Facebook wants to know how it’s shaping the 2020 elections — researchers say it’s looking too late and in the wrong places (FB)

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Facebook was first warned in late 2015 that Cambridge Analytica was misusing data illicitly harvested from millions of Americans in an attempt to sway the 2016 US elections.

It didn’t pull the plug on the firm’s access to user data until March 2018 after reporting from The Guardian turned the breach into a global scandal.

More than two years later — and barely two months before the deadline for votes to cast their ballots in the 2020 elections — Facebook has decided it wants to know more about how it impacts democracy, announcing last week that it would partner with 17 researchers to study the impact of Facebook and Instagram on voters’ attitudes and actions.

But researchers outside of the project are conflicted. While they praised Facebook for promising to ensure more transparency and independence than it has before, they also questioned why the company waited so long and just how much this study will really bring to light.

“Isn’t this a little bit too late?” Fadi Quran, a campaign director with nonprofit research group Avaaz, told Business Insider.

“Facebook has known now for a long time that there’s election interference, that malicious actors are using the platform to influence voters,” he said. “Why is this only happening now at such a late stage?” 

Facebook said it doesn’t “expect to publish any findings until mid-2021 at the earliest.” The company did not reply to a request for comment on this story.

Since the company is leaving it to the research team to decide which questions to ask and draw their own conclusions — a good thing — we don’t yet know much about what they hope to learn. In its initial announcement, Facebook said it’s curious about: “whether social media makes us more polarized as a society, or if it largely reflects the divisions that already exist; if it helps people to become better informed about politics, or less; or if it affects people’s attitudes towards government and democracy, including whether and how they vote.”

Facebook executives have reportedly known the answer to that first question — that the company’s algorithms do help polarize and radicalize people — and that they knowingly shut down efforts to fix the issue or even research it more.

But even setting that aside, researchers say they’ve already identified some potential shortcomings in the study.

“A lot of the focus of this work is very much about how honest players are using these systems,” Laura Edelson, a researcher who studies political ads and misinformation at New York University, told Business Insider.

“Where I’m concerned is that they’re almost exclusively not looking at the ways that things are going wrong, and that’s where I wish this was going further,” she added.

Quran echoed that assessment, saying: “One big thing that they’re going to miss by not looking more deeply at these malicious actors, and just by the design, is the scale of content that’s been created by these actors and that’s influencing public opinion.”

A long list of research and media reports have documented Facebook’s struggles to effectively keep political misinformation off its platform — let alone misleading health claims, which despite Facebook’s more aggressive approach, still racked up four times as many views as posts from sites pushing accurate information, according to Avaaz. 

But political information is much more nuanced and constantly evolving, and even in what seem to be clear-cut cases, Facebook has, according to reports, at times incorrectly enforced its own policies or bent over backward to avoid possible political backlash.

Quran and Edelson both worried that Facebook’s election study may not capture the full impact of aspects of the platform like its algorithms, billions of fake accounts, or private groups.

“You find what you go and you look for,” Edelson said. “The great problem of elections on Facebook is not how the honest actors are working within the system.”

Quran also said, though it’s too early say this will happen for sure, that because it’s Facebook asking users directly within their apps to join the study, sometimes in exchange for payment, it risks inadvertently screening out people who are distrustful of the company to begin with.

“We’re already seeing posts on different groups that share disinformation telling people: ‘Don’t participate in the study, this is a Facebook conspiracy'” to spy on users or keep Republicans off the platform ahead of the election, he said. “What this could lead to, potentially, is that the people most impacted by disinformation are not even part of the study.”

In a best-case scenario, Edelson said the researchers could learn valuable information about how our existing understanding of elections maps onto the digital world. Quran said the study could even serve as an “information ecosystem impact assessment,” similar to environmental impact studies, that would help Facebook understand how changes it could make might impact the democratic process.

But both were skeptical that Facebook would make major changes based on this study or the 2020 elections more broadly. And Quran warned that, despite Facebook’s efforts to make the study independent, people shouldn’t take the study as definitive or allow it to become a “stamp of approval.”

It took Facebook nearly four years from when it learned about Cambridge Analytica to identify the tens of thousands of apps that were also misusing data. And though it just published the results of its first independent civil rights audit, the company has made few commitments to implement any of the auditors’ recommendations.

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A Slice of Facebook With Your Pizza – New Marketing Strategy

pizza

Great things seem to go together effortlessly. Peanut butter and jelly, baseball and hotdogs, Lennon and McCartney – all are terrific combinations. Once again, two popular things are being paired in an effort to create excitement, entice customer participation and reinvigorate a brand. Papa John’s is teaming up with Facebook (pizza and Facebook – likely to be another winning combination) and inviting fans to create the next specialty pizza. After all, who better to create a new, delicious pie than the pizza lovers themselves? ‘Papa John’ himself will select three finalists and the highest selling creation will be declared the winner. This promotion couldn’t have come at a better time. Papa John’s marketing efforts have been somewhat sluggish lately, especially compared to one top competitor. Dominos recently launched a major advertising campaign and, at least for now, its strategy is working. After admitting its pizza was pretty awful, Dominos created a buzz around its new product and people are just curious enough to try its “new and improved” pizza. Sales have increased, but the big question remains: Will this interest last? We’ll just have to wait and see what Dominos does next. Papa John’s is taking it’s own approach to get customers involved. While the idea of soliciting input from fans isn’t original (Mountain Dew is currently holding a similar contest), I think it’s a great idea for Papa John’s. Especially because the not-so-original idea is being backed by a fairly unique strategy – the promotion is taking place entirely in Facebook. No television ads. No radio spots. Not even a direct mail piece. By taking this route, Papa John’s gets increased traffic to its Facebook page and a flood of new fans that will likely tell their friends, post comments and start discussions. This type of word-of-mouth advertising is a powerful vehicle and it’s the reason why so many companies create a Facebook page. On another note, I can only imagine how little this promotion is costing Papa John’s. With Facebook being more popular than – well, anything right now – its likely the company is reaching every relevant demographic through this single medium. When the three finalists are selected, the new pizza creations will undoubtedly be heavily promoted. Will Papa John’s expand its efforts beyond Facebook at that point? Who knows? It may not need to – especially judging by the number of entries already submitted just a few weeks into the contest. The idea of three new pizzas may entice just enough curiosity to get people to try each new pie. And again, as with Dominos, only time will tell if interest lingers long enough to have a real lasting impression. Granted, such a promotion may not work for equipment, but there are certainly ways to incorporate some of the basic principles into any marketing campaign. Maybe you give customers the opportunity to name your newest piece of equipment. After all, everyone has a great idea from time to time – give them a chance to have fun and be creative! How could you make this concept of customer involvement work for your company? Also, what are your thoughts on Papa John’s strategy to promote solely in Facebook – risky or brilliant? What other products would be highly successful in this arena?

The post A Slice of Facebook With Your Pizza – New Marketing Strategy appeared first on B2B Advertising, Marketing & Public Relations | IRONCLAD Marketing.

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