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Facebook’s algorithm doesn’t alter people’s beliefs: research

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Meta, whose corporate offices in Menlo Park, California, are seen here, welcomed the research

Meta, whose corporate offices in Menlo Park, California, are seen here, welcomed the research – Copyright AFP ANGELA WEISS

Issam AHMED

Do social media echo chambers deepen political polarization, or simply reflect existing social divisions?

A landmark research project that investigated Facebook around the 2020 US presidential election published its first results Thursday, finding that, contrary to assumption, the platform’s often criticized content-ranking algorithm doesn’t shape users’ beliefs.

The work is the product of a collaboration between Meta — the parent company of Facebook and Instagram — and a group of academics from US universities who were given broad access to internal company data, and signed up tens of thousands of users for experiments.

The academic team wrote four papers examining the role of the social media giant in American democracy, which were published in the scientific journals Science and Nature.

Overall, the algorithm was found to be “extremely influential in people’s on-platform experiences,”  said project leaders Talia Stroud of the University of Texas at Austin and Joshua Tucker, of New York University.

In other words, it heavily impacted what the users saw, and how much they used the platforms.

“But we also know that changing the algorithm for even a few months isn’t likely to change people’s political attitudes,” they said, as measured by users’ answers on surveys after they took part in three-month-long experiments that altered how they received content.

The authors acknowledged this conclusion might be because the changes weren’t in place for long enough to make an impact, given that the United States has been growing more polarized for decades.

Nevertheless, “these findings challenge popular narratives blaming social media echo chambers for the problems of contemporary American democracy,” wrote the authors of one of the papers, published in Nature.

– ‘No silver bullet’  –

Facebook’s algorithm, which uses machine-learning to decide which posts rise to the top of users’ feeds based on their interests, has been accused of giving rise to “filter bubbles” and enabling the spread of misinformation.

Researchers recruited around 40,000 volunteers via invitations placed on their Facebook and Instagram feeds, and designed an experiment where one group was exposed to the normal algorithm, while the other saw posts listed from newest to oldest.

Facebook originally used a reverse chronological system and some observers have suggested that switching back to it will reduce social media’s harmful effects.

The team found that users in the chronological feed group spent around half the amount of time on Facebook and Instagram compared to the algorithm group.

On Facebook, those in the chronological group saw more content from moderate friends, as well as more sources with ideologically mixed audiences.

But the chronological feed also increased the amount of political and untrustworthy content seen by users.

Despite the differences, the changes did not cause detectable changes in measured political attitudes.

“The findings suggest that chronological feed is no silver bullet for issues such as political polarization,” said coauthor Jennifer Pan of Stanford.

– Meta welcomes findings –

In a second paper in Science, the same team researched the impact of reshared content, which constitutes more than a quarter of content that Facebook users see.

Suppressing reshares has been suggested as a means to control harmful viral content.

The team ran a controlled experiment in which a group of Facebook users saw no changes to their feeds, while another group had reshared content removed.

Removing reshares reduced the proportion of political content seen, resulting in reduced political knowledge — but again did not impact downstream political attitudes or behaviors.

A third paper, in Nature, probed the impact of content from “like-minded” users, pages, and groups in their feeds, which the researchers found constituted a majority of what the entire population of active adult Facebook users see in the US.

But in an experiment involving over 23,000 Facebook users, suppressing like-minded content once more had no impact on ideological extremity or belief in false claims.

A fourth paper, in Science, did however confirm extreme “ideological segregation” on Facebook, with politically conservative users more siloed in their news sources than liberals.

What’s more, 97 percent of political news URLs on Facebook rated as false by Meta’s third-party fact checking program — which AFP is part of — were seen by more conservatives than liberals.

Meta welcomed the overall findings.

They “add to a growing body of research showing there is little evidence that social media causes harmful… polarization or has any meaningful impact on key political attitudes, beliefs or behaviors,” said Nick Clegg, the company’s president of global affairs.

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Gaza and Instagram make an explosive mix in Hollywood

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Gal Gadot regularly posts demands for the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza

Gal Gadot regularly posts demands for the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza – Copyright GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File Drew Angerer

Audrey Pilon-Topkara

Hollywood celebrities are paying the price for taking sides in the Gaza war — plastering their social media accounts with slogans such as “Free Palestine” or “I stand with Israel”.

Israeli actress Gal Gadot, best known for starring in “Wonder Woman”, has expressed unyielding support for her country since October 7, when Hamas fighters burst out of Gaza, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 240 hostage, according to Israeli officials.

“I stand with Israel, you should too,” she declared to her 109 million Instagram followers.

She has continued to regularly publish or share posts demanding that Hamas release the civilians it is holding — earning her both approval and criticism.

“While you’re at it, can you use your platform to share all the missing and killed innocent Palestinians too?” a user on X, formerly Twitter, wrote in response to one of her posts.

In reprisal for the October 7 attacks, Israel has pounded the Gaza Strip and launched a ground invasion, killing more than 17,000 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Hamas government.

The Instagram account of American model Gigi Hadid, who is of Palestinian descent and followed by 79 million, has spent less attention on fashion in recent weeks.

She cited the “systemic mistreatment of the Palestinian people by the government of Israel”.

“Stop spreading lies. You and your sisters are antisemitic,” said one comment, with many others expressing similar views.

Famous stars can generate equally strong admiration and repulsion from the public, especially if they comment on divisive issues.

Well before social media, boxer Muhammad Ali, the actor Jane Fonda and singer Bob Dylan were adored or hated over their opposition to the Vietnam War.

More recently the actors Ben Stiller, Angelina Jolie and Sean Penn showed their support for Ukraine by visiting the country, in moves that were approved by most of their Western fans.

– Insults –

But the Israel-Palestinian issue is more divisive than most, exposing celebrities to even fiercer backlashes.

Kylie Jenner, the half-sister of socialite Kim Kardashian, shared a pro-Israeli post with her 399 million Instagram followers shortly after October 7, which according to US media she deleted an hour later after being hit with insults.

The Oscar-winning actor Susan Sarandon was dropped by her talent agency in November for comments she made at a pro-Palestinian rally, for which she later apologised.

Melissa Barrera, star of the fifth and sixth instalments of the “Scream” franchise, was cut from the cast of the seventh by the producers, who said they had “zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and incitement to hatred”.

The Mexican had denounced what she called “ethnic cleansing” in Gaza.

Celebrities who take sides in the conflict have “a lot to lose and little to gain”, said Nicolas Vanderbiest, founder of the public relations firm Saper Vedere in Brussels.

Producers and sponsors have little appetite for mixing geopolitics and business, he said.

In this issue, two “extremely organised” communities are on the lookout, creating a “herd affect”, Vanderbiest added.

Tom Cruise prevented his own agent from losing her job after she had referred to “genocide” on her Instagram account, according to the cinema trade press.

Celebrities could just stay quiet, but with this conflict there is “pressure to pronounce” and no immunity from criticism, said Jamil Jean-Marc Dakhlia, a professor of information and communication at Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris.

“Silence is seen as taking a position,” Dakhlia said. “So we are in a situation where you are forced to take sides, and not necessarily with much nuance.”

American singer and actor Selena Gomez, with 429 million Instagram followers, has been criticised for not taking a stronger stance on the issue.

Along with hundreds of others, including Hadid, singer Jennifer Lopez and actor Joaquin Phoenix, she took a middle road, signing a petition calling for a ceasefire and the safe release of hostages.

Earlier, hundreds of celebrities, including Gadot, had signed an open letter thanking US President Joe Biden for supporting “the Jewish people” and calling for the release of all hostages held by Hamas.

Very few signed both.

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More than 10 million people have signed up for X in December, CEO says By Reuters

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More than 10 million people have signed up for X in December, CEO says By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: ‘X’ logo is seen on the top of the headquarters of the messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter, in downtown San Francisco, California, U.S., July 30, 2023. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

(Reuters) – More than 10 million people have signed up for X in December, X CEO Linda Yaccarino said in a post on the social media platform on Thursday.

This comes as the company, formerly known as Twitter, risks losing as much $75 million in advertising revenue by the end of the year as major brands pause their marketing campaigns on the platform, according to the New York Times.

X, which does not regularly release user data, could not immediately be reached for comment on how the December sign-ups compared to average or why Yaccarino disclosed the figure. Billionaire owner Elon Musk said in July the site had 540 million monthly users.

Several companies, including Apple (NASDAQ:), Disney, Warner Bros Discovery , Comcast (NASDAQ:), Lions Gate Entertainment , Paramount Global, and IBM (NYSE:) said in November they were pausing their advertisements on X.

Musk cursed advertisers that fled the platform after he agreed with a user who falsely claimed Jewish people were stoking hatred against white people.

A report from watchdog group Media Matters found ads from major companies next to X posts that supported Nazism. The platform filed a lawsuit in late November against Media Matters accusing it of defamation.

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New Guide Highlights Key Considerations for Effective TikTok Ads

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New Guide Highlights Key Considerations for Effective TikTok Ads

Looking to make TikTok a bigger focus of your marketing effort in 2024?

This will help. TikTok recently partnered with creator intelligence platform CreatorIQ to conduct an analysis of the key factors that make for a resonant TikTok promotion, culminating in a 26-page report which covers a range of key notes and tips for your planning.

You can download CreatorIQ’s full TikTok ads guide here, but in this post, we’ll look at some of the key notes.

The report is broken up into five key pillars of TikTok ads creation, which echo much of the best advice that’s been shared for the platform over time.

CreatorIQ’s five key TikTok marketing notes are:

  • Grab attention from the start
  • Foster a personal connection
  • Show your product in action
  • Use high-impact creative elements
  • Close with a clear call to action

For each of these elements, the guide digs deeper into how to enact them, and the critical considerations of each, including stats on effectiveness:

Tips on TikTok-specific trends and tools:

CreatorIQ TikTok Ads Report

As well as case study examples to underline each point:

CreatorIQ TikTok Ads Report

It’s a handy overview, with a range of valuable notes, though the main finding, above all of the creative pointers and advice, is that established creators perform better for TikTok promotions.

As per CreatorIQ:

The report found that creators overwhelmingly make the best-performing TikTok ads, with recommendations carrying more weight than traditional brand advertisements and celebrity spokespeople. In fact, after watching a creator-driven Spark Ad, 57% of TikTok community members say the creator is trustworthy, 56% say they can trust the brand because the creator shared it, and 71% say creator authenticity led them to buy a product.

So while there are a heap of practical notes and pointers for increasing the resonance of your in-app promotions – like this:

CreatorIQ TikTok Ads Report

The key point of emphasis is that creators make better TikToks, and thus, better ads, so partnering with relevant influencers in your niche is still likely a better way to go.

Some good considerations, and some valuable, data-backed tips, which could help to get your TikTok promotion plan on the right track in the new year.

You can download CreatorIQ’s full TikTok marketing report here.

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