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Five ways political groups are getting around ad bans

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Online platforms have made bans of political advertising a core part of their plans to mitigate the spread of disinformation around the US elections. Twitter moved early, banning political ads in October 2019. Facebook stopped accepting new ads last week and will indefinitely remove all political ads, old and new, after the polls close on Tuesday (the ban also applies to Instagram.) Google and YouTube, meanwhile, will remove all political ads for “at least a week” once polls close. 

Turning off the spigot of political advertising is intended to limit the risk of sophisticated propaganda campaigns that could lead to more confusion or unrest. But that doesn’t mean you won’t hear from political groups at all: because of the way that each platform’s rules work, you’ll still be hearing plenty after the polls close, and in some cases they will still be paying to reach you. Campaigns also might need to fundraise after November 3 in the instance of legal challenges, meaning messages could keep coming for months.

For all platforms, what makes something a “political ad” is cloaked in regulatory legalese, but generally means paid content that mentions a campaign, candidate, the election, or social issues from any advertisers, including political action committees and non-profit organizations.

Here are some of the routes and loopholes they’ll be using: 

Candidates themselves

Electoral candidates and campaigns will still be posting on their social media accounts. This includes personal accounts and any groups or pages related to their campaign, their party or aligned advocacy groups. It’s likely that organizations will coordinate the sharing of those messages in an effort to get in front of audiences they previously had to pay to reach. 

If any candidate declares victory prior to official election results, Twitter and Facebook have committed to adding labels to those posts. Both companies say they will remove posts that incite violence. But there are concerns about consistent enforcement of these policies. 

Direct messages

Political texting has exploded during this election, and texts are likely to keep hitting your phone beyond Tuesday. Without social media advertising, texting is the easiest way for campaigns to mass message to people outside of their supporter network. Mobile phone number data is widely accessible by both campaigns and interest groups, and the channel skirts regulations from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) around political disclosures. Text messages are also notoriously hard to fact check: Watch out for hard-to-trace texts that claim a victor. 

Emails are also a favored channel for campaign communications and will certainly continue to come in after the polls close. 

Influencers

The use of influencers for political campaigning, particularly on Instagram, has exploded in 2020, and the Biden and Bloomberg campaign both used influencers as part of their outreach strategy. Facebook has said that Instagram influencers who are paid by a campaign or other group that would usually be subject to ad restrictions are subject to political ad disclosure and removal requirements.

Recent research indicates that disclosure does not happen consistently. Further, volunteer networks of influencer messaging are under no restrictions, so long as they only volunteer intermittently according to the FEC. Networks of celebrities and “nano-influencers” are free to post any unpaid messages, even if the messages themselves are written, designed and coordinated by political campaigns. 

Campaign apps

Both presidential campaigns have developed apps for their supporters that allow them to send unlimited push notifications to users. The reach of the apps is obviously limited to those who have downloaded them, and includes many of each candidate’s base supporters. The Trump campaign app, particularly, collects a great deal of surveillance data on its users, including location and Bluetooth tracking, which could allow it to send notifications based on geographical triggers. 

Coordinated message networks

Organic networks of friends and families are a great way for political campaigns to garner support, since they have trust and personalization built in. Campaigns and candidates are likely to continue to communicate via those networks using things like scripts and text templates to help supporters talk to their networks in private, unregulated spaces.

For example, a friend of yours might receive a text message from the Trump campaign that includes a text template meant for sharing, or from the Biden campaign that prompts them to reach out to friends with specific messaging.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Teardown of “Dishy McFlatface,” the SpaceX Starlink user terminal

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The outer part of

Enlarge / Ken Keiter gets ready to tear apart the SpaceX Starlink user terminal, “Dishy McFlatface.” (credit: Ken Keiter)

Engineer Ken Keiter recently came into possession of one SpaceX Starlink user terminal, the satellite dish that SpaceX nicknamed “Dishy McFlatface.” But instead of plugging it in and getting Internet access from SpaceX’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, Keiter decided to take Dishy apart to see what’s inside.

The teardown process destroyed portions of the device. “I would love to actually test out the [Starlink] service and clearly I didn’t get a chance to, as this went a little bit further than I was intending,” Keiter said toward the end of the 55-minute teardown video he posted on YouTube last week.

Keiter, who lives in Portland, Oregon, was impressed by the Starlink team’s work. “It’s rare to see something of this complexity in a consumer product,” he said in reference to the device’s printed circuit board (PCB), which he measured at 19.75″ by 21.5″.

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Salesforce applies AI to workflow with Einstein Automate

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While Salesforce made a big splash yesterday with the announcement that it’s buying Slack for $27.7 billion, it’s not the only thing going on for the CRM giant this week. In fact Dreamforce, the company’s customer extravaganza is also on the docket. While it is virtual this year, there are still product announcements aplenty and today the company announced Einstein Automate, a new AI-fueled set of workflow solutions.

Sarah Franklin, EVP & GM of Platform, Trailhead and AppExchange at Salesforce says that she is seeing companies facing a digital imperative to automate processes as things move ever more quickly online, being driven there even faster by the pandemic. “With Einstein Automate, everyone can change the speed of work and be more productive through intelligent workflow automation,” she said in a statement.

Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that combined these tools are designed to help customers get to work more quickly. “It’s not only about identifying the insight, it’s about making it easier to leverage it at the the right time. And this should make it easier for users to do it without spending more time and effort,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Einstein is the commercial name given to Salesforce’s artificial intelligence platform that touches every aspect of the company’s product line, bringing automation to many tasks and making it easier to find the most valuable information on customers, which is often buried in an avalanche of data.

Einstein Automate encompasses several products designed to improve workflows inside organizations. For starters, the company has created Flow Orchestrator, a tool that uses a low-code, drag and drop approach for building workflows, but it doesn’t stop there. It also relies on AI to provide help suggest logical next steps to speed up workflow creation.

Salesforce is also bringing Mulesoft, the integration company it bought for $6.5 billion in 2018 into the mix. Instead of processes like a mortgage approval workflow, the Mulesoft piece lets IT build complex integrations between applications across the enterprise, and the Salesforce family of products more easily.

To make it easier to build these workflows, Salesforce is announcing the Einstein Automate collection page available in AppExchange, the company’s application marketplace. The collection includes over 700 pre-built connectors so customers can grab and go as they build these workflows, and finally it’s updating the OmniStudio, their platform for generating customer experiences. As Salesforce describes it, “Included in OmniStudio is a suite of resources and no-code tools, including pre-built guided experiences, templates and more, allowing users to deploy digital-first experiences like licensing and permit applications quickly and with ease. ”

Per usual with Salesforce Dreamforce announcements, the Flow Orchestrator being announced today won’t be available in beta until next summer. The Mulesoft component will be available in early 2021, but the OmniStudio updates and the Einstein connections collection are available today.

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Virta Health’s behavioral diabetes treatment service is now worth over $1 billion

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A new $65 million investment led by the growth capital and public investment arm of Sequoia Capital will give Virta Health, a developer of a behavioral-focused diabetes treatment, a valuation of over $1 billion.

Virta’s approach, which uses a combination of approaches to change diet and exercise to reverse the presence of type 2 diabetes and other chronic metabolic conditions, has shown clinical success and attracted 100 health care payers to endorse the company’s treatments.

“We partnered with Virta for their ability to deliver unmatched health improvement and cost savings—two clear differentiators from other offerings on the market,” said William Ashmore, CEO of the State Employees’ Insurance Board of Alabama, in a statement. “Especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s vital that we provide our members the life-changing results Virta is known for delivering, through expert, virtual care delivered right to their home.”

The company said it would use the funding to expand sales and marketing efforts for its services as well as expand its research and development into other non-pharmaceutical therapies for metabolic conditions.

The financing came from Sequoia Capital Global Equities and Caffeinated Capital and brings the company’s total funding to over $230 million and gives it a $1.1 billion valuation, according to a statement.

Alongside Sequoia Capital Global Equities, Caffeinated Capital participated in the round, which brings total funding to more than $230 million and values Virta Health at over $1.1 billion.

Diabetes has long been an attractive condition for startups and has been the first target that companies focused on behavior changes to influence metabolic conditions aim to address. The reason why there are so many diabetes-focused businesses is because of the prevalence of the disease in the U.S. Almost half of adults in the U.S. suffer from obesity, pre-diabetes, or type 2 diabetes and the disease kills thirty people every hour. Diabetes also doubles the risk of death from COVID-19 infections.

Beyond the risks, the costs of treatment are skyrocketing. According to data from the American Diabetes Association released in March 2018, the total costs of treating diagnosed diabetes have risen to $327 billion in 2017 from $245 billion in 2012, when the cost was last examined.

“Given the scope of the metabolic crisis in the U.S. and globally, it cannot be understated how game-changing Virta’s results and care delivery are,” said Patrick Fu, managing partner at Sequoia Capital Global Equities, in a statement. “Virta’s technology-driven, non-pharmaceutical approach has fundamentally changed how diabetes is cared for, and our collective belief in what is possible for population health improvement. This is the future of chronic disease care.”

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