Facebook may sue Daily Mail over erroneous column: Bylined author didn’t even write it

News broke today that Facebook is considering suing the Daily Mail over false claims that an author created a fake profile of a young girl and was approached by dozens of older men wanting to meet for sex. The problem? The author, Mark Williams-Thomas, didn’t actually use Facebook, but some other social network.

Before this news broke I had read the article in question and was immediately suspicious. I tracked down Williams-Thomas and asked him point blank in an email if he had created the fake profile on Facebook, and whether he had proof of doing so. This was his response:

Hi Simon

You are correct it is not Facebook- the article was ghosted by the Mail and my corrections were not made to the published article.

The Mail have since corrected this serious error.

The fact that it did not take place on Facebook then answers all your other questions.

All the best

Mark Williams-Thomas MA (Criminology)
WT Associates Ltd

So not only did the author not create a fake profile on Facebook, he didn’t even write the piece.

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Brizzly Parent Thing Labs Makes Two Acquisitions

Brizzly Logo

Two small—but noteworthy—acquisitions for Thing Labs, the company behind Facebook and Twitter web client Brizzly: Thing Labs has purchased Wikirank, a tool that let users visualize and compare the most popular topics on Wikipedia, and is also announcing the purchase of Twitter iPhone client Birdfeed.

Thing Labs has added some of its own features to Birdfeed—and is using it to launch a Brizzly app for the iPhone. Wikirank, meanwhile, will be integrated into Thing Labs’ Brizzly Guide, “a new site designed to help navigate what people are talking about on Twitter, Facebook, and other social spaces.” Hot topics—like ‘SXSW’—have their own pages, which feature an explanation of why they are popular, along with some relevant links.

Terms of the acquisitions were not released. Thing Labs was started by Jason Shellen, a former manager of new business development at Google (NSDQ: GOOG), and Chris Wetherell, who—while at Google—started Google Reader. The startup has raised funding from Mike Hirshland of Polaris Venture Partners, Jeff Clavier of SoftTech VC and Michael Jones.

Twitter’s Wallflowers Get a Little Less Timid. But It’s Still a Service for Watchers, Not Talkers.

Twitter gets described as a conversation or a cocktail party, but it’s really more like a stage play. A few people do all the talking, and everyone else watches and listens.

But that’s changing, a bit, as the service grows.

Barracuda Labs, a security company that says it has surveyed 19 million Twitter accounts, reports that 73 percent of Twitter users have tweeted 10 or fewer times. And 34 percent of users have never tweeted at all.

That’s a lot of quiet users, but it’s less than before: Barracuda says those numbers are down from 79 percent and 37.1 percent, respectively, in June of last year.

Barracuda also notes that Twitter had a huge surge in growth from November 2008 through April 2009, when there was a rush of publicity about celebrities who tweet (Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, Ashton Kutcher vs. CNN, etc.). The company claims that nearly half of all Twitter accounts were created in that period.

But even high-profile Twitterers don’t tweet that much. Most of the messaging on the service, Barracuda says, comes from users with about 1,000 followers (see chart below; click to enlarge).

All of this makes for fun data points to snack on. But for Twitter’s managers and investors, the usage numbers underscore a key question the company needs to resolve: Is it a communications utility a la Facebook or is it a media company?

The Twitter guys have resisted the second notion, but that’s sure what the company looks like from the outside–because it distributes content created by a small number of people for a large number of people.

If done right, that can still be a very good business, especially if you don’t have to pay anyone to create the content.

But a service with a largely passive user base also loses out on some opportunities. Twitter’s plan to ape Google’s (GOOG) search advertising, for instance, won’t be nearly so robust if most of its users aren’t making tweets and searching for them.

How Virginia college campuses are using Facebook to organize against anti-gay attorney general

Not long ago, Quentin Kidd, a faculty adviser for the student government association at Christopher Newport University, located in Newport News, Virginia, spoke with two politically active students at the school. Nicolaus Usry and Shannon Rhoten, heads of campus Republican and Democrat organizations, had come to him disturbed by a recent letter sent to several schools by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. According to the Washington Post, the letter “urged the state’s public colleges and universities to rescind policies that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” arguing that “their boards of visitors had no legal authority to adopt such statements.”

Usry and Rhoten, along with hundreds of other students and faculty, strongly disagreed with this notion and wanted to quickly organize some kind of response.

“So Shannon created this Facebook page, as it was kind of a natural way to communicate,” Kidd told me in a recent phone conversation. “I didn’t actually realize that they would put me on as an administrator of the group, but they did. And I think their goal initially was to raise awareness, and they saw this as the most expedient way to do so.”

In less than 48 hours, the group has amassed over 600 members and is among several others that have sprouted up across the state, almost all of which are organized by students vehemently opposed to campuses rescinding policies relating to discrimination against gays.

Kidd said the students are already organizing an on-campus rally, and the Facebook group has acted as an effective way to disseminate news.

“I’m not even sure that they would bother with the traditional method of posting fliers around campus,” he explained. “In their minds I think it would be a Facebook-generated event; they’ve already got 600 people in 48 hours that have joined this group. They can create an event as part of that group and immediately speak to 600 people and then encourage those 600 people to speak to anyone who doesn’t already know about it. So in this way, virtual organizing is simply the only way they’re going to do it.”

My brother PJ is a junior at CNU and one of those who joined the Facebook group. “Everyone seems to be really upset, even some of my conservative friends,” he told me. “Several of my friends who are in the Young Republicans club are involved with the organizing of opposition. Students fought really hard a few years ago to get the discrimination wording added to CNU’s discrimination policy….. many of those students who fought for it are now seniors, and they are really upset.”

Kidd, who has been a faculty member for 13 years and taught at Texas Tech before that, said that social media has created a new form of campus activism that is reminiscent of the Vietnam protests that swept across American college campuses decades ago. “As I was going through college and graduate school, campus activism was sort of on the wane. I was probably at the heart of the post-Vietnam wane in campus activism, but it’s really picked up a lot in the past eight years.”

The faculty member stressed that this current example of social media activism isn’t directed toward campus administrators, but instead is targeted at Cuccinelli and, to a lesser extent, Virginia Governor McDonnell. To his knowledge, no campus faculty or administrators have given any indication that they plan to rescind the anti-discrimination rules.

“My sense is that there’s a level of frustration and anxiety demonstrated within the last two days — with 600 people joining in 48 hours — that’s just right under the surface,” he explained.

Facebook, therefore, is simply a way for this surface tension to break out into the open and, these organizers hope, send Cuccinelli a message, one that relays that his anti-gay rhetoric will not go unchallenged.

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Here Comes Facebook’s Move Into Location Sharing …


With services that make it easy for users to share their location—like FourSquare and Gowalla—gaining buzz and usage, Facebook is finally set to fire back with its own move into the hot location-aware space. The NYT reports that the social network will release a new feature in late April that will let users share their locations; the social network also plans to let outside developers build Facebook apps that incorporate that info.

As the paper points out, the move isn’t a surprise at all; Back in October, Facebook actually hinted that such a feature was on the way in an update to its privacy policy, which made mention of the possibility of a service that would include “location sharing.” And with social networks from Twitter to the new Google Buzz letting users tag their locations it only made sense that Facebook would follow suit, especially considering the promise of geotargeted ads.

Asked for comment, a Facebook spokeswoman says, “We are constantly experimenting with new ideas and products internally. We don’t have anything more to share at this time.”


Updating Your Facebook: The New Proof of Life

See this guy? This guy is Jose Simian, Mediaite’s “Meet The Prensa” columnist. He’s also the person responsible for giving me a minor heart attack last weekend. Why? Jose is Chilean, and has been in Chile right with his wife and young son for the past several weeks. Including through last week’s devastating earthquake.

He is okay, thank God. But it took over a day to find that out — a day of silence on his Facebook page.

During that time, I started to panic. His Gchat “dot” — the signifier of whether someone is online, usually some variation of green, red or orange if they are — was an unrelenting gray. His Twitter hadn’t been touched for over a week. Meanwhile, on Facebook, worried posts from friends in English and Spanish were mounting. Jose is a web-savvy guy, and it seemed the most obvious question in the world to me: If he was okay, wouldn’t he let the world know?

It seems a rather dorky question right now — as it turns out, Jose was more focused on driving 17 hours through earthquake-ravaged Chile to reunite with his family. But once I knew he was safe and sound (via a response to one of my frantic emails, followed by — yes — updating that Facebook page), I started to wonder about the new ways in which we keep tabs on those who are dear to us.

When I go a stretch without tweeting, I will occasionally get an email from my mom, checking in. I always find this amusing, but also gratifying: Thanks to Twitter, I can keep in touch with my parents and let them in on what I’m doing in a way that even the regular phone calls of a doting daughter can’t do. (One of the funniest emails I’ve ever received was a notification from Facebook informing me that my dad wanted to be my friend.) This is just when things are fine, mind you; I can’t imagine not leaping for my Blackberry in the middle of a disaster to let people know I was all right. By “people” I mean anyone you need to know such things — Facebook and Twitter and other such online markers are by far the most efficient ways of disseminating such information. It’s not the most personal — only the most wired (and heartless) digiphile would let their mom know they were okay via a Tweet before an email or phone call! — but it’s the opposite of impersonal, too. Our Facebook and Twitter pages, websites and Flickrs, Gchat status and FourSquare checkins — wherever it is we live online — are extensions of who we are, and representations of same in the digital space. We form relationships there that may be entirely different than those we enjoy “IRL” (In Real Life), but they are real even so. For those who spend big chunks of their lives online, who they relate to the most may well be a factor of who happens to be on Gchat; one of my best friends, God bless her, has a habit of calling me from her car at 5:30 pm as she drives home from work in Toronto. We connect that way once ever five calls, because I remember to turn on my phone the way she tweets (which is to say, rarely). She’s one of the people I’d call to tell I was fine if something happened, but she’d also know to be worried — really worried — if suddenly, my online presence went dark.

There is precedent for this, of course. I was in New York for 9/11 and remember the flood of emails coming in, and the constant busy signals on cellphones, too. Philip Bump documented the online reaction that day on the anniversary last year, recalling how people turned to the net for answers. Here’s what he wrote then:

9/11 was, of course, the first of the major JFK-Challenger-Pearl Harbor-style crises to occur in the internet age, meaning that it has an electronic trail unprecedented in history. It is the first tragic moment in history (of hopefully only very few) that transpired on a relatively mature internet which distributed what information it could as rapidly as possible. Snopes might have frowned on what we were reading, but the internet was still pivotal in assuring that we understood what was happening. It was, perhaps, a key moment in the transition from television’s dominance to the supremacy of the web.

Social media has added a new dimension to this. Now everyone is their own potential broadcast outlet, contributing to the common pool of knowledge, but also telling their own story. I’ve had many conversations with people reflecting on what 9/11 would have been like with Twitter — and Twitpics (and as I write this from 30,000 feet on board an American Airlines flight bound for California, one more thing occurs to me: In-flight wifi. Imagine the information-sharing that might have been). The common thread, though, is that people would be active — leaping for that blackberry to add their update, documenting it all in real time. That is the impulse we now share as a modern society — an outgrowth, I think, of that same impulse that has always driven us to gather around the television. It’s the flipside of the impulse to know more — it’s the impulse to share, so that we all know more.

So that’s why I freaked out when Jose’s Facebook page lay dormant, except for message after worried message piling up. I figured that he would update it when he could, and the fact that it had taken hours and then a day for that to happen — well, in this wired era, an hour is a long time and a day is an eternity. I didn’t account for a 17-hour drive through and around wreckage in Chile, of course; sending an email is easy, as long as you can get to your technology. Until you do, though, there will be a vigil waiting at your Facebook page. In this wired era, the flipside is that it takes just as little time for people to let you know they care.

Full-sized image of Jose’s FB page — finally updated! — below, with permission; and yes, this is me shamelessly posting photos of him with his adorable son, Luca, in the newsroom at NY1, where he works at NY1 Noticias, and out in the crisp fall air of the West Village. Needless to say, I am glad they are okay!

Oscar Sunday Gets Social on Facebook

As most of you may know, this Sunday is the 82nd Academy Awards.  While I’m not happy with some of the retro changes (let’s be honest and say that the ten Best Pic nominees could’ve been whittled down to four films, including one that was completely overlooked, The Informant) we’ll see in this weekend’s ceremony, I thought it was worth pointing out some new social media promotion tactics the Academy is trying out this year.

For the first time, the Oscars will broadcast red carpet coverage online, thanks to their partnership with Facebook, and will give users like you a chance to ask your favorite actor a question.  According to their page:

“We know you’re used to seeing stars at the Academy Awards®, but now for the very first time you can get involved! Oscar.com has partnered with Facebook to bring you Oscar.com Live from the Red Carpet, a very special online pre-show that allows you to watch the stars walk the Red Carpet and answer questions from fans like you. Yes, you read that right!

Join hosts Lisa Guerrero and Brett Chukerman as they cover all the action unfolding outside the Kodak Theater. Using your Facebook account, you can send a message to them on the Red Carpet, and they’ll pass along the best questions and comments in real time to the stars that sashay by. But that’s not all! Rico Rodriguez (Manny from the ABC hit comedy Modern Family) will also be on hand to meet and interview fans in attendance, as they experience all the glitz and glamour right from the Red Carpet.”

For viewers who like options and have either Facebook or Twitter log-ins, they can go to APLive and see streaming coverage there as well.   APLive is also making this available on their Facebook page, but users will have to become a fan in order to see the coverage, so it’ll be interesting to see if the 1,373 fans of the page jumps to a significantly higher number over the weekend** (See update).   This streaming event is the first of many for the year-long partnership between APLive and Livestream.

If you really feel like you need more connection to this year’s awards, there are a few iPhone Apps available for download for this (again, let’s be honest) very crowded awards year.   One thing I probably will be checking out this weekend is Adam Shankman’s Twitter feed, one of the two being promoted on Oscar.com.

I don’t want to sound pessimistic or snobby.  There were some great films this year and I’ll take a moment to throw out my top picks for Best Picture:

  1. Up (Pixar just knows how to pull at the heartstrings)
  2. Inglorious Basterds
  3. The Informant (what movie? Netflix it when it comes out later this month)
  4. An Education (probably my pick of the year)
  5. Honorable Mention: Drag Me to Hell (I’m not being cute here. It really is a great film.)

Update:  We all know the winner’s from last night’s ceremony.  Another Update**: AP Live’s Facebook page now has 7,672 fans.