Sure you could watch 9 hours of testimony (Day 1 on CSPAN, Day 2 on CSPAN) but just to put it in one place, here are the takes that I found insightful. I’ll add to this post when I find things so please add something in the comments too.
The New York Times’ Podcast The Daily had a great wrap-up of each day and are worth listening to in order.
Anil Dash, central to the creation of early blogger communities, speaks the wiseman in a short video addressed to Facebook employees. “We can’t have it both ways. We can’t say we’re able to change the world and pretend it’s not our fault when we do.”
There were many photos, here are some of my favorites.
It’s now well-documented that outside forces took advantage of social media platforms to spread rumors in order to swing the 2016 presidential election. Journalists digging into the story are looking more closely at the tools used to purchase advertising that helped amplify these rumors, and are horrified by what they are discovering.
In the days of print, each advertisement was reviewed by multiple people from both the organization that bought the ad and the publication that ran it. Extreme care was taken to make sure the advertising complemented the editorial and the message was the right fit for the audience, not only to maximize effectiveness but also to avoid instances such as the one below.
Online advertising is a delicate balance between scale and quality. The dream is to serve a perfectly targeted ad to as many people as possible. But because of the scale, it is impossible to manually review each and every ad creative for quality and fit. In the online world, people “optimize” and let the algorithms do the work.
While at Yahoo, I met with an advertiser who wanted to learn about our behavioral targeting options. I was working with a team that was thinking about exposing detailed facets of the massive Yahoo audience that would help advertisers reach very specific segments. When I walked into the room, the client had a spreadsheet he was using to allocate his million-dollar budget. After asking a few questions about his goals, I proposed a few very targeted criteria to build his target audience. Unfortunately, he grew frustrated because the total audience was too small and we were going to have to run hundreds of queries to build up the reach he needed. He didn’t have the time to continue the exercise nor appetite to keep track of all the data to show ROI to his client. The meeting wrapped up with four very broad buckets into which he poured roughly $250k each and called it a day.
He couldn’t be bothered with the details.
This is the state of online advertising today. The tools available to reach massive scale are even more sophisticated but to do it right, with quality, requires manual oversight. Ad units can be configured to dynamically swap out ad copy and assets depending on the target audience, which can also be built algorithmically. Ad spend adjusts automatically and APIs monitor trending keywords to take early advantage of trending topics and get broad reach on the cheap.
“Programmatic Advertising” is a blanket term for techniques used to automatically generate thousands of “personalized” ads at massive scale. Because it’s automated, generating ad copy variants and target segments is inexpensive. The downside is that quality suffers if you take out the human element, leaving the robots to mind the store.
There are many examples that show us that resulting matches still need regular review. As long as ad matching algorithms such as Google’s and Facebook’s remain black boxes, a regular human review is necessary to prevent the unexpected.
Which brings me back to what we’re learning today. Last week Facebook shared that ad placements made to “amplify divisive messages” were used to influence the 2016 elections. We are slowly uncovering the extent of information warfare that uses social media platforms to weaponize fake news. Using programmatic advertising to draw attention to and amplify these campaigns is a natural extension.
More careful review of editorial content posted to social networks is important to verify facts and prevent the spread of “fake news.” On the flip side, advertising platforms need review as well because ad targeting is also rife with repugnant audience segments automatically suggested by the algorithms. As they should, Facebook and Google have both said that more rigorous review is on the way but there will always be the tension of profit motives to discourage too rigorous a lens.
In the late-90’s, the movie Wag the Dog spins a tale of how a Washington “spin doctor” (Robert De Niro) hires top Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to engineer public opinion. The film made light of the gullible public but there was a broader, cynical message about how media (and the press) can be used to manipulate public opinion.
Today we are seeing this same scenario played out, but instead of manipulating public opinion through TV and Hollywood, public opinion is bought and sold using social networks and online advertising.
Isn't ironic that the word "campaign" is used to describe a presidential election, advertising buy, and military invasion?
I’ve hesitated to write anything about the fake news issue because I work at a company that is in the middle of it. SmartNews uses algorithms to curate the most important stories of the moment and we are constantly debating how to best use the tools we have to discover, process, filter, and rank, filter, a “balanced” view of the world to our readers.
I’ve been frustrated with all the proposed “solutions” to the fake news problem because I appreciate the limits of technology and have great respect for human creativity.
danah boyd, ever a beacon of clarity on the intersection of technology and society, has written the post that had me nodding in violent agreement. Read it now. It’s the best thing I’ve read about where we are, how we got here, why past solutions will not work and the hard road ahead. Google and Facebook Can’t Just Make Fake News Disappear.
an excerpt (emphasis mine)
Even if the goal were to curb the most egregious lies for economic gain (or even just deception in business in FTC parlance), that conversation wouldn’t be quick or easy — folks forget that iterations in spam/SEO went on for decade(s) to get to the current status quo (which is still imperfect but less visible, especially to Gmail users and sophisticated American searchers). These are international issues with no good regulatory process or reasonable process to adjudicate what is real or not. Welcome to the high stakes game of whack-a-mole.
Try writing a content policy that you think would work. And then think about all of the ways in which you’d be eliminating acceptable practices through that policy. Next, consider how your adversaries would work around your policy. This was what I did at Blogger and LiveJournal, and I can’t even begin to express how challenging it was to do that work. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of images I saw that challenged the line between pornography and breastfeeding. These lines aren’t as clean as you’d think.
Although all eyes turn to Facebook, Google and other distribution points of the news they cannot flip a few switches and fix everything.
Technology is but a temporary routing algorithm for our motivations, a reflection, albeit supercharged, of our own cultural biases and societal divisions.
If we want technical solutions to complex socio-technical issues, we can’t simply throw it over the wall and tell companies to fix the broken parts of society that they made visible and helped magnify. We need to work together and build coalitions of groups who do not share the same political and social ideals to address the issues that we can all agree are broken.
A neighbor of mine is using private Facebook groups to “generate dialogue and engagement between divided communities” rewarding “curiosity over confrontation.” (Spaceship Media).
Today I read about Alex Reinoso in NYC who is posting fliers around town with his cell number and email with the simple invitation. “Hi, I’m Alex. I’m a liberal. All my friends are liberal. My newsfeed is one-sided. Are you a conservative dealing with the same issue? If so I’d like to talk.”
Now that we have the means to connect and broadcast ourselves to anyone in the world, let’s now create technology that accelerates cooperation and amplifies empathy?
Many years ago when broadband internet was still emerging, I spent an afternoon with a colleague in the company cafeteria trying to imagine a world with unlimited bandwidth and storage.
We imagined that distances would collapse when the location of data would no longer matter. Music and video would be instantly available and you could call up anything you wanted to hear or see and jump to any point in a pre-recorded piece. Video conferencing would allow teams to work together, regardless of location. You could build connectors between data and services and create new views and from that gain new insights.
Om Malik once proposed that broadband would serve as the railroads of our time. In the same way that the rail system in Europe and the interstate highway in the US mobilized industry and allowed remote communities to enjoy the output of industrialized centers, ubiquitous broadband would deliver the benefits of unlimited knowledge and ubiquitous reach to everyone around the world.
At Facebook’s F8 developer conference we heard details of several projects which combine to bring internet to everyone around the world including Aquila, a drone that flies at 60,000 feet to extend connectivity to remote regions and Terragraph and Project Aries teaching telecom companies how to improve connectivity in crowded urban areas.
We also learned about projects that are being built to explore what can be done with this increased connectivity. The screenshot above is from a Virtual Reality demo in which we saw two people in different locations share an experience in a 360 virtual world, taking a selfie and sharing that “photo” to Mike’s Facebook wall.
While the demo above is fantastic and paints a picture of what a shared virtual space might look like, it requires significant hardware and bandwidth to make happen. As people at Facebook like to say, this journey is only 1% finished.
Oculus Research’s Yaser Sheikh talk on Social Presence in Virtual Reality that came at the end of the Day 2 keynote (59 min. into the video above) really brought everything together. The reason Facebook needs better connectivity is because they do not want to stop at having two avatars playing around in a fixed image 360 photo.
To create a rich interaction where emotion and empathy can take place, we need to see all the subtle nuances that are expressed in the twitch of lip or roll of the eye. This is the unwritten language that we all know or what the anthropologist Edward Sapir called, “an elaborate code.”
There is something visceral about interacting with someone in a shared space. Yaser talked about the experience of his children in Pittsburg never really knowing his parents in India. To his kids, their grandparents are just, “moving images trapped behind a computer screen.” That is not how to build a lifelong relationship. Social VR aims to enable living and growing connections that are not a struggle to maintain.
There are three challenges to gaining a computational understanding of Sapir’s elaborate code.
Capture – we need the ultimate motion capture of the whole body without being intrusive and in real-time. CMU’s Panoptic Studio is the state of the art but is still much too intrusive.
Display – we need to transmit signals and animate avatars convincingly. The eyes, mouth, and hair are particular challenges.
Prediction – we need and understanding of, “the vocabulary, the syntax, the morphology, and synchrony of social behavior” in order to write algorithms that help buffer social behaviors to overcome network latency (we all know how disruptive a bad connection can be to a video conference).
Facebook’s ambition is to reverse engineer this elaborate code. While digital video streams a live image captured by a camera, virtual reality will capture, store, and animate a digital representation of someone. Words spoken and gestures shown are broken apart and recombined.
Successfully building a prediction algorithm which can convincingly deliver requires an algorithm to continually anticipate state of mind and intent of others. This is much more than transmission of a moving image via bits – this is approaching the storage of the digital representation of what makes someone human. Building a library of all the possible human emotions and how to depict them is the ultimate moonshot and an appropriate one for a social network whose goal is to connect everyone. Stage one is capture and my sly take on the new Messaging Bot initiative is that all the conversations that are taking place on that platform are just step one in a big data harvesting program.
I am now convinced that the Messenger Bot platform is a harvesting engine to feed AI for Facebook's VR agents. #mindblown#F82016
Come full circle, back to that company cafeteria and imagine with me what a world would be like when Sapir’s elaborate code is cracked. When a digital avatar can be successfully animated we face some interesting questions.
What royalties do you pay when a movie studio uses the digital representation of George Clooney instead of the actor himself?
Can you simulate a debate between a virtual Donald Trump and a virtual Abraham Lincoln? If so, is it fair game to write about it and quote what Lincoln said?
After Mark Zuckerberg is gone, will his employees consult his virtual avatar for management decisions? Are his avatar’s decisions contractually binding?
Will a digital representation of someone understand humor? Sarcasm? What about a parody of recent events? Will tears well up as it tries not to cry?
The Black Mirror episode Be Right Back explores what our relationship might be to a digital avatar (in this case to lost loved one) and is well worth a look if you haven’t seen it. While advances in technology can make the barriers of distance and time melt away so that we can keep relationships thriving, we must remember that the virtual world can never replace the real one and that there can never be a substitute for a face-to-face conversation.
Ever since it began selling ads 10 years ago, Facebook has been combating doubts about its value to marketers. Search engines like Google offer advertisers a direct link to people seeking out particular products, while television remains the dominant way to reach a mass audience. Now, Facebook claims, it can provide the best of both.
Facebook stock sailed past analyst expectations last month and its stock hit an all time high. It looks like brand advertisers are coming on board now that Facebook has the audience to fulfill the promise of hitting targeted demographics, at scale.
This should be cause for concern at Yahoo (not mentioned in the NYT article) who was the traditional online goto for brand advertisers. The market has since spoken.
A local friend of mine plays in a band that has depended on Facebook to connect with thier fans. Gregg asked if he could share his thoughts on the latest news feed changes and how it’s impacted his ability to reach his fans and question his dependence upon Facebook to get the word out. Read Gregg’s guest post below.
Much has been written about the changes to Facebook’s algorithm, which has dropped “organic reach” for pages to around 1%. This change has been distressing to Facebook page admins for organizations large and small. The only way the people who like your page are going to see your posts is if you pay Facebook.
I understand the move. Facebook is a public company and has an obligation to maximize revenue for it’s shareholders. In addition, Facebook has thousands of employees to pay and operational costs. As an individual, I get to use Facebook for free, so charging brands and organizations is a logical way to monetize Facebook.
I play in a Bay Area based cover band, and do most of the marketing for the band. Facebook has been a great way for our band to connect with friends and fans, and to keep them posted on upcoming shows and news. I’ve noticed the gradual changes in reach, and last summer began experimenting with promoted paid posts. The paid posts have been very successful for the band: we budget a small amount of money (usually $20) and set a very targeted audience. The posts have increased attendance at our shows and appreciation from the venues we play. A win-win.
Once the news of Facebook algorithm change became public, I decided to no longer post on Facebook unless it was going to be a promoted paid post. I figured it was not worth my time and effort to post something that was only going to be seen by 1% of our fans.
Since then, I receive this email every two days:
Subject: People who like Spill the Wine have not heard from you in awhile.
Repeatedly receiving the exact same email got me thinking: Why are they keep sending the same email to me? Are there other organizations who are not posting as much because they aren’t reaching anyone either?
Some organizations are trying to fight back, as is expressed in this post by a great heavy metal band, Blackwülf:
When I think of why I originally joined Facebook, and why I continue to go back, it is for community. I am able to keep in touch with friends from all parts of my life, and follow news and updates from the organizations and people that I am interested in.
I wonder if Facebook has gone too far in it’s attempt to maximize revenue. It is one thing to charge brands with massive budgets and marketing departments to reach its fans, but it is a whole other thing to include small organizations and communities to the same standard. To me, these communities are the lifeblood of Facebook. I wonder if Facebook realizes it has gone too far and are prompting people like me, who post for a cover band, to come back. As we need Facebook, Facebook needs us.
Facebook should look for middle ground. I am happy to occasionally pay to advertise on Facebook, I don’t expect to get the full benefit of having a Facebook page for free. However, our band shouldn’t be treated the same way a brand like Starbucks is. I hope Facebook realizes this and changes it’s organic reach algorithm for small organizations and communities.
Facebook purchased VR headset maker Oculus VR this afternoon for $400 million in cash and $1.6 billion in Facebook stock. One can only speculate what Facebook will do with a virtual reality gaming accessory company that is still under development but some are saying it’s because they moved too slowly to acquire other social communication platforms. Both Instagram (photos) and SnapChat (IP messaging) grew quickly which drove up their prices and forced Facebook on the defense.
After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.
This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.
Perhaps the Oculus purchase was a pre-emptive purchase. A land grab at what he sees as the next great communications platform. Another theory is that by grabbing the gaming community’s latest shiny object, he can play pied piper and bring the games over to Facebook. That may be an uphill battle. Game developers want integrate social into their games, not the other way around.
Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build.
Don’t get me wrong, VR is not bad for social. In fact, I think social could become one of the biggest applications of VR. Being able to sit in a virtual living room and see your friend’s avatar? Business meetings? Virtual cinemas where you feel like you’re actually watching the movie with your friend who is seven time zones away?
But I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games.
The Facebook “like” is a simple social action loaded with meaning. The act of Liking something online while sitting alone at the kitchen table in your boxers is, on the face of it, a solipsistic act, but it’s really much more complex. One click on that link causes a complex web of behaviors that ripple outwards across your social graph. By Liking something you are not only pushing a social signal to the author of the post, you are also signaling to all others that view the post that follow.
Social signals are often misunderstood online so it’s important to remember that a Like is not always just a Like. It could be any one of the following types of Likes.
I Saw It Like – this is the most basic type of Like. You want to let the author know that you saw their 49 photos of their trip to Costa Brava and therefore do not need to be reminded when you see them next. A simple click here allows you to cut off the conversation with a quick, “Oh yes, I saw them,” so you can move on.
Pile On Like – we all tend to swarm around causes. The Pile On adds your name to a long list of people as a way to add weight to someone’s mission. A friend posts how she was indignantly treated by the pizza delivery guy. Quel dommage! This is the perfect opportunity to add your name the pile. Satisfyingly non-commital. We feel your pain.
Like To Remember – we live in a busy world and our newsfeeds are always in motion. How to remember that clever t-shirt folding video that you saw? With this type of Like, it’s more because you want to retrieve it later, not really because you “liked” it. It’s a one-click ReadItLater link.
Lazy Like – this is another common type of Like. Writing something witty, especially when you’re late to the game and the one snappy comeback you had ready was hidden under the View More link – your wrung out but still want to contribute – it’s late, you’re lazy – Like.
Shine a Light Like – it doesn’t happen too often but every now and then something drifts across your feed that you just know no one else will see unless you breath some social air onto it by clicking Like. Maybe it’s that brilliant one-liner from your long lost surfer buddy from Chiba who usually only writes in Japanese. You want your friends to know him and his brilliance. You could Share but that feels like robbing him of something so you click Like.
Like My Shit Like – God Dammit! I was so excited when I finished work on a animated mockumentary takedown of Sean Parker’s Redwood Wedding that I posted it at 3am as soon as it was done. Everyone was asleep so they missed it and now some big sports event is going off so all the conversation has pushed your video even further down somewhere below the copyright notices. It’s a last resort and a real noob move but you’re clicking Like on your own stuff just to put it back into rotation.
Condolences Like – while most times Facebook seems like a Happiness Competition, sometimes sad things happen and people post about them. Everyone knows you don’t “like” the fact that someone lost their job or didn’t get into their top choice school but you are sending good vibes and “I’m thinking of you’s” their way. That’s a Condolences Like, not to be confused with a . . .
Mercy Like – remember that loud PR girl you met in Austin that was discovering social media for the first time? She was so into you and was so grateful for all the tips and tricks you were sharing with her. She took out a little notebook and wrote down a bunch of URLs that you told her and she went home and got that dream promotion she told you about. She’s so grateful, a kid who just got the hang of her bike without training wheels. It’s such an *interesting* world out there! Did you know Samsung paid off their settlement to Apple with 30 trucks of nickels? Even though you know it’s not true, it’s easier just to click Like. Go get ’em kid!
Absence of Like – what does it mean? You know someone saw your post but they didn’t like it when you specifically shared it because you knew they would like it. . .but they didn’t. Existential Cognitive Dissonance.
Thanks to Adam Kazwell for sparking the conversation over lunch and all the folks on the Dev team at GigaOM for the extended exploration of Katy Perry overdubs during a lull in the action.
The New York Times Magazine had a cover piece on the Obama data mining team that used modern data-mining techniques to more efficiently target the undecided voters that they needed to bring across the fence to win the election. Check out the last line (emphasis mine) on their clever use of Facebook photo tags as a way to further refine their targeting to determine who your real friends were. If they identified any of your close friends as potential voters that were on their “undecided” list, they would then put them on a list of friends for you to ask to vote for Obama.
They started with a list that grew to a million people who had signed into the campaign Web site through Facebook. When people opted to do so, they were met with a prompt asking to grant the campaign permission to scan their Facebook friends lists, their photos and other personal information. In another prompt, the campaign asked for access to the users’ Facebook news feeds, which 25 percent declined, St. Clair said.
Once permission was granted, the campaign had access to millions of names and faces they could match against their lists of persuadable voters, potential donors, unregistered voters and so on. “It would take us 5 to 10 seconds to get a friends list and match it against the voter list,” St. Clair said. They found matches about 50 percent of the time, he said. But the campaign’s ultimate goal was to deputize the closest Obama-supporting friends of voters who were wavering in their affections for the president. “We would grab the top 50 you were most active with and then crawl their wall” to figure out who were most likely to be their real-life friends, not just casual Facebook acquaintances. St. Clair, a former high-school marching-band member who now wears a leather Diesel jacket, explained: “We asked to see photos but really we were looking for who were tagged in photos with you, which was a really great way to dredge up old college friends — and ex-girlfriends,” he said.