Connecting Fires and Fake News — #105
Wildfires, School Fires. All within a few degrees of separation.
I'm back from travelling.
My friends are successfully married, and I have a severe girl crush on the poet Sarah Kay, whom I sat next to at brunch.
Perhaps life is about collecting people who give you the existential chills?
This week's issue is VERY long. But it is also filled with content too relevant to cut out. The world is fascinating.
Also, I want to take the opportunity to say that I'm looking for someone who wants to work with me (yay!). Primarily with Better Odds, but potentially also on a digital strategy and marketing initiative I'm starting with my friend Elin.
The ideal candidate has a mix of project management and comms-strategy skills, is a few years into their career, and is located in GMT +2. Curiosity about the world, analytics or research experience (qualitative and quantitative), and strong writing skills are high on my wishlist.
Does it sound like you? Read more and apply here.
And if it's not, please pass it on to anyone you think would be a good match.
It's all very exciting.
Five Small Things
PODCAST — The Atlantic's podcast How to Talk to People is a new favourite of mine—for example, the episode How to Not Go It Alone, about developing deeper relations and community in an individualistic world.
LEARN — How do you live if you earn $228 monthly in Serbia or $583 monthly in Jordan? Dollar Street is a project by Gapminder where you can learn about families worldwide and see photographs from their homes, sorted by income and country, and better understand global living standards.
ACT – The upcoming week is "Climate Week", with climate protests organised worldwide. Join one — in person or online.
GAME — The mobile game Threes is fun and easy to play but doesn't make you feel like you're blowing your brains out.
The News Section
Chinese Disinformation Campaign Blames United States 'Weather Weapon' for Maui Wildfires
After last month's Wildfires in Maui, a Chinese disinformation campaign is spreading false content claiming the wildfires resulted from a secret "weather weapon" tested by the United States. The posts included photographs that seemed to be generated by artificial intelligence (AI).
The campaign operated on several major social media platforms in various languages, aiming for a global audience. Natural disasters have often been the focus of disinformation campaigns, seeking to exploit emotions and undermine trust in governments or policies. The wildfires in Hawaii were no exception and led to numerous rumours and conspiracy theories.
Previously, China's state media have often echoed Russian themes, but this time, it pursued its own distinct disinformation campaign. It was picked up by researchers from Microsoft, Recorded Future, the RAND Corporation, and the University of Maryland.
There's no evidence that Russia and China are coordinating their information operations, but they often have similar messages criticising United States policies. Russia also used the Maui fires for political purposes, emphasising United States spending on the war in Ukraine. A coordinated Russian campaign began on Twitter (now known as X) a day after the Maui fires started.
Unlike Russia, China did not majorly interfere in the 2016 and 2020 United States presidential elections. However, China's recent tactics suggest a shift from merely amplifying propaganda to more direct attempts to stimulate conflict within the US.
President Biden has previously confronted Xi Jinping about China's role in spreading disinformation, and the Biden administration is trying to address China's actions without escalating into open conflict.
Researchers now suggest that China is likely building a network of accounts for future information operations, similar to Russia's approach before the 2016 presidential election. Intelligence officials think that if China engages in influence operations before the next presidential election, they might try to diminish President Biden and elevate former President Donald J. Trump.
United Kingdom Declares Russian Mercenary Group Wagner a Terrorist Organization
This week, the United Kingdom declared the Russian mercenary group Wagner a terrorist organisation, making it illegal to be a member of or support the group within the UK.
The Wagner group has been actively involved in the Russian invasion of Ukraine since February 2022. Still, it has also been active in conflicts in other countries, including Syria, the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Libya.
The decision to proscribe the group under the Terrorism Act 2000 was made due to the nature and scale of the organisation's activities and the threat they pose to British nationals abroad. Also, the United Kingdom aim to aid Ukraine in its fight against Russia and sees the proscription of Wagner as a step in that direction.
Suella Braverman, the United Kingdom's Home Secretary, described Wagner as a violent and destructive organisation acting as a military tool for Russia overseas. The Wagner group's activities — including looting, torture, and murders — have been cited as reasons for the proscription order.
However, the group's future is unclear as Yevgeny Prigozhin — the chief of the Wagner group — was killed in a plane crash last month following a short-lived armed rebellion against Russia's military leadership.
Sexual Education Program Sparks School Fires and Protests in Belgium
In Belgium, a series of school fires have been linked to a controversial sexual education school program that is now mandatory in parts of the country. This week, a sixth school in the French-speaking Wallonia region was torched.
No group has claimed responsibility for the fires, and no suspects have been arrested. However, authorities discovered signs protesting the so-called "Evras program" in some schools.
The Evras program requires four hours of training for students aged 11 to 12 and 15 to 16 to help them develop their relational and sexual lives. Sexual education has been part of Belgium's curriculum for 50 years, and the Evras program already exists for all age groups but only recently became mandatory. About 100,000 students in the Wallonia-Brussels region must now attend the two sessions, totalling four hours of training.
Protests against Evras have been organised in Brussels, with several hundred participants, and several Islamic groups have condemned the program, expressing concerns that it might promote the "hypersexualisation" of children.
Rumours about the Evras program have been circulating online with several officials, including the education minister of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, Caroline Desir, trying to dispel them.
On Friday, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced his intention to consult government experts on extremism. He requested the intelligence body responsible for "terror, extremism, and radicalisation" to assess the situation. De Croo also emphasised that schools should never be targeted and highlighted Belgium's values of tolerance and non-violence.
Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden called for an end to the attacks and emphasised the importance of schools, stating, "We don't touch our schools." Verlinden has asked the federal police to support local forces in the affected region.
X Battles Indian Government Over Requests to Block Accounts
The Indian government and X (yup, Twitter) have disagreed for years. Now, X is fighting a legal case challenging several orders from the Indian government to block certain accounts and posts.
The Indian government has labelled X a "habitual non-compliant platform" in a recent court filing. It claims that "X-Corp does not follow the law of the land," undermining "the authority of the law, judiciary, and executive." The court filing comes after X challenged several orders from the government to block specific accounts and posts in a court in the south Indian state of Karnataka. After X did not comply for over a year, a recent high court order imposed a fine of 5m rupees (€56,378).
The Indian government has clarified that it isn't seeking to block every tweet, but the number of requests to block content on X has increased. In 2022, 3,417 Twitter URLs were blocked, compared to only eight in 2014.
Before its acquisition by Elon Musk in 2022 and renaming to X, the company had several instances of non-compliance cited by the government. Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey claimed that the Indian government had asked to remove tweets and accounts related to the farmers' protest in 2020 and sought to censor journalists critical of the government.
Under Elon Musk's leadership, the company has complied with takedown orders, with Musk emphasising the need to "obey local government laws." In parallel, Musk is removing the ability for individual users to block other users.
Rights activists have criticised the Indian government's content-blocking orders for being ambiguous and lacking transparency. The court's decision in this case could establish a precedent for the scope of a user's free speech on the internet in India.
French Ski Resort Closes Due to Shortened Seasons from Global Warming
La Sambuy, a ski resort in France near Mont Blanc, has decided to dismantle its ski lifts due to a shrinking ski season caused by global warming. The resort opened in 2016 and faced an annual operating loss of approximately 500,000 euros, with lift maintenance costing 80,000 euros annually.
La Sambuy had three ski lifts and slopes ranging from expert to beginner, making it popular with families. In the past, La Sambuy had a ski season lasting from the first of December until the end of March, but last winter, there were only four weeks of snow, making it unprofitable to keep the resort open.
The town council of La Sambuy decided to close the resort and dismantle its skiing infrastructure, but they hope to attract visitors for other outdoor activities. La Sambuy's mayor, Jacques Dalex, emphasised that global warming impacts all winter sports resorts in France, particularly those at medium mountain altitudes between 1,000 and 1,500 meters.
According to a report published in August by the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, 53% of 2,234 ski resorts surveyed in Europe are likely to experience "a very high snow supply risk" at 2 degrees Celsius of global warming above pre-industrial levels without the use of artificial snow.
Mountain Wilderness, a French environmental group, says it has dismantled 22 ski lifts in France since 2001 and estimates that there are still 106 abandoned ski lifts across 59 sites across the country.
Bonus Read: American autoworkers are about to strike for better pay, pensions and reduced hours. But in the background, there are worries that electric vehicles have fewer parts to assemble and that Tesla workers are paid less. Read The Verge.
The Insights Section
Global Food Security Set to Improve in 2023 Despite Inflation and Global Conflicts
While inflation and the war in Ukraine impact food costs and availability worldwide, global food security is expected to improve in 2023 compared to 2022. The gain comes from a 3.7% growth in per capita GDP and a decrease in international and domestic food commodity prices.
Looking at 83 countries across five regions: Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, the Former Soviet Union, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the International Food Security Assessment from the United States Department of Agriculture has assessed the global access to food.
There's an expected reduction of 228.9 million food-insecure people in 2023 compared to 2022, a 16.8% decrease. And by 2033, the number of food-insecure people in the assessed countries is projected to decline to 385.9 million, a 66.1% reduction from 2023. The percentage of the population unable to consume the necessary 2,100 kcal per day is expected to drop to 7.9%.
Despite this improvement, an estimated 26.6% of the population in the assessed countries (about 1.14 billion people) might be unable to consume the necessary 2,100 kilocalories per day.
Privacy and Online Ads Can Co-Exist: New Insights into Targeted Advertising
Targeted ads are generally more effective than untargeted ads. Taking it to an extreme, Cambridge Analytica made a case for "micro-targeting" after claiming it was part of the success behind the Trump presidential campaign 2016 and the British Leave.EU campaign.
But the ads need to be so much better to compensate for the increased cost of buying a targeted audience that the cost of targeting is not worth it.
While this has been suggested by marketing researchers for years, a recent study developed a model that calculates the break-even performance of an audience segment to make a targeted ad campaign as profitable as an untargeted one. The study used data from the Spotify ad platform (good because the data quality is high) to analyse the profitability of different audience segments.
About half of the audience segments on Spotify would require a click-through rate (CTR) increase of more than 100% to be as profitable as untargeted campaigns. Very narrow segments, reaching less than 5% of the population, would require a CTR increase of about 150%.
While this is an essential finding for digital marketing professionals running efficient online campaigns, it also suggests that privacy and marketing can co-exist online. It doesn't make financial sense for marketers to pay extra to reach specific individuals, something that undoubtedly will impact the business models of social media advertising companies in the long term.
For example, Apple's introduction of the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework (the prompt you see when downloading a new app, asking if you allow tracking) affects data quality and targeting practices on Facebook. However, the decrease in data accuracy harms narrowly targeted ad campaigns much more than broadly targeted ones.
Consistent 'Record Levels of Engagement' on LinkedIn Since 2018
While other social media networks fight for the same user attention, LinkedIn is doing well. LinkedIn users shared 41% more content this spring than the previous year, and its revenue reached over $15 billion in 2023, almost double since 2020.
Further, LinkedIn has reported the same 'record levels of engagement' note every quarter (except one) since 2018.
In 2023, the platform has seen a 22% increase in views of updates in the main feed and a 25% increase in public conversations in the app compared with the same period last year. In addition, Newsletter creation increased 10X in 2022.
Influencer Economy Set to Reach $34 Billion Globally in 2023
The influencer marketing economy expanded 21.5% last year globally and is on track to grow another 16.9% this year, generating $34 billion in spending. Marketers invested over $5.3 billion into macro-influencers and another $4.4 billion into brand ambassadors in 2022.
The United States was by far the largest market for influencer marketing in 2022, with 76.1% of global influencer marketing spending in 2022, followed by the United Kingdom with 6.6%. However, India and Japan were the fastest-growing global markets in 2022, with a growth of 33.6% and 33.1%, respectively.
Half of Americans Deem 'Open Marriages' Unacceptable
A recent survey shows that about half of American adults say "open marriages" – a marriage where both spouses agree they can date or have sex with others – are somewhat (13%) or entirely (37%) unacceptable. One-third of Americans say these marriages are somewhat (11%) or completely acceptable (23%). The remainder (16%) say they are neither acceptable nor unacceptable.
Men are more likely than women to say open marriages are at least somewhat acceptable (36% vs. 30%). Young adults are the most likely to say open marriages are acceptable, and older adults are the most likely to say they're unacceptable. About half of adults under 30 (51%) say open marriages are acceptable, but the shares decrease steadily with age. 70% of adults 65 and older say these marriages are unacceptable.
That was all for today. You deserve a gold star if you read all the way down here. Here you go: ⭐️