The president’s attacks on social media are incoherent and depressing

It was a vexing day.

Conversations about social media continued to dominate the capital. “Conversations” is too strong a word — it was more like a sustained airing of petty grievances. As usual it was unclear what, if anything, would emerge from these grievances, other than another round of headlines about them.

Start with grievance No. 1: the president said he lost social media followers because of anti-conservative censorship:

“I think that Google and Facebook and Twitter, I think they treat conservatives and Republicans very unfairly. I could tell you that I have personal experience. I have a lot of people on the various platforms,” he said, citing a total following of 160 million accounts across different platforms. “That’s a lot of people. But I can tell you when things are different. And all of a sudden you lose people and you say, ‘Where did they go?’ They’ve taken off.”

In this environment anti-conservative censorship, the president amassed a following of 160 million people, but “all of a sudden you lose people.” In the case of Twitter, this complaint almost certainly had to do with this summer’s purge of bots and other bad actors. It’s not clear that the president had a specific criticism of Facebook or Google when it came to “treating conservatives and Republicans very unfairly,” at least in this context, but who knows that the next few hours will bring.

Grievance No. 2: the president tweeted a video suggesting that Google discriminated against him by not putting a link to his first address to Congress on its homepage. He included the hashtag #StopTheBias. Google explained that it historically has never promoted the president’s first address to Congress, which is not an official State of the Union address, and that the president’s complaint was groundless.

Grievance No. 3, which took place on Tuesday but continued to reverberate through the take-o-sphere Wednesday, is that a lot of Google News results about Trump contain articles about things he actually did, which paint him in a negative light.

It all felt sort of unbelievable that we were even talking about any of this.

Many people told the president to be quiet.

There was Kara Swisher: “Here’s the truest conundrum of the social media age: Those who complain loudest about being silenced never ever shut up.”

There was Josh Rogin: “Trump may not like that most of his media coverage is negative, but unlike Xi he doesn’t have the power to censor his critics. If he wants to know why Google searches on “Trump News” return mostly negative results, he should put down Twitter and pick up a mirror.”

There was even Paula Bolyard, supervising editor at PJ Media, who wrote the story about Trump’s Google News presence that inspired grievance No. 3: “The government has no business regulating private companies for their political views, and it would set a dangerous precedent to do so in this case. Government regulation would only make things worse. The Internet would be less free, and fewer voices would be allowed to have a say.”

One way the president has been able to gain back followers recently has been to unblock his critics on Twitter, which he has been required to do by a court order. He welcomed 41 such accounts back into the fold Wednesday.

Anyway: expect all of this to get an incredibly tedious airing when Jack Dorsey, Sheryl Sandberg, and probably no one from Google go before various Congressional subcommittees next week.

Democracy

Exclusive: Iran-based political influence operation — bigger, persistent, global

Data breaches are always bigger than first reported. And it seems that influence campaigns are, too. Jack Stubbs and Christopher Bing, who sound like mismatched partners in a 1980s buddy-cop movie, found new tentacles of the Iranian influence operation uncovered by Facebook last week:

Facebook and other companies said last week that multiple social media accounts and websites were part of an Iranian project to covertly influence public opinion in other countries. A Reuters analysis has identified 10 more sites and dozens of social media accounts across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

U.S.-based cyber security firm FireEye Inc and Israeli firm ClearSky reviewed Reuters’ findings and said technical indicators showed the web of newly-identified sites and social media accounts – called the International Union of Virtual Media, or IUVM – was a piece of the same campaign, parts of which were taken down last week by Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc.

This Is How Russian Propaganda Actually Works In The 21st Century

Holger Roonemaa and Inga Springe break down how a Russian influence operation works these days. In short: lots of fake websites.

Trump Has Changed How Teens View the News

Trump’s assault on the press has diminished trust in the media across all demographics, including stereotypically bullshit-averse teens, Taylor Lorenz reports:

There is increasing evidence that this skepticism, exacerbated by the president’s relentless attacks, is trickling down to the next generation of voters. A 2017 report on a series of focus groups with 52 people between the ages of 14 and 24, conducted by Data & Society and the Knight Foundation, found that many young Americans believe the news is biased and are skeptical of its accuracy. “There was no assumption that the news would convey the truth or would be worthy of their trust,” the study reported.

Liker, a Facebook Alternative for Liberals, Is Hive of False Claims About Trump

The left’s answer to Gab is Liker, a new site from the makers of the popular Occupy Democrats Facebook page. It’s full of misinformation, as you might expect.

Slate is joining a journalistic collaboration with ProPublica to find how political ads are targeting you on Facebook.

ProPublica, our foremost investigator of Facebook ads, has brought Slate on as a partner to help it collect political ads.

Elsewhere

How every cross-posted tweet disappeared from Facebook

In an extremely Twitter move, Twitter deleted its Facebook app without any apparent regard for the consequences, and so all of the tweets that people cross-posted to Facebook temporarily disappeared. They all reappeared, though, so we can all relax. Ina Fried has details:

Twitter had initially asked Facebook for more time to see if there was a way for users to continue joint posting to both social networks, but Facebook said no.

As a result, the Twitter app for the Facebook platform was essentially made useless earlier this month once Facebook officially removed the ability to cross-post. With the app’s sole function eliminated, Twitter decided to delete it from the Facebook platform, having no reason to think that doing so would remove old tweets that were cross-posted. It’s not clear whether Facebook knew this would happen, either.

Facebook took down an Anne Frank Center post showing Holocaust victims

An Anne Frank Center’s post that showed emaciated, naked Holocaust victims ran afoul of Facebook’s nudity filters. The post was restored after the Center publicly complained.

How should we regulate facial recognition?

Facebook’s moves around facial recognition are often the source of controversy — and occasionally, class-action lawsuits. My colleague Russell Brandom talks to a wide range of experts on how it might be regulated. Here’s Alvaro Bedoya, from the Center for Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law:

Beyond that, I’d like to see rules around bias and accuracy testing. You probably want protections for children. It should probably not be used on people who are 18 or younger. You probably want prohibitions on sensitive areas like hospitals or clinics or schools, where even if someone’s consented, you still shouldn’t use it.

Look at surveillance cameras. You do not usually have surveillance cameras in bathrooms. You can have them all throughout the store, you’ll have them at the entrance, the exit, in the aisles, at the checkout. But you do not have them in the bathroom because we all understand that recording people in the bathroom is a bad idea.

Facebook’s Alex Hardiman joins The Atlantic as product chief

Five days after CNET profiled her, Facebook’s head of news products is leaving for The Atlantic. Hardiman, who came from the New York Times, was a strong advocate for journalists at Facebook.

Making a Living Before Making It Big on YouTube

How do would-be YouTube stars earn money before they hit it big? The answer is smaller apps that you have never heard of, Taylor Lorenz reports:

Brenden and Tyler LaTarte know these deals well. The 17-year-old twins got started on Instagram, where they collectively have almost 50,000 followers. Several months ago, they started a YouTube channel. While they wait for it to take off, they’re relying on a live-streaming app called UpLive to make money and build a following. They receive $500 for 30 hours of streaming within a 15-day time period. They stream their lives, chat with fans, and fill the hours with whatever they think followers will find interesting.

“It’s always good as a creator to have supportive parents and friends, but it’s even better when you have supportive apps behind you,” said Mario Ayuso, their manager. “When an app sees your potential and what you’re bringing to the table they’ll partner with you to get you to the next goal. Maybe that’s financial, maybe it’s connections, or an audience.”

Launches

Twitter tested personalized “unfollow” suggestions, company confirms.

Twitter tested a feature that highlighted accounts that users rarely interacted with, asking if they would like to unfollow that account so that they enjoyed using Twitter more. It was a good idea, so the company ended the test immediately, Will Oremus reports.

Facebook Watch goes international

You can now watch Facebook Watch around the world! And if you do, let me know, since it will be the first time I ever encounter anyone intentionally doing so.

Google’s video chat app comes to iPads and Android tablets

Google’s FaceTime equivalent has now come to the iPad and Android tablets.

Takes

‘Overtourism’ Worries Europe. How Much Did Technology Help Get Us There?

Farhad Manjoo says social media is ruining travel:

“You can’t talk about overtourism without mentioning Instagram and Facebook — I think they’re big drivers of this trend,” Mr. Francis said. “Seventy-five years ago, tourism was about experience-seeking. Now it’s about using photography and social media to build a personal brand. In a sense, for a lot of people, the photos you take on a trip become more important than the experience.”

How Facebook Has Flattened Human Communication

David Auerbach criticizes the way that Facebook’s reaction emoji reduce communication to structured data, robbing it of nuance:

The default six smooth out the variations that were observed when Facebook was conducting tests with a far larger set of emotions, all designed by Disney-Pixar’s Matt Jones. The full list included everything from admiration and affirmation to anger, rage, and terror. A simple classification won out. It is both easier to use and more universal — at the expense of cultural and personal variation. Also, to hear researcher Dacher Keltner tell it to Radiolab’s Andrew Zolli, at the expense of happiness:

Countries that expressed the most “happiness” were not actually the happiest in real life. Instead, it was the countries that used the widest array of stickers that did better on various measures of societal health, well-being — even longevity. “It’s not about being the happiest,” Keltner told me, “it’s about being the most emotionally diverse.”

And finally …

The British Diver Elon Musk Called A “Pedo” Threatened To Sue Him For Libel

Earlier this month I mentioned a first-ballot entry into the Never Tweet Hall of Fame, Elon Musk’s now-infamous series of Twitter messages suggesting he was going to take Tesla private (“funding secured”) at $420. But we haven’t yet talked about the time that Musk suggested on Twitter that one of his critics might be a pedophile. Anyway, looks like that guy is suing him now. Ryan Mac reports:

A British man, who Elon Musk called a “pedo” on Twitter, has retained legal counsel and is “preparing a civil complaint for libel” against the Tesla CEO, according to a letter viewed by BuzzFeed News. The letter appears to contradict a claim Musk made on Twitter on Tuesday that he had yet to see any legal repercussions from his allegations, and deepens the problems for the already embattled technology billionaire.

A lawyer for Vernon Unsworth, a UK citizen who was instrumental in the rescue of 12 children trapped in a cave in Thailand, sent Musk a letter earlier this month notifying him of a possible lawsuit, after the Tesla chief’s outburst against his client in July. Musk previously made the allegations against Unsworth without any evidence, before issuing an apology and deleting the offending tweets.

To enter the Never Tweet Hall of Fame once, Mr. Musk, may be regarded as a misfortune. To enter twice looks like carelessness.

Talk to me

Send me tips, questions, comments, and suggested unfollows: casey@theverge.com.