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Facebook Considers Tougher Transparency Rules in Response to Tactics Used by Bloomberg Campaign



We’re less than a month into the official US Presidential campaign cycle, and already Facebook’s advanced rules around political content are being tested.

A week after implementing new rules around the use of memes by political candidates, in response to tactics being deployed by the Bloomberg campaign, Facebook is now once again being forced to re-assess its process, this time with respect to how Bloomberg is using campaign staffers to distribute his messaging through their personal networks.

As per CNBC:

“Bloomberg’s campaign is hiring more than 500 deputy field organizers, a job which includes mobilizing supporters for get-out-the-vote efforts and engaging friends to support Bloomberg for president – which can include sharing on social networks. But Facebook is concerned about the lack of transparency around Bloomberg’s employees unidentified posts, and doesn’t want to undercut all the work the company has done around transparency by allowing a campaign to circumvent Facebook’s rules.”

Essentially, Facebook is now looking into whether personal posts from campaign staffers and supporters need to also come with a disclaimer to signify their affiliation.

In some ways this seems like a stretch – people are free to share what they like on the platform, regardless of their professional ties – but then again, if this is built into a contract with the Bloomberg campaign, and a level of sharing is required or mandated as part of such duties, that muddies the waters significantly.

It seems that, despite Facebook’s many efforts, there are still some holes in its political campaign policies.

Will that become a bigger problem moving forward?

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With the rise of social media as a tool for political messaging, there are some significant questions around the power of social to influence the vote – and just how powerful Facebook, in particular, can be for shifting public sentiment.

Clearly, political operatives see major potential in the platform. The Trump campaign has spent $20 million on Facebook ads in 2019 alone, while incoming Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg has already blown them away, spending $48.5 million on Facebook ads since last May.

Of course, for Bloomberg, who has a net worth of $65.2 billion, this is a relatively minor outlay – but will it work? Can the person with the most money to spend on social media ads dominate the discussion enough to actually win the vote?

At this stage, that seems unlikely. The Guardian recently conducted an analysis of Bloomberg’s campaign ads, and while there are certainly a lot of them, its assessment found that they lack political substance, and don’t properly utilize Facebook’s advanced audience targeting capacity, which has ultimately seen them fail to connect with voter pain points in the same way the Trump campaign’s efforts have. 

Bloomberg campaign example

But there are a lot of them – take a look at this chart from The Guardian in regards to Facebook ad impressions in 2020.

Facebook ads from political candidates

Yet, without the same political bite, and in-depth targeting focus of the Trump campaign – which one Facebook exec said was the “the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen” – it does seem like Bloomberg is failing to gain traction. Add to that a poor showing in the recent Democratic debate, and it would appear that candidates need more than Facebook ads to win an election.

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But then again, there is precedent for those that can win the mentions race going on to win the final vote.

Indeed, various research reports have shown that mention volume alone is the best indicator in predicting vote outcomes based on social media activity.

A study conducted by Dublin City University in 2011 found that tweet volume was “the single biggest predictive variable” in election results, based on their analysis of political sentiment and prediction modeling, while another study conducted by the Technical University of Munich in 2010 found that:

“The mere number of tweets reflects voter preferences and comes close to traditional election polls.”

Maybe this is what Bloomberg is hoping for – by dominating the media cycle, maybe he can go on to dominate the polls. In this sense, it would be less about the specifics of his messaging and more about his capacity to ‘flood the zone’, a tactic used by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon to maximize Trump’s messaging. 

Maybe, with more money, Bloomberg will have greater capacity to dominate proceedings, and dwarf the arguments of his opponents. That doesn’t feel likely at this stage. But that could be – or could have been – the Bloomberg campaign’s plan.

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Twitter Expands its Test of User-Reported Misinformation, Expanding Platform Insight



Twitter Looks to Extend its Keyword Blocking and Mute Options to More Elements

After seeing success with its initial test of a new, manual reporting option, enabling users to flag tweets that contain potentially misleading claims, Twitter is now expanding the test to more regions, with users in Brazil, Spain, and the Philippines now set to get access.

Launched in August last year, Twitter’s latest effort to combat misinformation focuses on audience trends and perception of such as a means to determine common issues with the platform, and what people feel compelled to report, pointing to things that they don’t want to see.

The process adds an additional ‘It’s misleading’ option to your tweet reporting tools, providing another means to flag concerning claims.

Which is obviously not a foolproof way to detect and remove misleading content – but as noted, the idea is not so much focused on direct enforcement, as such, but more on broader trends based on how many people report certain tweets, and what people report.

As Twitter explained as part of the initial launch:

“Although we may not take action on this report or respond to you directly, we will use this report to develop new ways to reduce misleading info. This could include limiting its visibility, providing additional context, and creating new policies.”

So essentially, the concept is that if, say, 100, or 1,000 people report the same tweet for ‘political misinformation’, that’ll likely get Twitter’s attention, which may help Twitter identify what users don’t want to see, and want the platform to take action against, even if it’s not actually in violation of the current rules.

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So it’s more of a research tool than an enforcement option – which is a better approach, because enabling users to dictate removals by mass-reporting in this way could definitely lead to misuse.

That, in some ways, has borne true in its initial testing – as explained by Head of Site Integrity Yoel Roth:

On average, only about 10% of misinfo reports were actionable -compared to 20-30% for other policy areas. A key driver of this was “off-topic” reports that don’t contain misinfo at all.

In other words, a lot of the tweets reported through this manual option were not an actual concern, which highlight the challenges in using user reports as an enforcement measure.

But Roth notes that the data they have gathered has been valuable either way:

We’re already seeing clear benefits from reporting for the second use case (aggregate analysis) – especially when it comes to non-text-based misinfo, such as media and URLs linking to off-platform misinformation.

So it may not be a great avenue for direct action on each reported tweet, but as a research tool, the initiative has helped Twitter determine more areas of focus, which contributes to its broader effort to eliminate misinformation within the tweet eco-system.

A big element of this is bots, with various research reports indicating that Twitter bots are key amplifiers of misinformation and politically biased information.

In early 2020, at the height of the Australian bushfire crisis, researchers from Queensland University detected a massive network of Twitter bots that had been spreading misinformation about the Australian bushfire crisis and amplifying anti-climate change conspiracy theories in opposition to established facts. Other examinations have found that bot profiles, at times, contribute up to 60% of tweet activity around some trending events.

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Twitter is constantly working to better identify bot networks and eliminate any influence they may have, but this expanded reporting process may help to identify additional bot trends, as well as providing insight into the actual reach of bot pushes via expanded user reporting.

There are various ways in which such insight could be of value, even if it doesn’t result in direct action against offending tweets, as such. And it’ll be interesting to see how Twitter’s expansion of the program improves the initiative, and how it also pairs with its ongoing ‘Birdwatch’ reporting program to detect platform misuse.

Essentially, this program won’t drive a sudden influx of direct removals, eliminating offending tweets based on the variable sensibilities of each user. But it will help to identify key content trends and user concerns, which will contribute to Twitter’s broader effort to better detect these movements, and reduce their influence.

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Twitter’s Latest Promotional Campaign Focuses on Celebrities Who’ve Manifested Success Via Tweet



Twitter's Latest Promotional Campaign Focuses on Celebrities Who've Manifested Success Via Tweet

Twitter has launched a new advertising campaign which is focused on ‘manifesting’ via tweet, highlighting how a range of successful athletes and entertainers made initial commitments to their success via Twitter long before their public achievements.

Through a new set of billboard ads across the US, Twitter will showcase 12 celebrities that ‘tweeted their dreams into existence’.

As explained by Twitter:

To honor these athletes and other celebrities for Tweeting their dreams into existence, Twitter turned their famous Tweets into 39+ billboards! Located across 8 cities (NYC, LA, SF, Chicago, Toronto, Houston, Tampa, Talladega), most of the billboards can be found in the hometowns or teams’ locations of the stars who manifested their dreams, such as Bubba Wallace in Talladega and Diamond DeShields in Chicago.”

Twitter Manifest campaign

Beyond the platform promotion alone, the billboards actually align with usage trends at this time of year, as people work to stick with their New Year’s resolutions, and adopt new habits that will improve their lives. Seeing big-name stars that have been able to achieve their own dreams, which they’ve publicly communicated via tweet, could be another avenue to holding firm on such commitments, while Twitter also notes that tweets about manifestation are at an all-time high, seeing 100% year-over-year growth.

Maybe that’s the key. By sharing your ambitions and goals publicly, maybe that additional accountability will better ensure that you stick to your commitments – or maybe it’s all just mental, and by adding that extra public push to yourself, you’ll feel more compelled to keep going, because it’s there for all to see.

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In addition to the promotional value of the campaign, Twitter’s also donating nearly $1 million to charities as selected by each of the featured celebrities.

“Some of the charities include Boys and Girls Club, Destination Crenshaw, The 3-D Foundation, and UNICEF Canada.”

It’s an interesting push, which again comes at the right time of year. Getting into a new routine is tough, as is changing careers, publishing your first artwork, speaking in public, etc. Maybe, by seeing how these stars began as regular people, tweeting their dreams like you or I, that could act as a good motivator that you too can achieve what you set out to do, and that by posting such publicly, you’re making a commitment, not to the random public, but to yourself, that you will do it this year.

Sure, 2022 hasn’t exactly got off to a great start, with a COVID resurgence threatening to derail things once again. But maybe, this extra push could be the thing that keeps you focused, like these celebrities, even amid external distractions.  

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Snapchat Adds New Limits on Adults Seeking to Connect with Minors in the App



Snapchat Adds New Limits on Adults Seeking to Connect with Minors in the App

After Instagram added similar measures last year, Snapchat is now implementing new restrictions to limit adults from sending messages to users under the age of 18 in the app.

As reported by Axios, Snapchat is changing its “Quick Add” friend suggestion process so that it’s not possible for people to add users aged under 18 “unless there are a certain number of friends in common between the two users”. That won’t stop such connection completely, but it does add another barrier in the process, which could reduce harm.

The move is a logical and welcome step, which will help improve the security of youngsters in the app, but the impacts of such could be far more significant on Snap, which is predominantly used by younger people.

Indeed, Snapchat reported last year that around 20% of its total user base was aged under 18, with the majority of its audience being in the 13-24 year-old age bracket. That means that interaction between these age groups is likely a significant element of the Snap experience, and restricting such could have big impacts on overall usage, even if it does offer greater protection for minors.

Which is why this is a particularly significant commitment from Snap – though it is worth noting that Snapchat won’t necessarily stop older users from connecting with younger ones in the app, it just won’t make it as easy through initial recommendations, via the Quick Add feature.

So it’s not a huge change, as such. But again, given the interplay between these age groups in the app, it is a marker of Snap’s commitment to protection, and to finding new ways to ensure that youngsters are not exposed to potential harm within the app.

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Snapchat has faced several issues on this front, with the ephemeral focus of the app providing fertile ground for predators, as it automatically erases any evidence trail in the app. With that in mind, Snap does have a way to go in providing more protection, but it is good to see the company looking at ways to limit such interactions, and combat potentially harmful misuse.

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