Facebook and Twitter still trying to convince conservatives their platforms aren’t biased

Are tech platforms biased against conservative users? That accusation keeps coming up, and both Facebook and Twitter seem almost desperate to prove it’s not the case, to the point where they keep meeting with conservative groups and Trump supporters in an attempt to show good faith. This process is fraught with complications, however, since a) it’s not clear right-wing critics actually have a case for making such a claim, and b) bending over backwards to prove they aren’t biased has blown up in Facebook’s face in the not-so-distant past, and in the process arguably made the situation worse.

Washington Post writer Tony Romm has a story up about secret meetings that both Twitter and Facebook have had with Trump aides and other conservative leaders, including senior members of the Republican National Committee, in which they tried to ease concerns about alleged bias in their platforms and algorithms. According to Romm, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey held a private dinner that included Fox News commentator Greta Van Susteren and Trump adviser Mercedes Schlapp:

“The gathering came weeks after Dorsey provoked conservatives’ ire by tweeting a story suggesting voters should elect Democrats in November… the Twitter executive heard an earful from conservatives gathered at the table, who scoffed at the fact that Dorsey runs a platform that’s supposed to be neutral even though he’s tweeted about issues like immigration, gay rights and national politics.”

The story goes on to say that Facebook sent a team to Washington to address complaints of bias, a team led by former Republican senator Jon Kyl, who met with groups like the Heritage Foundation.  Conservative critics like to bring up the alleged “banning” of two right-wing video bloggers known as Diamond and Silk (even though they weren’t banned), and the fact that a conservative congresswoman was blocked from uploading a video about abortion. But some argue that this eagerness to prove they aren’t biased not only won’t actually work, but could backfire on the platforms.


For a glimpse of how this could backfire, all you have to do is look at what happened when conservative critics accused Facebook of rigging its “trending topics” section to remove content from certain right-wing news sources in 2016. The accusation was based on some comments made by the human editors Facebook used for the feature, who told Gizmodo they had discretion to remove some sources. The social network responded by firing almost all of its editors, then reached out to conservative pundits for meetings at which it maintained that it wasn’t biased. It recently shut down the feature altogether.

If you assume such incidents have made the issue of conservative bias a hot button for both Facebook and Twitter, it’s not hard to draw a line between the platforms’ desire to avoid such charges and criticism that they are too soft on right-wing trolls and others who take advantage of their networks. There are even those who argue Facebook’s attempt at damage control after the trending topics fiasco made it easier for the Trump administration to leverage the platform to help win the 2016 election.

Does this kind of accusation seem like a stretch? Maybe a little. But if right-wing allegations of bias are not being made in good faith, but are only another blunt instrument with which to try and hamstring political opponents, then treating those allegations as serious and bending over backwards to prove them wrong could actually cause as much or even more damage than it prevents.

The civility debate may be a distraction, but it’s also a symptom of a broader ideological war

On the one hand, all the recent talk about a decline in “civility” seems like a distraction from much more important topics, such as the detaining of immigrant families in what amount to internment camps, as Pete Vernon pointed out in yesterday’s newsletter. And yet, the debate continues, with multiple articles and op-ed pieces plumbing the depths of the most obvious hot takes: Namely, a) The decline of civility on the left is a gift to Trump and his supporters, or b) At a time when we are surrounded by literal Nazis bent on destroying the rule of law, asking for civility is like fiddling while Rome is aflame.

Is it because summer is under way, and people are looking for a quick story or column they can polish off before they duck out to catch a baseball game or watch the World Cup? Or is there more to this debate than meets the eye? Probably a combination of both.

The appeal of a hot take on civility is fairly obvious for both sides of political sphere. For the left, it’s a way to establish just how serious things have gotten in recent months, as the president has locked up immigrant babies in “tender care” camps and mused publicly about how due process for those seeking asylum is a nuisance, and we should probably get rid of it. At a time like this, how can we realistically get mad at someone for denying Sarah Huckabee Sanders a meal at a restaurant, or at Robert de Niro for swearing at Trump? Would being polite to Hitler have made things any better?

On the right, meanwhile, the focus on civility provides a slam-dunk argument that the left has lost its way and are now a pack of drooling jackals. After all, wasn’t it the left who insisted that “when they go low, we go high?” Now they seem just as happy to get down in the muck and sling it anywhere they can. And the fact that the left’s argument amounts to “we can’t be polite because the right are Nazis,” it allows conservatives to make the case that liberals have lost the ability to draw distinctions between what Trump is doing and what the Third Reich did. In other words, that the left has become hysterical.

Continue reading “The civility debate may be a distraction, but it’s also a symptom of a broader ideological war”

Apple says its news portal is more trustworthy because it’s run by humans

Apple launched a special section of its News app on Monday dedicated to the upcoming midterm elections, a section it said will be filled with stories and features curated by Apple News editors from “trusted publishers.” And while the name Facebook didn’t appear anywhere in the company’s press release, the description of the new section seemed like one long subtweet of the social network.

While Facebook continues to try to overcome a reputation for misinformation—especially the kind distributed by Russian trolls—and fights with publishers about lumping their news stories in with political advertising, Apple makes a point of noting that its stories are curated by human beings, and that it has solid relationships with leading news publishers. Editor-in-chief Lauren Kern, the former executive editor of New York magazine, said in a note promoting the launch:

“We won’t shy away from controversial topics, but our goal is to illuminate, not enrage. And we’ll always steer clear of rumor and propaganda. These elections matter. Every vote matters. And now, more than ever, trustworthy, accurate information matters.”

The new Election 2018 section will include features such as The Conversation, a collection of opinion columns intended to “offer readers a full range of ideas and debate about important subjects, from news sources they may not already follow,” as well as On the Ground, which will “highlight quality reporting about issues that matter to local constituents on the most important races.”

Apple says it will also have exclusive content from several different news organizations, including an Election Now dashboard from The Washington Post that will present key data from important primary races, a weekly briefing from Axios and a feature called “Races to Watch” from Politico.

Not everyone is excited about Apple’s selection of “trusted sources.” Journalism professor Dan Gillmor, for example, noted on Twitter that one of the first publishers the company mentions in its release is Fox News, a site many people might argue shouldn’t be trusted on certain public policy issues.


That kind of criticism aside, however, it seems clear that Apple is positioning its News offering as a smarter alternative to the algorithm-driven curation that Facebook and other social platforms engage in, because Apple employs editors to make the decision about what is a credible news story and what isn’t. Does that actually result in smarter news coverage ? Theoretically, yes. In practice? That’s still an open question.

Not only is Apple offering what it says is qualitatively better news, but it is also doing so without any of the advertising-related issues that Facebook is struggling with. At the moment, the social network is still getting slammed by publishers who believe classifying news stories as political advertising (when they are promoted or “boosted” on the network to ensure people see them) is inherently dangerous.

On top of all that, Facebook is still being criticized by publishers for not providing enough revenue, especially on the video content that the social network convinced everyone to start creating. And the combination of all of these factors is driving some publishers towards Apple News as an alternative—one the giant consumer electronics company is clearly trying hard to take advantage of. Whether it is a better home for news than Facebook or the other social platforms remains to be seen.

This is what happens when speech gets outsourced to Twitter and Facebook

Both Facebook and Twitter are struggling to get a handle on how their platforms are being used by bad actors, but their solutions are causing almost as many problems as they had before they started. In the case of Facebook, the giant social network is clamping down on political advertising, and that is creating some bad blood among news publishers, who believe they are being unfairly treated. In Twitter’s case, the company is trying to curb harassment, but the ways it has chosen to do so are raising a host of unpleasant questions about its power and how that affects publishers and free speech.

Facebook has been building an archive of political ads, as a way of making up for the fact that Russian trolls manipulated the platform during the 2016 election, but news companies are being caught in that net, and they are not happy about it. Reveal, an investigative news outlet, complained this week that it was blocked from promoting a news story because Facebook said it was political advertising, and others have complained of similar behavior. Most say they have gotten a message saying they “are not approved to post political advertising” when they try to boost a post with a political news story.


Rob Goldman, head of advertising for Facebook, explained in a series of tweets on Wednesday that this happens because the news outlets in question haven’t been “authenticated” and approved to post political ads, and paying to promote a post with a political news story in it qualifies as a political ad. Megha **, engagement editor at STAT News, said the site had been blocked from promoting stories in the past, but after getting authenticated — which involved a page administrator supplying photo ID and a special code sent by mail — there hasn’t been a problem. This doesn’t change the fact that many media entities, including The New York Times, believe they shouldn’t have to go through this process at all, however.

In the case of Twitter, the company blocked a range of accounts — including many run by journalists — for 24 hours, after they posted messages about a story published by Splinter News (formerly Gawker Media, now part of Univision) that included the private phone number of White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, the person many blame for the separation and internment of immigrant families. Twitter apparently saw publishing his phone number as “doxxing,” or revealing personal information about someone for the purposes of harassment, and therefore put the users in “Twitter jail.”


Whether posting Miller’s phone number should be seen as doxxing is obviously up to Twitter to decide, as is the punishment for this supposed crime, since it (like Facebook) is a private corporation running a platform it controls, and thus isn’t bound by the First Amendment. That said, however, blocking someone for simply posting a link to a website raises some interesting questions. How far is Twitter — or any other platform — willing to go in taking this to its logical conclusion? What if a journalist links to a site that has ISIS videos, or pro-Nazi content, for news purposes. Will they be blocked?

The reality of the internet as it exists right now is that several large platforms effectively control speech in a much more dramatic and far-reaching way than was ever possible in the past. Google and Facebook and Twitter are like shopping malls, where the mall owner gets to control the speech of anyone who enters, but these malls include literally billions people all across the globe, and the speech that occurs there — including journalism — has very real social consequences. The algorithms these companies are using to curb certain kinds of speech, meanwhile, tend to be both erratic and clumsy. Can the platforms find a way out of this Catch 22 without stomping all over publishers and users?

From medical journalist to health-care CEO—the Atul Gawande story

One day you’re a staff writer at New Yorker magazine and the next day you’re the CEO of a health-care startup backed by Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, and JP Morgan Chase. A fever dream? Not if you’re Atul Gawande. Of course, Gawande is no ordinary writer. He is also a surgeon who practices at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, and a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, as well as the author of four books about medicine. His TED talk on how to fix modern medicine has 1.8 million views. He won a McArthur “Genius” grant in 2006.

Gawande also has an interesting history with Buffett’s investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, one of the backers of the new medical startup (which doesn’t have a name yet). After he wrote an article for the New Yorker in 2009 about a Texas town with one of the highest rates of medical spending in the country—a piece that was cited by then-president Barack Obama during his fight to restructure Medicare—Gawande received a check for $20,000 from Buffett’s longtime business partner, Charlie Munger, in thanks for his perceptive writing (Gawande donated the money to Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital).

The exact nature of the startup that Gawande will be running—in addition to continuing his work as both a professor and a New Yorker writer—is largely unknown. The announcement was made in January by Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon and JP Morgan Chase, and it appears that the three firms have agreed to pool their resources to find a better way to offer health care to their employees, who number more than one million. The joint venture will focus on technology that enables them to provide care “without profit-making incentives and constraints,” according to a recent New York Times article, which added:

It was unclear how extensively the three partners would overhaul their employees’ existing health coverage — whether they would simply help workers find a local doctor, steer employees to online medical advice or use their muscle to negotiate lower prices for drugs and procedures. While the alliance will apply only to their employees, these corporations are so closely watched that whatever successes they have could become models for other businesses.

So what might this new entity look like? Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, told the Times he expects the companies will try to modernize the health-care process by “making it look more like booking a restaurant reservation on OpenTable,” Others said Amazon might create a kind of virtual health-care assistant that could act as a concierge to help people through the process. Some think the three giants may use their combined muscle to try to cut the cost of medication.

Will Gawande be able to tackle this kind of challenge while still working as both a writer, a Harvard professor, and a surgeon? Some are skeptical (and others are skeptical of the new venture for other reasons), but anyone who has followed Gawande’s career knows better than to count him out before the fight begins.

New York Times comes under fire for agreeing to White House terms on Miller interview

Given the ongoing acrimonious relationship between the president and the media, it’s not surprising to see the Trump administration pushing back on almost all aspects of the traditional back-and-forth with the press. But what was surprising to many journalists on Tuesday was how quickly The New York Times seemed to accede to the demands of the White House around a recent interview with policy adviser Stephen Miller, the man many believe is responsible for the administration’s aggressive stance on separating immigrant families and running what amount to child internment camps at the border.

Michael Barbaro, the host of the newspaper’s podcast, The Daily, said at the beginning of the broadcast that he would be talking with a reporter about the recent story on Trump’s border policies, but wouldn’t be using audio of an interview with Miller as he had originally intended, because the White House objected. Almost immediately, the questions started flying: Wasn’t this an on-the-record interview? (Yes, it was). So why would it matter whether the Times quoted Miller’s words in a text article (as the paper did for its print story that ran on June 16) or used the audio of those words on a podcast, or both?

That question hung in the air until the paper’s PR department released a statement saying: “We conducted an extended White House interview with Stephen Miller for a weekend story about the Trump administration’s border policy. After the original story was published, producers of The Daily planned to talk with the reporter and use audio excerpts from the Miller interview. White House officials objected, saying that they had not agreed to a podcast interview. While Miller’s comments were on the record, we realized that the ground rules for the original interview were not clear, and so we made a decision not to run the audio.”

This explanation was not received warmly. “New York Times Caves To White House On Stephen Miller Interview,” blared a headline from HuffPost. Others bombarded the paper on Twitter. “Come on, @nytimes,” said one such criticism. “Release the on-the-record audio of the Stephen Miller interview. It is news, it is fit to print, and we deserve to hear it. Are you journalists or jellyfish? If you need backbone, maybe borrow some from The Washington Post.” Sarah Kenzior said the decision implied that “it’s more important to NYT to placate white supremacists than to speak the truth about the abuse of children.”

Others pointed out that Trump has not exactly been friendly towards the Times — in fact, he has repeatedly singled the newspaper out as “the failing New York Times” and accused it of being “fake news.” Given that, why would the Times be so eager to agree to the White House’s demands, especially when the interview was clearly on the record? Perhaps because the paper is worried about losing access to the Trump administration, and so is willing to eat a little crow. Is that a deal worth making? If the Times still had a public editor, that might make an interesting column, but the paper killed the job last year.

Here’s more on the Times and its controversial decision:

  • Appropriate: Contrary to much of the criticism of the Times, media writer Erik Wemple of the Washington Post said in a column that he understood why they made the decision, writing that “granting some deference to a White House headed by a serial liar doesn’t feel, or look, too good. But it embodies a level of caution appropriate for a news organization such as the Times.”
  • Trade-offs: Nate Silver, who runs the Five Thirty Eight blog, said on Twitter that the choice to agree to the administration’s demand was “a rather explicit acknowledgement by the NYT that it’s willing to make sacrifices to preserve its access to senior people within the White House. Is that access worth it? Maybe — they get a lot of scoops! But let’s not pretend there aren’t trade-offs.”
  • Not about access: Julie Davis, the reporter who did the Miller interview, said “I get the objections to what appears to be an after-the-fact revocation of an on-the-record agreement w Miller, but understand that @shearm & I never requested a podcast interview or permission to use audio.” She said the Times is “not in the business of misrepresenting ourselves to sources in the WH or anywhere else. It’s not about access or anything other than that.”
  • Discomfort: Michael Calderone, senior media reporter at Politico, said in a tweet that he has had conversations where he recorded the audio for accuracy rather than broadcast, and he could see holding back the Miller audio if it specifically violated a source agreement. “But the decision to hold back a clearly newsworthy recording is because it makes the White House uncomfortable?”
  • Mistake: Murdoch Davis, a veteran Canadian newspaper editor and publisher, said the Times decision to withhold the audio of the interview was a mistake. “It’s 2018. NYT isn’t just print media,” he said on Twitter. “Use of anything gathered in reporting – facts, quotes, photos, audio, video – can’t be subject to a newsmaker’s (or his bosses) subsequent misgivings. This is weak @nytimes deference to authority.”

Other notable stories:

Steve Levitan, the co-creator of the ABC hit TV show Modern Family, said that he plans to leave Fox Studio at the end of his contract because of the right-wing sentiments expressed daily on the Fox News network (both are owned by Murdoch-controlled 21st Century Fox). “Fox Studio has been a wonderful home for most of my career,” he said. “I have no problem with fact-based conservatism, but @FoxNews’ 23-hour-a-day support of the NRA, conspiracy theories and Trump’s lies gets harder to swallow every day.”

A survey of college students done by the Knight Foundation and Gallup found a majority of students say that diversity and inclusion are more important than protecting free speech. About 56 percent of those surveyed said free speech was important, and 52 percent said diversity and inclusion were important, but when forced to choose just one, 53 percent chose diversity and inclusion over free speech.

Sarah O’Hagan and Rikha Sharma Rani wrote for CJR about how the Fuller Project for International Reporting looked at mainstream media coverage of immigration for three weeks in 2018 and found that articles talked about conflict and crisis but almost never quoted women. This is striking in part, they said, because women and girls make up at least half of the immigrant population in the US.

Senior editors and journalists have published an open letter to WAN-IFRA, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, after a series of incidents at the organization’s conference in Portugal earlier this month raised the issue of sexism and sexual harassment in the industry. “We are done pandering to the egos of change-resistant influential men in the hope that our gentle lead will eventually encourage them to join us on a meander toward gender equality in the news business,” the letter says.

Seth MacFarlane, creator of the animated series Family Guy, has donated $2 million to NPR and $500,000 to Los Angeles NPR affiliate KPCC. The donations came just a few days after the comedian and producer expressed outrage on Twitter at a suggestion from Fox News host Tucker Carlson that viewers should discount anything they see or hear from any media outlet other than Fox.

New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said in a speech at the annual advertising shindig in Cannes that the publisher’s relationship with Google is “genuinely quite creative [and] positive,” and that Twitter is “becoming an exciting and interesting platform again.” Facebook, however, “we have found to be very difficult,” he said. In particular, Thompson mentioned the company’s recent decision to put promoted news stories into a searchable public archive of political advertising.

EU copyright proposal has free speech advocates worried

It hasn’t been that long since the European Union caused upheaval on the internet with the launch of the GDPR or General Data Protection Regulation, which brought in a host of cumbersome rules on how consumer data should be protected. Now, some internet activists and free-speech advocates are warning that the EU could take an even larger step in the wrong direction with a proposed copyright law that is up for a vote later this week. If passed, the law could give platforms like Google and Facebook unprecedented power to remove content on the basis that it might be infringing on copyright.

The bill is Article 13 of the proposed Directive for Copyright in the Digital Single Market, and among other things it would require any internet service that hosts content to proactively filter uploads in order to remove copyright infringement. A letter opposing the law was released last week by a group of internet luminaries including Ethernet inventor Vint Cerf, world wide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, net neutrality expert Tim Wu, Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle and Mozilla Project co-founder Mitchell Baker. The letter says:

By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users. The damage that this may do to the free and open Internet as we know it is hard to predict, but in our opinions could be substantial.

The European market currently follows a “notice and takedown” copyright system, in much the same way that the US does. In the US, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act gives platforms and content providers a certain amount of immunity (known as “safe harbor”) for hosting content that might infringe on copyright, provided they act immediately to remove it if infringement is brought to their attention. The proposed EU law would replace notice and takedown with a requirement to remove any infringement before it ever goes online.

One risk of this approach is that service providers will remove content that doesn’t infringe because they are afraid of contravening the law. So, for example, they might block a “meme” that uses a copyrighted image to make fun of something, even though that kind of use is typically allowed under “fair use” rules (known as “fair dealing” in the UK and a number of other countries). The signatories of the letter also argue that the cost of this new filtering approach will hit smaller internet services harder, since larger platforms like Google and Facebook will have more than enough resources to comply.

The filtering/censorship risk isn’t the only downside of the proposed law. It also includes a “link tax,” which would give copyright holders to ability to charge online platforms or providers for using even short snippets of text from a work such as a news article. Germany and several other countries have been working on variations of this idea as a way of charging Google and Facebook for taking their content, but critics of the law say its real impact could be a crippling of the internet’s inherent power to link to original source material, since even an innocent link could infringe on this new copyright.

The proposed law goes to a vote by the European Union’s legislative committee on June 20. They could decide to include Article 13, Article 11 (the link tax) or both, or they could decide to include neither one. Judging by one ranking of the potential votes of committee members, however, it looks as though the filtering proposal will almost certainly pass, and the link tax appears to be close. And that could change the way the internet works — in the EU at least — on a fairly fundamental level.

Ad blocking company launches Chrome extension that ranks news sites on trust

With fake news such a hot-button topic, thanks to Facebook and its Russian trolls, determining what is trustworthy and what isn’t has become a key focus both for the platforms and for media companies. Facebook is now ranking news sources based on whether users (and its algorithm) see them as trustworthy, although many—including New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, who spoke at a recent event in Washington, DC—see that as problematic. Tesla founder Elon Musk has talked about a crowdsourced trust ranking system, which many see as equally problematic. Can something like trust even be quantified?

All of these questions and more come to mind with a new trust solution, an extension to Google’s Chrome browser that claims it will sort out who is a trustworthy source. The plugin, called Trusted News, comes from eyeo, the German company behind AdBlock Plus, which the company claims is the world’s most popular ad-blocking software. According to the plugin description:

TrustedNews is here to help you spot fake or suspicious news, and to recommend trustworthy sources instead. With so many sources of news available on the internet, how do you trust what you read? Fake news, bots and thinly-veiled opinion pieces dressed as news are everywhere. Trusting online news media is harder than it should be. We aim to help you cast a more critical eye over the news by rating for fake, questionable or trustworthy news.

The company says the plugin can distinguish between trustworthy and biased sites, and can also categorize satire and clickbait, which it defines as a site that “knowingly uses misleading headings or article titles to attract readers in an effort to increase traffic and revenue.” Of course, one could argue that lots of media outlets do this, including some mainstream ones. So how does eyeo’s plugin decide who is and who isn’t? By using a database that includes information from sites like Snopes.com and Politifact.

Eyeo’s database also uses an open-source list of untrustworthy sources originally created by Melissa Zimdars, a professor of communications at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. The list breaks down sites using tags, including “fake,” “satire,” “bias,” “conspiracy,” and “junk science.” The eyeo plugin also gives users a visual reference when they load a site—trustworthy comes with a green checkmark, satire a blue smiley face, biased an orange scale, and untrustworthy a red exclamation mark.

In the case of right-wing news site Breitbart News, clicking on the plugin loads a small popup card that says the site “contains politically biased content or promotes unproven or skewed views.” But will this dissuade anyone who has already decided that they like Breitbart, or are inclined to believe its reporting? Likely not. In fact, there’s some evidence that fact-checking by sites such as Snopes.com can actually convince true believers that the facts being debunked are true rather than false, a phenomenon known as the “boomerang effect.” It’s going to take more than a browser plugin to overcome that.

Rumors spread via WhatsApp lead to more deaths in India

Facebook has said it is working on ways to limit the reach of misinformation on the social network, including using its algorithms to de-emphasize what it calls “low quality” sources in the News Feed. But there appears to be very little it can do about what for many is an even larger problem: Namely, hoaxes and conspiracy theories spreading via WhatsApp, the text messaging service Facebook acquired in 2014 for $20 billion or so. According to a number of reports from India on Monday, this kind of weaponized fake news has led to another two deaths at the hands of a mob outraged about alleged kidnappings. Said the BBC:

Two men became the latest victims of hysteria over WhatsApp rumours of child kidnappers. The men had stopped to ask directions in north-eastern Assam state when they were beaten to death by a large mob. Rumours of child kidnappings are spreading across India over WhatsApp, and have already led to the deaths of seven other people in the past month.

Police say several of these attacks on strangers have been fuelled in part by a video that is circulating on WhatsApp, which appears to show a young child being abducted by two men on a motorcycle. But the video is not of an actual abduction, and it’s not from India at all—it is a clip from a child safety video produced in Pakistan, which has been edited to remove the segment explaining its origins. To make matters worse, some local media outlets have reported the rumors, making them seem more credible.

Last month, a 55-year-old woman was lynched by a mob after she handed out candy to children, and a transgender woman was also hung by a crowd because they suspected she was involved in kidnappings. Four men have also been killed, in most cases because they were believed to be acting suspicious and were not from the local area. One man was tied up and beaten to death with cricket bats. WhatsApp has also been implicated in the spread of other hoaxes that have also led to violence.

Police in many communities have been watching social-media sites to try and stop the spread of the messages, and in one city they even marched through town with megaphones asking residents not to believe the rumors, while in at least one state, authorities arrested people who were spreading the video.

Unfortunately, there is very little the police—or anyone else for that matter, including Facebook—can do about these kinds of rumors spreading. One problem is that while regular posts on Facebook are technically public (with certain restrictions set by users), messages sent via WhatsApp are typically sent from person to person, or to a very small group of friends. Even worse, however, is that the app uses end-to-end encryption, so even Facebook can’t see the actual content that gets posted.

This makes WhatsApp very appealing for users who want to just message their friends and family the way they would with a regular text-messaging app, without having anyone listen in or screenshot their discussion. But it also makes the app very appealing for anyone who wants to spread misinformation, for whatever reason, because it’s almost impossible to track and even harder to get rid of.

Publishers continue to slam Facebook’s decision to lump news stories in with ads

Even as Facebook tries to solve one problem—namely, accusations that it isn’t transparent enough about the ads it runs on the platform—it seems to have created another one. Publishers are up in arms over the fact that the social network plans to treat certain promoted news stories as though they are political ads, and they’ve made their feelings known in a number of ways. A group of media organizations have sent Facebook a letter expressing their dissatisfaction, and New York Times CEO Mark Thompson vented on the subject at an event organized by Columbia’s Tow Center on Tuesday in Washington, DC.

The furor came to a head last month, when Facebook made it clear that ads for news stories involving political themes would be included in a public database it recently launched. The database is designed to be a central location where anyone can see who is paying for ads, and is a central part of the company’s attempt to deal with criticism that its ad platform was used by Russian trolls during the 2016 election. The News Media Alliance sent a letter saying the move could lead to a loss of trust in the press.

On Monday, seven media organizations—including the NMA, the American Society of News Editors, the European Publishers Council and the Society of Professional Journalists—sent another strongly-worded letter to Facebook with similar complaints, saying: “Placing news ads in an archive designed to capture political advertising [is] another step toward furthering a false and dangerous narrative that blurs the lines between real reporting from the professional media and propaganda.”

In a speech at the Washington event, co-sponsored by the Tow Center and the Open Markets Institute, Times CEO Thompson echoed this criticism, saying: “When it comes to news, Facebook still doesn’t get it. In its efforts to clear up one bad mess, it seems set on joining those who want blur the line between reality-based journalism and propaganda.” Tow Center director Emily Bell called the decision to classify promoted stories as ads “a disastrous misstep for [Facebook’s] relationship with publishers.”

In their letter, the seven news organizations said the company should exempt certain high-quality publishers from the decision, although they didn’t define who those outlets would be. But it doesn’t sound like Facebook has any intention of doing so anyway, judging by comments from Head of News Campbell Brown at the Washington event. Brown said after hearing criticism from publishers, the company now plans to put promoted news stories in their own database, separate from traditional ads, but added that being exempted from the plan altogether was not an option. Any publishers who don’t want their stories to be categorized in such a way, she said, should stop advertising on Facebook.

In addition to feuding with publishers, Facebook is also struggling to mend its relationship with Congress, after CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced to appear at a hearing over a data leak. Here’s more on that:

  • Homework: The social network sent responses to questions CEO Mark Zuckerberg dodged when he appeared before Congress last month to talk about Cambridge Analytica, and they were made public on Tuesday. The document totals almost 500 pages, including answers to questions about data collection, privacy and competition, but critics note many of the answers are not detailed and in some cases just refer Congress to existing statements in Facebook’s terms of service.
  • All the data: Among the things Facebook provided was a comprehensive list of all the information it keeps on its users, including details on the movement of the mouse when you are using the site, names and locations of files on your device, the power level of the battery on your mobile phone and the location of nearby WiFi towers and beacons, as well as standard information such as GPS location. Facebook also keeps track of your log of phone calls if you use an Android (Apple doesn’t allow this).
  • A research lab: Facebook told Congress that it has launched a new design and research lab based in Dublin, Ireland that will work on improving the way the social network informs people about sharing their personal data. Called TTC (for trust, transparency and control), Facebook said the lab would involve partnerships with academics, and would “seek to pioneer new and more people-centric best practices for people to understand how their data is used by digital services.”
  • Eye-tracking: The company said while it holds two patents for detecting eye movements and emotions, it is not currently building eye-tracking software. The company said that eye tracking could be one way to add security for users of its Oculus virtual-reality headsets, but said if it decided to implement any technology based on its patents in the future, it would “do so with people’s privacy in mind.” Facebook also denied that it uses information from microphones to target advertising to users.
Other notable stories:
  • Pete Vernon writes for CJR about the bizarre spectacle that cable television became during the meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with former basketball player Dennis Rodman—wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and a promotional T-shirt for a cryptocurrency based on marijuana sales called Potcoin—being held up as an analyst of US-North Korean diplomacy.
  • Former New York Times columnist Joe Nocera wrote about his struggles with depression and bipolar disorder in the wake of the recent suicide deaths of chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade. Nocera says he tried to fight off his depression because he was ashamed of asking for help and didn’t want to acknowledge that he was bipolar, but eventually he was able to confront the problem and got treatment.
  • A new report from the Media Insight Project, a joint effort between the American Press Institute and the AP-NORC Center, showed that many Americans are not familiar with many aspects of journalism, including the term “op-ed” and the difference between an editorial and a news story. It also found that many readers believe the news they see veers too far into commentary, and most would also like the news outlets they visit to spend more time describing why and how they use anonymous sources.
  • During the historic meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, some print reporters were prevented from attending some events, the Associated Press said. On most foreign trips the practice is to allow all members of the “pool” of reporters to attend as a group, but AP said print reporters for the Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg were prevented from attending a photo-op.
  • David Skok, a former senior editor with both The Boston Globe and the Toronto Star, has launched a subscription-only news and analysis site called The Logic, based in Toronto. In a post published on Medium, Skok says the site will charge $300 a year for access to in-depth reporting and analysis on new technologies and how they are impacting the economy and society in Canada.