BuzzFeed’s ‘fake news guy’ Craig Silverman on digital advertising’s ‘tons’ of bad actors- Tempemail – Blog – 10 minute

While most reporters bristle at any association with “fake news”, Craig Silverman accepts that his name has become synonymous with the term – because the BuzzFeed journalist probably did more than anyone else in media to highlight the scourge of bogus online ‘stories’.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he says. “People sometimes refer to me as ‘Oh, the fake news guy’…I didn’t expect my life to end up that way!”
It was Silverman, media editor of BuzzFeed News, who uncovered a Macedonian network of more than 100 websites that pumped out political propaganda (mostly in support of Donald Trump) at the 2016 US election. He later exposed how false stories enjoyed more traction in the election campaign than material generated by traditional news outlets, and that readers believed them.
Recently Silverman has turned his focus on corruption in digital advertising. It’s a natural progression. The motivation for unemployed teenagers from the town of Veles, Macedonia, was not to elect Trump but to make money exploiting Google’s AdSense by concocting viral ‘stories’, such as a papal ban on voting for Hillary Clinton.
“I have spent most of my career being obsessed with things that are fake in the digital environment and the ways that environment is being manipulated and exploited and inundated with fakeness,” Silverman tells Tempemail after addressing an audience in London on the theme “Media Trust in an Age of Cynicism”.
For years Toronto-based Silverman has been a thorn in the side of Facebook, exposing the platform’s fallibilities for allowing its users to be exploited by anyone from state-sponsored trolls to ad fraudsters.
Before Christmas, he exposed Ads Inc, a San Diego-headquartered digital advertising operation that persuaded thousands of Facebook users to “rent out” their accounts for $15-30 a month. The accounts were exploited by Ad Inc’s black hat marketing affiliates and operated by an army of workers in the Philippines and ‘stay-at-home’ mothers in America. It targeted Facebook users with ads for subscription products carrying fake endorsements from celebrities.
“This was a massive operation involving thousands of rented Facebook accounts to reach average folks all around the world, I found ads that were run in English, Spanish, French, German, Swedish…,” says Silverman. “These guys considered themselves a marketing agency and there are tons and tons of agencies out there who are absolutely engaged in nefarious kinds of things.”
Martin Lewis, the British consumer advice expert, successfully sued Facebook over a similar fake endorsement scam.
Ads Inc was closed down as a result of BuzzFeed’s investigation.
Silverman believes the ad industry needs to work harder to identify the corrupt elements in its midst. “These are really trust-destroying things that are taking place in the ecosystem and it’s something people working in the industry really need to think about as a problem that they need to have a role in helping solve.”
In another recent investigation, he exposed how a network of what appeared to be local news websites had been created in the US and Canada to rake in ad dollars while not originating any journalism but aggregating news and celebrity content from other sources.
“They got accepted into ad networks and just turned on the hose of fake traffic,” says Silverman. “Legitimate media that has been around for maybe 100 years or more and has real people producing real content and a real relationship with the audience, can be eclipsed in terms of revenue and certainly traffic numbers by somebody setting up a reasonably well-thought out digital advertising fraud scheme.”
It might seem odd for an open access website like BuzzFeed to be working so hard to expose the failings of digital advertising but the still youthful media brand has much to gain from positioning itself as a trusted guide to how this ecosystem is developing.
“It makes so much sense for us as a digitally-native brand to think about how we can be experts and do really revelatory work in exposing some of the problems and the ills of the internet, some of the trust-destroying things,” says Silverman. “We can pull back the curtain a little bit on what’s happening in the digital environment and help [readers] understand and navigate it better and serve them by doing reporting that hopefully is going to have results of removing bad actors from the information sphere.”
Such investigations also help overturn the lingering perception that BuzzFeed is a shallow entertainment outlet characterised by food recipes (its sub-brand Tasty is phenomenally successful) and its success with cat videos in the early years after it was founded in 2006. “You still get people who are surprised that BuzzFeed does deeply-reported news,” says Silverman.
This means that BuzzFeed News is “battling to build” credibility every day, he says. “We are a news team that has been built within an organisation that did not start as a news brand and wasn’t thinking about news when it first came out. We have got to really demonstrate our seriousness and demonstrate our credibility and show that we are worthy of people’s trust.”
At the start of the year, BuzzFeed chief executive and co-founder Jonah Peretti set out the company’s plan for 2020 in a blueprint that included a commitment for its journalists to show their working by publishing, wherever possible, the documents and evidence used in stories. Silverman says this is another part of BuzzFeed’s attempt to show its “true self” and win reader trust. “We will show our process, we will show our evidence. To me that is a very foundational approach to showing we are worthy of the trust of the audience,” he says. “It also shows the extent to which you have gone to produce this piece of work.”
The BuzzFeed newsroom suffered a blow last month with the announcement that its talismanic editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, is leaving to join the New York Times (where he will be a rival media writer to Silverman). The setback came a year after massive staff layoffs at BuzzFeed, which damaged its reputation as a visionary digital media company.
Silverman admits that Smith has been “the leader of the newsroom since day one” but says the operation “remains well resourced” and “this doesn’t change anything about the commitment to news”.
BuzzFeed’s UK operation, which includes a substantial team of journalists, will move into a new base near London Bridge later this year.
With the US election campaign heating up, Silverman believes Facebook will, once again, be the “primary battleground for election ads” with a repetition of the brutal campaigning on the platform four years ago. “Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of politicians whose lesson from 2016 is actually that you should just charge ahead and push the envelope as much as possible and not apologise and not back down,” he says. “That goes particularly for the Trump campaign. They are investing huge amounts of money in Facebook and they intend to continue to use that as a primary place for them to activate their supporters.”
He acknowledges that Facebook has moved to close some of the “loopholes and opportunities” that were exploited in 2016 by “financially-driven or ideologically-driven bad actors” and that the Macedonian fakers have largely “exited the political clickbait sphere”. But he says foreign state- sponsored interference will still happen because “the election for them is the really big opportunity…and there is the chance to have concrete influence”.
Where Silverman expects to see most activity is at the margin of fake news, where misleading stories have just enough truth to escape Facebook’s fact-checking partners. “Something that has a kernel of truth to it is in many cases far more effective than stuff that is 100% false.”
Similarly, he anticipates another surge in extremist opinion-based sites. “I do think we will see the hyper-partisan infrastructure on the right and on the left really energise, we may see them getting more funding,” he says. “Sometimes it’s a bit misleading but that’s the kind of stuff that Facebook is extremely hesitant to take any kind of action on because of what can be legitimate concerns around freedom of expression.”
He highlights the likelihood that WhatsApp and other private messaging platforms will be used more, by campaigns and bad actors alike, to push their messages.
Silverman didn’t set out to be the ‘fake news guy’. When he launched a blog called Regret The Error in 2004 it was because of his interest in the new impact of blogging and his instinct that the area of “accuracy and verification and corrections” in news was being insufficiently interrogated.
Then the social media revolution happened. Stories from unknown sources were going viral and Silverman was ahead of the game.
“That interest in the basics of verification and looking at how the information environment was changing so much has just led me on this strange and unexpected journey which has led to this scenario of Donald Trump suddenly referring to everything as ‘fake news’,” he says.
As Trump seeks re-election, we haven’t had the last of the term.
Ian Burrell’s column, The News Business, is published on Tempemail each Thursday. Follow Ian on Twitter @iburrell

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What’s next for John Lewis as its weakened marketing team faces Craig Inglis’ departure?- Tempemail – Blog – 10 minute

The long-serving orchestrator of John Lewis’ legendary advertising is set to depart next month. The news comes as a major blow to a marketing team already questioning what the future holds after the incoming ‘head of brand’ for the Partnership departed before even starting.
Customer director Craig Inglis joined the high-street retailer 12 years ago and set about a titanic shift in its marketing strategy, putting the focus on big-ticket creative ideas. In the process, creating an annual moment in British culture around John Lewis’ famed Christmas adverts.
However, his role at the organisation has been under a spotlight of late. Just four months ago, in the wake of a £26m pre-tax loss, bosses announced a C-suite restructure that would bring the marketing for both the John Lewis and Waitrose brands together under Paula Nickolds as executive director of brand. Where Inglis would fit in this masterplan was left undecided and the future of his role was being looked at in a consultation process which remains ongoing.
Then in a shock move mere weeks after the re-org was revealed, Nickolds announced she was leaving before she’d even started.
Given his lengthy tenure, Inglis might have been a reasonable consideration to take the vacant place as head of brand. But when he walks away in just eight weeks Martin George, currently customer director at Waitrose, will find himself the brand’s most senior marketer.
“It has been an honour to work for the John Lewis Partnership with its two extraordinary brands, which I am confident will go on from strength-to-strength,” said Inglis on his exit. “I’ve had an amazing journey over the last 12 years and I feel now is the right time for me to try something new outside the Partnership.”
And so questions are now being asked over what the brand’s critical strategy to rebuild after a year of dismal sales will look like.
The Inglis impact
When Inglis joined in 2008, John Lewis was facing a number of issues. Amid “deteriorating conditions” at the time, its underlying profits were down that year by 26%. The brand’s perception was also in need of improvement.
“Before he joined, John Lewis was seen as a bit posh, pretty aloof, and not for everyone,” recalls Neil Henderson, chief executive at advertising agency St Lukes, which works for retailers like Very.
Inglis’ action plan was to sort out its creative output. Within a year he made the risky move of appointing Adam&Eve DDB (then a plucky start-up in the agency scene) as its advertising partner and set about an overhaul of the approach. The focus was taken away from pushing product and instead Inglis championed emotional, thoughtful, storytelling based around the long-running brand promise of ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’.
“He put power in the brand,” added Henderson. “He transformed it.”
This was particularly evident in its Christmas advertising strategy, which delivered now unforgettable spots like ‘The Long Wait’, ‘The Bear and the Hare’, and last year’s ‘Excitable Edgar’. It was so effective that blowing the marketing budget on a festive tear-jerker is a tactic now emulated by CMOs across all manner of brands. But amid the creative copy-cats and the relentless pressure traditional retailers were facing, the strategy arguably lost its lustre.
“The brand’s modern storytelling had the incredible bedrock of ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’. But in the age of ‘total retail’; when shoppers have access to what they want, when they want at the best price they are motivated to find, it is no longer the totem it was,” says Rob Sellers, chief growth officer at Grey London which has counted Marks & Spencer among its clients.
“And in that absence, like so many of its high street peers, John Lewis is yet another retailer who has become ‘stuck in the middle’; neither delivering on price, range and convenience such as Amazon or Next, or providing the heightened experiences that takes modern shopping into the realms of entertainment. Shopping at John Lewis doesn’t seem to have changed much for a generation, but this generation of shoppers are completely different.”
According to data supplied to Tempemail by YouGov, John Lewis’ ‘Brand Buzz’ scores (which reveal how the nation feels about a brand, positive or negative) have been in steady decline since hitting a peak in 2012.

“Inglis’ departure is a stark reminder to us all that ‘brand’ is only part of the marketing puzzle for retailers trying to navigate the rapid change in their industry,” Sellers continues.
“Without his commitment to creativity and cultural fame, John Lewis may very easily have spiralled rapidly into obsolescence like so many other bastions of British retail. He has absolutely placed it into the heart of British culture, especially at Christmas. More so than any brand in the country, and for that he should be rightly lauded as a brave and visionary client. But maybe, just maybe, the pressure of delivering a blockbuster ad year after year has distracted from some of the root and branch fixes that are facing John Lewis.”
What next for John Lewis’ baffled marketing team?
The remaining marketing team now find themselves in a position of waiting to see what the future holds. A spokesperson said that recruitment to replace Nickolds as executive director of brand is not yet underway. Instead, that will be a decision for Sharon White when she replaces Charlie Mayfield as chairman later this year.
For now, the team reports into Waitrose marketer Martin George.
In the short term, the timing of Inglis’ resignation is troublesome. As St Luke’s Henderson points out, creatives across ad land are in the midst of preparing Christmas advertising briefs. These briefs will be getting signed off and the massive undertaking of preparing for the most critical time of the year will be well under way for most retailers this month.
“I don’t know its timings would have thought there would be in script development now, with a view to it being signed off in early March. Christmas isn’t just an advert, it’s an immense production across so many channels. There’s a pressure to get the merchandise produced and that drives the timing. So they are right in the thick of it,” he says.
But longer-term the exits are a major blow for the incoming White and she will need to recruit quickly, and well, when she takes her seat.
“The challenges that the partnership faces are really significant from the changed dynamic of the shopper to the structure of costs to operate on the high street,” says Catherine Shuttleworth, founder of retail consultancy Savvy Marketing.
“A great customer director is critical to steering the organisation through these choppy waters. It’s fair to say that his departure leaves a gaping hole in the business.”
Whomever the new chairman brings in will have to quickly get their feet under the table. If it’s an outside hire, the first year might simply a case of getting through the current retail calendar unscathed.
But in time, they will undoubtedly want to make their own mark on the iconic brand. Faced with addressing the kinds of challenges that John Lewis has, it’s possible that any new marketing boss may quickly throw out the tried-and-tested model, and draw a line under their predecessors’ legacy, and in the process the reliance on the Adam&Eve aesthetic.
And so the agency will also be waiting with bated breath to know its fate if – and when – new brand bosses for its longest-serving client are ushered in.
“We’re now in a very different place with retail going through such a hard time, the pressure on a new marketing director to find a new way will be big,” says Henderson.
“There will be a lot of questioning if the [emotional, blockbuster advertising] is the right approach now. And if you’re the agency you have to be up for investigating that. Agencies that stick with what they’ve done in the past don’t last long. It is an interesting moment.”

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Kubernetes co-founder Craig McLuckie is as tired of talking about Kubernetes as you are – gpgmail


“I’m so tired of talking about Kubernetes . I want to talk about something else,” joked Kubernetes co-founder and VP of R&D at VMware Craig McLuckie during a keynote interview at this week’s Cloud Foundry Summit in The Hague. “I feel like that 80s band that had like one hit song — Cherry Pie.”

He doesn’t quite mean it that way, of course (though it makes for a good headline, see above), but the underlying theme of the conversation he had with Cloud Foundry executive director Abby Kearns was that infrastructure should be boring and fade into the background, while enabling developers to do their best work. “We still have a lot of work to do as an industry to make the infrastructure technology fade into the background and bring forwards the technologies that developers interface with, that enable them to develop the code that drives the business, etc. […] Let’s make that infrastructure technology really, really boring. ”

What McCluckie wants to talk about is developer experience and with VMware’s intend to acquire Pivotal, it’s placing a strong bet on Cloud Foundry as one of the premiere development platforms for cloud native applications. For the longest time, the Cloud Foundry and Kubernetes ecosystem, which both share an organizational parent in the Linux Foundation, have been getting closer, but that move has accelerated in recent months as the Cloud Foundry ecosystem has finished work on some of its Kubernetes integrations.

McCluckie argues that the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, the home of Kubernetes and other cloud-native open-source projects, was always meant to be a kind of open-ended organization that focuses on driving innovation. And that created a large set of technologies that vendors can choose from. “But when you start to assemble that, I tend to think about you building up this cake which is your development stack, you discover that some of those layers of the cake, like Kubernetes, have a really good bake. They are done to perfection,” said McLuckie, who is clearly a fan of the Great British Baking show. “And other layers, you look at it and you think, wow, that could use a little more bake, it’s not quite ready yet. […] And we haven’t done a great job of pulling it all together and providing a recipe that delivers an entirely consumable experience for everyday developers.”

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He argues that Cloud Foundry, on the other hand, has always focused on building that highly opinionated, consistent developer experience. “Bringing those two communities together, I think, is going to have incredibly powerful results for both communities as we start to bring these technologies together,” he said.

With the Pivotal acquisition still in the works, McCluckie didn’t really comment on what exactly this means for the path forward for Cloud Foundry and Kubernetes (which he still talked about with a lot of energy, despite being tired of it), but it’s clear that he’s looking to Cloud Foundry to enable that developer experience on top of Kubernetes that abstracts all of the infrastructure away for developers and makes deploying an application a matter of a single CLI command.

Bonus: Cherry Pie.




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The Wikimedia Foundation taps $2.5M from Craig Newmark to beef up its security – gpgmail


Last week, users around the world found Wikipedia down after the online, crowdsourced encyclopedia became the target of a massive, sustained DDoS attack — one that it is still actively fighting several days later (even though the site is now back up). Now, in a coincidental twist of timing, Wikipedia’s parent, the Wikimedia Foundation, is announcing a donation aimed at helping the group better cope with situations just like this: Craig Newmark Philanthropies, a charity funded by the Craigslist founder, is giving $2.5 million to Wikimedia to help it improve its security.

The gift would have been in the works before the security breach last week, and it underscores a persistent paradox. The non-profit is considered to be one of the 10 most popular sites on the web, with people from some 1 billion different devices accessing it each month, with upwards of 18 billion visits in that period (the latter figure is from 2016 so likely now higher). Wikipedia is used as reference point by millions every day to get the facts on everything from Apple to Zynga, mushrooms and Myanmar history, and as a wiki, it was built from the start for interactivity.

But in this day and age when anything is game for malicious hackers, it’s an easy target, sitting out in the open and generally lacking in the kinds of funds that private companies and other for-profit entities have to protect themselves from security breaches. Alongside networks of volunteers who put in free time to contribute security work to Wikimedia, the  organization only had two people on its security staff two years ago — one of them part-time.

That has been getting fixed, very gradually, by John Bennett, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Director of Security who joined the organization in January 2018, and told gpgmail in an interview that he’s been working on a more cenrtralised and coherent system, bringing on more staff to help build both tools to combat nefarious activity both on the site and on Wikimedia’s systems; and crucially, put policies in place to help prevent breaches in the future.

“We’ve lived in this bubble of ‘no one is out to get us,’” he said of the general goodwill that surrounds not-for-profit, public organizations like the Wikimedia Foundation. “But we’re definitely seeing that change. We have skilled and determined attackers wishing to do harm to us. So we’re very grateful for this gift to bolster our efforts.

“We weren’t a sitting duck before the breach last week, with a lot of security capabilities built up. But this gift will help improve our posture and build upon on what we started and have been building these last two years.”

The security team collaborates with other parts of the organization to handle some of the more pointed issues. He notes that Wikimedia uses a lot of machine learning that has been developed to monitor pages for vandalism, and an anti-harassment team also works alongside them. (Newmark’s contribution today, in fact, is not the first donation he’s made to the organization. In the past he has donated around $2 million towards various projects including the Community Health Initiative, the anti-harassment program; and the more general Wikimedia Endowment).

The security breach that caused the DDoS is currently being responded to by the site reliability engineering team, who are still engaged and monitoring the situation, and Bennett declined to comment more on that.

You can support Wikipedia and Wikimedia, too.


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