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The Biggest Tech and Digital Media Stories of 2019 – Variety

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Here are the trends that captured headlines this year — from the rise of the streaming wars and podcasting, to digital-media consolidation and the growing backlash against Big Tech.

1. Big-Media Streamers Assemble

The new multibillion-dollar battle fronts in streaming video became sharply drawn in 2019. Disney roared the loudest, with the debut of Disney Plus — snagging an estimated 24 million users in less than three weeks thanks to aggressive pricing, Verizon’s one-year-free promo and meme-ready breakout superstar Baby Yoda. Disney also inked a pact with Comcast to control Hulu (future home to FX’s streaming originals) and is set for a big international streaming foray next year. Apple TV Plus arrived with a more boutique play, including awards contender “The Morning Show.” The field, led by Netflix, will get more heavy artillery in 2020 with the rollouts of AT&T/WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, Comcast/NBCU’s Peacock and Quibi, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s wager on premium mobile video.

2. “Techlash” Intensity Grows

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Silicon Valley was once the poster child for American innovation and business leadership. In 2019, the chorus blasting large tech companies as dangerously powerful and even a threat to democracy grew louder — with serious calls for the U.S. government to dismantle them. Against that backdrop, regulators stepped up their attempts to brush back the behemoths. The DOJ rattled its saber with new antitrust probes. Facebook absorbed a record-breaking $5 billion FTC fine over alleged privacy violations (though investors didn’t even flinch), while YouTube was slapped by the FTC for collecting data on children under 13 and was forced to implement major changes in how it treats kid-targeted videos. TikTok, owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance, drew scrutiny over privacy and security fears (and entered into its own FTC settlement) after exploding as one of the most popular social-video apps.

3. Digital Media Players Get Urge to Merge

Seeking strength in numbers amid revenue shortfalls and fragmenting audiences, digital-media publishers went through a wave of consolidation. Vice snapped up Refinery29, looking to forge a stronger presence with millennial women; Vox Media acquired New York Media, as a growing number of print-centric brands landed new owners; and Discovery-backed Group Nine bought female-focused PopSugar. It’s not certain how well the tie-ups will fulfill their synergy goals, but it’s safe to expect more M&A in this sector in 2020.

4. Skinny Bundles Get Fatter and Pricier

Over-the-top TV providers promised to give cable-weary consumers cheaper, more flexible ways to get subscription TV. But the economic realities of the pay-TV biz came home to roost, as every player in the sector implemented significant price hikes in 2019 while also augmenting their programming lineups. Dish just raised Sling TV’s rates 20%, after Hulu kicked up the cost of its live TV service by 22% last month, following price increases for AT&T Now (formerly DirecTV Now), Google’s YouTube TV and FuboTV. Sony threw in the towel, concluding it couldn’t make money on OTT pay-TV, announcing that it will shut down PlayStation Vue in January.

5. Podcasting Pops

After over a decade of steady growth, podcasting turned a corner this year with a flood of new investments and initiatives. Podcast mainstays like NPR, Joe Rogan and iHeartMedia’s How Stuff Works were joined in the podcast gold rush by everyone from Conan O’Brien to the Obamas. Spotify planted its flag in podcasting with a spate of acquisitions (including buying studio Gimlet Media) and building up a slate of originals, and Sony Music entered the fray. Meanwhile Apple is poised to make noise in podcasting in 2020. In 2019, an estimated 90 million U.S. consumers were listening to podcasts monthly, up 23% from 73 million last year, per Edison Research and Triton Digital.

Going to CES 2020? Don’t miss Variety‘s Entertainment Summit at CES, with a speaker lineup that includes Mark Cuban, Spotify’s Dawn Ostroff and ViacomCBS’s Marc DeBevoise.

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Trump's Truth Social media platform is a perfect mess – MSNBC

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Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced the launch of a media company and a social media platform designed, in his words, to “stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech.” And so far the platform, called Truth Social (of course!), has been as true to form as one could’ve imagined: a ramshackle, derivative project that expresses Trump’s desperate thirst for power and profit.

Trump isn’t trying to win over the market by creating a unique media experience.

The janky and rushed nature of Truth Social was immediately apparent. While in his announcement Trump said a beta version is meant to be available to invited guests in November and a national rollout is expected in early 2022, pranksters and curious journalists found what appeared to be an unreleased test version of the site within hours and proceeded to flood it.

Immediately people snatched up VIP handles like “donaldtrump” and “mikepence.” The person who grabbed “donaldjtrump” swiftly pinned a photo of a pig defecating on their profile. That site has been pulled offline, but at least one other test version has been circulating, as well, suggesting striking technical vulnerabilities.

Oct. 22, 202103:29

As Washington Post tech reporter Drew Harwell notes in his analysis, the website is a crude, uncreative knockoff of Trump’s favorite social media platform — and it is also somehow already violating licensing codes:

The site looks almost entirely like a Twitter clone: A user can post Truths, which are like tweets, or Re-Truths, which are retweets. There’s also a news feed, called the Truth Feed, a notification system so users can know “who’s interacting with your TRUTH’s,” the social network’s App Store profile states.

The site’s code shows it runs a mostly unmodified version of Mastodon, the free, open-source software launched in 2016 that anyone can use to run a self-made social networking site.

Mastodon founder Eugen Rochko told The Post Thursday that Trump’s site may violate Mastodon’s licensing rules, which require developers to share any modifications and link to the original source code. Rochko said he has contacted the company’s legal counsel to make a determination.

Using a link to what appeared to be another test site that hasn’t been taken down, I was easily able to create a profile. Given its extreme similarity to Twitter (although with a strikingly drab color scheme) it wasn’t hard to navigate. But when you publish posts you don’t hit “Tweet” — you hit a button that says “TRUTH!”

Every post from every user is a “Truth,” not because of the substance of what someone is saying, but by virtue of where they are saying it.

In addition to the vapid design, it was easy to sense the next step in Trump’s project to lay waste to the idea of shared reality. Every post from every user is a “Truth,” not because of the substance of what someone is saying, but by virtue of where they are saying it: Trump’s social media space. This principle is key to Trump’s authoritarian paradigm, in which truth is not tethered to reality or reason, but instead to the will to power and tribalism — something is true because my tribe and I want it to be true.

The site’s technical woes and uninspired design might not deter new users, because Trump isn’t trying to win over the market by creating a unique media experience. Instead he’s looking to create a unique ideological space. Trump’s media group claims it wants to create a “non-cancellable global community,” by which it means a social media platform that is populated solely by people on the right, and establishes little to no regulation surrounding abuse, disinformation, calls to violence and bigotry.

The crux of the matter, however, is to create a forum where Trump has free rein to speak as he wishes to and be adulated for it. “We live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favorite American President has been silenced,” he wrote in his announcement. “This is unacceptable.”

Trump’s new media venture ticks all the classic Trump boxes: money, power, ego. If it’s successful, it could be an asset in keeping his potential 2024 aspirations alive. But whether his base finds the site to be a tolerable experience remains an open question.

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Media Advisory: Premier Furey to Provide Details on Period Products in Schools – News Releases – Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

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The Honourable Andrew Furey, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador will join the Honourable Pam Parsons, Minister Responsible for the Office of Women and Gender Equality and the Honourable Tom Osborne, Minister of Education to provide an update on plans for providing free period products in K-12 schools.

The event will take place Monday, October 25 at 10:30 a.m. at Brother Rice Junior High, 75 Bonaventure Avenue, St. John’s.

The event will be live-streamed on the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Facebook account. Media are invited to attend and are asked to RSVP by contacting Tina Coffey (tcoffey@gov.nl.ca).

Physical distancing and other public health guidelines will be in place.

– 30 –

Media contacts
Meghan McCabe
Office of the Premier
709-729-3960
meghanmccabe@gov.nl.ca

Tina Coffey
Education
709-729-1906, 687-9903
tcoffey@gov.nl.ca

2021 10 22
3:30 pm

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Eating Disorders and Social Media Prove Difficult to Untangle – The New York Times

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Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram try to monitor for content related to the problem, but it is not always clear what to do about it.

A 27-year-old YouTube star, prodded by her millions of followers with concerns about her health. A 19-year-old TikTok creator who features posts about being skinny. Teen communities throughout the internet, cleverly naming and culling their discussions to avoid detection.

They present a nearly intractable problem for social media companies under pressure to do something about material on their services that many people believe is causing harm, particularly to teenagers.

Those concerns came into sharp focus in recent weeks in a pair of Senate subcommittee hearings: the first featuring a Facebook executive defending her company, and the second featuring a former Facebook employee turned whistle-blower who bluntly argued that her former employer’s products drove some young people toward eating disorders.

The hearings were prompted in part by a Wall Street Journal article that detailed how internal Facebook research showed Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, can make body image issues worse for some young people.

On Tuesday, executives from YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat are scheduled to testify before a Senate subcommittee about the effects of their products on children. They are expected to face questions about how they moderate content that might encourage disordered eating, and how their algorithms might promote such content.

“Big Tech’s exploiting these powerful algorithms and design features is reckless and heedless, and needs to change,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat of Connecticut and the chair of the subcommittee, said in a statement. “They seize on the insecurities of children, including eating disorders, simply to make more money.”

But what exactly can be done about that content — and why people create it in the first place — may defy easy answers. If creators say they don’t intend to glamorize eating disorders, should their claims be taken at face value? Or should the companies listen to users complaining about them?

“Social media in general does not cause an eating disorder. However, it can contribute to an eating disorder,” said Chelsea Kronengold, a spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorders Association. “There are certain posts and certain content that may trigger one person and not another person. From the social media platform’s perspective, how do you moderate that gray area content?”

The association advises social media companies to remove content that explicitly promotes eating disorders and to offer help to users who seek it out.

But young people have formed online communities where they discuss eating disorders and swap tips for the best ways to lose weight and look skinny. Using creative hashtags and abbreviations to get around filters, they share threads of emaciated models on Twitter as inspiration, create YouTube videos compiling low-calorie diets, and form group chats on Discord and Snapchat to share how much they weigh and encourage others to fast.

Influencers in fashion, beauty and fitness have all been accused of promoting eating disorders. Experts say that fitness influencers in particular can often serve as a funnel to draw young people into extreme online eating disorder communities.

YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter have policies prohibiting content that encourages eating disorders. The companies should improve their algorithms that can surface such content, Ms. Kronengold said.

“It becomes an issue, especially when people are coming across this content who can be harmed by it or don’t want to see it,” she said.

Like many other popular YouTube creators, Eugenia Cooney, 27, makes videos that share her favorite fashion and makeup items with her more than two million followers. But for years, her viewers have not focused on the topics of Ms. Cooney’s videos. Instead, they flood her comments with concerns about her health.

Although she spoke in 2019 about her struggles with an eating disorder in interviews with other YouTubers, Ms. Cooney rarely addresses her audience’s concerns. While some viewers flock to her social media profiles on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and the streaming service Twitch to beg her to seek treatment, others have accused her of using her platform to promote eating disorders to young people.

They say her videos are examples of “body checking,” a habitual behavior of reviewing the appearance of one’s body that is often associated with eating disorders. Over 53,000 people signed a petition in January asking social media companies to remove her content.

“I just kind of feel like everybody has the right to make videos and to post a photo of themselves,” Ms. Cooney said in an August video. “With me, people will always be trying to turn that into such a bad thing.” She did not respond to requests for comment from The New York Times. YouTube said Ms. Cooney’s content did not violate its rules.

“We work hard to strike a balance between removing harmful videos about eating disorders and allowing space for creators and viewers to talk about personal experiences, seek help, and raise awareness,” said Elena Hernandez, a YouTube spokeswoman. “We reduce the spread of borderline content about eating disorders that come close to violating our policies but don’t quite cross the line.”

YouTube does not prevent users from searching for eating disorder content, although it does include an eating disorder help line at the top of its search results for some common terms related to the topic.

The company surfaces one of Ms. Cooney’s fashion videos among its top search results for “thinspo,” a common phrase that refers to “thin inspiration,” along with compilations of videos that originally appeared on TikTok.

YouTube allows Ms. Cooney to make money from her videos. Ads from health food companies like Sweetgreen, Imperfect Foods and HelloFresh often appear on her content, even though Ms. Cooney mainly discusses makeup and fashion rather than diet or food.

Mishel Levina, a 19-year-old college student in Israel with 21,000 followers on TikTok, encourages her viewers to “block if you’re sensitive.” Her videos show off her waist and stomach, feature song snippets about being skinny, and include text about losing weight.

Ms. Levina acknowledged that some of her behavior was unhealthy, but said she was just sharing her life and was not urging other people to starve themselves.

“I’m being called out for promoting bad eating habits — I’m not promoting them,” she said in an interview. “I’m just making a joke out of them — it’s all a joke. It’s social media. I’m not pushing this on you. I’m sharing information. It’s your decision to take it and use it or to leave it aside and just skip it.”

Last year, TikTok began cracking down on content that explicitly encourages eating disorders and blocking some hashtags that promote disordered eating. But it has allowed creators to continue to share videos that discuss recovery or crack subtle jokes about eating disorders.

Despite efforts to hide harmful content, some content that promotes eating disorders is still available. Some hashtags related to the topic have over 70 million views. But searching for phrases like “anorexia” prompts the app to offer a phone number for the National Eating Disorders Association instead of any videos.

TikTok said that it, too, tried to differentiate videos of people sharing their personal experiences from more harmful content that promoted unhealthy behavior.

“We aim to foster a supportive environment for people who share their recovery journey on TikTok while also safeguarding our community by removing content that normalizes or glorifies eating disorders,” Tara Wadhwa, TikTok’s director of U.S. policy, said in a statement.

But many popular TikTok trends that do not explicitly promote eating disorders still highlight thin bodies, implicitly advocating thinness as the ideal.

“My first trend, ironically, is something that makes me feel awful,” said McKenzie Ellis, 26, whose music was featured in a recent “hip walking” trend where creators filmed close-ups of their waist while walking.

On Twitter, creators routinely share advice for crash diets and encourage disordered eating, and some amass tens of thousands of followers in the process. Twitter’s algorithms automatically suggest related accounts and topics for users to follow, based on the accounts they view. When a Twitter user views accounts that promote eating disorders, Twitter recommends topics like “fashion models,” “fitness apps & trackers,” “mindful eating” and “workout videos.”

Twitter said that its policies prohibit content that promotes eating disorders or provides instructions or strategies for maintaining them, and that the company primarily relies on users to report violative content. A spokeswoman for the company said that its topic recommendations differed by account.

“While we remove content that violates our policies on suicide and self harm, we also allow people to share their struggles or seek help,” the spokeswoman said.

On Snapchat, users often form group chats dedicated to privately encouraging one another to pursue eating disorders. Some of the chats are focused on providing negative feedback, essentially bullying the participants about not fulfilling their diet goals. Others provide positive feedback.

After an inquiry from The New York Times, Snapchat said it would ban terms related to the group chats from being used in users’ display names, group chat names and search. The company previously blocked a number of common terms associated with eating disorders and provides suggestions for resources, a spokeswoman said.

Ms. Levina, the TikTok creator, said she did not think she needed to moderate her content to avoid influencing young people to start unhealthy behaviors. Instead, Ms. Levina suggested, teenagers were old enough “to understand the information given and decide what to do.”

But Dr. Khadijah Booth Watkins, the associate director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that young people are especially impressionable, so content creators should consider that they could be swaying teenagers into making dangerous health choices.

“Having the awareness that you are being followed and that people are listening to you and seeking your guidance bears with it a certain level of responsibility,” Dr. Booth Watkins said. “Reliable and valid information about weight loss, particularly on social media, should only be done by qualified, licensed nutritionists.”

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association help line for support, resources, and treatment options at (800) 931-2237. You can find additional resources at NationalEatingDisorders.org.

Sheera Frenkel contributed reporting.

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