Most Web Searches in Africa Bring Up Only Results from the US and France

Early advocates of the internet’s democratizing power believed it would give people more of a voice about their own communities and countries. Instead, it appears to be reinforcing digital divides between wealthier and better connected countries and poorer, less developed countries.

A Google search for “Accra,” the capital of Ghana, returns its Wikipedia entry, travel advice from Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor, and a few news websites like the Guardian. Almost none of the search results come from pages hosted in Ghana, and though results come from six different countries, five of them are in the global north, as opposed to in Africa.

Only eight countries in Africa have a majority of content that is locally produced. Most content comes from the United States and to a lesser extent, France, according to a new study published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers. In Africa, only South Africa and Madagascar ranked high in terms of local content. Even capitals or large cities like Lagos see little local content in Google search results.

“This gives rise to a form of digital hegemony, whereby producers in a few countries get to define what is read by others,” researchers Andrea Ballatore, Mark Graham, and Shilad Sen concluded. They analyzed more than 33,000 Google search results for 188 capital cities and found that the US accounted for over half of the first page of results for 61 countries.

Source: Quartz Africa

Inside the Two Years that Shook Facebook

wired-cover-2018-facebook-zuckerbergFacebook has been shaken to its core as it came to grips with being perhaps the most powerful media outlet in the world. Among other things, the company grappled with claims of liberal political bias, accusations that it was destroying the free press, and outrage that it had sold ads to Russians trying to influence the 2016 election. What was it like inside the company as these crises unfolded? How has Facebook changed as a result? What is it doing now to address its shortcomings?

WIRED’s Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein spoke with more than 50 current or former Facebook employees to answer these questions in an enthrallingly detailed article titled “Inside the Two Years that Shook Facebook.” Thompson and Vogelstein realized in October that they were both interested in writing features on different aspects of the epic tale, so they decided to team up. Having worked together on “The Plot to Kill Google” in 2009, they knew it would be a happy marriage. The result is an investigative tour de force.

Source: Mark Robinson on Facebook’s two years of hell via WIRED

Facebook Now Ghetto of Fake News, Censorship and Foreign Interference

Years of limited oversight and unchecked growth have turned Facebook into a force with incredible power over the lives of its 2 billion users. But the social network has given rise to unintended social consequences, and they’re starting to catch up with it.

Facebook is behind the curve in understanding that “what happens in their system has profound consequences in the real world,” said Fordham University media-studies professor Paul Levinson. The company’s knee-jerk response has often been “none of your business” when confronted about these consequences, he said.

That response may not work much longer for a company whose original but now-abandoned slogan — “move fast and break things” — still seems to govern it.

“There’s a general arrogance — they know what’s right, they know what’s best, we know how to make better for you so just let us do it,” said Notre Dame professor Timothy Carone, who added that it’s true of Silicon Valley giants in general. “They need to take a step down and acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers.”

Source: Voice of America

A Spanish Town That Runs on Twitter

martin-saveski-twitter-visualization-mit-media-lab
Visualization of the mayor’s connections to the community. To the right, details about his Twitter activity. In this screen shot of a data explorer developed by Martin Saveski, each circle represents a Jun citizen or organization. The lines represent Twitter follower relationships. The four colors denote sub-networks of people within Jun who are closely tied to each other by their Twitter activity. Source: William Powers and Deb Roy via HuffPost

Mayor José Antonio Rodríguez Salas has spent years turning his small Spanish town into one of the most active users of Twitter anywhere in the world.

For Jun’s 3,500 residents, more than half of whom have Twitter accounts, their main way to communicate with local government officials is now the social network. Need to see the local doctor? Send a quick Twitter message to book an appointment. See something suspicious? Let Jun’s policeman know with a tweet.

For José María de la Torre Sarmiento, an architect who stopped by Jun’s town hall after work to verify his Twitter account, the chance to quickly send tweets remained preferable to submitting government forms that took weeks to process.

“I work from home and use internet services all the time,” he said during the five-minute verification. “Why can’t I do the same thing when I use public services?”

Source: The New York Times

The Rise of the Interstitial User

Apple users usually expect for their devices to perform basic system management and maintenance, monitoring background processes so that a rogue task doesn’t drag down the currently active app, for example.

But when Apple confirmed users’ suspicions that a recent update was aggressively slowing older devices, the story quickly gained national attention, culminating in the company cutting the price of battery replacement service and apologizing for the misunderstanding in an open letter to customers. Though Apple never goes as far as to admit wrongdoing in the letter, their direct appeals to customers’ “trust” and “faith” serve as an implicit acknowledgement that the company disregarded a boundary somewhere.

Given how social media and messaging services have, as Jenny Davis says, “extended beyond apps and platforms, taking on the status of infrastructures and institutions,” Apple’s moves to smooth device performance and subtly automate connectivity make some sense. “They have become central to society’s basic functions, such as employment, public safety, and government services,” Data & Society scholars argued in response to Carpenter v. United States.

The ubiquity of networked phones not only facilitates access but furnishes society’s layers of contingency – the many convenient, useful and at times crucial services we enjoy and rely on every day. When our societal infrastructure shifts, as it inevitably does, we feel it and often anticipate its impact.

Indeed, as part of the “cyborgian bargain,” we both expect and are specially equipped to continually renegotiate our status within ever shifting socio-technical systems. For the trust we exercise conditionally with and through society’s mediating infrastructures and institutions, we do not expect an equitable exchange so much as we demand reciprocation, however tenuous and incomplete, commensurate with our wants and desires.

The sort of user we are becoming now might be better described as interstitial, a status emerging from our agency in relation to and actions afforded by socio-technologies. Instead of the ancillary user that platforms imagine molding and fixing in place, the interstitial user contends that our interests and desires necessarily defy simple categorization and we will use what options we have at our disposal to pursue our aims in spite of designers’ wishes.

Source: Nathan Ferguson via Cyborgology

Obama on News Algorithms: At Some Point You Just Live in a Bubble

In the first episode of the new Netflix series, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman, former President Barack Obama reflects on political tensions and life after the White House, and Dave visits Selma with Representative John Lewis.

Obama: One of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we don’t share a common baseline of facts. What the Russians exploited (but was already here) is that we operate in completely different information universes.

Letterman: I was under the impression that Twitter would be the mechanism by which truth was told around the world.

Obama: If you are getting all your information off algorithms being sent through a phone, and it’s just reinforcing whatever biases you have, which is the pattern that develops… And that gets more reinforced over time.

That’s what’s happening with these Facebook pages where more and more people are getting their news from. At a certain point you just live in a bubble. And that’s part of why our politics is so polarized right now. I think it is a solvable problem, but I think it’s one that we have to spend a lot of time thinking about.

Letterman: It seems like a valuable tool that has turned against us.

Source: Netflix

Why People Leave Facebook

This 2013 HuffPost article on why folks leave Facebook is strangely coercive and symptomatic of a sort of Stockholm syndrome that’s infested marketing for years.

hiatus

A “toxic shock” has resulted from the algorithmic infection proliferated by News Feed, Google Search and other neocolonialist forms of digital content curation. The simple fact that Facebook impairs the ability to obtain objective information and engage meaningfully is reason enough to keep the social network at arm’s length.

As of 2014, all HuffPost comments are on Facebook’s system. This implies a conflict of interest for editors who would promote opinions that portray the network in a bad light. A smart move by a social network in crisis control mode, managing how millions of left-leaning millennials learn and share about it.

Facebook founders have since come out against the social network, admitting to what many suspect: that Facebook is, as a hacker might say, designed to exploit a vulnerability in human psychology. But we’re here. What happens now?

Want to bypass the drama and create a stronger bond with your audience?

  1. Expand your reach to additional platforms;
  2. Facilitate and implement diversified content streams;
  3. Go deeper with your engagement;
  4. Start a podcast;
  5. Set up a listserv for each demographic or interest you serve; and
  6. Most importantly, be proactive, listen, and reciprocate.

More on Facebook’s house of cards here. Have your own story? Please share.

Kara Swisher’s News and Tech Scorecard One Year Into Trump

Recode’s Kara Swisher said last year that journalists needed to be tougher on serial liars in tech and politics. Last month, Swisher returned to Recode Media with Peter Kafka to grade whether the media lived up to that goal in 2017 — and the impact of the Silicon Valley companies whose platforms distribute most of their content.

Swisher is frustrated by the unwillingness of tech leaders to accept their share of responsibility in the media space, and not because they’re blind to the problem.

“I think they know that these platforms are being badly misused, and they don’t know what to do about it,” Swisher said. “I think it was a slow burn, a slow dawning on them. The penny dropped really lugubriously.”

On the new podcast, Swisher also shares why she’s more impressed by Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel than by his peers, why Silicon Valley isn’t thinking about AI’s potential for reinforcing bias, and why she’s tired of tech’s perpetual-victim mentality.

Source: Recode (podcast)

Clicker Games Provide a Futuristic Look at the Present

In Clicking Bad, once you’ve clicked your way to selling $20 of meth, you can buy a Storage Shed, which cooks a batch every five seconds — without requiring you to click at all. On the distribution side, you can acquire a Drug Mule, and eventually a Drug Van — just like that, you’ve moved from labor to management. Your scrappy start-up is on its way to becoming a corporate powerhouse.

Our society is allowing its wealth to concentrate in the holdings of a few companies like Apple and Facebook, because the games are playing us. And, unlike [another clicker game] Universal Paperclips, they often don’t look like games. They are decoratively skinned as social media, giving us a sense of connection to people we kinda, sorta know, or as infotainment platforms that make us informationally obese.

Source: Glenn Dixon via Pacific Standard

Break the Cyber-Utopian Myth

Who do you associate with online? In a brief video from 2010, internet activist Ethan Zuckerman argues that cultural barriers are preventing us from using the internet to tackle global issues. Flame wars be gone. On the danger of the “ideological echo chamber effect” on society by today’s mainstream social networks, Zuckerman says, “What you’re looking for is a conversation, not to win a fight.”

Source: The Guardian (video)