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Twitter Updates its Efforts to Tackle COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation



With COVID-19 vaccinations now underway around the world, Twitter has announced that it’s updating its approach to how it combats vaccine misinformation, in order to help ensure optimal take-up, and get society back to normal as quickly as possible.

As explained by Twitter:

In the context of a global pandemic, vaccine misinformation presents a significant and growing public health challenge – and we all have a role to play. We are focused on mitigating misleading information that presents the biggest potential harm to people’s health and wellbeing. Twitter has an important role to play as a place for good faith public debate and discussion around these critical public health matters.”

Don’t know that I would describe Twitter as a place for ‘good faith public debate’, but the key point is still relevant – as health authorities plan for the staged implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine, misinformation online could potentially derail that process, in various ways, which will then delay recovery efforts, and stop us emerging from the months-long tunnel that’s been 2020.

To address this, Twitter says that it will ramp up its existing rules around COVID-19 misinformation. Twitter already prompts users to remove tweets which contain general misinformation about the virus, and/or misleading statements about treatments and cures.

From next week, Twitter will take this a step further.

“Moving forward, we’re expanding the policy and may require people to remove Tweets which advance harmful false or misleading narratives about COVID-19 vaccinations, including: 

  • False claims that suggest immunizations and vaccines are used to intentionally cause harm to or control populations, including statements about vaccines that invoke a deliberate conspiracy;
  • False claims which have been widely debunked about the adverse impacts or effects of receiving vaccinations; or
  • False claims that COVID-19 is not real or not serious, and therefore that vaccinations are unnecessary.”

That could see a lot more tweets come under scrutiny, so Twitter’s definitely setting itself a task.

In addition to this, beginning early in the new year, Twitter will also start placing warnings on Tweets “that advance unsubstantiated rumors, disputed claims, as well as incomplete or out-of-context information about vaccines”. 

So no more Bill Gates, mircrochip, 5G conspiracy comments – which makes perfect sense, given what’s at stake. But again, that will cover a lot of tweets.

Social media misinformation remains a huge element of concern in the next stage of the COVID-19 battle, with health authorities warning that it could take much longer to recover from the mitigation efforts due to rising “anti-science bias”, which could see many refusing the vaccine. The more that do, the more risk remains – and while, eventually, enough people will be vaccinated to counter those who opt-out, bars, sporting venues, concerts – all of these things can’t re-open until there’s a level of take-up within each community.

Hopefully, the vocal opposition to the vaccine is not representative of real-world response, which will facilitate faster recovery, but slowing the spread of misinformation will be another key element in alleviating concerns.

Health officials in each region are independently approving the vaccines based on their testing protocols, so the public can rest assured that the treatments will be safe when administered. 

Facebook announced that it’s also cracking down on vaccine misinformation earlier in the month.


Meta Announces the Reinstatement of Former President Donald Trump in its Apps



Meta Announces the Reinstatement of Former President Donald Trump in its Apps

In the scheme of things, this, specifically, is not a major shift in social platform policy, or in broader approaches to handling inflammatory or incendiary usage by world leaders. But in terms of symbolic, and even iconic gestures, it is significant – and may well have huge implications for US politics, at the least.

Today, Meta has announced that former US President Donald Trump will be allowed to return to Facebook and Instagram, after he was banned from both apps over his posts around the time of the January 6th incident at the Capitol building in 2021.

As explained by Meta:

Two years ago, we took action in what were extreme and highly unusual circumstances. We indefinitely suspended then-US President Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts following his praise for people engaged in violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. We then referred that decision to the Oversight Board — an expert body established to be an independent check and balance on our decision-making.

In response, the Oversight Board called for Meta to implement more structured parameters around how such decisions were made, and how long any resulting suspension would be in place. Based on this, Meta announced a two-year end date for the suspension, with a review to be conducted to assess the risk of reinstatement at that stage. That’s now resulted in Meta’s decision to allow Trump back into its apps.

Which, reportedly, the Trump team has been pushing for in recent weeks.

With a 2024 Presidential campaign in focus, Trump’s legal team sent a letter to Meta last week which requested that Trump be allowed back onto its platforms, in order to give him equal share of political voice. Whether that influenced Meta’s decision or not is unclear, but now, the gates have been re-opened, which will give Trump and Co. reach to millions of US voters via his Facebook Page and through paid ads.

Which, in itself, is significant. But as noted, it’s not clear as yet as to whether the process has seen Meta establish more definitive guidelines for handling similar situations in future, and what sorts of penalties it will implement as a result of such actions.

Meta’s Oversight Board has called out this exact detail in its response to Meta’s announcement:  

The Board welcomes that Meta has followed the Board’s recommendations to introduce a crisis policy protocol in order to improve Meta’s policy response to crises, and to undertake an assessment about the current security environment. However, the Board calls on Meta to provide additional details of its assessment so that the Board can review the implementation of the Board’s decision and recommendations in this case, to define varying violation severities by public figures in the context of civil unrest, and to articulate the way that the policy on public figure violations in the context of civil unrest relates to the crisis policy protocol.”

As the Board notes, Meta has updated its approach to such situations, in a new protocol overview for dealing with posts by public figures during times of civil unrest, while Trump specifically, Meta says, will now also face ‘heightened penalties for repeat offenses’.

But the parameters around its decisions as to what constitutes public risk are still not totally clear. Which leaves those decisions in the hands of Meta management, which could still be viewed as a form of political censorship, depending on the case.

And that, ideally, is not what Meta wants:  

“As a general rule, we don’t want to get in the way of open, public and democratic debate on Meta’s platforms – especially in the context of elections in democratic societies like the United States. The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying – the good, the bad and the ugly – so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box. But that does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform. When there is a clear risk of real world harm – a deliberately high bar for Meta to intervene in public discourse – we act.

Meta also says that its ‘default’ is to let people speak, even when what they have to say is ‘distasteful or factually wrong’.

Ideally, Meta would prefer such decisions were made by an overarching regulatory body, which oversees all online platforms, but given the ways in which such a process could be abused, and the variable approaches to such in different regions, that’s a difficult proposition, which may not ever take shape.

As such, Meta is left to implement its own rules around what constitutes potential harm in this context, which it won’t always get right.

But really, there’s no other option, and such cases can only be ruled on, by Meta, as they arise.

So, will Trump come back to Facebook?

Trump’s also-suspended Twitter account was reinstated by Elon Musk back in November, and he hasn’t tweeted as yet – but that’s partly because of Trump’s stake in Truth Social, and his commitment to making that alternative platform work.

Trump Media & Technology Group has over $1 billion sunk into Trump’s own social media app Truth Social, with funding from a range Trump’s top supporters and advocates. A key proviso in that plan is that Trump has committed to posting exclusively Truth, even if his other social accounts are reinstated. There are ways in which Trump could avoid violating this, by, say, posting to Twitter or Facebook several hours after first posting to Truth, but essentially, Trump is at least somewhat locked into making Truth Social his focus.

But that won’t get him the reach or resonance that Facebook can.

Trump has over 34 million followers on Facebook, and Facebook ads have formed a key part of his previous campaigning efforts. Indeed, Trump’s team spent over $20 million on Facebook ads in 2019 alone, and while tweets became his primary weapon of choice for communicating with his audience, Facebook is also a crucial platform for promotion of his agenda.

As such, you can bet that Trump’s team is already strategizing their next Facebook ads push, now that they’re allowed back in the app.

Is that a good thing?

I mean, as Meta notes, people should be able to judge for themselves, but then again, the manipulative, targeted approaches to Facebook ads that Trump’s team has taken in the past do raise even more questions in this respect.

But that’s a whole other argument, and in basic terms, on the facts of the case, it makes sense for Meta to reinstate Trump’s account, and let him back into its apps.

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Confidence, perseverance, courage: Jackie Leigh’s voyage through adversity



Jackie Leigh

Photo courtesy Jackie Leigh

Opinions expressed by Digital Journal contributors are their own.

When Jackie Leigh first decided to start posting content online, her life was anything but business as usual. The world was in the middle of a pandemic. She spent most of her time at home, just like anyone else. The school was out.

Still, none of that prepared her for the effects her burgeoning online presence would have on her life when things started going back to normal, and school resumed. Knowing that she worked better in a less structured environment, she attended online school.

“It’s gratifying to do what I do, but life has some tough moments, and you have to do what works best for you,” Jackie Leigh explains. “And the trick is to enjoy the good and deal with the bad, like with anything else in life.”

When it comes to enjoying the good and having an influencer career that’s reaping the rewards, her confidence was the one personality trait she found to be the most important. “I am shy and quiet, but I’m confident about myself,” she explains. “I say what I want, try to do what I want, and I don’t need to meld in a group to be safe. I’d rather be interesting and risqué than safe.”

Her confidence has also protected her from some of the more sinister aspects of having a career that involves taking pictures and posting them online. Body image issues are prominent among models and creators who cannot help but compare themselves with the impossible standards presented in photoshopped images.

Her weight isn’t something she obsesses over. It’s normal for her weight to fluctuate, and there are better things to obsess over when one is in the content creation business. Things like making sure to post the exact right picture from the dozens, and sometimes even hundreds, of photos she takes for every social media post.

While confidence helped her deal with the challenging bullying situation, her courage enabled her to persevere and continue building her online career. All of it happened at a time when her life was a bigger mess than the ordinary teenager’s life– her mom was undergoing an operation to treat her cancer at that time. Yet, she never flinched, never veered.

“I’ve never had too many friends. I’m a shy and quiet person,” she explains. “But I’m not afraid to say or do the things that others are too afraid to, and I’m not afraid of possible consequences. I don’t want to spend time at a place where I might be jumped. But having that happened to me, I learned it only gave me more power to be even more invested in what I do.”

Setbacks and all, Jackie Leigh, made her choices, and she’s firmly decided to live by them. With her career kicking off even more, this year and her expansion to other platforms, she’s hopeful she won’t need to reach for all those traits that helped her through the tumultuous first years of her online career. “It’s good to know those personality traits are there,” she adds.

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Twitter Launches Test of Ad Targeting Based Specifically on Search Queries in the App



Twitter Launches Test of Ad Targeting Based Specifically on Search Queries in the App

Twitter has launched a new ad option that will enable advertisers to place Promoted Tweets within specific search results, enabling more specific targeting based on user intent.

As noted by Twitter, ‘Search Keyword Ads’ will enable marketers to hone in on specific keyword searches. So if a user in a certain region searches for ‘pizza’, for example, you’d be able to get ads for your restaurant within that search result listing, helping to connect with people based on what they’re seeking.

Which is pretty much the same as Twitter’s existing Keyword Targeting option, though Keyword Targeting can’t be focused on Search results in isolation.

As per Twitter:

Search Keywords Ads differ from other Twitter Keywords campaigns in that they only reach people who are searching for targeted terms when they are searching, offering a stronger signal of intent.”

Keyword Targeting enables you to reach Twitter users based on the keywords that they enter into search queries, but also, what they mention in their tweets, as well as the words included in the tweets that they engage with in the app. Which is a good proxy for broader intent – and Twitter also provides Broad Match targeting to capture variations of your selected terms. But targeting search terms specifically could be a better way to get your promotions in front of people who are focused on that specific topic based on their direct actions taken in the app.

In terms of display, with Keyword Targeting, you can also show your ads in Search results, but placement in Home timelines is also required. So again, it’s the same, just a little more specific.

(Worth noting, too, that you were once able to target search results specifically with Keyword Targeting, but Twitter removed that option. Maybe that relates to reduced performance, but it’s not clear.)

Will the capacity to get more specific be a valuable option?

Maybe. I mean, having the capacity to better focus your targeting is always better, and the fact that you can hone in on the words used in search queries makes a lot of sense, and should be of value. But Twitter’s current Keyword Targeting isn’t always a highly responsive ad option, to the point that Twitter recommends entering at least 25-50 keywords into each campaign, and targeting both broad and specific terms in order to maximize audience reach.

Because too much targeting will limit your results – and it is interesting that as other platforms are going more broad with their targeting, and leaning into automation, Twitter’s getting more specific.

Maybe that works, and for some local businesses, I suspect it might. But it could also be too restrictive, depending on how you use it.

But again, having the option is good, and you can test for yourself, with Twitter’s beta test being rolled out to all advertisers in the app.

Which, I don’t think is how beta tests generally work, but it’s ‘Twitter 2.0’, the normal rules don’t apply here.

“Search Keywords Ads are a new Conversion ‘campaign objective’ in the Twitter Ads interface. For now, these campaigns will optimize only for conversions to advertiser websites, and they require the integration of the Twitter Pixel or Conversion API (CAPI) to maximize relevance.

So Twitter will be looking to track direct performance based on website clicks, in order to measure whether that’s the best approach moving forward.

It could be worth experimenting with, and seeing what results you get – and you can always A/B test with full Keyword Targeting to compare, and see whether expanding that focus drives better results.

Twitter says that Search Keyword Ads will be expanded to more campaign objectives soon.

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