It’s not who Trump thinks it is
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“Social Media Giants are silencing millions of people,” the president mentioned today on his Social Media Giant of choice. “Can’t do this even if it means we must continue to hear Fake News like CNN, whose ratings have suffered gravely. People have to figure out what is real, and what is not, without censorship!”
It’s part of a recent campaign on President Trump’s part to depict Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms as hostile to conservative voices. Last month, he inveighed against “shadow bans.” An angrier take popped up August 18th, when he opined:
Social Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices. Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen. They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT, while at the same time doing nothing to others…….
You’re a smart person, and I won’t waste any of your time explaining why this is nonsense. (I already did, and not that long ago.) But Trump’s tweet hit me at a funny time — Twitter Hsa felt unusually silent to me lately. The tweets that usually stream rapidly down my timeline each day have slowed to a crawl, and I’ve been trying to think about why.
I tweeted about this yesterday, noting that despite following more than 50 percent as many people as I did three years ago, my feed over the past month has slowed to a crawl. I heard back from many people who feel the same way. So why does the service feel so quiet lately?
On one hand, it’s August. News cycles are seasonal, and plenty of people — to their great credit! — take time off from the internet during summer vacations. This almost certainly explains some of the decline.
You could also explain it by looking at Twitter’s very observable decline: The company shed 3 million monthly users in the past quarter, according to its most recent earnings report. And while the company has never disclosed a daily usage number, it seems likely that plenty of people who were once daily or weekly users are now checking in fewer times than they used to.
But it also seems like there’s some sort of broader malaise, even among the famously Twitter-prone journalist class. (“I’ll admit that I just stopped tweeting except to promote my own work, and even then I don’t always do that,” my friend David Turner, who writes an excellent weekly newsletter about the streaming music industry, told me via email.)
But my favorite theory involves the president himself. Since Trump’s election, no story has so dominated Twitter in the United States like the president. Each day brings a fresh outrage or crisis or legal development to consider. Each story immediately generates an entire universe of tweetstorms and takes. A platform open to every kind of story can often feel as if it is singularly devoted to one.
And so if millions of people are being silenced anywhere, it’s certainly not the MAGA trolls and the Resistance. Increasingly, it feels as if it’s everyone else. Not because they can’t respond — but because for almost two years, nearly anything they can think to tweet about feels entirely beside the point.
For many reasons, we have way less information about what Russia may be doing to interfere with the midterm elections than we had in 2016, Julian E. Barnes and Matthew Rosenberg report:
Technology companies and political campaigns in recent weeks have detected a plethora of political interference efforts originating overseas, including hacks of Republican think tanks and fake liberal grass-roots organizations created on Facebook. Senior intelligence officials, including Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, have warned that Russians are intent on subverting American democratic institutions.
But American intelligence agencies have not been able to say precisely what are Mr. Putin’s intentions: He could be trying to tilt the midterm elections, simply sow chaos or generally undermine trust in the democratic process.
The tech platforms are huddling over how to prevent coordinated interference, Kevin Collier reports. This is excellent news:
Representatives from a host of the biggest US tech companies, including Facebook and Twitter, have scheduled a private meeting for Friday to share their tactics in preparation for the 2018 midterm elections.
Last week, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, invited employees from a dozen companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Snapchat, to gather at Twitter’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco, according to an email obtained by BuzzFeed News.
Donie O’Sullivan has another case of Twitter’s platform moderation team acting like an extremely slow-motion version of every other platform’s:
The YouTube page associated with the group has also been removed, but on Thursday, the group’s Twitter account remained active, raising new questions about the level of coordination among social media platforms as they combat state-sponsored information warfare.
The Iranian propaganda campaign unveiled this week was spotted by a group of Redditors a year ago, but they were ignored by Reddit, Ben Collins reports. On one hand, this points to the need for better customer service from platforms. On the other hand, Redditors will often point to a pile of corncobs and announce that it is the leading suspect in a bombing. So, rock and a hard place here.
Joan E. Solsman profiles the news product and news partnerships teams at Facebook. It’s a good piece focused on two of the company’s best advocates for journalists, Alex Hardiman and Campbell Brown. And it has these quotes that deserve more attention than it’s gotten:
Brown and Hardiman would argue that Facebook isn’t refusing its editorial role anymore.
The news teams decided their mission “meant actually having an opinion, taking responsibility for our content, and deciding that we were going to do a lot to actively prioritize quality journalism,” Hardiman says.
Brown calls it “a big step for Facebook,” this acknowledgment that Facebook must define quality news and promote it.
What if de-platforming is good? Will Sommer has some data points for us:
Two weeks later, though, the Infowars app is set to slip out of the top 30 news apps, and Infowars is nowhere near replacing its lost YouTube viewership.
Infowars currently hosts its videos on Real.Video, a niche video hosting site that promises that content on the platform is “protected under free speech” and prominently features other channels promoting militias or dubious nutrition ideas. Infowars videos on Real.Video regularly receive only a few hundred or thousand views.
A couple folks sent me this story based on an interview with a Facebook content moderator in Hungary. It’s about an anti-immigration politician whose video post on the subject gets removed for violating Facebook content policies, but later gets reinstated on the grounds that it was newsworthy. (To the extent that it was the subject of an ongoing political debate in the country, this seems fair.) In any case, the newsy nugget is that the moderator (codenamed “Zoltan” here) says Facebook stepped in to proactively prevent moderators from taking action on the politician’s future posts:
After we took Lazar’s video down, and they reinstated it above our paygrade, we received instructions not to touch any of his posts, along with posts of the pro-government news portal Orgio.hu, but to forward all reports concerning these straight to the Irish Facebook headquarters.
Amazon regularly faces negative press cycles over the treatment of workers in its fulfillment centers. This month, an apparently legitimate group of employees created Twitter accounts — with company permission and, uh, encouragement — to talk about how much they love their jobs. Here’s Matt Day:
Identified by first names and “Amazon FC Ambassador,” they each opened a Twitter account this month, are unfailingly polite, and pepper emojis into conversations about the generosity of their benefits packages and job satisfaction at Amazon’s fulfillment centers, the company’s term for its sprawling warehouses.
In a typical interaction, one non-Amazon Twitter user opined that “the way Amazon treats its workers is shameful,” and linked to a news article about retailers that compete with Amazon.
Cindi, an Amazon “ambassador” from Etna, Ohio, replied with information about her work breaks.
“The way Amazon treats its employees is GREAT, we work hard, have fun and are always ready to make history,” she posted. “We have several break rooms throughout the facilities, I get two 30 mins breaks through my shift which is great.”
Most publishers aren’t seeing a monetary benefit from shifting to Google AMP, Lucia Moses reports:
“AMP had a lot of hype and promise,” said Chris Breaux, director of data science at Chartbeat. “It’s really good for users in providing a consistent experience in terms of page-load time. The real question is, do you see more traffic than you would have if you didn’t do the implementation? The answer for two-thirds of publishers is, no.”
Instagram is making a new play to be the official college group chat of the class of 2021, Sara Selinas and and Michele Castillo report:
Instagram users are prompted to join a college community and “connect with other students.” Opting in adds a user’s university and graduating year — selected by the user from predetermined options — to their profile and grants access to class-based lists of other students who’ve opted into the community.
You can direct message or watch a user’s public Story directly from the community lists.
Smart Hunter Walk speculates that this is a civility measure in disguise: maybe you’ll be less likely to troll someone in the comments once you see that you share a hometown and a favorite sports team. Anyway here’s Rich Nieva:
Here’s how it works: When you read through a public conversation – like on a brand or publisher page – Facebook will highlight things you have in common with non-friends who have left comments. So, under someone’s name, you might see a label that says “You both went to the University of Virginia,” or that you’re both from Phoenix.
Other things the label might highlight: if you’re both a part of the same public Facebook group, or if you work for the same company, but are not Facebook friends. The company said the idea is to spark connections people might otherwise pass over.
Amazon acquired Goodreads five years ago and has the social book-reading market basically all to itself. As often happens in these cases, the company has done basically nothing with its acquisition, leaving room for scrappy upstarts. I wouldn’t put venture capital into a new social book-reading app, but I will absolutely download it over the weekend.
Here’s a data fellow at 《华尔街日报》 arguing that the process for applying for WhatsApp research grants has been marred by technical problems:
This happened with us: (1/n)
— Samarth Bansal (@PySamarth) August 24, 2018
Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a famously bad 2009 movie starring Kevin James as a cop who works at the mall. But nothing in the film could prepare us for the Instagram account @PaulFlart, in which the creator and star films himself farting while wearing his security guard uniform:
The internet’s next viral star is a security guard at a Florida hospital who spent the last six months publicly logging his sonically-perfect farts on Instagram. Now the 31-year-old is poised to turn his flash-in-the-bedpan success into a lucrative brand that can be summed up by his Instagram bio: The Fart Authority.
His first name is Doug (he declined to give VICE his last name, or the name of the hospital), but the Kevin James-looking everyman is known on his 20,000 follower-strong Instagram account as Paul Flart, a stinky offshoot of mall cop Paul Blart. On Wednesday, a video compilation of his most memorable ass clappers earned over 374,000 views after shooting to the top of Reddit’s r/videos forum. Now he has followers from all over the world. “It transcends all languages. There’s no translation necessary, it’s just funny,” he told VICE over the phone.
Somewhat inevitably, Doug got fired this week. But have hope: he has a Patreon. The internet is magic, have a nice weekend.
Send me tips, comments, questions, farts, weekend plans: firstname.lastname@example.org.