Neville Hobson https://www.nevillehobson.com www.nevillehobson.com Tue, 17 Jul 2018 11:45:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.7 3316880 Twitter removes fake followers to build trust in follower counts https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/07/16/twitter-removes-fake-followers/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/07/16/twitter-removes-fake-followers/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 06:32:58 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=54025 If you’ve noticed a sudden drop in the number of people following you on Twitter, the likeliest reason would be action taken by Twitter last week as part of its efforts to build trust and confidence in follower counts – the number of people who follow others on the social network. In an announcement posted […]

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Twitter profile

If you’ve noticed a sudden drop in the number of people following you on Twitter, the likeliest reason would be action taken by Twitter last week as part of its efforts to build trust and confidence in follower counts – the number of people who follow others on the social network.

In an announcement posted on July 11, Twitter said it had begun a global action to remove suspicious accounts from users’ followers, describing it as a step to improve Twitter and ensure everyone can have confidence in their followers.

As a result, the number of followers displayed on many profiles may go down. Most people will see a change of four followers or fewer; others with larger follower counts will experience a more significant drop. We understand this may be hard for some, but we believe accuracy and transparency make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation.

Twitter added:

Though the most significant changes are happening in the next few days, follower counts may continue to change more regularly as part of our ongoing work to proactively identify and challenge problematic accounts.

I noticed a drop in followers on my Twitter account, @jangles, over the weekend.

Before and After

From one day to the next, followers dropped from 14,520 to 14,134 – a net loss of 386 followers or roughly a 2.7 percent decline.

Clearly Twitter’s work on weeding out suspect accounts caught many that were following my account. If I understand Twitter’s methodology correctly, such accounts are genuine (ie, created by real people) rather than spam or bot accounts.

In most cases, these accounts were created by real people but we cannot confirm that the original person who opened the account still has control and access to it. Spam accounts (sometimes referred to as bots) typically exhibit spammy behavior from the beginning, are increasingly predictable by our systems, and can be automatically shut down with our technology.

(You can read more about “spammy behaviour” in how Twitter is fighting spam and malicious automation on the Twitter blog.)

The New York Times has an analysis that goes deeper into Twitter’s latest moves, focusing on this action as taking aim at a pervasive form of social media fraud.

Many users have inflated their followers on Twitter or other services with automated or fake accounts, buying the appearance of social influence to bolster their political activism, business endeavors or entertainment careers.

It’s often struck me how easy it would be to increase your follower count by purchasing them from companies that sell them (something I have never done, I would note). The Times gives an example of a Florida firm that sold fake followers and other social media engagement to hundreds of thousands of users around the world, including politicians, models, actors and authors.

Twitter executives said that The Times’s reporting pushed them to look more closely at steps the company could take to clamp down on the market for fakes, which is fueled in part by the growing political and commercial value of a widely followed Twitter account. Officials at Twitter acknowledged that easy access to fake followers, and the company’s slowness in responding to the problem, had devalued the influence accumulated by legitimate users, sowing suspicion around those who quickly attained a broad following.

That puts Twitter’s latest move into a bigger context where influence defined in part by how many followers a person has on Twitter plays a major role in attracting the interest of advertisers who want to use influential social media users to reach customers.

The Times says consumer goods giant Unilever – the world’s second-largest advertiser, spending $8.9 billion on marketing in 2017 – would no longer pay influencers who purchased followers. It quotes Keith Weed, Unilever’s CMO, praising Twitter’s latest move.

People will believe more and read more on Twitter if they know there is less bot activity and more human activity. I would encourage and ask others to follow.

(More: Unilever takes stand against digital media’s fake followers.)

Fake followers, “problematic accounts,” spam and bots add up to a toxic mix of distrust. If Twitter’s latest actions do result in weeding out fake followers and other bad actors, then a reduction in your follower count is a good thing.

After all, quality not quantity is the key word.

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For Immediate Release 143: Fired by mistake by an AI https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/06/26/fir-143-fired-by-an-ai/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/06/26/fir-143-fired-by-an-ai/#respond Tue, 26 Jun 2018 06:53:18 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=53509 Neville Hobson joined FIR host Shel Holtz for the June edition of “The Hobson & Holtz Report” and conversation about these topics: An employee was mistakenly fired by an AI system and managers stood by powerless to correct the mistake. Was AI really to blame? IBM has introduced an AI designed for debate, which could mean […]

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Neville Hobson joined FIR host Shel Holtz for the June edition of “The Hobson & Holtz Report” and conversation about these topics:

  • An employee was mistakenly fired by an AI system and managers stood by powerless to correct the mistake. Was AI really to blame?
  • IBM has introduced an AI designed for debate, which could mean there’s finally an unbiased devil’s advocate to point out the flaws in your business plan.
  • There is no minimizing the threat to the Internet posed by the draconian copyright restrictions the European Parliament could vote into law as early as the first week of July.
  • A couple of PRSA members are proposing an overhaul of ethics rules to make sure they apply to the group’s executive board (and making their case hasn’t been easy).
  • The World Cup is using a Video Assisted Referee, which would have applications far beyond sports.
  • Facebook is testing paid monthly Group subscriptions.
  • Dan York reports on the impending identification by Google Chrome of all http sites as “not secure,” Google’s dedicated podcast app for Android, Instagram’s launch of IGTV (which accommodates videos up to an hour long), and an iOS update that adds some pretty cool audio editing directly from an iPad.

Special thanks to Jay Moonah for the opening and closing music.

FIR 143 The Hobson & Holtz Report

Listen Now

Or download the MP3 file.

Links from this episode

Links from Dan York’s report

(Photo at top by Matt Hoffman on Unsplash)

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SDF Podcast 19: Is GDPR much ado about nothing? https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/06/17/sdf-podcast-19-is-gdpr-much-ado-about-nothing/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/06/17/sdf-podcast-19-is-gdpr-much-ado-about-nothing/#respond Sun, 17 Jun 2018 08:28:34 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=53345 Ten days after the EU General Data Protection Regulation came into action, the SmallDataForum convened to provide initial assessments and perspectives. This episode’s show notes were written by Thomas Stoeckle. Are we witnessing comedy or drama? Much ado about nothing or the end of the world as we know it? Clearly it is much too […]

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GDPR

Ten days after the EU General Data Protection Regulation came into action, the SmallDataForum convened to provide initial assessments and perspectives. This episode’s show notes were written by Thomas Stoeckle.

Are we witnessing comedy or drama? Much ado about nothing or the end of the world as we know it?

Clearly it is much too early to tell, and yet (of course) we found a lot to discuss, from varying levels of preparedness (not just on businesses’ side, but also among governments, regulators etc), to impacts on the data-driven digital advertising business, to the next level of EU rule regarding electronic communication, the so-called ePrivacy Regulation.

Among the early legal cases, the most prominent so far is Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems’s challenge of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram (reported by the Irish Times). Sam points out that Schrems, the man behind the None of Your Business website (www.noyb.eu) may be politically motivated, but if his claim has merit, then it will be interesting to see whether the Irish regulator will be willing to see the case through. As bookies are offering odds on which company (or companies) might be hit with a fine first, we reserve judgment (although Sam sticks with an earlier prediction that Uber might be one of the first ones in trouble).

My own early experience is with the DSGVO, the hefty German acronym for the even heftier compound noun ‘Datenschutzgrundverordnung’. Working with an SME in the information business in Germany, I experienced the HR team and the nominated data protection officer grappling with the fine print of the regulation, both with regard to employee data, and with client data and websites. As an abstract political regulation is being filled with meaning through the interactions of the involved stakeholders, it appears that smaller businesses are more burdened by compliance, than the larger firms that the regulation is targeted at.

What is becoming clear is that everybody is underprepared: businesses, customers, regulators, enforcers: the interpretation and application of rules are co-evolving; data protection officers in companies and in government are learning the ropes just as legal counsel and IT consultants. And every stakeholder and representative has their organisation’s interests in mind first and foremost…

We might experience legal chain reactions where brands (advertisers) get sued, only to sue their agencies in turn. The only obvious beneficiary would be the legal profession. Already communication agencies are complaining that they are being forced by their clients to sign new MSAs (master service agreements) which stipulate them to accept responsibility for GDPR violations, for example where a brand’s website violates GDPR (this Digiday story has some detail).

Both Sam and Neville share their experiences with delving deeper into the privacy settings of their devices and the social platforms they’re using. After years and years of most of us almost sleepwalking into ever more generous, unwitting data sharing, finally we are getting more cognisant and cautious. Tech websites and users are sharing ways to improve security settings, such as this list of checks on iOS Gadget Hacks, and advice by The Verge on how to improve your online privacy. For Neville, the case is clear: he doesn’t trust Facebook, and regards Google as ‘less evil’.

We all noticed immediate improvements in the reduction of pointless marketing emails, and the flurry of desperate activities by digital marketers prior to the GDPR deadline (“please don’t leave us…”) was cause for much hilarity. Check out the GDPR Hall of Shame for some highlights.

Meanwhile, The Internet Society (where Neville works) offered a differentiated take on GDPR. It is focused on how Europe is putting itself in a position to achieve two things: first, provide some much-needed substance to the global debate on Internet privacy (which has long been a philosophical debate with few tangible results), and second, to position itself as a de facto global regulator for privacy. It will be interesting to see whether and how Europe will be able to enforce the GDPR regulation, not least in the light of pending international trade wobbles following the new trade tariffs imposed by the Trump administration. This Bloomberg opinion piece by the economist Tyler Cowen discusses the topics in context to each other.

GDPR might only be the first step, however. The next piece of EU rule is almost ready to launch: referring to a New York Times feature, Neville outlines how the planned ePrivacy Regulation regarding electronic communication might have a much more profound impact on the industry. Already there is a lot of hype and fear-mongering from tech firms, their supporters and representatives, about how data privacy legislation will chill and ultimately kill innovations.

Yet for all the lobbying and doom-saying, businesses are making sure they play by the (evolving) rules. Even Google, although their central role in digital advertising came under intense scrutiny as programmatic ad buying plummeted in Europe around GDPR day. According to Digiday, this was largely due to Google leaving it to the last minute to inform its ad platform partners that there would be “short-term disruption” until integration into the Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe and IAB Tech Lab’s GDPR Transparency & Consent Framework has been completed. According to a Google spokesperson, the company has “worked with our third-party exchange partners to develop an interim solution to minimize disruption while we finalize integration with the IAB framework.” GDPR didn’t exactly happen overnight. In fact it came into existence in 2016. For Google to now put interim solutions in place, for some observers that does have a whiff of arrogance to it.

It’s early days, and we will continue to monitor and analyse what’s happening in this space. In about a month’s time, we will get together again and share our latest findings and thoughts. As always, watch this space.

Listen to episode 19:

Thomas Stoeckle is an independent business consultant and researcher in the fields of traditional and social media, and public opinion, with a particular interest in psychology and behavioural insights.

Until November 2017, Thomas led strategic business development at LexisNexis Business Insight Solutions (BIS). Prior to joining LexisNexis, he was group director and global analytics lead at W2O Group, and managing director at Report International (now CARMA).

A marketing communications researcher and business leader with 20-plus years’ experience in helping clients make sense of their global (social) media footprint, and how that affects perception and reputation, he believes passionately in meaning and insightful business story-telling through robust data evidence and compelling visualisation.

Originally from Germany, Thomas has been living and working in London for more than 16 years. A digital Neanderthal among digital natives, he is keenly aware that adequate solutions to communications problems demand fluency in the three languages of humans, machines, and business.

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For Immediate Release 139: Augmented PR https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/05/29/fir-139-augmented-pr/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/05/29/fir-139-augmented-pr/#respond Tue, 29 May 2018 06:22:08 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=53042 Neville and Shel get together via YouTube Hangout for the May 2018 installment of “The Hobson & Holtz Report,” with conversations about… GDPR, which officially went into effect on Friday May 25 BuzzFeed’s live-streaming experiment on Twitch CIPR’s white paper on the role of Artificial Intelligence in public relations Google is under pressure to up […]

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Neville and Shel get together via YouTube Hangout for the May 2018 installment of “The Hobson & Holtz Report,” with conversations about…

  • GDPR, which officially went into effect on Friday May 25
  • BuzzFeed’s live-streaming experiment on Twitch
  • CIPR’s white paper on the role of Artificial Intelligence in public relations
  • Google is under pressure to up its podcasting game
  • Google lets you see your history of interactions and it’s a lot less creepy than Facebook
  • Generation Z will bypass politics and engage via consumerism
  • Dan York reports on GDPR, Airbnb’s travel “stories,” Anchor’s new mobile import feature, and WordPress’ 15th anniversary

Special thanks to Jay Moonah for the opening and closing music.

Listen Now

Or download the MP3 file.

Links from this week’s episode

Links from Dan York’s Report

(Photo at top by rawpixel on Unsplash)

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SDF Podcast 18: Inertia, ethics, and breaches of trust https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/05/10/sdf-podcast-18-inertia-ethics-and-breaches-of-trust/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/05/10/sdf-podcast-18-inertia-ethics-and-breaches-of-trust/#respond Thu, 10 May 2018 20:16:35 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/05/06/5900-revision-v1/ Data, data everywhere, but ethics in short supply. The latest episode of the Small Data Forum podcast follows the classic narrative arc of a three-act story. Beginning, middle, and end. The set-up, the confrontation, and the resolution. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. And although our wide-ranging discussion did run the risk of leaving all three co-hosts in […]

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Data, data everywhere, but ethics in short supply.

The latest episode of the Small Data Forum podcast follows the classic narrative arc of a three-act story. Beginning, middle, and end. The set-up, the confrontation, and the resolution. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

And although our wide-ranging discussion did run the risk of leaving all three co-hosts in the depths of despair, Neville HobsonThomas Stoeckle, and I end up hoping that the asteroid NASA predicts is hurtling towards earth can be diverted from its nihilistic path.

This episode’s show notes were written by Sam Knowles.

We kick off considering the implications of Google recently losing a landmark “right to be forgotten” case in the UK courts. For me, the case says more about national (courts) and supranational (the EU) organisations looking to flex – and being seen to flex – their regulatory and legislative muscles in the face of the increasing hegemony of FAANG. Facebook Apple Amazon Netflix and Google.

This takes us naturally to consider yet another month of woes for Facebook. Since we last podded, Zuckerberg has appeared before Congress and the Senate and explained – as patiently as he could to Congressmen and Senators often more than twice his age – how the publisher-platform makes its money; “Senator, we sell ads!”

The company is preparing to be hauled over the coals at the House of Commons Select Committee run by the Department of Culture, Media, and (also) Sport in London. Apparently ham-fistedly, it has on-shoredits data warehouse of European users from Ireland to the U.S.A. “to get around GDPR”. And Money Saving Expert (and millionaire), consumer champion Martin Lewis is suing Facebook for defamation after his image appeared in bogus financial ads. Irony of irony, those ads were programmatically served alongside articles reporting Lewis’ legal action.

As recently as last August, people were talking about the prospect of President Zuckerberg by 2020. That prospect seems remote today.

And yet, and yet …. despite perhaps the worst run of bad news in recent corporate history, ad revenue and profitability at Facebook continue to grow. Big brands aren’t weaning themselves off their Facebook addiction, whatever big beasts including P&G’s Marc Pritchard and Unilever’s Keith Weed might say.

And not just Facebook. The head of Government communications in the UK – the very visible, conference favourite and former flatmate of George Osbourne, Alex Aiken – recently admitted that taking all departments off YouTube in the wake of the ad misplacement scandal stoked by The Times last year for three months had absolutely no impact on campaign KPIs. No fewer people recycling. No less applications for the army. And yet – despite that conclusive evidence – the UK Government is back spending with Alphabet’s video sharing site.

Marketing’s sweariest MBA professor, Mark Ritson, who moonlights as a columnist for Marketing Week, pointed the finger squarely at CMOs who have remained silent in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal … precisely because the psychographic targeting and use of 1st, 2nd, but particularly 3rd-party data has been the stock-in-trade of their digital advertising for years. More evidence of inertia from business to shift out of their shiny new ways of reaching consumers through FAANG.

But Facebook isn’t the only villain in this story. As we concluded in the previous episode  of the podcast, “If it’s free, you are the product”. The CA debacle has made this truism widely discussed for perhaps the first time in the mainstream media and among users. Many have been publicly outraged, and #DeleteFacebook campaigns have circled the globe, including on Facebook and led by some who’ve made billions from Facebook, most notably the cofounder of WhatsApp, Brian Acton.

As with advertisers, so with users. The numbers leaving the platform has been little more than a trickle. Some have tightened security settings – and many have denied Facebook the opportunity to apply facial recognition algorithms to recognise them where they’re untagged as part of a pre-GDPR update. But the threat of losing the chance of being poked by your first love is proving too much of an anchor to users. Inertia rules, despite the very clear appeals to reason.

Perhaps we’re living in the digital equivalent of when Sir Richard Doll first established a conclusive link between smoking and lung cancer in the 1950s, but smoking rates stayed stubbornly high. Indeed, the impact of likes and favourites, retweets and shares is mediated through the very same reward circuitry in the brain as each puff of a cigarette, so perhaps this inertia to shake our digital addiction isn’t surprising. This film says more.

Our conversation broadens from Facebook’s woes – accompanied by brands’ continued support for the tarnished behemoth – to bigger issues.

To discussions of who benefits from the data-driven digital revolution (FAANG rather than citizens).

To an exploration of the murky world of the military-digital industrial complex, exposed in a recent article from Tamsin Shaw in the New York Review of Books.

And to the naivety of the UK Institute of Practitioners of Advertising, in their declared goal of outlawing micro-targeting of voters with political messages in the wake of the CA cock-up.

I contend – as we hurtle towards despair – that ‘twas ever thus, and that it is a mistake to even consider the behaviour of corporations and governments in terms of individual morality. Yes, there are corporations – from Unilever to Kimberley Clark, Harley Davidson to Patagonia – that attempt to “do well by doing good”, to bake triple bottom-line sustainability into how they do business.

But the primary – legal – duty of the officers and board of (particularly) listed or quoted businesses is to maximise return to shareholders, and that can – will – and does bring ethical challenges to the heart of corporate life. The profit motive (almost) always trumps purpose.

More than once, as we come towards the end of our time – on this podcast, not on this planet – Thomas muses on whether our downloaded homunculi will still be discussing these same topics 50 years from now, on episode 618 of the Small Data Forum. And that – for me at least – was the climax or second act turning point of the narrative arc of this episode.

Perhaps, just perhaps, things can feel desperate because – for the first time – many more people (and potentially everyone) has a clear line of sight into what is actually happening. It’s confused, it’s nested and vested, it’s murky and dirty, and ordinary individual citizens don’t seem to have any heft or influence over the corporate-military-industrial complex. But you can’t do anything about anything unless you have line of sight. Hence my grain of optimism.

Neville, too, sees reasons to be cheerful, though rather more prosaically around the preparedness of big business for GDPR. While there are clear Millennium Bug parallels – including the legion consultants who’ve grown fat giving advice to confused corporates – he asserts that the world will most certainly not fall off its axis on 25 May, nor will it be shown to be flat. Neville is encouraged by the flurry of activity evident around compliance, and his optimism surrounds the fact that many companies will be “substantially compliant” by the deadline.

As ever, time is the enemy of we three podcasters. We don’t get to the ethics, legal, and little-big data implications of DNA. As a means of data storage and as permanent record of every citizen’s genetic inheritance, environmental reality, and likely cause and time of death and sickness. Insurance companies must be rubbing their hands with glee.

But more of that next time in episode 19, due to be prepared and served up just in time for GDPR Day.

Listen to episode 18:

Sam Knowles is the Founder & MD of Insight Agents, a corporate and brand storytelling consultancy. His book Narrative by Numbers: How to Tell Powerful & Purposeful Stories with Data was published by Routledge in April 2018. More at www.narrativebynumbers.com

(Photo at top by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash)

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For Immediate Release 134: We start with Starbucks and end with drones https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/04/24/for-immediate-release-134-we-start-with-starbucks-and-end-with-drones/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/04/24/for-immediate-release-134-we-start-with-starbucks-and-end-with-drones/#respond Tue, 24 Apr 2018 06:29:32 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=52414 In this April edition of The Hobson & Holtz Report, Neville and Shel talk about… Starbucks’ response to a racial incident in Philadelphia that went viral and sparked protests In an effort to reduce “noise pollution,” Ghana wants Muslims to issue the call to prayer via WhatsApp The line between earned and paid media is […]

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In this April edition of The Hobson & Holtz Report, Neville and Shel talk about…

  • Starbucks’ response to a racial incident in Philadelphia that went viral and sparked protests
  • In an effort to reduce “noise pollution,” Ghana wants Muslims to issue the call to prayer via WhatsApp
  • The line between earned and paid media is blurring and consumers don’t care which is which
  • There’s a reckoning coming for terms and conditions
  • Augmented Reality is making huge inroads (except in corporate communications)
  • Journalists in developing countries are using drones and sensors to cover environmental crimes and pollution

In his Tech Report, Dan York reports on what he found when he downloaded his Facebook data, Jordan Peel’s deepfake PSA from Barack Obama, why Chrome’s article recommendation feature could drive huge traffic to publishers, Flickr has been acquired by SmugMug (which plans to revitalize the photo service), and Mozilla has issued a call to storytellers to create content with Augmented and Virtual Reality.

Special thanks to Jay Moonah for the opening and closing music.

Listen Now

Or download the MP3 file.

Links from this week’s episode

Links from Dan York’s report

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Exposing the realities of our relationships with Facebook and other social platforms https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/04/12/realities-relationships-facebook/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/04/12/realities-relationships-facebook/#respond Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:50:20 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=52086 This week has been an extraordinary one, not only for Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and members of the US Congress but also for users of Facebook and other social networking platforms wherever they are in the world. Indeed, it has been a week of revelation and food for considerable thought on a grand scale. During […]

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This week has been an extraordinary one, not only for Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and members of the US Congress but also for users of Facebook and other social networking platforms wherever they are in the world.

Indeed, it has been a week of revelation and food for considerable thought on a grand scale.

During two days, on April 10 and April 11, the Facebook co-founder and CEO appeared before members of the US Senate and Congress to answer questions about Facebook and how it handles the personal information of its users. These appearances follow news headlines for weeks about the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica data scandal and undercover reporting-driven disclosures about grave misuse of the personal data of millions of users.

Each session was around five hours; both were broadcast live on television and myriad social media channels, reaching a truly global audience. You can read transcripts of each session (Senate | Congress) if you want deep dives on (searchable) word-by-word accounts.

What can we make of this reality TV-type of event in the Trump age of soul-baring declarations, including apologies, by politicians and business celebrities? While it’s clear that what happened at Facebook regarding users’ personal data has caused widespread outrage at such an egregious breach of trust and ethics, will anything actually happen as a result of this?

One thing that could be a catalyst is next month’s GDPR regulation in European Union law that spells the end for what the Harvard Business Review calls “the Internet’s Grand Bargain” on data protection and privacy:

[…] the U.S-based content industry largely has itself to blame for the EU’s draconian new rules, as well as those now being reconsidered at home. Internet companies have had over a decade to integrate basic data collection and use safeguards into their operations, including limiting the data they collect and adopting international information security standards. These efforts have mostly failed. Today nearly 40% of all cybersecurity incidents involve insiders, not hackers.

Regulation of Facebook (a point I speculated on in my post last month about the data scandal) is a topic that governments have started talking about more. In his session with congressmen on April 11, Mark Zuckerberg even suggested that regulation might be “inevitable” for Facebook and other such companies:

“The internet is growing in importance around the world in people’s lives and I think that it is inevitable that there will need to be some regulation,” he said.

Be sure that a debate on this and every related topic will be deep and wide in scope and scale, once it gets underway. When would that be? “Soon” :)

A Deal with the Devil

While we can be outraged at what Facebook has let happen, all of this is only one part of the picture. The other part concerns that group of people known as ‘users’ – the people who signed up to Facebook and use it as a means of connecting with others, sharing news and experiences, discovering new things and new friends, etc.

There are more than 2 billion such people worldwide. I’m one.

When it comes to data protection and privacy – that’s our data and our privacy – what role do we have in this sorry saga? When it comes to agreeing the rules of the game – terms and conditions of use, agreeing to privacy policies, cookies, data sharing, it’s a long list – what’s our responsibility before we hit that ‘Sign me up!’ button?

Here’s the New Yorker shining a spotlight on our failure:

We’ve known the dangers of Facebook for years. We certainly knew of them before social media, with and without Cambridge Analytica, twisted and fractured the political information that ultimately led to the election of Donald Trump […] It’s not like we weren’t told that using Facebook could have serious consequences for our digital privacy. They wrote on the wall at Facebook that they were going to break things. What did we think they were going to do?

The dream of a world of total connection has resulted in unprecedented alienation. The dream of a world of instantly accessible knowledge has drifted into stupidity and lies. We blame Zuckerberg because we can’t stand to blame ourselves. The truth is that we made a deal with Facebook; we gave up our information for free. Unable to bear our own responsibility for the world we have chosen, we have turned the technologists into monsters we can blame.

So we knew the dangers yet still we signed up. Did we read those t&c and privacy and cookie policies? Like hell we did! Gimme free access, now!

And the deal the New Yorker mentions, along with the “Grand Bargain” the Harvard Business Review talks about, look so much like a deal with the Devil, a Faustian bargain. So let’s apportion blame every which way. It isn’t equally shared – we trusted Facebook, after all, no matter how blindly or foolishly.

And while we wait for the politicians, the regulators, the business people to actually agree on what’s next – not only for Facebook but also other platforms such as Twitter, Google, Amazon – let’s make some suggestions including on what each of us can do right now.

Start with the five points suggested in the Internet Society’s call to action, embracing:

  1. Fairness
  2. Transparency
  3. Choice
  4. Simplicity
  5. Respect

Let’s work on a better deal. We can do it if we have a mind to.

(Disclosure: I mentioned the Internet Society in this post, so I should also mention that I’m the Social Media Strategist at the Internet Society. Not that this has any effect or influence on what I’ve written, but disclosed nevertheless.)

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SDF Podcast 17 – “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it” https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/04/06/sdf-podcast-17-falsehood-flies-and-truth-comes-limping-after-it/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/04/06/sdf-podcast-17-falsehood-flies-and-truth-comes-limping-after-it/#respond Fri, 06 Apr 2018 20:19:03 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/?p=51945 The SmallDataForum convened in late March, and as for our big story, we had several candidates and angles on the same theme of the use and abuse of data. This episode’s show notes were written by Thomas Stoeckle. Sam is now a newly published author of a book about how to tell powerful and purposeful […]

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The SmallDataForum convened in late March, and as for our big story, we had several candidates and angles on the same theme of the use and abuse of data.

This episode’s show notes were written by Thomas Stoeckle.

Sam is now a newly published author of a book about how to tell powerful and purposeful stories with data, Narrative by Numbers. A very timely (and equally timeless) topic and title.

A recently published study in Science about the velocity and spread of true and false news online caught our attention. Tina McCorkindale, CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, did a great analysis with key takeaways for communicators.

Discussing the study, Sam referred to Jonathan Swift’s famous quote from 1710 in The Art of Political Lying that “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect”.

It is also a fitting motto for Calling Bullshit, that cheekily named MOOC on our modern challenge with facts and critical, analytic thoughts, by US academics Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West.

The ability to think critically is a key factor in addressing our manifold disinformation challenges. There is a lot of hype, as well as widespread scepticism about Cambridge Analytica’s claims about their ground-breaking use of data for psychological profiling and microtargeting, and former CEO Alex Nix’s role as digital Svengali or snake-oil salesman.

Former Facebook head of ad targeting Antonio Garcia Martinez is an authoritative voice, and his Wired piece on the “noisy fallacies” of psychographics is a must read.

Less of a must read, but a good trigger for a lively discussion was an article on Medium which claims that “almost everything reported about the Cambridge Analytica Facebook controversy is wrong”.

It is more focused on criticising the media, than connecting the dots between the various interested and involved parties. For example, when the focus is on the connection with the world of military information operations, SCL, the company behind Cambridge Analytica (CA), is the more interesting story. Both SCL and CA worked  for British and American security services.

There is also a connection to Bell Pottinger, the disgraced UK communications firm which earned more than $500m from propaganda work for the Pentagon in Iraq – work that was led at the time by Mark Turnbull, now managing director of SCL Elections (and featuring prominently in Channel4’s undercover reporting).

The close proximity to military propaganda is one uncomfortable aspect of the wider story. But it is also worth mentioning that in the study of what makes news, the negative, the sensational, the controversial and the unexpected have always dominated.

That was the finding of the first systematic news values analysis by Norwegian scholars Johan Galtung and Mari Ruge in 1965 in The Structure of Foreign News. And it still applies in the social media age, as this 2017 paper on new news values proves. As Neville pointed out, it’s the type of content that triggers an emotional reaction, and it can now travel faster than ever through our (did)information sphere.

This brings us back to Facebook and its present and future challenges. In a recent blog post, Neville outlined some of the options for Facebook: perhaps there is a price to pay for a social platform free of advertising and monetising private data, and that perhaps many users would be willing to pay the subscription fees that such a service would entail?

At the same time, the story is undoubtedly ‘bigger than Facebook’. It goes to the heart of the prevailing social platform business model, where users enjoy a seemingly free service in return for their personal data, which the platforms sell to advertisers.

This is a big challenge for the traditional news media, as this study by the Columbia School of Journalism showed. It is now being discussed as an even bigger challenge, one that erodes the fabric of civic society through violations of privacy and large-scale manipulations of public opinion.

For some critical observers, this is a consequence of surveillance capitalism, the monetisation of user data in every aspect of our digital economy and society.

After a series of public relations blunders in recent weeks, Facebook is now taking steps not only to comply with GDPR, but also to address the growing twin problems of eroding trust within its user base, as well as a plunge in its share price (even more so after the FTC announced a probe into potential data handling violations). Investors are now discussing similarities to the banking crisis when it comes to regulation, legislation and possible litigation.

As the waves of scathing commentary continue about “How Facebook Blew It”, it is instructive to look more closely at the argument of users knowingly agreeing to terms and conditions.

It is as much of a cop-out as Facebook’s and Google’s argument as to why they can’t be treated as publishers (as Sam pointed out, the main reason is that they don’t want to be regulated as media companies).

In a talk at the London School of Economics in 2015, the philosophers Baroness Onora O’Neill and Jonathan Wolff discussed the concepts of informed consent and how, if done right, it contributes to the formation of trust.

Somebody should send it to Mark Zuckerberg.

Listen to episode 17:

Thomas Stoeckle is an independent business consultant and researcher in the fields of traditional and social media, and public opinion, with a particular interest in psychology and behavioural insights.

Until November 2017, Thomas led strategic business development at LexisNexis Business Insight Solutions (BIS). Prior to joining LexisNexis, he was group director and global analytics lead at W2O Group, and managing director at Report International (now CARMA).

A marketing communications researcher and business leader with 20-plus years’ experience in helping clients make sense of their global (social) media footprint, and how that affects perception and reputation, he believes passionately in meaning and insightful business story-telling through robust data evidence and compelling visualisation.

Originally from Germany, Thomas has been living and working in London for more than 16 years. A digital Neanderthal among digital natives, he is keenly aware that adequate solutions to communications problems demand fluency in the three languages of humans, machines, and business.

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For Immediate Release 130: Facebook’s Moments of Truth https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/03/27/for-immediate-release-130-facebooks-moments-of-truth/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/03/27/for-immediate-release-130-facebooks-moments-of-truth/#respond Tue, 27 Mar 2018 06:29:00 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/03/27/for-immediate-release-130-facebooks-moments-of-truth/ In this monthly episode of The Hobson & Holtz Report aka FIR 130, the major discussion surrounded Facebook and the growing crisis embroiling the social network over alleged misuse of data about users and their friends by the political consultancy and data mining firm Cambridge Analytica. Shel and I offered a plethora of opinion and […]

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Facebook

In this monthly episode of The Hobson & Holtz Report aka FIR 130, the major discussion surrounded Facebook and the growing crisis embroiling the social network over alleged misuse of data about users and their friends by the political consultancy and data mining firm Cambridge Analytica.

Shel and I offered a plethora of opinion and considered some of the elements of this kerfuffle from a communicator’s perspective.

Other stories that made the discussion list in this episode included how Twitter now does not allow you to post identical tweets via multiple Twitter accounts; how Millennials are more prone to punish brands for scandals; Coca-Cola and the US State Department are to use blockchain to combat forced labour; Sierra Leone just ran the first blockchain-based general election; and more including Dan York’s Tech Report.

Full Run List:

  • Media Intelligence Minute from Carma
  • Twitter penalizes identical comment posted from multiple accounts. This is especially problematic for brands, and for scheduling tools like HootSuite and GaggleAmp. Via the HootSuite Blog and the Twitter Developer Blog.
  • Facebook: Still a terrible example of crisis communication
  • Igloo Software spot
  • Facebook, privacy, and scandal: stormy with a high chance of regulation. Neville thinks nothing will change at Facebook unless advertisers desert them in droves.
  • Jason Calacanis offers $100,000 seed money if your team can build a “Facebook-killer.”
  • Social Chorus spot
  • 28% of U.S. adults have stopped using a brand because of something negative they learned about in the news.
  • Speaking of CSR, Coca-Cola partners with the Blockchain Trust Accelerator to fight forced labor with smart contracts. Shel is enthusiastic about blockchain’s potential to create an immutable record of truth.
  • Dan York’s Tech Report: the 101st  meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force, TLS 1.3, Messaging Layer Security, and more Facebook.
  • Blockchain and voting

FIR 130

Listen Now:

Or download the MP3 file.

Links from this episode:

(Photo at top by Tim Bennett on Unsplash)

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What next for Facebook? https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/03/25/what-next-for-facebook/ https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/03/25/what-next-for-facebook/#comments Sun, 25 Mar 2018 07:37:00 +0000 https://www.nevillehobson.com/2018/03/25/what-next-for-facebook/ Even if you’re not interested in nor a user of Facebook, you’d have been hard pressed indeed to have avoided the blaze of publicity about the social networking site every day this past week. That blaze has been white hot in its ferocity and intensity on alleged wrong-doing by the American firm, and by a […]

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Epic fail

Even if you’re not interested in nor a user of Facebook, you’d have been hard pressed indeed to have avoided the blaze of publicity about the social networking site every day this past week.

That blaze has been white hot in its ferocity and intensity on alleged wrong-doing by the American firm, and by a British political consulting and data mining company called Cambridge Analytica, over the mishandling of data related to more than 50 million users that allegedly played a significant role in influencing voter opinion in the US presidential election in 2016 (and the UK referendum on remaining in or leaving the European Union also in 2016).

As you’d expect, commentary, narratives and opinions embracing the widest spectrum of views and standpoints have dominated the media, both mainstream and social, all week as well. There’s so much of it, it’s hard to get a handle on the strands of a story that’s still evolving and which undoubtedly will be a major focus for governments (and regulators) as well as advertisers and Facebook users in the coming weeks and months.

A good place to see many of the different perspectives about the Facebook fail is Privacy-Gate, a Flipboard magazine by Ken Yeung, that curates in one place much of the reporting over the past week.

Lifting the Veil

While this kerfuffle continues to brew, I’ve been reading a great deal of the reports on this unfolding reputational train wreck and thinking about what might be next for Facebook.

I joined Facebook in April 2007. Unlike many friends and acquaintances whose opinions I value, I have no plans to shut down my account and leave. Actually, I have little invested in Facebook in terms of a wide network or community (I tend to engage in only a handful of niche groups that are private or closed), share little personal data and don’t do quizzes such as the type of quiz at the heart of the alleged mining of information of those 50 million users I mentioned earlier.

In a sense, it matters little to me whether I’m on Facebook or not, a sentiment shared by some albeit for many different reasons.

So what does this event mean for Facebook, the users, the advertisers, and the broad environment of social networks and networking?

One thing it means is that a veil has been lifted on what really goes on behind the scenes at Facebook with regard to information about its users that many (most?) users have had no idea of what actually happens to it. Sure, you’d know that Facebook shares info about you with advertisers – that’s the price you pay to enjoy the benefits of a platform that costs you nothing in money terms to use – as you did read the terms and conditions of use when you signed up, right?

Yet I don’t think many people knew the scope and scale of that information-sharing and the now-apparent cavalier way in which Facebook regarded data about its users, paying what now looks like lip service to any sense of a duty of care and safeguarding users’ rights to privacy.

It also means that we now see the kinds of companies Facebook has been getting into bed with, as it were – firms such as Cambridge Analytica that project a shiny veneer of respectability but are run by people with large egos and little in the way of ethical responsibility as Channel 4 News’ undercover video reporting, broadcast in the UK on March 19, so clearly shows.

Now that poor corporate behaviour is coming home to roost at Facebook as criticism of its very business model is growing especially in the US. Its share price has taken a pounding this past week, some investors are suing Facebook, and there are rumblings in Europe about greater oversight of the activities by social networks with the word ‘regulation’ rearing its head.

Opera-Snapshot_2018-03-24_221310_twitter

In an interview on CNN (transcript) on March 21, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg even talked about regulation, qualifying the idea with the word ‘maybe.’

Is regulation a next step for Facebook? An environment where social networks have to follow certain processes and procedures in each country in which it offers its platform to users, and to advertisers? How would that work, who would regulate Facebook, and how would regulatory infringements be punished and enforced? Plus many other questions.

The Price to Pay

Given that currently social networks of every type are not subject to a specific regulatory regime, perhaps the easiest way to take the regulation idea forward is to use an existing regulatory framework and classify Facebook and other social networks as subject to that regulatory framework.

Would the simplest way be to regard Facebook as a media company, no matter that Facebook (and Google and others) have consistently resisted that label? I believe Facebook and others are media companies in the same way that newspapers, magazines, radio and TV are media companies.  Let’s just use the word ‘media’ for everything: no need for phrases like ‘mainstream media’ or ‘social media’ any more. A topic for some debate, I suspect.

One other idea to explore – in tandem with the regulatory one not instead of it – is to make Facebook into a dual offer for users: a subscription service where you pay, say, $1 or £1 or €1 a week to access a service with no advertising at all; and a free service supported by advertising, much as we have now, but without the bad behaviours.

You might think such ideas are quite simplistic, naïve even. Yet I think these ideas ought to be aired and discussed at length. Social networks like Facebook are now part of the mainstream in contemporary society, offering a valuable means of social cohesion to many people.

So maybe the price for Facebook to pay to continue in business is some or all of the above.

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