All posts in “Social”

Facebook redesigns Life Events feature with animated photos, videos and more

Facebook today announced a redesign of its “Life Events” feature, which allows people to share significant milestones in their life, like an engagement, graduation, a new job, a move to a new city, and more. The feature has existed since the launch of Timeline, but has to date offered a fairly nondescript type of post. Today, that’s changing, Facebook says. Now, users will be able to add animated photos or videos, photos from the people or Page you’ve tagged (like those of your partner or your new workplace), or you you can pick an image from Facebook’s own art collection, if you don’t have your own.

The photos and videos you post will also have subtle animations, like slowly zooming in, to give the post more attention. And you can still pick an icon to represent the life event, as before.

The idea behind the redesign is to give these sorts of posts a better way to stand out from other posts, the company explains

Of course, Facebook likely wants to increase the feature’s adoption, too, as it’s a straightforward way to collect profile data on an individual that they may not have otherwise filled out – like where they live, where they work, or their alma mater, for example.

Facebook will also now alert your friends directly when you’ve shared some life events, it says.

For certain types of life events – like changes in your current city, work, education, and relationship status – your friends may receive a notification to let them know about the news. This ensures they won’t miss the update if they were just casually scrolling their News Feed. And it’s a way to make sure the event gets seen by your broader network of Facebook friends – including those acquaintances whose updates don’t regularly show in your News Feed, as Facebook’s algorithms have determined you aren’t close.

In addition, when you react to a life event someone else posted with a like, wow, heart, etc., Facebook now shows all the other reactions from friends alongside your own.

Perhaps most importantly, is that Facebook is finally giving life events a place of importance on users’ profiles.

While the feature for years has been touted as a way to remember significant events, it’s actually been fairly difficult to relocate your older life event posts from years ago. With the update, however, life events will have their own dedicated section on user profiles. (You can opt to hide a life event here by tapping the “…” button then selecting “Hide from Timeline,” if you choose).

This will give people visiting your profile for the first time a way to get to know you, by way of the most important moments you’ve shared through this feature. That may not be something everyone is comfortable with, though, so you’ll want to check to see if there are any older life event posts you need to hide or delete.

The updated life events are rolling out worldwide on iOS, Android and desktop beginning today, and completing in the days ahead.

Google CEO admits company must better address the spread of conspiracy theories on YouTube

Google CEO Sundar Pichai admitted today that YouTube needs to do better in dealing with conspiracy content on its site that can lead to real world violence. During his testimony on Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee, the exec was questioned on how YouTube handles extremist content which promote conspiracy theories like Pizzagate and, more recently, a Hillary Clinton-focused conspiracy theory dubbed Frazzledrip.

According to an article in Monday’s The Washington Post, Frazzledrip is a variation on Pizzagate that began spreading on YouTube this spring.

In a bizarre series of questions, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) asked Pichai if he knew what Frazzledrip was.

Pichai replied that he was “not aware of the specifics about it.”

Raskin went on to explain that the recommendation engine on YouTube has been suggesting videos that claim politicians, celebrities and other leading figures were “sexually abusing and consuming the remains of children, often in satanic rituals.” He said these new conspiracist claims were echoing the discredited Pizzagate conspiracy, which two years ago led to a man firing shots into a Washington D.C. pizzeria, in search of the children he believed were held as sex slaves by Democratic Party leaders.

He also explained the new Frazzledrip theory in more detail, which he read about in The Washington Post’s report about the still rampant hateful conspiracies being hosted by YouTube. This newer conspiracy claims that Hillary Clinton and longtime aide Huma Abedin sexually assaulted a girl and drank her blood.

The Post said some of the video clips were removed after first appearing in April and had been debunked, but its review of the matter found dozens of videos where the claims were still being discussed. Combined, these videos had been viewed millions of times over the past eight months. In addition, the investigation found that YouTube’s search box would highlight these videos when people typed in terms like “HRC video” or “Frazzle.”

YouTube’s policy doesn’t prevent people from uploading falsehoods, The Post’s report noted.

Raskin asked Pichai about this type of extremist propaganda.

“What is your company policy on that? And are you trying to deal with it?,” he questioned.

Pichai admitted, essentially, that YouTube needed to do better.

“We are constantly undertaking efforts to deal with misinformation. We have clearly stated policies and we have made lots of progress in many of the areas where over the past year – so, for example, in areas like terrorism, child safety, and so on,” said Pichai. “We are looking to do more,” he said.

In terms of the Frazzledrip theory, he said it was more of a recent happening.

“But I’m committed to following up on it and making sure we are evaluating these against our policies,” the CEO promised.

The issue with videos like Frazzledrip is that YouTube’s current policies don’t fully encompass how to handle extremist propaganda. Instead, as The Post also said, its policies focus on videos with hateful, graphic and violent content directed at minorities and other protected groups. Meanwhile, it seeks to allow freedom of speech to others who upload content to its site, despite the disinformation they may spread or their potential to lead to violence.

The balance between free speech and content policies is a delicate matter – and an important one, given YouTube’s power to influence dangerous individuals. In addition to the Pizzagate shooter, the mass shooter who killed 11 people at the Pittsburgh synagogue in October had been watching neo-Nazi propaganda on YouTube, the Post’s report pointed out, in another example.

Asked what YouTube was doing about all this, Pichai didn’t offer specifics.

The CEO instead admitted that YouTube struggles with evaluating videos individually because of the volume of content it sees.

“We do get around 400 hours of video every minute. But it’s our responsibility, I think, to make sure YouTube is a platform for freedom of expression, but it’s responsible and contributes positively to society,” Pichai said. He added that its policies allow it take down videos that “insight harm or hatred or violence.” But conspiracy videos don’t always directly insight violence – they just radicalize individuals, who then sometimes act out violently, as a result.

“It’s an area we acknowledge there’s more work to be done, and we’ll definitely continue doing that,” Pichai said. “But I want to acknowledge there is more work to be done. With our growth comes more responsibility. And we are committed to doing better as we invest more in this area,” he said.

Facebook relaunches search ads to offset slowing revenue

It’s an ad duoply battle. Facebook is starting to test search ads in its search bar and Marketplace, directly competing with Google’s AdWords. Facebook first tried Sponsored Results back in 2012 but eventually shut down the product in 2013. Now it’s going to let a small set of automotive, retail, and ecommerce industry advertisers show users ads in the US and Canada.

They’ll be repurposed News Feed ads featuring a headline, image, copy text, and a link in the static image or carousel format that can point users to external websites. Facebook declined to share screenshots as it says the exact design is still evolving. Facebook may expand search ads to more countries based on the test’s performance.

The reintroduction of search ads could open an important new revenue stream at a time when Facebook’s revenue growth is quickly decelerating as it runs out of News Feed ad space, the Stories format that advertisers are still adapting is poised to overtake feed sharing on social apps, and users shift their time elsewhere. In Q3 2018, revenue grew 33 percent year-over-year, but that’s far slower than the 49 percent YOY gain it had a year ago, and the 59 percent from Q3 2016. Opening up new ad inventory for search could reinvigorate the sagging revenue growth rate that, combined with Facebook’s privacy and security scandals, has put intense pressure on Facebook’s leaders Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.

“We’re running a small test to place ads in Facebook search results, and we’ll be evaluating whether these ads are beneficial for people and businesses before deciding whether to expand it” Facebook product manager Zoheb Hajiyani to TechCrunch in a statement. The announcement of the search ads comes as Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai is under fire from Congress over data privacy, though the move could help Google look less like it has a monopoly in search. Facebook’s share of the $279.56 billion total worldwide digital ad market will grow to 19.5 percent this year, trailing #1 Google which has 31.5 percent.

Back in 2012, Facebook desperately sought extra revenue streams following its botched IPO. Sponsored Results let game companies, retailers, and more inject links to their Facebook apps, Pages, and posts as ads in the search typeahead results. Since advertisers could target searches for specific other Pages and apps, brands and game developers often tried to swoop in and steal traffic from their competitors. For example, dating app Match.com could target searches for competitor OkCupid and appear above its results. Facebook isn’t allowing advertisers to be quite as cutthroat with this test.

Facebook’s 2012 Sponsored Results ads let competitors swoop on each other’s traffic

Advertisers with access will be able to simply extend their existing Newss Feed ads to the new “Search” placement through the Facebook Ads Manager, similar to how they’d pick Facebook Audience Network or Instagram. No videos ads will be allowed. For now, advertisers won’t pick specific keywords to advertise agains, and instead may appear in search terms related to auto or retail topics. Ads will featured a “Sponsored” tag, and are subject to the same transparency controls around “Why Am I Seeing This?” Facebook plans to evaluate the benefits for users and advertisers in order to determine whether to roll out the ads to more countries and categories.

One major concern is that Facebook already collects as much information as possible about people and their behavior to target its ads. With the reintroduction of search ads, it’s even more incentivized to gather what we do online, what we buy offline, and who we are.

Facebook will have to balance the injection of the ads with remaining an easy way to search for friends, content, businesses and more. Search is far from the core of Facebook’s offering, where users typically browse the News Feed for serendipitous content discovery rather than go looking for something specific. The most common searches are likely for friends’ names which won’t be great ad candidates. But given how accustomed users are to search ads on Google, this new revenue stream could help Facebook boost its numbers without too much disruption to its service.

Watch Google CEO Sundar Pichai testify in Congress — on bias, China and more

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai has managed to avoid the public political grillings that have come for tech leaders at Facebook and Twitter this year. But not today.

Today he will be in front of the House Judiciary committee for a hearing entitled: Transparency & Accountability: Examining Google and its Data Collection, Use and Filtering Practices.

The hearing kicks off at 10:00 ET — and will be streamed live via our YouTube channel (with the feed also embedded above in this post).

Announcing the hearing last month, committee chairman Bob Goodlatte said it would “examine potential bias and the need for greater transparency regarding the filtering practices of tech giant Google”.

Republicans have been pressuring the Silicon Valley giant over what they claim is ‘liberal bias’ embedded at the algorithmic level.

This summer President Trump publicly lashed out at Google, expressing displeasure about news search results for his name in a series of tweets in which he claimed: “Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good.”

Google rejected the allegation, responding then that: “Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology.”

In his prepared remarks ahead of the hearing, Pichai reiterates this point.

“I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way. To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests,” he writes. “We are a company that provides platforms for diverse perspectives and opinions—and we have no shortage of them among our own employees.”

He also seeks to paint a picture of Google as a proudly patriotic “American company” — playing up its role as a creator of local jobs and a bolster for the wider US economy, likely in the hopes of defusing some of the expected criticism from conservatives on the committee.

However his statement makes no mention of a separate controversy that’s been dogging Google this year — after news leaked this summer that it had developed a censored version of its search service for a potential relaunch in China.

The committee looks certain to question Google closely on its intentions vis-a-vis China.

In statements ahead of the hearing last month, House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, flagged up reports he said suggested Google is “compromising its core principles by complying with repressive censorship mandates from China”.

Trust in general is a key theme, with lawmakers expressing frustration at both the opacity of Google’s blackbox algorithms, which ultimately shape content hierarchies on its platforms, and the difficulty they’ve had in getting facetime with its CEO to voice questions and concerns.

At a Senate Intelligence committee hearing three months ago, which was attended by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, senators did not hide their anger that Pichai had turned down their invitation — openly ripping into company leaders for not bothering to show up. (Google offered to send its chief legal officer instead.)

“For months, House Republicans have called for greater transparency and openness from Google. Company CEO Sundar Pichai met with House Republicans in September to answer some of our questions. Mr. Pichai’s scheduled appearance in front of the House Judiciary Committee is another important step to restoring public trust in Google and all the companies that shape the Internet,” McCarthy wrote last month.

Other recent news that could inform additional questions for Pichai from the committee include the revelation of yet another massive security breach at Google+; and a New York Times investigation of how mobile apps are location tracking users — with far more Android apps found to contain location-sharing code than iOS apps.

Pew: Social media for the first time tops newspapers as a news source for U.S. adults

It’s not true that everyone gets their news from Facebook and Twitter. But is now true that more U.S. adults get their news from social media than from print newspapers. According to a new report from Pew Research Center out today, social media has for the first time surpassed newspapers as a preferred source of news for American adults. However, social media is still far behind other traditional news sources, like TV and radio, for example.

Last year, the portion of those who got their news from social media was around equal to those who got their news from print newspapers, Pew says. But in its more recent survey conducted from July 30 through August 12, 2018, that had changed.

Now, one-in-five U.S. adults (20%) are getting news from social media, compared with just 16 percent of those who get news from newspapers, the report found. (Pew had asked respondents if they got their news “often” from the various platforms.)

The change comes at a time when newspaper circulation is on the decline, and its popularity as a news medium is being phased out – particularly with younger generations. In fact, the report noted that print only remains popular today with the 65 and up crowd, where 39 percent get their news from newspapers. By comparison, no more than 18 percent of any other age group does.

While the decline of print has now given social media a slight edge, it’s nowhere near dominating other formats.

Instead, TV is still the most popular destination for getting the news, even though that’s been dropping over the past couple of years. TV is then followed by news websites, radio, and then social media and newspapers.

But “TV news” doesn’t necessarily mean cable news networks, Pew clarifies.

In reality, local news is the most popular, with 37 percent getting their news there often. Meanwhile, 30 percent get cable TV news often and 25 percent watch the national evening news shows often.

However, if you look at the combination of news websites and social media together, a trend towards increasing news consumption from the web is apparent. Together, 43 percent of U.S. adults get their news from the web in some way, compared to 49 percent from TV.

There’s a growing age gap between TV and the web, too.

A huge majority (81%) of those 65 and older get news from TV, and so does 65 percent of those ages 50 to 64. Meanwhile, only 16 percent of the youngest consumers – those ages 18 to 29 – get their news from TV. This is the group pushing forward the cord cutting trend, too – or more specifically, many of them are the “cord-nevers,” as they’re never signing up for pay TV subscriptions in the first place. So it’s not surprising they’re not watching TV news.

Plus, a meager 2 percent get their news from newspapers in this group.

This young demographic greatly prefers digital consumption, with 27 percent getting news from news websites and 36 percent from social media. That is to say, they’re four times as likely than those 65 and up to get news from social media.

Meanwhile, online news websites are the most popular with the 30 to 49-year old crowd, with 42 percent saying they get their news often from this source.

Despite their preference for digital, younger Americans’ news consumption is better spread out across mediums, Pew points out.

“Younger Americans are also unique in that they don’t rely on one platform in the way that the majority of their elders rely on TV,” Pew researcher Elisa Shearer writes. “No more than half of those ages 18 to 29 and 30 to 49 get news often from any one news platform,” she says.