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Behind TikTok’s Boom: A Legion of Traumatized, $10-A-Day Content Moderators

“horrific” videos “are part and parcel of everyday work for TikTok moderators in Colombia.”

They told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism about widespread occupational trauma and inadequate psychological support, demanding or impossible performance targets, punitive salary deductions and extensive surveillance. Their attempts to unionize to secure better conditions have been opposed repeatedly. TikTok’s rapid growth in Latin America — it has an estimated 100 million users in the region — has led to the hiring of hundreds of moderators in Colombia to fight a never-ending battle against disturbing content. They work six days a week on day and night shifts, with some paid as little as 1.2 million pesos ($254) a month, compared to around $2,900 for content moderators based in the U.S….

The nine moderators could only speak anonymously for fear they might lose their jobs, or undermine their future employment prospects…. The TikTok moderation system described by these moderators is built on exacting performance targets. If workers do not get through a huge number of videos, or return late from a break, they can lose out on a monthly bonus worth up to a quarter of their salary. It is easy to lose out on the much-needed extra cash. Ãlvaro, a current TikTok moderator, has a target of 900 videos per day, with about 15 seconds to view each video. He works from 6am to 3pm, with two hours of break time, and his base salary is 1.2m pesos ($254) a month, only slightly higher than Colombia’s minimum salary…. He once received a disciplinary notice known internally as an “action form” for only managing to watch 700 videos in a shift, which was considered “work avoidance”. Once a worker has an action form, he says, they cannot receive a bonus that month….

Outsourcing moderation to countries in the global south like Colombia works for businesses because it is cheap, and workers are poorly protected…. For now… TikTok’s low-paid moderators will keep working to their grueling targets, sifting through some of the internet’s most nightmarish content.

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Overrun by Influencers, Historic Sites Are Banning TikTok Creators in Nepal

They come in hordes, strike funny poses, dance to loud music, trample over crops, and often stir up unmanageable crowds that cause traffic jams. TikTok creators in Nepal have earned a reputation for disrespecting religious and historic places in their quest to create viral videos, and are now facing a backlash. Over the last two years, several prominent tourist and religious sites in Nepal have erected “No TikTok” signs to keep creators from shooting at the premises.

These sites include the Buddhist pilgrimage site Lumbini, Kathmandu’s famous Boudhanath Stupa, Ram Janaki Temple in Janakpur, and Gadhimai temple in Bara, among others. According to authorities, officials keep a close eye at these places and rule-breakers are warned or asked to leave. “Making TikTok by playing loud music creates a nuisance for pilgrims from all over the world who come to the birthplace of Gautama Buddha,” Sanuraj Shakya, a spokesperson for the Lumbini Development Trust, which manages the shrines in Lumbini, told Rest of World. “We have banned TikTok-making in and around the sacred garden, where the main temples are located.”

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Who owns the rights to your face?

When we create our social media accounts, we agree to grant those platforms a free license to use our content as they wish.

It was my face. Specifically, it was me in a sponsored Instagram Story ad, putting on a lip balm. In the video, I applied the balm and smiled at the camera, looking pleased with my newly moisturized lips. In real life, I was confused. I had never agreed to appear in a nationwide social campaign, otherwise my checking account would have a couple more zeroes to show for it. I worked in the media industry then, sourcing the right influencers to participate in sponsored articles. I’ve spent years casting with talent, negotiating contracts to ensure fair compensation and modest usage rights for influencers, models, and real people. Based on my experience, it was clear that my image was being exploited by a multibillion dollar brand.

… companies like HelloFresh and Canon are now prioritizing the niche audiences of micro- and nano-creators. Research shows that shoppers find smaller creators “more authentic” and brands have identified those creators as “less costly,” making regular people a win-win for boosting sales.

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TikTokers Are Accused of Starting Forest Fires For Views

Humaira Asghar, known as “Dolly” to her 11.5 million TikTok fans, faces charges for allegedly setting a forest fire while shooting a TikTok video in Pakistan’s capital city Islamabad. In the 11-second clip that has since been taken down, Asghar dramatically walks down a forested hill covered in flames in slow motion with a trending pop song that mentions “setting fire” playing in the background. The caption posted with the video shot in the Margalla Hills National Park reads, “fire erupts wherever I am.” Asghar is not the only Pakistani TikToker who has been accused of setting a forest fire for views. Officials say it is an emerging trend in a country that is suffering from a record-breaking heatwave.

“Young people desperate for followers are setting fire to our forests during this hot and dry season,” tweeted Islamabad Wildlife Management Board chairperson Rina S Khan Satti. “These psychotic young people have to be caught and put behind bars immediately.” Earlier this month, a man in Abbottabad city was arrested for intentionally starting a forest fire to use as a backdrop in his video. In another recently released video, two men are seen appearing to start a forest fire then running away from it while music plays in the background.

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Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the New York University’s School of Business, argues in the Atlantic that social-media platforms “trained users to spend more time performing and less time connecting.” But that was just the beginning.

He now believes this ultimately fueled a viral dynamic leading to “the continual chipping-away of trust” in a democracy which “depends on widely internalized acceptance of the legitimacy of rules, norms, and institutions.”
The most recent Edelman Trust Barometer (an international measure of citizens’ trust in government, business, media, and nongovernmental organizations) showed stable and competent autocracies (China and the United Arab Emirates) at the top of the list, while contentious democracies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and South Korea scored near the bottom (albeit above Russia)…. Mark Zuckerberg may not have wished for any of that. But by rewiring everything in a headlong rush for growth — with a naive conception of human psychology, little understanding of the intricacy of institutions, and no concern for external costs imposed on society — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a few other large platforms unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together.

In the last 10 years, the article argues, the general public — at least in America — became “uniquely stupid.” And he’s not just speaking about the political right and left, but within both factions, “as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.” The article quotes former CIA analyst Martin Gurri’s comment in 2019 that the digital revolution has highly fragmented the public into hostile shards that are “mostly people yelling at each other and living in bubbles of one sort or another.”

The article concludes that by now U.S. politics has entered a phase where truth “cannot achieve widespread adherence” and thus “nothing really means anything anymore–at least not in a way that is durable and on which people widely agree.” It even contemplates the idea of “highly believable” disinformation generated by AI, possibly by geopolitical adversaries, ultimately evolving into what the research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory has described as “an Information World War in which state actors, terrorists, and ideological extremists leverage the social infrastructure underpinning everyday life to sow discord and erode shared reality.”

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Because of the Internet, ‘We Are All Cranks Now’

…from the characters of Dickens to Grandpa Simpson, recently it seems that the figure of the crank has dropped away from the public imagination. Now, this could be that the art of penning demented letters to metropolitan newspapers on a semi-regular basis may be dying out with the last generation of people to use lead toothpaste, but I don’t think that’s it. I think we’ve lost sight of them not because they went away, but because they became unremarkable. We are all cranks now.

Online has drastically lowered the barriers of entry into the Order of Crankhood. Time it was when if you really wanted to get publicly steamed about something you’d read, you’d first have to buy a newspaper, read that newspaper, get steamed, go to your writing desk, jot down your letter, put that letter in an envelope, find a stamp, and then walk to the post office. And even after doing all that, there was no guarantee that it would be published. Being a crank even 30 years ago took a kind of monastic dedication to the high art of being a weirdo, but nowadays, saying something deeply unwell about an article you don’t like to thousands of people is as trivial as ordering a coffee.a

And if the internet in general has lowered these barriers, social media has gone a step further. People who never set out to be cranks in the first place are actively incentivized to do so. This isn’t just because whenever you post you get a thrilling little tally of all the people who agree with you, it’s because of how these platforms are designed to maximize engagement. The ideal poster for social media companies is one who posts often, who posts stridently, and who responds to as much stuff as possible.

So, to be on Twitter or Facebook is to sit in a room while someone holds up random pieces of stimulus and demands your appraisal of each. What do we reckon of this? Okay, how about this? And this? What’s your view here? Were you to design a machine to turn otherwise normal, healthy people into cranks — a kind of crankification engine, if you like — you would probably arrive at something like these platforms.

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The White House is briefing TikTok stars about the war in Ukraine

This week, the administration began working with Gen Z For Change, a nonprofit advocacy group, to help identify top content creators on the platform to orchestrate a briefing aimed at answering questions about the conflict and the United States’ role in it.

The briefing was led by Matt Miller, a special adviser for communications at the White House National Security Council, and Psaki. The Washington Post obtained a recording of the call, and in it, Biden officials stressed the power these creators had in communicating with their followers. “We recognize this is a critically important avenue in the way the American public is finding out about the latest,” said the White House director of digital strategy, Rob Flaherty, “so we wanted to make sure you had the latest information from an authoritative source.”

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Some Amazon Ring Customers Demand Drivers Dance, Then Post Videos Online

Some Amazon customers are now explicitly asking the company’s drivers to deliver a performance along with the package. They are posting signs to their front doors or tapping unusual delivery instructions into the Amazon app in the hopes of capturing a spectacle on their surveillance feeds…. [T]hese customers proceed to shamelessly post the evidence to social media. Sometimes the videos are spun into an online sleuthing opportunity, as the TikToker asks viewers to hunt for the dancing driver’s identity. And they represent just a slice of the “Amazon driver approaches the door” genre of internet video… But whether the video is pitched as heartwarming or sadistic, the customer is enlisting the driver into a nonconsensual pageant that doubles as a performance review. As Jackson reported, Amazon drivers who fail to fulfill customer requests risk demerits.

Amazon encourages customers to publicize their Ring videos on its safety-minded social network, Neighbors, and makes it easy to share them more widely, too. One of Ring’s marketing lines is “A lot happens at your front door,” and this is meant as both a warning and an invitation — though it suggests it is too dangerous to venture outside, it also implies that a whole world of entertainment is to be found through eyeing your surveillance feed. The official Ring YouTube channel is filled with user-generated videos that help inject its growing spy network with warmth and surprise, as the cameras catch spontaneous footage of good Samaritans, grazing cows and, of course, the company’s drivers caught in kooky scenarios, like in this entry from December: “Even a Giant Bear Will Not Stop This Amazon Driver From Making His Delivery.”

Amazon obsessively surveils its workers through dashcams, smartphone monitors and machine-generated report cards, and these videos implicate the customer in that exercise, making the violation of driver privacy into a kind of internet-wide contest. The caption for Amazon’s bear video focuses on the heroic actions of a Ring user named Josh, who supposedly aided the delivery driver’s safety by “watching his exit the whole time” on the security camera…. Its routes are often serviced by precarious gig workers, its quotas are too punishing to allow for socializing, and all potential human interactions have been replaced by one-way surveillance. In many of these TikTok videos, Amazon workers literally run in and out of the frame. If delivery drivers were once lightly teased or frequently ogled, now they are simply dehumanized, plugged into machine-run networks and expected to move product with robotic efficiency. The compulsory dance trend on TikTok suggests that customers, too, have come to see drivers as programmable….

On an even more depressing corner of Amazon TikTok, customers post videos not to backwardly celebrate drivers but just to shame them for delivering the package with less than the customer’s expected level of service.

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Samsung held an event in the metaverse and it didn’t quite go to plan

The South Korean tech giant hosted the event Wednesday on Decentraland, a cryptocurrency-focused virtual world that users can create, explore and trade in. Decentraland, one of many metaverse efforts, is accessed via a desktop browser. Users create an avatar which they can then navigate around the blockchain-powered virtual world using a mouse and keyboard — something that isn’t exactly intuitive for non-gamers. The event specifically took place in Samsung 837X, a virtual building that Samsung has built on Decentraland that’s designed to be a replica of its flagship New York experience center. Samsung 837X is there all the time but there just happened to be an event inside the building’s “Connectivity Theatre” on Wednesday. But CNBC, and many others, struggled to find the 837X building and when we did many of us were unable to gain access to it.

When an avatar is first created on Decentraland, it lands in a sort of atrium where clouds appear to be gliding across the floor. There’s a round pool in the middle that has a worrying vortex in the center. Our avatar was soon surrounded by around 20 others. A chat box in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen was full of messages like “help” and “I hate this game.” One user named claireinnit#87fa, boldly claimed “we’re in the —-in future.” On the opposite side of the intimidating pool, three large boards read “classics, events and crowd.” An ad for Samsung 837X hang on the “crowd” board. Once clicked (easier said than done), you’re then given the option to “jump in.” After jumping in, you’re transported to Samsung’s little world on Decentraland and you can see the 837X building. There’s a pizza store next door, but not much else.

CNBC immediately noticed a large line of people at the main entrance to the 837X building. People were struggling to get in. Some users were getting their avatars to jump on other people’s heads as they clambered to the front of the queue but it didn’t help. The doors wouldn’t open and the chatbox was again full of pleas for help. A rumor circulated that a YouTuber had managed to find a way in, while a CNET journalist wrote on Twitter that they had managed to gain access by switching to the “ATHENA” server. It wasn’t immediately obvious how to do this. “Many people were unable to actually enter Samsung 837X before the event started,” wrote CNET’s Russell Holly. […] After around 30 minutes of trying to access Samsung’s building in the metaverse, CNBC gave up and went back to the real world.

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The Internet Gave Rise to ‘Cancel Culture OCD’

Today, the phrase “cancel culture” triggers a wide range of responses: concern, frustration, a bit of eye-rolling. There are endless debates about what it is (accountability or censorship?), what’s driving it (context collapse, perhaps, or a new “woke” religion), and whether it even exists. Few public figures have been successfully canceled; even fewer have stayed canceled. Yet online life remains suffused with a distinct air of paranoia and an often-pacifying doubt—and perhaps focusing on the “cancel” part of cancel culture distracts from its rippling effects in our daily lives. The old saying goes, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.” But the experiences of people with cancellation OCD reveal another truth: Scrutinize yourself too closely and you can always find something wrong.

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TikTok Lawsuit Highlights How AI Is Screwing Over Voice Actors

With only 30 minutes of audio, companies can now create a digital clone of your voice and make it say words you never said. Using machine learning, voice AI companies like VocaliD can create synthetic voices from a person’s recorded speech — adopting unique qualities like speaking rhythm, pronunciation of consonants and vowels, and intonation. For tech companies, the ability to generate any sentence with a realistic-sounding human voice is an exciting, cost-saving frontier. But for the voice actors whose recordings form the foundation of text-to-speech (TTS) voices, this technology threatens to disrupt their livelihoods, raising questions about fair compensation and human agency in the age of AI.

At the center of this reckoning is voice actress Bev Standing, who is suing TikTok after alleging the company used her voice for its text-to-speech feature without compensation or consent. This is not the first case like this; voice actress Susan Bennett discovered that audio she recorded for another company was repurposed to be the voice of Siri after Apple launched the feature in 2011. She was paid for the initial recording session but not for being Siri. Rallying behind Standing, voice actors donated to a GoFundMe that has raised nearly $7,000 towards her legal expenses and posted TikTok videos under the #StandingWithBev hashtag warning users about the feature. Standing’s supporters say the TikTok lawsuit is not just about Standing’s voice — it’s about the future of an entire industry attempting to adapt to new advancements in the field of machine learning.

Standing’s case materializes some performers’ worst fears about the control this technology gives companies over their voices. Her lawsuit claims TikTok did not pay or notify her to use her likeness for its text-to-speech feature, and that some videos using it voiced “foul and offensive language” causing “irreparable harm” to her reputation. Brands advertising on TikTok also had the text-to-speech voice at their disposal, meaning her voice could be used for explicitly commercial purposes. […] Laws protecting individuals from unauthorized clones of their voices are also in their infancy. Standing’s lawsuit invokes her right of publicity, which grants individuals the right to control commercial uses of their likeness, including their voice. In November 2020, New York became the first state to apply this right to digital replicas after years of advocacy from SAG-AFTRA, a performers’ union.
“We look to make sure that state rights of publicity are as strong as they can be, that any limitations on people being able to protect their image and voice are very narrowly drawn on first amendment lines,” Jeffrey Bennett, a general counsel for SAG-AFTRA, told Motherboard. “We look at this as a potentially great right of publicity case for this voice professional whose voice is being used in a commercial manner without her consent.”

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How Big Tech created a data ‘treasure trove’ for police

When U.S. law enforcement officials need to cast a wide net for information, they’re increasingly turning to the vast digital ponds of personal data created by Big Tech companies via the devices and online services that have hooked billions of people around the world.

Data compiled by four of the biggest tech companies shows that law enforcement requests for user information — phone calls, emails, texts, photos, shopping histories, driving routes and more — have more than tripled in the U.S. since 2015. Police are also increasingly savvy about covering their tracks so as not to alert suspects of their interest.

That’s the backdrop for recent revelations that the Trump-era U.S. Justice Department sought data from Apple, Microsoft and Google about members of Congress, their aides and news reporters in leak investigations — then pursued court orders that blocked those companies from informing their targets.

In just the first half of 2020 — the most recent data available — Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft together fielded more than 112,000 data requests from local, state and federal officials. The companies agreed to hand over some data in 85% of those cases. Facebook, including its Instagram service, accounted for the largest number of disclosures.

Consider Newport, a coastal city of 24,000 residents that attracts a flood of summer tourists. Fewer than 100 officers patrol the city — but they make multiple requests a week for online data from tech companies.

That’s because most crimes — from larceny and financial scams to a recent fatal house party stabbing at a vacation rental booked online — can be at least partly traced on the internet. Tech providers, especially social media platforms, offer a “treasure trove of information” that can help solve them, said Lt. Robert Salter, a supervising police detective in Newport.

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TikTok sued for billions over use of children’s data

Lawyers will allege that TikTok takes children’s personal information, including phone numbers, videos, exact location and biometric data, without sufficient warning, transparency or the necessary consent required by law, and without children or parents knowing what is being done with that information. TikTok has more than 800 million users worldwide and parent firm ByteDance made billions in profits last year, with the vast majority of that coming via advertising revenue.

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Conspiracy Theorists Who’d First Popularized QAnon Now Accused of Financial Motives

In November 2017, a small-time YouTube video creator and two moderators of the 4chan website, one of the most extreme message boards on the internet, banded together and plucked out of obscurity an anonymous and cryptic post from the many conspiracy theories that populated the website’s message board. Over the next several months, they would create videos, a Reddit community, a business and an entire mythology based off the 4chan posts of “Q,” the pseudonym of a person claiming to be a high-ranking military officer. The theory they espoused would become Qanon, and it would eventually make its way from those message boards to national media stories and the rallies of President Donald Trump.

Now, the people behind that effort are at the center of a fractious debate among conspiracy enthusiasts, some of whom believe the three people who first popularized the Qanon theory are promoting it in order to make a living. Others suggest that these original followers actually wrote Q’s mysterious posts…

Qanon was just another unremarkable part of the “anon” genre until November 2017, when two moderators of the 4chan board where Q posted predictions, who went by the usernames Pamphlet Anon [real name: Coleman Rogers] and BaruchtheScribe, reached out to Tracy Diaz, according to Diaz’s blogs and YouTube videos. BaruchtheScribe, in reality a self-identified web programmer from South Africa named Paul Furber, confirmed that account to NBC News. “A bunch of us decided that the message needed to go wider so we contacted Youtubers who had been commenting on the Q drops,” Furber said in an email… As Diaz tells it in a blog post detailing her role in the early days of Qanon, she banded together with the two moderators. Their goal, according to Diaz, was to build a following for Qanon — which would mean bigger followings for them as well… Diaz followed with dozens more Q-themed videos, each containing a call for viewers to donate through links to her Patreon and PayPal accounts. Diaz’s YouTube channel now boasts more than 90,000 subscribers and her videos have been watched over 8 million times. More than 97,000 people follow her on Twitter.

Diaz, who emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, says in her YouTube videos that she now relies on donations from patrons funding her YouTube “research” as her sole source of income. Diaz declined to comment on this story. “Because I cover Q, I got an audience,” Diaz acknowledged in a video that NBC News reviewed last week before she deleted it.

To reach a more mainstream audience (older people and “normies,” who on their own would have trouble navigating the fringe message boards), Diaz said in her blog post she recommended they move to the more user-friendly Reddit. Archives listing the three as the original posters and moderators show they created a new Reddit community… Their move to Reddit was key to Qanon’s eventual spread. There, they were able to tap into a larger audience of conspiracy theorists, and drive discussion with their analysis of each Q post. From there, Qanon crept to Facebook where it found a new, older audience via dozens of public and private groups…

As Qanon picked up steam, growing skepticism over the motives of Diaz, Rogers, and the other early Qanon supporters led some in the internet’s conspiracy circles to turn their paranoia on the group. Recently, some Qanon followers have accused Diaz and Rogers of profiting from the movement by soliciting donations from their followers. Other pro-Trump online groups have questioned the roles that Diaz and Rogers have played in promoting Q, pointing to a series of slip-ups that they say show Rogers and Diaz may have been involved in the theory from the start.

Those accusations have led Diaz and Rogers to both deny that they are Q and say they don’t know who Q is.

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New Survey Reveals Teens Get Their News from Social Media and YouTube

Celebrities, influencers, and personalities have as much influence as a source of current events as friends, family, and news organizations.

Teens today are not only getting the majority of their news online, but they are turning away from traditional media organizations to find out about current events on social media sites and YouTube, often from online influencers and celebrities, according to a new poll by Common Sense and SurveyMonkey.

The survey found that more than half of teens (54%) get news at least a few times a week from social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and 50% get news from YouTube.

Teens’ news habits reflect the diversity of the modern media landscape. And, while most news organizations maintain accounts on social media and other platforms, they are competing for attention with corporate brands, celebrities, influencers, and personal connections. Of those teens who get their news from YouTube, for example, six in 10 say they are more likely to get it from celebrities, influencers, and personalities rather than from news organizations utilizing the platform.

What’s noteworthy is that, even with so many relying on alternative sources for the majority of their news, teens are more confident in the news they get directly from news organizations. Of teens who get news of current events from news organizations, 65% say it helps them better understand what is going on. In contrast, just 53% of teens who get news from social media say it helps them better understand what is going on, while 19 percent say it has made them more confused about current events.

Amid ongoing concerns about the impact of information disseminated through social media on elections, older teens’ news habits may have political implications. Of the teens age 16 and 17 who say they’ll be eligible to vote in the 2020 election, 85% are likely to cast a ballot, including 61% who say they’re “very likely.”

“These findings raise concerns about what kind of news the next generation is using to shape their decisions,” said James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense. “There are few standards for what constitutes news and how accurately it’s portrayed on the platforms teens use. With the 2020 election coming up, we need to make sure teens are getting their news from reliable sources, thinking critically, and making informed decisions.”

This latest survey is part of a Common Sense partnership with SurveyMonkey to examine media and technology trends affecting kids and their parents and to share actionable data and insights with families.

“While it’s notable that teens rely heavily on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to stay informed, their reliance on news from celebrities and influencers rather than journalists may have pernicious implications,” said Jon Cohen, chief research officer at SurveyMonkey. “It’s a bit of a paradox: Overwhelmingly teens say they are interested in keeping up with the news, but they’re not seeking out either traditional or new media to do so.”

Selected key findings

  1. A large majority of teens age 13 to 17 in the U.S. (78%) say it’s important to them to follow current events.
  2. Teens get their news more frequently from social media sites (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) or from YouTube than directly from news organizations. More than half of teens (54%) get news from social media, and 50% get news from YouTube at least a few times a week. Fewer than half, 41%, get news reported by news organizations in print or online at least a few times a week, and only 37% get news on TV at least a few times a week.
  3. YouTube recommendations drive news consumption. Among all teens who get their news from YouTube—regardless of how often—exactly half (50%) say they most often find news on YouTube because it was recommended by YouTube itself (i.e., as a “watch next” video or in the sidebar). Almost half as many (27%) say they follow or subscribe to a specific channel for news on YouTube, and fewer say they find their news on YouTube through search (10%) or because it was shared by someone they know in real life (7%).
  4. Sixty percent of teens who get news from YouTube say they are more likely to get it from celebrities, influencers, and personalities as compared to news organizations (39%). The difference is even more apparent among daily YouTube news consumers (71% vs. 28%).
  5. Nearly two in three teens (65%) who get news directly from news organizations say doing so has helped them better understand current events, compared with 59% of teens who get their news from YouTube (56%) and 53% who get their news from social media sites (53%). Nearly two in 10 teens (19%) say that getting news from social media has made them more confused about current events.
  6. Teens clearly prefer a visual medium for learning about the news. A majority (64%) say that “seeing pictures and video showing what happened” gives them the best understanding of major news events, while just 36% say they’d prefer to read or hear the facts about what happened.
  7. Politically, teens are more likely to be moderate and identify as Democrats, but they are open to ideas from sources whose opinions differ from their own. Just under half of teens (45%) say they get news from sources that have views different from their own once a week or more, and only 14% say they never get news from sources with different views. Slightly fewer (35%) say they discuss political issues with people who have different views once a week or more, and 19% say they never discuss politics with people who have opposing views.

The study comes on the heels of the release of Common Sense’s revamped Digital Citizenship Curriculum, which gives teachers lessons to help students develop skills to be critical consumers of news at a time when they are navigating a fast-changing digital terrain fraught with fake media, hate speech, cyberbullying, and constant digital distraction.

Methodology: This SurveyMonkey Audience survey was conducted June 14 to 25, 2019, among 1,005 teenagers age 13 to 17 in the United States. Respondents for these surveys were selected from more than 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate for the full sample is +/-4.0 percentage points. Data has been weighted for age and sex using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of people in the United States age 13 to 17. Find the full survey results and more information about Common Sense research here.

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Why Teens Are Falling for TikTok Conspiracy Theories

TikTok–the platform skews young—reportedly one-third of its daily users in the US are 14 or younger—and celebrity gossip has long been the lingua franca of social media for people of all ages. Right-wing conspiracy groups like QAnon have been spreading made up stories about those in power on networks like Facebook for years. Now those ideas have jumped to TikTok where they’re being metabolized by much younger consumers. Those things all scan. What doesn’t, however, is why teens believe them.

The short answer? TikTok is full of crazy ideas—conspiracies are no different. They’ve been normalized by the platform where many young people spend most of their time. “Many of these conspiracy sites and stories are entertaining. They are social gathering spots. They are exciting,” says Nancy Rosenblum, Senator Joseph S. Clark Professor of Ethics in Politics and Government at Harvard University and co-author of A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy. “It’s small wonder that teenagers who ‘live on the screen’ would be drawn to the drama.”

Easy access to social media’s redistribution tools worsens this problem. With every like, share, send, and retweet, teenagers are popularizing this content worldwide. “On social media, repetition substitutes for validation,” says Russel Muirhead, a professor of democracy and politics at Dartmouth College and Rosenblum’s co-author. “Repetition is what breathes air into conspiracy theories, and social media is all about repetition. But repeating something that’s false does not make it more true! Teenagers are just as vulnerable to this as grown ups.”

This wouldn’t be such a problem if teenagers weren’t so attached to social media. So fond, in fact, that some 54 percent of teens get the bulk of their news from it. If this sounds concerning, that’s because it is. With teenagers relying on TikTok as their sole source of information, it makes sense for my generation to become absorbed in webs of falsities and to live as largely uninformed citizens.

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Zuckerberg Acknowledges ‘Risk of Civil Unrest’ After US Elections, Promises Newsfeed Updates, too little too late

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told analysts on a conference call Thursday evening that the company plans to post notices at the top of users’ news feeds on November 3rd discrediting any claims by either candidate in the U.S. presidential election that they have won the election if the site deems the claim premature… The move, said Zuckerberg, is being made because “There is a risk of civil unrest across the country, and given this, companies like ours need to go well beyond what we’ve done before.”

The conference call with analysts followed a third-quarter earnings report Thursday afternoon in which Facebook’s results topped expectations, helped by gains in active users that also were higher than Wall Street expected.

Zuckerberg said Facebook “helped 4.4 million people register [to vote] exceeding the goal that we set for ourselves this summer.”

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A comprehensive resource to help you delete Facebook.

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The Left and the Right Speak Different Languages—Literally

A study analyzing patterns in online comments found that liberals and conservatives use different words to express similar ideas.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University collected more than 86.6 million comments from more than 6.5 million users on 200,000 YouTube videos, then analyzed them using an AI technique normally employed to translate between two languages.

The researchers found that people on opposing sides of the political divide often use different words to express similar ideas. For instance, the term “mask” among liberal commenters is roughly equivalent to the term “muzzle” for conservatives. Similar pairings were seen for “liberals” and “libtards” as well as “solar” and “fossil.”

“We are practically speaking different languages—that’s a worrisome thing,” KhudaBukhsh says. “If ‘mask’ translates to ‘muzzle,’ you immediately know that there is a huge debate surrounding masks and freedom of speech.”

In the case of politically tinged comments, the researchers found that different words occupy a similar place in the lexicon of each community. The paper, which has been posted online but is not yet peer reviewed, looked at comments posted beneath the videos on four channels spanning left- and right-leaning US news—MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, and OANN.

KhudaBukhsh says social networks might use techniques like the one his team developed to build bridges between warring communities. A network could surface comments that avoid contentious or “foreign” terms, instead showing ones that represent common ground, he suggests. “Go to any social media platform; it has become so toxic, and it’s almost like there is no known interaction” between users with different political viewpoints, he says.

But Morteza Dehghani, an associate professor at the University of Southern California who studies social media using computational methods, finds the approach problematic. He notes that the Carnegie Mellon paper considers “BLM” (Black Lives Matter) and “ALM” (all lives matter) a “translatable” pair, akin to “mask” and “muzzle.”

“BLM and ALM are not translations of each other,” he says. “One makes salient centuries of slavery, abuse, racism, discrimination, and fights for justice, while the other one tries to erase this history.”

Dehghani says it would be a mistake to use computational methods that oversimplify issues and lack nuance. “What we need is not machine translation,” he says. “What we need is perspective-taking and explanation—two things that AI algorithms are notoriously bad at.”

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Long Before Cambridge Analytica, Simulmatics Linked Data and Politics

NPR reporter Shannon Bond reports of a little-known — and now nearly entirely forgotten — company called Simulmatics, which had technology that used vast amounts of data to profile voters and ultimately help John F. Kennedy win the 1960 election. From the report:
The […] company was called Simulmatics, the subject of Harvard historian and New Yorker writer Jill Lepore’s timely new book, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future. Before Cambridge Analytica, before Facebook, before the Internet, there was Simulmatics’ “People Machine,” in Lepore’s telling: “A computer program designed to predict and manipulate human behavior, all sorts of human behavior, from buying a dishwasher to countering an insurgency to casting a vote.”

Lepore unearths Simulmatics’ story and makes the argument that, amid a broader proliferation of behavioral science research across academia and government in the 1960s, the company paved the way for our 21st-century obsession with data and prediction. Simulmatics, she argues, is “a missing link in the history of technology,” the antecedent to Facebook, Google and Amazon and to algorithms that attempt to forecast who will commit crimes or get good grades. “It lurks behind the screen of every device,” she writes.

If Then presents Simulmatics as both ahead of its time and, more often than not, overpromising and under-delivering. The company was the brainchild of Ed Greenfield, an advertising executive straight out of Mad Men, who believed computers could help Democrats recapture the White House. He wanted to create a model of the voting population that could tell you how voters would respond to whatever a candidate did or said. The name Simulmatics was a contraction of “simulation” and “automation.” As Greenfield explained it to investors, Lepore writes: “The Company proposes to engage principally in estimating probable human behavior by the use of computer technology.” The People Machine was originally built to analyze huge amounts of data ahead of the 1960 election, in what Lepore describes as, at the time, “the largest political science research project in American history.”

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