball, special correspondent, Buzzfeed

He’s writing a book on bullshit and “fake news”. The web is full of hoax sites full of deceptive news. It’s the pantomime villain behind this era of bullshit. You can make a distinction between fake news and hyperpartisan news, or accurate stories spun out of all proportion. Lots of people on the centre left are sharing stories about “Trump’s secret plan”, the same sort of conspiracy theory thinking that we criticise the far right for. But this isn’t going to be solved by Google withdrawing ads, or Facebook tagging content.

How did we get here?

AR: Social media has a huge role in that. Anyone can publish anything they want to. The barriers to reaching thousands or millions of people have collapsed. Five years ago everyone was hailing the Arab Spring as a wonderful example of social media use. But that freedom has now been weaponised by those with an agenda. 15 years ago blogging was being talked about in the same way.

ML: It’s exploited a very beautiful part of humanity: trust and integrity. People trust what they read. Your world view was the paper you subscribed to. We have to change that. We need to critically assess what we read online. (more…)

As trailed a while back, Instagram has now added the ability to upload multiple images or videos to a single post:

It’s an interesting move, as it shifts the service even further from her it started. In the beginning it was an image sharing app, that tended to focus on people creating “arty” effects via the inbuilt filters. That faded somewhat as the filters were toned down, but it still remained a crafted photo-centric service. But the net effect of this and the rapid growth of Instagram Stories has turned it into a general purpose visual communication and relationship maintenance tool.

Still, might make some verification work easier. One image is much easier to fake than 10.

Remember when I was amused by Twitter deciding that I’m not a journalist or in the media? Well, now I’m profoundly glad. Why? Well, this little Tweet from a WikiLeaks-affiliated group went out on Friday:

WikiLeaks Doxxing

Of course, many, many screenshots had been saved before it got pulled down:

WikiLeaks itself tried to distance itself from the tweet – rather unconvincingly:

And even the original account tried to walk it back:

That’s a rather disingenuous reply, because the original tweet specified “family/job/financial/housing relationships” (emphasis mine). To track housing relationships, you need to track addresses. And for an organisation as committed to releasing information as WikiLeaks and its supporters have become – that inevitable raises the spectre of doxing – the politically-motivated release of personal information about people.

Inevitably many of my journalist friends on Facebook – the verified ones working on mainstream national publications that is – were nervous about this, mainly because of the mention of family. Most mainstream journalist accept that there is an element of risk in their work – but bringing families into it is frankly sinister.

Here’s a thought: has the little “verified” tick, originally intended to increase trust in Twitter, by making it harder for people to be fooled by fake and imposter accounts, actually proving counter-productive? It makes a really handy target marker for those perceived as “important” – and in these populist times, that makes them targets…

Fake news is Facebook’s problem, right? Well, maybe it’s a touch bigger than that.

Maybe Google has the problem, too:

Are Jews evil? It’s not a question I’ve ever thought of asking. I hadn’t gone looking for it. But there it was. I press enter. A page of results appears. This was Google’s question. And this was Google’s answer: Jews are evil. Because there, on my screen, was the proof: an entire page of results, nine out of 10 of which “confirm” this.

The problem is much bigger than just fake news. The problem is that our new systems of trust – in Google, in Facebook – are shaping how people views many subjects – and that’s open to exploitation. We’ve know that Russia has been using the internet as an effective propaganda tool for years. ISIL uses social media as a core component of its propaganda strategy. And now other groups are adopting these tactics, with staggering results.

The author, Carole Cadwalladr, talks to Danny Sullivan, one of the leading experts in search engines:

“I thought they stopped offering autocomplete suggestions for religions in 2011.” And then he types “are women” into his own computer.

Google discusses women's "evil"

“Good lord! That answer at the top. It’s a featured result. It’s called a “direct answer”. This is supposed to be indisputable. It’s Google’s highest endorsement.” That every women has some degree of prostitute in her? “Yes. This is Google’s algorithm going terribly wrong.”

Propaganda is winning the web

Google has since acted on these results (with somewhat mixed results) but you should still read the whole piece. This isn’t just technology companies making mistakes – this is an example of a whole industry of sites with a deep understanding of digital platform distribution exploiting that knowledge to spread their messages. In short, political propaganda is beginning to take a hold on the internet:

And the constellation of websites that Albright found – a sort of shadow internet – has another function. More than just spreading rightwing ideology, they are being used to track and monitor and influence anyone who comes across their content. “I scraped the trackers on these sites and I was absolutely dumbfounded. Every time someone likes one of these posts on Facebook or visits one of these websites, the scripts are then following you around the web. And this enables data-mining and influencing companies like Cambridge Analytica to precisely target individuals, to follow them around the web, and to send them highly personalised political messages. This is a propaganda machine.

Are we, as the journalism industry, up to the challenge of beating them? I’m seeing precious little evidence of it so far.

Journalism is failing in the face of such change and is only going to fail further. New platforms have put a bomb under the financial model – advertising – resources are shrinking, traffic is increasingly dependent on them, and publishers have no access, no insight at all, into what these platforms are doing in their headquarters, their labs.

This isn’t a failure in our reporting, it’s a failure in our commitment to getting that reporting to the people who need it. Next time you hear a journalist scoffing at a “social media editor” or “audience engagement editor”, remember that they’re actually showing the care precious little about actually getting knowledge out to the public.

Brietbart's social media impact

John Herrman on the social media power and savvy of the alt-right media, in a piece for the New York Times:

The pro-Trump media understood that it was an insurgent force in a conversation conducted on social media on an unprecedented scale. It understood that its success could be measured by the extent to which it contributed to the assembled millions carrying out their political reading, watching, sharing, commenting and arguing among family and friends.

As someone who has been arguing for publishers to take this very seriously indeed for over a decade now, I feel vindicated. But it’s a really shitty way to be vindicated, isn’t it?

The underlying story of the election in the US seems to be this: the traditional media all spoke with one voice, and said “elect Hillary Clinton”. But too much of America was listening to new voices, who understand the digital age better. And so, all those endorsements came to nothing.

I’m not sure that raging at Facebook is the answer here: that’s just handing Zuckerberg et al more power. Instead, we have to get a lot smarter about how we get our reporting out there.

I have discovered – much to my surprise – that I am not a journalist.

This comes as something of a shock, as that’s exactly what I’ve though of myself as for a quarter of a century now. From the latter days of my student life, working on student magazines, through to my recent career, helping national – and international – newspapers do better digital publishing, journalism is at the very heart of my working life.

Cub editor Adam Tinworth circa 1993

Portrait of the author as a young student magazine editor.

But I am not a journalist. So says Twitter and Facebook. And, as they are now the arbitrators of who is a journalist and who isn’t – I cannot be a journalist.

Twitter says: you’re not a journalist, Tinworth

Twitter declared its verdict first. I popped off a speculative application, once it opened up verification to all comers. The criteria are pretty clear:

We approve account types maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas.

Well, I’m clearly in both journalism and media, so an easy accept, right?

Wrong:

Twitter verified denied

I am not a journalist. Or in media. Twitter says so.

Now, I’m not that bothered on a personal level – sure, it would have been handy to show my students, many of whom go on to be verified users very quickly, some of the tools that verified status gives you access to. But I can appreciate that I’m an edge case, because I train journalists more than I produce journalism right now.

But when I posted about my rejection on Facebook, many of my journalism friends reported the same experience. It became very clear that Twitter only counts those on national newspapers as journalists. In consumer or business press? Forget it. You are not a real journalist. Twitter says so.

Look at that description above:

We approve account types maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas.

(Emphasis mine.) There’s no qualification there of “national” or “newspaper” journalism. Just “journalism” and “media”. Twitter has set itself up and an arbiter of who counts as a journalist – and who doesn’t – and most of us don’t count.

Are journalists journalists? Ask a microblogger.

Those with long memories might remember the seemingly endless debates a decade ago about whether bloggers were journalists. There’s not small irony in the fact, that Twitter, a direct descendent of blogging (it was described as “microblogging” in its early days) has now set itself up as an arbiter of who is a journalist and who isn’t. And it’s chosen a very, very tight definition of that. I suspect that has been done to make the verification process easier – and certainly much journalism verification is done directly between social media editors and their liaisons at Twitter – but once they opened up verification, that needed to be rethought. And it wasn’t.

Would any other social networks do something similar? Like, say, Facebook?

A couple of weeks ago, the spawn of Zuckerberg announced that it was helpfully going to educate journalists. (But it’s not a media company, remember)

The social network has created an learning environment, to help journalists use Facebook better. Handy. That’s part of what I do for a living, but having tools like that to support our work. Great.

As part of this journalists are invited to join the News, Media & Publishing group on Facebook. So, I applied:

Applied to Facebook

And that’s how the group looked for a few days. I waited patiently – confident of inclusion, as I could see a friend who works for Twitter and another who runs a technology company were members, surely both more marginal than my case. Hell, there’s other lecturers in there, so I’m at least as qualified as them. Oh, foolish me.

Facebook: denied

And, after a few days, that Pending button turned into:

Denied

Denied. And silently denied, at that.

Yes, Facebook, also now apparently an arbiter of who is a journalist and who isn’t, has declared that I am not a journalist, either. Nor am I in media. Nor publishing, apparently.

So, we might never have solved the question of whether bloggers are journalists. But apparently, I’ve been deluded for the past 25 years that I am a journalist. I’m not. I’m just a blogger, because Facebook and Twitter tell me so.

The power of social networks to define journalism

Given how much power Twitter and, especially, Facebook, have in driving traffic to our sites and mediating our relationships with our readers – are we comfortable with this? Are we happy for them to give a subset of journalists special privileges over others? Because that’s the situation right now. If you’re not a mainstream journalists, working on a know large news site, forget it. Freelancer? Go away. Trade press? You and your professional readers don’t count. Consumer press? No important. That’s just interest not news.

Once upon a time, in the UK at least, the NUJ was pretty much the arbiter of who was a journalist and who wasn’t. I’ve had my issues with the NUJ in the past, but at least they took a wide and thoughtful view on who was entitled to a press card. As the “verfified” tick becomes an de facto mark of journalistic status, we’re now being assessed by people who active claim not to be media companies – and yet who control our traffic and our access to readers.

And the implications of that should give us pause.

Nobody wants to buy Twitter. It made it obvious it was up for sale – but one by one the buys dropped out. The reasons seem numerous – the trolling problem for one. But, at its core, the reluctance seems to be based around the fact that Twitter is out-of-control financially.

John Hampton has a suggestion:

The problem is if you mix this with a Salesforce.com or similar company it will be really hard to take costs out in a disciplined fashion without upsetting the culture of the home company. Instead this should be fixed (with extreme prejudice by a disinterested outsider) before it is sold again to a strategic buyer.

Or – in summary: the best bastards are from Wall Street. And this needs a Wall Street bastard.

It’s unpleasant to think about – especially as I have friends at Twitter – but perhaps what the service need is a brutal paring back of staff and focus to makes it concentrate on improving its core product, rather than odd VR plays.

I badly want Twitter to survive – and thrive – but it really needs an intervention right now.

What has killed social media? Vanity:

At some point in the not so distant past, we knowledge (Web) workers decided to, collectively, kill one of the most profound and deep reaching components from all of these social networking tools out there: our very own conversations and, instead, we embarked on that frantic, unstoppable rush to become publishing machines blasting out marketing messages non stop that continue to be impregnated all over the place with our very own vanity.

Luis Suarez is worth listening to on this. He was one of the early people to completely transform his working life using social tools, and now he’s finding the potential he saw then destroyed:

This is where blogging and the original social networking tools differ tremendously from today’s world of media tools, more than anything else, because they have never been about you, but about the collective, the network, the community, in short, the conversations.

You can still find great conversations on social media – but it’s getting harder to find them.