Jul 15, 2021

Axios Login

So, how was your bagel yesterday?

Today's newsletter is 1,267 words, or a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Facebook's "see no evil" strategy

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Only Facebook knows for sure what's popular on its platform at any given moment. The rest of us, viewing our individual feeds and seeing only how our own posts fare, are left to guess, Axios' Scott Rosenberg writes.

Facebook could change that by giving the world real-time windows onto the social network. But it has long resisted doing so — and new reports suggest it's afraid greater transparency will just make it look bad.

Driving the news: A New York Times column by Kevin Roose describes a debate inside the company over whether to expand CrowdTangle, a tool Facebook offers that provides data on posts' performance.

  • Roose had long used CrowdTangle, a startup Facebook acquired in 2016, to compile regular Top 10 lists of Facebook posts and share them on Twitter. The lists are almost always dominated by right-wing authors and news outlets.
  • CrowdTangle measures only posts' engagement — whether people click on or react to them. Facebook regularly criticized Roose's posts by saying that more accurate lists could be compiled by looking at reach — how many people actually see a post.
  • One problem: Reach data is only available to Facebook's own staff.

The upshot: Advocates of sharing reach data with the public lost the debate inside Facebook, Roose reports, and now the company is splitting up the CrowdTangle team.

  • Current and former employees told Roose that "Facebook's executives were more worried about fixing the perception that Facebook was amplifying harmful content than figuring out whether it actually was amplifying harmful content."

Why it matters: Facebook content shapes much of popular political opinion in the U.S. and globally. That has turned the social network into the information battlefield of our time — but it's shrouded by the fog of war, and only Facebook can change that.

Yes, but: Whatever controversies Facebook's transparency efforts provoke, Facebook still offers more engagement data than rivals like YouTube and TikTok provide.

  • Facebook continues to make CrowdTangle available and says CrowdTangle's reorganization is aimed at improving it.
  • "The entire point was to better integrate CrowdTangle into the product team focused on transparency," Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said in a statement.

Between the lines: Roose's portrait of a Facebook leadership more focused on protecting its image than sharing the truth found echoes in the publication last week of "The Ugly Truth," a critical book about the company by two other New York Times reporters.

  • According to "The Ugly Truth," during the crisis within Facebook following revelations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, top executives took a "blame the messenger" approach when they learned that an investigation by their security head had been tracking Russian-sponsored misinformation.

The big picture: "Transparency" is an oft-stated aim for Facebook, but, like most large corporations, the social network wants to retain the ability to choose and shape the stories its data tells the world.

  • Facebook's reluctance to publicize reach data, like Google's resistance to revealing details of its search algorithm formula, may also stem from fears that more the public knows about how its platform works, the easier it is for bad actors to game it.
  • Facebook also has a record of conflict and delays in efforts to provide academic researchers with data.
2. Facebook to invest $1B in content creators

Photo illustration: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday that Facebook and Instagram plan to invest over $1 billion in creators through the end of 2022.

Why it matters: This is by far Facebook's biggest investment in attracting creators to its platform to date, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Facebook has slowly begun to roll out products and policies that favor creators, including revenue shares for ads sold against IGTV video content and "stars," which are akin to tips for creators from fans. It's said in the past it would not take a cut of any creator revenue until 2023.

Details: According to a spokesperson, the investment will fall in two buckets:

  1. Seed funding for creators to produce their own content.
  2. New bonus programs to pay eligible creators for hitting certain milestones when they use Facebook’s tools.

Beginning this summer, Facebook will roll out specific bonus programs for users who post content on Instagram's Reels platform, a feature similar to TikTok, as well as bonuses for other content efforts. Come this fall, bonus programs will be available to users creating in-stream videos on Facebook.

The big picture: As the creator economy expands, reports have suggested that Facebook has struggled to retain a competitive edge when it comes to incentivizing creators to use their platform over rivals like YouTube and TikTok.

3. Twitter scuttles Fleets

Twitter said Wednesday it is shutting down Fleets, a product akin to Snapchat's Stories feature that allows users to post strings of photos and videos for 24 hours before they disappear, as Sara reports.

Why it matters: Twitter introduced Fleets last November as a way to connect its users around more ephemeral content. Now, the company says its big bet wasn't producing enough new user engagement to make it worthwhile.

Details: "We weren't seeing the impact we'd like to see from a big bet, so we're going to pivot our focus elsewhere," Twitter's head of consumer product Kayvon Beykpour tweeted on Wednesday.

Yes, but: Twitter says the experiment wasn't a total failure, noting that it helped the company learn about ways it can build better products.

  • For example, Twitter found that people were often using Fleets to post rich photos and videos. The company plans to test ways to incorporate more multimedia camera features, like the full-screen camera and GIF stickers, to regular Tweets.

The bottom line: "[B]ig bets are risky and speculative, so by definition some of them won’t work. If we’re not having to wind down features every once in a while, then it would be a sign that we’re not taking big enough swings," Beykpour tweeted.

What's next: Fleets will officially go away Aug. 3.

4. Microsoft brings Windows desktop to devices via cloud

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft on Wednesday announced Windows 365, a cloud-based version of the desktop operating system that allows people to run the same virtualized desktop across multiple PCs and even on Macs and mobile devices.

Why it matters: The move puts Windows in more places, including on iOS and Android, though its capabilities there are more limited than on a PC.

Microsoft said Windows 365 will be available Aug. 2.

  • It will initially serve up Windows 10, though Windows 11 will also be an option once it is made available later this year.

How it works:

  • The Windows desktop, including the OS, apps and files, all run from Microsoft's cloud.
  • Because it is based in the cloud, users can start work on one device, then log in and pick up work on another.

Yes, but: Because it's coming from the cloud, Windows 365 requires a persistent internet connection.

5. Take note

On Tap

  • The Senate Commerce Committee is holding a hearing on supply chain resiliency. IBM Research senior VP Dario Gil is among those slated to testify.

Trading Places

  • Netflix has hired Mike Verdu as VP of game development as the company launches an expansion into video games, Bloomberg reported. Verdu previously worked at Facebook and Electronic Arts.
  • The New York Times hired Airbnb and Facebook veteran Jason Sobel as chief technology officer, Axios' Sara Fischer reported on Wednesday.

ICYMI

  • NortonLifeLock is reportedly in talks to buy security software maker Avast. (WSJ)
  • Facebook wants the FTC to remove its chair, Lina Khan, from any decision-making about the agency's antitrust case against the social media giant. (Axios)
6. After you Login

Microsoft said it would bring back its once-maligned Office assistant Clippy, at least as the paper clip emoji, if a tweet got 20,000 likes, which it quickly did.