Need to Know: Nov. 4, 2019

Fresh useful insights for people advancing quality, innovative and sustainable journalism 


You might have heard: Twitter to ban all political advertising, raising pressure on Facebook (The Guardian)

But did you know: A Facebook fact-checker will propose a possible solution to the company’s false ad debacle (CNN)

Lead Stories, one of six American fact-checking organizations in Facebook’s fact-checking program, plans to propose a change to the social network’s much-criticized policy of allowing false information in political ads. Lead Stories’ proposal would allow fact-checkers to vet politicians’ ads, with the fact checks subject to review by a nonpartisan panel. Lead Stories co-founder and editor-in-chief Alan Duke told CNN that if Facebook passes on the idea, his organization will independently fact-check political ads and will consider creating the independent review panel with other organizations.

+ Earlier: Among the critics of Facebook’s policy are hundreds of the company’s employees, who penned a letter last week opposing the social network’s position on political ads.

+ Noted: GateHouse Media CEO Kirk Davis to leave just ahead of the merger with Gannett (Dan Kennedy); WHYY workers vote to join union (Current); Media company The Chernin Group exploring sale of Barstool Sports (The Big Lead); OZY Media raises $35 million as it shifts focus from magazine to television (Axios)


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How to prepare now for your Election Day news coverage (Journalist’s Resource)

Election Day is usually a fast-paced day for newsrooms, and that’s just one reason why doing some prep work is so valuable. One way to get ahead of the story comes from ProPublica election reporter Jessica Huseman, who recommends journalists meet their local election administrator before the polls open. This conversation can be an opportunity to become familiar with voting machines and get an idea of common problems that occur during elections. “This will allow you to tell the difference between a real problem a voter might face that is out of the ordinary, and a humdrum problem voters face frequently that the county is likely equipped to deal with,” Huseman said.


Undercover reporter reveals life in a Polish troll farm (The Guardian)

For six months, reporter Katarzyna Pruszkiewicz worked undercover at Cat@Net, a company that sells itself as a PR and marketing company. In reality, the firm tasked each employee with running about a dozen left and rightwing social media accounts, as managers assigned specific topics to post about. Some of Pruszkiewicz’s anonymous accounts promoted Poland’s state broadcaster, TVP, which critics have described as an extension of Poland’s ruling party. Facebook said that during the first three months of this year, the company disabled more than 2 billion fake accounts, but the European Commission appeared skeptical that significant progress had been made.

+ Earlier: Poland’s state media Is government’s biggest booster before election (The New York Times)


What Google’s search engine change means for publishers (What’s New In Publishing)

Over the last few months, Google has updated its search algorithm to better understand the intent of search queries by examining words in context with each other in a sentence. This update, rooted in machine learning, will apply in particular to conversational queries and those that use prepositions that alter meaning. The change, which could impact rankings for 1 in 10 search queries, will nullify “keyword stuffing,” the attempt to improve search ranking by cramming text with keywords. However, Google doesn’t expect the new algorithm to change search traffic to large publishers.

+ Proposed law requires platforms to allow opt-outs from personalized content (Media Post) 


The trouble with TikTok (Politico Magazine)

As journalists experiment with brand-building on TikTok, Michael J. Socolow, associate professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine, has a warning about the platform. Socolow writes that journalists shouldn’t use TikTok, the most downloaded iOS store app, because of its track record for political censorship. Bytedance, Tiktok’s Chinese parent company, previously blocked videos that mentioned Tiananmen Square and the independence of Tibet and Taiwan, and content moderators in the United States were told to hide political videos even if they weren’t connected to China.

+ Earlier: TikTok’s local moderation guidelines ban pro-LGBT content (The Guardian)

+ Think you’re anonymous online? A third of popular websites are “fingerprinting” you. (The Washington Post)


‘Data voids’ have opened a door to manipulators and other disinformation pushers (Nieman Lab)

Last year, Michael Golebiewski of Microsoft coined the term “data void” to refer to situations when search engines deliver few or no results because a term is rare or seldom searched. A recent report from Data & Society pins down the ways that data voids can be exploited to increase search users’ exposure to misinformation. For instance, when terms become outdated, journalists stop using them, but people continue to search for the terms, which “creates an opening for manipulators to produce content that exploits search engines’ dependence on freshness.” Data voids also come up during breaking news events, when there isn’t much content available yet on the topic at hand.