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Splice News Trends: China blocks WhatsApp, Facebook woes, awful Malaysian media schools

As a leading light of the commentariat in Asia, newsroom consultant and former alumnus of Yahoo, CNBC and Bloomberg, Alan Soon knows a thing or two about the media. Here is his roundup of developments inside the bubble this week

Governments

A month before The Big Party Congress, China appears to have blocked WhatsApp by using specialised technology designed to interfere with text messages. “This is not the typical technical method in which the Chinese government censors something.”

China also imposed “maximum fines” on three major social media platforms, Tieba, Weibo, and WeChat, for hosting banned content like fake news and porn. The online regulator didn’t say how big the fines were.
Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (thankfully abbreviated as NetzDG) comes into effect in Germany next week. This new law requires social networks to delete “blatantly illegal” hate speech within 24 hours of it being reported. Some people worry that the law could strangle free speech online.

Plaforms

Facebook is in a world of pain this week. Where do I begin? Remember those ads bought by Russian agents? They were apparently targeted at different segments of U.S. voters to incite hatred against blacks and Muslims. “Their aim was to sow chaos.”

Congress is looking into the specifics of those ads. The prospect of government pressure sent Facebook’s stock down 4.5 per cent on Monday – the worst slump since November. It’s recovered a little since then.

Obama reportedly tried to warn Zuckerberg that Facebook needed to take fake news and disinformation more seriously back in November. Zuck acknowledged the problem but said the messages weren’t widespread and there was no easy fix.

So it may be hard to fix. But it’s not impossible. Facebook has always tweaked its algo when it threatened the business.

Facebook is now running ads in Indian newspapers to warn people about fake news and how to identify it. I’m not sure it’s the newspaper audience that needs to be warned.

You’re getting this email because you asked for it. But for the most part, the content you run into on a regular day is algo-fed. As this BuzzFeed article puts it, “the machines are running the asylum.”

Twitter may just save us all from a nuclear war. It will start doubling the length of a tweet to 280 characters. This will roll out to a random set of people. It’s not clear if that includes Trump.

So if you threaten someone with violence on Twitter, you’d be suspended. Unless you’re a certain Donald threatening to obliterate North Korea. Because it’s “newsworthy.”

Twitter is testing out a “lite” Android app in the Philippines that uses less data than the regular app. “The Philippines market has slow mobile networks and expensive data plans, while mobile devices with limited storage are still very popular there.”

Trends

The Wall Street Journal will stop printing its newspaper in Hong Kong and Singapore at the end of next week. A shame – this is my only remaining print subscription. WSJ insists it’s not pulling out of Asia. “It’s less of a case of shutting down and more of a case of relooking at that business model and that solution.”

The Financial Times found fraudulent banner ad inventory on as many as 10 ad exchanges. “The scale of the fraud we found is jaw-dropping. The industry continues to waste marketing budgets on what is essentially organised crime.”

There’s an interesting trend in male-dominated media in Afghanistan: Women are taking charge of newsrooms.

Talent

Are Malaysian journalism schools producing the right talent for a career in media? Apparently not. “What we were taught is an amalgamation of all the bits that constitute media understanding, then rebranded to look like journalism.”

Tools

The Washington Post’s Arc Publishing released a white label native app that newsrooms can buy and use. Canada’s Globe and Mail is the first publisher on that platform.

The new macOS update is out. High Sierra has one great feature – it stops videos from autoplaying in Safari. Great for consumers, bad for publishers on a “pivot-to-autoplay-videos” strategy.

Notables 

I never knew this. There’s a whole ecosystem in China geared toward producing online celebrities. There are even incubators to produce KOLs – key opinion leaders.

Quote of the week 

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” —Stephen Hawking

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