Social media: Did fake news help swing the election?
“Donald Trump won because of Facebook,” said Max Read in NYMag.com. Even as dogged investigative journalists uncovered story after story about the Republican nominee’s corruption, misogyny, and business incompetence during the campaign, patently fake news stories slanted in Trump’s favor circulated widely on the social network. Bogus articles about Pope Francis endorsing Trump or the Clinton Foundation buying $137 million in illegal guns were shared hundreds of thousands—if not millions— of times; many originated from shady fringe websites and quickly went viral. In one of the stranger storylines, Macedonian teenagers looking to make a buck on web ads created at least 140 mostly pro-Trump U.S. politics websites, which churned out hundreds of fake news stories shared widely on Facebook. The social network isn’t the only offender when it comes to viral misinformation, but it’s by far the most significant. Forty-four percent of all adults in the U.S. say they get news from their Facebook newsfeed. “Access to an audience of that size would seem to demand some kind of civic responsibility.”
Facebook is just now coming to grips with is role in the election, said Mike Isaac in The New York Times. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly defended the social network as an unbiased distributor of information, calling the notion that it swung the election “a pretty crazy idea.” But behind closed doors, the company is said to be embroiled in a fierce debate about “what its responsibilities might be” regarding the spread of blatant falsehoods. An episode in May that involved Facebook editors censoring conservative trending stories may have “paralyzed Facebook’s willingness” to do anything about fake news that might appear to have political bias. Facebook and Twitter have long insisted that they aren’t media companies, said Adrienne LaFrance in TheAtlantic.com. They’ve positioned themselves as neutral platforms and avoided tricky questions about facts and fairness. Perhaps Trump’s shock victory “will be a turning point.”
“The truth is more unsettling,” said Charlie Warzel in BuzzFeed.com. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter “functioned exactly as designed” this election season. They reflected the angry national mood and gave voice “to a previously unheard constituency.” Trump and his alt-right supporters used many of the same online tactics as the Arab Spring movement and Black Lives Matter. It just so happens it was in the service of a cause many people find repugnant. “If you’re blaming Facebook for the results of this election, you’re an idiot,” said Mike Masnick in Recode.net. Social media didn’t create the widespread dissatisfaction that Trump fed on; it merely reflected it. “People are angry because the system has failed them in many, many ways, and it’s not because they believed all the fake news Facebook pushed on them.”
Innovation of the week
A simple iPad attachment can create a 3-D model of your home within minutes, said Pete Pachal in Mashable.com. Structure Sensor, a 3-D scanner that attaches to tablets and smartphones, recently received a big upgrade that allows professional contractors to quickly scan an entire room in “incredible detail.” With a new app called Canvas, Structure Sensor can automatically measure a room, from the length of furniture to the distance from floor to ceiling, and convert it into a detailed technical drawing complete with labels, saving time and money. “Most remodeling projects—you’re looking at seven hours of measurement time, and it’s even more time to take those measurements and build a model,” said Alex Schiff, a product manager for Structure Sensor. “With Canvas, you take the scan, you upload it, and two days later you have something that’s ready to design.”
Bytes: What’s new in tech
A data startup’s election hiccups
VoteCastr, a technology startup promising real-time predictions on Election Day, got off to a “rocky start” last week, said Alexandra Alter in The New York Times. “In an unprecedented experiment, VoteCastr teamed up with Slate and Vice News to publish projections hours before the polls closed,” largely by keeping close watch on voter turnout in key swing states. But problems emerged almost as soon as voting began. First, technical glitches kept the VoteCastr site from being updated early in the day. Embarrassing corrections followed; at one point, the startup’s Nevada projections erroneously included Green Party nominee Jill Stein, who wasn’t on the ballot in the state. “The hiccups were met with scorn” by critics, who warned that misleading projections could affect voter turnout. VoteCastr says it’s examining how its calculations went wrong, and hopes to retool for future Election Days.
Turn your car into a Wi-Fi hot spot
Mobile carriers are competing to take your car wireless, said Aaron Pressman in Fortune.com. T-Mobile recently unveiled a “small wireless plug-in” called SyncUp Drive that can turn any car into a Wi-Fi hot spot, as well as monitor the vehicle’s performance. “The move comes as growth in the wireless phone business is slowing dramatically, and carriers are looking to new areas for adding revenue.” AT&T and Verizon both sell connected car services. But unlike T-Mobile, AT&T offers Wi-Fi and car monitoring through separate devices, while Verizon’s Hum plug-in only has car monitoring. Industrywide, some 55 percent of all new connections this year were for cars and other Internet of Things devices, up from 30 percent just two years ago.
Beware fake shopping apps
“Hundreds of fake retail and product apps have popped up in Apple’s App Store in recent weeks—just in time to deceive holiday shoppers,” said Vindu Goel in The New York Times. Counterfeiters masquerading as retailers like Dillard’s and Foot Locker, as well as luxury brands like Christian Dior, have been appearing every day, despite Apple’s “Whac-AMole”– like efforts to shut them down. Many of the faux apps appear to be “relatively harmless,” serving up annoying pop-up ads, but they could also be used to infect your smartphone with malware or steal credit card data. Watch for red flags, “such as nonsensical menus written in butchered English, no reviews, and no history of previous versions.”