Splice News Trends: Facebook’s latest ‘mistake’, the revival of podcasts and ST gets ‘premium’

In this week’s media roundup, The Splice Newsroom’s Alan Soon looks at the possible end of What's App's encryption, building a media empire across South Asia and the latest woes for Rappler

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How does a company that hires so many smart people do stupid shit like this? Facebook said it asked users whether paedophiles requesting sexual pictures from children should be allowed on its website. In a policy survey, it asked: “In thinking about an ideal world where you could set Facebook’s policies, how would you handle the following: a private message in which an adult man asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures.” First, it’s illegal in most countries. Second, WTF were you thinking with a question like that? Facebook said it was a “mistake.”

Facebook ended its much-hated Explore Feed test, which devastated engagement for publishers in six countries. One reason: It was “harder for people in the test countries to access important information.” You think?

Facebook once told publishers to feed it stories that had a longer shelf life so they optimize their discovery. Now it’s going the other way, asking publishers to send more immediate stories and to label them as Breaking News. Rules: You can use these Breaking labels once a day. And as a bonus, you get 5 extra labels a month. It says early tests show a 4% lift in CTR.

Ok. Last FB story, I promise. So Facebook is trying to classify satirical news. It’s hard enough to tell fake news from real, let alone something that’s meant to be in jest. Talk about explaining the joke.


Taking a page out of Cambodian dictatorship, the Philippines tax authority is going after Rappler for allegedly evading taxes of about $2.5 million. “This is clear intimidation and harassment. The government is wasting its energy and resources in an attempt to silence reporting that does not please the administration,” said Rappler’s founder Maria Ressa. The same tax authority had previously commended Rappler as one of its top corporate taxpayers.

NYT’s Nick Kristof snuck into Rakhine on a tourist visa to report on the atrocities on the ground. Fine. But I don’t care how famous you are. By sneaking in, you’re now going to make life even harder for the journalists on the ground who are trying to find ways of getting the word out. The government, which already distrusts local and foreign journalists, is only going to make everyone’s lives more difficult. Don’t forget the people who helped you in there — you’re putting their lives at risk too.\

In China, human rights activist Zhang Guanghong was arrested and charged for insulting the government and Party. Here’s the scary part: His lawyer says prosecutors had printouts of what he said on WhatsApp. Has China found a way to hack encrypted, non-China chat apps?

Singapore is considering a law that would stop anyone from taking videos and photos of terror attacks and transmitting them. It would also ban the communication via text or audio of the security operations in the area. Worrying.

Kirsten Han, writing in the Washington Post, warns Singapore is seeing an increased clampdown on dissent and civil society. She says the government efforts will ironically only create an environment where disinformation and conspiracy theories thrive.


SCMP launched its second product this year (yes, it’s only March). It’s called Inkstone, the SCMP’s guide to China. “Don’t speak Chinese, never traveled to China, and don’t know your Qing dynasty from your Ming? That’s cool. We’ve got your back.” Check out this gorgeous site.

I missed this last week. The Straits Times is trying to get people to pay for “premium” stories. There’s now a paid plan to get access to “exclusive stories” (I hate that label) and in-depth (another cliched label to drop) opinion pieces. The regular local and international stories will remain free. I don’t get it. What’s the incentive?

Chiang Mai News is ending its print run. The oldest paper in Thailand’s northern region is all digital from now.

Have podcasts finally arrived? Serial, Gimlet, NYT’s The Daily… Wired thinks we’ve finally found the right traction in highly-produced daily news podcasts.

Techmeme, that influential news aggregator that top tech execs read, is finally getting with the times. It’s launching a podcast. (If you saw the design of their website, you’ll see why this is unusual.)

Switzerland voted overwhelmingly to keep its public broadcaster. 71% rejected a proposal to cut taxpayer funding for public media.


Bilibili, one of China’s top video streaming platforms, is looking to raise $400 million in a NASDAQ IPO. The company hasn’t made a profit, but is growing fast enough to get investor attention. One of its rivals, iQIYI, also recently filed for an IPO in the US.

BuzzSumo reports that social sharing of content has halved since 2015. So it isn’t that Facebook has been tweaking the algo (although that’s a big part), but that people have been sharing more content through private channels like chat apps and email. And here’s another reason to get your SEO act together: Google is now driving twice as much traffic to publishers.

I love it when journalists rant. BBC media editor and former Independent editor Amol Rajan gave a speech about how media has destroyed its own credibility and needs to stop blaming everyone else for the destruction of the industry. “To this litany of cowardice, this catalogue of doom, this pathetic poltroonery, I say quite simply: enough is enough.”

Is your Alexa laughing at you? Apparently she’s been doing this a lot, much to Amazon’s embarrassment, and customers don’t think it’s funny when their device spontaneously lets out a “chilling witch-like laugh”. Also: “loud and creepy laugh”. Better a loud and creepy machine than a loud and creepy human is what we say. Amazon says it will fix it.


Building a media empire across South Asia isn’t easy. But that’s what 25-year-old founder Mustafa Kassim has done. Within four years, Sri Lanka’s Roar now delivers news in five languages across three countriesA Splice Original.

Asian Journalism Fellowship is looking for applicants to join their 2018 cohort. It’s a fantastic program that brings together seasoned journos from around the region to live and work for three months in Singapore. Details here.

Someone is trying to build an open-source, blockchain-based licensing system for content. Ok, not just someone — Jarrod Dicker ran the digital-research lab at The Washington Post. We think he’s worth watching.


I’ve started using TransferWise to pay our writers and vendors. Far cheaper than using those damn bank transfers. If you want to try it, here’s a link that would get you a free transfer of up to £500.

A story published on The Better India, India’s good news “solution-based journalism” site, has made it into India’s national school syllabus. Students will read all about how poachers turned protectors in the eastern state of Odisha.

Meet Big Daddy Dough in Hong Kong. Economist by day, rapper by night. Here he is explaining the importance of this year’s National People’s Congress.

Gosh. A mom in China says her toddler disabled her iPhone for 25 million minutes by entering the wrong passcode repeatedly. That’s er… 47 years. Grounded!

Bravo! The New York Times put ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in a headline. Splice like.

Shower thought of the week 

In 51 years, the song summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams will get really popular again.


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