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Why politics have exploded on the video platform



Politics are hard to miss on YouTube this year.

Last month, Joe Biden made a splash when his campaign bought out YouTube’s homepage with an ad about sports stadiums that had been left empty by the coronavirus pandemic. The ad got more than 10 million impressions, his most ever on the site.

President Donald Trump’s campaign has purchased YouTube homepage ads, too, and he reserved the space again for early November as voting ends, Bloomberg News has reported. The ads are autoplay, making them all but unavoidable.

Beyond those ads, politics are popping up in all sorts of videos. A legion of well-practiced right-wing YouTube personalities, some with large followings, have been posting daily videos boosting Trump and launching attacks against Biden. And digital strategists for various political campaigns are exploring ways to seep political discussion deeper into YouTube’s niche audiences, placing ads alongside cooking shows, for example. Others are working on campaigns that ask for donations, which used to be less common on the site.

YouTube, founded in 2005, has often been overshadowed by the likes of Facebook and Twitter as a place where political campaigning happens online, but this year is shaping up differently, and the fall promises to test YouTube’s capacity to serve as a political referee.

“YouTube has come into its own. It has blossomed. It is incredibly effective,” said Rebecca Donatelli, president of Campaign Solutions, a political consulting firm that works with Republican candidates. In the realm of politics, she said, “this is the year of YouTube.”

Trump himself has more than tripled his YouTube following in five months, growing from 320,00 subscribers in April to more than 1 million now. Politico reported this month that the Trump campaign was trying to flood YouTube with content and leverage the site as a secret weapon, much as the Trump campaign did with Facebook in 2016.

But the Biden campaign says it has doubts. Megan Clasen, a Biden campaign adviser, tweeted that it had outspent Trump on YouTube at the start of September.

In a sense, it’s about time YouTube got so much attention. It often ranks first or second on lists of most-visited websites, and it’s the most widely used online platform among U.S. adults, a Pew Research Center survey found last year.

It may be that 2020 is an especially good year to match with YouTube as a medium. News about police shootings, Black Lives Matter protests and the coronavirus pandemic is often highly visual.

“That’s where the electorate is this cycle, and if it doesn’t have a video attached to it, it’s not as real,” Donatelli said.

But YouTube’s emergence as a central political battleground is causing alarm among advocates for voting rights, as well as people who research disinformation online, who fear that the Google-owned service is underprepared for election season.

They point to a growing body of research that has identified YouTube as a primary way people learn to believe conspiracy theories or consume extreme commentary, sometimes fueled by YouTube’s recommendation algorithm.

“I still think they really haven’t figured out with YouTube how to stop those who are profiting off misinformation and disinformation from continuing to do it,” said Joan Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.

YouTube said it is taking the challenge seriously. Leslie Miller, YouTube’s vice president for public policy, wrote in a blog post last month that the service was committed to removing content that violates its rules, such as videos that encourage others to interfere with voting.

The company has outlined other steps to ensure a credible election, such as pledging to terminate channels that misrepresent their countries of origin or conceal their associations with government actors. YouTube has banned videos promoting Nazi ideology and promised a crackdown on “borderline content.”

“Over the last few years, we have developed a systematic process to effectively remove violative videos, raise up authoritative content and reduce the spread of borderline content. We apply this framework to elections around the world, including the 2020 U.S. election,” YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi said in a statement.

The primary season saw at least one example of a political dirty trick carried out on YouTube. Last month, as polls opened in Florida, some voters received fake text messages and a YouTube video falsely claiming that Republican congressional candidate Byron Donalds had dropped out. YouTube removed the video, and Donalds prevailed in the primary.

But YouTube’s policies still lag behind those at Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, according to a report card from the Election Integrity Partnership, a group of academics and nonprofits tracking misinformation online. The group says YouTube’s policy on voter intimidation, for example, isn’t comprehensive enough.

It’s not just Nazis and voter intimidation that worry people, however. It’s also how YouTube shapes the broader information ecosystem.

More so than in 2016, YouTube is a home for livestreamers and social media celebrities who have built followings of thousands or millions of people. YouTube shares revenue with them and offers other opportunities to make money that other tech platforms don’t match.

Donovan of Harvard said she expects some YouTube provocateurs to wield newfound media influence over the next two months, backing one candidate or another. “And we’re not going to know if those influencers are being paid by companies, charities, dark money groups or super PACs,” she said, because political operatives may be able to avoid disclosure requirements from the company, the government or both.

In February, the Democratic primary campaign of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped to popularize new marketing forms, such as endorsements from social media meme accounts.

“There’s a shadow market for political advertising that is potentially going to be supercharged in the lead-up to the election,” Donovan said. If YouTube can’t keep up, she said, “the whole of society suffers.”

Voting rights lawyers worry about the spread of false information about how to register or how to vote. In a report this month, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School urged tech companies to increase the visibility of reliable sources, such as election agencies.

When people search for voting information, “some video gamer shouldn’t be the No. 1 result,” said Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel at the Brennan Center.

Trump’s courting of YouTube influencers was on show last year when he invited many of them to a social media summit at the White House. They now make up something like a YouTube cheering section, often popping up on the most-viewed list with a search for Biden’s name.

Covid-19 has only added to the value of streaming services like YouTube, said Shannon Kowalczyk, chief marketing officer for Acronym, a group that’s working to elect Democrats including Biden.

“People have more time on their hands at home. We’ve seen streaming numbers surge,” Kowalczyk said. Acronym uses YouTube to target people, especially young people, who don’t normally tune in to political discussions and may be in a position to be persuaded, she said.

YouTube and Google surprised many digital ad buyers last November when they said they wouldn’t allow political campaigns to target ads based on public voter records or political affiliations. They said ads would be more widely available for public discussion.

That caused some money to shift to other platforms that allow narrow targeting, such as Roku, strategists said. But they’re also finding YouTube useful in unexpected ways.

“We’re using it a lot for fundraising, which is way different from what it has been in the past. It was mostly a persuasion play,” said Eric Frenchman, chief marketing officer for Campaign Solutions, the Republican firm. He said the return on investment rivals that of Facebook, where campaigns have typically gone in the past to raise money.

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U.S. to start blocking TikTok and WeChat downloads Sunday




The U.S. will begin blocking the distribution of the Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat on Sunday, the Department of Commerce said Friday.

Commerce said in a news release that U.S. mobile platforms will be prohibited from distributing the apps, meaning new downloads will be blocked.

But TikTok will not disappear entirely on Sunday. The app will still work for at least a few more weeks. Commerce said that crucial services that TikTok relies on, such as internet hosting and transit services, will not be prohibited until Nov. 12 — pushing the deadline to after the election.

WeChat, however, faces the full ban on Sunday, which could render the app almost useless.

The statement gives TikTok a reprieve as it continues to negotiate a deal in hopes of staving off the full ban.

“The real shut down would come after Nov. 12 in the event that there is not another transaction,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in an interview on the Fox Business Network. “So it’s very different how the two are being handled and that reflects the quantitative and the qualitative differences between the two apps.”

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Apple declined to comment.

A TikTok spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the company is “disappointed” with the decision.

“We will continue to challenge the unjust executive order, which was enacted without due process and threatens to deprive the American people and small businesses across the U.S. of a significant platform for both a voice and livelihoods,” the company said.

On Twitter, Vanessa Pappas, interim global chief of TikTok, responded to Instagram head Adam Mosseri, who tweeted that a ban on TikTok would be bad for “Instagram, Facebook, and the internet more broadly.”

“We agree that this type of ban would be bad for the industry,” Pappas tweeted. “We invite Facebook and Instagram to publicly join our challenge and support our litigation. This is a moment to put aside our competition and focus on core principles like freedom of expression and due process of law.”

The apps were the subject of an executive order from President Donald Trump in early August in which Trump said the apps posed a threat to national security.

The new deadline adds more tension to the negotiations currently happening between TikTok’s parent company ByteDance and U.S. technology company Oracle. The two companies have been in talks about a deal to mollify the president’s concerns.

On Thursday, the two companies reached an agreement on a deal that would stop short of Trump’s demand that TikTok be sold to a U.S. company. Instead, TikTok would become a global company based in the U.S., with Oracle taking responsibility for TikTok’s U.S. operations and its handling of user data, according to two people familiar with the arrangement who were not authorized to speak publicly.

That deal still needs the approval of Trump and Chinese authorities.

Trump said at a news conference Friday that the White House could still approve a deal that would turn TikTok into a U.S.-based company while entrusting Oracle with oversight of U.S. user data.

“I think it could go quickly,” he said, while noting that the U.S. would still need assurances of “total security” from China. “Could go very quickly. Could go very, very fast.”

Oracle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TikTok has amassed about 100 million monthly U.S. users, making it one of the only rivals to social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. The app provides an easy way for people to record short snippets of video and put music or sounds to them. The app’s popularity, particularly among younger Americans, has already spurred its own generation of celebrities.

But its ownership by a Chinese tech company has been a point of contention among U.S. politicians who have expressed concern that China’s government could demand the user data of millions of Americans. That data could then be used for espionage purposes, but security experts have warned that data security is a problem that goes well beyond TikTok or apps that are owned by Chinese companies.

While TikTok has a higher profile in the U.S., WeChat is widely used by Chinese Americans. The app is primarily a messaging service but includes a wide variety of functions including a payment system and social media. In China, WeChat is almost necessary for daily life, where it can be used for everything from paying for taxis to playing video games.

Tencent, the Chinese company that owns WeChat, said in a statement that it is reviewing Friday’s announcement and still hopes to find a way to operate in the U.S.

“The restrictions announced today are unfortunate, but given our desire to provide ongoing services to our users in the U.S. — for whom WeChat is an important communication tool — we will continue to discuss with the government and other stakeholders in the U.S. ways to achieve a long-term solution,” the company said.

If it goes into effect, the Commerce edict would also mean TikTok will be unable to update its apps for American users, preventing the company from fixing any newly discovered security flaws or bugs.

That could create more insecurity, according to Whitney Merrill, a former lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission.

“A ban like this sets a very dangerous precedent. Any ban preventing further updates to that app, will ultimately harm users in unintended ways,” she said. “The developers will be unable to patch security vulnerabilities, leaving an insecure piece of software on many people’s phones.”

“This runs counter to concerns about security and data collection since it’s not really addressing either in a thoughtful, reasoned way,” she added.

Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a think tank funded by tech companies and some government agencies, offered a similar assessment.

“The Trump Administration has provided no evidence that a ban on WeChat and TikTok is necessary to address a national security threat,” Castro said in an emailed statement. “Instead, the actions announced today put consumers at risk by cutting them off from software updates, including necessary security updates.”

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China’s National Science Academy Vows to Close Tech Gaps in 10 Years




China’s national science academy pledged Wednesday to close the country’s gaps in certain advanced technologies over the next 10 years, especially for those key materials that rely on imports from the United States, in an effort to counter Washington’s tech decoupling with Beijing.

Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) said during a press conference hosted by the State Council, China’s cabinet, that the academy will use all of the resources at the academy’s disposal to concentrate on plugging gaps in those technologies, which include aircraft tires, bearing steel and lithography machines, among other key technologies and materials.

He said that the academy has established a number of task forces assigned to take a “warrior’s oath” in tackling some core technologies.

The pledge came days after President Xi Jinping said Friday at a symposium with Chinese scientists that “certain key and core technologies have been controlled by others and China relies on imports for some key components, parts and materials.”

Read the full story here

Contact reporter Lu Zhenhua ( and editor Michael Bellart (

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Is Fuel Tech (NASDAQ:FTEK) Using Debt Sensibly? – Simply Wall St News




Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, ‘The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.’ When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We can see that Fuel Tech, Inc. (NASDAQ:FTEK) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can’t easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Fuel Tech

What Is Fuel Tech’s Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2020 Fuel Tech had debt of US$1.56m, up from none in one year. But it also has US$8.25m in cash to offset that, meaning it has US$6.70m net cash.

NasdaqGS:FTEK Debt to Equity History September 18th 2020

How Strong Is Fuel Tech’s Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Fuel Tech had liabilities of US$5.37m due within a year, and liabilities of US$2.06m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$8.25m in cash and US$5.73m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it actually has US$6.55m more liquid assets than total liabilities.

This luscious liquidity implies that Fuel Tech’s balance sheet is sturdy like a giant sequoia tree. Having regard to this fact, we think its balance sheet is just as strong as misogynists are weak. Succinctly put, Fuel Tech boasts net cash, so it’s fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load! There’s no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Fuel Tech’s ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you’re focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

In the last year Fuel Tech had a loss before interest and tax, and actually shrunk its revenue by 62%, to US$20m. That makes us nervous, to say the least.

So How Risky Is Fuel Tech?

We have no doubt that loss making companies are, in general, riskier than profitable ones. And in the last year Fuel Tech had an earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) loss, truth be told. Indeed, in that time it burnt through US$4.3m of cash and made a loss of US$11m. While this does make the company a bit risky, it’s important to remember it has net cash of US$6.70m. That means it could keep spending at its current rate for more than two years. Even though its balance sheet seems sufficiently liquid, debt always makes us a little nervous if a company doesn’t produce free cash flow regularly. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet – far from it. Consider for instance, the ever-present spectre of investment risk. We’ve identified 3 warning signs with Fuel Tech , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

If, after all that, you’re more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

If you’re looking to trade Fuel Tech, open an account with the lowest-cost* platform trusted by professionals, Interactive Brokers. Their clients from over 200 countries and territories trade stocks, options, futures, forex, bonds and funds worldwide from a single integrated account.

This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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