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Need to Know: Create a sense of belonging for your audience, how John Oliver makes accountability reporting funny, and platforms reckon with bots

Need to Know
Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Fresh useful insights for people advancing quality, innovative and sustainable journalism

You might have heard: Last week, special counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment against 13 Russian nationals, detailing how Russia used Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms to influence the 2016 presidential election (Recode)

But did you know: Facebook executive Rob Goldman apologizes after a series of tweets in which he argued that Russia’s main goal was not to influence the election (Wired)
Facebook’s VP for ads Rob Goldman sent a series of tweets late Friday, which argued that “swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal” of the Russian operatives who spent thousands of dollars on ads on Facebook during the 2016 election. Those tweets were then used by President Trump as proof that Russia did not help him get elected. “The obvious error was asserting that one could understand the scope of the Russian propaganda campaign just through the ads,” Wired’s Nicholas Thompson writes on where Goldman’s tweets went wrong. “He [also] made it look like his company was repudiating the work of Robert Mueller.”

+ NYT fact-checked Goldman’s statements: On the claim that influencing the election was not Russia’s main goal, NYT finds that’s not true according to the indictment from Mueller (New York Times); As Facebook emphasizes groups, Casey Newton argues that groups could be used by foreign actors to create more polarization (The Verge)

+ Noted: Fox News is planning to create a streaming service targeted to its “superfans” (New York Times); NewsMatch’s October to December drive raised $4.8 million from donors and foundations (Poynter); American Media Inc., the owner of National Enquirer and US Weekly, helped Trump lawyer Michael Cohen bury damaging stories, NYT reports (New York Times); Chicago Reader’s Mark Konkol is out as executive editor after the first issue he oversaw “ignited a racial and political controversy” (Robert Feder)


Here’s how ProPublica is developing its own algorithms and chatbots to use in its investigative reporting (Fast Company)
“The one thing that’s been so interesting about the [platform] algorithms project that I would never have guessed is that we’ve ended up having to build algorithms all the time,” ProPublica’s Julia Angwin says. ProPublica is investigating how algorithms affect people’s lives, from Facebook’s news feed algorithm to Amazon’s pricing models to software determining car insurance payments. Fast Company takes a look at how ProPublica is developing its own algorithms and chatbots to use as tools in its reporting — and how this approach can be used to investigate non-tech companies.

+ “The next platform you should be thinking about? Calendar apps” (Poynter)


A court in Belgium rules that Facebook must stop tracking its Belgian users (Bloomberg)
A Belgian court ruled that Facebook must stop tracking its Belgian users outside of its platform and delete the data it’s already gathered. If Facebook fails to do so, it will face a fine of €250,000 (about $312,000) per day. In a statement, the Brussels Court of First Instance said Facebook “doesn’t sufficiently inform” its users about the data it’s gathering on their web use outside Facebook, nor does it explain what it does with that data or how long it stores it. “The social network is coming under increasing fire in Europe, with a high-profile German antitrust probe examining whether it unfairly compels users to sign up to restrictive privacy terms. Belgium’s data-protection regulators have targeted the company since at least 2015 when a court ordered it to stop storing non-users’ personal data,” Bloomberg’s Aoife White explains. “While the U.S. tech giant won an earlier appeal in 2016, Friday’s ruling is the first in a European court to go to the heart of the company’s use of technology deemed to be essential to its proper functioning.”


Brands and belonging: How companies are building communities and a sense of belonging around their products (Fast Company)
The best brands, Sebastian Buck writes, are the ones that make their customers feel like they belong. “The commercial opportunity exists because we need belonging at a fundamental level . We have a crisis of belonging–and great brands will step into the vacuum created by social isolation,” Buck explains. Take CrossFit or SoulCycle as an example: Both companies have built communities around workouts, making people feel like they’re part of something meaningful. How can a company achieve this? “Brands should create spaces, experiences, products, and services that deliberately foster the conditions for diverse people coming together in respectful environments for shared experiences,” Buck writes.


After the Parkland shooting, pro-gun bots associated with Russia flooded Twitter (Wired)
“Each new breaking news situation is an opportunity for trolls to grab attention, provoke emotions, and spread propaganda. The Russian government knows this,” Erin Griffith writes. And after last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., troll and bot-tracking reported an “immediate uptick in related tweets from political propaganda bots and Russia-linked Twitter accounts.” Ash Bhat, one of the creators of, explains that these bots can respond so quickly because they’re ultimately controlled by humans.

+ Tweets from “imposters” who were impersonating reporters and sharing false information were spread after the shooting, making it harder for journalists to cover the shooting (Poynter); Afterward, Twitter said that it needs to “revise” its policies around impersonating people and organizations on the platform (BuzzFeed News)


‘We’re sometimes attracted to things that seem hard to write comedy about’: John Oliver on how his show satirizes controversy (New York Times)
In a Q&A with NYT’s Dave Itzkoff, John Oliver talks about how he’s protected his show “Last Week Tonight” by being overrun with Trump coverage, why the show pursues segments that don’t always feel timely, and his approach to satirizing controversy. “We’re sometimes attracted to things that seem hard to write comedy about. You don’t want to make fun of victims, whatever the story is,” Oliver explains how his show approaches controversy. “But you want to tell it delicately, with thought and rigorous attention to detail, and be unyielding over the quality of data you use. That takes a lot of work. That involves reading the studies that people cite, and even with the best ones in the world, advocacy groups are sometimes trafficking in data that is not as solid as you need it to be. So you then you try and find something else. But that is a meticulous process.”


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