Tuesday Morning: Garbage in, Garbage out [UPDATE]

Why’d I pick this music video, besides the fact I like the tune? Oh, no reason at all other than it’s trash day again.

Speaking of trash…

Facebook furor just frothy foam?
I didn’t add yesterday’s Gizmodo piece on Facebook’s news curation yesterday or the earlier May 3 piece because I thought the work was sketchy. Why?

  • The entire curation system appears to be contractors — Where is a Facebook employee in this process?

    “…News curators aren’t Facebook employees—they’re contractors. One former team member said they received benefits including limited medical insurance, paid time off after 6 months and transit reimbursement, but were otherwise excluded from the culture and perks of working at Facebook. […] When the curators, hired by companies like BCForward and Pro Unlimited (which are then subcontracted through Accenture to provide workers for Facebook), arrive at work each day, they read through a list of trending topics ranked by Facebook’s algorithm from most popular (or most engaged) to least. The curators then determine the news story the terms are related to.

    The news curation team writes headlines for each of the topics, along with a three-sentence summary of the news story it’s pegged to, and choose an image or Facebook video to attach to the topic. The news curator also chooses the “most substantive post” to summarize the topic, usually from a news website. […] News curators also have the power to “deactivate” (or blacklist) a trending topic—a power that those we spoke to exercised on a daily basis. …” (emphasis mine)

    I see a Facebook-generated algorithm, but no direct employees in the process — only curator-contractors.

  • Sources may have a beef with Facebook — This doesn’t sound like a happy work environment, does it?

    “…Over time, the work became increasingly demanding, and Facebook’s trending news team started to look more and more like the worst stereotypes of a digital media content farm.

    […]

    Burnout was rampant. ‘Most of the original team isn’t there anymore,’ said another former news curator. ‘It was a stop-gap for them. Most of the people were straight out of [journalism school]. At least one of them was fired. Most of them quit or were hired by other news outlets.’ …” (emphasis mine)

    It’s not as if unhappy contractors won’t have newsworthy tips, but what about unhappy Facebook employees? Where are they in either of Gizmodo’s pieces?

  • Details in the reporting reveal bias in the complainant(s) — So far I see one reference to a conservative curator, not multiple conservative curators.

    “Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project.

    […]

    Other former curators interviewed by Gizmodo denied consciously suppressing conservative news, and we were unable to determine if left-wing news topics or sources were similarly suppressed. The conservative curator described the omissions as a function of his colleagues’ judgements; there is no evidence that Facebook management mandated or was even aware of any political bias at work. …”

    Note the use of “a” in front of “former journalist” and “the” in front of “conservative curator.” (Note also Gizmodo apparently needs a spell check app.)

  • No named sources confirming the validity of the complaints or other facts in Gizmodo’s reporting — Again, where are Facebook employees? What about feedback from any of the companies supplying contractors; did they not hear complaints from contractors they placed? There aren’t any apparent attempts to contact them to find out, let alone anonymous confirmation from these contract companies. There are updates to the piece yesterday afternoon and this morning, including feedback from Vice President of Search at Facebook, Tom Stocky, which had been posted at Facebook. Something about the lack of direct or detailed feedback to Gizmodo seems off.
  • Though named in the first of two articles, Facebook’s managing editor Benjamin Wagner does not appear to have been asked for comment. The May 3 piece quotes an unnamed Facebook spokesperson:

    When asked about the trending news team and its future, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We don’t comment on rumor or speculation. As with all contractors, the trending review team contractors are fairly compensated and receive appropriate benefits.”

I’m disappointed that other news outlets picked up Gizmodo’s work without doing much analysis or followup. Reuters, for example, even parrots the same phrasing Gizmodo used, referring to the news curators as “Facebook workers” and not contract employees or contractors. Because of this ridiculous unquestioning regurgitation by outlets generally better than this, I felt compelled to write about my concerns.

And then there’s Gizmodo itself, which made a point of tweeting its report was trending on Facebook. Does Gizmodo have a beef with Facebook, too? Has it been curated out of Facebook’s news feed? Are these two pieces really about Facebook’s laundering of Gizmodo?

I don’t know; I can’t tell you because I don’t use Facebook. Not going to start now because of Gizmodo’s sketchy reporting on Facebook, of all things.

Miscellany
Just some odd bits read because today is as themeless as yesterday — lots of garbage out there.

Skepticism: I haz it
As I read coverage about news reporting and social media leading up to the general election, I also keep in the back of my mind this Bloomberg report, How to Hack an Election:

As for Sepúlveda, his insight was to understand that voters trusted what they thought were spontaneous expressions of real people on social media more than they did experts on television and in newspapers. […] On the question of whether the U.S. presidential campaign is being tampered with, he is unequivocal. “I’m 100 percent sure it is,” he says.

Be more skeptical. See you tomorrow morning!

UPDATE — 1:30 P.M. EDT —

@CNBCnow
JUST IN: Senate Commerce Commtitte chair sends letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg seeking answers on alleged manipulation of trending news

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME WITH THIS? THE SENATE GOING TO WASTE TAX DOLLARS ON THIS WHEN EVERY. SINGLE. NEWS. OUTLET. USES EDITORIAL JUDGMENT TO DECIDE WHAT TO COVER AS NEWS?

Cripes, Gizmodo’s poorly sourced hit piece says,

“…In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. …”

Yet the Senate is going to pursue this bullshit story after Gizmodo relied on ONE conservative curator-contractor — and their story actually says an algorithm is used?

Jeebus. Yet the Senate will ignore Sheldon Adelson’s acquisition of the biggest newspaper in Las Vegas in a possible attempt to denigrate local judges?

I can’t with this.

UPDATE — 3:35 P.M. EDT —
The Guardian reports the senator wasting our tax dollars questioning a First Amendment exercise by Facebook is John Thune. Hey! Guess who’s running for re-election as South Dakota’s senior senator? Why it’s John Thune! Nothing like using your political office as a free press-generating tool to augment your campaign. I hope Facebook’s algorithm suppresses this manufactured non-news crap.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.
27 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    .
    Sorry to be OT in the first comment, but bloopie and I have been having a discussion about high profile athletes, crimes and redemption. Okay, bloopie, imagine yourself a Yankee fan at last night’s game and Chapman is entering the game for the first time as a Yankee after his suspension for domestic violence. How do you react? Like the Yankees fan who shouted (non-ironically, apparently) “We support domestic violence?” Like the one who made comments about what was happening in his pants as Chapman entered the game? Like the writer of the piece linked below who merely kept quiet and didn’t stand? Or like I would have, hurling curses at Chapman while leaving the game and demanding a refund of my ticket price? How much redemption does Chapman deserve?

    http://bronx.locals.baseballprospectus.com/2016/05/10/on-the-chapman-conundrum/

    • bloopie2 says:

      Will reply soon. At office as usual, but for now I need to get some work out the door. (How about that!)

    • bloopie2 says:

      • I’ve read your first post here, and none others yet.
      • I personally don’t cheer or boo athletes for their personal situations, but rather only for their athletic endeavors. Exceptions might be things like cheering for an athlete returning to the field of play after surviving a great medical scare, or such. I think that’s because I go to watch the sporting aspects of a game, and don’t really pay attention to the individuals involved. Like watching a movie—my wife will comment on the actors as people), and I will comment at most on how well they acted—but mostly on the film itself. But athletes? I have enough significant things to care about in my life, and I just don’t care about athletes as people per se.
      • How would I have reacted? Probably mutely. He has been punished (MLB does have the absolute right to do that) and it’s time to move on. There have been no criminal charges; his girlfriend (for whatever reason, I know, I know) chose not to testify against him.
      • I guess one issue underlying it all is the presumption of guilt. Why does one choose to believe her and not him? If there is an allegation of woman on man violence, does one choose to believe the woman? Do we dispense with trials?
      • In that regard, I wonder how the writer of the cited article has knowledge to back up this statement: “A lot of people in the stadium cheered, seemingly not caring about any of his past transgressions.” I am unhappy that she finds him guilty without trial.
      • But I do agree with the writer on this: “People were falling all over themselves to cheer for Chapman as if nothing ever happened, and it was distressing.” I absolutely think they should not have cheered him loudly; it does come off as a horrid affirmation of seeming bad acts. Just (at most) cheer him in to pitch like any other reliever, then move on.
      • He deserves a lot of redemption IF (and that’s a big if) (and I note that I can’t judge this, nor can you or likely anyone else on this blog; there will be only a few people directly involved in his life who can rightfully judge him) he did wrong and has truly repented and changed. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in America (not to mention the rest of the world) who have done a lot worse things than those things he was accused of. Many of them have not redeemed, or whatever, but many have. I believe in forgiveness and second chances.
      • That’s a start.

  2. bevin says:

    There are no two ways about it, Jim: Chapman should be deported.
    To Toronto, where he will be appreciated properly. Provided that he saves about fifty percent, (maybe thirty?) of his games.

    Not serious enough?
    Cooperstown would be a ghost town if baseball players were held to the standards currently being imposed by a society which can’t abide domestic violence charges, but happily swallows massacres from Gaza to Sa’ana.
    Bonds and Clemens cannot make it but dead legends with corpses full of speed and cocaine are honoured.
    Hypocrisy thy name is America.

    • Jim White says:

      .
      Baby steps. Maybe if we get society fully aligned against sports figures being demons we can progress to the demonic political figures.
      .
      And in my defense, I do regularly natter on about impunity for Cheney and Kissinger and how much I look forward to dancing on Cheney’s grave.

      • bevin says:

        I know you do, Jim. And I honour you for it. But the Blue Jays really need bullpen help.

  3. lefty665 says:

    Where the hell was global warming during WWII when sinking the Solomon Islands would have saved Marines lives?
    .
    But wait, we’ve been on max skepticism since Nixon (with the exception of the Carter years). Do we need a super max setting to cope with the Hillary CD Trump campaign?

  4. Rayne says:

    bevin (12:34) — Jeebus. Nice to know where I stand. It’s okay to break law and use me as a punching bag if you’re professional athlete because I’m just collateral and unimportant compared to the entertainment a professional athlete provides.

    You want to know why this country is so fucking hypocritical? Because it treats +51% of its own population like subservient scum. Once it gets away with that, why stop there?

    • bevin says:

      “… In the incident, he was accused of choking his girlfriend and firing eight gunshots. No charges were filed by the police, and his attorney issued a statement denying the allegations…”

      No charges. Allegations denied.
      What is it about Cuba that makes us forget the old rules about innocent until proved guilty. And no imprisonment without charges and conviction?

      By the way, he’d have been treated much worse in “Toronto the Good” where hypocrisy still treasures its old Orange mantle.

  5. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    Aroldis Chapman sounds like a POS, but if you’re looking to sports leagues for moral guidance, you’re looking in the wrong place. Plus with their old and creaky hitters, their now preposterously good bullpen won’t help the Yankees that much.

    I am the only person here who uses the Twitter widget on this site? Could someone please fix that?

    • bloopie2 says:

      Yes, the Twitterverse seems to have taken a hike today. And what’s a Twitter widget, anyway?

  6. Rayne says:

    bevin (2:03) — Uh-huh. So why wasn’t SHE charged with a false crime report?

    I can’t tell you how many times I have heard of rapes committed by athletes which weren’t prosecuted because the system protects them. College athletes especially, if the crime was committed on campus — it’s impossible in some cases if the victims have been intimidated into silence AND the school and state have a “student privacy policy” in place preventing any crime handled by their campus police to be FOIA’d.

    A fake domestic abuse or rape charge is as frequent as voter fraud. The victim is at risk of victimization three times over — the first time, the second time when the abuser punishes them, and the third time when outsiders refuse to believe them and take action and/or choose to shame them.

    As I said in another thread: there are three simple rules in the NFL. 1) Play hard; 2) Don’t cheat; 3) Don’t make them (NFL) look bad. This really could apply to any of the professional sports consortiums. Domestic abusers aren’t precluded from getting other work–they just don’t make their employer look good. Cry me a fucking river if a domestic abuser has to leave and make room for a player who doesn’t run afoul of those three really basic rules.

    • bloopie2 says:

      “I can’t tell you how many times I have heard of rapes committed by athletes which weren’t prosecuted because the system protects them. College athletes especially, if the crime was committed on campus — it’s impossible in some cases if the victims have been intimidated into silence AND the school and state have a “student privacy policy” in place preventing any crime handled by their campus police to be FOIA’d.” Absolutely. The college system for handling these issues is disgraceful and insanely counterproductive. But that’s a tough nut to crack, as far as an equitable solution. I wish there were one.

  7. Rayne says:

    Bitter Angry Drunk (2:05) —
    bloopie2 (2:28) —

    Widget operation isn”t always in our control if there has been a change in code which feeds content. There may be some tinkering going on backend with regard to a recent update and security tweaks. Ignore it as best you can for next 24-48 hours.

    In the mean time, you can check the team”s individual Twitter feeds at:

  8. @emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler)
  9. @bmaz (bmaz)
  10. @JimWhiteGNV (Jim White)
  11. @MasaccioEW (Ed Walker)
  12. @raynetoday (Rayne)
  13. And if something should break this site, this is the alternate/backup.

    • P J Evans says:

      The twitter thing wasn’t working yesterday, either. (Can’t remember if ti was working Sunday.)

    • Bitter Angry Drunk says:

      Thanks. Naturally I can get to these places without the widget, but entering a search term into Google is soooooooooo hard.

      Seriously, I’ve come to really appreciate that feature of the site. Surprised other sites don’t use it.

  14. bloopie2 says:

    Anyhow, pooh on the Yankees, and on watching MLB baseball this early in the season. We’re getting into the meat of the Stanley Cup playoffs, with good games most every night. And when they get to the conference finals, it’s one-and-done (almost) hockey, between top teams, every night for two weeks straight–can’t beat that. Constant action and the game can turn on a dime. That’s my fix.

  15. Rayne says:

    bloopie2 (3:12) — The protection doesn’t end after graduation. It becomes entitlement. Just look at bevin’s attitude–these athletes are entitled no matter their criminal behavior to employment. Ugh.

    P J Evans (3:42) — Wasn’t up yesterday, was up on Sunday. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  16. bloopie2 says:

    At some point we all need to learn to walk in the other person’s shoes. “Sheryl Sandberg salutes single mothers on Facebook: ‘I didn’t get how hard it is.” Us guys need that, especially, I think.

    • Tom in AZ says:

      bloopie2
      The same Guardian article talks about his wife Gisele’s $700 coffee table book, which sold out before its official release. It also pointed out that all the proceeds went to charity. Granted, she is worth the majority of their combined 300 mil or so, but I can’t imagine her letting him slide on this if she didn’t do the same. But I don’t know that.

      And on the domestic violence issue, many of these cases that aren’t prosecuted, involving pro athletes, because their has been a quiet settlement (especially among the non-married relationships), and suddenly the victim is no longer available to the prosecutor’s office. That is generally assumed to be the case with Greg Hardy who was picked up by the Dallas Cowboys after he was cut by Carolina when his case became known. In any case, it sucks for these women anyway, and men who do it suck. He was suspended by the league (and sat out after being picked up by Dallas for 4 games – under the league rules). The way more well known Ray Rice case (because the awful video of his knocking his wife out was released) has ended up with him being suspended for a year, and is still not reinstated. But that may be more a function of his perceived remaining ability to still play, unlike the much younger Hardy. All that said, Ray Rice appears to have become a real and sincere advocate to stop domestic violence, and his wife has stayed with him. She doesn’t appear to be a controlled, intimidated women in public since then. So time will tell.

      Rayne is right about the leagues, violating rule three is their first concern. Even when the league brings some of it on themselves.

  17. Ed says:

    Are you actually surprised about facts not getting in the way of another right-wing-persecution narrative?

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