Splice News Trends: Twitter targets bots, Vox lays off staff and how a Russian troll works

In this week’s media roundup, The Splice Newsroom’s Alan Soon looks at the mechanics behind a troll factory, enforced 'disappearances' in Bangladesh and why Germany is more like China than you would think


A senior executive at Facebook created something of a shitstorm after tweeting a series of comments about the Russia investigation. The U.S. Justice Department indicted 13 people for their alleged involvement in Russian meddling in the election.

Rob Goldman, Facebook’s VP of advertising, tweeted to say that he was not only excited by the indictment, but that it showed “very definitively that swaying the election was not the main goal.” In doing so, Goldman unravelled months of policy work that Facebook has been doing behind the scenes to stay above partisan politics. It got worse: Trump retweeted him.

Twitter is finally clamping down hard on spam and bots. It’s telling developers not to allow users to post identical or “substantially similar” content across multiple accounts. It’s also going to stop people from simultaneously performing actions such as Likes, Retweets or Follows from multiple accounts. What took them so long?


A Belgian court ordered Facebook to stop collecting data on users, or face daily fines of €250,000. It said Facebook broke privacy laws by tracking people on third-party sites. “Facebook informs us insufficiently about gathering information about us, the kind of data it collects, what it does with that data and how long it stores it,” the court said.

Here’s a warning no one can ignore: Germany could be sleepwalking its way to building a “social credit system” which grades people on their online and offline behavior, according to a policy expert. He says Germany — alarmingly — is following China’s lead. “We are in a crucial phase in which we need to have a discussion about our values. Do we want to go on like this?” Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Vietnam doesn’t have anything close to China’s Great Firewall. So it’s trying a mix of strategies to rein in the internet. All of which will continue to stifle speech in the country.

The Bangladesh government is reportedly using “enforced disappearances” to silence critics. Worried about government pressure, media outlets are self-censoring.


Vox is laying off 50 people — about 5% of its workforce — as it pulls back from several initiatives. No surprise — video is one of them. The company said some of these plans “won’t be viable audience or revenue growth drivers for us relative to other investments we are making.”

The Atlantic is going the other way. It’s hiring. It’s adding 100 jobs, which represents a 30% increase in headcount. This comes six months after Emerson Collective picked up a majority stake in the company.

Podcasts may have exploded in the past couple of years in Australia. But an IAB Australia report says most ad agencies are still treating it as an experiment. Only 13% say they’re looking at voice marketing.

How do Russian trolls work? First you have to be able to write English perfectly. Second, you have to pass off as an American. Read the confessions of a Russian teacher who turned into a troll writer. “You were in some kind of factory that turned lying, telling untruths, into an industrial assembly line. The volumes were colossal — there were huge numbers of people, 300 to 400, and they were all writing absolute untruths.”

A federal court in New York ruled that you can infringe on copyright simply by embedding a tweet on a page. If that view is adopted by other courts, it would have a far-reaching effect on how millions of people use the internet.

Telegram raised $850 million on its way to its billion-dollar ICO. Apparently this is the largest initial coin offering to date.

Unsplash, the ubiquitous free photo web app, just raised $7.25 million. They say they want to “define a new currency around photography”, and that “the funds being invested today will be going toward defining a new economic model around photography.” All these financial metaphors (and the fact that Simple Token led the funding round) all adds up to — you guessed it! — blockchain for photos.


Arrested while assisting a pair of TRT journalists, Burmese fixer Aung Naing Soe spent two months in prison last year.But he says the job is worth the risks.

Aman Sethi is the new Editor-in-Chief of HuffPost India. He was formerly an Associate Editor at Hindustan Times. He was also the Africa Correspondent for The Hindu.


Singapore Press Holdings apologised to its users after one of its databases was hacked over a six-month period. Someone found a way into a moderator’s account on its gadget forum site HardwareZone and stole 685,000 user profiles.

Black faces and big bottoms. Just the kind of racist nonsense you’d expect to see in a gala show on CCTV.


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