Last week we wrote about a pair of new lawsuits against Google’s parent company, Alphabet, alleging that the board acted improperly in which it agreed to pay out tens of millions of dollars to executives who had been found to have committed sexual misconduct. The plaintiffs are seeking a variety of internal reforms at Google, starting with an end to the forced arbitration agreements that limit employees’ legal rights when they are the subject of workplace discrimination.
The plaintiffs — who represent shareholders — have a natural ally in Alphabet employees. And those employees will pick up the baton today when the mount a new public awareness campaign, along with a daylong protest on social media. Nitasha Tiku has the details in Wired:
From 9am to 6pm eastern time on Tuesday, the group will post information about arbitration on a dedicated Twitteraccount, while a companion Instagram account will post testimonials from both experts and survivors of sexual harassment and assault. The purpose of the social media blitz is to bring awareness to the fine print in arbitration clauses, mobilize workers to call on Congress to act, and encourage employees at other companies to demand changes.
“This isn’t just a Google issue. If they all have these arbitration agreements, then there is really is no way for employees to negotiate,” says Vicki Tardif, a staff linguist on Google’s search team, who organized and spoke at the Google walkout in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mandatory arbitration agreements, often signed as part of an employment contract, have come under fire during the #MeToo movement for silencing survivors, while shielding serial predators, because the agreements force employees to take their claims to a private arbiter, rather than public court.
In part, the move comes out of Googler frustration that the company has not ended arbitration agreements as it promised to after November’s Google walkout, organizers wrote in a Medium post today:
The change yielded a win in the headlines, but provided no meaningful gains for worker equity … nor any actual change in employee contracts or future offer letters. (As of this publication, we have confirmed Google is still sending out offer letters with the old arbitration policy.)
So in December 2018, we launched an industry-wide effort focused on ending forced arbitration. This practice affects at least 60 million workers in the US alone. Ending forced arbitration is the gateway change needed to transparently address inequity in the workplace.
Tiku says the anti-arbitration campaign represents a watershed moment for tech’s budding labor movement, because it involves multiple companies. Googlers crowdsourced employment contracts from Facebook, Uber, and other companies, she reports, as well as contractors. They found that none of the companies surveyed made arbitration optional, allowed employees to bring class-action suits, or permitted them to discuss their cases.
So much of the past two years has been about reckoning with the power that the biggest tech platforms have over their users. The Googlers’ work here offers a reminder of how much power tech workers — by virtue of the high demand for their skills — have over their companies. And if the movement to end arbitration proves successful, that power could ripple across whole industries.
Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported on Sunday that Germany’s Federal Cartel Office plans to order Facebook to stop gathering certain kinds of user data:
The German watchdog objects in particular to how Facebook acquires data on people from third-party apps — including its own WhatsApp and Instagram services as well as games and websites — and its tracking of people who are not members.
The paper said it is still not clear how strictly Facebook will have to comply with the German order, noting that the watchdog looks likely to set a deadline for compliance rather than insisting on immediate action.
Some Congressional staff members are complaining — anonymously — about Facebook’s answers to their questions about data privacy, Ali Breland reports:
“They’re very good at running out the clock on you. They get on the line, they do their intro, they talk for 15 minutes without stopping. Then you ask your question, then they spend 10 minutes answering, and before you know it, the call is over,” one aide told Mother Jones.
Four congressional sources Mother Jones spoke with, who requested anonymity to speak frankly, said Facebook often provided unsatisfying or incomplete answers when pressed by lawmakers and their staff. When Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) asked what the company was doing with users’ private messages, according to an aide on the call, Facebook responded that it doesn’t do anything users don’t allow.
On Friday Facebook banned a digital marketing group in the Philippines named Twinmark Media Enterprises, which operated 220 pages with a combined following of 43 million people. Rappler reports that it had ties to the government and frequently spread pro-Duterte propaganda:
In December of 2017, Rappler ran a series of stories on Trending News Portal (TNP), a website that brands itself as a”digital news outfit”, specializing in viral stories. Apart from viral content, bulk of its stories in 2016 are on President Duterte, among them questionable stories against his critics.
Then Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Margaux “Mocha” Uson posted more than 500 posts linking to the site (trendingnewsportal.net.ph or tnp.ph) which has since changed URLs. This is despite the fact that early versions of the site had a disclaimer that said they can’t vouch for the accuracy of their reports.
Facebook’s fact-checking initiative has come to the United Kingdom.
An Iraq War veteran known for pushing fake news leveled himself all the way up with a viral, bait-and-switch crowdfunding campaign in which he first said that the $20 million he raised would go to the government — and then later said that it would go to “a private nonprofit he said he had established in order to construct a wall himself.” Here’s David Mack and Brianna Sacks:
Kolfage has repeatedly said he would not take any money from the wall donations. He has started another GoFundMe campaign with a $100,000 goal that he says will be used to help him “Fight 4 Free Speech” and take action against Facebook, which deleted several of his pages in October during a major purge of inauthentic accounts.
Shortly after he established the wall fundraiser last month, Kolfage updated the webpage to include a separate website that included a Colorado P.O. box, where he said donors could mail personal checks to support the cause.
When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sick, hoaxsters gamed YouTube search to spread conspiracy theories, Tony Romm and Drew Harwell report:
More than half of the top 20 search results for her initials, “RBG,” on Wednesday pointed to false far-right videos, some claiming doctors are using mysterious illegal drugs to keep her alive, according to a review by The Washington Post. Ginsburg has been absent from oral arguments at the Supreme Court this week as she recuperates from recent surgery to remove cancer from her lungs. Tests revealed Friday that she will need no further treatment and that her recovery is on track.
The falsehoods, most of which originated with the fringe movement QAnon, dramatically outnumbered results from credible news sources. Only one of the top results came from a mainstream news site, CNN, and it was an 11-month-old interview about her career. The algorithm rewarded the conspiracy videos over reliable news based on what it calculated was their “relevance,” signaling that the videos were probably new, popular or suitable to the search.
Taylor Hatmaker writes about a new study that attempted to find a correlation between use of Facebook and performance on the Iowa Gambling Task, which assesses decision-making skills. The study has some big flaws — a small sample using self-reported data about Facebook use, to name two — but it suggests further research could be warranted:
Study participants who self-reported as excessive Facebook users actually performed worse than their peers on the IGT, frequenting the two “bad” decks that offer immediate gains but ultimate result in losses. That difference in behavior was statistically significant in the latter portion of the IGT, when a participant has had ample time to observe the deck’s patterns and knows which decks present the greatest risk.
The IGT has been used to study everything from patients with frontal lobe brain injuries to heroin addicts, but using it as a measure to examine social media addicts is novel. Along with deeper, structural research, it’s clear that researchers can apply to social media users much of the existing methodological framework for learning about substance addiction.
Here’s a legitimate and deeply unfortunate case of fake news from a local TV news station. Every single implication of this story is bad:
The city’s Fox affiliate, Q13, beamed out doctored footage of Trump’s Tuesday address, according to the Seattle Times. The station’s broadcast showed Trump with a larger-than-normal head. His skin had a Cheetos-orange tint. And during his speech, the president’s tongue hung out of his mouth between sentences. It is unclear whether the footage ran live as Trump was giving his speech, or was replayed in later broadcasts.
Taylor Lorenz chronicles the evolution of the “Instagram husband,” which is a millennial term meaning “photographer.”
Though people have almost always relied on other people to take photos of themselves, Instagram and influencer culture has transformed that duty into a near-full-time job. In 2015, a fake PSA produced by Jeff Houghton solidified the term and went massively viral. With nearly 7 million views, the video profiles the men “behind every cute girl on Instagram.” They bemoan having to delete all the apps on their phone to make room for more photos and transforming into “a human selfie stick.”
In the three years since that video was shot, however, the term has evolved. The joke of the Instagram-husband video was that these men are miserable. You’re meant to sympathize with the men, who are presented as begrudging participants, and laugh or scoff at the women for forcing them to do something as “trivial” as taking endless photos. But Instagram and the digital landscape it created have shifted massively since the video was released. Those women people laughed at for taking endless photos in front of a brick wall are now influencers—people who leverage a social-media following to influence others and make money—and are worth millions. And while men used to be seen as begrudging participants, more so-called Instagram husbands are embracing the term and becoming an integral part of their partner’s business.
Issie Lapowsky has me rethinking my decision to geotag all my tweets:
AN INTERNATIONAL GROUP of researchers has developed an algorithmic tool that uses Twitter to automatically predict exactly where you live in a matter of minutes, with more than 90 percent accuracy. It can also predict where you work, where you pray, and other information you might rather keep private, like, say, whether you’ve frequented a certain strip club or gone to rehab.
The tool, called LPAuditor (short for Location Privacy Auditor), exploits what the researchers call an “invasive policy” Twitter deployed after it introduced the ability to tag tweets with a location in 2009. For years, users who chose to geotag tweets with any location, even something as geographically broad as “New York City,” also automatically gave their precise GPS coordinates. Users wouldn’t see the coordinates displayed on Twitter. Nor would their followers. But the GPS information would still be included in the tweet’s metadata and accessible through Twitter’s API.
Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the only social media magnate navigating treacherous waters. In some ways, the challenges of running WeChat are completely different. But even for an app that has been more or less endorsed as the official social network of China by an authoritarian regime, Zhang, too, has to manage competition. A revealing story from Lulu Yilun Chen:
While WeChat has been the star of China’s internet for years, newcomers like Bytedance Ltd. are now making things harder. The owner of Toutiao, Douyin and Tik Tok has become the world’s most valuable startup.
“The much-reported cannibalisation of screen time from Bytedance’s apps are obviously hurting WeChat, and with little wonder,” said Mark Tanner, founder of Shanghai-based research and marketing company China Skinny. “WeChat needs to stay relevant for those hundreds of millions of users who just want something simple to use, that looks good and is entertaining and are used to newer, shinier things being launched.”
Aaron Sorkin won an Oscar for pretending that Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook to meet girls. (In fact, Zuckerberg was already dating the woman who would become his wife, Priscilla Chan.) Sorkin’s next fictional reverie about tech, Steve Jobs, was a relative flop. And so now he plans to go back to the well for a movie that is already my least anticipated film of whatever year it comes out. Obnoxious!
In a new AP Entertainment video, the Oscar-winning screenwriter revealed that he thinks it might be time for a follow-up to the hugely successful 2010 David Fincher film. “First of all, I know a lot more about Facebook in 2005 than I do in 2018 — but, I know enough to know that there should be a sequel,” said Sorkin, laughing.
You can now share events to your Facebook story in order to encourage friends to go, Nick Statt reports:
The company said today that it plans to start testing a way “to share the events you’re interested in and coordinate to meet up with friends IRL” using Stories. The test will take place in the US, Brazil, and Mexico, and it should be available for mobile users on both iOS and Android.
Unlike your standard Stories feature, which Facebook initially cribbed from Snapchat for use on Instagram to help it become exceptionally more popular, this specific implementation is designed to share the details of an event with your friends. That way, you can see who may want to come to an upcoming show or some other activity that has a corresponding event page. The stories will come with tappable stickers for revealing event details, and friends can toggle themselves as “interested” or “going” to the event right from within the story. There’s also a link to the event page built in and a way to start a group chat on Messenger with friends who responded.
Sure, why not:
Previously, YouTube viewers had to active tap to move between videos, both on the site and on the app; now, app users can swipe left to see the video they were just watching, and swipe to move to the next recommendation in the queue. The main motivation? Ease of use.
Better Worlds is a fun project from The Verge that comprises 10 original fiction stories, five animated stories, and five audio adaptations from a diverse roster of science fiction authors. The creative constraint we gave all of them was to write sci-fi about a world in which things are going better than today, rather than worse. Finally, contrarianism that’s relaxing!
As you will recall, Zuckerberg’s personal challenge for 2019 is to do more content marketing. The Ringer staff has some provocative ideas about who he should meet with as part of his planned series of public discussions, including this one from Alyssa Bereznak:
In 2012, Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa lost their child, Noah, in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Since then, they have endured harassment both online and in person, perpetuated by fringe, anti-government conspiracy groups that claim the event was a hoax. In an open letter published in The Guardian this past July, they detailed the ways that Facebook has allowed these groups to continue operating and how the company failed to offer any significant protection for their family.
Pozner and De La Rosa’s story is an excellent (and incredibly disturbing) example of how lives can be ruined when a massive online platform takes no responsibility in moderating information, and prioritizes growth over the well-being of the communities it’s meant to serve. Based on the many other examples we’ve seen in this vein, the way in which social media platforms plan to deal with similarly delicate situations should be a major topic when discussing the future of technology. And who better to challenge Zuckerberg on this conversation than the people who have suffered from his platform’s carelessness?
And finally ...
Until this weekend, the most-liked Instagram photograph of all time was a picture of Kylie Jenner being beautiful (18 million likes). As of today, the most-liked Instagram photo of all time is now a photograph of an egg (33 million likes). The fact that the most-engaged photo is now a satire of the entire idea of engagement seems like a New York Times Magazine essay waiting to happen. If and when it does, we’ll post it here!
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