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Generation gap on news via Facebook

Posted on August 31, 2017  /  0 Comments

I was amused to hear a senior scholar from Australia questioning a claim in a CPRsouth paper that Facebook was a source of news. In Myanmar, of all places. In his defense, I guess he was not aware of the LIRNEasia demand-side results on how people in Myanmar actually get their news. I’ve been using CPA survey data in my writing and speaking in Sri Lanka to show that the trend is for young people to get their news on Facebook. But is it different in developed countries?
We love that people read our research. But we would love it more if they try to do justice to how real people use the Internet.

Zeroing in on zero-rating in Myanmar

Posted on August 3, 2017  /  0 Comments

Zero-rating is a hot topic in the ICT policy and regulatory discourse. When a specific application or content is zero-rated, the user may consume an unlimited amount of that specific content without incurring data charges. One school of thought believes that zero-rated content acts as an on-ramp to the Internet, others argue that it violates the principles of net neutrality by promoting some content over others. Mozilla funded research in seven countries to feed into this somewhat evidence starved policy debate. LIRNEasia carried out the research for this global study in Myanmar and India.
At LIRNEasia, we are looking at how online freelancing platforms can make life easier and better at the bottom of the pyramid. In Bengaluru, a few cases stand out. First, some urban freelancers have found means of circumventing platform fees. Second, women in semi-urban areas don’t seem to trust the internet enough to consider working online.
I recently had the opportunity to participate at the Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Institute 2017 held at the University of Oxford thanks to the generous funding from the Ford Foundation. A variety of topics pertaining to Internet governance such as Internet architecture, net neutrality and multistakeholderism were discussed.  The sometimes-divergent views from those from those from different backgrounds (such as civil society, government, corporates) served as food for thought. The conversation that ensued on balancing between the freedom of expression and hate speech will serve as a useful input to LIRNEasia’s upcoming work on online behaviour in Myanmar. Here I also got the chance to present LIRNEasia’s research on free and subsidized data in Myanmar and India.
According to information obtained from the Facebook advertising portal, we calculate that 29 percent of Myanmar’s population has a Facebook account. I wanted to cross check from our 2016 survey. We found 35 percent of the mobile users were also Facebook users. The base here is smaller (not the entire population by telephone users in the 15-65 age group). So obviously, our number has to be higher than 29.
I was working on some comparative numbers. Most of these are recent and from reliable, credible sources. Interesting insights. Most people think Facebook use is a subset of Internet use. But in SE Asia, Internet use is always lower than Facebook use.
In a parable I worked up in 2012, I speculated on the possibilities of joint ventures between Internet companies such as Facebook and the last-mile access companies to enhance the user experience. Some details of a dispute in South Korea shed light on the problem: According to SKB, there were initially two ways to connect to Facebook in Korea: via a direct connection to Facebook’s server in Hong Kong and via rerouting to a local cache server in Korea operated by local telecom provider KT. The cache server is used to save online content locally in temporary storage, called a cache, and in turn improve the connection speed for accessing foreign internet services. Facebook currently pays KT to use its cache server. SKB argued that Facebook deliberately cut off its link to KT’s faster cache server last December and has since been clashing over network maintenance issues.
Just yesterday, I wrote about the new regulation being rolled out by Facebook. Here is a description by Farhad Manjoo of the nuts and bolts of its operation. The people who work on News Feed aren’t making decisions that turn on fuzzy human ideas like ethics, judgment, intuition or seniority. They are concerned only with quantifiable outcomes about people’s actions on the site. That data, at Facebook, is the only real truth.
Facebook has published a 13-page “white paper” on the ways by which its platform has been, and continues to be, used for information operations by various actors including state actors. The document presents certain remedial actions being taken by Facebook, most relying on anomaly detection techniques from data analytics and natural language processing. Providing a platform for diverse viewpoints while maintaining authentic debate and discussion is a key component of Facebook’s mission. We recognize that, in today’s information environment, social media plays a sizable role in facilitating communications — not only in times of civic events, such as elections, but in everyday expression. In some circumstances, however, we recognize that the risk of malicious actors seeking to use Facebook to mislead people or otherwise promote inauthentic communications can be higher.
Never a good idea to read a paper, even though one existed because I wrote it up at the request of the organizers of the Manipal conference. Here is the conclusion: The communication space has been transformed by the attention economy. Thinking on policy has changed, with policy expected to set the ground rules for all participants rather than just define the role of the state. Operational challenges are significant given the difficulties of delimiting the scope of communication policy. But even more challenging is that theory has not caught up with practice.
For some, Facebook is a bad thing. That was an underlying theme of the opposition to Free Basics and zero rating. I guess having less women use a bad thing is good, so they should be happy. The fact remains that Facebook is the most popular app, the killer app that everyone was looking for. So even if it does not meet the standards of the purists, very low use by women should be of concern to pragmatists.
As is common with people in this line of business, all the emphasis is on technology, not on business case. Mundane stuff like revenue streams, customer care, etc. are ignored. Also bad reporting: no one in Sri Lanka has “seen” Internet service over Loon in 2016. But hey, there’s about 40 days left.

Is Facebook an echo chamber?

Posted on October 31, 2016  /  0 Comments

An interesting discussion of the effects of communication technology on political polarization includes this nugget Although technology has contributed to polarization, it may also help rescue us. For example, Facebook has automated story selection for its custom news feed; for political news this tends to foster an echo-chamber effect. However, Facebook data scientists have found a better source of diversity: almost 30 percent of hard-news reports originating from friends reflect opposing views. Even better, individuals are likelier to engage with information like this when it is presented in a social context. I found this especially interesting because our surveys show that Facebook is by far the most common source of information at the bottom of the pyramid in our part of the world.
I once wrote a parable to make sense of the positions the various players were taking on Internet developments. After the dust settled, I expected them to work together to make money, rather than run behind the ITU or national governments asking for favors. Facebook has been explaining what it wants to do to make the Internet experience better for all users. Subramanian outlined a couple of its many bold network initiatives it is working on to bring access to the estimated 4.2 billion people who aren’t connected.
“Either we disrupt or we get disrupted,” warned Cisco’s outgoing CEO John Chambers in his last speech to the industry last year. He also said that 40% of companies will be dead in 10 years. “If I’m not making you sweat, I should be,” Chambers quipped. He was referring to the rising tide of innovation that breaches the dyke of comfort zone where conventional verticals reside. Less than a year after Chambers’ keynote, GSMA has reported how the mobile industry has failed to secure a sizable share from $3.