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Despite Everything, Facebook Remains a Prominent Facilitator of Election Misinformation

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Over the last four years, Facebook has implemented a range of measures to stamp out misinformation, tackle election interference and ensure that its users are kept accurately informed, despite various efforts, by various groups, to use the company’s massive network in order to influence public opinion and sway election results in their own favor.

Facebook’s increased push came after revelations of various mass misinformation and influence operations during the 2016 US Election campaign, which included the high-profile Cambridge Analytica scandal, and the revelations of Russia’s Internet Research Agency running thousands of ads to spark division among US voters. How effective either of these pushes actually was is impossible to say, but both did happen, and you would imagine that they had at least some effect. 

Facebook’s various measures seem to have negated much of the foreign influence and manipulation that was present in 2016 – yet, despite this, several new insights show that Facebook is still facilitating the spread of misinformation, with President Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud, in particular, gaining increased traction via The Social Network.

Last week, Facebook published a post in which it sought to refute claims that its algorithm disproportionately amplifies controversial right-wing content, which sparks engagement and interaction, and therefore, seemingly, gains reach.

Facebook published the post in response to these lists, published daily by New York Times writer Kevin Roose.

The lists, which are based on engagement data accessed via Facebook’s own analytics platform CrowdTangle, appear to show that content from extreme right-wing publishers performs better on Facebook, which often means that questionable, if not demonstrably false information, is getting big reach and engagement across The Social Network.

But hang on, Facebook said, that’s not the whole story:

Most of the content people see [on Facebook], even in an election season, is not about politics. In fact, based on our analysis, political content makes up about 6% of what you see on Facebook. This includes posts from friends or from Pages (which are public profiles created by businesses, brands, celebrities, media outlets, causes and the like).”   

So while the numbers posted by Roose may show that right-wing news content gets a lot of engagement, that’s only a fraction of what users see overall.

Ranking top Page posts by reactions, comments, etc. doesn’t paint a full picture of what people actually see on Facebook.

To demonstrate this, Facebook shared this listing of what content actually gets the most reach on Facebook – i.e. posts from these Pages appeared in the most user News Feed for the week in question:

Facebook Page reach

I added the black text descriptions for context. As you can see, most of the content people see is not political-based, which, Facebook says, shows that political updates are not as prevalent as Roose’s listings may suggest.

But then again, this listing kind of proves Roose’s point – of all of the top 10 Pages from the week above, based on reach to US active users, the two political Pages with the most presence are:

  • Donald J. Trump
  • Fox News

So while people do see a lot of other content, you could equally argue that recipe videos are probably not going to influence how people vote. Which would suggest that Facebook, even by its own explanation, is helping to boost more extreme political views.

And that then leads into the next concern.

This week, BuzzFeed News has reported that despite Facebook adding warning labels to Trump’s posts which have criticized the US Election, and suggested widespread fraud in the voting process, those labels have had little impact on social sharing.

Trump Facebook post example

BuzzFeed shared this quote from an internal Facebook discussion board:

”We have evidence that applying these [labels] to posts decreases their reshares by ~8%. However given that Trump has SO many shares on any given post, the decrease is not going to change shares by orders of magnitude.”

As you can see, the above post was still widely shared and commented on. But Facebook may also be contributing directly to that. As noted, Facebook’s algorithm looks to boost posts that see more engagement, in order to keep people active and on-platform for longer. That means that posts which generate a lot of comments and discussion tend to see higher reach.

Facebook’s system even pushes that directly – as shown in this example shared by The Wall Street Journal’s Deepa Seetharaman:

Trump example

So rather than limiting the spread of these claims, Facebook is actively promoting them to users, in order to spark engagement. That’s stands in significant contrast to Twitter, which last week reported that it had seen a 29% decrease in Quote Tweets as a result of its own warning labels.

The data here shows that Facebook is not only not seeing any major impact as a result of its deterrence measures, but that it’s own systems, intentionally or not, are even counteracting such efforts.

Why? Because as many have noted, Facebook values engagement above all else in most cases. It seems, in this instance, its internal measures to boost interaction may be inadvertently going against its other operations.

So what comes next? Should Facebook come under more scrutiny, and be forced to review its processes in order to stop the spread of misinformation?

That, at least in part, is the topic of the latest round of the latest Senate Judiciary Hearing into possible reforms to Section 230 laws. Within the context of this examination, Facebook and Twitter have faced questions over the influence of their platforms, and how their systems incentivize engagement.

Those hearings could eventually lead to reform, one way or another, and with former President Barack Obama this week suggesting that social platforms should face regulation, there could be more movement coming on this front.

As Obama explained to The Atlantic:

I don’t hold the tech companies entirely responsible [for the rise of populist politics], because this predates social media. It was already there. But social media has turbocharged it. I know most of these folks. I’ve talked to them about it. The degree to which these companies are insisting that they are more like a phone company than they are like The Atlantic, I do not think is tenable. They are making editorial choices, whether they’ve buried them in algorithms or not. The First Amendment doesn’t require private companies to provide a platform for any view that is out there.”

With Obama’s former VP Joe Biden set to take the reigns in January, we could see a significant shift in approach to such moving forward, which could limit Facebook’s capacity to facilitate such content.

But then again, even if new rules are enacted, there will always be borderline cases, and as we’ve seen with the sudden rise of Parler, there will also be alternate platforms that will cater to more controversial views.

Maybe, then, this is a consequence of a more open media landscape – with fewer gatekeepers to limit the spread of misinformation, it will remain increasingly difficult to contain. 

Free speech advocates will hail this as a benefit, while others may not be so sure. Either way, with the 2020 election discussion still playing out, we’re likely to see more examples of such before the platforms are truly pushed to act. 

Socialmediatoday.com

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8 Core Disciplines for a Successful Social Media Marketing Strategy [Infographic]

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8 Core Disciplines for a Successful Social Media Marketing Strategy [Infographic]

Are you looking to create an effective social media marketing strategy? Want to learn the core disciplines you need to pay attention to?

The team from MDG Advertising share their social media tips in this infographic.

They break things down as follows:

  • Strategy
  • Auditing
  • Technology
  • Paid media
  • Content development
  • Customer response
  • Compliance and risk assessment
  • Measurement

Check out the infographic for more detail.

A version of this post was first published on the Red Website Design blog.

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Five Ways To Make Your Startup Stand Out From The Competition

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Five Ways To Make Your Startup Stand Out From The Competition

Making your business stand out from others in a crowded marketplace is key to its success. High-quality products and services, a smart pricing strategy, and effective marketing are just the basics. The most successful entrepreneurs have a few extra tricks that separate their business from the rest of the pack.

Tell a strong story

Businesses need to do two things to succeed; be relevant and distinctive. As Steven Hess, founding partner at WhiteCap, explains, doing one without the other will lead to failure. “Being relevant on its own leads to a focus on price and an inevitable sublimation into the sea of sameness, and customers will not look for you,” he says. “Being distinctive without solving a problem leads to gimmickry and longer-term weakness. You have to do both, and one way of uniting the two is with a strong story.”

This could focus on the founder’s story, what led them to set out on their business journey, how they identified the problem they are solving, and how they are solving it uniquely. Stories can also be drawn from customers; how are they using your products or services? What problem does it solve for them?

“You also need to look at how your competitors are presenting themselves and then present yourself in the opposite way,” says Hess. “This will feel uncomfortable, and most businesses fail at this point. Why do ads for cars, financial services, estate agents, etc., look the same? It’s because most of us don’t want to stand out. We’re afraid to fail and be seen to fail. But if we are not being seen, being distinctive and solving a real problem, we’ve already failed.”

Focus your messaging on customer needs

A company’s messaging has to be focused on its potential customer’s biggest wants and needs. It should clarify what people will get if they buy from you, what transformation they will see, and how they will feel afterward. “Most importantly, it should communicate what people will miss out on if they don’t buy from your startup,” says business growth consultant Charlie Day. “When you shift your messaging from simply trying to grow a business and make money to focusing on your customer’s biggest wants and needs, the sales and growth will come, and it will set you apart from others.”

Target an underrepresented audience

This can be a powerful way for startups to stand out. “By focusing on a group that larger companies often overlook, they can differentiate themselves and appeal to a unique and untapped market,” says Vladislav Podolyako, founder and CEO of Folderly. “And by providing solutions to the specific needs and challenges of this audience, startups can establish a strong reputation and build a loyal customer base.”

For example, a fitness startup targeting older adults can stand out by offering specialized classes, products, or resources. By providing solutions to the physical limitations of older adults, the startup can differentiate itself from other companies, address the unique fitness challenges faced by older adults, and build a loyal customer base.

However, as Podolyako points out, this strategy must be carefully thought out. He says: “The startup may be associated with an older audience only, so you should work with PR agencies to get the positioning right and potentially think about creating a sub-brand.”

Differentiate your social media strategy

A unique voice and communication style will make you stand out on social media. However, it’s not just what you say but what you do that makes the difference. “If everyone is offering ‘how to’ tips on LinkedIn, create some short form behind-the-scenes videos. If everyone is doing special offers on Facebook, publish some tip-based stories,” says Catherine Warrilow, managing director of Daysout.com. “Make yourself accessible for customer support on the social media channels used by your audience, for example, via What’s App or Messenger.”

Respond promptly to customer calls

Making it easy for customers to contact you and get a response is vital for customer engagement and retention. Yet, businesses are surprisingly poor at answering their phones, listing phone numbers on their websites, and responding to voicemails. It’s a massive turn-off for customers, as a survey by global communications company Moneypenny revealed, with unanswered phone calls topping the list of consumer gripes, cited by 43% of respondents, followed by annoying hold music (35%).

Joanna Swash, Group CEO of Moneypenny, says: “Customers use the phone when they have an urgent or sensitive issue to discuss, so companies cannot afford to provide a poor call experience; business will be taken elsewhere. By mastering the art of call handling, businesses can keep their customers happy and loyal and boost the bottom line in the process.”

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Twitter Experiments with Reply Filters, Timeline Controls, and the Capacity to Search Your Tweet Likes

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Twitter Experiments with Reply Filters, Timeline Controls, and the Capacity to Search Your Tweet Likes

Amid the various large-scale changes at Twitter, the platform is also working on some smaller tweaks and updates, which may or may not ever get released, but could provide valuable functionality for many users.

First off, Twitter’s testing the ability to search through your Likes, so you can find out who, specifically, has liked your tweets.

That could help you glean more context when reaching out to someone, or just another way to understand who’s responding to your tweets.

And it could be particularly valuable as a research tool for marketers in understanding their audience and who they’re reaching with their tweets.

Twitter’s also testing a new way to filter your replies, which could be handy if you get a lot of responses to a tweet.

Tweet reply sorting

I mean, I’m not sure how many people are getting so many replies to their tweets that they need a filtering option, but for those that are, this could be a simple way to ensure you’re staying up on the most relevant responses and responders, to better manage your engagement.

Finally, Twitter’s also experimenting with new timeline settings, which would provide more control over your timeline and pinned lists.

Twitter timeline controls

Note also, in the middle screen, that Twitter’s developing an option that would enable you to hide your tweet view counts, which would provide another way to manage your activity in the app.

As noted, all of these are in test mode, with Twitter engineer Andrea Conway posting them for public opinion, before exploring further development. But they could be handy, and while they’re not game-changers as such (which may mean they get less priority), smaller tweaks and updates like this could be significant for certain users, and could make it easier to manage your tweet activity.

We’ll keep you updated on any progress.



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