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Mozilla Hits Google, Facebook For ‘Microtargeting’ Political Ads

Microtargeting, a method which uses consumer data and demographics to narrowly segment audiences, is used by political campaigns to specialize ads for different voting groups. The practice’s critics include Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, who wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that microtargeting makes it “easy to single out susceptible groups and direct political misinformation to them with little accountability, because the public at large never sees the ad.” Mozilla’s call follows reports that Facebook has considered restricting politicians’ access to microtargeting.

Brazil: Hit YouTubers become politicans, and win

Kim Kataguiri is known in Brazil for a lot of things. He’s been called a fascist. He’s been called a fake news kingpin. His organization, Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL) — the Free Brazil Movement — is like the Brazilian Breitbart. Or maybe it’s like the American tea party. Maybe it’s both. Is it a news network? Kataguiri says it isn’t. But it’s not a political party, either. He says MBL is just a bunch of young people who love free market economics and memes.

One thing is very clear: His YouTube channel, the memes, the fake news, and MBL’s army of supporters have helped Kataguiri, 22, become the youngest person ever elected to Congress in Brazil. He’s also trying to become Brazil’s equivalent of speaker of the House.

As the world panicked over whether Brazil’s far-right presidential frontrunner, Jair Bolsonaro, is more of a Trump or a Duterte, MBL pushed forward 16 of its own candidates. Six of them won on the federal level. More at the state and local levels. MBL’s YouTube channel has grown from zero to 1 million subscribers this year. MBL was on the front page of YouTube every day in the month leading up to the election. The plan is to have all of the group’s elected members start their own YouTube channels. Forty percent of MBL’s funding already comes from YouTube ads. MBL-affiliated YouTuber and newly elected state representative Arthur Mamãe Falei personally made $12,000 off his solo channel in October.

As Mamãe Falei simply puts it, “I guarantee YouTubers in Brazil are more influential than politicians.”

Kataguiri’s political awakening is a textbook example of the way algorithms beget more algorithms. During his last year of high school, his teacher started a debate about welfare programs in Brazil. So Kataguiri started googling. He discovered Ron Paul and the Brazilian libertarian YouTuber Daniel Fraga.

“Then I did a video to my teacher and my friends at school to talk about what I had found out,” Kataguiri says. “There was one problem: I posted this video on YouTube. So it was public and it went viral.”

He says people kept asking for more videos, but he didn’t know anything. So he went back to googling, and then made more videos about what he learned. His channel got bigger. He started connecting with other far-right and libertarian YouTubers. Brazil’s libertarian community started connecting on Facebook. Then, in 2013, Ron Paul visited a conference in Brazil, and suddenly the online community became a real-life one.

That’s when MBL started to form. He says the emphasis on economic theory within the libertarian movement was uninspiring. He wanted to start a group that got young people excited. By 2015, his videos were starting to draw a huge audience.

The main MBL Facebook page has about 3 million followers. Since 2014, it’s functioned more or less as the group’s main hub. But Kataguiri says that due to concerns over News Feed algorithm changes and Facebook’s banning of its pages this summer, MBL has begun to diversify. It has about 300,000 Twitter followers and about a half million on Instagram. Kataguiri says he doesn’t know anything about the American far-right Twitter clone Gab, which has recently become big in Brazil. But MBL does have a page there. The real crown jewels of MBL’s digital operation right now are YouTube and WhatsApp.

“First, we get news from somewhere,” he says. “There’s news from Folha de São Paulo, there’s news from Globo, there’s news from anywhere, but we choose the news that the public wants to read. We basically curate.”

Then, he says, they decide how to manipulate that news to fit their message.

“Nowadays, people only read the headline, and they already want to have an opinion before reading the news. Basically, what we offer them is, ‘This is the news, in two phrases — this is what we think about it.’”

And finally, the third step: “Basically something to make people laugh and have an incentive to share it with their friends,” he says.

[…]

Brazil has a history of unorthodox candidates running for office: porn stars, footballers, a guy dressed up like Batman. A TV clown has been reelected a few times. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a YouTuber who works at a scrap metal yard and gets beat up at protests could be elected to local office in Brazil. The key difference with do Val is that he got half a million votes. That’s a fourth of his YouTube audience and an absurd number for a state election.

Social Media Manipulation Rising Globally, New Oxford Report Warns

A new report from Oxford University found that manipulation of public opinion over social media platforms is growing at a large scale, despite efforts to combat it. “Around the world, government agencies and political parties are exploiting social media platforms to spread junk news and disinformation, exercise censorship and control, and undermine trust in media, public institutions and science.”

“The number of countries where formally organized social media manipulation occurs has greatly increased, from 28 to 48 countries globally,” says Samantha Bradshaw, co-author of the report. “The majority of growth comes from political parties who spread disinformation and junk news around election periods. There are more political parties learning from the strategies deployed during Brexit and the U.S. 2016 Presidential election: more campaigns are using bots, junk news, and disinformation to polarize and manipulate voters.”

This is despite efforts by governments in many democracies introducing new legislation designed to combat fake news on the internet. “The problem with this is that these ‘task forces’ to combat fake news are being used as a new tool to legitimize censorship in authoritarian regimes,” says Professor Phil Howard, co-author and lead researcher on the OII’s Computational Propaganda project. “At best, these types of task forces are creating counter-narratives and building tools for citizen awareness and fact-checking.” Another challenge is the evolution of the mediums individuals use to share news and information. “There is evidence that disinformation campaigns are moving on to chat applications and alternative platforms,” says Bradshaw. “This is becoming increasingly common in the Global South, where large public groups on chat applications are more popular.”

How Facebook’s Political Unit Enables the Dark Art of Digital Propaganda

Under fire for Facebook Inc.’s role as a platform for political propaganda, co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has punched back, saying his mission is above partisanship. “We hope to give all people a voice and create a platform for all ideas,” Zuckerberg wrote in September after President Donald Trump accused Facebook of bias. Zuckerberg’s social network is a politically agnostic tool for its more than 2 billion users, he has said. But Facebook, it turns out, is no bystander in global politics. What he hasn’t said is that his company actively works with political parties and leaders including those who use the platform to stifle opposition — sometimes with the aid of “troll armies” that spread misinformation and extremist ideologies.

The initiative is run by a little-known Facebook global government and politics team that’s neutral in that it works with nearly anyone seeking or securing power. The unit is led from Washington by Katie Harbath, a former Republican digital strategist who worked on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign. Since Facebook hired Harbath three years later, her team has traveled the globe helping political clients use the company’s powerful digital tools. In some of the world’s biggest democracies — from India and Brazil to Germany and the U.K. — the unit’s employees have become de facto campaign workers. And once a candidate is elected, the company in some instances goes on to train government employees or provide technical assistance for live streams at official state events.