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I ran digital ads for a presidential campaign, and Twitter is right to ban them

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As the digital director for Congressman Seth Moulton’s 2020 presidential campaign, I was responsible for everything the campaign did on the internet: the emails you claim to hate, the videos we hoped would go viral, the online infrastructure that supported organizers in the field, and more. But our biggest investment of both time and money, by far, was in digital advertising.

For our campaign and many others, digital ads were the single biggest expense outside of payroll. Yet these ads are terrible for campaigns, toxic for democracy and are even bad for the companies who profit off them. Last week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took a bold first step in banning political ads — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai should follow suit.

Digital ads are one of the most important channels for acquiring new supporters and serving them that all-important question: “Will you chip in $10, $5, or whatever you can to support our campaign? Even $1 helps!” When the Democratic National Committee announced in February that presidential candidates would need a minimum of 65,000 individual donors to qualify for the first two debates, acquiring these small dollar donors became a do-or-die priority for campaigns.

The trouble is, when 25 campaigns are competing in a Democratic donor market that had just five competitors in 2016, and when each campaign is desperate to acquire new donors, prices go up. Way up.

We — and I suspect many others — routinely ran what were supposed to be revenue-generating ads at a loss, spending $10, $20, or even $30 in order to acquire one new donor and their contribution of as little as $1. This is a terrible deal for campaigns: they hemorrhage cash in order to lose money acquiring more, costing weeks or months of valuable runway, all while Facebook pockets the difference. At scale, the consequence is massive: the remaining 18 Democratic candidates have already spent over $53 million on Facebook and Google this cycle, most of it these kinds of ads.

This is $53 million — plus millions more from prolific former candidates like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Gov. Jay Inslee — which would have otherwise been invested in infrastructure to turn out voters and help Democrats in November no matter who is the nominee. Instead, it went straight into Facebook and Google’s coffers.

These ads are toxic to our democracy.

Due to short online attention spans, the character limits that enforce them and the engagement algorithms that act as gatekeepers to the digital world, campaigns must distill complex issues down to a two sentence pseudo-essence that would leave even debate moderators unsatisfied. And if you want to have a prayer of anyone clicking on your ad, it had better be as inflammatory as possible — people click when they’re angry.

The easiest way to do this is to simply make things up, something most campaigns would never consider, but which Zuckerberg made clear in congressional testimony this week his platform would happily enable. Companies like Facebook and Google force us to present voters with a world that is black and white, in which all nuance is distraction, and in which civic engagement is something that can be done from your phone for just $1 (Unless you’d like to make this a monthly recurring donation? Your support has never been more crucial!). This does not an informed, healthy democracy make.

Political ads are not even good for the companies that serve them. On a quarterly earnings call the same day as Dorsey’s announcement, Zuckerberg estimated that political ads run by candidates would make up just 0.5% of Facebook’s 2020 revenue. Assuming similar performance to the previous 12 months, in which Facebook earned $66 billion, this would be about $330 million in political ad revenue.

In exchange, Facebook has earned itself years of bad PR, increased regulatory risk as congressional leaders are beginning to see it as a national security problem, and even existential risk as leading presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren has vowed to break up the company if elected. All over revenues that hardly even justify the opportunity cost of Zuckerberg’s hours of preparation for congressional hearings.

So who benefits from these kinds of ads? Those who want to create a chaotic information environment in the United States in which facts are subjective, reality is ephemeral and the only information you can trust comes from the people manipulating social media to feed it to you. It is therefore no surprise that one of the first organizations to condemn Dorsey’s decision was the Russian state-sponsored media outlet Russia Today.

Presented with a choice between minuscule revenues and existential risk, between patching a bug in American democracy and abetting Russian propaganda, Dorsey made a wise choice for both his bottom line and his country. Zuckerberg and Pichai would do well to follow his lead.

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Zuckerberg says Meta Quest 3 will get Quest Pro’s key tech feature

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Renderings of the Meta Quest 3 based on leaked CAD images

Meta Quest 3 is not a reality yet but it is expected to launch this year, probably in the fall at a Meta Connect event. This will be Meta’s consumer focussed headset that will succeed the Meta Quest 2. We recently heard rumors about the headset being much slimmer with more compact display lenses than the Quest 2 and that it could run on a more powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 chipset. 

Now, Meta’s recent earnings release has shed some light on new information around the Quest 3. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, has confirmed that the Quest 3 will have support for Meta Reality — the technology that allows the headset to be used for both augmented reality as well as virtual reality. This means that the Quest 3 will be a mixed reality headset and not just have virtual reality — much like the premium, enterprise-focussed Meta Quest Pro. This is something we had heard of before, but Zuckerberg seems to have confirmed it.

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5 Android apps you shouldn’t miss this week

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Apex Legends Mobile Cinematic Scene 7

Joe Hindy / Android Authority

Welcome to the 470th edition of Android Apps Weekly. Here are the big headlines from the last week.

  • YouTube Music has an annoying censorship bug on Nest Hubs. It doesn’t let you play music with sensitive album art. You get the same warning on the phone app, but you can usually bypass it. Unfortunately, there are limited ways to bypass it on your Nest Hub. Hit the link to learn more.
  • A former Facebook employee says Facebook can intentionally kill your battery. It does so through a process termed negative testing, where the app acts out, tanks your battery, and Facebook collects the data with it. It doesn’t happen to a ton of people, but it can happen to anyone.
  • Samsung updated Good Lock this week, just in time for its Samsung Galaxy S23 launch. The update added an option to update every installed plugin at once. Previously, you had to update each one individually. It’s a minor quality-of-life improvement, but it’s a welcome one.
  • ChatGPT is getting more serious. You can now spend $20 per month for a more powerful version of OpenAI’s bot. It’s only available to US customers right now, but it may expand later. The bot is also causing waves at Google, causing the company to ramp up its own AI work.
  • Apex Legends Mobile is shutting down after less than one year. EA made the announcement just a month after half of the Internet, including us, dubbed it the best new game of 2022. EA cites challenges with the content pipeline. It makes sense, since many of the newer updates have included a host of bugs that the developers just can’t seem to squash. Oh well, it was a nice run.

Pompom: The Great Space Rescue

Price: Free / $5.49

Pompom: The Great Space Rescue is a platformer. You play as Pompom and you progress through the game by jumping through and around obstacles, avoiding enemies, and solve puzzles to progress. It pays ode to the 16-bit era of gaming, so you’ll see a lot of elements, including graphics, from that era. There are also a bunch of weapons and tools you’ll get to help you on your way. The actual gameplay has some runner elements where you run forward automatically, and that’s not a 16-bit era style, but the game is still fun.

Memori Note

Price: Free / $2.49

Memori Note screenshot 2023

Memori Note is a note-taking app with an emphasis on reminding you of things. You write down what you want in the app, ask it to remind you about it at a random time, and it’ll do just that. The app also has color coding, a tags and filters system, and we think it looks pretty nice with its muted colors. There are also some backup settings if you want to transfer notes to a new device. We’re not sure how well it’ll do long term, but it definitely has the potential.

Devil Hunter Idle

Price: Free to play

Devil Hunter Idle is an action idle game. Your character hacks and slashes its way to level-ups, loot, and resources. You use those resources to strengthen your character so they can go back out and hack and slash more bad guys. That’s the primary gameplay loop, and it plays similarly to classic games like Buff Knight. The game’s over-the-top art style makes it feel like a lot more is happening, and the player does get to control some aspects of combat. The advertising is annoying, but you can pay to remove all of them. Other than that and some early bugs, the game is decent for its genre.

Rewind: Music Time Travel

Price: Free

Rewind Music Time Travel screenshot 2023

Rewind: Music Time Travel is an app for music rediscovery. It’s basically a big timeline that you scroll through to see what the music world looked like in any given year. It’s a neat way to rediscover old hits, and remind yourself of stuff you used to listen to. When I tested this one, I used it to help fill out my YouTube Music library a little bit since I had forgotten some of the songs I used to listen to. This isn’t something you’ll use long-term, but it’s a neat little app anyway.

Checkers Clash

Price: Free to play

Checkers Clash is an online competitive game where you play checkers. It’s not a complicated experience. You get into a game with an opponent. The two of you take turns until one of you runs out of pieces or concedes the match. You can also invite your friends and play against them as well. Some other game features include 8×8 and 10×10 board options, bots to play against to improve your skill, and a rewards system where you collect various things. The matchmaking system is imperfect, as it is in almost all online games, but it’s one of the few competitive checkers apps on mobile.


If we missed any big Android apps or games releases, tell us about it in the comments.
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Family and friends question police theory that Nicola Bulley fell in river

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Family and friends question police theory that Nicola Bulley fell in river
N

icola Bulley’s family and friends have questioned a police theory that the missing dog walker fell in a river.

In a Facebook post, Ms Bulley’s sister, Louise Cunningham, urged people to “keep an open mind” as there is “no evidence whatsoever” that the dog walker fell in the river.

“Off the back of the latest Police media update, please can I add there is no evidence whatsoever that she has gone into the river, it’s just a theory,” she said.

“Everyone needs to keep an open mind as not all CCTV and leads have been investigated fully, the police confirmed the case is far from over.”

Search teams from Lancashire Constabulary are continuing to trawl the River Wyre near St Michael’s, working on the hypothesis that the missing mother-of-two, from nearby Inskip, could have fallen in when she disappeared on January 27.

Ms Bulley’s friend, Emma White, also cast doubt on the police theory, telling Sky News it was based on “limited information”.

“When we are talking about a life we can’t base it on a hypothesis – surely we need this factual evidence,” she said.

“That’s what the family and all of us are holding on to – that we are sadly no further on than last Friday.

“We still have no evidence, and that’s why we’re out together in force.

“You don’t base life on a hypothesis.”

Police believe the 45-year-old mortgage adviser went missing in just “a 10-minute window” while she was walking her dog, Willow, close to the River Wyre, after dropping off her daughters – aged six and nine – at school.

Ms Bulley had logged in to a Microsoft Teams call at 9.01am, which ended at 9.30am with her phone still connected to the call.

She was seen by another dog walker at 9.10am – the last known sighting – and police traced telephony records of her mobile phone as it remained on a bench overlooking the river at 9.20am.

The device was found by a dog walker at around 9.35am, with Willow nearby.

The police search has been aided by specialists and divers from HM Coastguard, mountain rescue, and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service – with sniffer dogs, drones and police helicopters deployed.

Detectives are also working behind the scenes to analyse CCTV and dashcam videos, and members of the public with footage which could be useful have been urged to come forward.

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