September 7, 2017 Last Updated 10:47 am

Facebook admits Russian agency bought US election ads; Catalonia vote sparks new Spanish crisis

Morning Brief: Hurricane Irma spreads Caribbean island destruction, looks heading for east coast of Florida or else the coast of Georgia and South Carolina this weekend

The summer is supposed to be the time when the news cycle slows to a crawl. Then things begin to heat up as Congress returns after Labor Day, and Apple holds its iPhone event. But 2017 is not a normal year, and this week alone has seen a series of major stories break, many that concern the media.

Trump and Russia

Yesterday, Facebook admitted in a bizarrely headlined post that it accepted around $100,000 in ad spending from a Russian troll farm during the last US election. The social network said about 3,000 ads were placed by “inauthentic accounts,” created by a Russian company called the Internet Research Agency.

TIME MagazineTIME magazine had said as much in an expose published in May by Massimo Calabresi titled Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America. The story twice mentions that ads were placed on Facebook by Russia agents as part of their use of social media to help support the Trump campaign. But at the time, Facebook denied it, saying they had no evidence of any ad buy.

That turned out not to be true, and now many journalists are wondering what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg knew of the ad buy, and exactly when.

It should be pointed out that most news outlets are mentioning the $100K ad spend, but Facebook’s post mentions another $50,000 in ad spending, which is likely why WIRED is using $150K to describe the ad spending.

The Washington Post, Carol D. Leonnig, Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman:

Russian firm tied to pro-Kremlin propaganda advertised on Facebook during election

Representatives of Facebook told congressional investigators Wednesday that the social network has discovered that it sold ads during the U.S. presidential campaign to a shadowy Russian company seeking to target voters, according to several people familiar with the company’s findings…

…Even though the ad spending from Russia is tiny relative to overall campaign costs, the report from Facebook that a Russian firm was able to target political messages is likely to fuel pointed questions from investigators about whether the Russians received guidance from people in the United States — a question some Democrats have been asking for months.

The New York Times, Scott Shane and Vindu Goel:

Fake Russian Facebook Accounts Bought $100,000 in Political Ads

The disclosure adds to the evidence of the broad scope of the Russian influence campaign, which American intelligence agencies concluded was designed to damage Hillary Clinton and boost Donald J. Trump during the election. Multiple investigations of the Russian meddling, and the possibility that the Trump campaign somehow colluded with Russia, have cast a shadow over the first eight months of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

Facebook staff members on Wednesday briefed the Senate and House intelligence committees, which are investigating the Russian intervention in the American election. Mr. Stamos indicated that Facebook is also cooperating with investigators for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, writing that “we have shared our findings with U.S. authorities investigating these issues, and we will continue to work with them as necessary.”

The Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan:

Facebook’s role in Trump’s win is clear. No matter what Mark Zuckerberg says

Here’s an undeniable fact: Facebook is about advertising. And it is so wildly successful at leveraging our eyeballs and spending power into ad dollars that it is now valued at nearly $500 billion.

But for all its power and wealth, Facebook is a terribly opaque enterprise. (It recently hired former New York Times public editor Liz Spayd, a former Post managing editor, to help with “transparency.” Let’s just say that she has her work cut out for her.)

Facebook also has never acknowledged the glaringly obvious — that it is essentially a media company, where many of its two billion active monthly users get the majority of their news and information. As I’ve been pointing out here for more than a year, it constantly makes editorial decisions, but never owns them.

CNN: Hill investigators, Trump staff look to Facebook for critical answers in Russia probe
MSNBC: Reversing Denials, Facebook Admits Russia-Tied Election Ad Buy
The Hill: Facebook turns over info on Russian ads to Mueller
Office of the Director of National Intelligence: Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution
The New York Times: Facebook Tells Advertisers It Can Reach Many Young People. Too Many.

Yesterday, Catalonia’s regional parliament approved a message which set an October 1 date for a vote on independence. The referendum, pushed through by separatist supporters, contains one simple question: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent country in the form of a republic?”

CataloniaBut the vote was contentious, with opposition parties walking out before the vote was held, and the Spanish government already stating that any vote would be illegal.

Because of this, supporters of independence say the referendum is an example of democracy, while opponents, including much of the Spanish press outside of Catalunya (TNM will use the locally preferred spelling of the region) have said the vote by the regional parliament was an undemocratic move.

For those catching up to this story, or unable to process all the news breaking these days, let it be said that this referendum is not quite the same as that which took place in Scotland. For one thing, politicians supporting the vote have said that should the vote result in a Yes, they would declare Catalunya independent almost immediately. Polls are conflicted with one showing that Catalans by a narrow margin do not support independence, but another saying that should it come to a vote a majority might vote Yes.

Things are moving very fast, with Catalan authorities already asking for international observers to oversee October 1 referendum, and a website has been launched that in four languages (Català, Castellano, Aranés and English) explains the referendum. Meanwhile, some in the Spanish government have warned that any attempt to split the country could lead to a violent suppression of politicians leading the independence drive.

In my book, Talking Digital, I interviewed ePub expert Liz Castro, who is also the editor and publisher of the book What’s Up With Catalonia, about her views regarding independence.

Castro said her support for independence, and the failure of the media to properly cover the issue, that led her to publish her book on Catalonia. From Talking Digital:

“It wasn’t just ‘we’re going to have another demonstration, tomorrow we’re going to have a referendum then we’re independent’ the newspapers started to publish less, and the things that they published were not substantial enough,” Castro said. “They mostly continued on the same theme of ‘Catalonia’s rich and selfish, and not only that they’re indebted.'”

So Castro started to think about publishing a book on the subject.

“This is something I can do,” Castro concluded. “I can get up-to-date information about what’s going on right now, not this old stuff, and I can make it a lot more nuanced, a lot more detailed, so people can really understand what’s going on there.

“There’s the question of language, of its history, the feeling of not belonging to Spain, not being appreciated, not being understood.”

Note: Some reports you see will make reference to the referendum “1-O” — that refers to October 1, the date selected for the vote.

Associated Press:

Catalonia sets independence vote for Oct. 1

Catalan lawmakers passed a controversial bill that clears the way for an Oct. 1 secession vote despite fierce resistance from the political opposition and central authorities. The votes of 72 pro-independence lawmakers were enough to pass the so-called “referendum bill” after more than 11 hours of debate that ended with 52 opposition members of parliament walking out in protest.

Regional president Carles Puigdemont’s cabinet is expected to sign the decree officially calling for the vote on a binding independence referendum. The leader of the main opposition party, Ciudadanos (Citizens), immediately announced that the party would seek a vote of no confidence against Puigdemont to force new regional elections.

La Vanguardia, Editorial:

“The parliamentary session was a clear reflection of the political and social division that provokes the independence adventure”

The political fragmentation of the country has once again become evident. You cannot impose a program of rupture without an unequivocal social majority. (And in the case of having an unequivocal social majority, the procedures could not be adopted yesterday). You cannot go to the approach of the Constitution of a Member State of the European Union with a partnership split in two. It is not possible to impose the approval of a law that in practice cancels the Estatut (Catalan statue), with little room for deliberation and amendment.

If a new Statute requests a two-thirds majority for its approval, its cancellation cannot be adopted by simple majority, through an express procedure. You cannot treat opposition parties with the disdain that characterizes some of the precarious democracies of the former Soviet glacis. The law of the funnel cannot be applied in a Parliament of democratic Europe. Having lessened their rights to the most important deliberation since the reopening of the Parliament in 1980, opposition MPs resorted to obstructionism. What else could they do? The Catalan institution was seriously injured yesterday.

El Pais:

Spanish parties vow to fight Catalan secessionists’ latest challenge

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is scheduled to meet on Thursday with opposition leaders Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos to craft a joint response to the secessionist challenge in Catalonia, where the regional parliament on Wednesday passed a law to hold an independence referendum on October 1.

The Socialists reiterated their support for the Spanish executive “in defending the rule of law,” while Ciudadanos said that Rajoy can count on their “unwavering” support. All three parties contend that the referendum is illegal on the basis that it violates existing Spanish and international legislation on many fronts.

In other news… yikes, there is plenty of that.

First, Hurricane Irma barrels on. It is now heading towards the Dominican Republic after having devastated much of Barbuda. Irma remains a Category 5 hurricane, though winds have slow a bit, and should it hit Florida later this weekend it would probably do so as a Category 4. Right now forecasts are that Miami might be hit dead on, then the storm would move on, with a possible landfall in South Carolina or Georgia on Tuesday

Second, the NY Post’s Keith Kelly last night reported on Time Inc.’s efforts to sell its Tampa facilities. It is part of the publisher’s efforts to cut the company down to size, get cash to lessen the company’s debt load, and begin concentrating on the area’s CEO Rich Battista knows better than magazine publishing. Earlier the company announced that it would sell several magazines, as well as a majority interest in Essence.

Meanwhile, we are still waiting to hear from Rodale as they sell off the company, either in whole or in pieces.

NY Post, Keith Kelly:

Time Inc. is attracting bidders for its Tampa facilities

Time Inc., looking to slim down in search of profitability, has attracted a number of bidders for its customer service center in Tampa, Fla., sources tell Media Ink.

Quad Graphics, the printing giant, has joined the India-based Wipro in a joint venture bid for the facility, which employs about 700 people in the Tampa area, sources said.

Time Inc. CEO Rich Battista is trying to shed $400 million in costs over the next 18 months and has been getting heavy guidance from McKinsey managing director Christian Schmitz.

Third, things continue to go south at Ebony Media, the Chicago-based publisher.

Chicago Tribune, Robert Channick:

Freelancers sue Ebony magazine, claiming $70,000 in unpaid work

A group of 38 Ebony freelancers filed a lawsuit against the magazine Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court, claiming they are collectively owed more than $70,000 for their work.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Ebony Media and its owner, Texas-based private equity firm CVG Group, include writers, photographers, videographers and graphic designers, all of whom are represented by the National Writers Union.

The freelancers were “regular contributors” to both Ebony and co-owned Jet magazine, but the publisher “failed and/or refused” to pay the amounts due for their work, according to the lawsuit.

Finally, in tech news… do not doubt the move to electric cars. It is happening, and it is being led by efforts in California and Europe.

In other tech news, TNM will post an excellent guest column later today from Damien Jardon, Technical Lead Supervisor at Rakuten Aquafadas, on what media app developers can expect with iOS 11, which will be released later this month, and previewed again next week at the Apple iPhone event. Watch for it!

Reuters, Costas Pitas:

Jaguar-Land Rover will offer electric options on all models from 2020

All new Jaguar Land Rover cars will be available in an electric or hybrid version from 2020, Britain’s biggest carmaker said on Thursday, as it speeds up plans to electrify its model range. Last year, the company, owned by India’s Tata Motors, said it would offer greener versions of half of its new line-up by 2020, but it has now ramped up its plans.

Demand for electric models continues to rise sharply and in July Britain said it would ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 to cut pollution, replicating plans by France and cities such as Madrid, Mexico City and Athens. Carmakers are racing to tap into growing demand for low-emissions models with Nissan launching a revamped version of its Leaf electric vehicle on Wednesday in a bid to better take on Tesla’s Model 3.

Comments are closed.