Amazon’s Twitter ambassadors are blurring the road between reality and fiction

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August 16, 2019
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August 16, 2019

Amazon’s Twitter ambassadors are blurring the road between reality and fiction

One of the massive classes of Amazon’s HQ2 debacle, not less than from my perspective, was that the corporate will be weirdly tone-deaf. A purported nationwide search to discover a dwelling for a “second headquarters” regarded, as quickly as the corporate introduced it had settled on New York and Washington, DC, as if it had been a ruse. New York pushed again, Amazon dropped its plans, and all the episode has pale into reminiscence.

But the public-relations equipment chargeable for managing Amazon’s relationship with our democracy has continued to undertake data operations designed to burnish its picture. And this week, the world took discover.

Amazon has long confronted criticism over the working situations in its success facilities, the place employees try to stay marginally extra helpful than the package-sorting robotic coworkers that may sometime change them. In response to this — and amid rising fears on the firm that its employees would unionize — the corporate last year created a series of Twitter accounts for its “fulfillment center ambassadors.”

The ambassadors tweeted in regards to the plentiful toilet breaks supplied them by their employer with a false cheer frequent to hostages. In change for his or her testimony, the employees reportedly acquired one extra paid time without work, and a $50 reward card. The tech world spent a day or two chuckling over this specific real-life Black Mirror episode, then moved on to the subsequent.

And then, someday this 12 months, the accounts have been handed over to … different individuals. People of various ages and genders. People with completely different profile photographs. Ambassadors who had as soon as been hard-working grandmothers named Michelle were now college-aged workers named Rafael. As Jonah Engel Bromwich writes in the New York Times:

The accounts have provoked suspicion. In January, it appeared that the accounts had modified arms; one which had belonged to a “Leo” had modified its show title and deal with to Ciera. A “Rick” had develop into a “James,” and a “Michelle” had reworked right into a “Sarah.” (Critics of the account sometimes name them the “Borg,” a reference to an alien race in Star Trek who function as a collective hive thoughts.)

Twitter customers took discover, tweeting to ask the ambassadors whether or not they’re really robots. The ambassadors denied being robots, however the case nonetheless felt inclusive. What is the appropriate Voight-Kampff test for company propaganda accounts?

Bellingcat’s Aric Toler launched an investigation. He has discovered “53 Ambassador accounts so far, including 29 American accounts, five Spanish, seven German, four British, four French, two Polish, and three Italian ‘ambassadors.’” Unlike most working Joes on Twitter, they uniformly tweet from Sprinklr, a paid enterprise advertising service. Toler concludes:

It’s exhausting to think about how and why Amazon determined that such volunteer model ambassadors can be a good suggestion — particularly contemplating they nearly all write the precise in the identical method and use the identical hashtags and related photographs of their tweets.

While there could also be completely different faces behind these accounts, it’s exhausting to inform them aside, and their actions all appear to be thematically orchestrated from a company workplace. In reviewing ambassador accounts, only some English-language individuals stood out as having any personality and never utilizing near-perfect capitalization and punctuation.

Amazon, for its half, testified to the legitimacy of its ambassadors. It told BuzzFeed:

“These accounts are run by FC employees who understand what it’s actually like to work in our FCs,” a spokesperson advised BuzzFeed News by e-mail. When proven Desiree’s account and requested whether or not she’s a employee who’s writing and posting her personal tweets, the spokesperson mentioned, “That’s correct. Desiree is the one writing and sending the tweets.”

There’s an extended historical past of companies mounting astroturf campaigns. But as Rani Molla points out in Recode, the usage of Twitter to advance this type of message feels comparatively new:

Of course, corporate-sponsored anti-union propaganda just isn’t new. Famously, then B-movie star and Screen Actors Guild union president Ronald Reagan worked as a “traveling ambassador” for General Electric, visiting vegetation throughout the nation to extol a free-market system.

But in contrast with older anti-union stunts, “The fulfillment center tweets are more interesting because it plays on something new: the perceived authenticity of Twitter versus older kinds of bottom-up media,” Louis Hyman, a Cornell professor and writer of Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary, advised Recode. “No one took it as authentic as [Amazon warehouse employees posting on] Twitter. That’s what’s at stake here. Those tweets can help control who to believe.”

If you solely adopted this story on Twitter, you may be forgiven for believing that Amazon had mounted a straight-up disinformation marketing campaign. It appears extra seemingly that Amazon is recruiting actual employees to supply spin on the corporate’s behalf — however the transfer feels phony at greatest, and exploitative as well. I like how researcher Jonathan Albright put it to the Times:

Albright, the director of the Digital Forensics Initiative on the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, mentioned that the messages the accounts have been spreading didn’t rise to the extent of disinformation. But he mentioned the follow could possibly be misleading in idea and had the potential to contain parts of disinformation. He mentioned that he most popular to discuss with the marketing campaign by what it was, calling it “dark art PR.”

And if it have been taking place on Facebook, by the way, it looks as if the type of factor the social community would name “coordinated inauthentic behavior” — which might be grounds for kicking all these ambassadors off the platform.

Thanks to numerous state-sponsored actors, we have already got sufficient issues checking out reality from fiction on social networks. To see Amazon mounting its personal dark-arts PR marketing campaign on Twitter — turning staff into paid flacks, with out disclosing that they’re being compensated as such — looks like a grim new improvement in our data sphere. At the identical time, as with HQ2, the ruse fell aside below the lightest scrutiny. Perhaps Amazon’s public-relations campaigns would go higher if it tried waging them out within the open.

Democracy

The algorithms that detect hate speech online are biased against black people

Important story from Shirin Ghaffary on new analysis:

Two new research present that AI educated to establish hate speech may very well find yourself amplifying racial bias. In one study, researchers discovered that main AI fashions for processing hate speech have been one-and-a-half instances extra prone to flag tweets as offensive or hateful after they have been written by African Americans, and 2.2 instances extra prone to flag tweets written in African American English (which is usually spoken by black individuals within the US). Another study discovered related widespread proof of racial bias in opposition to black speech in 5 broadly used tutorial information units for finding out hate speech that totaled round 155,800 Twitter posts.

This is largely as a result of what is taken into account offensive is determined by social context. Terms which can be slurs when utilized in some settings — just like the “n-word” or “queer” — will not be in others. But algorithms — and content material moderators who grade the take a look at information that teaches these algorithms find out how to do their job — don’t normally know the context of the feedback they’re reviewing.

Teens exposed to highly charged political ads on Facebook and Instagram

Rowland Manthorpe stories that the UK’s conservative celebration goes after youngsters on Facebook:

Sky News has seen 208 political adverts proven to 13 to 17-year-olds on Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram, the place advertisers can goal campaigns based on age.

The majority of the adverts got here from the Conservatives, which confirmed 102 adverts to youngsters, largely that includes Boris Johnson.

Facebook isn’t ready for 2020

A brand new research has worrisome implications for the US presidential election. Trevor Davis, Matthew Hindman, and Steven Livingston write:

What we discovered have been weird patterns favoring the far-right, anti-immigrant celebration Alternative fur Deutschland. AfD is a medium-sized celebration in Germany that polled between 10 and 15 percent within the months main as much as the E.U. elections.

On Facebook, although, AfD dominated to an astonishing diploma. AfD pages acquired 86 % of whole shares and 75 % of all feedback — 4 instances the feedback, and about six instances the shares, of all different political events mixed. It is probably going no different political celebration has ever dominated Facebook throughout a free election as completely as AfD.

No, Ilhan Omar has not been arrested 23 times

And talking of dangerous stuff getting traction on Facebook, from Daniel Funke:

A viral picture on Facebook claims that Ilhan Omar has been arrested 23 instances and is the daughter of a Somali terrorist.

She was arrested as soon as and the fees have been dropped. Minnesota courtroom information present that Omar has had 24 visitors violations prior to now 10 years, not arrests. We couldn’t discover any proof that both of Omar’s mother and father have been concerned in a terrorist group in Somalia.

You can now report a suspicious Instagram post and expect a certified U.S. fact-checker to verify it

This appears good. From Cristina Tardáguila:

Facebook introduced right now it’s increasing its Third Party Fact-Checking Program (3PFC) to the photo- and video-sharing social community it purchased seven years in the past. The technical rollout begins right now within the United States and will take two weeks to achieve all worldwide customers.

To report suspicious content material, customers will solely should click on on the three dots within the higher proper nook of every Instagram put up, select “it’s inappropriate” after which “false information.” Then the posts shall be reviewed by IFCN members, who’re already working with 3PFC in additional than 30 nations.

Google employees ‘refuse to be complicit’ in border agency cloud contract

Colin Lecher has your inner Google activism of the day:

Google staff are demanding that the corporate not bid on a cloud computing contract with US Customs and Border Protection within the newest act of protest contained in the tech business.

In a petition circulated right now inside Google and on Medium, a gaggle of staff mentioned immigration officers are “perpetrating a system of abuse and malign neglect” on the border. The staff level to the Trump administration’s household separation coverage and the latest deaths of youngsters in immigration officers’ custody. “These abuses are illegal under international human rights law, and immoral by any standard,” the petition reads. In the hours after it was launched, lots of of staff added their signatures to the petition.

Top Takes: Suspected Russian Intelligence Operation

The Digital Forensic Research Lab stories on the exercise of a Russian data operation found on Facebook earlier this 12 months:

The operation was strongly paying homage to the Soviet-era “Operation Infektion” that accused the United States of making the AIDS virus. That operation planted the faux story in distant media earlier than amplifying it by means of Soviet channels: it in the end unfold by means of real information media around the globe and was usually reported as reality. The newest operation — which the DFRLab has dubbed “Secondary Infektion” — used an identical method by planting false tales on the far reaches of the web earlier than amplifying them with Facebook accounts run from Russia.

The operation’s objective seems to have been to divide, discredit, and distract Western nations. Some of its tales have been calculated to inflame tensions between NATO allies, particularly Germany and the United States, in addition to Britain and the United States. Others appeared designed to stoke racial, non secular, or political hatred, particularly in Northern Ireland. Few posts gained traction, however one anti-immigrant story penetrated the German far proper and continues to flow into on-line. It seems seemingly that the Russian operation fabricated all the story, together with its spurious “evidence.” This was a very disturbing case of weaponized hatred stemming from a international operation.

Bernie Sanders joined Twitch to reach people where they are

Bijan Stephen explores Sanders’ adventures in streaming:

So far, Sanders’ channel has largely broadcast city halls and rallies; the candidate himself hardly ever reveals up on streams. Even so, 70,000 individuals adopted Sanders’ account on Twitch within the first 24 hours they have been on the platform, and 20,000 individuals tuned in for the primary Democratic debate on their channel, based on his communication employees.

No one’s precisely positive who got here up with the thought, Miller-Lewis says. But internally, they’d been kicking across the thought for a live-streaming present, and Twitch was a pure place for that to reside. It helped that Sanders thought it necessary that he had a present once more. Sanders had one on public entry cable again within the ’80s. In the ’90s, he was making movies in DC to ship again to his constituents in Vermont. “I think this next stage with Twitch and live streaming is sort of the natural extension of his interest and focus on finding new ways to communicate with people and bring them into the political process,” Miller-Lewis says.

Less than Half of Google Searches Now Result in a Click

I can’t recover from these stats from Rand Fishkin, which converse to numerous ongoing Google antitrust points:

June (as proven on the prime of this put up) is when zero-click searches in browsers handed 50%, however the pie chart above reveals that even earlier than that, Google was sending an enormous portion of search clicks to their very own properties (~6% of queries and ~12% of clicks). Those properties embrace YouTube, Maps, Android, Google’s weblog, subdomains of Google.com, and a dozen or so others (full checklist here).

Maybe Google’s web sites are rating completely as a result of they’re the most effective consequence, but when Congress is asking questions on whether or not a monopoly is doubtlessly abusing its market dominance in a single subject to unfairly compete in one other, I’ve received one thing else they’ll wish to see. It’s a chart of the place searches occurred on main net properties in Q2, and as you’ll be able to see, there’s no competitors

Do Tech Companies Really Need to Snoop Into Private Conversations to Improve Their A.I.?

April Glaser stories on ways in which tech firms may use people to enhance voice transcriptions whereas decreasing privateness issues:

But contractors aren’t the one approach to practice a machine to get higher at understanding us. There are different much less privacy-invasive methods of bettering A.I.’s capacity to understand human language than human evaluate. “Instead of sending out the exact piece for human transcription, you could create a way that has the same kind of noise or other acoustic features and have a human transcribe that so that you’re not divulging anything private of your users,” mentioned Micha Breakstone, an knowledgeable in pure language processing and co-founder of Chorus, which builds A.I. for understanding conversations for gross sales groups.*

Breakstone signifies that a replica of a recording could possibly be made to mimic the identical sounds, inflections, and phrases in order that the precise, doubtlessly figuring out recording isn’t being reviewed by strangers. It’s additionally attainable to shift the voice or gender of the individual speaking within the recording to additional defend their identification. Still, “at the end of the day, the answer is you don’t need to send those materials out to humans, but it’s much, much easier if you do,” Breakstone mentioned.

Hong Kong protests: Police defend use of ‘disguised’ officers

Speaking of phonies, the BBC stories that Hong Kong is creating decoy protesters:

Hong Kong police have admitted deploying officers disguised as anti-government protesters throughout mass unrest that rocked the town on Sunday.

Some officers disguised themselves as “different characters”, a spokesman mentioned, including that the “decoy operation” had focused “extreme violent rioters”.

Elsewhere

How an Online Mob Created a Playbook for a Culture War

Killer bundle from the Times on the five-year anniversary of Gamergate.

Cloudflare warns investors that sites like 8chan are a risk to its business

The web service firm warned that its enterprise could possibly be materially affected by the tradition conflict during which it has develop into an unwilling participant:

Internet providers firm Cloudflare goes public, and it describes the controversy over banning hateful web sites — like 8chan and the Daily Stormer — as a possible threat issue. The firm’s S-1 filing stories that objectionable websites may trigger “significant adverse political, business, and reputational consequences.”

After ad denied, gay creators are fighting for systemic change at YouTube

Chris Knight and Celso Dulay are suing YouTube after their advert was rejected — they are saying for discriminatory causes. Julia Alexander stories:

This “egregious” occasion is what led Knight and Dulay, who function a YouTube information channel known as GNews! that’s dedicated to covering LGBTQ issues, to launch a lawsuit against the company for discriminatory practices in opposition to LBGTQ+ individuals, who’re “considered a protected group by California law,” Knight advised The Verge. The Verge obtained an audio recording of the dialog between Dulay and two members of Google’s AdWords crew, which confirmed Dulay and Knight’s statements. A YouTube spokesperson declined to touch upon the recording.

During the decision, Dulay spoke with each a customer support consultant and their supervisor about working the advert. The supervisor advised Dulay that as a result of the video contained “any content about sexuality or anything like that,” it might “actually violate the policies of AdWords under ‘shocking content.’” When Dulay pressed the supervisor on whether or not that meant “content about gay people” usually, he was advised sure.

Google Employee Writes Memo About ‘The Burden of Being Black at Google’

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai posts a letter from a lately departed Googler who skilled racism:

The memo, obtained by Motherboard, is titled “The Weight of Silence,” and argues that Google is missing in range, and that a few of its staff make racist or not less than insensitive feedback about minorities.

“Over the last 5 years I’ve heard co-workers spew hateful words about immigrants, boast unabashedly about gentrifying neighborhoods, mockingly imitate people who speak different languages, reject candidates of color without evidence because of ‘fit’ and so much more,” the worker wrote. “So, just as I’m doing with this essay, I ultimately resolved to break my silence. And though I eventually grew more comfortable using challenging moments to educate my co-workers, I never stopped feeling the burden of being black at Google. And the more insensitive comments weighed on me, the less safe I felt here—and the less capable I was of being my best self at work, or myself at all.”

TikTok Users Are Inventing Wild Theories to Explain Its Mysterious Algorithm

Caroline Haskins stories on TikTookay customers determined to hack its opaque advice algorithms, who add ineffective hashtags to their posts as a type of prayer:

Probably half of the movies I see on TikTookay embrace one of many following hashtags: #fyp, #foryou, or #foryoupage.

The hashtaggers’ idea is that in the event that they use these tags of their captions, their posts usually tend to {surface} on extra individuals’s For You pages. The For You web page is TikTookay’s advice feed, which is customized to every consumer based mostly on how that consumer interacts with movies on TikTookay, based on the corporate.

There’s completely no proof that utilizing these hashtags does something, nevertheless it looks as if they do.

TikTok’s best comedy duo is a loud man and his duck

Megan Farokhmanesh has your TikTookay account of the day:

Balaskovitz adopted Jerry as a duckling about 5 years in the past from an area farm. “He’s like a dog,” says Balaskovitz. Duck pastimes embrace automotive rides, consuming McDonald’s french fries, napping in his personal bed room, and ready on the entrance door for Balaskovitz to return exterior. Balaskovitz will put up movies that includes Jerry and a menagerie of pets — together with birds, canine, plunger-stealing ferrets, and sunglass-clad guinea pigs — however not all members of the animal brood are stars, and few garner the identical type of love and a spotlight as Jerry. It’s regular these days to see animals within the highlight. It’s rarer for mentioned pet star to be a shower-loving, pool-hopping duck with an indifference to being yelled at.

Launches

Facebook movie ads will now include ticket and showtime details

Sure, why not.

Instagram revamps Boomerang, creates Layout for Stories and more

Jane Manchun Wong’s preview of recent options coming to Instagram contains an emulator for brand spanking new Boomerang modes. Unbelievably cool.

YouTube is testing a members-only videos feature

This looks as if a logical and creator-friendly transfer:

After introducing its Memberships program in June 2018 to promote subscriptions for particular person YouTube channels, YouTube has begun testing an choice for channels to add members-only movies, according to a document published to the platform’s support forum. A YouTube spokesperson didn’t present a remark by press time.

Takes

Casey Newton on dismantling the platforms and taking Facebook’s cash

Hey that’s me! I talked to Columbia Journalism Review about platform stuff, together with whether or not publishers ought to take Facebook’s cash for its new information effort:

“I do think publishers should take the money here,” he mentioned. “Social network ‘carriage fees’ have been a pet issue of mine for a while. Just as cable companies pay for access to high-quality channels, so, too, should social networks pay for access to high-quality journalism.” That sort of deal is a win-win-win, Newton mentioned. “Publishers get money for journalism; readers get news they can trust; and Facebook gets a higher-quality news environment that can bolster our democracy while making the whole site more attractive for readers and advertisers.” As for individuals who are afraid that the cash would possibly vanish, that has all the time been a threat, mentioned Newton. “Will the money disappear at some point? Probably. But that’s true of so many sources of income that journalists rely on already: ad revenue from Google AMP clicks; inscrutable deals with OTT providers; kindly billionaires; and so on. A publisher’s job in 2019 is to get wherever the getting’s good, and use it to fund the maximum amount of journalism.”

And lastly …

Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia Team With Powderkeg for Quibi Comedy Series

We don’t cowl a number of film information round right here, however I used to be struck by the plot of the present:

Titled “Last Resort,” the collection facilities on a Polynesian family-run resort in Hawaii that’s immediately thrown right into a whirlwind when a tech billionaire places in a bid to purchase the land. Johnson and Dany Garcia will govt produce through Seven Bucks Productions together with Paul Feig and Laura Fischer below their Powderkeg banner.

Hmmm … now where have I heard that before?

Talk to me

Send me ideas, feedback, questions, and plot factors for the Rock’s Zuckerberg present: [email protected].

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