Dating For Love or SEO? — #108
When romance and digital strategy align.
How was your week?
I spent mine ripping off mental band-aids. Things that had to be done eventually are now accomplished, which feels expectedly good.
I also got a rejection letter from a mentorship thing for start-up founders I applied to a while back. But instead of feeling disappointed, I just felt like the universe is saving me something better for later.
I can recommend mind games when you play them with yourself.
Also, this issue is packed. Let's get started!
Five Small Things
BOOK — Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire by Harvard Business School professor Rebecca Henderson.
THOUGHTS — Maybe AI won't replace you, but your boss? Omar Karim writes on Linkedin.
CAKE — For some reason, we decided to have a fennel-themed dinner, and this cake won everyone's hearts. Make it!
PODCAST — The Rest Is Politics with Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell gives a nuanced view of global events. Plus, the hosts are British, so it's almost like listening to Stephen Fry reading the news.
TOOL — Is your inbox drowning in email newsletters? For $12 a month, you can put them into Feedly and read them like a feed.
The News Section
First, there are several breaking news stories to be aware of this weekend. The two main ones are:
Is Taylor Swift using her new boyfriend for SEO purposes?
This week, Taylor Swift brought her celebrity friends to watch her new boyfriend, Travis Kelce, on the football field when his Kansas City Chiefs took on the New York Jets.
Cute, sure. But some cynical people (including me) now wonder if the intention was to strategically push down the content which previously dominated the search for "Tayor Swift Jets".
Owning two private jets emitting 8,293.54 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2023 already, Taylor Swift has been named the celebrity with the highest carbon emissions and the top polluter among stars who take short flights on private jets. Private jets are responsible for 14 times more emissions per passenger than commercial planes.
The private jet she uses (because who doesn't need a spare?) is worth 40 million dollars, and has taken 170 trips since the beginning of the year, averaging about 140 miles per flight. Her CO2 emissions were 1,184.8 times more than the average person's annual emissions.
Swift's representatives defended her by stating that her jet is often loaned out to other individuals and that attributing all the trips to her is incorrect. But, despite celebrities defending their private jet use, the world's richest one per cent of people are responsible for half of the carbon emissions caused by flying.
Mission completed. Searching for "Taylor Swift Jets" now shows photos of the star hanging out with her friends. And she is not the only celebrity strategically weaponising SEO ... Searching for "selena gomez single" now gives you her new single titled “Single Soon,” to deceive anyone on the hunt for details about the singer's relationship status.
Meta Plans to Give European Users The Option to Pay $14 a Month for Ad-Free Instagram or Facebook
Meta is exploring offering a paid, ad-free option for Instagram and Facebook in response to new European regulations.
The Wall Street Journal reported that European users could pay under $14 monthly for an ad-free mobile version of Instagram or Facebook. The desktop version would cost approximately $10.50 monthly, with an extra $6 for each linked account. The mobile version's higher cost is due to Apple's 30% fee.
YouTube Premium, without ads, is priced at $14 monthly. TikTok is also testing a $5-per-month subscription fee.
A representative from Meta emphasised their commitment to ad-supported free services but mentioned they are considering alternatives to meet regulatory standards. However, the ad-free option would address the European Union's regulations, notably the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA).
Meta has engaged in discussions with privacy regulators in Ireland and Belgium about their subscription model. The European Union's Court of Justice has suggested that Meta could charge a suitable fee for an ad-free service to comply with regulations.
MrBeast Deepfake on TikTok: A Concerning Trend in Deceptive Advertising
Artificial Intelligence, Marketing
An AI-generated deepfake ad of MrBeast, one of YouTube's most influential creators, appeared on TikTok, slipping past the platform's ad moderation technology.
The ad claimed that MrBeast offered 10,000 viewers an iPhone 15 Pro for just $2, exploiting the fact that MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, is known for giving away free homes and cars in his videos.
Deceptive deepfakes are becoming more common as AI technology becomes more accessible. United States Federal Trade Commission has warned about deepfakes in marketing, but regulating this practice at scale is challenging. The use of deepfake technology is particularly worrying in democratic elections.
TikTok allows advertisers to use synthetic or manipulated media but requires clear disclosure when such technology is used.
In this case, TikTok removed the deepfake ad a few hours after it was posted because it violated the platform's advertising policies. Like Meta, TikTok uses a combination of human moderation and AI-aided technology to review ads before they are posted.
Meta Retires News Tab Before New Regulation Forces It To Pay News Media For Content
Meta is discontinuing the Facebook "News" tab in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, pre-empting new rules that might force the platform to pay news organisations for content. The decision means that Meta must pay news media for participating in the News tab. Meta will continue to honour existing deals but will not renew them when they expire and will not establish new paid news partnerships.
Although Facebook claims the News tab made up just 3% of viewed content on the platform, News has played an essential role for Meta. The company previously paid news organizations in the United Kingdom millions of dollars and funded a community news project. But all these initiatives have now been discontinued.
Meta has a history of changing its strategies regarding news and journalism, introducing and discontinuing tools to feature external news content. For example, the News tab was added to Facebook apps in 2020, but in the United States, it was removed already the year after.
Meta's inconsistent approach to news distribution has raised concerns in the media industry. Their "on and off" approach has made them an unreliable distributor of news content online. Still, traditional Media have relied on digital platforms for distribution, giving the tech companies significant power in the media industry.
However, legislation in Australia required digital platforms like Meta to pay for news content, leading to a standoff between Meta and the Australian government. Canada also passed a law requiring large digital media platforms to share revenue with news companies, prompting Meta to ban news links on its platform in Canada — causing chaos during the recent wildfires.
However, removing news content from Facebook has increased clickbait and questionable sources, suggesting collaboration between distribution platforms and journalism should be encouraged for a well-functioning information environment.
The Insights Section
Companies Would Lose Nearly 44% of Their Profits If They Were Expected To Pay For Their Climate Pollution
The world's corporations would face potential climate change-related damages equal to about 44% of their profits if they had to pay for the climate-change pollution they produce. This is calculated in a new study examining nearly 15,000 public companies globally.
These "corporate carbon damages" are estimated to be in the trillions of dollars globally, based on the cost of carbon dioxide pollution proposed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency: $190 per ton for carbon dioxide emissions. Damages were expressed as a percentage of profit and revenues, not in specific dollar amounts.
Approximately 90% of the calculated damage comes from four industries: energy, utilities, transportation, and manufacturing materials like steel.
The utility industry averaged damages more than twice its profits, while materials manufacturing, energy, and transportation sectors had average damages that exceeded their earnings. This can be compared to the banking and insurance industries, which averaged climate damages less than 1% of their profits.
Russia and Indonesia had the highest corporate climate damages among countries, while the United Kingdom and the United States had the lowest.
The study's calculations did not consider downstream emissions, meaning the total costs are still not captured in these large amounts. Also, while it is good to highlight how corporations' profits are making huge profits at the expense of a livable world, addressing carbon emissions should focus on shifting to zero carbon fuel rather than punishing measures against specific companies.
Behind the Scenes of the Niger Coup: Microsoft Uncovers Russia's African Political Playbook
Disinformation, Geopolitics, Russia
The Microsoft Threat Analysis Center released a report on Russian influence operations in Africa, focusing on the Niger coup earlier this year. It emphasises the importance of understanding how the internet is being used to fuel political instability worldwide.
In the Niger coup, authorities suppressed initial protests in Niamey (the capital), imposed a curfew and closed the borders. Counter-protests supporting the coup emerged, with participants waving Russian flags and accusing France of trying to reinstate the previous government. They also demanded France's exit from the Sahel region of Africa. But who was behind this sentiment?
The Microsoft Report identify several civil society groups involved in these events. Two groups, PARADE Niger and the Union of Pan-African Patriots, have shown a notably pro-Russian stance.
On further investigation, PARADE Niger seems to be an entity created by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs with limited support locally. The Union of Pan-African Patriots, on the other hand, serves as a political platform for an individual politician.
Both these groups have supported the coup, advocated for closer ties with Russia, coordinated offline protests, and showed inauthentic online behaviour to promote content.
The Microsoft report outlines six primary strategies in Russia's African coup playbook:
Run long-term influence campaigns that are both anti-French and pro-Russian.
Quick support for putschists during a coup, often through proxies.
Control the narrative post-coup, glorify military leaders, promote national sovereignty, and criticise France.
Amplify supporters to overshadow competing narratives and give an impression of widespread consensus.
Mobilise supporters to make it look like there is widespread support for the coup and partnership with Russia.
Suppress dissenting media. In Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, Radio France International and France 24 were identified as critical press and subsequently suspended.
Fossil Fuel Subsidies at $13 Million Per Minute in 2022
In 2022, subsidies for oil, coal, and natural gas reached a record high of $7 trillion, according to a report from the International Monetary Fund, which works out to $13 million every minute. That's nearly double what the world spends on education, equaling roughly 7% of global economic output.
Subsidies often come as tax breaks to keep people's gas prices and energy bills low. While these subsidies may temporarily relieve consumers through lower energy costs, they come with a considerable cost and represent a significant barrier, slowing the shift towards a cleaner, more sustainable economy.
Global Tech Experts Reveal Deep Concerns About Information Environment Trends in 54 Countries
The information environment is rapidly evolving. But how do technology experts worldwide perceive the information environment in their countries of expertise? A new study by the IPIE surveyed 289 researchers in Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Spanish, reporting on trends in 54 countries.
Here are some insights to take away from the study:
Fully two-thirds (66%) of the experts indicate that accurate information is the most essential feature of a healthy information environment, and half (50%) value the diversity of voices as vital.
Researchers perceive serious issues with artificial intelligence and online content moderation, which they attribute to a lack of accountability when content moderation is badly done (66%) and poorly designed AI-powered content moderation systems (55%).
Of the most severe threats to a healthy global information environment, social media platforms are flagged by a third (33%). Additionally, politicians were flagged by almost a third (31%) of the experts who study trends in democracies.
Almost three-quarters (72%) of the international research community points to the lack of access to platform data as the primary barrier to improving our understanding of the global information environment.
A majority (54%) expect the information environment in their countries of expertise to worsen in 2024. A minority (12%) believe it will improve.
Experts in autocracies perceive serious threats from national governments, state-backed media, and local news outlets, while experts studying democracies are concerned about foreign interference.
Additionally, experts studying autocracies are concerned about misinformation on gender issues, while experts studying democracies are most concerned about misinformation on climate science and the environment.
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