Supporters of US President Donald Trump who attacked the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 made extensive use of social media in the runup and during the event. — © AFP
The congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol on Thursday subpoenaed records from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit that would detail the use of social media in the attack.
Subpoenas were sent to YouTube parent Alphabet (Google), Facebook parent Meta and the two others for records that could help explain “how the spread of misinformation and violent extremism contributed to the violent attack on our democracy,” said Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Select January 6 Committee.
Thompson said the companies had not responded adequately to requests for information to help in its investigation of the violent attack a year ago on the Capitol by supporters of then-president Donald Trump.
The committee is probing how the attack, which shut down the US Congress, came together and whether Trump and members of his circle had any part in encouraging it.
In a subpoena to Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai, Thompson said YouTube was a “platform for significant communications by its users that were relevant to the planning and execution of January 6th attack,” including, he said, Trump advisor Steve Bannon.
Facebook, he told Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, was used “in the months and days before January 6, 2021, to share messages of hate, violence, and incitement, to spread misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories.”
Both Twitter and Reddit were used for discussing and planning the assault on the Capitol, according to two other subpoenas.
“Twitter was reportedly warned about potential violence being planned,” the subpoena to Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal said.
The committee, which has already interviewed some 300 witnesses, has issued subpoenas for several key figures and documents, including one for Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday.
Meta Plans to Establish an NFT Marketplace, Expanding Beyond Profile Pictures
If it’s happening on social media, Meta wants to own it, so it comes as no surprise that the company is currently working on ways to tap into the popularity of NFTs. But Meta actually envisions a bigger future for digital goods, beyond cartoonish profile pictures, which will eventually expand the core functionality of the NFT transaction process to facilitate the transfer of various kinds of digital goods within its planned metaverse.
Sorry, I should say the metaverse, as Meta is keen to underline that it won’t own it, as such (antitrust lawyers take note).
As reported by The Financial Times:
“Teams at Facebook and Instagram are readying a feature that will allow users to display their NFTs on their social media profiles, as well as working on a prototype to help users create – or mint – the collectible tokens, according to several people familiar with the matter. Two of the people said that Meta has also discussed launching a marketplace for users to buy and sell NFTs.”
The first element noted here is already in progress – last June, we reported on Instagram’s initial test of a new ‘Collectibles’ option which would facilitate the display of NFTs in the app (as discovered by app researcher Alessandro Paluzzi).
That test also pointed to facilitating the sale of NFTs in the app, with a process for bidding and buying NFT images.
The latest element in this process includes attaching a digital wallet to your account, much like you would on OpenSea or other NFT transaction platforms, so the experiment seems fairly well advanced in this respect.
That likely points to Instagram making a move on this soon, and where Instagram goes, Facebook tends to follow, so that part is no real revelation versus what we already know.
But what is interesting is how this process could be built into Meta’s broader metaverse plans, and the sale of digital goods, beyond just profile pictures (PFPs). Because really, that’s just the starting point, and there’ll likely be far more value in buying other digital products and services in the next stage of connection.
Which is where much of the confusion about the current state of NFTs lies. Yes, there is major potential in the purchase and ownership of digital goods, as we’ve seen in various game worlds, where users can buy add-on features like skins, weapons, abilities, etc. For many young consumers, this is already second nature – but while much of the value in these items is aesthetic, providing an opportunity to ‘flex’ your latest purchase in each app, there is also a practical value and usage, which is different to PFP projects, the main focal point for current Web3 early adopters and those keen to be at the forefront of the next digital shift.
Overall, PFPs don’t provide much value, and likely won’t remain a key focus for digital ownership. Many of these projects hilariously claim to be ‘metaverse ready’, which is not possible, because not even the metaverse is metaverse ready at this stage, with the schemas and parameters yet to be established that would enable cross-platform transfers and usage of digital goods in the broader space.
Some PFP projects are working to build out broader community benefits and usage options for owners, which will extend the value beyond their images alone. But really, the true value of NFTs will come in other digital goods and items, which looks to be the true focus of Meta’s NFT push.
Indeed, back in October, Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that NFTs could eventually be used to support a new market for digital goods in the metaverse, not just profile images, while Meta’s Head of Metaverse Products Vishal Shah has also noted that the underlying NFT transaction process will eventually make it easier to sell digital products in its apps.
In this sense, PFPs are only the beginning of what could be possible with digital items more broadly, and with Meta also continuing to work on its own cryptocurrency , it does seem likely that, eventually, it will be able to facilitate broader digital transactions through the NFT process.
But those NFTs won’t be limited to PFP images, which is the main criticism of the current NFT market. Why would you pay to own an image that you can view for free? Why would you pay to only own the receipt of a digital image, and not the full copyright and commercial re-use rights (for most projects)?
Legally, there are still some issues to be worked out in this respect, but if you view NFTs as a gateway, of sorts, to broader transactions of all kinds of digital goods, from avatar clothing to skins, to in-game weapons, items, spells, etc. When you consider that NFTs don’t have to just be images of smiling monkeys and cats, you can start to see the broader potential of NFTs as real value items, especially as we increasingly spend more and more time in these digital environments.
Essentially, early NFT adopters are indeed early, and many are putting far too much stock in PFPs, and getting ripped off as a result. But the broader view is that these digital items will have more use and expanded application in the next stage.
Which is why Meta is looking to move in, and build more tools to capitalize on this initial interest. So while you may view those NFT bros as being a little overzealous, and overexcited about buying JPGs, consider that there will be more to the scope of NFTs in future.
That doesn’t mean that you should care about what image you use for your profile picture, or that you should be looking to buy up a ‘VeeFriends’ NFT drawing (please don’t). But those images are just the start of a new online marketplace.
Instagram Expands Video Remix Option to All Videos, Not Just Reels Clips
Instagram is expanding on its TikTok-like toolset by adding the capacity to remix all videos that people post in the app, not just Reels, increasing your options for creative response and engagement.
As you can see here, now, when you’re viewing any video on Instagram, you’ll be able to tap on the ‘Remix this video’ option to create your own take on it, facilitating more participatory consumption of video content in the app.
Users can also choose to switch off remixes in their video settings.
As explained by Instagram:
“Remix gives you ways to respond to and reinvent the creative videos shared on Instagram every day, collaborate with others and get discovered by new audiences. We’re excited about how our community has embraced Remix on Reels and we hope this new feature gives people new ways to collaborate, showcase their creativity and find inspiration in the vibrant diversity of videos shared to Instagram every day.”
Instagram added its Reels remix option last March, and this new functionality will greatly expand on the amount of video content that people can use to build upon with their own responses and creative takes, which, again, leans into the core use case of TikTok.
One of the biggest elements of success for TikTok has been participatory content, and essentially letting users contribute to memes, as opposed to merely consuming them.
Memes have become a key communication tool for the younger generation, providing a simple, engaging way to give their take on the various issues of the day. But till TikTok came around, meme usage was limited, as you couldn’t easily remix or re-share a meme for different purpose.
But TikTok changed that dynamic, essentially making memes participatory, enabling all users to not only consume, but to also iterate each based on the trend. It’s the logical extension of meme culture, though no platform has been able to tap into it the way that TikTok has.
Which is why Instagram’s looking to get into the same. And while providing TikTok-like options is likely helping Instagram to retain some of its audience, and stop them migrating to TikTok instead, it’s still not the best way for the platform to regain its leadership in the space, and re-connect with younger audiences, as per Meta’s stated ambition moving forward.
Because copying features invariably means that you’re a step behind – you can’t copy something unless another platform is already doing it, and if another platform is already doing it, then you’re already missing the trend.
Young users will gravitate to the platforms that lead the latest trends. Snapchat, for example, lead the way on ephemeral content, Instagram was once the place to be for the latest visual tools and displays. TikTok is now the leader on short-form, interactive clips, and if Meta truly wants to win them over once again, it will need to get more original with its additions, providing new, must-see, and must-use ways to interact and engage.
Much of that focus likely comes back to its coming metaverse push, but I’d still prefer to see Instagram zigging when other platforms are zagging, and introducing at least some new tools and options that haven’t been ripped off from another trending app.
But as noted, it must be working, at least to some degree, because it keeps doing it, with TikTok basically the product development department for Instagram right now.
Maybe its coming NFT display options will change this, or maybe IG has something else in the works for video content. Till then, we have more replicant functions, which may help improve overall engagement, but likely don’t give it much of a boost in terms of credibility and leadership.
Instagram Will Now Reduce the Reach of Posts That are ‘Likely’ to Contain Bullying of Hate Speech
Instagram is implementing new measures that will proactively limit the reach of feed posts and stories which ‘likely’ violate its rules around hate speech, bullying and the incitement of violence, as part of its expanding efforts to reduce game and user risk in the app.
As explained by Instagram:
“Previously, we’ve focused on showing posts lower on Feed and Stories if they contain misinformation as identified by independent fact-checkers, or if they are shared from accounts that have repeatedly shared misinformation in the past. Today, we’re announcing some changes to take this effort even further. If our systems detect that a post may contain bullying, hate speech or may incite violence, we’ll show it lower on Feeds and Stories of that person’s followers.”
So how will Instagram determine whether non-reported posts might contain these elements?
“To understand if something may break our rules, we’ll look at things like if a caption is similar to a caption that previously broke our rules.”
Instagram further notes that if its systems predict that an individual user is likely to report a post, based on their past history of reporting content, it will also show that post lower in their personal feed.
Which seems pretty foolproof, right? There’ll be no new influx of ‘shadow ban’ reports or similar as a result of IG putting more reliance on machine learning to determine post reach.
Yeah, it could be somewhat problematic, and considering the efforts Instagram has gone to in the past to explain away shadow bans, it’s seems inevitable that this will lead to more accusations of censorship, bias and other criticisms of the platform as a result of this shift.
Which is probably not such a bad payoff, if it works. In theory, this could be another key step towards limiting the spread of bullying and hate speech, both of which have no place in any public forum, and no right to amplification and broadcast via social apps. Instagram is also under pressure to improve its efforts in protecting young users from bullying and abuse, after the Facebook Files leak last year suggested that parent company Meta had ignored research which showed that Instagram can have harmful mental health impacts for teens.
Anything that can be done to stop the spread of such is, at the least, worth an experiment, while Instagram also notes that it has previously avoided implementing automated systems of this type because it wanted to ensure that its technology ‘could be as accurate as possible’ in detection.
Which suggests that it now has the required level of confidence in its processes to ensure good results. So while there will undoubtedly be more reports of mistakes, and more accusations of overreach, invoking some amendment in the constitution (always incorrect), if it works, and reduces instances of harm and mental anguish due to bullying and hate speech, it will be entirely worth it.
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