2019.10.18 Last Week in Digital Media

Hello

Here’s your unexpected Last Week in Digital Media.

FACEBOOK / MARK ZUCKERBERG / FREE SPEECH

Something that will be dissected for months to come, Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech at Georgetown University on the subject of free speech. The full transcript of the Zuckerberg’s speech can be found here. Zuckerberg positions Facebook as the “5th Estate” and in the speech is consistently pro-freedom of expression on Facebook.

Zuckerberg notes that Facebook comes from a Western tradition, where freedom of expression is valued and compares it to the rise of China-based tech companies which come from a different world view. In a point that is between fair and also passing the buck, Zuckerberg states “I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100% true.”

Later Zuckerberg slightly contradicts the need for someone else i.e. regulators making decisions by naming “legal” as the #1 threat to the future of the internet. An interestingly timed comment when Congress was debating Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act during the week which affords a lot of protection to Facebook (and others) and how they approach the management of online content. You can learn more about S230 here.

Considering the regulatory point further in the context of Zuckerberg’s follow-up interview on Fox News and his ongoing feud with Elizabeth Warren – it does feel like Zuckerberg is trying not to disenfranchise users and politicians on either side of the US political aisle. This is because for the left he talked up the civil rights power of free speech and for the right, he continued to protect their voices on the platform.

Broadly speaking, Zuckerberg’s view has not been welcomed by people with perspectives from other parts of the world (and even from some in the US). Especially when Facebook’s platform and apps have been blamed for a rise in sectarian violence (including by the United Nations). It’s reasonable to expect Facebook will have to take responsibility at some point as we’re never likely to have globally consistent social media content moderation laws.

Zuckerberg failed to address how Facebook’s algorithms promote and downrank content. So despite Zuckerberg’s claims of being hands-off, Facebook is making some sort of decision. There is an argument to be had that freedom of speech doesn’t have to equal freedom of reach and the black-box algorithmic amplification power of social media needs some considered thought and debate.

I could write a lot more about all of this and my perspective, but for a different take, I recommend you read Shoshana Zuboff’s book Surveillance Capitalism. One thing that stands out in her work is a suggestion that Facebook doesn’t want to restrict content because it needs all data points about a user and how people connect and interact with all forms of content to better profile people and monetize that knowledge. I don’t know if Facebook is as overt in the thinking as Zuboff suggests, but it is food for thought.

I think about a lot about the challenges that Facebook and big tech. present to the world. I recently weighed in on the topic of live streaming, something I have had an opportunity to speak to Zuckerberg about directly. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on Zuckerberg’s recent speech and interviews, so do drop me a line.

And now onto some of the other news you may have missed:

GENERAL

VIDEO, OTT, and STREAMING

  • as the streaming wars continue to heat up, it’s not enough to just be on your own hardware player, as such Roku announced Apple TV is now available on the Roku platform.
  • in other Roku-related news, Netflix announced that come Dec 1 it will be ending support for Netflix on some older Roku devices (mostly devices pre-dating 2011). Reading between the lines, this may be a signal of some other UI or similar change coming to Netflix that requires more hardware power.
  • AMC Theaters are launching their own iTunes-esque service “AMC Theaters on Demand” where you can rent or buy movies. The service will have about 2,000 titles at launch.
  • the user of computer-vision to insert products and ads into pre-recorded content has been an offering for a while, but the industry got a kickstart this week when Tencent shared plans to start testing the computer vision ad technology (using Mirriad tech)
  • Netflix reported Q3 earnings with mixed results (US Domestic Growth was below forecasts, International was above). In the letter to shareholders (PDF link), which is worth a read, Netflix acknowledged elevated churn because of increases in price and competition. Netflix downplays the streaming wars in their letter but realistically the “war” really starts in Q4. Netflix does paint a picture that the real potential loser of streaming wars will be broadcast TV.

REGULATORY

PRIVACY, TRUST, and SAFETY

  • TikTok is effectively developing their version of a content oversight board, appointing an external law firm (K&L Gates) to oversee TikTok content moderation policies with promises to also build out a leadership team responsible for user protection.
  • as the debate about what-can-be-said-in-election advertising rages on, a Buzzfeed investigation found that Facebook does remove political advertising if it violates Facebook standards around profanity and fake buttons. Putting Facebook in the contradictory position of saying it won’t take a position on political ads and then taking a position on political ads. For what it’s worth, the policy has been applied to ads across the US political spectrum.
  • in an attempt to provide some clarity, twitter shared their policy approach to political tweets. In a broad sense politician tweets are governed by twitter rules (which could result in deletion) but there are exceptions in what twitter defines as the “public interest”.
  • in a New York Times op-ed Foursquare CEO, Jeff Glueck, has called for formal regulatory oversight of the mobile location industry (paywall). Glueck cites multiple instances of where location data collection either lacks transparency, reason, or the data collected is open to abuse.

Have a great week.

Joshua