April 10, 2018

In the past few weeks, both Facebook and YouTube have come up with a similar solution to some of their thornier problems.

On a day when Mark Zuckerberg has to face questions from U.S. members of Congress, this particular explanation seems so easy.

Let Wikipedia do it.

Last month, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced a partnership with Wikipedia in which the online encyclopedia’s content on conspiracy theories would go alongside YouTube videos on such matters. Wikipedia, she said, would sort out these conspiracy videos, which have plagued the video service.

It was the first that Wikipedia had heard of such a partnership.

Last week, with more warning, Facebook rolled out a part of an initiative to increase news verification with descriptions of a particular news source, taken from Wikipedia.

Oh, Apple is leaning on Wikipedia, too. If you use an iPhone and plug in a name on the default search bar, chances are the “Siri knowledge” is actually from Wikipedia. Or, hey Alexa, even many of the facts on your smart speaker may be from Wikipedia, says Samantha Lien, a spokesperson for the Wikimedia Foundation.

The idea that Google’s YouTube would dump one of its most contentious issues — conspiracy theories — on Wikipedia without warning caused some consternation in the Wikipedia community, as has the general issue of other platforms using its content wholesale as a Band-Aid for their own lack of editorial oversight.

Will the increasing exposure to YouTube conspiracy theorists increase the burden on Wikipedia’s volunteer editors? Will the platforms send new hordes to Wikipedia without contributing to its sustainability? Around the Wikimedia Foundation lately, "The Lorax” — the Dr. Seuss character who tries to protect the natural environment amid rampaging industrialism — has been referenced, Lien says.

Others are less polite, using terms that news providers might understand when they feel taken advantage of by the platforms.

“That Google, a company with a market capitalization of three-quarters of a trillion dollars, is enlisting a volunteer-created nonprofit organization as a bulwark for truth on its wildly popular video-sharing service is yet more evidence of how the Internet has become a hostage to the priorities of profit-obsessed, hyper-individualistic Silicon Valley companies,” author Noam Cohen wrote for the Washington Post.

Although Wikipedia is the fifth biggest site online, the nonprofit is puny amid the tech giants. Its latest annual budget is just $76.8 million, Lien says. It gets about $50,000 each in employee matching gift donations from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple, and Google donated more than $1 million in the past fiscal year to the Wikimedia Foundation, Lien said. Unlike Facebook, Google has been a longtime regular and significant donor to Wikipedia initiatives such as its annual conference and a WikiData project underway in Germany, says Andrew Lih, author of “The Wikipedia Revolution.”

Wikipedia, once derided for inaccuracy, has now become so respected as to be considered, in Cohen’s term, “the good cop of the internet.” The increasing reliance upon it by the platforms is prompting a move toward a summit with Wikipedia and the tech companies in the next few months, says Lih.

The trick is not to become over-reliant on tech company funding and keep Wikipedia for all, says Lih. The vast bulk of the nonprofit’s budget comes from 6 million annual donors, with a median donation of $15, Lien says.

'Trump,' in context

For 20 years, PBS FRONTLINE has published transcripts of each of its documentaries, and extended interview transcripts from many of them.

For “Trump’s Takeover,” its documentary tonight at 10 (Eastern), FRONTLINE is giving its digital viewers the chance to go deeper in the video to find the context of key quotes.

"How do you reverse-engineer a documentary?” FRONTLINE executive producer Raney Aronson-Rath asks. In this case, she says, “the expansion is text.”

For example, here’s what happens when Corey Lewandowski says the Trump campaign had little interest in 2016 in seeking endorsements from politicians in Washington because “they’re the ones who have had Washington broken for the past 30 years.” A digital viewer will see a  “Read this quote in context” highlight that comes on the left part of the screen.

When it’s clicked, a viewer goes directly to the transcript to see how this quote came about and where the conversation went from there, says Aronson-Rath.

It looks like this:

The digital experimentation in “Trump’s Takeover” represents the second stage of Aronson-Rath’s effort at radical transparency for the venerated documentary series. In “Putin’s Revenge,” aired just before the elections last fall, FRONTLINE posted 70 hours of video from its 56 interviews on the Russian leader and the Trump-Clinton election.

Aronson-Rath’s audience, balanced between conservative and liberal, digital and broadcast, wants to go deeper, she says. “How do we bring an audience underneath the hood of how we practice journalism” to build trust? Aronson asks. “We're open to being challenged."

Stormy night

The FBI raid on the office, home and hotel room of Michael Cohen, the Trump lawyer who paid off a porn star just before the 2016 elections, set a number of wheels in motion late Monday:

  • The Washington Post reported that Cohen is under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations, according to three people with knowledge of the case.
  • Trump had a late-night tirade before reporters, saying that the raid was "an attack on our country" and musing that he might fire special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III, who has obtained guilty pleas and cooperation from Trump officials for testimony in his inquiry. The tirade, annotated.
  • A specialist on white collar criminal law said that getting the sign-off for such a raid indicated that prosecutors demonstrated "not only the gravity of the potential case but also the risk that evidence might be destroyed or otherwise go missing if they pursued a less aggressive option."

Zuck Day: All apologies? 

First, the Facebook CEO apologized. He held a warmup Monday with leaders of Congress, including one who said that Mark Zuckerberg is “serious” this time.

Author Zeynep Tufekci says Congress shouldn’t waste its time with Zuckerberg in what promises to be a media circus today. Zuckerberg has a history of apologies, she writes, and Congress already knows what kind of laws to pass “that would protect us from what Facebook has unleashed.”

When an apology isn't enough: Non-government organizations point to Facebook's role in ethnic cleansing in Myanmar and the flight of 650,000 people.

Here's the Washington Post's annotated version of Zuckerberg's opening statement before Congress on Wednesday, already released.

Related: Who runs the biggest Black Lives Matter Facebook page? An Australian-based scammer who may have taken some of the $100,000 in donations, CNN reports.

Quick hits

SINCLAIR UPDATE: Over the weekend, Allied Progress, which bills itself as a consumer watchdog group, purchased six-figure ad buys on some major Sinclair stations criticizing the broadcasting company for requiring its anchors to read identical scripts decrying fake news. But unknown to them, Sinclair chose to “bookend” the ads with its own warning not to “buy into the hysteria and hype.” Poynter’s Al Tompkins has the details. … Poynter ethics chair Indira Lakshmanan minces no words; Sinclair’s missteps amount to what she calls a “journalism ethics train wreck.” … The National Press Photographers Association, which had issued a statement on the promos last week and saw a pledged donation from Sinclair evaporate, reports it has now received individual donations totaling more than $11,000. … And the creator of that Deadspin video showing all the Sinclair anchors in unison? He really didn’t mean to start a media war, he says. He just found it creepy.

QUIT: Conservative Sinclair commentator Jamie Allman, after threatening to sexually assault Parkland survivor David Hogg.


CORRECTED: The Associated Press, after a misleading story about a graphic accompanying a story on Howard Kurtz's Fox News show.

YOU CAN CHECK OUT ANY TIME YOU LIKE, BUT…: The right-wing media thrives on outraging liberals, says Elizabeth Bruenig. Here's the problem, she says: Those who are good at it, such as Kevin Williamson, have disqualifying material in archives if they want to move on to more mainstream publications.

HE HIT HIS NUMBERS. HE'S OUT: Talented Gizmodo Group CEO Raju Narisetti leaves following the departure of higher-ups from Univision units and a consultant’s recommendation of massive cuts. Narisetti, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal executive who is on the board of the Wikimedia Foundation, saw record audiences for many of his sites, which include Deadspin, Lifehacker, Jalopnik, the Onion, the Root and Splinter. In an eloquent goodbye note, Narisetti said the staff succeeded without a pivot, and without mortgaging its business model to third-party social media platforms. He told staffers to keep focusing "on our growing audiences, and keep creating meaningful differences than better sameness." Also: “Remember that it is a lot harder to be kind than clever."

THEY’RE ALL BOTS ON TWITTER: Automated accounts post two-thirds of the tweets linking to popular accounts on Twitter, the Pew Research Center says. This chart has a breakdown.

DISPLACED: That’s the name of a new Vox Media weekly podcast starting today, done in partnership with the International Rescue Committee. It's first guest: Madeleine Albright. The theme: humanitarian crises are affecting more people now than at any point since World War II — what’s at stake, what solutions could be found and just who, exactly, are these people?

SPEAKING OF WHICH: Between airstrikes in beleaguered Yemen, this couple chose to get married. “He kissed my forehead, and we went into the the Arabian Room," bride Summer Nasser said. "We got to have our time.” But not a lot of time. Read or hear it, via Stephen Snyder of PRI’s The World.

Newlyweds. Courtesy/Summer Nasser

CHANGING DIRECTION: Mark Glaser is laying off most of his staff and cutting back on his 12-year-old Media Shift suite of services to help journalists keep up with changing technology and audience tools. Suspended: His daily and weekly newsletters, the weekly podcast and Education and Metric verticals and newsletters. Glaser says he will re-focus on training and studio work for clients.  

NAMED: Michael Clemente, ex-Fox News executive vice president, named CEO of broadcasting division of Christopher Ruddy's conservative Newsmax.

HIRED: Astead Herndon, Washington bureau reporter for the Boston Globe, is joining the New York Times in May, with a focus on the midterm elections. The hire was announced by the NYT’s (and former Globe journalists) Patrick Healy and Carolyn Ryan. Here’s Herndon talking about why he’s committed to helping young journalists.

What we’re reading

A TRIUMPH FOR EQUAL PAY: Women can’t be paid less than men based on their previous salary, a U.S. appeals court ruled Monday. Using a woman’s previous salary as an excuse for paying her less than a man is in itself illegal and a violation of the 1963 law abolishing discrimination in pay, the court ruled. Via Quartz and AP.

MARIE COLVIN: The veteran American foreign correspondent was reporting on civilian casualties in Syria. Forces of the nation's Russian-backed president tracked satellite transmissions, defectors say, and assassinated her in 2012. The disclosure of the Assad's regime's involvement came in a U.S. court. Two years ago, Bashar Assad told a TV interviewer that Colvin was responsible for her own death because she had entered the country illegally.

McMASTER PULLING NO PUNCHES: "Expose those who glamorize and apologize in the service of communist, authoritarian and repressive governments,” says Trump’s former national security adviser. By Fred Hiatt.

PROFILE OF A 'FAKE NEWS' CREATOR: He makes his living telling lies on the Internet. He targets: 1) People over 50. 2) People who like Sean Hannity. 3) People who like Trump. They're gullible to his "fake news," he tells reporter Billy Baker, because it backs their prejudiced beliefs.

FOREVER HOME: The lost terrier whose antics prompted a Boston Globe “children’s book” has a new owner. A 68-year-old widower emerged with the pet, with the animal control officer impressed that he’d had terriers in the past and lived in a hard-to-escape city apartment. “She needed somebody,” says the new owner, “and she found me.”

The cute doggie who inspired a "children's book," before her new owner took her to freedom. (Screenshot)


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