Facebook’s Algorithm Is Watching You, and 5 Other Stories We Loved in February
Here’s what you missed in marketing, media, and tech while you triple-checked every envelope you sent out this month…
The Atlantic: The Facebook Algorithm Is Watching You
Selected by Joe Lazauskas, editor-in-chief
On the surface, this is a story about Go Rando, a browser extension that randomizes your reactions in order to trick Facebook’s algorithm so it can’t profile you to a dystopian degree. But the real value of the piece comes in the insights from Ben Grosser, an artist and professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who explains why he founded the project:
“I want people to think about who is reading this data. We think of [clicking reaction buttons for the benefit of] our friends, but the primary consumers of this data are not our friends. It’s for the news feed algorithm, advertising message profiling, predictive analytics. All these different systems that are looking to mine this data, hoping to understand our hopes or fears as a way of deciding how to sell us something, as a way of deciding whether we’re dangerous, as a way of deciding whether we’re worthy of getting a loan.”
Facebook is quickly catching up to Google as the most powerful advertising ecosystem on Earth. We’re not just addicted to using Facebook to gather information, like we are with Google; we’re now also addicted to telling Facebook how we feel about that information. That gets a thumbs-up from marketers, but it’s hard to say which reaction emoji the rest of society should use.
The New York Times: How the Trolls Stole Washington
Selected by Erin Nelson, marketing editor
Author Amanda Hess calls upon Jean-Paul Sartre to pinpoint the trouble with trolls. In a 1944 essay titled “Anti-Semite and Jew,” Sartre writes: “[Anti-Semites] delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.”
While embedded in history, the concept of trolling feels like a fresh development in the digital age. Twitter and Facebook are new and fertile grounds for bullies to single out and terrorize vulnerable individuals based on their public profiles. But how does trolling actually work? According to Hess, trolls operate in the space between action and consequences, in the midst of the virtual and the real. They prey on people who hold steadfast morals without remorse, because they are not attached to any principles. The key to a troll’s success, Hess explains, is the ability to work through abstraction, to wreak havoc from the sideline because they don’t fit in. The Trump administration puts those trolls in the center of Washington, removing their fringe anonymity and adding a new layer of scrutiny. The question is, will the White House trolls thrive in a mistrusted media environment or crumble under the spotlight?
Selected by Craig Davis, editorial intern
On February 9, the “rapper” promoted an upcoming Instagram livestream with his fans, and adding insult to injury, used Snapchat to do so. The move exacerbates issues with Snapchat’s consumer base, which has been in decline since the second half of 2016.
Not coincidentally, that slip aligns with the introduction of Instagram’s “Stories” feature last August, which is a direct clone of Snapchat’s “Stories,” right down to the name. According to The Ringer’s Daniel Varghese, this could not come at a worse time for Snapchat, as its parent company, Snap Inc., filed its IPO in early February. “If Instagram Stories is eating away at Snapchat’s views,” Varghese writes, “it’s also reducing its value to ad buyers and potential shareholders.”
While a recent report by New York magazine claims some younger users are rebelling against the copycat move, that does little to shift Snapchat’s momentum as it prepares to go public. And if Snap loses Khaled, it’ll be Instagram singing “All We Do Is Win.”
The Atlantic: Does the Internet Breed Creativity or Destroy It?
Selected by Brittani Turner, content strategy associate
“The internet is the most important storytelling invention since the concept of language,” said Bran Ferren, co-founder of Applied Minds, Inc. The evolution of technology has profoundly impacted our ability to share stories with the world. But the relationship between tech and creativity is debatable. Does the internet really nourish creative thinking?
The Atlantic’s Rosa Inocencio Smith looks at this question through a historical perspective. In 1945, engineer Vannevar Bush concluded that technology mimicking human logic and memory could transform the way we think. Fast-forward to the present, and we’d rather let Google search for answers than dig through fields of saturated content ourselves.
“From the beginning,” Inocencio Smith writes, “one great benefit of the internet was that it brought people in contact not just with information, but with other people’s ideas.” Personally, I believe the internet can nurture our creativity, but only if we are conscientious of when it becomes a distraction.
The New Yorker: Why Is Snap Calling Itself a Camera Company?
Selected by Jordan Teicher, managing editor
New companies have trouble fitting into traditional definitions. Many of them, Contently included, blend some form of software and services. Other brands add physical products into the equation, which makes classifying them about as complicated as trying to explain the appeal of Snapchat to baby boomers.
Snap Inc. has been dealing with that lack of clarity for some time as executives keep telling everyone it is a camera company. But that didn’t slow it down from filing an IPO that values the company north of $20 billion. Om Malik, tech writer for The New Yorker, pushes past the hype to figure out how Snap’s identity crisis connects to everything from augmented reality to QR codes. “The possibilities that come with thinking about the camera as a portal into the realm of information and services are attractive not only to Snap but also to every other big player in the tech world,” he writes. “Yes, Snap is a camera company. It’s just that the camera isn’t a camera anymore.”
The Atlantic: Why Nothing Works Anymore
Selected by Kristen Poli, content strategist
If you’re like me and have often felt personally victimized by the sensors in public restroom sinks (why don’t they see me!?), you’ll find some strange relief reading Ian Bogost’s latest piece for The Atlantic.
In “Why Nothing Works Anymore,” Bogost posits that tech-for-tech’s sake is taking over the world, sacrificing user experience and simplicity in favor of efficiencies that boost corporate bank accounts. We’re left with uncertainty and a lingering feeling that we’re losing our collective common sense. As marketers and technologists, it’s our job to develop things that make life easier and better for people—and to call out others when they slip up.Image by Unsplash / CC Zero