As we enter the final weeks in the run up to the US election, actions, tensions and rhetoric are all escalating in the ongoing cat-and-mouse saga of content moderation online.
A big step-change happened last week when the NY Post published an article about supposed leak of hacked emails relating to Biden. If you haven’t read the details, it seems to be a largely invented story pushed by the Trump campaign to try re-create the email scandal story that hurt Clinton in 2016. Once they story was published, each Social Media company and indeed each media company had a choice to make in how they handled it.
Facebook tweaked their algorithm to dampen the viral spread of the article and added a warning notice. Twitter blocked it completely, prohibiting users from sharing a link to the article, and in some cases blocking users who do. YouTube, as it often does, did nothing.
Twitter’s action was the most extreme and caused a huge reaction from the republican party (who, as a reminder, are currently in power). Twitter back-tracked fairly quickly, stating that the article had been blocked under their standard policy to block articles that contain hacked or leaked personal information, but now that they see how “newsworthy” it is, they’ll let it run with warning labels. Republicans, including the president, are accusing Twitter and the others of election interference and promising hash sanctions.
There are lots of questions we’re all struggling with, which this event re-hashes. We want platforms to block fake news, but what about real news orgs running (probably) fake stories? Freedom of speech, freedom of press. What rules should apply to a story like this? Should the same rules apply to newspapers covering the story?
It’s impossible to know the counter-factual of what would have happened if Twitter hadn’t made such a move – would everyone now be talking about the details of the “leak”, like they did in 2016? Or would it have had much less impact in general, lasting one media cycle before fading without excitement?
Difficult to know, and therefore difficult to know exactly what the right call is to make in cases like this. One thing for certain is that more unique, norm-destroying events will keep happening between now and election day.
Electoral Reform. Cabinet agreed to a draft electoral reform bill this week, which will set up an Electoral Commission in Ireland for the first time. This will cover things like creating a modern register of electors (e.g. registering to vote online) and better regulation of political advertising online. I didn’t think they’d keep moving fast on this, but it looks like they might be on schedule to establish it by next summer, which is great. Link.
Driverless Cars. In a big move for the industry, Waymo have just started offering their driverless car taxi service to the public one US city. Link. Tesla started rolling out it’s self-driving software to a small number of customers yesterday, with plans to have it in all cars by the end of the year. Link.
Re-Org RTE. I’ve mentioned a few times in this newsletter that I think RTE could benefit from a move away from being channel-focused and towards a model where we have a distribution organisation (digital & broadcast) and content production (written, video and audio). In a digital age we need a “state broadcaster” a little bit less, and a “state content producer” (or funder of content production) even more – in particular local content and journalism. This week Disney announced a similar re-org, separating production and distribution. I think it will be an interesting one for the state broadcaster to watch. Link.
Antitrust. In ongoing antitrust news this week, the EU commission has drawn up a hit-list of 20 big tech companies that they want to face tougher regulations than their smaller competitors (link) and the US department of Justice is about to file against Google for anti-competitive behaviour (link).
GroupWatch. Disney+ has introduced a new feature which lets up to 7 people watch a synced stream of a movie or show, and pop emoji reactions on each other’s screens. Another nice example of technology helping us be together, apart. Link.
💡 Interesting Links
Buy Local. I don’t know about you, but I find Amazon incredibly difficult to browse. It’s good when I know exactly what I want, but terrible for perusing. Just one of the many reasons I’m going to be doing as much of my Christmas shopping as I can in Irish shops online, which could use the boost after a tough year. If you’re considering similar, Conor Pope in the Irish Times has a great list of 100 Irish retailers. Link.
Coronatime. “The days blend together, the months lurch ahead, and we have no idea what time it is. The virus has created its own clock.” Link.
NYT Business Model. This is a great presentation on the New York Times’ digital business model, and how it’s now financially thriving, just a decade after it neared financial collapse. Link.
Government as a Platform. “Reorganizing the work of government around a network of shared APIs, open-standards and canonical datasets, so that civil servants, businesses and others can deliver radically better services to the public, more safely, efficiently and accountably.” Link.
The Daily did a great summary of the NY Post story about Biden and the ensuing fallout. Link.