Thursday Threads: Fake Social Media, Netflix is Huge, Secret TPP is Bad

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In this week's Thursday Threads we look at the rise of fake social media influence, how a young media company (Netflix) is now bigger than an old media company (CBS), and a reminder of how secrecy in constructing trade agreements is a bad idea.

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Buying Social Media Influence

Click farms jeopardize the existential foundation of social media: the idea that the interactions on it are between real people. Just as importantly, they undermine the assumption that advertisers can use the medium to efficiently reach real people who will shell out real money. More than $16 billion was spent worldwide on social media advertising in 2014; this money is the primary revenue for social media companies. If social media is no longer made up of people, what is it?

The Bot Bubble: How Click Farms Have Inflated Social Media Currency, by Doug Bock Clark, New Republic, 20-Apr-2015

Think that all that happens on the social networks is real? You may think differently after reading this article about the business of buying follow, likes, and mentions. How to win friends and influence people in the 21st century? Buy in bulk. (Is that too cynical?)

Netflix is Big. Really Big.

In a letter to investors released on Wednesday, Netflix announced that by the end of March, it had reached a staggering 40 million subscriptions in the U.S. That means there’s a Netflix subscription for more than a third of the households in the United States — 115,610,216, according to the U.S. Census. Which is pretty insane. In the same letter, Netflix announced it had reached more than 20 million international subscribers as well, bringing the total to about 60 million.

Netflix shares are soaring after another outstanding quarter. And as of right now, that’s pushed the market value of the disruptive streaming TV company above CBS Corp, which, by most measures, operates the highest rating broadcast TV network in the US.

These two articles about the size of Netflix came out back-to back. I find both of them astounding. Sure, I believe that Netflix's share price, and therefore its market capitalization, is pushed up in an internet bubble. But one in three households in America is a subscriber? Really? I wonder what the breakdown by age demographic is. If media stereotypes are to be believed, it skews highly towards young cable-cutting households.

Secrecy Surrounding Trans-Pacific Partnership

When WikiLeaks recently released a chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, critics and proponents of the deal resumed wrestling over its complicated contents. But a cover page of the leaked document points to a different problem: It announces that the draft text is classified by the United States government. Even if current negotiations over the trade agreement end with no deal, the draft chapter will still remain classified for four years as national security information. The initial version of an agreement projected by the government to affect millions of Americans will remain a secret until long after meaningful public debate is possible.

National security secrecy may be appropriate to protect us from our enemies; it should not be used to protect our politicians from us. For an administration that paints itself as dedicated to transparency and public input, the insistence on extensive secrecy in trade is disappointing and disingenuous. And the secrecy of trade negotiations does not just hide information from the public. It creates a funnel where powerful interests congregate, absent the checks, balances and necessary hurdles of the democratic process.

- Don’t Keep the Trans-Pacific Partnership Talks Secret, op-ed by Margot E. Kaminiski, New York Times, 14-Apr-2015

Have you seen what’s in the new TPP trade deal?

Most likely, you haven’t – and don’t bother trying to Google it. The government doesn’t want you to read this massive new trade agreement. It’s top secret.

Why? Here’s the real answer people have given me: “We can’t make this deal public because if the American people saw what was in it, they would be opposed to it.”

- You can't read this, by Elizabeth Warren, 22-Apr-2015

This is bad policy. The intellectual property provisions of it -- at least the leaked versions that we have seen -- are particularly odious. There should not be fast track authority for a treaty that our elected representatives haven't seen and haven't heard from their constituencies about.