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Google and NBC Face Backlash Over Censorship Story

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  • NBC reported Tuesday morning that two conservative outlets were being banned from participating in Google Ads.
  • Google later backtracked and said that wasn’t accurate, and that one was given a warning.
  • Both face criticisms over censorship claims, as well as claims this was a targeted attack on conservative outlets by NBC.

Conflicting Stories from Google and NBC

Google found itself in the middle of a censorship controversy after it banned ZeroHedge and The Federalist— two notable conservative publications— from participating in its Google Ads program. NBC, which first reported on the story, has also found itself facing criticisms over using information to silence another outlet.

On Monday night, NBC reached out to Google regarding some research done by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a British nonprofit that combats online hate and misinformation.

That research claimed ZeroHedge and The Federalist were running articles about Black Lives Matter that were racist, included false narratives, and called for advertisers to stop funding the sites. Google replied to NBC and allegedly said they’ve already banned ZeroHedge and The Federalist from the Google Ads program, explaining that:

“We have strict publisher policies that govern the content ads can run on and explicitly prohibit derogatory content that promotes hatred, intolerance, violence or discrimination based on race from monetizing. When a page or site violates our policies, we take action. In this case, we’ve removed both sites’ ability to monetize with Google.”

On Tuesday morning, NBC published their article and ran Google’s statement; ZeroHedge had already been banned by Google and The Federalist was also demonetized for promoting hatred, intolerance, violence, or other discrimanation after learning about research from the CCDH. 

What was the infringing content? Well, if the decision was based on CCDH’s report, “The Federalist has:​ Claimed CNN/New York Times reports were “lying” about white supremacist violence,” and “used ‘black crime; as a tag for its articles.”

While “ZeroHedge has: Claimed that Black Lives Matter is ‘practically a revolutionary operative of the CIA via Soros,’” and “Suggested Black Lives Matter is a George Soros ‘Astroturf’ campaign for “leftists and their agenda to reshape the fabric of American society.”

This isn’t the first time either publication has come into trouble with a tech company. In March, The Federalist published an article where they told people to voluntarily get infected with COVID-19 to help with herd immunity. Twitter responded by temporarily locking the site’s account until a tweet promoting the article was deleted. Zero Hedge was recently unbanned by Twitter after being suspended in January for promoting a conspiracy theory about a Chinese scientist. Twitter eventually decided the decision was “an error.”

Following news that Google banned the two conservative outlets, other outlets began reaching out to Google for a statement and received information that conflicted with NBC’s article. When responding to The Verge, Google said that The Federalist wasn’t demonetized; only warned that they were going to be demonetized. Google later clarified their stance on Twitter, writing:

“The Federalist was never demonetized. We worked with them to address issues on their site related to the comments section.”

They also linked to a 2017 statement that instructs publications to police comments sections to be advertiser friendly, and continued on Twitter:

“Our policies do not allow ads to run against dangerous or derogatory content, which includes comments on sites, and we offer guidance and best practices to publishers on how to comply. As the comment section has now been removed, we consider this matter resolved and no action will be taken.”

Fallout

Following this, NBC found themselves embroiled in controversy. Currently their article reads:

“Google’s ban comes after the company was notified of research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British nonprofit that combats online hate and misinformation.”

But that’s not what they originally wrote. In their original article, NBC stated that they brought CCHD’s research to Google’s attention, writing:

“Google blocked The Federalist from its advertising platform after the NBC News Verification Unit brought the project to its attention.”

That action and phrasing led to major backlash for the publication. Sean Davos, the co-founder of The Federalist, told Tucker Carlson:

“It looks like NBC… had partnered with a foreign left-wing group in Europe to go after us and to use Google to go after us… This is a pretty powerful example of the unholy union of corrupt media and monopolistic tech oligarchs.”

Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro also went after NBC for seemingly putting the CCDH’s report in front of Google and implying they demanded action.

The writer of the story, Adele-Momoko Fraser, has since gone on to clarify NBC’s connection with the CCDH’s research. Not only did the article imply that they found the research, but her original tweet about it looked like NBC was involved with the research, and later added:

“To clarify this earlier tweet, we obtained this research exclusively from @SSFakeNews but we did not collaborate on the research itself.”

Beyond that, plenty of people gave their opinion about the situation as a whole. Before Google issued its clarification, right-wing pundit Stephen Miller tweeted out, “the fact Google and NBC News are now defunding websites over commentary is going to have disastrous side effects and backlash.”

Following everything that happened on June 16th,  Senator Ted Cruz released a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and demanded answers for why The Federalist was being reprimanded for its comment section.

“The recent actions of Google to “demonetize” a conservative media publisher, The Federalist, raise serious concerns that Google is abusing its monopoly power in an effort to censor political speech with which it disagrees.”

“…Google appears to have backtracked, saying that the decision to “demonetize” The Federalist is not due to the article itself, but instead due to offensive comments that allegedly violated Google advertising policies.”

“Numerous “progressive” media outlets allow comments, including, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, Wonkette, Slate, Jezebel, The Root, salon, The Intercept, The Young Turks, and many others… any objective review would no doubt demonstrate at least as many profane, racist, or indefensible user comments on these other sites that would equally violate Google’s alleged standards.”

“But one need not look that far. On any given day there are thousand of profane, racist, and indefensible comments posted on YouTube, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Google.” 

Cruz then drew a parallel between how Google is defended by Section 230 from the speech posted by their users while not extending those same protections to companies using Google Ads. Cruz ended by requesting that Google turn over communications between it, The Federalist, and The Center for Countering Digital hate within seven days.

Cruz also asked the company if they’ve examined the comments of progressive platforms and if they’ve applied the same standard The Federalist was reviewed under to them. He also asked if Google applied the same standard to YouTube comments, or if the company gave preferential treatment to its subsidiary.

Google has yet to respond to Cruz’s request.

See What Others Are Saying: (The Verge) (NBC) (Tech Crunch)

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Charli D’Amelio’s Dunkin’ Partnership Proves Successful

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  • TikTok’s most-followed creator, Charli D’Amelio, partnered with the coffee chain Dunkin’ to add her go-to order to its menu for a limited time.  
  • A Dunkin’ official told TMZ that the chain sold hundreds of thousands of her signature drink, “The Charli,” within the first five days of launching. It also set a record for daily users on the Dunkin’ app the first day of the launch after seeing a 57% increase in app downloads. 
  • Dunkin’ even saw a 20% sales boost for all cold brews that day as well as a 45% surge the following day. 
  • This collaboration, along with musician Travis Scott’s partnership with McDonald’s, has many interested to see if and how more chains will use big names as marketing tools in the future. 

The Charli 

Officials at Dunkin’ have finally given some insight into just how powerful its partnership with 16-year-old Charli D’Amelio has been for the coffee chain. 

D’Amelio, of course, is TikTok’s most famous personality, and she recently teamed up with Dunkin’ to get her go-to coffee order on its menu for a limited time. The drink is called “The Charli,” a cold brew with whole milk and three pumps of caramel swirl.

It officially debuted in stores on Sept. 2. As part of the partnership, she also launched a contest with the chain. For that, the company invited her fans to post a picture on Instagram, recreating a memorable moment of Charli and her Dunkin’ drink using the hashtag #CharliXDunkinContest. Then, on Sept. 19, National Dance Day, five lucky winners were selected to join a virtual hang out with Charli. 

It was probably fair to assume that the drink would be a success given Charli’s massive following and influence these days. She’s currently sitting at 88.4 million followers on TikTok alone. and the drink has been spotted all over the app, with fans, friends, and influencers trying it out themselves.

However, Drayton Martin, vice president of brand stewardship at Dunkin’, just confirmed to TMZ that the chain sold hundreds of thousands of the signature drink within the first five days of launch. Dunkin’ also set a record for daily users on its app the day her drink debuted after seeing a 57% increase in app downloads. 

Apparently it wasn’t just “The Charli” that saw success. Dunkin’ also saw a 20% sales boost for all cold brews the first day as well as a 45% surge the next day. 

Travis Scott’s McDonald’s Deal 

These numbers are especially interesting to look at when acknowledging how lucrative Travis Scott’s limited edition collab with McDonald’s has proved to be. His partnership was for a $6 combo that included a Quarter Pounder with bacon and lettuce, fries, BBQ sauce, and a Sprite. 

That launched on Sept. 9, and he also sold some exclusive Mcdonald’s themed merch on his website at the time. 

Within days of the launch, several McDonald’s locations reported running out of ingredients to make the meals. In a memo sent to employees, McDonald’s said: “We’ve created a program that’s so compelling to our customers that it’s stretching our world-class supply chain; and if demand continues at these levels, more restaurants will break supply.”

Tons of people have been trying to get their hands on this meal. In fact, it even became a trend on TikTok to order it using a range of phrases. According to USA Today, McDonald’s even noted some of the various ways customers have been ordering the meal in their memo to employees. Some were part of marketing and social media materials for it, like the phrase “Say Cactus Jack sent me.”

Other variations include “It’s lit, sick mode,” “The Fornite guy burger,” or “You know why I’m here” which is often followed by customers playing Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode.” 

Eventually, McDonald’s said the promotion will continue through Oct. 4 as scheduled. However, starting Sept. 22, customers who want the meal have to order it through the McDonald’s app. So maybe that will intentionally slow sales, or perhaps downloads for that app soar as it did for Dunkin’ with D’Amelio’s help.

Ultimately, both collaborations have shown just how influential big names can be in the fast food and drink world. It’ll be interesting to see if and how chains will continue to use people with massive followings as advertising tools in the future. 

See what others are saying: (TMZ) (USA Today) (Chicago Sun Times

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Twitter to Investigate Auto-Crop Algorithm After Accusations of Racial Bias

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  • Twitter users believe they discovered a racial bias in an algorithm the platform uses to automatically select which part of an image it shows in a photo preview.
  • Many argued that the auto-cropping tool showed a white bias after testing the theory with photos of Black and white people, cartoon characters, and even dogs. 
  • However, others who tested the theory generated results that did not support this idea. Regardless, most users admit that these experiments have their limitations and agree that the current results at least show that this is something worth looking into.
  • The company released a statement saying it tested its system for bias in the past but admitted it needs to conduct further analysis of it. Online, Twitter employees seemed to welcome the public discourse and the company promised to share its results as well as further actions it may take.

Potential White Bias 

Twitter responded to concerns over its automatic cropping algorithm Sunday after users believed they discovered a racial bias in the tool.

In 2018, Twitter began auto-cropping photos in its timeline previews to prevent them from taking up too much space in the main feed and to allow multiple photos to appear in the same tweet. To do this, the company uses several algorithmic tools that focus on the most important part of the picture, like faces or text. 

However, users recently began to spot issues with the algorithm. The first person credited for highlighting a potential problem was PhD student Colin Madland. He made his discovery while highlighting a different racial bias he thinks he found on the video-conference company Zoom. 

Madland tweeted that when his Black colleague uses a virtual background on Zoom, his head is erased. When he uploaded examples to show this happening to his Black colleague and not himself, he noticed that Twitter was only showing his own face in its preview. 

Soon after, others followed up with more targetted experiments. Cryptographic and infrastructure engineer Tony Arcieri, for example, tweeted out two long images with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and Former President Barack Obama. 

The two photos have the politicians stacked on top of each other in different orders but with white space in between them. The experiment showed that Twitter would focus on McConnell, no matter what order the photos were stacked in.

Another user found that the algorithm even focused on McConnell when two photos of Obama were present in a single stack.

A similar white preference appeared in examples of Black and white men in suits, Simpsons characters Lenny and Carl, and even black and white dogs. 

Examples That Don’t Support White Bias Theory

Others looking into this theory of a white bias found results that did not support the idea. 

For example, one user found that photos of Obama were cropped for the preview over photos of Donald Trump. 

Still, some researching the trends noted that these experiments do have their limitations and are likely influenced by tons of other factors. Some believe the algorithm recognized high profile figures or considers brightness and contrast, among other photo elements.

Twitter’s Chief Design Officer (CDO), Dantley Davis, even suggested that the choice of cropping sometimes takes brightness of the background into consideration.

However, ohers found examples that rejected that idea. Regardless, all these tests did a lot to convince people that there was something worth looking at here, including Davis, who has been experimenting himself.

He’s not alone in his research. In fact, plenty of other Twitter users have been going to great lengths to track their results as they try to study what is going on.

Twitter Promises to Investigate 

On Sunday, a Twitter spokesperson eventually released a statement admitting that the company had work to do.

“Our team did test for bias before shipping the model and did not find evidence of racial or gender bias in our testing,” the company explained.

But it’s clear from these examples that we’ve got more analysis to do. We’ll continue to share what we learn, what actions we take, and will open source our analysis so others can review and replicate.” 

Davis also isn’t the only employee that has appeared to welcome all of this public discourse. The company’s Chief Technology Officer, Parag Argawal tweeted, “This is a very important question. To address it, we did analysis on our model when we shipped it, but needs continuous improvement. Love this public, open, and rigorous test — and eager to learn from this.”

See what others are saying; (The Next Web) (The Guardian) (Mashable

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Perfume Brand Apologizes for Replacing John Boyega in the Chinese Version of an Ad He Directed

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  • Jo Malone London, a perfume and candle brand, apologized to its global brand ambassador John Boyega after it reshot his personal advert without him for the Chinese market.
  • Last year, Boyega conceived, starred in, and directed a commercial for the band, which showcased his friends and family and was shot in his diverse hometown on Peckham, London.
  • Without Boyega’s knowledge, the company replicated the concept with Chinese actor Liu Haoran and did not feature a single Black person in the remake. 
  • After backlash, Jo Malone London apologized and said, “The concept for the film was based on John’s personal experiences and should not have been replicated.”

Boyega’s Commercial 

The perfume and candle brand Jo Malone London apologized to actor John Boyega after it replicated the personal advert he made for the company without him for the Chinese market.

In 2019, the brand named the Star Wars actor its first male global ambassador. Under the role, Boyega shot an advert for the company based on his roots and personal experiences. 

The short film was called, “A London Gent,” and according to several reports, it was his creative concept and a project he directed. It showcased him enjoying time with his real-life friends and family in his diverse hometown of Peckham, London.

“There’s a mixture of things you see me do in the film, you see me in a professional environment on a film set, then with family and it’s about breaking free of the concept of ‘going back or returning to your roots’ but more about the roots existing with this new side of my life,” he said of the commercial last year in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily.

Chinese Remake

The commercial was well received and actually won Best Media Campaign at The Fragrance Foundation Awards this year. Still, the brand decided to essentially replicate the commercial for the Chinese market without Boyega’s knowledge or participation.

Instead of just using Boyega’s original ad, it replaced him with Chinese actor Liu Haoran, star of the hugely popular Detective Chinatown film franchise. Boyega’s friends and family were replaced as well, which means there was not a single Black person included in the Chinese ad.

Though it’s not totally identical, it’s clear the commercial reused the same concept –minus the diversity elements. It even replicates some specific scenes like one where the camera zooms into Boyega’s eye and another where he rides a horse while his friends ride bikes.

On top of all that, the Chinese ad is also called “A London Gent,” and according to The Hollywood Reporter, Boyega only found out about this after it was put on Twitter.

Boyega hasn’t officially commented on the issue, but he’s definitely aware of the backlash. He retweeted one user who shared his ad saying, “Now, this man needs to be properly compensated for the thievery! No apology is good enough.”

He also retweeted a post showing the Chinese ad for comparison, as well as an article from The Hollywood Reporter on the topic. 

That article includes a statement from the brand which reads: “We deeply apologize for what, on our end, was a mistake in the local execution of the John Boyega campaign. John is a tremendous artist with great personal vision and direction. The concept for the film was based on John’s personal experiences and should not have been replicated.”

Joe Malone also apologized to Haoran, saying he was not involved in the conception of the Chinese ad.

“While we immediately took action and removed the local version of the campaign, we recognize that this was painful and that offense was caused,” it continued.

We respect John, and support our partners and fans globally. We are taking this misstep very seriously and we are working together as a brand to do better moving forward.”

Boyega’s Past Experiences

This is not the first time Boyega has sparked discussions about racism in China and the entertainment industry. In 2015, when “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was released, Boyega’s character was resized to be significantly smaller on the Chinese version of the movie poster.  

In a recent GQ interview, Boyega also criticized Disney, saying nonwhite characters were pushed aside in the Star Wars franchise while white characters were given more nuance. 

“What I would say to Disney is do not bring out a Black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side. It’s not good. I’ll say it straight up,” he said at the time.  

As for Jo Malone, it has pulled the Chinese advert, but it’s unclear if Boyega’s relationship with the brand will continue. 

See what others are saying: (Insider) (Variety) (The Hollywood Reporter)

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