Now the first study detailing the process from start to finish is finally shedding some light. “This is the first time that I’ve seen all the dots connected,” says Joanna Bryson, an artificial intelligence researcher at the University of Bath, UK.
At the heart of the debate is psychometrics targeting – the directing of political campaigns at people via social media based on their personality and political interests, with the aid of vast amount of data filtered by artificial intelligence (AI).
Though Facebook doesn’t “explicitly” provide all the tools to target people based on political opinions, the new study shows how the platform can be exploited. Using combinations of people’s interests, demographics, and survey data it’s possible to direct campaigns at individuals based on their agreement with ideas and policies. This could have a big impact on the success of campaigns.
“The weaponized, artificially intelligent propaganda machine is effective. You don’t need to move people’s political dials by much to influence an election, just a couple of percentage points to the left or right,” says Chris Sumner at the Online Privacy Foundation, who is presented the work this at DEF CON in Las Vegas.
Checks and balances
No one yet knows how much this can permanently change people’s views. But Sumner’s study clearly reveals a form of political campaigning with no checks and balances.
To get to grips with the complex issue of psychographic targeting online, Sumner and his colleagues created four experiments.
In the first, they looked at what divides people. High up on the list was the statement: “with regards to internet privacy: if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.” During the Brexit referendum they surveyed more than 5000 people and found that Leave voters were significantly more likely to agree with the statement, and Remain voters more likely to disagree.
Next, by administering various personality tests to a different group they found traits that correlate with how likely you are to agree with that statement on internet privacy. This was converted into an “authoritarianism” score: if you scored high you were more likely to agree with the statement. Then, using a tool called PreferenceTool, built by researchers at the University of Cambridge, they were able to reverse engineer what sort of Facebook interests and demographics people with those personalities were most likely to have.
Just 38 per cent of a random selection of people on Facebook agreed with the privacy statement but this shot up to 61 per cent when the tool was used to target people deemed more likely to agree, and down to 25 per cent for those who they deemed more likely to disagree. In other words, they were able to demonstrate that it is possible to target people on Facebook based on a political opinion.
Finally, the team created four different Facebook ad campaigns tailored to the personalities they had identified, using both pro and anti-surveillance messages. For example, the anti-surveillance ad aimed at people with high levels of authoritarianism read: “They fought for your freedom. Don’t give it away! Say no to mass surveillance,” with a backdrop of the D-day landings. In contrast, the version for people with low levels of authoritarianism said: “Do you really have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide? Say no to state surveillance,” alongside an image of Anne Frank.
Overall they found that the tailored ads resonated best with the target groups. For example, the pro-surveillance, high-authoritarianism advert had 20 times as many likes and shares from the high-authoritarianism group versus the low one.
Though the picture is becoming clearer, we should be careful not to equate a short-term decision to share or like a post, with long-term political views, says Andreas Jungherr at the University of Konstanz, Germany. “Social media is impacting political opinions. But the hype makes it hard to tell exactly how much,” he says.
However, maybe changing political opinions doesn’t have to be the end game. Perhaps the goal is simply to dissuade or encourage people from voting. “We know it’s really easy to convince people not to go to the polls,”says Bryson. “Prime at the right time and you can have a big effect. It’s not necessarily about changing opinions.”
Facebook allows targeted advertising so long as a company’s use of “external data” adheres to the law.
Following months of European scrutiny over the impact of major tech firms, Germany has passed a controversial law that could hold Facebook and Twitter highly accountable for the content they host.
Lawmakers in Germany passed a hotly debated law enabling the country to issue heavy fines to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms which leave up content that violates its laws governing hate speech. Known as the “Facebook law” among Germans, the approved Network Enforcement Act provides for fines of up to $57 million (€50 million) to companies which fail to take down “obviously illegal” content within 24 hours, and will go into effect in October.
As The Verge reported, Germany’s definition of such content includes hate speech, incitements to violence, and defamation–all of which have found their way onto Facebook in Germany, and virtually everywhere else. Under the new law, social media companies could face an initial fine of €5 million for continuing to host content considered illegal (not necessarily on the first offense), and see those fines rise as high as €50 million depending on subsequent steps and previous infractions.
Social media companies will also be required to publish semiannual reports on how many related complaints they’ve received about their content, and what was done about them. The Guardian noted that the new law also allows German authorities to issue fines of up to €5m to each company’s designated point-person for the issue if the company’s complaints procedure isn’t up to regulation.
– Photo: Syrian refugee Anas Modamani (C) is suing Facebook over selfie photos of himself with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he says were misused by Facebook users accusing him of being a terrorist or guilty of other crimes and which Facebook refused to remove. (Credit: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
Digital rights and free speech activists have criticized the law for its restrictiveness, and argued that it places too large a burden on social media companies to tackle the issue. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas argued today the ability to bring big consequences for companies was necessary in combating hate speech and radicalized content online. He commented in an address, “Experience has shown that, without political pressure, the large platform operators will not fulfill their obligations, and this law is therefore imperative … freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins.”
In an emailed statement, a Facebook representative told the Verge, “We believe the best solutions will be found when government, civil society and industry work together and that this law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem … We feel that the lack of scrutiny and consultation do not do justice to the importance of the subject. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure safety for the people on our platform.”
As The Guardian reported, the law has seen a few softening changes since Maas and other lawmakers began promoting the legislation. Companies will now have a week to consider flagged posts which aren’t as clearly illegal or protected, and can enlist outside vetters of content or even create shared vetting facilities. Users will also be able to appeal the decision if their content is removed.
Germany’s leading Jewish organization, the Central Council of Jews, told the Guardian that the law provides a “strong instrument against hate speech in social networks,” where Jews are being “exposed to antisemitic hatred [on] a daily basis.” Meanwhile, human rights experts have warned against potentially privatizing the censorship process and limiting free speech, and Germany’s leading nationalist part has announced it may challenge the law all the way to the top.
The establishment media is dying. This is not a biased view coming from “alternative media,” it is a fact borne out by metrics and opinion polls from within the establishment itself. It was true before the recent election, and is guaranteed to accelerate after their shameless defense of non-reality which refused to accept any discontent among the American population with standard politics.
Now, with egg on their face after the botched election coverage, and a wobbling uncertainty about how they can maintain multiple threads of a narrative so fundamentally disproven, they appear to be resorting to their nuclear option: a full shut down of dissent.
Voices within independent media have been chronicling the signposts toward full-on censorship as sites have encountered everything from excessive copyright infringement accusations, to de-monetization, to the open admission by advertising giants that certain images would not be tolerated.
However, until now these efforts have appeared random, haphazard, and rife with retractions and restorations of targeted sites and content. A massive backlash of reader outrage toward these restrictive measures has confirmed that most consumers don’t like the idea of being given boundaries to their intellectual freedom.
That said, there has been a notable increase of hoax websites beginning to populate the information stream. We can attest that this has been an incredible annoyance as we are bombarded daily with new outrageous claims and rabbit holes that readers expect us to sift through.
Most times, a cursory glance at the “About” page or any disclaimers quickly shows where this information is coming from. Other times, a bit of common sense and discernment about why a site that has just appeared on the scene (check Alexa – Actionable Analytics for the Web for this info) would have “EXCLUSIVE” “BREAKING” content under the banner of an apparent local news channel or a name that is the twisted version of a legitimate news outlet.
But even with those caveats, we’ve all been taken in at one time or another and have had to retract or update articles as necessary, or apologize to our e-mail list for sending out a given link. This does jam up the works, but it is the tax we all must pay if we believe in the free-market of ideas and information. We’re not perfect, but at least we have never been deliberately misleading like CNN and others often have been.
The government recently legalized using propaganda against US citizens. They wielded all of their establishment media force to sell their lies. And now they’re frustrated that people still prefer the truth as they see it naturally
The voices of the corporate media are making a show of calling Facebook to task for evidently not having stringent enough algorithms to discern “legitimate news” from deliberate hoax. We are being told that this very likely led to the election of Trump, and that this has become a major problem in need of a major solution.
The first shots are being fired as we speak. Yesterday we learned that Facebook and Google would take swift action against “fake news” by de-monetizing or banning them outright.
“Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement given to Reuters. This policy includes fake news sites, the spokesperson confirmed. Google already prevents its AdSense program from being used by sites that promote violent videos and imagery, pornography, and hate speech.
This is problematic on a number of levels, not least of which is the vague notion of what constitutes violent imagery and hate speech. War, of course, is what should first come to mind when thinking of violence.
Police shootings and other clashes might qualify as well, but routinely populate the most mainstream of sources. And one person’s hate speech is another person’s dissent.
The second component is that of transparency, where we see claims about any effort to “conceal information about the publisher.” Again, very vague, but as any journalist worth their salt knows, it is anonymity which leads to the truth more often than not, especially when threats against journalists and whistleblowers are demonstrably on the rise.
Today, the mainstream media named us as one of the top “fake news” sites to avoid. It’s quite an honor.
US News (linked above) has published a list of websites that it deems unworthy of support, and is essentially urging to be de-monitized or banned based on the previous calls to action.
Here are several fake news sites that have become popular on Facebook, and which should be avoided if you’re looking for the facts:
Firstly, the grouping of satire, hoax, and propaganda is troubling, as the definitions of each aren’t even remotely related to one another.
Satire is literature and has a tradition dating back thousands of years; it has been recognized as an essential component of intellectual and political freedom. A deliberate hoax, we can all agree, is lacking integrity, purposely deceptive, and can be legitimately harmful or dangerous. Propaganda, though, is aligned with the State; and most commonly is directed and funded by the State. That is a serious accusation and one that is entirely without merit for this website. It is also an especially ironic and dubious accusation coming from an outlet called US News.
Yet we’re proud to be biased for peace, love, and liberty. Anyone against those principles is serving fake news as far as we’re concerned.
All of this is to say that we are entering dangerous new territory, as the Internet itself is under a new regime with the transfer to ICANN, an international body. If 2/3 of the globe is under digital dictatorship, what else is the likely outcome from such international control over information?
However, it is also an exhilarating time to be a part of such mammoth upheaval, where the entrenched apparatus of the State itself has declared information to be its enemy and to acknowledge that it must do everything in its power to maintain its tenuous monopoly on the truth.
The unfortunate reality for them is that the truth will always be more efficient and, therefore, simpler to disseminate than the complexities of lies and true propaganda.
How a strange new class of media outlet has arisen to take over our news feeds.
Open your Facebook feed. What do you see? A photo of a close friend’s child. An automatically generated slide show commemorating six years of friendship between two acquaintances. An eerily on-target ad for something you’ve been meaning to buy. A funny video. A sad video. A recently live video. Lots of video; more video than you remember from before. A somewhat less-on-target ad. Someone you saw yesterday feeling blessed. Someone you haven’t seen in 10 years feeling worried.
And then: A family member who loves politics asking, “Is this really who we want to be president?” A co-worker, whom you’ve never heard talk about politics, asking the same about a different candidate. A story about Donald Trump that “just can’t be true” in a figurative sense. A story about Donald Trump that “just can’t be true” in a literal sense. A video of Bernie Sanders speaking, overlaid with text, shared from a source you’ve never seen before, viewed 15 million times. An articlequestioning Hillary Clinton’s honesty; a headline questioning Donald Trump’s sanity. A few shares that go a bit too far: headlines you would never pass along yourself but that you might tap, read and probably not forget.
Maybe you’ve noticed your feed becoming bluer; maybe you’ve felt it becoming redder. Either way, in the last year, it has almost certainly become more intense. You’ve seen a lot of media sources you don’t recognize and a lot of posts bearing no memorable brand at all. You’ve seen politicians and celebrities and corporations weigh in directly; you’ve probably seen posts from the candidates themselves. You’ve seen people you’re close to and people you’re not, with increasing levels of urgency, declare it is now time to speak up, to take a stand, to set aside allegiances or hangups or political correctness or hate.
Facebook, in the years leading up to this election, hasn’t just become nearly ubiquitous among American internet users; it has centralized online news consumption in an unprecedented way. According to the company, its site is used by more than 200 million people in the United States each month, out of a total population of 320 million. A 2016 Pew study found that 44 percent of Americans read or watch news on Facebook. These are approximate exterior dimensions and can tell us only so much. But we can know, based on these facts alone, that Facebook is hosting a huge portion of the political conversation in America.
During the 2012 presidential election, Facebook secretly tampered with 1.9 million user’s news feeds. The company also tampered with news feeds in 2010 during a 61-million-person experiment to see how Facebook could impact the real-world voting behavior of millions of people. An academic paper was published about the secret experiment, claiming that Facebook increased voter turnout by more than 340,000 people. In 2012, Facebook also deliberately experimented on its users’ emotions. The company, again, secretly tampered with the news feeds of 700,000 people and concluded that Facebook can basically make you feel whatever it wants you to.
The Facebook product, to users in 2016, is familiar yet subtly expansive. Its algorithms have their pick of text, photos and video produced and posted by established media organizations large and small, local and national, openly partisan or nominally unbiased. But there’s also a new and distinctive sort of operation that has become hard to miss: political news and advocacy pages made specifically for Facebook, uniquely positioned and cleverly engineered to reach audiences exclusively in the context of the news feed.
These are news sources that essentially do not exist outside of Facebook, and you’ve probably never heard of them. They have names like Occupy Democrats; The Angry Patriot; US Chronicle; Addicting Info; RightAlerts; Being Liberal; Opposing Views; Fed-Up Americans; American News; and hundreds more. Some of these pages have millions of followers; many have hundreds of thousands.
Using a tool called CrowdTangle, which tracks engagement for Facebook pages across the network, you can see which pages are most shared, liked and commented on, and which pages dominate the conversation around election topics. Using this data, I was able to speak to a wide array of the activists and entrepreneurs, advocates and opportunists, reporters and hobbyists who together make up 2016’s most disruptive, and least understood, force in media.
Individually, these pages have meaningful audiences, but cumulatively, their audience is gigantic: tens of millions of people. On Facebook, they rival the reach of their better-funded counterparts in the political media, whether corporate giants like CNN or The New York Times, or openly ideological web operations like Breitbart or Mic. And unlike traditional media organizations, which have spent years trying to figure out how to lure readers out of the Facebook ecosystem and onto their sites, these new publishers are happy to live inside the world that Facebook has created.
Their pages are accommodated but not actively courted by the company and are not a major part of its public messaging about media. But they are, perhaps, the purest expression of Facebook’s design and of the incentives coded into its algorithm — a system that has already reshaped the web and has now inherited, for better or for worse, a great deal of America’s political discourse.
In 2006, when Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college to run his rapidly expanding start-up, Mark Provost was a student at Rogers State University in Claremore, Okla., and going through a rough patch. He had transferred restlessly between schools, and he was taking his time to graduate; a stock-picking hobby that grew into a promising source of income had fallen apart. His outlook was further darkened by the financial crisis and by the years of personal unemployment that followed. When the Occupy movement began, he quickly got on board. It was only then, when Facebook was closing in on its billionth user, that he joined the network.
DNC Silence Bernie Delegates:
Now 36, Provost helps run U.S. Uncut, a left-leaning Facebook page and website with more than 1.5 million followers, about as many as MSNBC has, from his apartment in Philadelphia. (Sample headlines:“Bernie Delegates Want You to See This DNC Scheme to Silence Them”and “This Sanders Delegate Unleashing on Hillary Clinton Is Going Absolutely Viral.”)He frequently contributes to another popular page, The Other 98%, which has more than 2.7 million followers.
Clinton delegates have consistently been granted access to the convention hall before Sanders delegates, allowing them to sit at the front of the delegation and use their position to block media cameras from showing protesting delegates behind them in addition to not letting Bernie delegates in the door.
Clinton delegate – “If you see them holding signs, please stand and block them with your signs”#SeatFillerSitin
Occupy got him on Facebook, but it was the 2012 election that showed him its potential. As he saw it, that election was defined by social media. He mentioned a set of political memes that now feel generationally distant: Clint Eastwood’s empty chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention and Mitt Romney’s debate gaffe about “binders full of women.”He thought it was a bit silly, but he saw in these viral moments a language in which activists like him could spread their message.
Provost’s page now communicates frequently in memes, images with overlaid text. “May I suggest,” began one, posted in May 2015, when opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership was gaining traction, “the first 535 jobs we ship overseas?” Behind the text was a photo of Congress. Many are more earnest. In an image posted shortly thereafter, a photo of Bernie Sanders was overlaid with a quote: “If Germany, Denmark, Sweden and many more provide tuition-free college,” read the setup, before declaring in larger text,“we should be doing the same.”It has been shared more than 84,000 times and liked 75,000 more. Not infrequently, this level of zeal can cross into wishful thinking. A post headlined “Did Hillary Clinton Just Admit on LIVE TV That Her Iraq War Vote Was a Bribe?” was shared widely enough to “merit” (as if) a response from Snopes, which called it “quite a stretch.”
This year, political content has become more popular all across the platform: on homegrown Facebook pages, through media companies with a growing Facebook presence and through the sharing habits of users in general. But truly Facebook-native political pages have begun to create and refine a new approach to political news: cherry-picking and reconstituting the most effective tactics and tropes from activism, advocacy and journalism into a potent new mixture.
This strange new class of media organization slots seamlessly into the news feed and is especially notable in what it asks, or doesn’t ask, of its readers. The point is not to get them to click on more stories or to engage further with a brand. The point is to get them to share the post that’s right in front of them. Everything else is secondary.
While web publishers have struggled to figure out how to take advantage of Facebook’s audience, these pages have thrived. Unburdened of any allegiance to old forms of news media and the practice, or performance, of any sort of ideological balance, native Facebook page publishers have a freedom that more traditional publishers don’t: to engage with Facebook purely on its terms. These are professional Facebook users straining to build media companies, in other words, not the other way around.
From a user’s point of view, every share, like or comment is both an act of speech and an accretive piece of a public identity. Maybe some people want to be identified among their networks as news junkies, news curators or as some sort of objective and well-informed reader. Many more people simply want to share specific beliefs, to tell people what they think or, just as important, what they don’t. A newspaper-style story or a dry, matter-of-fact headline is adequate for this purpose. But even better is a headline, or meme, that skips straight to an ideological conclusion or rebuts an argument.
Rafael Riveor is an acquaintance of Provost’s who, with his twin brother, Omar, runs Occupy Democrats Facebook page, which passed three million followers in June. This accelerating growth is attributed by Rivero, and by nearly every left-leaning page operator I spoke with, not just to interest in the election but especially to one campaign in particular: “Bernie Sanders is the Facebook candidate,” Rivero says. The rise of Occupy Democrats essentially mirrored the rise of Sanders’s primary run.
On his page, Rivero started quoting text from Sanders’s frequent email blasts, turning them into Facebook-ready media and memes with a consistent aesthetic: colors that pop, yellow on black. Rivero says that it’s clear what his audience wants. “I’ve probably made 10,000 graphics, and it’s like running 10,000 focus groups,” he said. (Clinton was and is, of course, widely discussed by Facebook users: According to the company, in the last month 40.8 million people “generated interactions” around the candidate. But Rivero says that in the especially engaged, largely oppositional left-wing-page ecosystem,Clinton’s message and cautious brand didn’t carry.)
Because the Sanders campaign has come to an end, these sites have been left in a peculiar position, having lost their unifying figure as well as their largest source of engagement. Audiences grow quickly on Facebook but can disappear even more quickly; in the case of left-leaning pages, many had accumulated followings not just by speaking to Sanders supporters but also by being intensely critical, and often utterly dismissive, of Clinton.
In retrospect, Facebook’s takeover of online media looks rather like a slow-motion coup. Before social media, web publishers could draw an audience one of two ways: through a dedicated readership visiting its home page or through search engines. By 2009, this had started to change. Facebook had more than 300 million users, primarily accessing the service through desktop browsers, and publishers soon learned that a widely shared link could produce substantial traffic. In 2010, Facebook released widgets that publishers could embed on their sites, reminding readers to share, and these tools were widely deployed. By late 2012, when Facebook passed a billion users, referrals from the social network were sending visitors to publishers’ websites at rates sometimes comparable to Google, the web’s previous de facto distribution hub. Publishers took note of what worked on Facebook and adjusted accordingly.
This was, for most news organizations, a boon. The flood of visitors aligned with two core goals of most media companies: to reach people and to make money. But as Facebook’s growth continued, its influence was intensified by broader trends in internet use, primarily the use of smartphones, on which Facebook became more deeply enmeshed with users’ daily routines. Soon, it became clear that Facebook wasn’t just a source of readership; it was, increasingly, where readers lived.
Facebook, however, is also a communications medium that facilitates conversation, organization and the distribution of information among users. It does so under the illusion that users are in control of the process, but of course it is Facebook puling the strings. Facebook could definitely manipulate its service to undermine Trump.
“With Facebook, we don’t know what we’re not seeing. We don’t know what the bias is or how that might be affecting how we see the world. Facebook has toyed with skewing news in the past…. If Facebook decided to, it could gradually remove any pro-Trump stories or media off its site—devastating for a campaign that runs on memes and publicity. Facebook wouldn’t have to disclose it was doing this, and would be protected by the First Amendment.”
Facebook, from a publisher’s perspective, had seized the web’s means of distribution by popular demand. A new reality set in, as a social-media network became an intermediary between publishers and their audiences. For media companies, the ability to reach an audience is fundamentally altered, made greater in some ways and in others more challenging. For a dedicated Facebook user, a vast array of sources, spanning multiple media and industries, is now processed through the same interface and sorting mechanism, alongside updates from friends, family, brands and celebrities.
Facebook can promote or block any material that it wants.
From the start, some publishers cautiously regarded Facebook as a resource to be used only to the extent that it supported their existing businesses, wary of giving away more than they might get back. Others embraced it more fully, entering into formal partnerships for revenue sharing and video production, as The New York Times has done. Some new-media start-ups, most notably BuzzFeed, have pursued a comprehensively Facebook-centric production-and-distribution strategy. All have eventually run up against the same reality: A company that can claim nearly every internet-using adult as a user is less a partner than a context — a self-contained marketplace to which you have been granted access but which functions according to rules and incentives that you cannot control.
The news feed is designed, in Facebook’s public messaging, to “show people the stories most relevant to them” and ranks stories “so that what’s most important to each person shows up highest in their news feeds.” It is a framework built around personal connections and sharing, where value is both expressed and conferred through the concept of engagement. Of course, engagement, in one form or another, is what media businesses have always sought, and provocation has always sold news.But now the incentives are literalized in buttons and written into software.
Any sufficiently complex system will generate a wide variety of results, some expected, some not; some desired, others less so. On July 31, a Facebook page called Make America Greatposted its final story of the day.“No Media Is Telling You About The Muslim Who Attacked Donald Trump, So We Will..,” read the headline, next to a small avatar of a pointing and yelling Trump. The story was accompanied by a photo of Khizr Khan, the father of a slain American soldier. Khan spoke a few days earlier at the Democratic National Convention, delivering a searing speech admonishing Trump for his comments about Muslims. Khan, pocket Constitution in hand, was juxtaposed with the logo of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. “It is a sad day in America,” the caption read, “where we the people must expose the TRUTH because the media is in the tank for 1 Presidential Candidate!”
Readers who clicked through to the story were led to an external website, called Make America Great Today, where they were presented with a brief write-up blended almost seamlessly into a solid wall of fleshy ads. Khan, the story said — between ads for “(1) Odd Trick to ‘Kill’ Herpes Virus for Good” and “22 Tank Tops That Aren’t Covering Anything” — is an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood and a “promoter of Islamic Shariah law.” His late son, the story suggests, could have been a “Muslim martyr” working as a double agent. A credit link beneath the story led to a similar-looking site called Conservative Post, from which the story’s text was pulled verbatim. Conservative Post had apparently sourced its story from a longer post on a right-wing site called Shoebat.com.
Within 24 hours, the post was shared more than 3,500 times, collecting a further 3,000 reactions — thumbs-up likes, frowning emoji, angry emoji — as well as 850 comments, many lengthy and virtually all impassioned. A modest success. Each day, according to Facebook’s analytics, posts from the Make America Great page are seen by 600,000 to 1.7 million people. In July, articles posted to the page, which has about 450,000 followers, were shared, commented on or liked more than four million times, edging out, for example, the Facebook page of USA Today.
Make America Great Again, which inhabits the fuzzy margins of the political Facebook page ecosystem, is owned and operated out of St. Louis by 35-year-old online marketer Adam Nicoloff. He started the page in August 2015 and runs it from his home. Previously, Nicoloff provided web services and marketing help for local businesses; before that, he worked in restaurants. Today he has shifted his focus to Facebook pages and websites that he administers himself. Make America Great was his first foray into political pages, and it quickly became the most successful in a portfolio that includes men’s lifestyle and parenting.
Nicoloff’s business model is not dissimilar from the way most publishers use Facebook: build a big following, post links to articles on an outside website covered in ads and then hope the math works out in your favor. For many, it doesn’t: Content is expensive, traffic is unpredictable and website ads are both cheap and alienating to readers. But as with most of these Facebook-native pages, Nicoloff’s content costs comparatively little, and the sheer level of interest in Trump and in the type of inflammatory populist rhetoric he embraces has helped tip Nicoloff’s system of advertising arbitrage into serious profitability. In July, visitors arriving to Nicoloff’s website produced a little more than $30,000 in revenue. His costs, he said, total around $8,000, partly split between website hosting fees and advertising buys on Facebook itself.
Then, of course, there’s the content, which, at a few dozen posts a day, Nicoloff is far too busy to produce himself. “I have two people in the Philippines who post for me,” Nicoloff said, “a husband-and-wife combo.” From 9 a.m. Eastern time to midnight, the contractors scour the internet for viral political stories, many explicitly pro-Trump. If something seems to be going viral elsewhere, it is copied to their site and promoted with an urgent headline. (The Khan story was posted at the end of the shift, near midnight Eastern time, or just before noon in Manila.) The resulting product is raw and frequently jarring, even by the standards of this campaign.“There’s No Way I’ll Send My Kids to Public School to Be Brainwashed by the LGBT Lobby,”read one headline, linking to an essay ripped from Glenn Beck’s The Blaze; “ALERT: UN Backs Secret Obama Takeover Of Police; Here’s What We Know,” read another, copied from a site called The Federalist Papers Project. In the end, Nicoloff takes home what he jokingly described as a “doctor’s salary” — in a good month, more than $20,000.
Terry Littlepage, an internet marketer based in Las Cruces, N.M., has taken this model even further. He runs a collection of about 50 politically themed Facebook pages with names like The American Patriot and My Favorite Gun, which push visitors to a half-dozen external websites, stocked with content aggregated by a team of freelancers. He estimates that he spends about a thousand dollars a day advertising his pages on Facebook; as a result, they have more than 10 million followers. In a good month, Littlepage’s properties bring in $60,000.
Nicoloff and Littlepage say that Trump has been good for business, but each admits to some discomfort. Nicoloff, a conservative, says that there were other candidates he preferred during the Republican primaries but that he had come around to the nominee. Littlepage is also a recent convert. During the primaries, he was a Cruz supporter, and he even tried making some left-wing pages on Facebook but discovered that they just didn’t make him as much money.
In their angry, cascading comment threads,Make America Great‘s followers express no such ambivalence. Nearly every page operator I spoke to was astonished by the tone their commenters took, comparing them to things like torch-wielding mobs and sharks in a feeding frenzy. No doubt because of the page’s name, some Trump supporters even mistake Nicoloff’s page for an official organ of the campaign. Nicoloff says that he receives dozens of messages a day from Trump supporters, expecting or hoping to reach the man himself. Many, he says, are simply asking for money.
Many of these political news pages will likely find their cachet begin to evaporate after Nov. 8. But one company, theLiberty Alliance, may have found a way to create something sustainable and even potentially transformational, almost entirely within the ecosystem of Facebook. The Georgia-based firm was founded by Brandon Vallorani, formerly of Answers in Genesis (AiG), the organization that opened a museum in Kentucky promoting a literal biblical creation narrative. Today the Liberty Alliance has around 100 sites in its network, and about 150 Facebook pages, according to Onan Coca, the company’s 36-year-old editor in chief. He estimates their cumulative follower count to be at least 50 million.
A dozen or so of the sites are published in-house, but posts from the company’s small team of writers are free to be shared among the entire network. The deal for a would-be Liberty Alliance member is this: You bring the name and the audience, and the company will build you a prefab site, furnish it with ads, help you fill it with content and keep a cut of the revenue. Coca told me the company brought in $12 million in revenue last year.
(The company declined to share documentation further corroborating his claims about followers and revenue.)
Because the pages are run independently, the editorial product is varied. But it is almost universally tuned to the cadences and styles that seem to work best on partisan Facebook. It also tracks closely to conservative Facebook media’s big narratives, which, in turn, track with the Trump campaign’s messaging:Hillary Clinton is a crook and possibly mentally unfit; ISIS is winning; Black Lives Matter is the real racist movement; Donald Trump alone can save us; the system — all of it — is rigged. Whether the Liberty Alliance succeeds or fails will depend, at least in part, on Facebook’s algorithm. Systemic changes to the ecosystem arrive through algorithmic adjustments, and the company recently adjusted the news feed to “further reduce click-bait headlines.”
For now, the network hums along, mostly beneath the surface. A post from a Liberty Alliance page might find its way in front of a left-leaning user who might disagree with it or find it offensive, and who might choose to engage with the friend who posted it directly. But otherwise, such news exists primarily within the feeds of the already converted, its authorship obscured, its provenance unclear, its veracity questionable. It’s an environment that’s at best indifferent and at worst hostile to traditional media brands; but for this new breed of page operator, it’s mostly upside. In front of largely hidden and utterly sympathetic audiences, incredible narratives can take shape, before emerging, mostly formed, into the national discourse.
– Trump’s following on the major social media networks absolutely blow Clinton out of the water.
The article cited a litany of social-media statistics highlighting Trump’s superior engagement numbers, among them Trump’s Facebook following, which is nearly twice as large as Clinton’s. “Don’t listen to the lying media — the only legitimate attack they have left is Trump’s poll numbers,” it said. “Social media proves the GOP nominee has strong foundation and a firm backing.” The story spread across this right-wing Facebook ecosystem, eventually finding its way to Breitbart and finally to Sean Hannity’s “Morning Minute,” where he read through the statistics to his audience.
Before Hannity signed off, he posed a question: “So, does that mean anything?” It’s a version of the question that everyone wants to answer about Facebook and politics, which is whether the site’s churning political warfare is actually changing minds — or, for that matter, beginning to change the political discourse as a whole. How much of what happens on the platform is a reflection of a political mood and widely held beliefs, simply captured in a new medium, and how much of it might be created, or intensified, by the environment it provides? What is Facebook doing to our politics?
Appropriately, the answer to this question can be chosen and shared on Facebook in whichever way you prefer. You might share this story from The New York Times Magazine, wondering aloud to your friends whether our democracy has been fundamentally altered by this publishing-and-advertising platform of unprecedented scale. Or you might just relax and find some memes to share from one of countless pages that will let you air your political id. But for the page operators, the question is irrelevant to the task at hand. Facebook’s primacy is a foregone conclusion, and the question of Facebook’s relationship to political discourse is absurd — they’re one and the same. As Rafael Rivero put it to me, “Facebook is where it’s all happening.”
The mainstream media (msm) doesn’t just decide what stories to cover, they decide what stories to cover up!
And as much as the ‘Sandernistas ’ attempt to disarticulate Sanders “progressive” domestic policies from his documented support for empire (even the Obamaite aphorism “Perfect is the enemy of good” is unashamedly deployed), it should be obvious that his campaign is an ideological prop – albeit from a center/left position – of the logic and interests of the capitalist-imperialist settler state.
I agree with pretty much everything he is saying. He is articulating a Marxist critique of American empire and its justificatory narratives (the ‘civilizing mission’ and/or Orientalism). The origins of this country and its western expansion is basically the definition of settler colonialism and the brutality that the Native American population suffered shouldn’t be ignored as a necessary consequence of liberalism’s teleological mission. And yeah, Sanders never distanced himself from the status quo of American foreign policy and its interests, which are dictated by capitalist accumulation and demands that American military power insure the centrality of market capitalism. Actually, it’s my intellectual agreements that makes me so outraged because his presentation of what it means to be a ‘leftist’ doesn’t involve a nuanced critique of power relations and global inequality.
Instead he just wants to emphasize how not enough people are appropriately outraged by the status quo, which is informing his definition of white supremacy as well. Him calling the vigils for the Charlie Hebdo victims a ‘white supremacist rally’ is because those same people aren’t mobilizing and expressing their moral outrage when Iraqis are slaughtered by the French government, for example. And that’s just such an ugly way of arguing and it isn’t actually trying to articulate or realize a political alternative, or any potentially hegemonic political project to imagine a different future, which is the biggest problem with the contemporary Left, besides maybe its tendency towards jingoism.
I could write an essay expressing my anger and if anyone wants to keep talking about this just send me a PM.
From email and e-banking to shopping and social media sites, Indians have expanded their online footprint. Now, a small but rising number are planning for their digital death.
A few days after his son Yousmann’s death in a road accident, Kongposh Bazaz began searching for the 19-year-old’s Facebook password. “There was such an outpouring of grief on his wall that I felt the need to ‘speak’ to my son’s friends on his behalf, telling them to be strong,” he says. Fortunately, Yousmann had shared his password with a close friend who gave it to Bazaz. “Like any teenager, he did not share it with his parents,” says the 51-year-old publisher, revealing that while he has memorialized his son’s Facebook page, he would prefer that his own online accounts were closed.
As we build our lives in a virtual world, there’s a growing concern about what happens to our online presence after death. In the West, some people are writing out digital wills, spelling out how their virtual life should be handled post-mortem . In India, too, a small number is taking an interest in their digital afterlife. Sandeep Nerlekar, MD and CEO Terentia Consultants, an estate planning firm that handles both online (through a portal http://www.onlinewill .co.in) and digital wills, says, “Now, even social networking sites are becoming part of one’s assets.”
Nishant Shah, director, Research, at the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet & Society, says that though the trend is nascent, people have started including their digital accounts in their wills. “However, it is evident, that as more and more of our lives get mediated by digital devices, and as we live on the cloud, we are going to have to find legal and personal options of making sure that important data gets transmitted beyond our lives, and stored, archived and managed in responsible ways for those who find value in it.”
But in a country where only a small percentage writes wills for physical assets, it’s not something a lot of people are thinking about proactively. Sudha Sarin, Delhi-based communications specialist, says “It doesn’t get priority, like your financial assets,” she says. At some point, she intends to leave a list of all her online account-ids and passwords in a place where her sons can find them easily. “This will give them access to my friends list so that they can be informed. And, in turn, let people who knew me reach out to them at such a time,” she says. But she will want her family to close her accounts a couple of months after. “I wouldn’t want my accounts to just sit out there. It’s a way of closure,” she says.
Sarin faced these questions of mortality after she lost her sister Geeta to cancer three months ago. She has decided to memorialize Geeta’s Facebook page. Facebook doesn’t allow family members access to data/passowords etc but kin can either delete or “memorialize” the accounts of the deceased. Sarin believes she’s taken a decision her sister would have supported. “Reading her posts and seeing her pictures act like a balm – it’s a catharsis of sorts,” she says.
American blogger Evan Carroll, who runs The Digital Beyond which talks about digital afterlife, writes that people need to start planning for what is to be done with their email, online banking and trading, social media , photo-sharing , online billpay and blogs after death. In an email interview with ToI, he suggests a simple conversation with one’s heirs, using online services like SecureSafe that let users store passwords to pass along when they are gone or speaking to one’s lawyer.
Companies have different policies on what to do with accounts of those deceased. Last year, Google introduced a step-by-step process allowing users to plan what they want done with their account, and in some cases they provide the contents of an email account which hasn’t left specific instructions after a “careful review.”
Yahoo and Facebook currently offer the option of closing down a deceased person’s email accounts and social media profiles, though only after receiving verification of death. Arunav Sinha, Senior Director-Corporate Communications, Products and Technology, Yahoo Inc., in Sunnyvale, California says that virtual legacy planning is a personal prerogative. “We can’t hand over any data to anyone, as per the terms of our service. Requests for access have to come through a legal process and with the relevant documentation,” he says.
Facebook allows users to appoint an ‘online executor’ of their profile to decide what happens to it after they die.
US-based Facebook has revealed a method to update your page after you die. Users can now name a ‘Legacy Contact’ (shown) to take over their account. The ‘heir’ will not have access to everything but can change key details. For example, your profile can be changed, and they can send a final status
Facebook said that the feature works in the same way as a real-life executor of a will, only for your online profile.
The legacy contact will be able to close down your profile, keep it frozen as a memorial or leave it as it is.
However it risks confusing people who may think that their loved one is still alive if they respond to a friend request.
Caroll says there is no standard way in which online accounts are handled once you’re gone. “People too have varied responses – while some look at it as a place to remember and grieve, others believe it’s strange to continue the online profile.”
Rekha Aggarwal, advocate, Supreme Court, has started suggesting to clients that they keep their online accounts in mind too. “Talking about myself, I’ve already passed on my password to my son in case of any eventuality. I’ve told him to close my accounts because I don’t want to be left hanging in the virtual world.”
But there are many for whom “the sense of digital life beyond death is exciting,” points out Nishant Shah. “I know of people who actually leave a last message to be posted on social media by their friends or family. There are some whose accounts are now transparently run by their partners or families.”
Making a digital will
Take an inventory of your online accounts and plan a way for your heirs to access your ‘memories’ such as photos, movies and emails Give instructions whether you want your page(s) closed or if you’d like someone to answer your friends’ posts on your behalf, maybe for a few months You might even like to incorporate details of your digital assets in your will. Consult your attorney for advice.
Happiness and other emotions have recently been an important focus of attention in a wide range of disciplines, including psychology, economics, and neuroscience. Some of this work suggests that emotional states can be transferred directly from one individual to another via mimicry and the copying of emotionally-relevant bodily actions like facial expressions. Experiments have demonstrated that people can “catch” emotional states they observe in others over time frames ranging from seconds to months, and the possibility of emotional contagion between strangers, even those in ephemeral contact, has been documented by the effects of “service with a smile” on customer satisfaction and tipping.
Based on information gathered from millions of social media users, emotions can be transferred or affect other users in the same social media sphere. This is according to a study conducted by the University of California, San Diego and Yale University titled “Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks.”
There are significant connections online where people feel happy, lonely or depressed at the same time. There may be two reasons why emotions are passed on from one person to the next on sites like Facebook.The first is contagion where people who post a status or tweet can directly affect the emotions of others who read their emotional statement. The second is Homophily in which social media users tend to choose and add social media friends or contacts who share the same emotions with them.
The study created a mathematical formula to show how emotional expressions can be influenced in social media networks. Particularly, rainfall was used as an instrument to determine how contagion can influence emotions. Since rainfall cannot be influenced by human emotions, it adequately presents the changes in emotions among social media users and not vice-versa. Rain-induced changes were introduced to predict and reveal changes in social media users’ emotions as reflected in their status messages.
The information was gathered for a period of 1,180 days from Facebook users from January 2009 to March 2012. The study was approved by and carried out under the guidelines of the Institutional Review Board at the University of California, San Diego, which “waived the need for participant consent.” To protect participant confidentiality, researchers did not personally view any names of users or words posted by users, and all analysis of identified data took place in the same “secure location” on servers where “Facebook currently keeps users’ data.”
Status updates or posts were used to determine positive or negative emotions. Particular text or words would describe the post as either positive or negative. It is, however, possible for some posts to be both positive and negative at the same time, showing mixed emotions, so users are given scores for both emotions. The study was limited to Facebook users who live in the 100 most populous cities in the United States.
The researchers concluded that the emotions of users on social media can directly affect or influence the emotions of others. The average rainy day lowered the total number of positive posts by 1.19 percent while negative posts rose by 1.16 percent. More Facebook users were also found to be happy on weekends and holidays.