Splice News Trends: GDPR hits, Cambodia’s press crackdown and China’s data power

In his latest roundup, The Splice Newsroom founder Alan Soon rounds off the first fallouts of the EU's privacy laws, censorship moves in Cambodia and Russia and why China's AI capabilities are the world's best

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Cambodia put out what must be the most restrictive coverage guidelines of any election I’ve seen. Rule #1 is the nail in the coffin for journalists: No reporting that “leads to confusion and loss of confidence in the election.” And if that doesn’t deter you, then there’s always this: No “expressing personal opinions or prejudice in reported events.”

This is a bit extreme — Papua New Guinea is shutting down Facebook for a month to figure out who’s using it, and how. Specifically, researchers will look into how fake news and porn gets consumed. Oddly, they’re also considering building their own social platform. Port Moresby must be the tech hub you’ve never heard of.

Sri Lanka’s president made some big promises on press freedom when he came to power. Some good has come from this, but the country’s track record is mixed. Here’s why.

Russia has been trying to shut down Telegram — and failing. It’s gone after VPN services and internet anonymisers to curb Telegram’s use. Fail. People are still using it. So now it’s asking Apple to take it off the App Store.


Facebook and Google were hit with lawsuits totalling almost $9 billion on the first day of GDPR last week. These were filed by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems who says the platforms aren’t doing enough. There will be more to come, but there’s a lot of confusion over how European regulators will enforce those new laws.

GDPR hits Facebook and Google

Facebook’s campaign to clean up political ads is sweeping up content that isn’t even related to campaigns. What is a political ad? The algo doesn’t actually know. Try to boost a post featuring words like “president” or “government” and you’ll likely get blocked. This becomes problematic for any kind of discourse concerning politics. (Case in point: Our attempt to boost the Sri Lanka story above was initially rejected; the algo saw the word “president” in the headline and marked it as political content.)

Google launched an app to serve local communities in India. Neighbourly aims to give answers to practical questions about everything local: parks, schools, cafes. Could be useful for local newsrooms as well.


We’ve always thought that mobile traffic equals social traffic.That was true for some time. But now, according to Chartbeat, mobile-based direct-to-site traffic is actually bigger than Facebook’s referrals. Check out these trend lines. There’s hope.

Publishers are shooting themselves in the foot with their pivots to subscriptions. Get customer service wrong and you’ve just exposed the biggest fraud in the industry: media companies don’t actually care about their audiences. “The biggest mistake of news publishers is their belief that the presumed uniqueness of their content is sufficient to warrant a lifetime of customer loyalty,” writes Frederic Filloux.

The whole point of GDPR is to enforce privacy by design. Privacy becomes the first building block, instead of an afterthought when something breaks. But, as futurist Amy Webb explains, GDPR will only splinter the web as we know it into tiered fiefdoms of people who have direct access to information and those who don’t. Something to think about.

Mary Meeker raised similar questions around privacy in her closely read annual report on the state of the internet. In China, people tend to give up personal data in exchange for services. The result, in the age of GDPR, is that China will have more data than anyone else in building out its AI capabilities. (Also watch her presentation video. Boring as lettuce, but there’s so much knowledge in there, I had to watch it twice.)

What do journalism studies actually study these days? Apparently a lot about what’s happening in newsrooms — but little in the way of this changing ecosystems. Oddly, not much on business models either. “I could not find any work on the business of journalism. I find that extraordinary, and extraordinarily troubling.”


If you read the Mekong Review, you would have seen her work. Janelle Retka is that rare breed — an illustrator and a journalist. She spoke to Splice Design about her process.

I must admit I’ve never heard of The Engine Room (but my friend Sam Dubberley says they’re doing great work). They help activists and organizations drive impact through data and tech. They’re looking for a regional lead to cover Asia. Interested?

Reuters Institute is inviting applications for their fellowship program. These provide mid-career journalists with “the opportunity to reflect on the industry and carry out media-based research while being part of the University of Oxford.” Sounds good to me.


A style tip: Romanized North Korean names typically don’t use hyphens. South Korean names on the other hand typically hyphenate and place the given name in lowercase. Eg. Ban Ki-moon.

AP has an update to its style guide. The plural of emoji? Emoji.


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