Beto O’Rourke has spent nearly $1m on tweets

I missed this when it was published a few days back, but it’s worth having a look at: Democrats (or at least the ones captured by this study) spent a combined $2.5m on promoted tweets between June 2018-January 2019. The biggest spender was Beto O’Rourke, with a grand total of $925,900 spent on Twitter alone:

Equipped with more money than anyone else, it’s not surprising O’Rourke was the top spender overall. But even with all that cash on hand, O’Rourke used Twitter to raise even more money for his record-breaking Senate campaign in Texas. O’Rourke splurged on a handful of ads, spending at least $57,100 and generating 4.1 million impressions on a promoted tweet urging supporters to chip in after news of new spending from a pro-Ted Cruz super PAC.

The Center for Responsive Politics research discusses the difficulty in ascertaining the source of funding. Around $50k was spent by groups not disclosing their origins.

Absent from the Twitter spenders list was Donald Trump, who didn’t spend a penny. But then, with 50 million followers, and a media waiting on every tweet, he hardly needs to.

Facebook, however, is a different story for the President. He has reportedly spent at least $8m on the site since records began in May.

Here’s the Center on the fuller picture of digital spending in US politics:

The amount of digital ad spending reported to the FEC has increased in recent years. A conservative calculation of spending on digital services reported to the FEC by House candidates exceeded $33.3 million in the 2018 election cycle, more than twice the $16.2 million spent in the 2016 election cycle. The increase in digital spending continues a growing trend, rising from $12.7 million in 2014 and just $5.9 million in 2012. Altogether, candidates running for federal office spent more than $71.9 million during the 2018 election cycle, with $29.8 million by Senate candidates and $8.8 million by presidential candidates.

Democrats have spent substantially more than Republicans on digital services in the 2018 election cycle, as reported to FEC. However, Republicans outspent Democrats on digital in the three prior election cycles.

Ashley Feinberg to Jack Dorsey: would you ever delete Twitter?

The Internet’s Ashley Feinberg has interviewed Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey.

Like Feinberg, I’m amazed he agreed to this. But I’m glad he did. I’d encourage you to read the whole exchange as, if nothing else, it really exposes Dorsey’s lack of clear thinking on the solutions to what many refer to as the “hell site” that is Twitter.

My favourite back-and-forth is the kind of questioning most journalists wouldn’t go near as it seems preposterous – but we do learn something about how Dorsey views his creation.

Here it is:

AF: Is there any situation at all in which you would decide to delete the site?

JD: Now I remember why I unfollowed you! Because that’s all you DM me, “delete the site.”

Well, that’s … Maybe half the time.

But how is that going to help?

That’s the question, though. Is there a situation where you would just decide that it’s better to be free of this?

Should we just delete all the negative things in the world?

Are you saying Twitter is a negative thing?

Well, that’s what you’re assuming when you say that.

Not necessarily.

What would you use if we deleted it?

I don’t know, I’d have a lot more time on my hands.

What would you do with that time?

I really can’t even begin to imagine.

I just … I don’t think it’s constructive. I’d rather hear constructive ideas on what we could fix. We get a lot of complaints. We get a lot of issues, and they’re all coming from a good place of good intent. But we have to dig under and figure out what the patterns are that we need to prioritize and fix. Because we can only do so much at once. So when somebody constantly tells me, “delete the site,” it’s just not helpful. Whereas other folks tell me, “Hey, you know if you do this one thing you would just have a massive impact.”

Facebook employees busted for posting reviews of Portal

Guess what? They all said it was GREAT*.

The NYT’s Kevin Roose discovered an eerie coincidence that at least three very positive reviews of Facebook’s new Portal video chat device seemed to come from Facebook employees (who certainly did not make that fact clear in their review).

Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth, who runs Facebook’s hardware division, replied:

*The Portal is pretty great. Smart, sleek technology. Only issue, of course, is that Facebook made it. I doubt we’ll get any sales figures from Facebook. Anecdotally, very few people were tweeting about finding a Portal under the Christmas tree this year – but then, the target audience is perhaps unlikely to be posting on Twitter, so we’re relying on things like this…

Tim Cook: Time for action on data privacy

{Credit: Time)

Apple’s Tim Cook has, in a brief Time op-ed, laid out a mini-manifesto for what sweeping privacy regulation in the US might look like. Here’s the crux:

[W]e believe the Federal Trade Commission should establish a data-broker clearinghouse, requiring all data brokers to register, enabling consumers to track the transactions that have bundled and sold their data from place to place, and giving users the power to delete their data on demand, freely, easily and online, once and for all.

Apple has come in for some criticism lately for talking a big game on data privacy, while simultaneously enabling firms like Facebook and Google to collect it through the iPhone.

But this piece from Cook seems to consider the wider picture, taking aim not so much at the big firms already in the spotlight, but those working behind the scenes to scrape together data from various dubious sources and sell it on to advertisers. For a dissection of how that can happen, I’d recommend this alarming New York Times investigation published last month.

Here’s what Cook says on these so-called “data brokers”:

Right now, all of these secondary markets for your information exist in a shadow economy that’s largely unchecked—out of sight of consumers, regulators and lawmakers.

Let’s be clear: you never signed up for that. We think every user should have the chance to say, “Wait a minute. That’s my information that you’re selling, and I didn’t consent.”

If Cook’s recommendations come to bear, it will leave the question of what happens to the internet advertising economy if its most important commodity – personal data – is restricted.

In fresh approach, Facebook now denying allegations that haven’t even been made


The internet isn’t what it used to be.

Facebook has been compelled to comment further on a Wired story contemplating the meaning behind that 10-year meme that’s been doing the rounds lately. You know, compare a picture of yourself from then and now (which is as much about how good cameras are now than anything else).

Here’s what Wired’s Kate O’Neill posited:

Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics and, more specifically, on age progression (e.g., how people are likely to look as they get older). Ideally, you’d want a broad and rigorous dataset with lots of people’s pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart—say, 10 years.

Now, O’Neill doesn’t – for a moment – say she thinks Facebook is behind the meme. She included a quote from them to push home that point. She’s just exploring what the possibilities might be if it had been. It’s a useful look at how memes like this could be used to compel the public to quickly organise data for machine learning purposes. It’s worth thinking about.

But after a tweet did the rounds, Facebook commented again, with a snark that propels this think piece into a fresh day’s news cycle:

Oh dear. I have to say, I do have a little empathy towards a PR team that must feel it is having hundreds of turds thrown at it daily, only some of which it was responsible for, er, producing.

German ‘epic’ was YouTube’s most successful ad in Europe last year

YouTube’s EMEA team has published a ranking of the most popular ads in the region in 2018, determined by “an algorithm that factors in audience engagement (watch time, likes, shares), video views, and audience retention (how much of a video people watched)”.

Here’s the winner:

In case you couldn’t follow it, YouTube explains the ad is from a “German online real estate portal Immowelt, with its epic narrative depicting the search for larger living spaces through the ancestor of the main character, Eddy”.

Well done Eddy, well done Immowelt, and well done FYFF, the ad agency with a name you should under no circumstances Google if you’re at work.

The rest of the list is below. Christmas is well represented. Google’s Home Alone ad is in second place, and John Lewis did very well (sixth place), despite reaction to the TV spots being rather soft compared to previous years. Sainsbury’s’ seasonal effort came in seventh.

Special mention to Nike, also – it’s ‘Dream Crazy’ ad, featuring footballer-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick, was fourth on the list.

Video TitleVideo UrlBrandUploader Country Code
1Hör auf deine innere Stimmo! #fuerimmo | Vollversion | immowelt.de
2Home Alone Again with the Google Assistant
3“Álex y Julia”, con Michelle Jenner, Oriol Pla y Dani de la Torre. Estrella Damm 2018 Damm ESES
4Nike – Dream Crazy
5The LEGO Movie Characters present: Safety Video – Turkish Airlines AirlinesTR
6John Lewis & Partners Christmas Ad 2018 – #EltonJohnLewis ? Lewis & PartnersGB
7The Big Night | Sainsbury’s Ad | Christmas 2018’sGB
8Clash of Clans: Hammer Jam! of ClansFI
9YouTube Music: Open the world of music. It’s all here. MusicUS
10Galaxy Note9: Fortnite Supply Drop

YouTube bans dangerous or harmful pranks

YouTube has said it will no longer allow dangerous stunts or pranks that could be emotionally distressing for kids. From its FAQ:

We’ve updated our external guidelines to make it clear that challenges like the Tide pod challenge or the Fire challenge, that can cause death and/or have caused death in some instances, have no place on YouTube.

It’s interesting for a number of reasons. Me on BBC News:

The move comes in response to so-called “challenges” that have sometimes resulted in death or injury. The Google-owned video sharing site said such material had “no place on YouTube”. However, the firm appears to be failing to enforce its existing rules on harmful content.

Interesting because a) it gives its moderators a wildly ambiguous task when it comes to decided what is dangerous or harmful, and b) the site is already really struggling cleaning up other stuff. Buzzfeed’s Davey Alba writes:

Nearly a year after YouTube pledged to remove images of graphic bestiality from its platform, simple search queries that include the word “girl” along with “horse” or “dog” (“girl horse” or “girl and her horse”) return dozens of videos promoted with thumbnails of women seemingly engaged in sexual acts with those animals.

As I mentioned in my short piece for BBC radio, what was once “don’t try this at home” is now very much “don’t put this on YouTube”. We’ll see if it works.

Another Snap exec is leaving

Snap loses another high profile executive. Company filing, via CNBC:

On January 15, 2019, Tim Stone, our Chief Financial Officer and principal financial officer, notified us of his intention to resign to pursue other opportunities. Mr. Stone has confirmed that this transition is not related to any disagreement with us on any matter relating to our accounting, strategy, management, operations, policies, regulatory matters, or practices (financial or otherwise). Mr. Stone’s last day has not been determined. Mr. Stone will continue to serve as Chief Financial Officer to assist in the search for a replacement and an effective transition of his duties, including through our scheduled full year 2018 financial results announcement.

Stone only joined the company eight months ago.

It’s not all bad news, though – Snap says it’s coming in at the higher end of its guidance for Q4.

CNBC adds:

Stone’s departure follows a string of other top-level exits in the past year, including chief strategy officer Imran Khan in September, and finance head Andrew Vollero and vice president of monetization engineering Stuart Bowers in May.

Roku explains Infowars stance

Roku isn’t removing Alex Jones’ Infowars from its platform as they it says it is unaware of any policy breaches. TechCrunch:

The decision to allow the channel comes at a time when Jones and Infowars are in the headlines again because of a recent update in the legal battle between the Sandy Hook families and the Infowars program. The families are suing the conspiracy theorist for spreading the false claim that the school shooting was an elaborate hoax, and that Infowars peddled these stories to stoke fear and sell more products like survivalist gear and gun paraphernalia, The New York Times reports.

This is an “organisation” that lives to push the boundaries into dark, unacceptable places. I can’t think of a single example of a platform standing firm on Infowars and the problem going away.


New US drone rules will allow flying at night, over people

The US aviation authority has published new proposed rules about how and when drones can be flown, by professionals, in the US. Reuters:

The FAA is proposing ending requirements that drone operators get waivers to operate at night. Through 2017, the FAA granted 1,233 waivers and “has not received any reports of (drone) accidents,” it said.

The FAA would require that drones have “an anti-collision light illuminated and visible for at least three statute miles,” as well as testing and training.

Under the FAA’s proposals, operators would be able to fly small unmanned aircraft weighing 0.55 pounds (0.25 kg) or less over populated areas without any additional restrictions.

Great news for drone makers. Here’s what market-leader DJI said in an emailed statement:

“Drones prove every day that they belong in the sky doing important work for America, and everyone benefits when it is easier for professionals to safely fly over people and at night,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs. “Drones have helped rescue more than 200 people from peril around the world, and drones help professionals do their work faster, safer, more efficiently and at a lower cost. Removing the barriers to routine night operations and flight over people will mean more benefits for more people.”

The firm notes that currently night flying is allowed, but only if the FAA issues a waiver. This has happened, DJI says, 1,233 times so far without “a single accident” reported.