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Social media threatening press freedom: Nobel laureate

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Social media threatening press freedom: Nobel laureate

Social media operators face a conundrum dealing with content labeled satire, which may also be harmful misinformation. — © AFP

Nina LARSON

The rise of social media has allowed dangerous propaganda to flourish and left professional journalists facing constant threat of attack, according to Philippine journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Maria Ressa.

The situation for media workers around the world at the moment is “bleak”, Ressa told AFP in an interview, saying much of the blame lies with the dramatic shift in the way information is distributed.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event in Geneva on Tuesday to mark World Press Freedom Day, the 58-year-old co-founder of the news website Rappler highlighted how social media had made it far easier to spread propaganda, reject facts and change historical realities.

Maria Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 together with Russian journalist Dmitri Muratov

Maria Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 together with Russian journalist Dmitri Muratov – Copyright AFP Ishara S. KODIKARA

She pointed to the Philippines, which appears set next week to hand the presidency to Ferdinand Marcos Jr, whose dictator father and namesake presided over massive plunder and human rights abuses in the country.

“He looks set to win, and the only way that is possible is because history shifted in front of our eyes,” Ressa said.

Marcos Jr’s links to his father have made him one of the nation’s most polarising politicians.

But he has benefitted from a deluge of fake and misleading posts on social media platforms targeting a largely young electorate with no memory of the corruption, killings and other abuses committed during the elder Marcos’s 20-year rule.

– Separate realities –

Ressa pointed at how Marcos Jr has refused to participate in debates and to answer questions from traditional journalists, seeming to follow the playbook of populist politicians like Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

“This is the problem with social media: It has allowed propaganda to flourish and literally has allowed public figures like Marcos, like Bolsonaro to ignore (media) checks and balances… and to create their own realities,” Ressa said.

“That’s not a good thing.”

In the face of such challenges, “the mission of journalism is more important today than ever,” Ressa said.

She says social media first enabled split global narratives around Russia’s annexation of Crimea back in 2014.

That dangerous fragmenting of media narratives has obviously worsened dramatically since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, bringing with it fears of looming nuclear attacks and World War III.

In such an environment, access to reliable facts is vital, Ressa said.

“I think this is one of those moments where everything that (journalists) do will matter, because that’s… how close we are to the edge.”

– ‘No guardrails’ –

The dramatic technological shift in the industry has meanwhile left journalists far more vulnerable to attacks and threats.

“There are no guardrails,” Ressa said, pointing to the largely lawless world of social media, often based on algorithms that promote the outrage and hateful debate that drive traffic, and where “troll armies” can easily be unleashed on critics.

“Every time you do a difficult story to try to hold power to account, you have to be ready to get personally attacked.”

Ressa, who shared the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize with Russian journalist Dmitri Muratov, has seen her share of threats, attacks and intimidation.

The vocal critic of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly drug wars faces multiple criminal lawsuits, which she says could see her sent to prison for 100 years.

Ressa sees the Nobel win as “vindication”, voicing “relief” that the Nobel Committee had recognised how difficult journalists’ jobs have become and that “risks have increased.”

The win did not, however, lessen her legal woes, she said, adding that the legal complaints against her and Rappler had in fact “accelerated”.

Ressa said it was unfair that the journalists were being “asked to sacrifice so much”, urging governments and the global community to step up and regulate the technologies that have transformed our information society.

“Guardrails have to be put in place so we can do our jobs.”

Until then, journalists “have no choice” but to continue holding the line as best they can in defence of democracy, Ressa said.

“We’re just putting our finger in the dam and hoping that the rest of society kicks in.”

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Pinterest Focuses on Travel Inspiration and Education for Black History Month

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Pinterest Focuses on Travel Inspiration and Education for Black History Month

Pinterest is taking a unique approach to Black History Month, with a new ‘Find Your Routes’ Black Travel Hub initiative, which aims to highlight places that have strong connections to Black history, while also showcasing Black-owned businesses.

As explained by Pinterest:

“Find Your Routes” is inspired by The Negro Motorist Green Book aka “The Green Book”. The Green Book was a guidebook for Black travelers during the Jim Crow era that provided a list of accessible hotels, boarding houses, taverns, restaurants, service stations and other establishments throughout the country that served Black Americans patrons.”

The Black Travel Hub, which you can find here, will present a range of travel options, along with their history, with creators from the US, Colombia, Jamaica, Brazil and more, all taking part in presenting their city.

It could be a good way to provide education alongside inspiration in the app, while also helping people to connect, and support highlighted communities.

Pinterest will also be showcasing Black-owned businesses on Pinterest TV, while internally, it’s also hosting a company-wide event ‘to help employees gain knowledge about the history, present, and future of Black travel through the lens of Black Pinployees’.

As noted, it could be a good way to both spark important conversations, and inspire new travel journeys, which include an extra level of cultural understanding and education, along with a leisure break.

It’s an interesting take on the celebration either way, and it’ll be worth noting what sort of reaction the initiative gets, and whether it inspires more travel as a result.

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Snap Tumbles On Weak Revenue, Gloomy Outlook

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Snap Tumbles On Weak Revenue, Gloomy Outlook

Snap shares plunged after missing analyst expectations in Q4, while forecasting a year-over-year revenue decline.

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Snapchat Adds 12 Million Users in Q4, Posts Lower Than Expected Revenue Result

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Snapchat Adds 12 Million Users in Q4, Posts Lower Than Expected Revenue Result

Snapchat added 12 million more active users in Q4 2022, and Snapchat+ subscriptions continue to rise, but company revenue missed market estimates, in another mixed result for the private social app.

First off, on users – as noted, Snap added 12 million more actives, taking it to 375 million DAU.

As you can see, North American user growth is still flat, while European users saw a slight uptick. But it’s the ‘Rest of the World’, specifically India, which is driving Snap growth.

Which is helping to boost the overall usage numbers, and expand opportunity. But on the revenue side, it’s not pushing things forward in a significant way.

Snap Q4 2022

As you can see in this chart, Snapchat’s revenue has increased, but a key problem here is that it’s still reliant on the US and Canada for the majority of that spend, with other markets trailing well behind on the revenue front.

Snap Q4 2022

In this chart, you can see that Snap’s Revenue Per User has actually declined year-on-year – so while it is growing, it’s not bringing in revenue at equivalent scale, and it’s even going backwards in some respects.

Which is why its stagnant growth in North America is a problem – though Snap has also seen take-up of its Snapchat+ subscription service increase.

“In Q4, our subscription service Snapchat+ reached over 2.0 million paying subscribers. Snapchat+ offers exclusive, experimental, and pre-release features, and in Q4 we launched new features such as Custom Story Expiration and Custom Notification Sounds, providing subscribers with over 12 exclusive features.”

That’s a handy additional revenue stream, but as with all social media subscription services (including Twitter Blue), take-up is generally limited, and at 2 million subscribers, that’s still only 0.5% of Snapchat’s active user base that’s been willing to pay extra for these add-on elements.

Snap has also faced challenges in rebuilding its ad business, in the wake of Apple’s iOS 14 update, which has impacted data collection, and Snap CEO Evan Spiegel says they still have some way to go on this yet:

“We continue to face significant headwinds as we look to accelerate revenue growth, and we are making progress driving improved return on investment for advertisers and innovating to deepen the engagement of our community.”

Snap has seen improvement in its commerce integrations, which includes digital items for Bitmoji avatars which Snap is eventually looking to translate into real-world item sales as well. Snap also says that it’s facilitated over than 161 million product trials by over 35 million Snapchatters for Walmart, leveraging its Catalog-Powered Shopping Lenses at-scale.

Snapchat AR shopping

Those point to bigger opportunities, but right now, amid the broader economic downturn, and restrictions on data collection and targeting, Snapchat is in a tough spot, and will be for some time yet.

Essentially, then, you’re banking on Snap’s future, and its advanced tools that could help it better align with expanded AR and VR use. And Snap is seemingly in a good position on this front – though again, the impacts of the last year, which also forced Snap into lay-offs, will also have some effect.

Really, then, the results here are relative to your perspective.

For advertisers, more Snap users means more potential reach – but most of Snap’s growth is coming from outside the US. More advanced AR activations could become a bigger deal in future, but it depends on how you’re looking to connect, and product fit.

Investors won’t be overly happy with the numbers, but there are positive signs on the horizon. It’s just that the horizon, in this respect, remains well in the distance at this stage.

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