Tag: elections

Facebook, Google are election winners

By Todd Shields , Gerry Smith and Sarah Frier for Bloomberg

Even before ballots are counted from Tuesday’s elections, some clear winners have emerged, as Google and Facebook reap windfalls from political advertising after a season of controversy over online political speech.

Political ad spending is on course to set a record, exceeding expenditures in the 2016 presidential election year, with a total of perhaps $9 billion. Political ad buyers weren’t deterred by months of furor over election meddling by Russians using Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s Google and YouTube.

“This was a test year for political digital,” says Kip Cassino, who works with research firm Borrell Associates after retiring as its executive vice president. “What they wanted to see was how many ads could they put on digital without people getting really upset.”

Digital ad spending rose more than 25-fold from the last non-presidential national elections in 2014, reaching 20 percent of expected political spending this year at almost $1.8 billion, according to estimates compiled by Borrell. Kantar Media/CMAG, which omits some online activity, estimated 2018 online spending at $900 million, up from $250 million four years ago.

The figures show how digital sites, with their ability to target thin slices of the electorate, have assumed a prime place alongside traditional media such as broadcast TV, which is still prized for reaching large numbers of older voters likely to go the polls and accounts for the largest amount of political ad spending.

Kantar estimated providers such as Tegna Inc. and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. would see political ad revenue rise to $2.7 billion, up 30 percent compared with 2014. When local races are included, broadcast stations saw a decline in political advertising compared with 2014, to $3.5 billion, but remain the top recipient, according to Borrell’s estimates.

Local cable TV advertising sold by the likes of Comcast Corp. or Charter Communications Inc. was expected to jump 75 percent compared with four years ago, Kantar said.

“Everybody killed it this year,” said Steven Passwaiter, a vice president with Kantar, which monitors political ads.

On Tuesday, Gray Television Inc., which owns more than 100 local broadcast TV stations in smaller markets such as Augusta, Georgia and Omaha, Nebraska, said third-quarter political ad revenue was up 17 percent compared with the same quarter in 2014. That included a windfall four years ago from a hotly-contested senate race in Alaska, executives said.

“Political advertising remains quite alive and exceptionally healthy,” Gray Chief Executive Officer Hilton Howell said on an earnings call. Gray executives said political ad spending exceeded their expectations in states like Tennessee, Kansas and Florida.

Democrats take the House from Trump

By Alana Abramson for Time; Rozina Sabur for The Telegraph  

Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives but lost ground in the Senate following a contentious campaign that President Donald Trump worked to make all about him.

Democrats picked up at least 23 House seats in tallies early Wednesday, putting them within reach of the 218 seats needed to take control from Republicans, the Associated Press projected.

However, Democrats’ hopes of an overwhelming “Blue Wave” in both chambers of Congress and in governors races was dimmed as losses in at least three key Senate races — including Beto O’Rourke in Texas — meant Republicans would have control of the Senate with an even bigger majority.

Republicans also won the Florida governor’s mansion, with Ron DeSantis overtaking Andrew Gillum. In Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams trailed Brian Kemp early Wednesday, but the race was still too close to call. In total, however, Democrats flipped 5 governorships – including in deep red Kansas where Laura Kelly defeated right-wing darling Kris Kobach.

What does this mean for Trump?
The Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, delivering a bitter blow for Donald Trump after a campaign that became a referendum on his leadership.

The Republican Party went into Tuesday’s elections in control of the chamber with a 43-seat majority. However, Democrats rode a wave of dissatisfaction with the US President to gain the 23 seats needed to win control of the House.

The lower chamber of the US Congress, the House is made up of 435 seats. The number of seats each US state receives depends on its population size. California, the most populous state, has 53 representatives while seven states – Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming – have just one representative.

“Thanks to you, tomorrow will be a new day in America,” Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi told cheering Democrats at a Washington victory party, saying House Democrats would be a check on Mr Trump.

“We will have a responsibility to find our common ground where we can, stand our ground where we can’t,” Ms Pelosi said.

Now the Democrats have won the House, they get to decide which bills come to the floor – meaning President Donald Trump’s domestic agenda will struggle to make its way into law.

The party with a majority in the chamber also controls its committee chairmanships and has the power to issue subpoenas – so a Democrat-controlled House could enforce aggressive oversight of investigations of the president’s administration, including alleged Russian collusion, Mr Trump’s business dealings and sexual assault allegations against him.

Pundits predict Democrats will launch controversial investigations into things like Mr Trump’s tax returns and his previous business dealings. They may also seek public hearings with members of the Trump family, including his son Donald Jr who appears to be a key figure in the Russia investigation.

They also could force Trump to scale back his legislative ambitions, possibly dooming his promises to fund a border wall with Mexico, pass a second major tax-cut package or carry out his hardline policies on trade.

A simple House majority would be enough to impeach Trump if evidence surfaces that he obstructed justice or that his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia. But Congress could not remove him from office without a conviction by a two-thirds majority in the Republican-controlled Senate.

House Democrats could be banking on launching an investigation using the results of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s already 18-month-old probe of allegations of Russian interference on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 presidential election. Moscow denies meddling and Trump denies any collusion.

Democrats on the House oversight committee, the chamber’s main investigative panel, had already suggested they were prepared to issue subpoenas if they gain control.

Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, said: “If Democrats win the majority in November, we would finally do what Republicans have refused to do, and that is conduct independent, fact-based, and credible investigations of the Trump administration”.

Mr Cummings said their investigations would “address issues like the security clearance process, conflicts of interest, the numerous attempts by Republicans to strip away healthcare from millions of Americans, postal service reforms, prescription drug pricing, and voting rights”.

Republicans have, however, held on to the Senate, meaning they will continue to approve Mr Trump’s cabinet nominees and appoint conservative judges to US courtrooms.

Facebook has made its data crisis worse

Facebook Inc tried to get ahead of its latest media firestorm. Instead, it helped create one.

The company knew ahead of time that on Saturday, the New York Times and The Guardian’s Observer would issue bombshell reports that the data firm that helped Donald Trump win the presidency had accessed and retained information on 50-million Facebook users without their permission.

Facebook did two things to protect itself: it sent letters to the media firms laying out its legal case for why this data leak didn’t constitute a “breach.” And then it scooped the reports using their information, with a Friday blog post on why it was suspending the ad firm, Cambridge Analytica, from its site.

Both moves backfired.

On March 16, Facebook said it “received reports” that Cambridge Analytica hadn’t deleted the user data, and that it needed to suspend the firm. The statement gave the impression that Facebook had looked into the matter. In fact, the company’s decisions were stemming from information in the news reports set to publish the next day, and it had not independently verified those reports, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. By trying to look proactive, Facebook ended up adding weight to the news.

On March 17, any goodwill the company earned by talking about the problem first was quickly undone when reporters revealed Facebook’s behind-the-scenes legal manoeuvring. “Yesterday Facebook threatened to sue us. Today we publish this,” Carole Cadwalladr, the Observer reporter, wrote as she linked her story to Twitter, in a post shared almost 15,000 times. The Guardian said it had nothing to add to her statement. The Times confirmed that it too received a letter, but said it didn’t consider the correspondence a legal threat.

Front-running the stories along with the letters to newsrooms are but two of several ways Facebook failed to contain fallout from the Cambridge Analytica revelations. Silence on the part of chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg didn’t help. Nor did a report late March 19 in the New York Times that chief security officer Alex Stamos is leaving after clashing with other executives, including Sandberg, over how Facebook handled Russian disinformation campaigns. Facebook said Stamos is still at the company, but didn’t outright deny that he plans to leave.

“Most of its executives haven’t done a real interview in ages, let alone answer deep questions,” Zeynep Tufecki, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina who specialises in social networks and democracy, wrote in a post on Twitter.

In a sign of investor dismay, Facebook shares tumbled 6.8% on March 19, the biggest decline since March 2014. As the stock fell and criticism from lawmakers poured in from the US and Britain, the company worked to make it clear that it didn’t actually have enough information, on its own, to react to Saturday’s news reports in a stronger way.

Facebook put out another blog post, saying that Cambridge Analytica and the researcher who provided them the data, Aleksandr Kogan, had agreed to a digital forensics audit to prove they deleted it. Facebook said the one person who didn’t agree to the audit was Christopher Wylie, the former Cambridge Analytica contractor who spoke to the newspapers about the data leak. With the post, Facebook aimed to stir more scepticism around Wylie’s information, according to a person familiar with the matter.

That didn’t resolve things quickly either. The auditors were already on site at Cambridge Analytica’s London office March 19 when they had to pause their work. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office is pursuing a warrant to conduct its own on-site investigation.

The Cambridge Analytica saga is the latest in a series of bungled Facebook responses, often reactionary and sometimes unintentionally stirring public outrage instead of resolving concerns. The company’s interaction with the public tends to start with a carefully crafted blog post, and then evolve into a much more improvised Twitter-based conversation with lower-level executives who defend the social network and explain its decisions. It doesn’t always go well.

Earlier this year, when the US government indicted 13 Russians who used Facebook to manipulate voters, a Facebook advertising executive took to Twitter to clarify that overall, the Russian ads were primarily used to divide Americans, not influence the election. His comments went viral after President Donald Trump used them to back up attacks on the “fake news media.”

In 2017, Facebook made its disclosures on Russia’s activities in a slow drip, each time illustrating a bigger problem. An April white paper on “information operations,” for example, didn’t name the country. The company that October said 10 million users saw Russia’s ads. Later that month, Facebook said 126 million people saw Russia’s posts in general. The company upped the number to 150 million during Congressional interrogation, when a senator asked if Facebook could include Instagram, the photo-sharing app it owns, in the count.

Stamos, who has favoured more forthright disclosure, was frequently outvoted, according to the New York Times. He’s planning to leave the company in August, the newspaper reported. On Twitter, he later said he’s still fully engaged with his work at Facebook, without answering questions about his plans. But that would make him the most high-profile exit since Facebook’s election-related troubles began.

Meanwhile, higher ranking executives remain quiet. Zuckerberg and Sandberg, who in past years would post frequently about the issues of the day, have shied away from reacting to the most controversial news. Lawmakers have now called out Zuckerberg by name in both the US and the UK.

Zuckerberg and Sandberg plan to remain quiet on the Cambridge Analytica situation until the company completes its internal review of what happened, according to a person familiar with the matter. Until they do, questions about Facebook’s ability to cope with the Cambridge Analytica crisis will undoubtedly persist. — Bloomberg

By Sarah Frier for The Star
Image: 123rf

We don’t know what a Donald Trump presidency will mean for South Africa. But what South Africans should know is that America has just elected its most dangerous president ever because it has not dealt with two problems the country has also ducked: inequality and race.

Our future, too, may be perilous if we ignore this warning.

Whatever Trump does in office, the stark reality is that America has elected a bigot and demagogue with a deep contempt for women. When he takes over, the world will enter a time of great danger because we will have no idea whether a president who ignored the constraints of decency when he was a candidate will respect them in office.

And since the future is so uncertain, South Africa’s best response to Trump’s election is to learn the lessons of its causes.

Inequality

The first reason why America’s voters (or almost half of them since Trump did not win a majority of votes) chose the unthinkable is inequality. Trump was not elected by those who have most suffered from American inequality – the racial minorities who mostly voted for his opponent. But he was helped over the line by a swing away from the Democratic Party by white working class voters – this was probably why he won the “rust belt” states of the mid-West.

While white workers are better off than their black and Hispanic counterparts, they have taken a massive economic hit over the past decades – wages have stagnated or declined and jobs are no longer secure. Their world, in which they could rely on a steady job with rising pay, has collapsed. The effect has been famously measured by Nobel laureate Angus Deatonand his wife Anne Case, who found that the new realities were playing havoc with the health and wellbeing of working class whites.

These workers are not nearly at the bottom of the pile – if they were, they may have blamed the economic system. But they have lost their relative privilege and so they blame those below them in the pecking order – racial minorities and immigrants. The MIT political scientist Roger Peterson has shown that right-wing authoritarian movements grow when groups who enjoy power and privilege believe that it is threatened by other groups. They react by resenting the upstarts who may knock them off their perch – American white workers fit his theory.

The lesson for South Africans is that this was caused by an economic approach which has widened inequality by dumping protections for workers and the poor. Angry white workers blame globalisation. In fact the real culprit is policies which have torn up the deal which spread the benefits of growth more fairly. The South African parallel is the continued unwillingness or inability of key economic actors to negotiate a growth path which will include many in the economy.

The racial divide

The second reason for Trump’s triumph was that America’s racial divide remains probably the key driver of its politics.

Workers were not the only white voters who were important to Trump: he won among almost every group of white voters, including college educated men who were said to hold him in contempt. The only white group to reject him was college educated women and then by a small margin. So many white voters for whom Trump showed contempt were willing to vote for him – and the reason is surely that they wanted a president who would protect whiteness.

When Barack Obama was elected, commentators waxed lyrical about a post-racial America which had ditched its prejudices. It did not take very long to show how off the mark this was.

For eight years, the Republican Party and its white support base waged an unceasing war against Obama, even when he introduced measures such as health insurance which massively benefited poor whites. As research by the pollster Stanley Greenberg showed, the key motive was Obama’s race.

Again, Peterson explains this. Many American whites believe the America they and their parents knew is disappearing as racial minorities become more numerous and more mainstream – whites are projected to become a minority in the next few decades. Obviously many whites do not feel this way but the resentment is growing: many who did not vote against Obama chose Trump.

Again there is a parallel with South Africa. In both countries, elites duck the racial issue which is its most serious divide. The fact that Obama was harried because he was black was ignored in the mainstream – every explanation was advanced expect the obvious one.

South Africans are constantly urged to “move beyond race” when it continues to divide the country. In the few years before 1994’s first democratic election, elites in the country took race seriously – once it had a democratic constitution and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the problem was declared solved and they lost interest. But it wasn’t – racial division and anger remain the country’s most serious challenge, threatening its universities and obstructing its attempts to grow as an economy and a society.

The threat posed by inequality and racism

Could South Africa’s failure to address inequality and race threaten the country’s politics too? It already does.

The patronage politics which plagues the African National Congress has threatened the National Treasury and has produced the politics of “state capture” which is a symptom of the country’s inequalities. South Africans who are included economically don’t need political bosses to hand them goodies – the many who are still excluded do. This fuels those politicians who want to use public money to build political support.

Racial divides also give the patronage politicians a ready excuse: they can claim that taking money from the powerful Gupta family, who are close to South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma, is a rebellion against white capital. A growing chorus from this faction insists that they are being prevented from taking over the National Treasury not by a concern to protect public money but at the bidding of white tycoons who do not want black people to become rich.

And they have, particularly on the country’s campuses but elsewhere too, produced a brand of politics which justifies violence and bullying directed mainly at black people and – you guessed it – women on the grounds that privileged whites are determined to silence black people seeking to express themselves.

Here, ignoring inequality and race may not ensure the election of a dangerous president – although it could do that at the next ANC conference. But, as in the US, South Africans pay a price for it. It poses a constant threat to the economy and society which the country can only tackle if South Africans negotiate a more equal economy and show the same willingness to address race and racism as some did 25 years ago.

By Steven Friedman, Professor of Political Studies, University of Johannesburg for The Conversation. Published on www.businesstech.co.za

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