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Inside Social

Inside Social (Aug 19th, 2019)

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1. Twitter has entered the center of the storm over China's effort to quell the pro-democracy uprising in Hong Kong. Over the weekend, the Twitter account for bookmarking service Pinboard tweeted out an example of a promoted tweet pushing Chinese government propaganda that accuses the protesters of "blatant violence," even though the majority of the protests have been peaceful, according to those on the ground. Many of the promoted tweets come from China Xinhua News, which is the official news agency of the Communist government. And while Twitter is banned in mainland China, the platform appears to be accepting the Chinese government's money to promote these tweets, which aim to control the narrative for an international audience. Meanwhile, in recent months, there have been reports of a crackdown on Chinese Twitter users who have used hacks in order to access the service and speak freely about the government. Twitter had to apologize in June after it suspended 30 such accounts by Chinese users shortly before the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. – THE NEXT WEBTECHCRUNCH

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2. In a country like Brazil, where many users can not afford internet service, WhatsApp and YouTube are being combined in a powerful feedback loop to spread conspiracy theories and misinformation. While many Brazilians use YouTube as an alternative to TV, because many TV networks are poor quality, many do not directly get to access YouTube because of lack of resources. And WhatsApp was known to be widely used last fall in spreading support for President Jair Bolsonaro prior to his election. So after reporting on YouTube's role in radicalizing Brazil and pushing it to the far right, the New York Times found that WhatsApp is playing a concurrent role among poorer people, who often share short clips of YouTube videos containing conspiracy theories on WhatsApp. – NEW YORK TIMES

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3. A bunch of big tech executives, including one from Facebook, reportedly gathered for a workshop together at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California in October 2016 to discuss their roles in making a mess of the internet. The New Yorker reports on the covert retreat, which included "co-founders of Google, Slack, and Tinder, 'members of the early Apple executive team,' and a 'Facebook executive' — not Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg." This story followed on one reporter attending a digital detox retreat at Esalen in April. Says one attendee, "We had a really frank conversation about where the industry may have taken wrong turns, and how, given enough time, we could course-correct." The 2016 workshop was led by Tristan Harris, the co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, who has been lecturing for several years about "human downgrading," and trying to lobby tech executives to do more good in the world. The piece follows on a 2017 piece in the New York Times about Silicon Valley searching for its soul at Esalen. – THE NEW YORKER

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4. Reddit has added the ability to livestream. Redditors were surprised to see a strange new subreddit appear called r/pan, which began posting some cryptic messages on Friday including one that said, "Today we live in a society where many choose to have a televised voice." It's called Reddit Public Access Network, and it seems that co-founder Steve Huffman has turned to the increasing popularity of livestreaming as a new potential revenue source for Reddit. But the potential for abuses here seem vast, just given Reddit's size and the reputation of some of its political subreddits for dabbling in extremism in recent years. Criteria for getting one's account banned include streams that contain "Nudity, sexually suggestive content, graphic violence, illegal/dangerous behavior, hoax promotion, or content that would be seen as highly offensive/upsetting to the average redditor." – WIRED

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6. Calling the world of fintech and payments "Facebook's Waterloo," a new op-ed suggests Facebook needs to drop its Libra project and focus on repairing itself and its reputation. "Once startups aggressively step into highly regulated industries like insurance or healthcare, regulators come down on them hard," writes Peter Yared. – THE NEXT WEB

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7. Some experts suggest that the panic over deep-faked videos, such as the one of Nancy Pelosi that was spread on social media in recent months, is overblown. Among the arguments is the fact that some users are going to go on believing demonstrably fake information just because it brings them comfort or satisfaction, but it's probably not as big of a worry as we think because deep-fakes take a lot of effort. – AXIOS

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8. In order to detect potential flaws in its codebase when changes are made, Facebook has built a static analysis tool that can scan the entire thing for possible bugs in under 30 minutes. The platform's codebase is now over 100 million lines long, and the tool, called Zoncolan, has been developed over four years to do the initial scan to flag issues for engineers. – WIRED

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9. Both Facebook and Twitter say they have evidence of how the Chinese government is spreading misinformation about the Hong Kong protests. Facebook says it has removed seven pages, three Groups, and five accounts that were engaging in inauthentic behavior. Twitter, meanwhile, says it has removed 936 accounts that were operating out of mainland China. – NEW YORK TIMES

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10. Facebook got name-checked in Sunday's episode of "Succession" on HBO, but not in a good way. The company was blamed for the demise of a fictional media startup called Vaulter, because changes in its algorithm choked its traffic — something that has happened to real-life media sites over several years. – BUSINESS INSIDER

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Inside Social is written and curated by Jay Barmann. Jay has spent a decade covering the social media space and the tech world in general for SFist.com, the San Francisco branch of Gothamist. As editor of Grub Street San Francisco, he also covered the food world around the Bay Area. As a freelance writer he has written for SF Weekly, 7x7, Curbed SF, Eater SF, Eventbrite, New York Magazine, and San Francisco Magazine, among others. Follow him on Instagram at @conflator or Twitter at @jaybarmann.

Editor: David Stegon (senior editor at Inside, whose reporting experience includes cryptocurrency and technology).

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