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Facebook News Media: The Heroes and Zeros

One would expect the richer western newsrooms to be more agile in commanding online audiences; however, it is news outlets in less developed markets that are far more effective in capturing audiences on Facebook, according to our newly released in

Facebook’s Fake News Fighters Punish Italian Satirical Website

A popular satire website in Italy found out what happens when Facebook loses its sense of humor: they see fake news everywhere.
 
Publishing under the slogan “The filth that makes the news”, Lercio is a fabled multi-award-winning website of satirical news in Italy. 
 
In its early days, some of Lercio’s stories were taken as truth and shared by the mainstream press. However, soon the name Lercio (Italian for “dirt”) appearing alongside as the source of the news became a renowned synonym of virulent satire, to the point that nowadays the expression “Is this Lercio?” has become common use amongst Italians whenever they read or view any scarcely credible news in the mainstream media.
 
But what happens when satire lampooning people or institutions fails to be perceived as such, even by the social media and ends up being treated as misleading “fake news”? More importantly, how exactly do social media draw a distinction between pungent satire and mere trolling?

Facebook News Media: Who Is Winning in Asia?

Chinese and Indian news media command millions of followers on Facebook - but it is in the much tinier Myanmar where news media is really effective?
 
Today, we released the Facebook Index Asia-Pacific, which measures news outlets in this part of the world based on the number of their followers reported to the size of their local market.
 
The news media market on Facebook in the Asia-Pacific region is extremely vibrant. Only two media outlets score more than 100 in the Index in Asia-Pacific, which is a low score compared to, say, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region where we have 17 such news outlets. However, that is explained by the homogeneity of the MENA market, where nations are united by the common use of Arabic. It is not the case in Asia, one of the most diverse continents, an amalgam of language markets, foreign influences and cultures.

The Big Facebook Boys in the Russian Commonwealth

Facebook is not particularly popular in the former Soviet Union space when it comes to news media. Outside Russia, though, Facebook news media from other CIS nations are steadily building a strong market.
 
Today, we release Facebook Index CIS/Russia, which measures news outlets in this region based on the number of their followers reported to the size of their local market.
 
The size of the Facebook market in the former Soviet Union space is strikingly small. The Facebook Universe in that part of the world totals some 20 million users. That is less than a fifth of the total combined population in the region. The low popularity of Facebook in the former Soviet Union region, particularly Russia, can to some extent be attributed to the solid position on these markets of Russia-originated social media such as Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki and Mail.ru (originally, an email service that is growing into a social hub). In 2016, Vkontakte alone had a total of some 100 million active users, according to data from the site.
 

Why Good Journalism Lost to Noisy Populists

Open society media camp has lost the information war with the often inarticulate, yet vociferous, populist lot. To gain back the trust of the masses, they have to learn a more popular language.
 
“If a Republican acted like me and ran for office, it’d be a movement. Donald Trump has proven me right. People are tired of pussies.”
 
It was not the first time Mike Cernovich, the Southern California-based founder of the blog Danger & Play, was sharing such a contentious opinion online. The tweet, posted in the summer of 2015, was both a premonition (about Mr Trump’s rise to America’s presidency) and a telltale sign of the new generation of influencers in the country's political discourse.
 

The Price of Digital Rights

Internet companies and telcos are not particularly good at disclosing policies on freedom of expression and privacy. On a long-term basis, this could dent their sales.
 
Last summer, as electoral debates were heating up in America, anti-Hillary voters in possession of iPhones could find a facetious method to vent their fury against the Democratic candidate for how negligently she handled her emails. HillAwry, a game developed by John Matze from Base10 company, was made available by Apple on its iPhones. The goal of the game was “to collect as much money through email donations as possible while maintaining a decent approval rating in the polls.”

Telcos and Internet Companies, Bad at Informing People About Their Rights

The world’s telecom and internet behemoths are far from being transparent when it comes to users’ privacy. It’s time for them to improve.
 
The world’s most powerful telecommunications, internet, and mobile companies are mostly failing at informing consumers about their rights, according to Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index
 

News Media in Africa: The Big Boys on Facebook

Today, we released Facebook Index Africa, which ranks Africa-based news media according to how much of the local Facebook markets they control.
 
Big Boys on the Block
The African Facebook market is highly concentrated. Unlike other continents, Africa has a fair amount of dominant news outlets. More than 100 news outlets in our Facebook Index reach at least ten readers in their national market. The continent also boasts ten news media platforms with a score of over 50, meaning a reach of over half of the Facebook population in the markets they’re targeting.
 

Latin American News Media: Who Is Big on Facebook?

Today, we released the Facebook Index Latin America, which ranks news media platforms from Latin America based on the number of Facebook followers compared to the size of their market.
 

Central America, Still Lagging Behind

In spite of high inequality and rampant poverty, which further contributed to the widening digital divide in Latin America, the internet has experienced accelerated growth. Some 55% of the inhabitants of Latin America used internet in 2015, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), a UN agency.
 

Media Diet in Ukraine: Russian Social Media and Oligarch-Owned TV

Ukrainians trust Russian media less and are more aware than ever of who controls their local media. However, they still embrace Russian social networks and watch oligarchs-owned television.
 
In February 2015, I interviewed a top coastguard officer in the Ukrainian city Geniches’k, which is very close to the Russia-annexed Crimea. Before saying goodbye, he gave me his e-mail address to keep in touch. I was surprised when I saw that his electronic mailbox was registered on Mail.ru, one of the leading Russian email services.
 
He noticed my surprise and said: “Yes, yes, I know that it [the email address] should be changed, I’ll do it at some point.”
 
This happened after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the hottest stage of the war in eastern Ukraine, and in spite of repeated appeals by the Security Service of Ukraine known as SBU since spring 2014 to refrain from using Russian social networks and online services. One of the reasons is that strict anti-terrorist laws in Russia allow local security institutions to get access to a trove of online information. If you use one of the Russian internet services and platforms, it’s likely that some of the authorities in Russia can see part of what you share or do online. It’s thus surprising that even the Ukrainian military ignores this request.
 
However, not only troops are doing this - many people in Ukraine still resort to Russian online services.

EU Helps Romanian Intelligence Agency to Officially Become Big Brother

Thanks to a generous EU grant, Romania’s controversial intelligence agency is mingling stocks of databases from the country’s public institutions to monitor people. That could hurt many, but in particular those critical to the authorities and their friends.
 
Imagine this: you go online in your office and with a mere click you find out that some journalists that you don't like have not paid their tax on income they have generated as freelancers. Next minute you can informally alert the tax office; or, worse, blackmail these journalists and ask them to kill a story on a sensitive topic that can affect you and your friends up in the state administration or elsewhere.
 
That could happen in Romania in no more than a couple of years as the Romanian Information Service (SRI), the nation’s intelligence agency, is building a system that will allow them to hoard data from all key state authorities and public institutions in the country.
 
Ironically, all this is being funded with European Union (EU) money. The SRI is using a hefty €31.5m (US$ 35.2m) from the EU to run this project, called SII Analytics. By 2018, the system should be ready to fly.

The Rise of Quality Propaganda in Ukraine: The Story of a Photo

A photo taken by an amateur photographer in the Ukrainian village of Shyrokyne reignites the debate on journalism in conflicted areas: should we stick to the facts or lie?
 
A huge explosion in the background, two soldiers supporting their wounded friend in the foreground, an empty baby carriage in the left corner near the ruins of someone’s house; and contrasting to this dramatic picture you have the blue summer sky of eastern Ukraine.
 
This impressive photo has become popular as an illustration of the failed ceasefire in the Ukrainian village of Shyrokyne where the Ukrainian army is constantly fighting with the pro-Russian separatists. Taken in June 2016, this photo was shared thousand of times by internet users. It was republished by many media and lobby group leaders such as renowned activists and war volunteers. The war volunteers are people who supply goods to the Ukrainian army. They have become very influential in society since the start of the war in 2014.
 
Taken by Dmytro Muravsky, a Ukrainian volunteer and former advisor to the defense ministry, this photo has also attracted heavy criticism from a group of Ukrainian photographers who work for Ukrainian and international media. They slammed Mr Muravsky in a public letter, accusing him of staging the picture.
 

How Media Has Become Netanyahu & Co in Israel

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is becoming hypersensitive to his critics. He's figured out how to solve the problem: bring all media into line.
 
On 18 September 2016, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going to a court in Tel Aviv to convince jurors to order Igal Sarna, a journalist for Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, to pay him nearly US$ 73,000 in a libel suit lodged by Mr Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, last March.
 
The dispute was triggered by a note posted by Mr Sarna on his Facebook page the same month, in which he alleged that Mrs Netanyahu, angry with her husband, kicked him out of the premier official car on a central highway. Mr Sarna didn’t cite any source for his allegations. He later responded laconically on his Facebook page that the lawsuit was being “taken care of.”
 

Middle East: Online Conversation Moves out of Facebook and Twitter

Uncomfortable with the government’s aggressive snooping, internet users in the Middle East are increasingly beginning to move their discussions to more impervious chatrooms.
Last summer, the Saudi Arabian government stunned internet freedom activists, and others, when they announced new legal provisions that allow the naming and shaming of offenders of the kingdom’s anti-cyber crime law. The law enables authorities to throw people who produce, prepare, distribute and even store content that “impinges” on public order, religious values and “public morals” via the internet into jail.
 
As if that was not sufficient, the same law allows the naming and shaming of those found guilty of these offenses. In a region like the Middle East where individual reputation is a cornerstone of societal value, naming and shaming has the potential to be even more intimidating than rotting in a Saudi quod. Local observers saw these legal provisions as another step towards stifling criticism by the local authorities, through such a powerful social deterrent.
 

The Middle East: Have You Been Watching?

As online video consumption skyrockets in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, power holders are desperately looking for smart blocking tools. But the audiences they fight against are hard to stop unless internet giants agree to play the censorship game.
 
Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, made headlines last December when she traveled to Silicon Valley to meet with executives from Google to negotiate ways to block videos posted by Palestinians on YouTube, the video sharing platform owned by Google. The visit followed complaints by the Israeli government that some of these videos incite Palestinians to carry out attacks on Israelis. 
 
Ms Hotovely claimed that she was victorious. After the meeting, she said that Google joined Israel in the fight “against incitement”, something that Google denied. But whatever the real agreement was, the Israel-Google meeting speaks volumes about the growing interest and anxiety politicians and governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been showing when it comes to online videos.
 
The reason? A massive increase in online video consumption in the region, particularly on YouTube.

Bracing for Elections, Iran’s Government Wants to Hire an Internet Censoring Company

Back in 2013, Iran didn’t meddle with the internet before the presidential elections because they knew people liked the then would-be president Rouhani. But now, two weeks before parliamentary elections, the country’s government wants to hire a company to fence critical voices out. This is a bitter reminiscence of the 2009 government clampdown on dissenting voices, on- and offline.
 
While almost 50% of the top 500 visited websites worldwide, including Facebook and YouTube, are already blocked in Iran, the country’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has recently launched a tender to select a company that would do smart filtering of social media. 
 

Ranking Telcos: Name and Shame Them and They Will Improve

There are several initiatives out there that measure and rank companies. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are ranked according to how they ensure access to medicines and major foodstuffs producers are ranked according to their impact on communities. Now, we have the Corporate Accountability Index that measures how internet companies and telcos fare in their general commitment to digital rights and practices related to freedom of expression and privacy.
 
However, is this merely a game of name and shame?
 

Though it seems like one, the ultimate goal is to actually improve companies. Rebecca MacKinnon, the director of the Corporate Accountability Index, an initiative supported by a dozen of funders and several research centers, says that the main goal of this initiative and the kind of impact the index is craving is to force companies to improve their policies, because that will ultimately have positive repercussions on consumers.