Thursday, July 02, 2020

What Pundits Get Wrong About the Facebook Ad Boycott


“Yes, but …”

That’s the opening refrain of many media pundits when asked to comment on the phenomenal success of the #StopHateForProfit boycott, which now counts more than 750 companies pausing their Facebook advertising in July to protest the spread of racism on the platform.

Yes, but the monthly advertising budget of these companies is only a sliver of the ad revenues Facebook takes in each year.

Yes, but Facebook’s stock price, which dropped some eight percent at the outset of the campaign, will rebound soon.

Yes, but this is only a temporary public-relations stunt; these companies will return to advertising on Facebook as usual.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Hoboken Bricks and Mortar


Many of you have heard about a demonstration planned for Friday in Hoboken. You may have also seen some of the disinformation and fear-mongering on social media regarding this event. Today, I did something about that.

But first some background.

One of the most common online memes during the nationwide protests is the mysterious bricks conspiracy. It’s not just being repeated by random trolls and bots but has captured the social media accounts of the Trump White House, too.

It goes something like this: “Professional anarchists” are leaving pallets of bricks and stones at demonstration sites. The purpose is to incite protesters to wreak havoc, hurling the projectiles at police and breaking the windows of nearby businesses.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Democracy's Frontline Workers

Early last month, Amy Brothers was busy at The Denver Post covering the most significant news event of her career: the fallout across Colorado from the rapid spread of COVID-19.

But on April 17, without warning, the Post let the video journalist go. She was laid off with 12 other newsroom colleagues in response to the plummeting ad spending that has struck local-news operations across the country.

"I really loved my job," Brothers tweeted later that day. "Going out into our community and telling your stories, on your best days and your hardest always inspired me." Brothers later told me that her workload had increased significantly during the crisis: "I want to keep telling these stories, but I'm also tired. I was working really hard before I was laid off."

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The FCC’s First Amendment Pretenders

Donald Trump’s latest assault on the media’s free-speech rights comes in the form of a defamation lawsuit against a Wisconsin television station that ran liberal political ads that the president’s campaign didn’t like.

A Trump campaign spokesperson said they had “no other option than to use the force of law” to stop WJFW Channel-12 from airing the ads.
Donald Trump’s latest assault on the media’s free-speech rights comes in the form of a

But don’t hold your breath if you’re waiting for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Brendan Carr to intervene on behalf of this local broadcaster’s rights.

It wouldn’t be the first time these Trump appointees have ducked their duty to defend the First Amendment against Trump’s unceasing attacks on the press.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Trump, the Airwaves, and the Broadcast-Hoax Rule

As COVID-19 spreads from city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood and house to house, misinformation is being spread over the public airwaves by syndicated right-wing personalities and the media conglomerates that air their programs.

In many cases, radio and TV hosts like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh are simply following President Trump’s lead as he convenes daily press briefings to boast about his supposed expertise, attack those he sees as political foes, demean the press corps, blame the disease’s spread on immigrants and foreigners, and make false claims about the federal response to the global pandemic.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Why Facebook Filtering Will Ultimately Fail

In its content-moderation report released this week, Facebook revealed that it had removed a whopping 3.2-billion fake accounts from March through September 2019.

That’s a lot of disinformation, wrote tech reporter Aditya Srivastava: “To put it in perspective, the number is [nearly] half of living human beings on planet earth.”

Facebook also claims to have removed or labeled 54-million pieces of content flagged as too violent and graphic, 18.5-million items deemed sexual exploitation, 11.4-million posts breaking its anti-hate speech rules, and 5.7 million that violated its bullying and harassment policies.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Facebook’s News Initiative Papers Over a Deeper Problem

Originally published at Seattle Times

On Friday, Facebook unveiled its “News Tab,” a feature that will promote to the social network’s users news articles from a handpicked collection of outlets.

Facebook says it created the feature because “we want new forms of journalism in the digital age, including individual, independent journalism, to flourish.”

In exchange, some of the participating news outlets will be compensated for their content, receiving up to $3 million a year. The social-media giant rolled out the News Tab to a limited subset of Facebook’s 2.5-billion users; the company hopes to expand the feature so it’s available to more people by early 2020.

While the News Tab isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, it doesn’t address a larger issue that’s long festered between Facebook and the news business... [More at Seattle Times]

Friday, November 01, 2019

How Twitter and Facebook Both Get Political Ads Wrong

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s decision to ban political ads from the platform lit up Twitter with praise Wednesday night.

But this issue isn’t as straightforward as many believe.

To his credit, Dorsey’s announcement is a clear rebuke of Facebook’s hands-off approach to campaign ads, which amounts to giving politicians carte blanche to lie and mislead voters.


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Can Anyone Stop Facebook from Poisoning Democracy?


Freedom (to lie) isn’t free. For the campaign to re-elect Donald Trump it costs $1.5 million. And that’s just last week’s Facebook tab.

In exchange, Trump’s team gets to spread false and misleading political ads across the social network. This includes a 30-second ad that makes the unsubstantiated claim that former Vice President Biden used his influence to block an investigation of a Ukrainian energy company with ties to his son. CNN rejected the ad, noting it contained inaccuracies. But it passed muster with Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube, where it’s been viewed millions of times.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

A Pivot to Digital Shouldn't Spell the End of Local News

Originally published by Common Dreams

By vowing to increase support for public media and dedicate funds to newsgathering, a proposal put forth by Bernie Sanders is raising a question that’s rarely come up in political debates: How can policymakers intervene to help revitalize local news and put journalists back to work?



Last Saturday, the final printed edition of the Vindicator rolled off the presses in Youngstown, Ohio. After 150 years, the city’s last remaining daily closed its doors, handing its subscription list and masthead to the Tribune Chronicle, based in nearby Warren, which has begun to produce a dramatically pared-down online version of the “Old Vindy.”


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Exposing D.C.’s Anti-Democratic Opposition to Net Neutrality

Tracking the influence economy that fuels Washington, D.C., is no easy task.

Powerful corporate special interests are experts at concealing their expenditures through dark-money groups, Astroturf fronts, unethical think tanks and other influence-laundering operations.

Powerful corporate special interests are experts at concealing their expenditures through dark-money groups, Astroturf fronts, unethical think tanks and other influence-laundering operations.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Playing Whack-a-Mole with Broadband-Industry Shills


Defending Net Neutrality in the media is like an endless game of Whack-a-Mole.

So many Op-Eds and letters to the editor that oppose the Save the Internet Act are written by people with financial ties to the broadband industry. And far too few of these ties are disclosed in the media.

Time to get the hammer!

The latest mole to emerge takes the form of a misleading letter to the editor in the New York Times. Its author is Ev Ehrlich, who’s affiliated with the ESC Company and the so-called Progressive Policy Institute. But you wouldn’t know that from reading his letter in the Times, as neither he nor the newspaper acknowledges these ties.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Tax Social Media to Invest in Journalism

Originally published at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 

One of the most remarkable testimonies before Congress occurred in 1969 as the Senate Communications Subcommittee was weighing heavy cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the entity charged with distributing federal money to public television and radio stations.

Subcommittee Chairman John Pastore was skeptical about the need for publicly funded media. He called to testify a soft-spoken Presbyterian minister from Pittsburgh who had recently moved into WQED studios to produce a childrens’ television program for a handful of local stations.

Over the next six-and-a-half minutes, Fred Rogers made such a compelling case for public broadcasting that it gave Mr. Pastore goosebumps. Mr. Rogers ended his testimony with a children’s song. Pastore’s position softened on the spot and he voted to restore funding.

In the 50 years since, public broadcasting has survived similar funding threats. Today, most of the CPB’s annual allotment from Congress (around $450 million) goes to support noncommercial television and radio programming. And while “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” stopped airing in 2001, PBS and NPR programs like All Things Considered, Frontline, Morning Edition and PBS NewsHour remain popular among U.S. audiences.  (....more at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Tax Online Ad Revenue to Fund Local and Independent Journalism

Originally published in the New York Daily News

The past year has been a bumpy ride for Facebook — and even worse for its users. But in 2019 we have a chance to clean up some of the mess Facebook has made by taxing the company to support local journalism.

In the spring of 2018, news broke that data firms and troll farms, including Cambridge Analytica and Russia’s Internet Research Agency, had misused Facebook data to spread misinformation and divide U.S. voters.

In November, an investigation revealed that Facebook executives had orchestrated a multi-year effort to cover up evidence of widespread abuse of their platform and enabled an anti-Semitic smear campaign against the company’s growing list of critics. And just last week, another investigation found the company allowed advertisers to target messages to people with an affinity for Holocaust perpetrators and neo-Nazi propaganda.

Want to Save Journalism? Tax the Attention Economy

Originally published in The Hill

Way, way back in 2009 as Facebook was celebrating its fifth anniversary, CEO Mark Zuckerberg blogged that the company was founded “to give people the tools to engage and understand the world around them.”

In the 10 years since then, Facebook’s user base has multiplied more than 10 times. But instead of giving people the tools to better understand the world, Zuckerberg’s creation has hastened the global spread of misinformation designed to divide populations and manipulate voters.

At the same time, news organizations are laying off scores of hard-working journalists, those we rely on to set the record straight. Since 2004, about 20 percent of U.S. newspapers have stopped printing, leaving nearly 200,000 newsroom employees without work and at least 900 communities without anyone covering local news.