Start Up No.1654: a deep dive on Facebook’s Instagram research, the reply guy PR guy, what Twitch pays its streamers, Ozy lies!, and more


Feast your eyes on photos of Intel wafers, because it’s not going to make any in the UK after Brexit wrecked the export market. CC-licensed photo by Intel in Deutschland on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Forty down, eleven to go. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Facebook’s own internal documents offer a blueprint for making social media safer for teens • The Conversation

Jean Twenge:

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One internal Facebook study of more than 50,000 people from 10 countries found that half of teen girls compare their appearance to others’ on Instagram. Those appearance-based comparisons, the study found, peaked when users were 13 to 18 and were much less common among adult women.

This is key, as body image issues seem to be one of the biggest reasons why social media use is linked to depression among teen girls. It also dovetails with research I reported in my book, “iGen,” finding that social media use is more strongly linked to unhappiness among younger teens than older ones.

This suggests another avenue for regulation: age minimums. A 1998 law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule already sets the age minimum for social media accounts at 13. That limit is problematic for two reasons. First, 13 is a developmentally challenging time, right as boys and girls are going through puberty and bullying is at its peak.

Second, the age minimum is not regularly enforced. Kids 12 and under can simply lie about their age to sign up for an account, and they’re rarely kicked off the platform for being underage.

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Twenge is a professor who has written a number of articles and books very critical of American teens’ social media use. She’s really got her teeth into this; it’s probably the worst possible news for Facebook that these documents have leaked in this way.
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Still a good time to understand what’s going on by buying Social Warming, my book on how and why social networks polarise and infuriate us.


We need to talk about Facebook PR guy Andy Stone • Input Mag

Chris Stokel-Walker:

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Stone’s communications style: brash and bitchy. He appears to love bringing the fight to reporters and whistleblowers who dare criticize the company’s actions. A former political communications staffer, he’s been with Facebook since 2014, and has been directly rebutting claims from reporters — to their increasing anger — for at least a year.

As with most of Stone’s tweets, the replies and quote tweets tell their own story.

If Facebook is the evil corporation trying to end the world in the comic book movie telling of our reckoning with big tech, Stone is the hired henchman with a black heart.

In the last 24 hours alone, Stone has gone after the New York Times’ Cecilia Kang, Engadget’s Karissa Bell, Forbes’ Marty Swant, and Protocol’s Issie Lapowsky. However, Stone’s abrasive behavior on social media seems to serve little purpose. It all raises the question: Why?

“I don’t understand what the strategy there could possibly be,” says one experienced public relations professional, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly. “I don’t understand what you gain from taking that kind of attitude with anybody publicly.” A good communications strategy requires building, cultivating, and maintaining relationships with reporters. Turning into a reply guy and calling them out repeatedly, and in the most obnoxious way possible, doesn’t help build those relationships.

“Facebook’s crisis comms on this issue are embarrassingly bad,” says Bob Pickard, principal of Signal Leadership Communication, a C-suite communications consultancy with experience handling public relations for some of the world’s biggest companies, including AstraZeneca, Huawei, Microsoft, and Samsung. “Everyone is talking about Facebook’s poor PR, which is often a proxy for other issues, but I think the comms themselves are indeed crap.”

Pickard points out that the company is already a lightning rod for controversy, and instead of focusing on tackling the criticisms head-on, it’s sinking to discrediting a whistleblower and arguing with reporters. “It’s a breathtakingly bizarre lack of self-knowledge and glaring lack of professional judgment that is making fools of their spokespersons,” says Pickard.

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Why Facebook may be the true “Bad Art Friend” • Vanity Fair

Erin Vanderhoof:

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To delve into this week’s viral piece of long form, Robert Kolker’s New York Times Magazine feature “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?,” beyond the broad strokes—the woman who donated a kidney, the acquaintance who wrote a short story about the act, and the complicated legal battle that ensued—may deny readers the opportunity to use it as a mirror to examine their own sense of morality. But in a single day, it became omnipresent enough as a cautionary tale, fodder for jokes, and a procrastination tool; anyone who has made it this far has probably already come up with a schema for understanding its very real characters and their somewhat baffling motivations.

My own adjudication of the tale was shaped by the many moments of conflict that functioned as on- and off-ramps for sympathy. Are you the type of person who would join a group, any kind of group, called the Chunky Monkeys? (I would not.) Are you the type of person who would donate a kidney to a stranger? (I might, but not, like, randomly.) But there’s one interaction early on that stands out as the biggest Rorschach test for everything that follows: Are you the type of person who would ever confront someone for not reacting to your Facebook posts? I shuddered when the thought of doing so crossed my mind, though I do understand that plenty of people might not see the problem. Regardless, that detail in particular sets the narrative into motion, making it clear that though it might look like a story about community or making art, it’s really a story about Facebook.

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This was my first reaction too. If you haven’t read the Bad Art Friend piece (you haven’t?), it’s a vicious treat like popping bubblewrap where random ones pinch you hard. And note Vanderhoof’s advice: “It’s fine to gossip, but assiduously hide the receipts.”

Also:

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Essentially, Zuckerberg invented a machine that will continually serve you things that you hate from people you feel an obligation to be polite to, and we shouldn’t be surprised that it hasn’t turned out well.

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The founder of Facebook’s CrowdTangle tool is leaving • The Verge

Alex Heath:

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Brandon Silverman, the founder and CEO of the Facebook-owned analytics tool CrowdTangle, is leaving the company, according to an internal farewell post to colleagues posted Wednesday that was seen by The Verge.

His departure comes as Facebook is under pressure to publicly share more data about the content that spreads on its service. CrowdTangle, a free tool that lets anyone track popular posts across Facebook and Instagram, is at the center of that debate. In recent years, it has been used to show that far-right personalities are regularly the most engaged-with accounts on Facebook. That irritated some Facebook executives who felt that the data being shared by CrowdTangle was incomplete, and earlier this year, the CrowdTangle team was disbanded as a standalone team.

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CrowdTangle was a fantastically useful tool for journalists and researchers outside Facebook. This sounds like a clampdown – though he may have been planning this for a very long time.
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The Twitch List: The highest paid streamers on Twitch

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The following list shows how much people are being paid to play video games.

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Top payment: $9.6m. There are 10,000 listed here (probably not exhaustive) with a couple of probably erroneous data points (of payouts of $36m or more).

I checked whether the payouts follow Zipf’s Law – the power law found all over the internet – and yes, they absolutely do: the correlation of log value and log ranking is a straight line – correlation 0.9916.
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One month on, El Salvador’s bitcoin use grows but headaches persist • Reuters

:

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A growing number of El Salvadorans have experimented with bitcoin since the country became the first to adopt it as legal tender last month, with a couple of million dollars sent daily by migrants using the cryptocurrency.

But only a fraction of the Central American nation’s businesses have taken a bitcoin payment and technical problems have plagued the government’s cryptocurrency app, frustrating even committed users of the technology.

Construction worker Adalberto Galvez, 32, said he had lost $220 when trying to withdraw cash from the Chivo digital wallet.

Like Galvez, dozens of Salvadorans told Reuters they had at least one problem with Chivo, named after the local word for “good”, and few had used it on a daily basis.

“It took my money but gave me nothing,” said Galvez, who had already been using bitcoin successfully for months with another application at an experimental small-scale bitcoin economy project dubbed Bitcoin Beach in the coastal town of El Zonte.

…Others have also reported irregularities with transactions and attempts of stolen identity. President Nayib Bukele has blamed high demand for the issues Galvez and others have faced.

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I don’t think stolen identity is a “high demand” issue. Related, sorta: Investors spent millions on ‘Evolved Apes’ NFTs. Then they got scammed.
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Ozy Media employees didn’t get $5.7m in PPP loans: ex-staffers • CNBC

Brian Schwartz and Alex Sherman:

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While it wasn’t uncommon for media companies to participate in the PPP, Ozy specifically earmarked its loans for payroll. Full-time employees who worked for Ozy told CNBC that they had no idea where the money went and that it didn’t go to restoring their salaries after they took pay cuts.

“No one to my knowledge, and I’m talking to at least 10 people. No one had anything returned to them by way of salary post them receiving these PPP loans,” according to a former employee who left Ozy earlier this year.

“I must’ve followed up with [CFO] Samir [Rao] four to six times,” said another with respect to reinstating salary. “It was disheartening. You work so hard and give your life to this company, to be dismissed and disrespected.”

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Rao is the guy who, you’ll recall, pretended to be a YouTube executive on a call that Watson was also on. Watson didn’t say a thing on the call, nor anything until YouTube’s own investigation figured out the fakery. Sometimes though people are able to nail him:

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In an interview broadcast Monday on CNBC, Watson also disputed that he called Sharon Osbourne a friend.

“I didn’t say she was a friend. You know what? Play the tape, then. Please go ahead and play the tape. You know what, cue up the tape,” Watson said Monday.

The tape reveals that Watson did indeed describe the Osbournes as friends during the 2019 interview: “Fun fact: our friend Ozzy and Sharon sued us briefly, and then we decided to be friends and now they’re investors in Ozy.”

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I think the film Memento had a phrase for Watson.
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After Epic v. Apple, a small developer is challenging Apple’s in-app payment system • The Verge

Mitchell Clark:

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The ambiguous finish to the Epic v. Apple trial opened a tiny crack in Apple’s control over in-app payments on the iPhone — and now, a small developer is trying to crawl through it.

A company called Paddle has announced its own in-app payment system that will take a smaller cut than Apple’s system — 5 to 10 percent, instead of the 15 to 30% cut claimed by Apple. It’s a way around the commission fees that started the fight with Epic in the first place and likely to be the beginning of a new fight for developers.

Paddle’s system is designed to take advantage of the Epic v. Apple verdict, which required Apple to allow external payment links. Prior to the verdict, an App Store rule had banned “external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms” — but the judge found that rule violated anti-steering laws. Paddle’s system offers just such an external link, kicking users off to an outside page where they can pay before returning to the app. It definitely adds friction to the process, but it’s a far cry from the workarounds you’d have to go through if you wanted to skirt Apple’s IAP system today.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment as to whether apps using the system would be allowed on the App Store.

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So now the fun starts, especially for popcorn vendors.
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New “Report a Problem” link on product pages • Apple Developer

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Since its introduction, the App Store has supported a way for users to report problems with their apps and purchases, and to request refunds. Now App Store product pages on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey display a “Report a Problem“ link, so users can more easily report concerns with content they’ve purchased or downloaded. This feature is currently available for users in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, and will expand to other regions over time.

In addition, users worldwide can now choose from “Report a scam or fraud” and “Report offensive, abusive, or illegal content” options at reportaproblem.apple.com, and report issues with their apps, including free apps that do not offer in-app purchases.

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I wonder quite how busy the “scam or fraud” button is going to be, and how quickly reports to it will be acted on. Kosta Eleftheriou, who has made a lot of noise over this problem, wonders why it’s only available in a few countries. No obvious answer.
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Snapchat says it will ramp up efforts to detect fentanyl sales on its platform • Boing Boing

Mark Fraunfelder:

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In acknowledging that its platform is being used to sell counterfeit drugs laced with the powerful synthetic opioid fentatnyl, Snap, the parent company of Snapchat said it’s intensifying measures to detect in-app drug deals.

It said in a statement issued today:

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We have significantly improved our proactive detection capabilities to remove drug dealers from our platform before they are able to harm our community. Our enforcement rates have increased by 112% during the first half of 2021, and we have increased proactive detection rates by 260%. Nearly two-thirds of drug-related content is detected proactively by our artificial intelligence systems, with the balance reported by our community and enforced by our team.

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Or, in other words, we’re not as rubbish at stopping this as we used to be!
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Intel not considering UK chip factory after Brexit • BBC News

Daniel Thomas:

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The boss of Intel says the US chipmaker is no longer considering building a factory in the UK because of Brexit.

Pat Gelsinger told the BBC that before the UK left the EU, the country “would have been a site that we would have considered”.

But he added: “Post-Brexit… we’re looking at EU countries and getting support from the EU”.
Intel wants to boost its output amid a global chip shortage that has hit the supply of cars and other goods.

The firm – which is one of the world’s largest makers of semiconductors – says the crisis has shown that the US and Europe are too reliant on Asia for its chip-making needs.

Intel is investing up to $95bn (£70bn) on opening and upgrading semiconductor plants in Europe over the next 10 years, as well as boosting its US output.

But while Mr Gelsinger said the firm “absolutely would have been seeking sites for consideration” in the UK, he said Brexit had changed this.

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No chips, and no fish either following the rubbish Brexit negotiations. (Didn’t honestly have Intel on the Brexit bingo card, but there you go.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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