Facebook Just Made Your News Feed A Battleground


The NewCo Daily: Top News Stories

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Stung by charges that it had become a lie amplifier, Facebook has announced a set of experiments to combat “fake news.” Users will be able to flag stories for review by third-party fact-checkers, and those confirmed as problematic will get tagged with warnings. In Steven Levy’s Backchannel piece on the move, Facebook leaders say their goal is to go after “clear black-and-white hoaxes, the bottom of the barrel, worst of the worst part of the fake news” — like the stories that claim the Pope endorsed Donald Trump or that Hillary Clinton kept sex slaves in a pizzeria.

Good luck to you, Facebook! You’ve just brought an algorithmic knife to a partisan machine-gun fight. You hope you can avoid taking sides, but the conservative part of your customer base is already rejecting the third parties — like Snopes, Politifact, and the AP — to whom you have outsourced the factchecking (Business Insider). And you’ve now incentivized partisan hordes to click “dispute” on all the stories they don’t like, true or false.

At best, this will be a cat-and-mouse game, like the war on email spam, with Facebook engineers constantly tweaking their code to try to achieve their desired results. At worst, the news feed will become a savage no-man’s-land in the red/blue civil war — and Facebook will respond by down-rating all news and returning to its roots as a friends-and-family social network.

As Josh Marshall writes (Talking Points Memo), “fake news” is fundamentally about demand. The Trump-supporting portion of Facebook’s customer base wants these stories. Facebook’s system worked as intended in serving them. Ultimately, Facebook will have to choose: Is its role is to give those people what they want, at the risk of alienating blue-state users and its own employees? Or can it build a more fact-based system, at the risk of infuriating red-state users and a new president? As Facebook keeps iterating on its new system, this dilemma will emerge in ever starker relief.

What Tech CEOs Told Trump

The only on-the-record portion of Wednesday’s Trump tech summit was a bland, unilluminating video of the introductory greetings, in which the president-elect told tech CEOs he was there to help them and they should call him, any time. But Recode’s Kara Swisher has the (anonymously sourced) goods on what got discussed behind closed doors after the videocams hit “stop.”

Some highlights: Microsoft’s Satya Nadella brought up immigration and tech companies’ desire to expand the use of H-1B visas, and Trump said, “Let’s fix that.” Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg spoke up for STEM education, and Sandberg brought up paid maternity leave. Eric Schmidt urged Trump to be the “software president,” but apparently words that include “soft” aren’t his thing. And there was lots of talk about tax treatment of repatriated overseas profits.

Some invitees were taken aback at the presence of a troika of Trump’s offspring. As one source joked to Swisher, “The U.S. is now a family business, I guess.”

Relatedly, yesterday Microsoft issued a statement that it would not help build a Muslim registry for the new administration, allying itself with the chorus of engineers and designers who have taken a similar pledge (The Seattle Times).

U.S. Consumers Pile Up Goods

The storage-unit business in the U.S. is booming (Bloomberg), as homeowners who’ve run out of space move piles of their purchases offsite. That’s a sign that, despite trend-stories suggesting we’re getting less attached to stuff and the popularity of de-cluttering manuals, consumers are still buying physical goods faster than they know how to get rid of them.

The Bloomberg piece doesn’t raise the possibility that storage units might also be in demand from people who can no longer afford to buy or rent homes large enough for their possessions. Whatever’s behind the hunger for stuff, retails are determined to get it to us faster than ever. Amazon as always leads the pack. This week it unveiled a video of its experimental drone delivery service in Cambridge, England. Just over the horizon we can see the next phase of this future: The drones will deliver our purchases straight to our storage units. We’ll never even have to lay eyes on them.

Evernote Reverses Course on Reading Notes

Yesterday we told you about note-taking app Evernote’s plan to let employees read customers’ notes in order to improve its machine-learning abilities. Today the company’s CEO posted an announcement that the company would only proceed with its plan for users who opt into it. (The original scheme would have opened up everyone’s data unless you opted out.)

It’s good to see a company listen to its users and respect its own mission this way. Of course, like most cloud services, Evernote’s terms of service still allow it to read your data under narrow legal circumstances — like when the government asks it to do so.

The Incredibly Weak Case for Repealing Obamacare

Republican opponents of Obamacare have promised for years to repeal the program, and now they’re going to get the chance. But why, exactly — besides “we said we would”? Joel Dodge (NewCo Shift) looks through the case, item by item, and finds that it simply doesn’t hold water.

One factor he doesn’t mention but that might be in play: The ultrarich hate paying the higher Medicare taxes that underwrite the program and that will vanish in a repeal.


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