Facebook won’t ban political ads, prefers to keep screwing democracy

It’s 2020 — a key election year in the US — and Facebook is doubling down on its policy of letting people pay it to fuck around with democracy.

Despite trenchant criticism — including from US lawmakers accusing Facebook’s CEO to his face of damaging American democracy the company is digging in, announcing as much today by reiterating its defence of continuing to accept money to run microtargeted political ads.

Instead of banning political ads Facebook is trumpeting a few tweaks to the information it lets users see about political ads — claiming it’s boosting “transparency” and “controls” while leaving its users vulnerable to default settings that offer neither.  

Political ads running on Facebook are able to be targeted at individuals’ preferences as a result of the company’s pervasive tracking and profiling of Internet users. And ethical concerns about microtargeting led the UK’s data protection watchdog to call in 2018 for a pause on the use of digital ad tools like Facebook by political campaigns — warning of grave risks to democracy.

Facebook isn’t for pausing political microtargeting, though. Even though various elements of its data-gathering activities are also subject to privacy and consent complaints, regulatory scrutiny and legal challenge in Europe, under regional data protection legislation.

Instead, the company made it clear last fall that it won’t fact-check political ads, nor block political messages that violate its speech policies — thereby giving politicians carte blanche to run hateful lies, if they so choose.

Facebook’s algorithms also demonstrably select for maximum eyeball engagement, making it simply the ‘smart choice’ for the modern digitally campaigning politician to run outrageous BS on Facebook — as long time Facebook exec Andrew Bosworth recently pointed out in an internal posting that leaked in full to the NYT.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s defence of his social network’s political ads policy boils down to repeatedly claiming ‘it’s all free speech man’ (we paraphrase).

This is an entirely nuance-free argument that comedian Sacha Baron Cohen expertly demolished last year, pointing out that: “Under this twisted logic if Facebook were around in the 1930s it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his solution to the ‘Jewish problem.’”

Facebook responded to the take-down with a denial that hate speech exists on its platform since it has a policy against it — per its typical crisis PR playbook. And it’s more of the same selectively self-serving arguments being dispensed by Facebook today.

In a blog post attributed to its director of product management, Rob Leathern, it expends more than 1,000 words on why it’s still not banning political ads (it would be bad for advertisers wanting to reaching “key audiences”, is the non-specific claim) — including making a diversionary call for regulators to set ad standards, thereby passing the buck on ‘democratic accountability’ to lawmakers (whose electability might very well depend on how many Facebook ads they run…), while spinning cosmetic, made-for-PR tweaks to its ad settings and what’s displayed in an ad archive that most Facebook users will never have heard of as “expanded transparency” and “more control”. 

In fact these tweaks do nothing to reform the fundamental problem of damaging defaults.

The onus remains on Facebook users to do the leg work on understanding what its platform is pushing at their eyeballs and why.

Even as the ‘extra’ info now being drip-fed to the Ad Library is still highly fuzzy (“We are adding ranges for Potential Reach, which is the estimated target audience size for each political, electoral or social issue ad so you can see how many people an advertiser wanted to reach with every ad,” as Facebook writes of one tweak.)

The new controls similarly require users to delve into complex settings menus in order to avail themselves of inherently incremental limits — such as an option that will let people opt into seeing “fewer” political and social issue ads. (Fewer is naturally relative, ergo the scale of the reduction remains entirely within Facebook’s control — so it’s more meaningless ‘control theatre’ from the lord of dark pattern design. Why can’t people switch off political and issue ads entirely?)

Another incremental setting lets users “stop seeing ads based on an advertiser’s Custom Audience from a list”.

But just imagine trying to explain WTF that means to your parents or grandparents — let alone an average Internet user actually being able to track down the ‘control’ and exercise any meaningful agency over the political junk ads they’re being exposed to on Facebook.

It is, to quote Baron Cohen, “bullshit”.

Nor are outsiders the only ones calling out Zuckerberg on his BS and “twisted logic”: A number of Facebook’s own employees warned in an open letter last year that allowing politicians to lie in Facebook ads essentially weaponizes the platform.

They also argued that the platform’s advanced targeting and behavioral tracking tools make it “hard for people in the electorate to participate in the public scrutiny that we’re saying comes along with political speech” — accusing the company’s leadership of making disingenuous arguments in defence of a toxic, anti-democratic policy. 

Nothing in what Facebook has announced today resets the anti-democratic asymmetry inherent in the platform’s relationship to its users.

Facebook users — and democratic societies — remain, by default, preyed upon by self-interested political interests thanks to Facebook’s policies which are dressed up in a self-interested misappropriation of ‘free speech’ as a cloak for its unfettered exploitation of individual attention as fuel for a propaganda-as-service business.

Yet other policy positions are available.

Twitter announced a total ban on political ads last year — and while the move doesn’t resolve wider disinformation issues attached to its platform, the decision to bar political ads has been widely lauded as a positive, standard-setting example.

Google also followed suit by announcing a ban on “demonstrably false claims” in political ads. It also put limits on the targeting terms that can be used for political advertising buys that appear in search, on display ads and on YouTube.

Still Facebook prefers to exploit “the absence of regulation”, as its blog post puts it, to not do the right thing and keep sticking two fingers up at democratic accountability — because not applying limits on behavioral advertising best serves its business interests. Screw democracy.

“We have based [our policies] on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public,” Facebook writes, ignoring the fact that some of its own staff already pointed out the sketchy hypocrisy of trying to claim that complex ad targeting tools and techniques are open to public scrutiny.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/09/facebook-wont-ban-political-ads-prefers-to-keep-screwing-democracy/

Twitter’s new reply blockers could let Trump hide critics

What if politicians could only display Twitter replies from their supporters while stopping everyone else from adding their analysis to the conversation? That’s the risk of Twitter’s upcoming Conversation Participants tool it’s about to start testing that lets you choose if you want replies from everyone, only those your follow or mention, or no one.

For most, the reply limiter could help repel trolls and harassment. Unfortunately, it still puts the burden of safety on the victims rather than the villains. Instead of routing out abusers, Twitter wants us to retreat and wall off our tweets from everyone we don’t know. That could reduce the spontaneous yet civil reply chains between strangers that are part of what makes Twitter so powerful.

But in the hands of politicians hoping to avoid scrutiny, the tools could make it appear that their tweets and policies are uniformly supported. By only allowing their sycophants to add replies below their posts, anyone reading along will exposed to a uniformity of opinion that clashes with Twitter’s position as a marketplace of ideas.

We’ve reached out to Twitter for comment on this issue and whether anyone such as politicians would be prevented from using the new reply-limiting tools. Twitter plans to test the reply-selection tool in Q1 and make modifications if necessary before rolling it out.

Here’s how the new Conversation Participants feature works according to the preview shared by Twitter’s Suzanne Xie at CES today, though it could change during testing. When users go to tweet, they’ll have the option of selecting who can reply, unlike now when everyone can leave replies  but authors can hide certain ones that viewers can opt to reveal. Conversation Participants offers four options:

Global: Replies from anyone

Group: Replies from those you follow or mention in this tweet

Panel: Replies from only those you mention in this tweet

Statement: No replies allowed

Now Imagine President Trump opts to make all of his tweets Group-only. Only those who support him and he therefore follows like his sons, Fox News’ Sean Hannity, and his campaign team could reply. Gone would be the reels of critics fact-checking his statements or arguing against his policies. His tweets would be safeguarded from reproach, establishing an echo chamber filter bubble for his acoyltes.

It’s true that some of these responses from the public might constitute abuse or harassment. But those should be dealt with specifically through strong policy and consistent enforcement of adequate punishments when rules are broken. By instead focusing on stopping replies from huge swaths of the community, the secondary effects have the potential to prop up politicians that consistently lie and undam the flow of misinformation.

There’s also the practical matter that this won’t stop abuse, it will merely move it. Civil discussion will be harder to find for the rest of the public, but harassers will still reach their targets. Users blocked from replying to specific tweet can just tweet directly at the author. They can also continue to mention the author separately or screenshot their tweets and then discuss them.

It’s possible that US law preventing politicians discriminating against citizens with different viewpoints by restricting their access to the politician’s comments on a public forum. Judges ruled this makes it illegal for Trump to block people on social media. But with this new tool, since anyone could still see the tweets, reply to the author separately, and not being followed by the author likely doesn’t count as discrimination like blocking does, use of the Conversation Participants tool could be permissible.

Again, this is why Twitter needs to refocus on cleaning up its community rather than only letting people build tiny, temporary shelters from the abuse. It could consider blocking replies and mentions from brand new accounts without sufficient engagement or a linked phone number, as I suggested in 2017. It could also create a new mid-point punishment of a ‘time-out’ from sending replies for harassment that it (sometimes questionably) deems below the threshold of an account suspension.

The combination of Twitter’s decade of weakness in the face of trolls with a new political landscape of normalized misinformation threaten to overwhelm its attempts to get a handle on safety.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/08/twitter-reply-blocker/

Facebook and eBay pledge to do more to tackle trade in fake reviews after pressure from UK regulator

Facebook and eBay have made commitments to do more to stop fake reviews being sold on their platforms after coming under pressure from a UK markets regulator — even as fresh examples of the problem have been found on Facebook-owned Instagram.

Last June the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) warned the two platform that they must do more to prevent the sale of fake reviews on their platforms, saying it had found “troubling evidence” of a “thriving marketplace for fake and misleading online reviews.”

The regulator estimates that more than three-quarters of UK shoppers are influenced by reviews when they shop online, with billions of pounds being spent every year based on write-ups of products or services — which in turn encourages an illegal trade in fake and misleading reviews.

A few months after the CMA’s warning UK consumer rights group Which? released the results of its own investigation of the problem — singling out Facebook for having failed to move the needle (while finding eBay had made progress).

Today the CMA says Facebook has removed a total of 188 groups and disabled 24 user accounts as a result of its investigation. While eBay has permanently banned 140 users after the intervention.

The regulator said both companies have now pledged to put measures in place to “better identify, investigate and respond to” the trade in fake reviews, and help prevent such content from appearing in the future — with Facebook agreeing to introduce “more robust systems” to detect and remove such content; and eBay saying it has improved its existing filters to “better identify and block listings” for the sale or trade of online reviews.

Commenting in a statement, CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: “We’re pleased that Facebook and eBay are doing the right thing by committing to tackle this problem and helping to keep their sites free from posts selling fake reviews.”

“Fake reviews are really damaging to shoppers and businesses alike. Millions of people base their shopping decisions on reviews, and if these are misleading or untrue, then shoppers could end up being misled into buying something that isn’t right for them – leaving businesses who play by the rules missing out,” he added. 

The CMA’s press release does not contain any detail of the kinds of improvements the pair have agreed to but Facebook told us it’s looking into developing automated technology to help detect and remove the bogus content.

Commenting in a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said:

Fraudulent activity is not allowed on Facebook or Instagram, including offering or trading fake reviews. While we have invested heavily to prevent this kind of activity across our services, we know there is more work to do and are working with the CMA to address this issue. Since we were first contacted by the CMA, we have identified and removed over 180 groups and 24 accounts for violating our rules and have taken robust steps to prevent this type of fraudulent activity from re-appearing on our platforms. This includes exploring the use of automated technology to help us detect and remove this content quickly, before people see it and report it to us.

An eBay spokesperson also told us: “We maintain zero tolerance for fake or misleading reviews and will continue to take action against any seller that breaches our user polices. We welcome today’s CMA report, as well as their acknowledgement of our ongoing enforcement work on this issue.”

Despite the CMA chalking up the platforms’ pledge to ‘do more’ as a win for consumers, it also reveals it’s found fresh examples of fake reviews traded on Facebook-owned Instagram — suggesting the game of whack-a-fake goes on. And will go on, unless or until platforms face more robust regulation and enforcement vis-a-vis the content they spread and monetize.

The CMA notes that websites have a responsibility to ensure that unlawful and harmful content isn’t advertised or sold through their platforms. However, as it stands, there’s little real punishment for failing to tackle the trade in bogus reviews — beyond reputational damage (and the slow burn of user trust).

The UK government recently proposed legislation to tackle a range of online harms, setting out a safety-first plan to regulation Internet firms last year — which could mean more stringent controls on platform content in future. For now, though, regulators only really have tough words in their toolbox to try to make tech giants clean up their act.

The CMA says it reported the instances of fake reviews that it found being traded on Instagram to Facebook, adding: “Facebook has committed to investigate the issue” — and saying it “will be seeking a commitment from Facebook to take action to tackle these further issues.”


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/08/facebook-and-ebay-pledge-to-do-more-to-tackle-trade-in-fake-reviews-after-pressure-from-uk-regulator/

What to expect in digital media in 2020

As we start 2020, the media and entertainment sectors are in flux. New technologies are enabling new types of content, streaming platforms in multiple content categories are spending billions in their fight for market share and the interplay between social platforms and media is a central topic of global political debate (to put it lightly).

As TechCrunch’s media columnist, I spoke to hundreds of entrepreneurs and executives in North America and Europe last year about the shifts underway across everything from vertically-oriented video series to physics engines in games to music royalty payments. Looking toward the year ahead, here are some of the high-level changes I expect we will see in media in 2020, broken into seven categories: film & TV, gaming, visual & audio effects, social media, music, podcasts and publishing.

Film and TV

In film and television, the battle to compete with Netflix continues with more robust competition than last year. In the U.S., Disney is off to a momentous start with 10 million Disney+ subscribers upon its launch in November and some predicting it will hit 25 million by March (including those on free trials or receiving it for free via Disney’s partnership with Verizon). Bundled with its two other streaming properties, Hulu and ESPN+, Disney+ puts Disney alongside Amazon and Netflix as the Big Three.

Consumers will only pay for so many subscriptions, often one, two, or all of the Big Three (since Amazon Prime Video is included with the broader Prime membership) then a smaller service that best aligns with their personal taste and favorite show of the moment.

AT&T’s HBOMax launches in May with a $14.99/month price tag and is unlikely to break into the echelon of the Big Three, but could be a formidable second tier competitor. Alongside it will be Apple TV+. With a $4.99/month subscription, Apple’s service only includes a small number of original productions, an HBO strategy as HBO gets bundled into a larger library. CBS All Access, Showtime, and NBCUniversal’s upcoming (in April) Peacock fall in this camp as well.

Across Europe, regional media conglomerates will find success in expanding local SVOD and AVOD competitors to Netflix that launched last year — or are set to launch in the next few weeks — like BritBox in the UK, Joyn in Germany and Salto in France. Netflix’s growth in coming from outside the U.S. now so its priority is buying more international shows that will compel new demographics to subscribe.

The most interesting new development in 2020 though will be the April launch of Quibi, the $4.99/month service offering premium shows shot for mobile-first viewing that has already secured $1 billion in funding commitments and $150 million in advertising revenue. Quibi shows will be bite-size in length (less than 15 minutes) and vertically-oriented. The company has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into commissioning established names to create dozens of them. Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro each have Quibi programs and NBC and CBS are creating news shows. The terms it is offering are enticing.

Quibi, which plans to release 125 pieces of content (i.e. episodes) per week and spend $470 million on marketing this year, is an all-or-nothing bet with little room to iterate if it doesn’t get it right the first time; it needs hit shows that break into mainstream pop culture to survive. Billionaire founders Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman have set expectations sky-high for the launch; expect the press to slam it in April for failing to meet those expectations and for the platform to redeem itself as a few of its shows gain traction in the months that follow.

Meanwhile, live sports remains the last hope of broadcast TV networks as all other shows go to streaming. Consumers still value watching sports in real-time. Streaming services are coming for live sports too, however, and will make progress toward that goal in 2020. Three weeks ago, DAZN secured the rights to the 2021/22 season of Germany’s Champions League, beating out broadcaster Sky which has shown the matches for the last 20 years. Amazon and YouTube continue to explore bids for sports rights while Facebook and Twitter are stepping back from their efforts. YouTube’s “YouTube TV” and Disney’s “Hulu with Live TV” will cause more consumers to cancel cable TV subscriptions in 2020 and go streaming-only.

The winners in the film & TV sector right now are top production companies. The war for streaming video dominance driving several of the world’s wealthiest companies (and individuals) to pour tens of billions of dollars into content. Large corporations own the distribution platforms here; the only “startups” to enter with strength — DAZN and Quibi — have been launched by billionaires and started with billion-dollar spending commitments. The entrepreneurial opportunity is on the content creation side — with producers creating shows not with software developers creating platforms.

Gaming

The gaming market is predicted to grow nearly 9% year-over-year from $152 billion globally in 2019 to $165 billion in 2020, according to research firm Newzoo, with more than two billion people playing games each year. Gaming is now widespread across all demographic groups. Casual mobile games are responsible for the largest portion of this (and 45% of industry revenue) but PC gaming continues to grow (+4% last year) and console gaming was the fastest growing category last year (+13%).

The big things to watch in gaming this year: cross-platform play, greater focus on social interaction in virtual worlds and the expansion of cloud gaming subscriptions.

Fortnite enticed consumers with the benefits of a cross-platform game that allows players to move between PC, mobile and console and it is setting expectations that other games do the same. Last October we saw the Call of Duty franchise come to mobile and reach a record 100 million downloads in its first week. This trend will continue and it will spread the free-to-play business model that is the norm in mobile games to many PC and console franchises in the process.

Gaming is moving to the social forefront. Many people are turning to massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) like Fortnite and PUBG to socialize, with gameplay as a secondary interest. Games are virtual worlds where players socialize, build things, and own assets much like in the real world. That results in an increasingly fluid interplay between socializing in games and in physical life, much as socializing in the virtual realms of social apps like Instagram or Twitter is now viewed as part of “real world” life.

Expect VCs to bet big on the thesis that “games are the new social networks” in 2020. Large investment firms that a year ago wrote off the category of gaming as “content bets” not fit for VC are now actively hunting for deals.

On this point, there are several startups (like Klang Games, Darewise Entertainment, Singularity 6 and Clockwork Labs) that raised millions in VC funding to create open world games that will launch (in beta at least) in 2020. These are virtual worlds where all players exist in the same instance of the world rather than being capped at 100 or so players per instance. Their visions center of digital realms where people will contribute to in-game economies, create friendships and ultimately earn income just like their “real-world” lives. Think next-gen Second Life. Expect them to take time to seed their worlds with early adopters in 2020 before any of them gain mainstream traction in 2021.

Few are as excited about social interaction in games as Facebook, it seems. Eager to own critical turf in the next paradigm shift of social media, Facebook will accelerate its gaming push this year. In late 2019, it acquired Madrid-based PlayGiga — which was working on cloud gaming and 5G technology — and the studio behind the hit VR game Beat Saber. It also secured exclusive rights to the VR versions of popular games like Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed” and “Splinter Cell” for Oculus. Horizon, its virtual world for social interaction within VR, is expected to launch this year as well.

Facebook is betting on AR/VR as the paradigm shift in consumer computing that will replace mobile; it is pouring billions into its efforts to own the hardware and infrastructure pieces which are several years of R&D away from primetime. In the meantime, the consumer shift to social interaction in virtual worlds is occurring in established formats — mobile, PC, and console — so it will work to build the bridge for consumers from that to the future.

Lastly, cloud gaming was one of last year’s biggest headlines with the launch of Google Stadia and you should expect it to be again this year. By moving games to cloud hosting, consumers can play the highest quality games from lower quality devices, greatly expanding the market of potential players. By bundling many such games into a subscription offering, Google and others hope to entice consumers to try many more games.

As TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney argued, however, cloud gaming is likely a feature for existing subscription gaming platforms — namely Playstation Now and Xbox Game Pass — more so than the basis for a new platform to differentiate. The minor latency inherent in playing a cloud-hosted game makes it unattractive to hardcore gamers (who would rather download the game). Next to Sony and Microsoft’s offerings, Stadia’s limited game selection fails to stand out. The competition will only heat up this year with the entry of Amazon. Google needs to launch the Stadia integration with YouTube and the Share State feature that it promoted in its Stadia announcement to really drive consumer interest.

Visual and audio effects


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/08/2020-media-entertainment-predictions/

Daily Crunch: Facebook bans deepfakes

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Facebook bans deceptive deepfakes and some misleadingly modified media

In a policy update announced late yesterday, Facebook’s Monika Bickert wrote that moving forward, the social network will take a stricter line on manipulated media content — removing content that’s been edited or synthesized “in ways that aren’t apparent to an average person and would likely mislead someone into thinking that a subject of the video said words that they did not actually say.”

However, edits for quality or cuts and splices to videos that simply curtail or change the order of words are not covered by the ban. So as Natasha Lomas notes, a more subtle form of political fakery will still be allowed.

2. TiVo announces a $49.99 device that combines streaming and live TV

CEO Dave Shull said the TiVo Stream 4K is launching the company “full on into the streaming wars.” It’s integrated with services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and HBO, and will also include content from TiVo+, the free, ad-supported movie and TV service that the company launched last fall. And it will include live TV and cloud DVR through Sling TV.

3. Union Square Ventures leads legal tech startup Juro’s $5M Series A

Juro’s business is focused on taking the tedium out of negotiating and drawing up contracts by making contract-building more interactive and trackable.

4. BMW launches gaze detection so your car knows what you’re looking at

Using its AI tools, the concept car’s systems can follow the driver’s gaze and interpret it. That means you will be able to get more information about a restaurant, or about which movies are playing at a cinema that you’re driving by.

5. Tech-driven change a key priority for new EC president

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has made responding to technology-driven change a key priority for her five-year term — which began last month — alongside challenges posed by climate change and demographic shifts, tacitly linking all three to a rise in regional unease. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Cloudflare acquires stealthy startup S2 Systems, announces Cloudflare for Teams

Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO at Cloudflare, says that this acquisition is part of a new suite of products called Cloudflare for Teams, which has been designed to protect an organization from threats on the internet. S2 developed a solution specifically to help prevent browser-based code attacks.

7. Mercedes-Benz and James Cameron built an Avatar-inspired car perfect for Pandora

Speaking of concept cars, Mercedes-Benz channeled the world of James Cameron’s hit movie “Avatar” for its latest — an electric autonomous vehicle covered in bionic flaps that aims to show how man and machine can merge and live responsibly in nature.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/07/daily-crunch-facebook-deepfakes/

Do High DA Backlinks From Blog Comments Help Rankings?

If you have ever left a comment on NeilPatel.com, you’ll notice that there is no URL field.

Why?

Well, a few years ago, blog commenting exploded. I was literally getting thousands of spam comments a day from people just leaving a comment for the purpose of link building instead of providing value to the community.

Sure, there are spam plugins like Akismet, but it doesn’t catch everything.

Now, most blog comments contain the nofollow attribute in which they tell Google not to follow the link or drive any “SEO value” to that URL.

But still, people still leave blog comments for the purpose of link building.

So, over the past 7 months, I’ve been running an interesting experiment to answer the age-old question…

Do backlinks from blog comments actually help rankings?

Experiment rules

First off, for this experiment, we used “domain score,” which is similar to domain authority.

If you want to know your domain score, the backlinks report in Ubersuggest will tell you what it is.

With this experiment, I sent out an email to a part of my list looking for participants and had 794 websites apply.

From there, I set the following criteria:

  1. English-only sites – It’s easier to rank on many of Google’s international search engines even without building links. I removed non-English speaking sites as I didn’t want to skew the results.
  2. Low-authority sites – I removed any website with a domain score greater than 20 and any site with more than 20 backlinks. The reason being is when a site has a lot of authority, they tend to rank easily for new keywords, even if they don’t build any new links.
  3. No subdomains – I didn’t want a WordPress.com site, a Blogspot site, or even a Tumblr site. Again, this would skew the results so I removed them.

After eliminating the sites that didn’t meet the above criteria, I was left with 314 sites.

Of those 314 sites, many dropped off because they didn’t complete the required work on their part (which was to write a blog post), so I was left with 183 sites at the end that participated.

How the experiment worked

Similar to my previous link building experiment and my on-page SEO experiment,  I had these websites write a 1,800 to 2,000-word blog post on whatever subject that was relevant to their site.

The websites had 2 weeks to publish their content and then after 30 days, I looked up their URL in Ubersuggest to see how many keywords each URL ranked for in the top 100 spots, top 50, spots, and top 10 spots.

As I have mentioned in the past, Ubersuggest has a big database of keywords. We are currently tracking 1,459,103,429 keywords.

Now, most of these keywords are barely searched but a decent amount of them get hundreds, if not thousands, of searches per month. A much smaller percentage of keywords generate hundreds of thousands or even millions of searches per month.

In other words, the majority of the keywords people are searching for are long-tail phrases.

We then spent a month building links and then waited another 3 months to see what happened to each site’s rankings.

But here’s the thing: We didn’t build the same type of links to all sites. Instead, we broke the 183 sites into 4 groups (roughly 46 sites per group).

Here were the groups:

  1. Control – we didn’t build any links to these sites, we just wanted to see what happened to their rankings over time with no focus on link building.
  2. Nofollow high domain score blog comment links – with this group, we built 10 links through blog comments. The links pointed to the newly written post and they were from blogs that had a domain score of 50 or higher and they all contained a nofollow attribute.
  3. Dofollow high domain score blog comment links – with this group, we built 5 links through blog comments. The links pointed to the new post and were dofollow from blogs with a domain score of 40 or higher. (I reduced the domain score criteria for this category and the link quantity as we struggled to find a large number of high authority blogs that pass link juice in the comment section.)
  4. Dofollow low domain score blog comment links – with this group, we built 10 links through blog comments. Each link pointed back to the article and it was from a blog that contains a domain score of at least 20 but no higher than 39. (I was able to build more links here as there are many more low domain score blogs than high domain score ones.)

Keep in mind with the link building for groups 2, 3 and 4,
there was no specific anchor text agenda. Because the links were built through
blog comments, it was too hard to control the anchor text as we didn’t want to
be spammy.

And each comment left on the blog contained at least 75
words as we wanted to ensure that each comment provided value and the core
purpose wasn’t just link building.

Alright, so let’s dive into the results.

Control group

Do you really need links to rank on Google? Well, the chart below says a lot…

As you can see over time, you will naturally grow your search rankings even if you don’t build any links.

Of course, if your content is amazing and you do on-page SEO, you’ll rank higher, but still not growing your link count doesn’t mean you will rank for anything out there… instead, you will still rank for long-tail terms that aren’t too competitive.

Nofollow high domain score blog comment links

Now the results from this group were interesting…

As you can see, the sites in this group had better results than the control group even though the links were nofollowed.

Keep in mind, though, that it could be many variables that caused this, such as the content quality may have been better.

Overall, the sites did perform better than the control group but not by a substantial amount.

Dofollow high domain score blog comment links

Google is sophisticated, they are able to know if a link is from user-generated content (such as blog comments), so I assumed even though the links where dofollow they still wouldn’t have much (if any) impact.

But, shockingly, sites in this group had the largest gains.

As you can see from the chart above, links from high authority sites, even if it is through user-generated content, help with rankings. They just have to be dofollow.

Dofollow low domain score blog comment links

With this last group, we were able to build more dofollow links because we focused on sites with lower authority.

And as you can see from the chart above, it did help with rankings more than building nofollow links but it didn’t help nearly as much as getting links from blogs with higher domain scores.

We built 10 links instead of 5, but the quantity didn’t help
as much as having high domain score links. This group increased their rankings
by 337% versus 828% that group 3 experienced even though they had half the
links.

Again, we still saw gains, just not as large as the previous group.

Conclusion

Who would have thought that building links through blog
comments still helps?

Now, if you are going to use this tactic, you’ll want to focus on blogs that have dofollow comments.

If you aren’t sure how to find them, you can perform a Google search for the following:

  • “title=”CommentLuv Enabled”” KEYPHRASE – this will showcase blogs that have CommentLuv enabled which means they pass link juice.
  • “dofollow blogs” – you find a lot of blog articles listing out blogs that have dofollow links. Some of them look like this but you will have to double-check each site as many are nofollow even though bloggers claim they are dofollow.
  • Followlist – this is a directory of blogs that have dollow links.

When building links, focus on higher domain scores as it has a bigger impact on rankings.

In addition to that, you’ll only want to leave a comment if you can provide value. Don’t stress the anchor text, focus on the quality of your comment as you don’t want to be a spammer.

Posting spammy links will just cause your comment to be
removed.

Lastly, don’t just leave a valuable comment for the sake of generating a link. Make sure it is on relevant blogs as well. And if that means the blog doesn’t have as high of a domain score that’s fine because the data above shows that even low domain score links still help (just not as much).

So, have you thought about leaving more comments on other blogs? It’s a great way to get your brand out there, generate referral traffic, and boost your rankings.

The post Do High DA Backlinks From Blog Comments Help Rankings? appeared first on Neil Patel.


Source: https://neilpatel.com/blog/blog-comments-links/

Facebook bans deceptive deepfakes and some misleadingly modified media

Facebook wants to be the arbiter of truth after all. At least when it comes to intentionally misleading deepfakes and heavily manipulated and/or synthesized media content, such as AI-generated photorealistic human faces that look like real people but aren’t.

In a policy update announced late yesterday, the social network’s VP of global policy management, Monika Bickert, writes that it will take a stricter line on manipulated media content from here on in — removing content that’s been edited or synthesized “in ways that aren’t apparent to an average person and would likely mislead someone into thinking that a subject of the video said words that they did not actually say”.

However edits for quality or cuts and splices to videos that simply curtail or change the order of words are not covered by the ban.

Which means that disingenuous doctoring — such as this example from the recent UK General Election (where campaign staff for one political party edited a video of a politician from a rival party who was being asked a question about brexit to make it look like he was lost for words when in fact he wasn’t) — will go entirely untouched by the new ‘tougher’ policy. Ergo there’s little to trouble Internet-savvy political ‘truth’ spinners here. The disingenuousness digital campaigning can go on.

Instead of grappling with that sort of subtle political fakery, Facebook is focusing on quick PR wins — around the most obviously inauthentic stuff where it won’t risk accusations of partisan bias if it pulls bogus content.

Hence the new policy bans deepfake content that involves the use of AI technologies to “merge, replace or superimpose content onto a video, making it appear to be authentic” — which looks as if it will capture the crudest stuff, such as revenge deepfake porn which superimposes a real person’s face onto an adult performer’s body (albeit nudity is already banned on Facebook’s platform).

It’s not a blanket ban on deepfakes either, though — with some big carve outs for “parody or satire”.

So it’s a bit of an open question whether this deepfake video of Mark Zuckerberg, which went viral last summer — seemingly showing the Facebook founder speaking like a megalomaniac — would stay up or not under the new policy. The video’s creators, a pair of artists, described the work as satire so such stuff should survive the ban. (Facebook did also leave it up at the time.)

But, in future, deepfake creators are likely to further push the line to see what they can get away with under the new policy.

The social network’s controversial policy of letting politicians lie in ads also means it could, technically, still give pure political deepfakes a pass — i.e. if a political advertiser was paying it to run purely bogus content as an ad. Though it would be a pretty bold politician to try that.

More likely there’s more mileage for political campaigns and opinion influencers to keep on with more subtle manipulations. Such as the doctored video of House speaker Nancy Pelosi that went viral on Facebook last year, which had slowed down audio that made her sound drunk or ill. The Washington Post suggests that video — while clearly potentially misleading — still wouldn’t qualify to be taken down under Facebook’s new ‘tougher’ manipulated media policy.

Bickert’s blog post stipulates that manipulated content which doesn’t meet Facebook’s new standard for removal may still be reviewed by the independent third party fact-checkers Facebook relies upon for the lion’s share of ‘truth sifting’ on its platform — and who may still rate such content as ‘false’ or ‘partly false’. But she emphasizes it will continue to allow this type of bogus content to circulate (while potentially reducing its distribution), claiming such labelled fakes provide helpful context.

So Facebook’s updated position on manipulated media sums to ‘no to malicious deepfakes but spindoctors please carry on’.

“If a photo or video is rated false or partly false by a fact-checker, we significantly reduce its distribution in News Feed and reject it if it’s being run as an ad. And critically, people who see it, try to share it, or have already shared it, will see warnings alerting them that it’s false,” Bickert writes, claiming: “This approach is critical to our strategy and one we heard specifically from our conversations with experts.

“If we simply removed all manipulated videos flagged by fact-checkers as false, the videos would still be available elsewhere on the internet or social media ecosystem. By leaving them up and labelling them as false, we’re providing people with important information and context.”

Last month Facebook announced it had unearthed a network of more than 900 fake accounts that had been spreading pro-Trump messaging — some of which had used false profile photos generated by AI.

The dystopian development provides another motivation for the tech giant to ban ‘pure’ AI fakes, given the technology risks supercharging its fake accounts problem. (And, well, that could be bad for business.)

“Our teams continue to proactively hunt for fake accounts and other coordinated inauthentic behavior,” suggests Bickert, arguing that: “Our enforcement strategy against misleading manipulated media also benefits from our efforts to root out the people behind these efforts.”

While still relatively nascent as a technology, deepfakes have shown themselves to be catnip to the media which loves the spectacle they create. As a result, the tech has landed unusually quickly on legislators’ radars as a disinformation risk — California implemented a ban on political deepfakes around elections this fall, for example — so Facebook is likely hoping to score some quick and easy political points by moving in step with legislators even as it applies its own version of a ban.

Bickert’s blog post also fishes for further points, noting Facebook’s involvement in a Deep Fake Detection Challenge which was announced last fall — “to produce more research and open source tools to detect deepfakes”.

While says Facebook has been working with news agency Reuters to offer free online training courses for journalists to help reporters identify manipulated visuals.

“As these partnerships and our own insights evolve, so too will our policies toward manipulated media. In the meantime, we’re committed to investing within Facebook and working with other stakeholders in this area to find solutions with real impact,” she adds.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/07/facebook-bans-deceptive-deepfakes-and-some-misleadingly-modified-media/

Douyin, TikTok app in China, hits 400 million daily active users

China’s TikTok, which has taken the world by storm, is working its magic in its home nation, too.

The Chinese version of TikTok, called Douyin, has amassed 400 million daily active users, parent company ByteDance revealed in its annual report this week (in Chinese). This is an impressive growth for the addictive video app, which had 250 million daily active users in January last year. (A ByteDance spokesperson confirmed the figures to TechCrunch.)

The report, which describes the user behavior and trends, illustrates the cultural difference between China and the U.S., said Katherine Wu, an investor at New York-based firm Notation Capital .

“Things that trend in these two countries are insanely different. For example: knowledge-based content is extremely popular in China, and less so in the U.S. Also, this was wild to me: those creators that did the most dance videos in China are users born in the 60s (!!), whereas in the US, it seems that it’s mostly teenagers who are creating the dances,” she wrote.

ByteDance claimed that Douyin has established itself as the largest knowledge, culture, art, and non-promo platform in China. (Douyin is only available in mainland China.) 14.89 million “knowledge-based content videos” were shared on the app last year, it said.

Citing an example, one of the world’s most valued startup said that one user alone who posts videos on chemistry reached 130 million people last year. On the art and culture front, videos that revolved around those topics had 543.1 billion plays on Douyin last year.

Education has become a crucial use case for ByteDance . TikTok, which is estimated to have clocked more than $50 million in revenue last year, already counts educational content as one of the most consumed categories on its app across the world. The app launched an educational campaign in India, where it has amassed more than 200 million users, last year.

“The behavioral differences also underscore one major thing to me: there really isn’t a ‘one-size-fit-all’ social app that exists. Different regions like different types of content, even though the medium itself (in this case, short-form video) is the same. Cultural factors (geography, age, local pop culture) play a huge role in how users end up using a product,” Wu added.

Marketing research firm eMarketer said on Monday that Douyin’s user growth outpaces those of WeChat and Weibo . But it’s facing challenge from newer entrants such as Tencent-backed video app Kuaishou.

According to eMarketer, Douyin already makes up 67.9% of China’s mobile social network users and 59% of smartphone users. “These figures will grow to 68.3% and 59.6%, respectively, in 2020,” it estimated.

Such user growth and penetration would be music to the ears of ByteDance, which is widely expected to list in Hong Kong this year. But its growing popularity and link to China has also caused some to worry. U.S. senators have warned that user data on TikTok could be sent to China and accessed by the Chinese government. TikTok has denied the accusation. U.S. Navy last month told its members to not install TikTok on their devices, according to media reports.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/06/douyin-tiktok-app-in-china-hits-400-million-daily-active-users/

Facebook data misuse and voter manipulation back in the frame with latest Cambridge Analytica leaks

More details are emerging about the scale and scope of disgraced data company Cambridge Analytica’s activities in elections around the world — via a cache of internal documents that’s being released by former employee and self-styled whistleblower, Brittany Kaiser.

The now shut down data modelling company, which infamously used stolen Facebook data to target voters for President Donald Trump’s campaign in the 2016 U.S. election, was at the center of the data misuse scandal that, in 2018, wiped billions off Facebook’s share price and contributed to a $5BN FTC fine for the tech giant last summer.

However plenty of questions remain, including where, for whom and exactly how Cambridge Analytica and its parent entity SCL Elections operated; as well as how much Facebook’s leadership knew about the dealings of the firm that was using its platform to extract data and target political ads — helped by some of Facebook’s own staff.

Certain Facebook employees were referring to Cambridge Analytica as a “sketchy” company as far back as September 2015 — yet the tech giant only pulled the plug on platform access after the scandal went global in 2018.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also continued to maintain that he only personally learned about CA from a December 2015 Guardian article, which broke the story that Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign was using psychological data based on research covering tens of millions of Facebook users, harvested largely without permission. (It wasn’t until March 2018 that further investigative journalism blew the lid off the story — turning it into a global scandal.)

Former Cambridge Analytica business development director Kaiser, who had a central role in last year’s Netflix documentary about the data misuse scandal (The Great Hack), began her latest data dump late last week — publishing links to scores of previously unreleased internal documents via a Twitter account called @HindsightFiles. (At the time of writing Twitter has placed a temporary limit on viewing the account — citing “unusual activity”, presumably as a result of the volume of downloads it’s attracting.)

Since becoming part of the public CA story Kaiser has been campaigning for Facebook to grant users property rights over their data. She claims she’s releasing new documents from her former employer now because she’s concerned this year’s US election remains at risk of the same type of big-data-enabled voter manipulation that tainted the 2016 result.

“I’m very fearful about what is going to happen in the US election later this year, and I think one of the few ways of protecting ourselves is to get as much information out there as possible,” she told The Guardian.

“Democracies around the world are being auctioned to the highest bidder,” is the tagline clam on the Twitter account Kaiser is using to distribute the previously unpublished documents — more than 100,000 of which are set to be released over the coming months, per the newspaper’s report.

The releases are being grouped into countries — with documents to-date covering Brazil, Kenya and Malaysia. There is also a themed release dealing with issues pertaining to Iran, and another covering CA/SCL’s work for Republican John Bolton’s Political Action Committee in the U.S.

The releases look set to underscore the global scale of CA/SCL’s social media-fuelled operations, with Kaiser writing that the previously unreleased emails, project plans, case studies and negotiations span at least 65 countries.

A spreadsheet of associate officers included in the current cache lists SCL associates in a large number of countries and regions including Australia, Argentina, the Balkans, India, Jordan, Lithuania, the Philippines, Switzerland and Turkey, among others. A second tab listing “potential” associates covers political and commercial contacts in various other places including Ukraine and even China.

A UK parliamentary committee which investigated online political campaigning and voter manipulation in 2018 — taking evidence from Kaiser and CA whistleblower Chris Wylie, among others — urged the government to audit the PR and strategic communications industry, warning in its final report how “easy it is for discredited companies to reinvent themselves and potentially use the same data and the same tactics to undermine governments, including in the UK”.

“Data analytics firms have played a key role in elections around the world. Strategic communications companies frequently run campaigns internationally, which are financed by less than transparent means and employ legally dubious methods,” the DCMS committee also concluded.

The committee’s final report highlighted election and referendum campaigns SCL Elections (and its myriad “associated companies”) had been involved in in around thirty countries. But per Kaiser’s telling its activities — and/or ambitions — appear to have been considerably broader and even global in scope.

Documents released to date include a case study of work that CA was contracted to carry out in the U.S. for Bolton’s Super PAC — where it undertook what is described as “a personality-targeted digital advertising campaign with three interlocking goals: to persuade voters to elect Republican Senate candidates in Arkansas, North Carolina and New Hampshire; to elevate national security as an issue of importance and to increase public awareness of Ambassador Bolton’s Super PAC”.

Here CA writes that it segmented “persuadable and low-turnout voter populations to identify several key groups that could be influenced by Bolton Super PAC messaging”, targeting them with online and Direct TV ads — designed to “appeal directly to specific groups’ personality traits, priority issues and demographics”. 

Psychographic profiling — derived from CA’s modelling of Facebook user data — was used to segment U.S. voters into targetable groups, including for serving microtargeted online ads. The company badged voters with personality-specific labels such as “highly neurotic” — targeting individuals with customized content designed to pray on their fears and/or hopes based on its analysis of voters’ personality traits.

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The process of segmenting voters by personality and sentiment was made commercially possible by access to identity-linked personal data — which puts Facebook’s population-scale collation of identities and individual-level personal data squarely in the frame.

It was a cache of tens of millions of Facebook profiles, along with responses to a personality quiz app linked to Facebook accounts, which was sold to Cambridge Analytica in 2014, by a company called GSR, and used to underpin its psychographic profiling of U.S. voters.

In evidence to the DCMS committee last year GSR’s co-founder, Aleksandr Kogan, argued that Facebook did not have a “valid” developer policy at the time, since he said the company did nothing to enforce the stated T&Cs — meaning users’ data was wide open to misappropriation and exploitation.

The UK’s data protection watchdog also took a dim view. In 2018 it issued Facebook with the maximum fine possible, under relevant national law, for the CA data breach — and warned in a report that democracy is under threat. The country’s information commissioner also called for an “ethical pause” of the use of online microtargeting ad tools for political campaigning.

No such pause has taken place.

Meanwhile for its part, since the Cambridge Analytica scandal snowballed into global condemnation of its business, Facebook has made loud claims to be ‘locking down’ its platform — including saying it would conduct an app audit and “investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information”; “conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity”; and “ban any developer from our platform that does not agree to a thorough audit”.

However, close to two years later, there’s still no final report from the company on the upshot of this self ‘audit’.

And while Facebook was slapped with a headline-grabbing FTC fine on home soil, there was in fact no proper investigation; no requirement for it to change its privacy-hostile practices; and blanket immunity for top execs — even for any unknown data violations in the 2012 to 2018 period. So, ummm

In another highly curious detail, GSR’s other co-founder, a data scientist called Joseph Chancellor, was in fact hired by Facebook in late 2015. The tech giant has never satisfactorily explained how it came to recruit one of the two individuals at the center of a voter manipulation data misuse scandal which continues to wreak hefty reputational damage on Zuckerberg and his platform. But being able to ensure Chancellor was kept away from the press during a period of intense scrutiny looks pretty convenient.

Twitter offers more support to researchers — to ‘keep us accountable’

Twitter has kicked off the New Year by taking the wraps off a new hub for academic researchers to more easily access information and support around its APIs — saying the move is in response to feedback from the research community.

The new page — which it’s called ‘Twitter data for academic researchers’ — can be found here.

It includes links to apply for a developer account to access Twitter’s APIs; details of the different APIs offered and links to additional tools for researchers, covering data integration and access; analysis; visualization; and infrastructure and hosting.

“Over the past year, we’ve worked with many of you in the academic research community. We’ve learned about the challenges you face, and how Twitter can better support you in your efforts to advance understanding of the public conversation,” the social network writes, saying it wants to “make it even easier to learn from the public conversation”.

Twitter is also promising “more enhancements and resources” for researchers this year.

It’s likely no accident the platform is putting a fresh lick of paint on its offerings for academics given that 2020 is a key election year in the U.S. — and concerns about the risk of fresh election meddling are riding high.

Tracking conversation flow on Twitter also still means playing a game of ‘bot or not’ — one that has major implications for the health of democracies. And in Europe Twitter is one of a number of platform giants which, in 2018, signed up to a voluntary Code of Practice on disinformation that commits it to addressing fake accounts and online bots, as well as to empowering the research community to monitor online disinformation via “privacy-compliant” access to platform data.

“At Twitter, we value the contributions of academic researchers and see the potential for them to help us better understand our platform, keeping us accountable, while helping us tackle new challenges through discoveries and innovations,” the company writes on the new landing page for researchers while also taking the opportunity to big up the value of its platform — claiming that “if it exists, it’s probably been talked about on Twitter”.

If Twitter lives up to its promises of active engagement with researchers and their needs, it could smartly capitalism on rival Facebook’s parallel missteps in support for academics.

Last year Facebook was accused of ‘transparency-washing’ with its own API for researchers, with a group of sixty academics slamming the ad archive API as as much a hinderance as a help.

Months later Facebook was still being reported to have done little to improve the offering.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/06/twitter-offers-more-support-to-researchers-to-keep-us-accountable/