DataDownload: Mid-Summer Tech and Conversations

DataDownload: Mid-Summer Tech and Conversations A weekly summary of all things Media, Data, Emerging Tech View this email in your browser

Hi everyone. Some good chewy reading for a mid-summer weekend.

QAnon is a must-read, even though you don’t want to. NBC digs in, and it’s going to matter. Is Facebook a search engine, it appears it may be, for all the wrong reasons.

For a burst of inspiration — check out Andrew Yang’s super smart and socially relevant edition of Yang Speaks. It will leave you hopeful, and engaged — which is good. And then there’s Matthew Ball — on a podcast about the future of Media. Super interesting.

But perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the relationship between tech and democracy is complicated. The platforms we’ve built and the people who’ve created brand new ways to connect are most certainly visionary leaders. But they’re also business people, with investors — and so the increasingly complex relationship between public good and profit is going to be on our mind as we eat some watermelon and try to do less doom-scrolling on our phones.

Stay chill all — see ya next week. As always — reach out if you want to share what you’re up to. Steve (


Steven Rosenbaum
Managing Director
The NYC Media Lab Must-Read QAnon Groups Have Millions of Members on Facebook, Documents Show

Up until now, QAnon’s social media scope has been hazy, as most of these conspiracy groups are private. But an internal investigation at Facebook revealed thousands of QAnon groups and pages with millions of followers, with the top 10 groups collectively amassing over a million members ( intergroup overlap isn’t clear, however). Facebook might limit the groups’ visibility when it decides to take action, but employees are concerned that the actions may be too weak. If no outright ban takes place, history might repeat itself:

“In 2019, Facebook took action against anti-vaccination pages and content, hoping to reduce the visibility of misinformation by strangling its reach, but it stopped short of a total ban. Despite that action, the largest anti-vaccination pages and groups have continued to grow in the last year, according to data from CrowdTangle, Facebook’s social media analysis tool.”

7 min read

Read More People Are Using Facebook and Instagram as Search Engines. During a Pandemic, That’s Dangerous.

Data voids form when there is high demand for information on a topic but little credible supply. This opens spaces for agents to spread misinformation on social networks. Earlier this year, reliable information on COVID-19 symptoms, causes, and treatments was sparse, allowing potentially harmful posts to go viral — like those saying a runny nose was a symptom, or that garlic was a preventative measure; things got more nefarious when posts on false treatments started to gain popularity.

While efforts have been taken to gather credible articles, Neiman Lab says “the demand for credible information far outstrips the supply.” First Draft collaborated with the University of Sheffield in recent months to identify the threat data voids pose to our recovery from the pandemic, the role of social search in their proliferation, and how Google Trends can help.

8 min read

Read More Tech+Media What Is MasterClass Actually Selling? “MasterClass seems ideally suited to frustrated 30-somethings for whom education has not necessarily resulted in upward mobility or even a job…. In fact, the company refers to its target customers as CATS: ‘curious, aspiring 30-somethings.’”

Whether you’re skeptical or intrigued, there’s no denying that the MasterClass ads adorning your YouTube videos are slickly produced, and would certainly appeal to a large audience. The educational course company launched in 2015 with classes from Dustin Hoffman, Serena Williams, and James Patterson. The startup has since raised $135M in funding and now has over 85 classes, and subscriptions during the pandemic have surged.

But does it work? Is it a souped-up Udemy, a well-produced uni course? Author Carina Chocano spoke to the founder, the celebrity teachers, and tried classes for herself. “The classes are visually sumptuous, transporting, uplifting, and yet, frankly, a little boring, especially if you try to watch them all the way through.” They also represent the golden age of self-help: “There’s nothing wrong, of course, with supplying people with what they need to pursue their dreams, but it seems that during this time of growing wealth and social inequality, the [tools] have become largely symbolic, and the prospecting they facilitate, the endless panning for something, anything, ever more intangible.”

20 min read Read More Instagram Reels’ Biggest Problem Is Replicating What TikTok Does Best Instagram’s answer to TikTok, Reels, is out. Verdict? Not so good, though Instagram is still experimenting after a year of development. One key issue, Verge author Julia Alexander notes, is that it’s easy to forget it’s there — whereas with TikTok, it’s the only thing there:

“That’s the key to TikTok’s not-so-secret recipe for success: it completely removes the paradox of choice, a term coined by psychologist Barry Schwartz that refers to how having more choices can lead to a sense of paralysis, unable to actually choose anything.” (Image from the linked NY Times piece.)

4 min read Read More Photoshop Will Help ID Images That Have Been … Photoshopped

Adobe began work on its Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI) last year alongside partners like Twitter and the NY Times. The Initiative recently released a whitepaper describing an open standard for tagging media with cryptographically signed data, which Adobe will build into a preview release of Photoshop this year.

“We imagine a future where if something in the news arrives without CAI data attached to it, you might look at it with extra skepticism and not want to trust that piece of media,” says Andy Parsons, director at CAI. We’ll have to wait and see if tech companies will find these tags useful enough against misinformation and deepfakes to integrate into their platforms.

6 min read

Read More What We’re Watching #LetYangSpeakDNC, the Kamala pick, and Wes Moore joins.

On a recent episode of Yang Speaks, poverty-fighting nonprofit Robin Hood CEO Wes Moore speaks on “eradicating poverty, ending police brutality, as well as the advantages (and limits) of private philanthropy.” Moore is a powerful speaker with a hard-hitting message — don’t miss this one.

77 min watch

Watch Now What We’re Listening To Podcast: ‎Matt Ball — The Future of Media: Movies, the Metaverse, and More

The Invest Like the Best podcast features Matthew Ball, former head of strategy at Amazon Studios and venture partner at Makers Fund. Ball discusses the past and future of media, touching on movies, music, television, games, and the metaverse.

Podcast host Patrick O’Shaughnessy recommends Ball’s essay Nintendo, Disney, and Cultural Determinism if you’re unfamiliar with his writing.

107 min listen

Listen Now Virtual Events Virtual Event: ETL Speaker Series — Ann Miura-Ko, Stanford University
Date: August 19, 4:30PM PT
Ann Miura-Ko is a co-founding partner at Floodgate, a seed-stage VC firm. Join Stanford eCorner as they bring founders, investors and industry influencers to center stage and invite them to share what it takes to become a disruptor. Register Here.

Virtual Event: Mobilize Women Summit
Date: Various
Mobilize Women is a movement based on Ellevate Network’s purpose of achieving equality for all, by giving diverse voices, and particularly those of women, a seat at the table where decisions are made. Register Here. A Deeper Look An AI Algorithm Developed at MIT Can Spot Similarities Between Artworks Made in Vastly Different Periods of Art History

To help identify visual connections across history, MIT researchers developed MosAIc, which uses AI to spot similarities between various types of art.

The system, which you can try online here, can surface evidence of borrowed cultural elements between civilizations and give context to historical trends. For example, regarding the match in the image below: “These works are evidence of the shared influence of Dutch-Chinese porcelain trade in the 16th to 18th centuries. This trade pipeline ignited Europe’s love of blue and white and cobalt-blue glazed porcelain from Jingdezhen.”

4 min read

Read More Transactions & Announcements Impossible Foods Gobbles Up Another $200M

Industrial-Grade VR Company Varjo Picks Up ~$52M in Series C Funding

Gong Raises $200M at $2.2B Valuation


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