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Google Announces $1 Billion Partnership Program with News Publishers in Europe



Amid ongoing questions about how digital platforms profit from news and publisher content, and how they subsequently share the benefits of such with the original creators, Google has this week announced a new, $1 billion partnership with European news publishers as it seeks to establish improved connection, and facilitate the evolution of the news publishing sector.

Google News initiative

As explained by Google:

“This financial commitment – our biggest to date – will pay publishers to create and curate high-quality content for a different kind of online news experience. Google News Showcase is a new product that will benefit both publishers and readers: It features the editorial curation of award-winning newsrooms to give readers more insight on the stories that matter, and in the process, helps publishers develop deeper relationships with their audiences.”

It sounds very similar to Facebook’s dedicated News tab, which it’s in the process of rolling out, and which also enables approved publishers to essentially curate and manage their content on the platform, helping improve connection with audiences, while also establishing a more official, vetted stream of official news, which could help reduce the spread of misinformation.

But while Facebook has focused its announcements on news content quality and original reporting, Google’s new program seems more focused on paying publishers – which makes sense, given the various battles the search giant is facing in regards to the way in which it uses news content.

The Australian government, for example, is currently looking to implement new legislation which would essentially force both Facebook and Google to share part of their revenue with local news publishers for the use of their content on their platforms. Both Google and Facebook have rejected the proposal, and have threatened to stop using publisher content completely, if the new measures are approved.

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And they’re right. The Australian proposal is based on the flawed principle that Google and Facebook need the content created by local news publishers to survive, which they don’t, and as a result, the final outcome of the push, if the Government does choose to go ahead with it, will see local publishers lose out on web traffic and revenue as a result of the two giants revising their processes in line with the rules.

That’s the opposite outcome to what the Government is seeking to achieve, but the basis for the push, which has also been enacted in different ways in both France and Spain, is really that Facebook and Google are making a lot of money, while local publishers are struggling.

Facebook and Google use their content, so they should share, right?

Well, kind of – as Google explains:

Google Search and Google News help news publishers by sending large amounts of traffic for free to their sites. In Europe alone, people click on the news content Google links to more than eight billion times a month—that means we drive 3,000 clicks per second to publishers’ own websites. For larger news publishers, a study by Deloitte put the value of each click between 4-6 euro cents, mostly generated through advertising and subscriptions.”

So Google’s saying that it already does provide financial benefit to news publishers, and its working to improve those benefits through programs like this new, billion-dollar commitment, as well as the Google News Initiative and other projects.

It’s not true to say we don’t pay for news or drive value for the industry. As mentioned above, Google links to news, and helps drive millions of readers to publishers’ sites and apps – rather than carrying news articles ourselves. That creates a huge opportunity for publishers to turn those readers into loyal subscribers or show ads.”

Essentially, Google’s counter-argument is that the news industry needs to evolve its business model with modern consumption behaviors, which is the real solution, not simply paying arbitrary percentages based on flawed modeling.

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But that will take time, and significant industry shifts, while it also leaves publishers at the mercy of Facebook and Google’s systems. That’s not an ideal scenario, but the basis of Google’s stance makes logical sense – and either way, Google has shown no sign of shifting in its approach to such in the face of previous, similar challenges.

Better then, maybe, for publishers to work with it – and new initiatives like this could provide a new way for publishers to maximize revenue opportunities, while also maintaining more control over audience connection, enabling them to build on their own terms and platforms.

It’s a very complex area, but Google’s new initiative could help provide another way forward for the industry.

Google says that it’s signed partnerships for its News Showcase with nearly 200 leading publications across Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, the U.K. and Australia. News Showcase will begin rolling out to Google News users in Brazil and Germany from today, and will expand to other countries in the coming months “where local frameworks support these partnerships”.

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Meta’s Developing and ‘Ethical Framework’ for the Use of Virtual Influencers



Meta's Developing and 'Ethical Framework' for the Use of Virtual Influencers

With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters that have evolved into genuine social media influencers in their own right, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear markers as to what’s real and what’s not, and how such creations can be used in their apps.

The coming metaverse shift will further complicate this, with the rise of virtual depictions blurring the lines of what will be allowed, in terms of representation. But with many virtual influencers already operating, Meta is now working to establish ethical boundaries on their application.

As explained by Meta:

From synthesized versions of real people to wholly invented “virtual influencers” (VIs), synthetic media is a rising phenomenon. Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs, with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast huge follower counts, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, fundraise for organizations like the WHO, and champion social causes like Black Lives Matter.”

Some of the more well-known examples on this front are Shudu, who has more than 200k followers on Instagram, and Lil’ Miquela, who has an audience of over 3 million in the app.

At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that this is not an actual person, which makes such characters a great vehicle for brand and product promotions, as they can be utilized 24/7, and can be placed into any environment. But that also leads to concerns about body image perception, deepfakes, and other forms of misuse through false or unclear representation.

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Deepfakes, in particular, may be problematic, with Meta citing this campaign, with English football star David Beckham, as an example of how new technologies are evolving to expand the use of language, as one element, for varying purpose.

The well-known ‘DeepTomCruise’ account on TikTok is another example of just how far these technologies have come, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where they could be used to, say, show a politician saying or doing something that he or she actually didn’t, which could have significant real world impacts.

Which is why Meta is working with developers and experts to establish clearer boundaries on such use – because while there is potential for harm, there are also beneficial uses for such depictions.

Imagine personalized video messages that address individual followers by name. Or celebrity brand ambassadors appearing as salespeople at local car dealerships. A famous athlete would make a great tutor for a kid who loves sports but hates algebra.

Such use cases will increasingly become the norm as VR and AR technologies are developed, with these platforms placing digital characters front and center, and establishing new norms for digital connection.

It would be better to know what’s real and what’s not, and as such, Meta needs clear regulations to remove dishonest depictions, and enforce transparency over VI use.

But then again, much of what you see on Instagram these days is not real, with filters and editing tools altering people’s appearance well beyond what’s normal, or realistic. That can also have damaging consequences, and while Meta’s looking to implement rules on VI use, there’s arguably a case for similar transparency in editing tools applied to posted videos and images as well.

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That’s a more complex element, particularly as such tools also enable people to feel more comfortable in posting, which no doubt increases their in-app activity. Would Meta be willing to put more focus on this element if it could risk impacting user engagement? The data on the impact of Instagram on people’s mental health are pretty clear, with comparison being a key concern.

Should that also come under the same umbrella of increased digital transparency?

It’s seemingly not included in the initial framework as yet, but at some stage, this is another element that should be examined, especially given the harmful effects that social media usage can have on young women.

But however you look at it, this is no doubt a rising element of concern, and it’s important for Meta to build guardrails and rules around the use of virtual influencers in their apps.

You can read more about Meta’s approach to virtual influencers here.

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Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps



Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps

Meta has published a new set of safety tips for journalists to help them protect themselves in the evolving online connection space, which, for the most part, also apply to all users more broadly, providing a comprehensive overview of the various tools and processes that it has in place to help people avoid unwanted attention online.

The 32-page guide is available in 21 different languages, and provides detailed overviews of Meta’s systems and profile options for protection and security, with specific sections covering Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The guide begins with the basics, including password protections and enabling two-factor authentication.

It also outlines tips for Page managers in securing their business profiles, while there are also notes on what to do if you’ve been hacked, advice for protection on Messenger and guidance on bullying and harassment.

Meta security guide

For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.

Meta security guide

While for WhatsApp, there are explainers on how to delete messages, how to remove messages from group chats, and details on platform-specific data options.

Meta security guide

There are also links to various additional resource guides and tools for more context, providing in-depth breakdowns of when and how to action the various options.

It’s a handy guide, and while there are some journalist-specific elements included, most of the tips do apply to any user, so it could well be a valuable resource for anyone looking to get a better handle on your various privacy tools and options.

Definitely worth knowing either way – you can download the full guide here.

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Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump



Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with relatives of slain commander Qasem Soleimani ahead of the second anniverary of his death in a US drone strike in Iraq – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Tom Brenner

Twitter said Saturday it had permanently suspended an account linked to Iran’s supreme leader that posted a video calling for revenge for a top general’s assassination against former US president Donald Trump.

“The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.

The account, @KhameneiSite, this week posted an animated video showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump, who ordered a drone strike in Baghdad two years ago that killed top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s main accounts in various languages remain active. Last year, another similar account was suspended by Twitter over a post also appearing to reference revenge against Trump.

The recent video, titled “Revenge is Definite”, was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.

According to Twitter, the company’s top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.

The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.

As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Soleimani was the architect of its strategy in the Middle East.

He and his Iraqi lieutenant were killed by a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.

Khamenei has repeatedly promised to avenge his death.

On January 3, the second anniversary of the strike, the supreme leader and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi once again threatened the US with revenge.

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Trump’s supporters regularly denounce the banning of the Republican billionaire from Twitter, underscoring that accounts of several leaders considered authoritarian by the United States are allowed to post on the platform.

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