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Politics

A Macedonian misinformation site dominated Parler before the Capitol riot

According to new data, some 87% of all news links on Parler leading up to Jan. 6 were from misinformation sites.

A Macedonian misinformation site dominated Parler before the Capitol riot

Before the Capitol riot, some 87% of news links on Parler led to known misinformation sites.

Photo: Parler

In the week leading up to the riot inside the U.S. Capitol, a whopping 87% of all news links on Parler led to known misinformation sites, according to a new report from the news rating firm NewsGuard and analytics firm PeakMetrics.

The report quantifies just how polluted the information landscape was on Parler in January, before it was unceremoniously deplatformed by Amazon. This week, the app relaunched following a month-long hiatus, with few guardrails in place to prevent history from repeating itself.

According to the report, among the many misinformation sites that filled Parler before the Jan. 6 uprising, the site that appeared most frequently was American Conservatives Today, which launched just a month before the riot and appeared to be run out of Macedonia. It was linked to nearly 3,000 times in a single week.

Other sites that proliferated on Parler that week include a network of Islamophobic sites reportedly run out of Israel, a video site linked to InfoWars' Alex Jones and a QAnon conspiracy theory site. In addition to these peddlers of fake news, NewsGuard also found more than 1,000 links to weapon sales, prepper gear, nutritional supplements and other merchandise.

"Many misinformation publishers, including those involved in spreading falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election, depend on click-throughs from social media platforms to drive page views and advertising revenue," NewsGuard's general manager, Matt Skibinski, wrote in the report, which was provided exclusively to Protocol. "As mainstream platforms like Twitter and Facebook face regulatory pressure to reduce the spread of misinformation, misinformation sources may continue to shift to less controlled platforms like Parler."

NewsGuard analyzes thousands of news sites across the web and grades them based on a rubric of journalistic rigor. Sites that pass get a green label, while sites that fail get a red one. NewsGuard publishes detailed explanations of its grading system with each label. To measure just how many of these red-rated sites were floating around Parler, NewsGuard partnered with PeakMetrics to pull every post on Parler that contained a link to news during the first week of January, then ran those links against NewsGuard's list of misinformation sites. The results show that in addition to the rampant calls for violence that pervaded the app, Parler was absolutely overrun with misinformation, much of it driven by profit.

NewsGuard wasn't the first to note Parler's Macedonian fake news problem. Last fall, before the U.S. election, researchers at the Election Integrity Project found that around one in seven Parler users followed an account linked to a Macedonian clickbait site called Resist the Mainstream. Larger platforms like Facebook saw the same phenomenon emerge before the 2016 election and have since worked to crack down on these for-profit fake news purveyors. But the effort has yielded mixed results. According to reporting by the Wall Street Journal, Facebook's own internal researchers found in August that one of its most popular political groups last year had "possible Macedonian ties." Facebook has now stopped recommending all political groups to its users.

Parler, by contrast, has resurfaced with much the same mission that got it deplatformed in the first place: to provide a safe space for dangerous speech. It has a new web hosting provider, Epik, which has hosted another famously deplatformed app beloved by the far-right, Gab. It's got a new CEO in conservative activist Mark Meckler, who replaced the company's co-founder and CEO John Matze (who said he was fired by Parler's financier Rebekah Mercer). And it's got some new line items in its terms of service, including algorithmic content moderation that monitors for incitements to violence and a "trolling filter" that will allow people to, at least in theory, stop seeing certain types of targeted abuse.

But for the most part, Parler's new handlers appear undeterred in their commitment to creating an anything-goes app — even if that app is filled almost entirely with fake news.

Protocol | China

China’s edtech crackdown isn’t what you think. Here’s why.

It's part of an attempt to fix education inequality and address a looming demographic crisis.

In the past decade, China's private tutoring market has expanded rapidly as it's been digitized and bolstered by capital.

Photo: Getty Images

Beijing's strike against the private tutoring and ed tech industry has rattled the market and led observers to try to answer one big question: What is Beijing trying to achieve?

Sweeping policy guidelines issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on July 24 and the State Council now mandate that existing private tutoring companies register as nonprofit organizations. Extracurricular tutoring companies will be banned from going public. Online tutoring agencies will be subject to regulatory approval.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.

It’s soul-destroying and it uses DRM, therefore Peloton is tech

"I mean, the pedals go around if you turn off all the tech, but Peloton isn't selling a pedaling product."

Is this tech? Or is it just a bike with a screen?

Image: Peloton and Protocol

One of the breakout hits from the pandemic, besides Taylor Swift's "Folklore," has been Peloton. With upwards of 5.4 million members as of March and nearly $1.3 billion in revenue that quarter, a lot of people are turning in their gym memberships for a bike or a treadmill and a slick-looking app.

But here at Protocol, it's that slick-looking app, plus all the tech that goes into it, that matters. And that's where things got really heated during our chat this week. Is Peloton tech? Or is it just a bike with a giant tablet on it? Can all bikes be tech with a little elbow grease?

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
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