Posts tagged with "Buzzfeed"

Facebook gets grief for including Breitbart in News tab

October 29, 2019

Can Facebook do anything that doesn’t draw fire from users, regulators, legislators, and the media? After years of complaints from American news outlets that the social media site has The Washington Post reports that Facebook has agreed to compensate at least some news organizations as part of a specialized “News” tab meant to steer users toward curated national and local news stories.

But the project immediately raised new controversy when it became known that Breitbart News—a Web outlet linked to right-wing causes that was once run by former Trump adviser Steve Bannonhad been included among the 200 media outlets participating in the program.

“Given that Facebook is putting actual news outlets in the same category as Breitbart, actual news outlets should consider quickly withdrawing from the program,” Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters for America, a liberal nonprofit media watchdog, told the Post.

At an event in New York to launch the project, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended Breitbart’s inclusion. “You want to include a breadth of content to make sure all different topics can be covered,” Zuckerberg said.

Other outlets participating include The Washington Post, The New York Times, News Corp., BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, Bloomberg News, Fox News, NBCUniversal, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

The News tab marks the latest iteration of Facebook’s approach to online news, the Post reports. Before January 2018, the company had been a leading distributor of news, but that role was dogged by the presence in its feed of false and misleading information, as well as by allegations that its news feed and other features tilted toward liberal viewpoints

Zuckerberg did not go into specifics about how different publishers would be compensated, and media analysts expressed skepticism that the arrangement will help the small and medium local outlets that have been most seriously undercut by the rise of online news distribution.

“The vast majority of local news outlets are not included, and that is part of the news ecosystem that’s most at risk,” David Chavern, the president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, a trade association of news publishers, told The Washington Post.

Chavern called Facebook’s agreement to pay at least some news outlets for their content a step in the right direction, noting that tech platforms have been “uniquely unwilling to pay for news and quality journalism.”

The News tab already is available to more than 200,000 Facebook users in the United States, with a broader rollout planned for early next year. The new service, Facebook executives say, should make it easier for users to locate the day’s major headlines, as well as stories geared toward particular topics or locales.

The initiative could reach 20 million to 30 million people over a few years, Zuckerberg said.

 Research contact: @washingtonpost

Why Facebook may know when you last had sex

September 11, 2019

Did you think that you and your partner or spouse were the only ones who knew (maybe, aside from your next-door neighbors) when you two last had sex? Wrong. Facebook may know, too, according to a September 9 report in The New York Times. And they also may know when it’s “that time of the month.”

How is that possible?

According to the UK-based privacy watchdog, Privacy International, at least two menstruation- and ovulation-tracking apps, Maya and MIA Fem, have shared intimate details of users’ sexual health with Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, as well as other entities.

In some cases, the data shared with external social media (which are self-recorded by users in the app) included:

  • When a user last had sex,
  • The type of contraception used,
  • Her mood, and
  • Whether she was ovulating.

The Times notes, “The findings raise questions about the security of our most private information in an age where employers, insurers, and advertisers can use data to discriminate or target certain categories of people.”

The information was shared with the social media giant via the Facebook Software Development Kit, a product that allows developers to create apps for specific operating systems, track analytics, and monetize their apps through Facebook’s advertising network. Privacy International found that Maya and MIA began sharing data with Facebook as soon as a user installed the app on her phone and opened it, even before a privacy policy was signed.

Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne told the new outlet that advertisers did not have access to the sensitive health information shared by these apps. In a statement, he said Facebook’s ad system “does not leverage information gleaned from people’s activity across other apps or websites” when advertisers choose target users by interestBuzzFeed first reported the news.

However, the fact is that today, many apps still are not subject to the same rules as most health data.

Some of the apps even have come under scrutiny as powerful monitoring tools for employers and health insurers, which have aggressively pushed to gather more data about their workers’ lives than ever before under the banner of corporate wellness. Plus, it appears the data could be shared more broadly than many users recognize, as flagged by the Privacy International study.

Several period- and pregnancy-tracking apps have been called out for sharing health data with women’s employers and insurance companies, as well as for security flaws that reveal intimate information, the Times reports.

Deborah C. Peel, a psychiatrist and founder of the nonprofit Patient Privacy Rights, based in Austin, Texas,  told the Times that people expect their health data to be protected by the same laws that protect their health information in a doctors office, but that many apps aren’t subject to the same rules.

“Most people would want to make their own decisions about what’s known about their sex life, about whether it’s shared or not,” said Peel. “Right now we have no ability to do that.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Over and out: Rod Rosenstein leaves the DoJ

May 13, 2019

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—whose double-dealing on behalf of the Trump administration only was revealed during his final weeks at the Department of Justice—left the agency on his own terms on Friday, May 10, BuzzFeed reported.

Rosenstein oversaw Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election—and was assumed by the public to be a staunch defender of the probe, which had the president and his staff and family in its sights.

However, recently the public learned that the deputy AG was more focused on protecting his job security. Indeed, he had promised the president,“I can land the plane [safely],” in reference to the investigation. What’s more, word has come out that Rosenstein avidly followed up on White House leaks on behalf of Trump.

When Rosenstein was confirmed in April 2017, then–attorney general Jeff Sessions had already recused himself from the Russia investigation, putting Rosenstein in charge of the most politically fraught criminal investigation in decades from day one.

Trump never acted on what is by now a documented urge to get rid of the official overseeing Mueller’s work. Instead of being forced out as Sessions was after the midterm election in November, Rosenstein on May 9 got what Sessions did not, BuzzFeed reported: a glowing farewell ceremony in the Justice Department’s Great Hall, complete with a tribute video.

Rosenstein sat on the stage, flanked by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Attorney General Bill Barr, as speakers praised his dedication to the department over three decades and his service over the past two years, the news outlet said.

Rosenstein didn’t directly reference the Mueller investigation in his remarks—Congress is in turmoil dealing with the aftermath of the conclusion of Mueller’s work, and Rosenstein could be called to testify—but he spoke generally about how the DOJ “stands apart from politics.”

“Government officials sometimes face pressure to compromise principles, perhaps even to trade virtue for the appearance of virtue. But we should exercise caution when uncomfortable circumstances tempt us to disregard timeless principles. It is most important to follow the rules when the stakes are high,” he said.

Rosenstein’s replacement, Department of Transportation official Jeffrey Rosen, hasn’t been confirmed yet—but is expected to be in place soon; the Senate Judiciary Committee voted this week along party lines to advance his nomination, and he isn’t expected to face any problems in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Research contact: @BuzzFeed

Federal judge ponders review of Mueller report redactions

April 19, 2019

The federal judge who reviews documents for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) dissemination is asking to scrutinize the redacted version of the Mueller Report, in order to ensure that all deletions have been made for legal purposes—and not with the intent of withholding information from the Congress or the American public.

As reported by The Daily Beast, Federal District Judge Reggie Walton expressed interest in reviewing the Mueller report redactions in order to expedite Freedom of Information Act requests for the highly anticipated report.

“Obviously there is a real concern as to whether there is full transparency,” Walton said at a Tuesday court hearing regarding a request from BuzzFeed to have the Justice Department release the report quickly under FOIA. “The attorney general has created an environment that has caused a significant part of the American public to be concerned.”

If Walton is successful, the review would be a win for those suing for the report’s release because it would bring in a judge to look at the reasoning over redactions. It is unclear whether the version of the report made public Thursday will be identical to what the department releases under FOIA.

“That’s something we’ll have to work through and something I’ll have to think about,” Walton said.

Indeed, according to Politico, Justice Department attorney Courtney Enlow declined to say whether the version of the report made public Thursday will be identical to what the department releases under FOIA. Nor could she say whether she’d be prepared to commit to that during another hearing set for May 2 on the BuzzFeed case and a related suit.

“I can’t give you a timeline,” Enlow said.

However, the judge said Tuesday that he plans to “fast track” the issue of the report and what information in it must be disclosed, then deal with other records from Mueller’s probe.

Walton said he hopes any disputes will be limited because the Justice Department makes the bulk of the document public.

“I would hope that the government is as transparent as it can be,” the judge said.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Dems vow to ‘get to the bottom’ of allegations that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress

January 21, 2019

President Donald Trump directed his longtime former personal  attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter, BuzzFeed reported late on January 17.

The story, which invalidates Trump’s ongoing claim that he had no business deals with Russia—and apprehends him in a maneuver to mislead federal legislators—exposes the president to criminal culpability, like he has never been before.

Indeed, according to The Washington Post, Democrats in Congress vowed on January 18 to thoroughly investigate the new report—with Representative Jerry Nadler (D-New York), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee,  vowing that his panel would “get to the bottom” of the allegations.

Early on Friday, Nadler tweeted, “We know that the President has engaged in a long pattern of obstruction. Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime. The @HouseJudiciary Committee’s job is to get to the bottom of it, and we will do that work.”

Representative Adam B. Schiff (D-California), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, released a formal statement, asserting, ““It is now alleged that the president … directed Michael Cohen to lie under oath to Congress about these matters in an effort to impede the investigation and to cover up his business dealings with Russia. These allegations may prove unfounded, but, if true, they would constitute both the subornation of perjury as well as obstruction of justice.

“Our committee,” said Schiff, “is already working to secure additional witness testimony and documents related to the Trump Tower Moscow deal and other investigative matters. As a counterintelligence concern of the greatest magnitude, and given that these alleged efforts were intended to interfere with our investigation, our Committee is determined to get to the bottom of this and follow the evidence wherever it may lead.”

In his first public comments on the report, Trump went on Twitter on Friday morning to quote a Fox News reporter, Kevin Corke, as saying, “Don’t forget, Michael Cohen has already been convicted of perjury and fraud, and as recently as this week, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that he may have stolen tens of thousands of dollars….”

“Lying to reduce his jail time!” Trump added in his own words.

According to the BuzzFeed report, the special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and what BuzzFeed described as “a cache of other documents.”

Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with the special counsel’s office, BuzzFeed reported.

In a statement, Lanny J. Davis, a legal communications adviser to Cohen, said that both he and Cohen are declining to respond to reporters’ questions “out of respect for Mr. Mueller’s and the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation.”

Research contact: jason.leopold@buzzfeed.com

Avocado or Nutella toast? Here’s what nutritionists say

November 20, 2018

They are both mouth-watering treats that have been trending all year on social media. But which would you guess is the healthier snack?

Graeme Tomlinson— a 31-year-old UK-based, self-described “evidence-based [fitness] coach and nutrition geek”—recently posted two pictures of toast side-by-side on Instagram: one covered with Nutella; and the other, with half of an avocado. He asked his 156,000 followers on the site to choose the more nutritious “nosh.”

Tomlinson, widely known as The Fitness Chef, pointed out that we often “idolize” and “demonize” foods, which, of course, is not a great thing to do.

However, according to a BuzzFeed report on the experiment, he also went on to say that you might choose one or the other depending on your specific goals—getting more nutrients or eating fewer calories.

“Looking in factual objectivity, consumption of the former [avocado toast] means consumption of more nutrients, marginally more fiber and more calories; while consumption of the latter means …[fewer] nutrients, marginally less fiber, but less calories,” reads the caption, which got nearly 12,000 likes.

“Therefore,” said Tomlinson, “the avocado toast may be a good idea if the goal for that snack is to consume more nutrients, whilst the Nutella toast may be a better option if calorie reduction is the goal.”

People had some strong thoughts about comparing the foods based on their calorie content. As can happen on the Internet, the image was also tweeted out without the original caption.

And–lacking that caption—it was kind of hard to tell what the creator’s point was, BuzzFeed said. It seemed to imply that Nutella on white bread might be a better choice than avocado toast, based on calorie count alone.

Others weren’t happy with the focus on a 13-calorie difference between the two—because, really, 13 calories are nearly meaningless.

However, a calorie isn’t just a calorie, Cynthia Sass, a registered dietitian and board-certified sports dietician with practices in New York and Los Angeles told BuzzFeed in an email.”Let’s say the bread was identical, so we’re just comparing avocado to Nutella. One is whole food nourishment, and the other is a processed treat, even if they provide the same number of calories.”

Indeed, Sass pointed out, avocado has 20 important nutrients and provides antioxidants and health-protective fat. Conversely, Nutella contains more additives — including sugar—than it does hazelnuts.

“Comparing these two is like comparing one cup of fresh blueberries (85 calories) to 10 gummy bears (85 calories),” she told the news outlet. “Even at the same calorie level the impact on your health is very different.

“As a nutritionist, I don’t like to see food demonized,” Keri Gans, a registered dietitian nutritionist in New York remarked during a BuzzFeed interview. “I think that when you are making food choices you should be thinking ‘This might be a healthier choice,’ or ‘This might be better for me,’but there is also room for foods that might not be so nutritious for you. And that’s ok. We are trying to move away from the mentality and the association of food with guilt.”

Gans simply would recommend that if you’re making toast—with anything on it—that you try to choose 100% whole grain because of the fiber and nutrients.

Research contact: theresa.tamkins@buzzfeed.com

Nearly all asylum applicants from the last migrant caravan were allowed U.S. entry

October 29, 2018

More than 90% of the Central Americans who applied for asylum after arriving at the U.S. border in last spring’s caravan passed the first step of the application process and were allowed into the country, according to figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, BuzzFeed reported on October 26.

Of the 401 people whom USCIS considered to be part of the caravan, 374 (or 93%) passed what’s known as a credible fear of torture or persecution interview, during which immigration officials determine whether an asylum applicant has a well-founded suspicion that he or she will be tortured or persecuted back home because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

If they pass the interview with an asylum officer, their case goes before an immigration judge.

The high success rate of asylum seekers in the spring caravan—which arrived at the border in May following a month(s)-long trek across Mexico, may explain why the Trump administration now is considering ways to prevent new arrivals from applying for asylum at the border — something that is allowed under US immigration law. The overall success rate for asylum seekers’ credible fear interview has been 76% in 2018, BuzzFeed said.

Under a proposal that is still being debated inside the Trump administration, the president would issue a proclamation barring residents of certain countries from entering the United States as security risks. The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice would then cite that proclamation to bar the asylum applicants.

According to the news outlet, “The move would be a sweeping change by the Trump administration to longstanding immigration practice and would undoubtedly draw a legal challenge. But advocates of the proposal believe a Supreme Court decision that allowed the Trump travel ban to go into effect earlier this year paved the way for such a step.”

Indeed, the president has repeatedly denounced the new caravan—which at one time numbered more than 7,000 people and is now about half that size—saying that it includes criminals, although nearly two-thirds of those fleeing persecution appear to be women and children. The majority of those in the new caravan are from Honduras and Guatemala.

“All of these threats and deterrents aren’t working because there is an actual credible refugee crisis,” Allegra Love, an immigration attorney who helped screen potential asylum-seekers during the last caravan, told BuzzFeed in an interview. “Short of closing the border to migrants and refugees there’s not a lot you can do,”

Love is concerned the Trump administration will close ports of entry to people with lawful asylum claims. “There are children on this caravan, I think we have to always remember we’re going to be closing doors to a child, not that adults don’t deserve the same compassion,” Love said. “We’re creating an international crisis.”

Research contact: adolfo.flores@buzzfeed.com

‘All-out’ effort: Trump blocks immigration; sets cap at 30,000 for 2019

September 20, 2018

Abandon hope, all ye who would enter here: President Donald Trump plans to cap the number of refugees allowed into the United States over the next year at 30,000, the administration announced on September 17. That represents an historic low for the program, which resettles foreigners fleeing from war, violence, and persecution.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the changes, according to a report by BuzzFeed —saying the cut reflected the “daunting operational reality” of processing the growing backlog of U.S. asylum claims.

“In consideration of both U.S. national security interest and the urgent need to restore integrity to our overwhelmed asylum system, the United States will focus on addressing the humanitarian protection cases of those already in the country,” Pompeo said.

The cap, which will go into effect in October, is the lowest it has been since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, which standardized resettlement services nationwide. Once the ceiling is reached in fiscal year 2019, America will no longer allow refugees to enter the country — even if they meet the requirements of the program.

The refugee resettlement cuts represent the latest in a long series of efforts by Trump to deter both legal and illegal immigration, BuzzFeed said. Just weeks after taking office in 2017 the POTUS fulfilled his campaign promise of “extreme vetting”suspending the refugee program entirely for 120 days, part of a broader executive order banning travel and immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries.

Since then, the president has scaled back refugee admissions dramatically, lowering the refugee cap to 45,000 in 2018, down from 110,000 the previous year. And with two weeks to go in the fiscal year, the administration has admitted just 20,918 refugees — less than half the number allowed under the current cap.

In a statement on September 18,  Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the of the Senate Judiciary Committee, chastised the Trump administration for not consulting with Congress before setting the cap, saying, “While I appreciate the administration’s commitment to protecting national security and public safety by proposing a refugee cap…it is imperative the agencies abide by their statutory mandate to consult with Congress before any number is proposed. Yet, for the second year in a row, the administration has willfully ignored its statutory mandate to inform and consult with Congress, including designated members of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, about the number of refugees to be admitted during the next fiscal year.”

Federal law requires an in-person consultation with Congress by a cabinet official before any presidential determination can be issued. Last year, Grassley and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-California) also rebuked the administration for a lack of consultation ahead of the annual refugee cap announcement.

Research contact: michelle@buzzfeed.com

Do you drink on first dates?

June 28, 2018

Going on a first date can be a daunting experience. It’s the rule (not the exception) to worry that your outfit is all wrong, that your armpits will get sweaty, or that you won’t know what to say. As a result, more than a few singles say they have sipped some “liquid courage” before that special someone arrives.

In fact, according to the findings of a 2014 survey conducted by the dating site, Plenty of Fish, over one-third (36.4%) of singles say they have calmed their nerves with a drink in advance of a date—and nearly half (48.9%) say they often drink moderately during an initial night out. Just 9.2% of respondents draw the line at drinking on a first encounter and, instead, brave any awkwardness without chemical alterations.

But, if you drink, what should you ask for? The researchers found that 26.6% of men think that “the most attractive drink” for their date to order is red wine, while 23.3% of women appreciate it when their date orders a pint of craft beer.

Of course, it’s easier to drink, if you are in the right surroundings. According to a poll by BuzzFeed, 28% of respondents preferred dinner at a romantic restaurant on a first date; 20%, a night at a theme park; and 18%, either the movies or dinner in and a DVD.

What if the night’s going really well, and you decide to make it last a few more hours? The Plenty of Fish survey found that 19.1% of single men have actually gotten drunk on a first date — and so have 16.8% of women. It’s not always a good look, but, hey, it happens.

Either way, it’s a crapshoot—at least that’s what Princeton University psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov discovered in 2006.  It only takes a tenth of a second to form a first impression. And it doesn’t matter how funny your jokes are or whether or not you offer to pay for dinner. Longer exposure can’t alter how your date saw you when they first cast their (no doubt impeccably bespectacled) eyes in your direction.

Research contact: @PlentyOfFish

Don’t trust that online product review!

May 11, 2018

Do you habitually check Amazon’s product reviews before you place your orders? If so, BuzzFeed has a cautionary tale to tell—and although the names have been changed, the alleged “fraud” is all too real, the website claims.

It involves manufacturers/merchants that will pay for five-star ratings—and sellers such as Amazon that cannot root out or thwart fake product evaluations.

As BuzzFeed reports, one morning in late January, “Jake” picked up a shipping box, tore through the packaging, found the enclosed iPhone case, snapped a photo, and uploaded it to an Amazon review he was busy composing.

The review raved about the case’s sleek design and cool, clear volume buttons. He finished it off with a glowing title (“The perfect case!!”) and rated the product a perfect five stars. Click. Submitted.

There’s just one problem: Jake had never tried the case. He doesn’t even have an iPhone, BuzzFeed notes.

He then copied the link to his review and pasted it into an invite-only Slack channel for paid Amazon reviewers. A day later, he received a notification from PayPal, alerting him to a new credit in his account: A $10 refund for the phone case he will never use, along with $3 for his efforts.

“Jake” and four other reviewers who spoke to BuzzFeed for the story asked to remain anonymous for fear Amazon would ban their accounts.

They are part of an underground network—a complicated web of subreddits, invite-only Slack channels, private Discord servers, and closed Facebook groups—and, according to BuzzFeed, the incentives are simple: Being a five-star product is crucial to selling inventory at scale in the intensely competitive online marketplace — so important that manufacturers and merchants are willing to pay thousands of people to review their products positively.

And it works, time after time: In a 2011 Cone survey, 87% of consumers said that a positive review confirmed their decision to purchase a product; online customer reviews are the second most trusted source of product information, behind recommendations from family and friends. But only 3% to 10% of “real” customers leave reviews.

It’s not that Amazon and other marketplaces haven’t tried: In October 2016, Amazon banned free items or steep discounts in exchange for reviews facilitated by third parties.

But , already, they are back. Tommy Noonan, CEO of ReviewMeta, a site that analyzes Amazon product ratings, said what he calls “unnatural reviews —that is, reviews, that his algorithm indicates might be fake—have returned to the platform. In June 2017, Noonan noticed an uptick in unnatural reviews along with an increase in the average rating of products, and the rate of growth hasn’t slowed since.

Amazon won’t reveal how many reviews—fraudulent or tota—it has, BuzzFeed says. But based on his analysis of Amazon data, Noonan estimates that Amazon hosts around 250 million reviews. Noonan’s website has collected 58.5 million of those reviews, and the ReviewMeta algorithm labeled 9.1%, or 5.3 million of the dataset’s reviews, as “unnatural.”

A word to the wise: An unnatural review doesn’t necessarily mean a product is substandard. But the problem with paid-for reviews is that they make it difficult for consumers—even savvy ones (and we know you are)—to determine whether what they’re buying is actually good or bad.

Research contact: nicole.nguyen@buzzfeed.com