Kinzen's Weekly Wrap - October 8, 2021

First off, I wanted to extend my congratulations to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov after they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today. It's in recognition of their "efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace." Hear hear.

This week has been dominated by fallout from the testimony of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, and the failings of the world’s biggest social media platform.

By contrast, it was also the week Google and YouTube chose to set out their stall on misinformation, albeit in the more controlled setting of the ‘Fighting Misinformation Online’ summit, which they sponsored.

You can watch the full conference here. Or scroll to the highlights, as chosen by our CEO Mark Little, who attended the event:

This was a fascinating, if slickly produced, mix of European perspectives. It’s not often we see platforms, regulators, fake-checkers, policy makers and journalists in such close proximity - and with a distinctly non-US focus.

As always, I was particularly impressed by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (about 30 minutes in) who pointed to public frustration with ‘f*ke news’ emanating from mainstream news publishers and elite politicians, and the outsized role of fringe superspreaders of online misinformation. Important reminders that misinformation is often a top-down problem.

Google’s Director of Trust and Safety, Amanda Storey, gave a tight and useful summary of how the tech giant defines the misinformation challenge, works with key collaborators and distinguishes between different categories of action it can take (she speaks at 1 hour and 30 minutes). 

If you were looking for a serious interrogation of big tech, this was not your event. But there was plenty of key insight from the evolving network of actors developing a European response to misinformation

Editor’s Pick: Book Slot

Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet by Tim Hwang is a short little book packed full of big ideas. He argues that programmatic advertising is ineffective. If so, the business model for so much of what we expect for free on the internet today is shaky. 

A central question he asks is, does advertising work? Before jumping to agree or disagree, it’s worth reading his argument in full and reflecting on it. If he’s right, then the business model of platforms - a model which is often blamed for the ills of disinformation and polarisation - is in for a big shock. But bubbles that burst cause collateral damage. So Hwang argues for a “controlled demolition” of the programmatic advertising industry. 

Recommended Articles: From the Kinzen Slack channels this week

Stratechery. Facebook Political Problems

Ben Thompson provides a typically thoughtful response to the position Facebook finds itself in, after another difficult week in the media headlines. This is because, of course, the whistleblower Frances Haugen and her revelations in The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files. Thompson takes a step back and takes a broad perspective on Facebook as a whole. I’m not sure if I agree with everything in here, but it’s a compelling and worthwhile read.

Mux. You either die an MVP or live long enough to build content moderation

Mux, a video API for developers, explains how if you’re building something that enables people to communicate you will either develop moderation policies and enforcement, or no one will want to use your app.  

AP. Doctors grow frustrated over COVID-19 denial, misinformation

Yet another example of the offline impact of online misinformation here.

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