YouTube’s Excellent New Moves Against Hate Speech — But There’s More Work for Google to Do


In my March blog posts — “How YouTube’s User Interface Helps Perpetuate Hate Speech” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/03/26/how-youtubes-user-interface-helps-perpetuate-hate-speech), and  “What Google Needs to Do About YouTube Hate Speech” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/03/23/what-google-needs-to-do-about-youtube-hate-speech), I was quite critical of how Google is handling certain aspects of their own Terms of Service enforcement on YouTube.

In “Four steps we’re taking today to fight online terror” (https://blog.google/topics/google-europe/four-steps-were-taking-today-fight-online-terror/), Google’s General Counsel Kent Walker (a straight-arrow guy whom it’s been my pleasure to meet) announced YouTube changes aimed at dealing more effectively with extremist videos and hate speech more broadly.

Key aspects of these changes appear to be in line with my public suggestions — in particular, faster takedowns for extremist content, and disqualification of hate speech videos from monetization and “suggested video” systems, are excellent steps forward.

I would prefer that hate speech videos not only be demonetized and “hidden” from suggestions — but that they’d be removed from the YouTube platform entirely. I am not at this point fully convinced that sweeping that kind of rot “under the carpet” — where it can continue to fester — is a practical long-term solution. However, we shall see. I will be watching with interest to determine how these policies play out in practice.

As I’ve noted in earlier posts, I also feel strongly that Google needs to make it more “in your face” obvious to YouTube users that they can report offending videos. I had previously mentioned that the YouTube “Report” link — that years ago was on the top-level YouTube user interface — seemed to have returned to that position (at least for YouTube Red subscribers) after a long period being buried under the top level “More” link. At the time, I speculated that this might only be an ephemeral user-facing experiment, and in fact for me at least the “Report” link is again hiding under the “More” link.

I’ve discussed this problem before. Users who might otherwise report an offending video are much less likely to do so if a “Report” link isn’t obvious. I acknowledge that one possible reason for “hiding” the “Report” link is concerns about false positives. Indeed, in Kent’s post today, he mentions the high accuracy of YouTube “Trusted Flaggers” — which suggests that my speculation in this regard (about reports from users overall) was likely correct. In any case, I still feel that a top-level user interface “Report” link is a very important element for consideration.

While I do feel that there’s more that Google needs to do in various of these regards concerning extremist and hate speech, I am indeed cognizant of their understandable desire to move in carefully calibrated steps given the impact of any changes at Google scale. And yeah, I’m indeed pleased to see Google moving these issues in the overall direction that I’ve been publicly urging.

My kudos to the associated Google/YouTube teams — and we’ll all be watching to see how these changes play out in the fullness of time.

Be seeing you.

–Lauren–

Why I May Remove All Google+ Buttons from My Blog Posts


Google says they will no longer show the +1 count on external G+ buttons — like I have on all of my blog postings. Without the +1 count, these buttons are largely useless, and I will probably remove all G+ buttons from my posts to recover that space, and urge other sites to do the same. I’m sorry, Google, this one is extremely boneheaded.

I’ll bet I know why they’re doing it — Google is probably embarrassed by the relatively low counts vis-a-vis Facebook. But I support G+ and not Facebook because I consider G+ to be a superior platform, and this decision by Google is just inane.

–Lauren–

Brief Thoughts on a Google Ombudsman and User Trust

This post in PDF format:
https://vortex.com/google-ombudsman-2017-06-12.pdf

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Despite significant strides toward improved public communications over the years, Google is still widely viewed — both by users and by the global community at large — as an unusually opaque organization.

Google does provide a relatively high level of communications — including customer support — for users of their paid services. And of course, there’s nothing inherently unreasonable with Google providing different support levels to paying customers as compared to users of their many free services.

But without a doubt, far and away, Google-related issues that users bring to me most frequently still relate to those users’ perceived inabilities to effectively communicate with Google when they have problems with Google services (usually free but frequently paid), and these are services that vast numbers of persons around the world now depend upon for an array of crucial aspects in their businesses and personal lives. These problems can range from minor to quite serious, sometimes with significant ongoing impacts.

Similarly and related, user and community confusion over both the broad and detailed aspects of various Google policies remains widespread, in some cases not significantly improved over many years.

The false assumption that Google sells user data to third parties remains rampant, fueled both by basic misunderstandings of Google’s ad technologies, and by Google competitors and haters — who leverage Google’s seemingly institutional public communications reluctance — filling the resulting vacuum with misinformation and false propaganda. Another of many examples is the continuing unwillingness of many users to provide account recovery and/or two-factor verification phone numbers to Google, based on the unfounded fear of those numbers being sold or used for other purposes. Confusion and concerns related to YouTube policies are extremely widespread. And the list goes on …

While Google’s explanatory documents have significantly improved over time, they often are still written at technical levels beyond the understanding of major subsets of users.

Significant and growing segments of the Google user population — including older and other special needs users who increasingly depend on Google services — feel left behind by key aspects of Google’s user interfaces — with visual designs (e.g. perceived low contrast layouts), hidden interface elements, and other primary usability aspects of growing concerns and angst.

These and other associated factors serve to undermine user trust in Google generally, with significant negative regulatory and political ramifications for Google itself, not only in the USA but around the world. This is all exacerbated by Google’s apparently deeply ingrained fear of “Streisand Effect” reactions to public statements.

It has frequently been noted that many organizations employ an “ombudsman” (or multiple persons fulfilling similar roles under this or other titles) to act as a form of broad, cross-team interface between individual corporate and/or team concerns and the concerns of the user community, typically in the contexts of products, services, and policy issues.

Google has apparently been resistant to this concept, with scalability concerns likely one key factor.

However, this perceived reaction may suggest a lack of familiarity with the wide range of ways in which ombudsman roles (or similar roles otherwise titled) may be tailored for different organizations, toward the goal of more effective communications overall.

An ombudsman is not necessarily a form of “customer support” per se. An employee filling an ombudsman role need not have any authority over decisions made by any teams, and may not even interact with users directly in many circumstances.

The ombudsman may be tasked primarily with internal, not external communications, in that they work to help internal teams understand the needs of users both in terms of those individual teams and broader cross-team scopes. In this context, their contribution to improved, effective public communications and perceptions of a firm are more indirect, but can still be of crucial importance, by helping to provide insights regarding user interactions, broader policies, and other issues that are not limited to individual teams’ everyday operational mandates.

An ombudsman can help teams to better understand how their decisions and actions are affecting users and the overall firm. The ombudsman may be dealing with classes and categories of user issues, rather than with individual users, yet the ombudsman is still acting as a form of liaison between users, individual teams, and the firm as a whole.

There are of course myriad other ways to structure such roles, including paradigms that combine internal and public-facing responsibilities. But the foundational principle is the presence of a person or persons whose primary responsibilities are to broadly understand the goals and dynamics of teams across Google, the scope of user community issues and concerns, and to assist those teams and Google management to better understand the associated interdependent dynamics in terms of the associated problems and practical solutions — and then help to deploy those solutions as appropriate.

Google’s users, the community at large, and Google itself would likely significantly benefit.

–Lauren–

Google Users Who Want to Use 2-Factor Protections — But Don’t Understand How

In my “Questions I’m Asked About Google” #1 live video stream (https://vortex.com/google-1) a few days ago, I emphasized the importance of protecting Google Accounts with Google’s excellent 2-factor authentication system.

In response I’ve received a bunch of queries from Google users who do not understand how to set this up or use it, even though they very much want to.

These concerns fall into a number of categories. Even though I explained that it’s safe to give your phone number to Google — Google won’t abuse it — many users are still resistant, and note that they do not see a way to activate Google 2-factor protection for other authentication mechanisms (e.g. Google Authenticator App and/or Backup Codes) without first providing their phone number information.

Others want to use their existing (non-Google) mail programs after activating Google 2-factor, but are utterly confused by Google’s “application-specific passwords” system that is required to do so.

When you’re trying to get users to take advantage of the best possible security, and have successfully convinced them that this is a good idea, but your documentation is still written in a way that many non-techie users dependent on your services cannot readily understand — you have a serious problem.

Despite positive strides at Google in terms of help center and other documentation resources, Google is still leaving vast numbers of their users behind.

Google can do better.

–Lauren–

White House Releases Transcript of Trump and Comey Dinner Meeting

The White House has announced that the audio recording of the dinner meeting that occurred between President Donald J. Trump and then FBI Director James Comey was accidentally deleted by Eric Trump when he inadvertently recorded an episode of “Stormfront News” over the meeting audio. However, the White House is now pleased to make available a 100% accurate, verbatim transcript of that meeting that had already been prepared. In this transcript, The President of the United States Donald J. Trump is shown by P:, and James Comey is shown by C:.

P: Jim, come right in over here next to me! C’mon, closer. Give me a big hug! So glad you could make it!

C: Thank you Mr. President. It’s a tremendous honor to be here. You know how much I’ve admired you for so many years. I was beginning to become concerned when you didn’t return any of my many calls asking to keep my job as FBI Director. I feared that you didn’t want to talk to me any more and that my position was in jeopardy.

P: Nonsense Jim. You know how I feel about you. I’ve just been extremely busy. Running this great country leaves me no time for any recreation, any fun — it’s the toughest job in the world and it’s all work. Let’s sit down over here at this small, intimate table and get started with dinner. Would you prefer the Filet-O-Fish or the McNuggets?

C: The fish would be just fine, Mr. President.

P: Here you go, Jim. Take two ketchup packets. I can manage with only one.

C: Thank you, Mr. President. The stories I’ve heard about your generosity are obviously true.

P: Sorry there are no fries. I think Sean stole them from the bag.

C: No problem, sir.

P: Now Jim, I know you’re desperate to keep your job as FBI Director, and I want to be clear that I don’t expect anything from you in return for staying in that position.

C: That makes me feel much better, sir.

P: In particular, all those faxes you sent me offering your personal loyalty were totally unnecessary. All I expect from you is loyalty to the United States of America. I don’t matter at all. It’s this wonderful, diverse country and its wonderful, multicultural citizens that we care about. The vast cornucopia of diversity that makes the United States of America like the proverbial shining city on the hill.

C: You have such a wonderful way with words, Mr. President. You certainly have the best words.

P: Thanks Jim. And I want you to take all of your investigations wherever they need to go. If they lead to Vladimir, or Eric, or Ivanka, or Jared, or Flynn — I don’t want you to back off by one tiny iota. If they’re guilty, they’re guilty, and should be treated like every other simple, ordinary person just like me. I expect you to aspire to my ethical standards, and apply those lofty heights to your daily work at the FBI, just as I’ve applied them every day in my own businesses.

C: That’s a very tall order Mr. President. I’m not sure that I’m enough of a man to meet your standards.

P: I have faith in you, Jim. Now get back to your office and make me proud.

C: I’ll do my best, sir. And thank you, sir. You’re a great human being.

— End of Recording —

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–Lauren–