It’s at least getting harder to argue that the Trump campaign helped Russians buy Facebook ads

There are plenty of links between the Trump campaign and the Russians. But the Mueller indictments and a Facebook exec’s commentary may be deflating this particular theory.

Robert Mueller and his team are the latest U.S. officials to argue that Russia tried to use Facebook to interfere with the 2016 election.

But the indictments against Russian nationals that Mueller unveiled last Friday, coupled with commentary from a Facebook ad executive, may also undermine a compelling theory among some analysts and lawmakers — that the Trump campaign worked in concert with Russian agents to place Facebook ads and other posts during the election.

Here, for instance, is Hillary Clinton, talking to Recode co-founder Walt Mossberg at last year’s Code Conference:

Clinton: “The Russians — in my opinion and based on the intel and the counterintel people I’ve talked to — could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided.”

Mossberg: Guided by Americans.

Clinton: Guided by Americans and guided by people who had polling and data information

Here’s another version of the argument, via a Vanity Fair report last fall:

Mapping the full Russian propaganda effort is important. Yet investigators in the House, Senate, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office are equally focused on a more explosive question: did any Americans help target the memes and fake news to crucial swing districts and wavering voter demographics? “By Americans, you mean, like, the Trump campaign?” a source close to one of the investigations said with a dark laugh.

But on Friday, two different disclosures made that theoretical cooperation harder to imagine.

  • Mueller’s detailed, 37-page indictment didn’t offer any suggestion that the Trump campaign worked with Russians to exploit Facebook and other digital platforms. In fact, it says that when the Trump campaign did interact with Russian plotters, it was at the lowest level possible — local Trump campaign workers and activists — and that the Trump campaigners who did interact with Russians had no idea they were talking to Russians — they just thought they were talking to enthusiastic Trump fans.
  • Facebook ad executive Rob Goldman, via Twitter, said the majority of Russian-financed pro-Trump ad spending on Facebook didn’t show up until after the election. It’s worth noting that while Goldman’s comments generated serious blowback this weekend, particularly after Donald Trump retweeted him, Goldman hasn’t backed away from his assertion. (It’s also worth noting that I’ve talked to current and former Facebookers who back Goldman up. They feel bad that his comments have turned into a pro-Trump cudgel to beat up the media, but they think his commentary is also correct.)

If you take both of those items at face value, it doesn’t leave you much room to believe that the Trump campaign worked with Russians in a sophisticated campaign to buy ads on Facebook aimed at electing Trump.

That doesn’t rule out active Trump/Russian collaboration in other parts of the campaign. And there are certainly many other connections between Trump and Russia that remain unsettling, at the very least. Recall, for instance, Donald Trump, Jr.’s email expressing excitement over proposed campaign help from Russian backers.

You can add other caveats as well.

Perhaps Goldman is flat-out wrong. Or perhaps Mueller will eventually make a much more explicit connection between Russians and high-level Trump campaign officials, which will include Facebook activities. And, or, perhaps the Trump campaign and Russians collaborated, but only on unpaid Facebook posts.

But some people have been waiting to see evidence of a connection between the Trump campaign and Russian social media activity for more than a year. Right now, they are still waiting.


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Google removes ‘view image’ button from search results to make pics harder to steal

Google is making a change to image search today that sounds small but will have a big impact: it’s removing the “view image” button that appeared when you clicked on a picture, which allowed you to open the image alone. The button was extremely useful for users, since when you’re searching for a picture, there’s a very good chance that you want to take it and use it for something. Now, you’ll have to take additional steps to save an image.

The change is essentially meant to frustrate users. Google has long been under fire from photographers and publishers who felt that image search allowed people to steal their pictures, and the removal of the view image button is one of many changes being made in response. A deal to show copyright…

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It’s harder than ever to make money from online comedy, JibJab CEO Gregg Spiridellis says

When you’re competing against every funny video ever made, Spiridellis asks, “where’s the money that can afford the investment?”

It took five years for JibJab to become an overnight success. In 2004, when the digital entertainment company released a parody of the U.S. presidential election called “This Land,” it was on the verge of going out of business.

“We were at the point where we were like, ‘The internet’s never gonna be used for entertainment,’” JibJab CEO Gregg Spiridellis said on the latest episode of Recode Decode. “We were about to give up, but we knew that election cycles were really big for comedy.”

So, Spiridellis and his brother/co-founder Evan decided to take “one more shot” — and it worked.

“We did 80 million views, back in 2004,” Spiridellis told Recode’s Kara Swisher and Chorus CEO Dick Costolo. “There was no YouTube. We needed to string together a global network of mirroring sites because we had a $ 400-a-month shared server in Texas … A week from thinking we may have to give up the business, we were on the couch with Jay Leno.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

It’s in large part because of YouTube that JibJab’s last-minute rescue wouldn’t happen today. Realizing they had captured “lightning in a bottle” with “This Land,” and recognizing the “tornado on the horizon” that was free-to-distribute online video, the Spiridellis brothers pivoted to personalized online greeting cards like Elf Yourself; today, the greeting cards have morphed into personalized apps for messaging platforms like iMessage, and JibJab has produced two seasons of a children’s show for Netflix, StoryBots.

On the new podcast, Spiridellis said a viral video like “This Land” — which had a shelf life of months as friends and family members traded it over emails — just couldn’t go viral to the same degree. Back in 2004, the options for entertainment online were so much fewer that striking gold with a funny video for the masses was at least somewhat attainable.

“I would bet — and I don’t have any proof of this — of everyone who saw a video in July of 2004, I bet we had 90-plus percent share,” Spiridellis said. “That just doesn’t happen anymore. Now we’re in a world where everything is so targeted.”

“I think ‘mass funny’ is, where’s the money that can afford the investment?” he added. “If you look at Jimmy Fallon or this great, super-well-prodcued video content, it’s really hard to compete against that, if you’re just looking at digital.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara.

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YouTube’s decision to make it harder to monetize videos is hurting the community


YouTube is increasing the requirements for channels on its platform that will make them eligible to earn money from ads run before and during their videos. In April 2017, it began requiring channels to have a minimum of 10,000 lifetime views to qualify for its monetization program; it’s now upped that to a threshold of 4,000 hours of watchtime within the past 12 months, and 1,000 subscribers. The company explained its revamped criteria in a blog post: They will allow us to significantly improve our ability to identify creators who contribute positively to the community and help drive more ad…

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The Next Web

YouTube is trying to clean itself up by making it much harder for small video makers to make money

It will kick “tens of thousands” of video makers out its advertising program.

YouTube is going to make it harder for small video makers to make money.

The world’s largest video site will kick thousands of people out of its ad revenue-sharing program, and will make it much harder for new ones to get into the program.

The change, which goes into effect today, is one of YouTube’s responses to a year of criticism it has generated for a series of scandals involving questionable and offensive content that has appeared on the site.

Another change, as Recode reported last week: An overhaul of YouTube’s “Google Preferred” program, which is already aimed at creating ad-friendly sections of the site for marketers.

Most important is a pledge from YouTube that every single video in its Preferred program — including the thousands of clips uploaded so far — will be approved by a human “for their compliance with our advertiser-friendly guidelines.”

The changes won’t prevent people from uploading offensive content to YouTube, which hoovers up hundreds of hours of new video per minute. But they are meant to make it hard for the people who upload that stuff to make money from it. And they are an important symbolic change for YouTube, which was founded on the idea that anyone can use the platform, and has spent years trying to entice video makers to find audiences and create careers on the site.

YouTube’s new rules require anyone who wants to generate ad dollars on the platform to first generate 4,000 hours of “watchtime” over a 12-month period, and to attract at least 1,000 subscribers. That replaces a lower hurdle of 10,000 lifetime views, which the site instituted last spring, after a first wave of negative stories about rogue content.

The rules are retroactive for existing YouTube “partners,” who share ad revenue with the platform, which means that the site will kick some out of the rev-share program after a 30-day grace period.

In a blog post, YouTube says the new rules will affect “a significant” number of its user-created channels, but won’t provide an official tally. One person with knowledge of the situation said it will affect “tens of thousands” of creators.

But YouTube does say that most people who are being kicked out weren’t making much money to begin with: “99 percent of those affected were making less than $ 100 per year in the last year, with 90 percent earning less than $ 2.50 in the last month,” the company says in a post credited to chief product officer Neal Mohan and chief business officer Robert Kyncl.

The idea: If you’re serious about making stuff — and money — on YouTube, no problem. But this will theoretically make it harder for people to game the system.

YouTube is also promising to manually review all of the videos in its Google Preferred program, which is aimed at advertisers who want assurances that their videos will run next to brand-safe clips. Google instituted that program years ago to woo advertisers more comfortable with TV than with user-generated content.

YouTube will use an army of contractors to review the clips — the company has said it will employ more than 10,000 people for the task this year. And within Google Preferred, the company says it will also make distinctions about how brand-safe its content will be, via a “three-tier suitability system” that the company says will “give them appropriate placements for their brand, while understanding potential reach trade offs.” Translation: More popular stuff may be riskier, brand-wise, but we will sell it to you if you want.

We’ll talk to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki about this next month, when she comes to our Code Media event in Huntington Beach, Calif. You can join us there.


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