Domino’s Instagram Is Gross

The Domino’s feed is not appetizing by any objective measure. But if you look at it long enough, over enough time, the cadence of grotesqueness begins to sink in. The studio lighting and Photoshop-enhanced pepperoni of Papa John’s and Pizza Hut start to look like the culinary equivalent of a French manicure and a spray tan. Fake.

Instead of employing professional photographers, Domino’s relies on its digital marketing team to update the social media feeds. The cinema verité approach began in 2012, when Domino’s launched the Show Us Your Pizza Campaign, and shared the (often ugly) food photos taken by its customers. After that, the aesthetic just stuck. And today, the pizzas Domino’s photographs are all real, either pulled from a test kitchen oven, or delivered by an employee, no food stylist required. And, clearly, there’s no sweating the need for natural light or perfect post-processing by Domino’s employees who will sometimes even take photographs in their own suburban homes. Domino’s is a living embodiment of a #nofilter brand.

Domino’s Instagram Is Gross. That’s By Design

Tagging fake news on Facebook doesn’t work

Jason Schwartz for Politico:

Facebook touts its partnership with outside fact-checkers as a key prong in its fight against fake news, but a major new Yale University study finds that fact-checking and then tagging inaccurate news stories on social media doesn’t work.

The study, reported for the first time by POLITICO, found that tagging false news stories as “disputed by third party fact-checkers” has only a small impact on whether readers perceive their headlines as true. Overall, the existence of “disputed” tags made participants just 3.7 percentage points more likely to correctly judge headlines as false, the study said.

This is particularly disappointing:

The researchers also found that, for some groups—particularly, Trump supporters and adults under 26—flagging bogus stories could actually end up increasing the likelihood that users will believe fake news.

You are the product

John Lanchester:

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality. Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them. Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook.

I finally got round to reading this—I currently, and temporarily, have a lot of free time on my hands, so I’m reading everything—and it’s fantastic. Recommended reading for anyone interested in the nascent subject of web platforms (in fact this piece is reminiscent at times of John Herrman, who is currently the writer of the most interesting and relevant articles on the topic).

Data reporting links from NICAR17

Chrys Wu has a comprehensive list of talks and resources from NICAR17—the conference for the (U.S.) National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.

Some that jumped out at me as being particularly useful and/or interesting:

Photoshop yourself into a celebrity’s Instagram feed

Until a few minutes ago, I didn’t know who Kendall Jenner was, but it appears she’s a Kardashian clan celebrity. Superfan Kirby Jenner (which may not be his real name) runs an Instagram account where he Photoshops himself into Kendall’s pictures, and it’s absolutely hilarious:

 

Confessions of an Instagram Influencer

On Bloomberg, Max Chafkin (with a little help from a couple of agencies) turns himself into one of those horrible Instagram lifestyle/fashion brand-human-hybrids:

A week later, after a haircut the price and duration of which I refuse to share, I met Marcel Floruss and Nathan McCallum, two of Socialyte’s professional clients, at Lord & Taylor to borrow some outfits. The two men are opposites in almost every way. McCallum is compact and favors ripped jeans and piercings, and Floruss is lanky and clean-cut. Both are cartoonishly handsome, and both (I noticed this later when I checked out their Instagram work) have amazing abdominal muscles. “Constantly,” Floruss said, when I asked him how often he takes pictures of himself. “You sell part of your soul. Because no matter what beautiful moment you enjoy in your life, you’re going to want to take a photo and share it. Distinguishing between when is it my life and when am I creating content is a really big burden.”

[…]

By dinnertime, I’d posted a second picture and had acquired a few dozen likes and roughly three followers. That’s actually not bad for somebody with an almost nonexistent presence on Instagram, but it was discouraging to me, because I would need at least 5,000 followers to have any hope of making money. That night, I signed up for a service recommended to me by Socialyte called Instagress. It’s one of several bots that, for a fee, will take the hard work out of attracting followers on Instagram. For $10 every 30 days, Instagress would zip around the service on my behalf, liking and commenting on any post that contained hashtags I specified. (I also provided the bot a list of hashtags to avoid, to minimize the chances I would like pornography or spam.) I also wrote several dozen canned comments—including “Wow!” “Pretty awesome,” “This is everything,” and, naturally, “[Clapping Hands emoji]”—which the bot deployed more or less at random. In a typical day, I (or “I”) would leave 900 likes and 240 comments. By the end of the month, I liked 28,503 posts and commented 7,171 times.

Cooperation against fake news

I’ve spent the past few days reading almost exclusively about the rise, dissemination and impact of fake news.

It’s not a new topic—I’ve enjoyed reading John Hermann, Mike Caulfield, Caitlin Dewey and Jeff Jarvis (among others) for some time. But Trump’s victory has turned it from a curiosity into a dangerous force.

Jarvis has co-written a list of 15 suggestions for platforms to adopt or investigate. This stands out to me as particularly important:

Create a system for media to send metadata about their fact-checking, debunking, confirmation, and reporting on stories and memes to the platforms. It happens now: Mouse over fake news on Facebook and there’s a chance the related content that pops up below can include a news site or Snopes reporting that the item is false. Please systematize this: Give trusted media sources and fact-checking agencies a path to report their findings so that Facebook and other social platforms can surface this information to users when they read these items and — more importantly — as they consider sharing them. Thus we can cut off at least some viral lies at the pass. The platforms need to give users better information and media need to help them. Obviously, the platforms can use such data from both users and media to inform their standards, ranking, and other algorithmic decisions in displaying results to users.

These linked data connections are not difficult to implement but they won’t happen without us asking for them. Platforms simply aren’t interested.

Same for this idea, also on the list:

Make the brands of those sources more visible to users. Media have long worried that the net commoditizes their news such that users learn about events “on Facebook” or “on Twitter” instead of “from the Washington Post.” We urge the platforms, all of them, to more prominently display media brands so users can know and judge the source — for good or bad — when they read and share. Obviously, this also helps the publishers as they struggle to be recognized online.

A key issue that Caulfield has repeatedly noted is that Facebook doesn’t really care whether you read articles that are posted; just whether you react to them, helping the platform learn more about you, in order to improve its ad targeting:

Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t think the content is the main dish. Instead, it monetizes other people’s content. The model of Facebook is to try to use other people’s external content to build engagement on its site. So Facebook has a couple of problems.

First, Facebook could include whole articles, except for the most part they can’t, because they don’t own the content they monetize. (Yes, there are some efforts around full story embedding, but again, this is not evident on the stream as you see it today). So we get this weird (and think about it a minute, because it is weird) model where you get the headline and a comment box and if you want to read the story you click it and it opens up in another tab, except you won’t click it, because Facebook has designed the interface to encourage you to skip going off-site altogether and just skip to the comments on the thing you haven’t read.

Second, Facebook wants to keep you on site anyway, so they can serve you ads. Any time you spend somewhere else reading is time someone else is serving you ads instead of them and that is not acceptable.

The more I read about this, the more dispirited I become. The those of us who care about limiting fake news need to gather around a set of ideas and actions—Jarvis’s list is the best we have so far.

Instagram’s feed algorithm

Alex Parker on Medium discussing How Instagram’s algorithm is holding us captive:

Let’s be honest: the algorithm serves advertisers. Instagram is a free service, and it needs to make money. For years, it was free of advertisements. Then it had a few. Now, every few posts is sponsored. To tell the truth, I don’t mind the ads. They aren’t intrusive, they’re easy to scroll past, and I’m all for something I like finding ways to be sustainable. A business has to make money.

But why does it have to be at the expense of users and their enjoyment of a product?

[…]

As a journalist, who has a real-time Twitter feed inches from my face most hours of the day, I know I’m not the typical social media user (I’m also older than the average Instagram user, but age is just a number, right?). But because I use social networks so much, I want them to respond to my needs, rather than treating me like a captive pawn.

Parker is arguing that, as a heavy user, he should have a real-time view of what’s happening on Instagram. I can understand this—I exclusively use Tweetbot for Twitter so that I am always seeing posts in reverse-chronological order.

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed’s Mat Honan and Alex Kantrovitz interviewed Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom. The timeline came up, along with questions about real-time viewing:

Nowhere in our mission is it about being real-time. I don’t think we are focused on making sure you have a news feed of an unfolding event in real-time view. And I think that’s okay. You should still see rainbows, generally, together — especially if they’re good rainbows, in which case the best ones will rise to the top.

That’s OK, I guess, but it would be helpful to have an option to change the order. This wouldn’t need to affect advertising.

He also shared some other ways they thought about implementing ephemerality for what would become Instagram Stories:

As we dug into our user studies, I realized very quickly that we had to find a solution that made it so you didn’t have to post your profile,” Systrom explained. “After some tests, we added a check box that said ‘expire from my profile’ or ‘don’t post to my profile.’ But no one understood why they would do that.

I rarely ever look at the stories posted by people I follow—which are dominated by a handful of heavy users—and seldom post to my own. I’d be interested to find out usage rates across the 500m active users.

‘Link in bio’ on Instagram

Alyssa Bereznak, for The Ringer, discusses the inability to add links in Instagram posts, and the community’s semi-popular workaround:

Take a moment to think about that. A network that hosts millions of people won’t let them do something that is second nature for digital natives. So its users have concocted their own clunky loophole to get around the problem. It’s as if there were a permanent snowstorm in a city, and the mayor refused to clear the sidewalks. Inevitably, pedestrians would just stomp out their own inelegant roundabout paths to navigate the dirty, urine-filled slush.

Anecdotally: when I’ve (reluctantly) used this tactic on our company’s Instagram account, very few people have followed the link compared to the number of likes and comments on the post. I’m not sure it’s worth the bother. Instagram will roll out usable links to organic posts before too long, I’d wager.

Facebook’s takeover of political media

The always-excellent John Herrman, for the New York Times:

For now, the network hums along, mostly beneath the surface. A post from a Liberty Alliance page might find its way in front of a left-leaning user who might disagree with it or find it offensive, and who might choose to engage with the friend who posted it directly. But otherwise, such news exists primarily within the feeds of the already converted, its authorship obscured, its provenance unclear, its veracity questionable. It’s an environment that’s at best indifferent and at worst hostile to traditional media brands; but for this new breed of page operator, it’s mostly upside. In front of largely hidden and utterly sympathetic audiences, incredible narratives can take shape, before emerging, mostly formed, into the national discourse.

While this is (mostly) about the U.S. election, the same basic pattern exists in all territories at all times. The only surprising thing should be the scale (tiny) and profitability (staggeringly high) of the content farms.