Shadow profiles – Facebook knows about you, even if you’re not on Facebook


Andrew Quodling, Queensland University of Technology

Facebook’s founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg faced two days of grilling before US politicians this week, following concerns over how his company deals with people’s data.

But the data Facebook has on people who are not signed up to the social media giant also came under scrutiny.

During Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony he claimed to be ignorant of what are known as “shadow profiles”.

Zuckerberg: I’m not — I’m not familiar with that.

That’s alarming, given that we have been discussing this element of Facebook’s non-user data collection for the past five years, ever since the practice was brought to light by researchers at Packet Storm Security.

Maybe it was just the phrase “shadow profiles” with which Zuckerberg was unfamiliar. It wasn’t clear, but others were not impressed by his answer.

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Facebook’s proactive data-collection processes have been under scrutiny in previous years, especially as researchers and journalists have delved into the workings of Facebook’s “Download Your Information” and “People You May Know” tools to report on shadow profiles.

Shadow profiles

To explain shadow profiles simply, let’s imagine a simple social group of three people – Ashley, Blair and Carmen – who already know one another, and have each others’ email address and phone numbers in their phones.

If Ashley joins Facebook and uploads her phone contacts to Facebook’s servers, then Facebook can proactively suggest friends whom she might know, based on the information she uploaded.

For now, let’s imagine that Ashley is the first of her friends to join Facebook. The information she uploaded is used to create shadow profiles for both Blair and Carmen — so that if Blair or Carmen joins, they will be recommended Ashley as a friend.

Next, Blair joins Facebook, uploading his phone’s contacts too. Thanks to the shadow profile, he has a ready-made connection to Ashley in Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature.

At the same time, Facebook has learned more about Carmen’s social circle — in spite of the fact that Carmen has never used Facebook, and therefore has never agreed to its policies for data collection.

Despite the scary-sounding name, I don’t think there is necessarily any malice or ill will in Facebook’s creation and use of shadow profiles.

It seems like a earnestly designed feature in service of Facebooks’s goal of connecting people. It’s a goal that clearly also aligns with Facebook’s financial incentives for growth and garnering advertising attention.

But the practice brings to light some thorny issues around consent, data collection, and personally identifiable information.

What data?

Some of the questions Zuckerberg faced this week highlighted issues relating to the data that Facebook collects from users, and the consent and permissions that users give (or are unaware they give).

Facebook is often quite deliberate in its characterisations of “your data”, rejecting the notion that it “owns” user data.

That said, there are a lot of data on Facebook, and what exactly is “yours” or just simply “data related to you” isn’t always clear. “Your data” notionally includes your posts, photos, videos, comments, content, and so on. It’s anything that could be considered as copyright-able work or intellectual property (IP).

What’s less clear is the state of your rights relating to data that is “about you”, rather than supplied by you. This is data that is created by your presence or your social proximity to Facebook.

Examples of data “about you” might include your browsing history and data gleaned from cookies, tracking pixels, and the like button widget, as well as social graph data supplied whenever Facebook users supply the platform with access to their phone or email contact lists.

Like most internet platforms, Facebook rejects any claim to ownership of the IP that users post. To avoid falling foul of copyright issues in the provision of its services, Facebook demands (as part of its user agreements and Statement of Rights and Responsibilites) a:

…non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

Data scares

If you’re on Facebook then you’ve probably seen a post that keeps making the rounds every few years, saying:

In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details…

Part of the reason we keep seeing data scares like this is that Facebook’s lacklustre messaging around user rights and data policies have contributed to confusion, uncertainty and doubt among its users.




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It was a point that Republican Senator John Kennedy raised with Zuckerberg this week (see video).

Senator John Kennedy’s exclamation is a strong, but fair assessment of the failings of Facebook’s policy messaging.

After the grilling

Zuckerberg and Facebook should learn from this congressional grilling that they have struggled and occasionally failed in their responsibilities to users.

It’s important that Facebook now makes efforts to communicate more strongly with users about their rights and responsibilities on the platform, as well as the responsibilities that Facebook owes them.

This should go beyond a mere awareness-style PR campaign. It should seek to truly inform and educate Facebook’s users, and people who are not on Facebook, about their data, their rights, and how they can meaningfully safeguard their personal data and privacy.




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Given the magnitude of Facebook as an internet platform, and its importance to users across the world, the spectre of regulation will continue to raise its head.

The ConversationIdeally, the company should look to broaden its governance horizons, by seeking to truly engage in consultation and reform with Facebook’s stakeholders – its users — as well as the civil society groups and regulatory bodies that seek to empower users in these spaces.

Andrew Quodling, PhD candidate researching governance of social media platforms, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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It’s time for third-party data brokers to emerge from the shadows



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Personal data has been dubbed the “new oil”, and data brokers are very efficient miners.
Emanuele Toscano/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Sacha Molitorisz, University of Technology Sydney

Facebook announced last week it would discontinue the partner programs that allow advertisers to use third-party data from companies such as Acxiom, Experian and Quantium to target users.

Graham Mudd, Facebook’s product marketing director, said in a statement:

We want to let advertisers know that we will be shutting down Partner Categories. This product enables third party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook. While this is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook.

Few people seemed to notice, and that’s hardly surprising. These data brokers operate largely in the background.

The invisible industry worth billions

In 2014, one researcher described the entire industry as “largely invisible”. That’s no mean feat, given how much money is being made. Personal data has been dubbed the “new oil”, and data brokers are very efficient miners. In the 2018 fiscal year, Acxiom expects annual revenue of approximately US$945 million.

The data broker business model involves accumulating information about internet users (and non-users) and then selling it. As such, data brokers have highly detailed profiles on billions of individuals, comprising age, race, sex, weight, height, marital status, education level, politics, shopping habits, health issues, holiday plans, and more.




Read more:
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These profiles come not just from data you’ve shared, but from data shared by others, and from data that’s been inferred. In its 2014 report into the industry, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) showed how a single data broker had 3,000 “data segments” for nearly every US consumer.

Based on the interests inferred from this data, consumers are then placed in categories such as “dog owner” or “winter activity enthusiast”. However, some categories are potentially sensitive, including “expectant parent”, “diabetes interest” and “cholesterol focus”, or involve ethnicity, income and age. The FTC’s Jon Leibowitz described data brokers as the “unseen cyberazzi who collect information on all of us”.

In Australia, Facebook launched the Partner Categories program in 2015. Its aim was to “reach people based on what they do and buy offline”. This includes demographic and behavioural data, such as purchase history and home ownership status, which might come from public records, loyalty card programs or surveys. In other words, Partner Categories enables advertisers to use data brokers to reach specific audiences. This is particularly useful for companies that don’t have their own customer databases.

A growing concern

Third party access to personal data is causing increasing concern. This week, Grindr was shown to be revealing its users’ HIV status to third parties. Such news is unsettling, as if there are corporate eavesdroppers on even our most intimate online engagements.

The recent Cambridge Analytica furore stemmed from third parties. Indeed, apps created by third parties have proved particularly problematic for Facebook. From 2007 to 2014, Facebook encouraged external developers to create apps for users to add content, play games, share photos, and so on.




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Your online privacy depends as much on your friends’ data habits as your own


Facebook then gave the app developers wide-ranging access to user data, and to users’ friends’ data. The data shared might include details of schooling, favourite books and movies, or political and religious affiliations.

As one group of privacy researchers noted in 2011, this process, “which nearly invisibly shares not just a user’s, but a user’s friends’ information with third parties, clearly violates standard norms of information flow”.

With the Partner Categories program, the buying, selling and aggregation of user data may be largely hidden, but is it unethical? The fact that Facebook has moved to stop the arrangement suggests that it might be.

More transparency and more respect for users

To date, there has been insufficient transparency, insufficient fairness and insufficient respect for user consent. This applies to Facebook, but also to app developers, and to Acxiom, Experian, Quantium and other data brokers.

Users might have clicked “agree” to terms and conditions that contained a clause ostensibly authorising such sharing of data. However, it’s hard to construe this type of consent as morally justifying.




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In Australia, new laws are needed. Data flows in complex and unpredictable ways online, and legislation ought to provide, under threat of significant penalties, that companies (and others) must abide by reasonable principles of fairness and transparency when they deal with personal information. Further, such legislation can help specify what sort of consent is required, and in which contexts. Currently, the Privacy Act doesn’t go far enough, and is too rarely invoked.

In its 2014 report, the US Federal Trade Commission called for laws that enabled consumers to learn about the existence and activities of data brokers. That should be a starting point for Australia too: consumers ought to have reasonable access to information held by these entities.

Time to regulate

Having resisted regulation since 2004, Mark Zuckerberg has finally conceded that Facebook should be regulated – and advocated for laws mandating transparency for online advertising.

Historically, Facebook has made a point of dedicating itself to openness, but Facebook itself has often operated with a distinct lack of openness and transparency. Data brokers have been even worse.

The ConversationFacebook’s motto used to be “Move fast and break things”. Now Facebook, data brokers and other third parties need to work with lawmakers to move fast and fix things.

Sacha Molitorisz, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Media Transition, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why the business model of social media giants like Facebook is incompatible with human rights



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Facebook’s actions – or inactions – facilitated breaches of privacy and human rights associated with democratic governance.
EPA/Peter DaSilva

Sarah Joseph, Monash University

Facebook has had a bad few weeks. The social media giant had to apologise for failing to protect the personal data of millions of users from being accessed by data mining company Cambridge Analytica. Outrage is brewing over its admission to spying on people via their Android phones. Its stock price plummeted, while millions deleted their accounts in disgust.

Facebook has also faced scrutiny over its failure to prevent the spread of “fake news” on its platforms, including via an apparent orchestrated Russian propaganda effort to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

Facebook’s actions – or inactions – facilitated breaches of privacy and human rights associated with democratic governance. But it might be that its business model – and those of its social media peers generally – is simply incompatible with human rights.

The good

In some ways, social media has been a boon for human rights – most obviously for freedom of speech.

Previously, the so-called “marketplace of ideas” was technically available to all (in “free” countries), but was in reality dominated by the elites. While all could equally exercise the right to free speech, we lacked equal voice. Gatekeepers, especially in the form of the mainstream media, largely controlled the conversation.

But today, anybody with internet access can broadcast information and opinions to the whole world. While not all will be listened to, social media is expanding the boundaries of what is said and received in public. The marketplace of ideas must effectively be bigger and broader, and more diverse.

Social media enhances the effectiveness of non-mainstream political movements, public assemblies and demonstrations, especially in countries that exercise tight controls over civil and political rights, or have very poor news sources.

Social media played a major role in co-ordinating the massive protests that brought down dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as large revolts in Spain, Greece, Israel, South Korea, and the Occupy movement. More recently, it has facilitated the rapid growth of the #MeToo and #neveragain movements, among others.




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The bad and the ugly

But the social media “free speech” machines can create human rights difficulties. Those newly empowered voices are not necessarily desirable voices.

The UN recently found that Facebook had been a major platform for spreading hatred against the Rohingya in Myanmar, which in turn led to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Video sharing site YouTube seems to automatically guide viewers to the fringiest versions of what they might be searching for. A search on vegetarianism might lead to veganism; jogging to ultra-marathons; Donald Trump’s popularity to white supremacist rants; and Hillary Clinton to 9/11 trutherism.

YouTube, via its algorithm’s natural and probably unintended impacts, “may be one of the most powerful radicalising instruments of the 21st century”, with all the attendant human rights abuses that might follow.

The business model and human rights

Human rights abuses might be embedded in the business model that has evolved for social media companies in their second decade.

Essentially, those models are based on the collection and use for marketing purposes of their users’ data. And the data they have is extraordinary in its profiling capacities, and in the consequent unprecedented knowledge base and potential power it grants to these private actors.

Indirect political influence is commonly exercised, even in the most credible democracies, by private bodies such as major corporations. This power can be partially constrained by “anti-trust laws” that promote competition and prevent undue market dominance.

Anti-trust measures could, for example, be used to hive off Instagram from Facebook, or YouTube from Google. But these companies’ power essentially arises from the sheer number of their users: in late 2017, Facebook was reported as having more than 2.2 billion active users. Anti-trust measures do not seek to cap the number of a company’s customers, as opposed to its acquisitions.

In late 2017, Facebook was reported as having more than 2.2 billion active users.
EPA/Ritchie B. Tongo

Power through knowledge

In 2010, Facebook conducted an experiment by randomly deploying a non-partisan “I voted” button into 61 million feeds during the US mid-term elections. That simple action led to 340,000 more votes, or about 0.14% of the US voting population. This number can swing an election. A bigger sample would lead to even more votes.

So Facebook knows how to deploy the button to sway an election, which would clearly be lamentable. However, the mere possession of that knowledge makes Facebook a political player. It now knows that button’s the political impact, the types of people it is likely to motivate, and the party that’s favoured by its deployment and non-deployment, and at what times of day.

It might seem inherently incompatible with democracy for that knowledge to be vested in a private body. Yet the retention of such data is the essence of Facebook’s ability to make money and run a viable business.




Read more:
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Microtargeting

A study has shown that a computer knows more about a person’s personality than their friends or flatmates from an analysis of 70 “likes”, and more than their family from 150 likes. From 300 likes it can outperform one’s spouse.

This enables the micro-targeting of people for marketing messages – whether those messages market a product, a political party or a cause. This is Facebook’s product, from which it generates billions of dollars. It enables extremely effective advertising and the manipulation of its users. This is so even without Cambridge Analytica’s underhanded methods.

Advertising is manipulative: that is its point. Yet it is a long bow to label all advertising as a breach of human rights.

Advertising is available to all with the means to pay. Social media micro-targeting has become another battleground where money is used to attract customers and, in the political arena, influence and mobilise voters.

While the influence of money in politics is pervasive – and probably inherently undemocratic – it seems unlikely that spending money to deploy social media to boost an electoral message is any more a breach of human rights than other overt political uses of money.

Yet the extraordinary scale and precision of its manipulative reach might justify differential treatment of social media compared to other advertising, as its manipulative political effects arguably undermine democratic choices.

As with mass data collection, perhaps it may eventually be concluded that that reach is simply incompatible with democratic and human rights.

‘Fake news’

Finally, there is the issue of the spread of misinformation.

While paid advertising may not breach human rights, “fake news” distorts and poisons democratic debate. It is one thing for millions of voters to be influenced by precisely targeted social media messages, but another for maliciously false messages to influence and manipulate millions – whether paid for or not.

In a Declaration on Fake News, several UN and regional human rights experts said fake news interfered with the right to know and receive information – part of the general right to freedom of expression.

Its mass dissemination may also distort rights to participate in public affairs. Russia and Cambridge Analytica (assuming allegations in both cases to be true) have demonstrated how social media can be “weaponised” in unanticipated ways.

Yet it is difficult to know how social media companies should deal with fake news. The suppression of fake news is the suppression of speech – a human right in itself.

The preferred solution outlined in the Declaration on Fake News is to develop technology and digital literacy to enable readers to more easily identify fake news. The human rights community seems to be trusting that the proliferation of fake news in the marketplace of ideas can be corrected with better ideas rather than censorship.

However, one cannot be complacent in assuming that “better speech” triumphs over fake news. A recent study concluded fake news on social media:

… diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information.

Also, internet “bots” apparently spread true and false news at the same rate, which indicates that:

… false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.

The depressing truth may be that human nature is attracted to fake stories over the more mundane true ones, often because they satisfy predetermined biases, prejudices and desires. And social media now facilitates their wildfire spread to an unprecedented degree.

Perhaps social media’s purpose – the posting and sharing of speech – cannot help but generate a distorted and tainted marketplace of fake ideas that undermine political debate and choices, and perhaps human rights.

Fake news disseminated by social media is argued to have played a role in electing Donald Trump to the presidency.
EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

What next?

It is premature to assert the very collection of massive amounts of data is irreconcilable with the right to privacy (and even rights relating to democratic governance).

Similarly, it is premature to decide that micro-targeting manipulates the political sphere beyond the bounds of democratic human rights.

Finally, it may be that better speech and corrective technology will help to undo fake news’ negative impacts: it is premature to assume that such solutions won’t work.

However, by the time such conclusions may be reached, it may be too late to do much about it. It may be an example where government regulation and international human rights law – and even business acumen and expertise – lags too far behind technological developments to appreciate their human rights dangers.

The ConversationAt the very least, we must now seriously question the business models that have emerged from the dominant social media platforms. Maybe the internet should be rewired from the grassroots, rather than be led by digital oligarchs’ business needs.

Sarah Joseph, Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Your online privacy depends as much on your friends’ data habits as your own



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Many social media users have been shocked to learn the extent of their digital footprint.
Shutterstock

Vincent Mitchell, University of Sydney; Andrew Stephen, University of Oxford, and Bernadette Kamleitner, Vienna University of Economics and Business

In the aftermath of revelations about the alleged misuse of Facebook user data by Cambridge Analytica, many social media users are educating themselves about their own digital footprint. And some are shocked at the extent of it.

Last week, one user took advantage of a Facebook feature that enables you to download all the information the company stores about you. He found his call and SMS history in the data dump – something Facebook says is an opt-in feature for those using Messenger and Facebook Lite on Android.

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This highlights an issue that we don’t talk about enough when it comes to data privacy: that the security of our data is dependent not only on our own vigilance, but also that of those we interact with.

It’s easy for friends to share our data

In the past, personal data was either captured in our memories or in physical objects, such as diaries or photo albums. If a friend wanted data about us, they would have to either observe us or ask us for it. That requires effort, or our consent, and focuses on information that is both specific and meaningful.

Nowadays, data others hold about us is given away easily. That’s partly because the data apps ask for is largely intangible and invisible, as well as vague rather than specific.




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What’s more, it doesn’t seem to take much to get us to give away other people’s data in return for very little, with one study finding 98% of MIT students would give away their friends’ emails when promised free pizza.

Other studies have shown that collaborating in folders on cloud services, such as Google Drive, can result in privacy losses that are 39% higher due collaborators installing third-party apps you wouldn’t choose to install yourself. Facebook’s data download tool poses another risk in that once the data is taken out of Facebook it becomes even easier to copy and distribute.

This shift from personal to interdependent online privacy reliant on our friends, family and colleagues is a seismic one for the privacy agenda.

How much data are we talking about?

With more than 3.5 million apps on Google Play alone, the collection of data from our friends via back-door methods is more common than we might think. The back-door opens when you press “accept” to permissions to give access to your contacts when installing an app.

WhatsApp might have your contact information even if you aren’t a registered user.
Screen Shot at 1pm on 26 March 2018

Then the data harvesting machinery begins its work – often in perpetuity, and without us knowing or understanding what will be done with it. More importantly, our friends never agreed to us giving away their data. And we have a lot of friends’ data to harvest.




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The average Australian has 234 Facebook friends. Large-scale data collection is easy in an interconnected world when each person who signs up for an app has 234 friends, and each of them has 234 and, so on. That’s how Cambridge Analytica was apparently able to collect information on up to 50 million users, with permission from just 270,000.

Add to that the fact that the average person uses nine different apps on a daily basis. Once installed, some of these apps can harvest data on a daily basis without your friends knowing and 70% of apps share it with third parties.




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We’re more likely to refuse data requests that are specific

Around 60% of us never, or only occasionally, review the privacy policy and permissions requested by an app before downloading. And in our own research conducted with a sample of 287 London business students, 96% of participants failed to realise the scope of all the information they were giving away.

However, this can be changed by making a data request more specific – for example, by separating out “contacts” from “photos”. When we asked participants if they had the right to give all the data on their phone, 95% said yes. But when they focused on just contacts, this decreased to 80%.

We can take this further with a thought experiment. Imagine if an app asked you for your “contacts, including your grandmother’s phone number and your daughter’s photos”. Would you be more likely to say no? The reality of what you are actually giving away in these consent agreements becomes more apparent with a specific request.

The silver lining is more vigilance

This new reality not only threatens moral codes and friendships, but can cause harm from hidden viruses, malware, spyware or adware. We may also be subject to prosecution as in a recent German case in which a judge ruled that giving away your friend’s data on Whatsapp without their permission was wrong.




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Although company policies on privacy can help, these are difficult to police. Facebook’s “platform policy” at the time the Cambridge Analytica data was harvested only allowed the collection of friends’ data to improve the user experience of an app, while preventing it from being sold on or used for advertising. But this puts a huge burden on companies to police, investigate and enforce these policies. It’s a task few can afford, and even a company the size of Facebook failed.

The ConversationThe silver lining to the Cambridge Analytica case is that more and more people are recognising that the idea of “free” digital services is an illusion. The price we pay is not only our own privacy, but the privacy of our friends, family and colleagues.

Vincent Mitchell, Professor of Marketing, University of Sydney; Andrew Stephen, L’Oréal Professor of Marketing & Associate Dean of Research, University of Oxford, and Bernadette Kamleitner, , Vienna University of Economics and Business

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why social media is in the doghouse for both the pollies and the public


Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

The Labor Party’s recent decision to ban its candidates from using their own social media accounts as publicity platforms at the next federal election may be a sign that society’s infatuation with social media as a source of news and information is cooling.

Good evidence for this emerged recently with the publication of the 2018 findings from the Edelman Trust Barometer. The annual study has surveyed more than 33,000 people across the globe about how much trust they have in institutions, including government, media, businesses and NGOs.

This year, there was a sharp increase in trust in journalism as a source of news and information, and a decline in trust in social media and search engines for this purpose. Globally, trust in journalism rose five points to 59%, while trust in social media and search engines fell two points to 51% – a gap of eight points.

In Australia, the level of trust in both was below the global average. But the 17 point gap between them was greater – 52% for journalism and 35% for social media and search engines.




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Consequences of poor social media savvy

Labor’s decision may also reflect a healthy distrust of its candidates’ judgement about how to use social media for political purposes.

Liberal Senator Jim Molan’s recent sharing of an anti-Islamic post by the British right-wing extremist group Britain First on his Facebook account showed how poor some individual judgements can be.

If ever there was a two-edged sword in politics, social media is it. It gives politicians a weapon with which to cut their way past traditional journalistic gatekeepers and reach the public directly, but it also exposes them to public scrutiny with a relentless intensity that previous generations of politicians never had to endure.

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This intensity comes from two sources: the 24/7 news cycle with the associated nonstop interaction between traditional journalism and social media, and the opportunity that digital technology gives everyone to jump instantaneously into public debate.

So Molan’s stupidity, for example, now attracts criticism from the other side of the world. Brendan Cox, the widower of a British politician, Jo Cox, who was murdered by a man yelling “Britain first”, has weighed in.

The interaction between traditional journalism and social media also means journalists can latch onto stories much more quickly because there are countless pairs of eyes and ears out there tipping them off.




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The result of this scrutiny is that public figures can never be sure they are off-camera, as it were. This means there has been a significant reduction in their power to control the flow of information about themselves. They are liable to be “on the record” anywhere there is a mic or a smartphone – and may not even know it.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is caught on a boom mic quipping about the plight of Pacific Island nations facing rising seas from climate change.

Politics then and now

On Sunday night, the ABC aired part one of the two-part documentary Bob Hawke: The Larrikin and the Leader. In it, Graham Richardson says of Hawke:

He did some appalling things when drunk … He was lucky that he went through an era where he couldn’t be pinged. We didn’t have the internet. We didn’t have mobile phones. Let’s face it, a Bob Hawke today behaving in the same manner would never become prime minister. He’d have been buried long before he got near the parliament.

Would we now think differently of a politician like Bob Hawke if some of his well-documented excesses had been captured and circulated on social media in this way?

Perhaps not. Hawke was of his time, an embodiment of the national mood and of what Australians imagine to be the national larrikin character. He might have thrived.

Hawke is still celebrated for his ability to scull a beer.

With Hawke, what you saw was what you got. So he had a built-in immunity to social media’s particular strength: its capacity to show people up as ridiculous, dishonest or hypocritical.

And his political opponent Malcolm Fraser was, in his later years, adept at using Twitter to criticise the government of one of his Liberal successors as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

Yet by exerting the iron discipline for which he was famous, saying exactly what he wanted to say and not a word more, Fraser avoided the pitfalls that the likes of Senator Molan stumble into.

Indeed, US President Donald Trump’s reputation for Twitter gaffes hasn’t hurt his popularity among his base, and is even lauded by some as a mark of authenticity.

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So it is likely that the politicians of the past would not have fared very differently from those of the present. The competent would have adapted and used social media to their advantage; the incompetent would have been shown up for what they are.




Read more:
Why social media may not be so good for democracy


Social platforms under fire

Social media has the potential to strengthen democratic life. It makes all public figures – including journalists – more accountable. But as we have seen, especially in the 2016 US presidential elections, it can also be used to weaken democratic life by amplifying the spread of false information.

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As a result, democracies everywhere are wrestling with the overarching problem of how to make the giant social media platforms, especially Facebook, accountable for how they use their publishing power.

The ConversationOut of all this, one trend seems clear: where news and information is concerned, society is no longer dazzled by the novelty of social media and is wakening to its weaknesses.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Queensland election: One Nation dominates Twitter debate in the final weeks


Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology

As Queensland approaches its election day on Saturday, the social media campaign for votes continues alongside. But over the final two weeks, the focus of that campaign has gradually shifted.

Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s plan to veto a potential A$1 billion loan to the Adani mine project resulted in a considerable drop in Adani-related tweets directed at Queensland candidates, and that pattern has held through subsequent weeks. Labor has not entirely neutralised the Adani controversy, but the mine project is no longer the major talking point of the Twitter campaign.

By contrast, the most significant emerging theme of these past two weeks has been the role that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party might play in the new parliament. We saw some of this in our previous analysis, in response to the LNP’s decision to direct preferences to One Nation over Labor in a majority of Queensland seats. That particular discussion has now shifted to a much broader debate about the very real prospect that One Nation may hold the balance of power after the election.

Major topics in tweets by and at candidates in the 2017 Queensland election campaign.
Axel Bruns / QUT Digital Media Research Centre

Our dataset captures the tweets posted by and directed at Queensland election candidates. Of those tweets, some 51% addressed the Adani mine or One Nation, but the emphasis has now swung considerably towards the latter. This was sparked in part by the Liberal National Party’s (LNP) preference announcement, with preferences briefly becoming a distinct major topic in their own right.

Labor has been quick to exploit this arrangement, in well-shared posts from the central party account. However, recent controversial footage of its own MP Jo-Ann Miller hugging Pauline Hanson on the campaign trail might have blunted this message somewhat.

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One Nation also featured heavily in another major topic of the second half of the campaign: schools. While Labor’s pledge to establish several new schools received only moderate attention, Queensland One Nation leader Steve Dickson’s bizarre comments about the Safe Schools anti-bullying programme was met with widespread condemnation. A tweet criticising Dickson’s subsequent apology is now the second most retweeted post of the entire campaign:

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Somewhat more surprisingly, the impact of Uber and similar ridesharing services on the Queensland taxi industry has also been a minor theme throughout the campaign. This was aided by some orchestrated activity by taxi drivers, and supported by Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) candidate Robbie Katter, who has championed their cause in several campaign events. Meanwhile, transport also figured in the Premier’s commitment to fixing the issues with troubled new Queensland Rail rolling stock in Maryborough, which generated a brief flurry of support as well as criticism.

These topical changes have affected the patterns of engagement with the candidates on Twitter. In total, Labor candidates still continue to be mentioned more frequently than their LNP counterparts. But over the past two weeks, this gap has closed slightly: as attention has shifted from Adani to One Nation, so have Twitter users moved to asking more questions of LNP and One Nation rather than Labor politicians. Retweets, however, continue to favour Labor by a considerable margin: its candidates have received more than four times as many retweets as all other party candidates put together.

Engagement with candidates in the 2017 Queensland election.
Axel Bruns / QUT Digital Media Research Centre

A network of interactions around candidate accounts (combining both @mentions and retweets over the course of the entire campaign) demonstrates the state of play at this late stage of the election campaign. Labor commands the largest engagement network, at the centre of the graph. Discussions about Adani have been prominent, and form a distinct cluster of debate that is most closely interconnected with the Labor and Greens networks.

Meanwhile, LNP and One Nation candidates are mentioned frequently alongside one another. These tweets are often asking about their preference arrangements or their willingness to work together in the absence of an outright majority for either major party.

This association is so strong, in fact, that our visualisation algorithm treats both groups as part of the same discussion cluster. Slightly to the side of this sits the Uber debate, which therefore appears to be more closely associated with – and perhaps supported by – LNP candidates than their Labor counterparts.

Network of interactions around candidate accounts in the 2017 Queensland election.
Axel Bruns / QUT Digital Media Research Centre

The picture that emerges here is one which points to the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of politics. For Labor, its troubled path to a firmer stance on the Adani mine may remain in environmentally conscious voters’ minds even if the online discussion has died down somewhat.

The ConversationFor the LNP, the emerging view that its best path to government is through an arrangement with One Nation will similarly dent the electorate’s enthusiasm for a change of government. That Labor commands by far the majority of retweets for its messages may give it hope, though – at least in urban electorates, where Twitter is likely to have its greatest footprint.

Axel Bruns, Professor, Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Twitter analysis shows Queensland Labor has put Adani behind them


Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology

There’s still plenty of time to go in the current Queensland state election campaign, but early signs from the social media trail offer some encouragement for Labor premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. She is receiving considerably more retweets than Liberal Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls, and chatter about the controversial Adani mine project has declined in recent days.

Twitter and Facebook are now a standard part of the campaigning toolkit for all major parties. Previous state and federal campaigns suggest that voters who’ve already seen a party’s messages in their social media feeds may be a little more open to a chat when the local candidate comes doorknocking. (Labor’s internal review of its 2013 campaign stresses the combination of online and in-person campaigning, for example.)

On Twitter, we’ve identified 60 Labor and 48 Liberal National Party candidates, as well as central party and campaign accounts. The Greens are represented by 34 accounts, while One Nation and Katter’s Australian Party each have only a handful of tweeting candidates. Combined, over the first two weeks of the campaign, they’ve sent some 3,300 tweets in total, and received some 54,000 @mentions and retweets.

Twitter @mentions and retweets per party, 30 Oct. to 12 Nov. 2017.
Axel Bruns / QUT Digital Media Research Centre

These are far from evenly distributed, however. @mentions of parties and politicians tend to favour the incumbent, and this is not surprising: more of the debate on social media and elsewhere will be about the track record of the current government, rather than about the promises of the opposition.

At 30,000 tweets, Labor accounts have received nearly double the @mentions of the LNP (17,000) to date, and this is in line with patterns in previous state and federal elections.

It’s the retweets that tell a more remarkable story. The nearly 7,000 retweets for Labor candidates’ tweets amount to more than twelve times the 570 retweets received by the LNP. During an election campaign, retweets usually do indicate some level of endorsement.

The pattern in this election is considerably different from recent elections. In 2016, for example, the incumbent federal Coalition received far fewer retweets than the Labor opposition. In the 2015 Queensland election, Campbell Newman’s incumbent Liberal National Party government also struggled to attract retweets for its messages.

These patterns do not point to a significant mood for change or substantial willingness amongst Twitter users to promote the LNP’s campaign messages. Conservative commentators may want to chalk this up to a purported left-wing bias in the Australian Twittersphere – but that claim is not borne out by our analysis, showing Twitter contains sizeable communities of both left-wing and right-wing supporters.

Adani and One Nation generate heat for the major parties

Labor also seems to have weathered the early onslaught of critical coverage well.

The first week of the campaign saw a substantial volume of debate about the controversial Adani mine project, which divides opinion between the southeastern population centres around Brisbane (where concerns about environmental impacts are high) and the regional centres near the mine (which anticipate greater job prospects from the mine).

During week one some 1,500 tweets per day, both by and to candidates, contained the word “Adani”. Hashtags related to the controversy (#adani, #stopadani, #coralnotcoal, and others) were the most prominent topical hashtags in our overall dataset, in addition to generic tags like #qldvotes, #qldpol, and #auspol.

The story is further complicated by the fact that, in his role at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Premier Palaszczuk’s partner was involved in Adani’s application for a A$1 billion loan. Palaszczuk announced at the end of the first week of campaigning that she would veto that loan if the application were successful.

Judging by our Twitter data, this veto threat appears to have neutralised the Adani debate to some extent. “Adani” tweets by and to candidates declined from 1,500 to less than 600 in week two. The overall volume of tweets by and to these accounts has also dropped from over 5,000 to some 3,700 per day in week two.

This shift in position may indicate that Labor believes that supporting Adani will lose more votes in the southeast than it will gain further north. Our social media patterns seem to bear out this view.

Meanwhile, with Pauline Hanson’s much-publicised arrival on the campaign trail the second week has seen more discussion about the role that One Nation may play in the next parliament. In particular, the announcement on the evening of Friday 10 November that the LNP will preference One Nation over Labor in more than half the seats in Queensland has already generated substantial debate. Some 20% of tweets by and to candidates on the following Saturday included keywords related to One Nation and/or preferencing.

While the LNP announcement – after the evening news on a Friday – was probably timed to minimise media scrutiny of its decision, it remains to be seen whether this debate will carry over into the third week of the campaign. Labor will no doubt seek to exploit this preference arrangement to attract traditional conservative voters who remain critical of One Nation.

The ConversationAnd finally, if you’re still uncertain about which hashtag to use to join the debate: in tweets by and to candidate accounts, plain old #qldvotes leads #qldvotes2017 by more than ten to one so far. It’s a landslide.

Axel Bruns, Professor, Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Four ways social media companies and security agencies can tackle terrorism


Robyn Torok, Edith Cowan University

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has joined Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May in calling on social media companies to crack down on extremist material being published by users.

It comes in the wake of the recent terror attacks in Australia and Britain.

Facebook is considered a hotbed for terrorist recruitment, incitement, propaganda and the spreading of radical thinking. Twitter, YouTube and encrypted services such WhatsApp and Telegram are also implicated.

Addressing the extent of such content on social media requires international cooperation from large social media platforms themselves and encrypted services.

Some of that work is already underway by many social media operators, with Facebook’s rules on this leaked only last month. Twitter says that in one six-month period it has suspended 376,890 accounts related to the promotion of terrorism.

While these measures are a good start, more can be done. A focus on disruption, encryption, recruitment and creating counter-narratives is recommended.

Disruption: remove content, break flow-on

Disruption of terrorists on social media involves reporting and taking down of radical elements and acts of violence, whether that be radical accounts or posted content that breaches community safety and standards.

This is critical both in timing and eradication.

Disruption is vital for removing extreme content and breaking the flow-on effect while someone is in the process of being recruited by extremists.

Taking down accounts and content is difficult as there is often a large volume of content to remove. Sometimes it is not removed as quickly as needed. In addition, extremists typically have multiple accounts and can operate under various aliases at the same time.

Encryption: security authorities need access

When Islamic extremists use encrypted channels, it makes the fight against terrorism much harder. Extremists readily shift from public forums to encrypted areas, and often work in both simultaneously.

Encrypted networks are fast becoming a problem because of the “burn time” (destruction of messages) and the fact that extremists can communicate mostly undetected.

Operations to attack and kill members of the public in the West have been propagated on these encrypted networks.

The extremists set up a unique way of communicating within encrypted channels to offer advice. That way a terrorist can directly communicate with the Islamic State group and receive directives to undertake an attack in a specific country, including operational methods and procedures.

This is extremely concerning, and authorities – including intelligence agencies and federal police – require access to encrypted networks to do their work more effectively. They need the ability to access servers to obtain vital information to help thwart possible attacks on home soil.

This access will need to be granted in consultation with the companies that offer these services. But such access could be challenging and there could also be a backlash from privacy groups.

Recruitment: find and follow key words

It was once thought that the process of recruitment occurred over extended periods of time. This is true in some instances, and it depends on a multitude of individual experiences, personality types, one’s perception of identity, and the types of strategies and techniques used in the recruitment process.

There is no one path toward violent extremism, but what makes the process of recruitment quicker is the neurolinguistic programming (NLP) method used by terrorists.

Extremists use NLP across multiple platforms and are quick to usher their recruits into encrypted chats.

Key terms are always used alongside NLP, such as “in the heart of green birds” (which is used in reference to martyrdom), “Istishhad” (operational heroism of loving death more than the West love life), “martyrdom” and “Shaheed” (becoming a martyr).

If social media companies know and understand these key terms, they can help by removing any reference to them on their platforms. This is being done by some platforms to a degree, but in many cases social media operaters still rely heavily on users reporting inappropriate material.

Create counter-narratives: banning alone won’t work

Since there are so many social media applications, each with a high volume of material that is both very dynamic and fluid, any attempts to deal with extremism must accept the limitations and challenges involved.

Attempts to shut down sites, channels, and web pages are just one approach. It is imperative that efforts are not limited to such strategies.

Counter-narratives are essential, as these deconstruct radical ideologies and expose their flaws in reasoning.

But these counter-narratives need to be more sophisticated given the ability of extremists to manipulate arguments and appeal to emotions, especially by using horrific images.

This is particularly important for those on the social fringe, who may feel a sense of alienation.

It is important for these individuals to realise that such feelings can be addressed within the context of mainstream Islam without resorting to radical ideologies that leave them open to exploitation by experienced recruiters. Such recruiters are well practised and know how to identify individuals who are struggling, and how to usher them along radical pathways.

Ultimately, there are ways around all procedures that attempt to tackle the problem of terrorist extremism on social media. But steps are slowly being taken to reduce the risk and spread of radical ideologies.

The ConversationThis must include counter-narratives as well as the timely eradication of extremist material based on keywords as well as any material from key radical preachers.

Robyn Torok, PhD, PhD – researcher and analyst, Edith Cowan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump, the wannabe king ruling by ‘twiat’


Nick Couldry, London School of Economics and Political Science

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


Just weeks after his inauguration as US president, it is clear that Donald Trump is making a further bold claim on power, one that goes beyond the executive orders that are rightly drawing so much attention. He is reinventing the royal fiat by novel means: the rule-by-tweet, or “twiat”. This move is not an extension of popular democracy, but its enemy, and it needs to be resisted.

We are becoming used to Trump’s new way not just of sustaining a political campaign, but of making policy. We wake up to news of another state, corporation, institution or individual caught in the crossfire of his tweets. Corporations and investors are setting up “Twitter Response Units” and “Trump Triggers” in case the next tweet is aimed at them.

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The process is so alien to the ways of making policy that have evolved over decades in complex democracies that it is tempting to dismiss it as just funny or naive. But that would be a huge mistake.

A tweet of Trump’s opinion at any moment on a particular issue is just that: an expression of the temporary opinion of one person, albeit one with his hands on more power-levers than almost any other person in the world.

Trump’s opinions at any moment are subject to change.
Sasha Kimel/flickr

Such expressions matter, for sure, to Trump’s Twitter followers. But, although one might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, they do not (at 23 million) constitute a significant proportion of the world’s population, or even a large proportion of the US population.

The king holds court

A Trump tweet only becomes news if it is reported as news. And it only starts to become policy if those who interpret policy, including the media, start to treat this news as policy. Until then, the Trump tweet remains at most a claim on power.

But once key institutions treat it as if were already an enactment of power, it quickly becomes one. Worse, it inaugurates a whole new way of doing power whose compatibility with democracy and global peace is questionable.

Imagine you are a diplomat, trying to schedule a meeting for yourself, or your political master, with Trump in a few weeks’ time. Is it sensible for you to rely on the confidentiality of the meeting? Could a poorly chosen phrase or look – or indeed your most carefully argued reasoning – provoke a tweet that publicly mocks your whole strategy?

How do you deal with a figure who claims the power to broadcast on his own terms his gut reactions to whatever you say or propose? Yes, you can tweet back, but that is already to give up on the quiet space of discussion that was once diplomacy’s refuge.

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The impact of rule-by-tweet is potentially profound: above all, on policy, whether global or domestic, legal or commercial. A new type of power is being claimed and, it seems, recognised: the power, by an individual’s say-so, to make things happen, the twiat. Just the sort of power that revolutions were fought to abolish.

If Trump is the putative Tweet King, who are his courtiers? Surely they’re the mainstream media institutions that regularly report Trump’s tweets as if they were policy.

If a medieval king’s courtiers refused to pass on his word to the wider world, its impact changed. While courtiers could be replaced overnight, contemporary media corporations cannot (for now at least). So why should the media act as if they were Trump’s courtiers?

We must not underestimate the short-term pressure on media corporations to conform to Trump’s claim on power. For sure, there will be an audience if they report Trump’s tweets, and their financial need to grab audiences wherever they can has never been greater.

But, if news values still mean something, they refer not only to financial imperatives, but to what should count as news. And norms about news must have some relation to what passes for acceptable in a democracy rather than an autocracy.

Why is the ‘twiat’ anti-democratic?

Some might say: Trump’s tweets are just the new way of doing democracy, “get with the program” (in the words of Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer). But, as the grim history of mid-20th-century Europe shows, authoritarian grabs on power only ever worked because their anti-democratic means were accepted by those around them as a novel way of “doing democracy”.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer says officials must ‘get with the program’ or go.

The “twiat” is anti-democratic for two reasons. First, it claims a power (to name individuals, pronounce policy, and condemn actions) against which there is no redress. Its work is done once uttered from the mouth of the “king”.

Second, and more subtly, allowing such power back into political decision-making undermines the slower, more inclusive forms of discussion and reflection that gives modern political democratic institutions their purpose and purchase in the first place.

Trump’s claim to a new form of charismatic power through Twitter is, in part, the flip-side of the damaged legitimacy of today’s democratic process. But, instead of curing that problem, it closes the door on it. The presidential tweeting ushers us into a new space that is no longer recognisable as democratic: a space where complex policy becomes not just too difficult but unnecessary, although its substitutes can still be tweeted.

Is Trump’s Twitter feed bypassing dishonest media or bypassing the democratic process?

Can anything be done to stop this? A good start would be to stop reporting the tweets of our would-be Twitter king as if they were news, let alone policy.

Let Trump’s tweets have no more claim on democracy’s attention than the changing opinions of any other powerful figure. Refuse the additional claim to power that Trump’s Twitter stream represents.

Fail to refuse that claim, and all of us risk accepting by default a new form of rule that undermines the restraints on power on which both democracy and media freedoms, in the long term, depend.

The Conversation

Nick Couldry, Professor of Media, Communications and Social Theory, London School of Economics and Political Science

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.