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Election polls arent broken, but they still cant predict the future

Enlarge / Stickers await residents who vote at the Parks and Recreation Center building on August 14..

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Enlarge / Stickers await residents who vote at the Parks and Recreation Center building on August 14, 2018, in Elkhorn, Wisconsin.Scott Olson/Getty Images

In the days before the 2016 US presidential election, nearly every national poll put Hillary Clinton ahead of Donald Trump—up by 3%, on average. FiveThirtyEights predictive statistical model—based on data from state and national voter polls—gave Clinton a 71.4% chance of victory. The New York Times model put the odds at 85%.

Trumps subsequent win shocked the nation. Pundits and pollsters wondered: How could the polls have been so wrong?

Trump-Clinton isnt the only example of a recent electoral surprise. Around the world, including in the 2015 United Kingdom election, the 2015 Brexit referendum, the 2015 Israeli election, and the 2019 Australian election, results have clashed with preelection polls.

But experts contend that these misses dont mean we should stop using or trusting polls. For example, postelection analyses of the 2016 US election suggest that national election polling was about as accurate as it has always been. (State polls, however, were a different story.) Clinton, after all, won the popular vote by 2%, not far from the 3% average that the polls found, and within the range of errors seen in previous elections. Polls failed to anticipate a Trump victory not because of any fundamental flaws, but because of unusual circumstances that magnified typically small errors.

“Everyone sort of walked away with the impression that polling was broken—that was not accurate,” says Courtney Kennedy, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center.

The issue may be one of expectations. Polls arent clairvoyant—especially if an election is close, which was the case in many of the recent surprises. Even with the most sophisticated polling techniques, errors are inevitable. Like any statistical measure, a poll contains nuances and uncertainties, which pundits and the public often overlook. Its hard to gauge the sentiment of an entire nation—and harder still to predict weeks or even days ahead how people will think and act on Election Day.

“As much as I think polls are valuable in society, theyre really not built to tell you whos going to be the winner of a close election,” Kennedy says. “Theyre simply not precise enough to do that.”

Would you like to take a survey?

Pollsters do their best to be accurate, with several survey methods at their disposal. These days, polling is in the midst of a transition. While phone, mail-in and even (rarely) door-to-door surveys are still done, more and more polls are happening online. Pollsters recruit respondents with online ads offering reward points, coupons, even cash. This type of polling is relatively cheap and easy. The problem, however, is that it doesnt sample a population in a random way. An example of whats called a non-probability approach or convenience sampling, the Internet survey panels include only people who are online and willing to click on survey ads (or who really love coupons). And that makes it hard to collect a sample that represents the whole.

“Its not that convenience Internet panels cant be accurate,” says David Dutwin, executive vice president and chief methodologist of SSRS, a research survey firm that has worked on polls for outlets such as CNN and CBS News. “Its just generally thought—and most of the research finds this—theres certainly a higher risk with non-probability Internet panels to get inaccurate results.”

With more traditional methods, pollsters can sample from every demographic by, for instance, calling telephone numbers at random, helping ensure that their results represent the broader population. Many, if not most, of the major polls rely on live telephone interviews. With caller ID and the growing scourge of marketing robocalls, many people no longer answer calls from unknown numbers. Although response rates to phone surveys have plummeted from 36% in 1997 to 6% in 2018—a worrisome trend for pollsters—phone polls still offer the “highest quality for a given price point,” Dutwin says.

In fact, most efforts to improve the accuracy of polling set their sights on relatively small tweaks: building better likelihood models, getting a deeper understanding of the electorate (so pollsters can better account for unrepresentative samples), and coming up with new statistical techniques to improve the results of online polls.

One promising new method is a hybrid approach. For most of its domestic polls, Kennedy says, the Pew Research Center now mails invitations to participate in online polls—thus combining the ease of Internet surveys with random sampling by postal address. So far, she says, its working well.

Volunteer Janice MacGurn sets up a polling station sign before opening on primary election day June 5, 2018 in San Diego, California. There are several highly competitive races throughout the state including those for governor and U.S. House and Senate seats.
Enlarge / Volunteer Janice MacGurn sets up a polling station sign before opening on primary election day June 5, 2018 in San Diego, California. There are several highly competitive races throughout the state including those for governor and U.S. House and Senate seats.Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

How polling goes wrong

In the spring of 2016, the American Association for Public Opinion Research formed a committee to look into the accuracy of early polling for the 2016 presidential race. After the election, the group turned to figuring out why the polls missed Trumps victory. One primary reason, it found, was that polls—particularly state polls—failed to account for voters with only a high school education. Normally, this wouldnt have mattered much, as voting preferences among people with different education levels tend to balance each other out. But in an election that was anything but normal, non-college-educated voters tilted toward Trump.

“College graduates are more likely to take surveys than people with less education,” says Kennedy, who chaired the AAPOR committee. “In 2016, peoples education levels were pretty correlated with how they voted for president, especially in key states.” This particular skew was unique to the 2016 election, but any kind of unrepresentative sample is the biggest source of error in polling, she says.

Pollsters have tools for predicting how skewed a sample might be and can try to correct for it by giving a proportionally larger weight to responses from any underrepresented groups. In the 2016 election, Kennedy says, many state polls didnt perform the proper statistical weighting to account for an underrepresentation of non-college-educated voters. Some pollsters, she says, might be reluctant to apply this kind of weighting, citing the fact that they dont know voters education levels ahead of time. Shoestring budgets also mean state polls tend to be of lower quality. (In 2016, their average error was 5.1%, compared to 2.2 for national polls.)

Even if pollsters can perfectly account for skewed samples, the responses to surveys could themselves be problematic. Questionnaires could be poorly designed, filled with leading questions. Or respondents might not be telling the truth. For example, voters may not want to admit their true voting preferences. This phenomenon is dubbed the Bradley Effect, named after the 1982 California gubernatorial election in which longtime Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African American, lost to George Deukmejian, a white state official, despite leading in the polls.

According to the theory, voters would tell pollsters they would vote for the minority candidate to appear more open-minded, even though they would ultimately choose otherwise. Soon after the 2016 election, some election analysts suggested that a similar “shy Trump voter” effect may have been at play, although the AAPOR report didnt find much evidence that it was.

Telling the future

Its easy to write off the power of polls when they pick the wrong winner. But doing so misses the intended purpose (and acknowledged capability) of polling: to capture a snapshot of public opinion—not to make a prediction.

Most surveys ask people what they think about topics like education policy or a president's job performance at that moment in time. Election polls, on the other hand, ask people to forecast their future behavior. Asking voters whom they would pick if the election were held today—technically not about the future—poses a hypothetical situation nonetheless. This hypothetical nature of election polling is what makes it uniquely challenging.

“Were surveying a population that doesnt yet exist,” Dutwin says. “WRead More – Source

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Apple Christmas sales surge to $111bn amid pandemic

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Apple sales have hit another record, as families loaded up on the firm’s latest phones, laptops and gadgets during the Christmas period.

Sales in the last three months of 2020 hit more than $111bn (£81bn) – up 21% from the prior year.

The gains come as the pandemic pushes more activity online, fuelling demand for new technology.

Apple now counts more than 1.65 billion active devices globally, including more than 1 billion iPhones.

Apple’s gains follow the release of its new iPhone 12 suite of phones, which executives said had convinced a record number of people to switch to the company or upgrade from older models.

The firm said growth in China – where the pandemic has already loosened its grip on the economy – was particularly strong, helped in part by demand for phones compatible with new 5G networks.

Sales in the firm’s greater China region, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, jumped 57%. In Europe, sales roles 17%, and they rose 11% in the Americas.

“The products are doing very well all around the world,” said Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer. “As we look ahead into the March quarter, we’re very optimistic.”

Analyst Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities said he thought the firm was just at the beginning of a “super-cycle” as Apple devotees finally trade in old phones, coinciding with upgrades to telecommunications networks.

“With 5G now in the cards and roughly 40% of its ‘golden jewel’ iPhone installed base not upgrading their phones in the last 3.5 years, [Apple chief Tim] Cook & Co have the stage set for a renaissance of growth,” he wrote.

Big Tech is having an exceptionally lucrative pandemic.

It’s hard not to be wowed by some of these figures.

That Apple recorded more than $100bn in sales in just three months is simply astonishing.

Facebook figures are also well up on where they were last year.

As other companies have struggled to survive, Big Tech has flourished.

There are other reasons for some of these incredible figures. Certainly it seems iPhone enthusiasts were holding out for the new 5G enabled iPhone12.

But it’s not just Apple and Facebook, all of the massive tech companies are having a bumper year.

Covid-19 means people are spending more time indoors – buying things online, watching things online and chatting online.

Perhaps then it’s no surprise that these companies are posting record breaking figures.

But others point to these figures as yet more evidence that Big Tech has become too big to fail.

These figures are impressive. But they also attract the attention of politicians who are increasingly asking difficult questions – like are these tech mega companies operating in a market that is fair and with enough competition?

Facebook Apple feud

Apple said profits in the quarter reached nearly $28.8bn, up 29% compared with the same quarter last year.

The gains seen by technology firms like Apple contrast with losses hitting many other economic sectors, as the virus restricts activity and keeps shoppers at home.

Other tech firms, such as Microsoft and Facebook, have also enjoyed strong growth.

Facebook on Wednesday said increased online shopping during the pandemic helped lift ad revenue in the quarter by 30%.

The number of people active on its apps – which also include WhatsApp and Instagram – also rose to 2.6 billion daily, up 15% compared to 2019.

It said ad spending could slow as the Covid crisis relaxes and shopper appetite returns for services like travel rather than products.

It also warned that plans by Apple to change how it shares user data could weigh on growth.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55835504

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The Spanish YouTuber who made €1 million in a week

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“YouTube needs people to spend all day watching videos,” says Romuald Fons, an entrepreneur and YouTuber, with 721,000 subscribers to his channel on how to get websites rated in Google’s top search results.

Fons, 43, from Barcelona, knows all about YouTube. He spent two years maneuvering his channel into position and analyzing other channels to see what works best. His most viral video wasn’t even related to digital marketing – it was about how he got a six-pack in six months. “It was an experiment,” he explains to EL PAÍS from his office in Barcelona’s Poblenou neighborhood.

In December, he put all his advice in a course called CreceTube, which he sold for a week for €700 as a special introductory offer. Around 1,500 people bought it, according to the documents Fons showed to EL PAÍS, earning him over €1 million in seven days.

Attention-harvesting algorithms that promote extreme viral and extreme content are the subject of growing controversy. YouTube is one of the main platforms accused of pushing users into ever more radical political positions by promoting increasingly outrageous videos to keep them hooked.

But this is not Fons’ field of concern. “YouTube’s algorithms can be hacked,” he says. “It’s not like Google [YouTube and Google are owned by the same company, Alphabet]. Google has to show the user what they want to find because otherwise, they will stop using it. YouTube promotes clickbait [content designed to drive traffic to a website] in an extreme way.”

His course is for people who are starting out on YouTube and want to grow their audience. It includes tricks with names like SEOshock, Instaclick and SEOcreto to improve video content and rankings – if you type “YouTube course” into Google and YouTube, Fons’ videos are in the top results. “I’ve bought every course there is and I explain things that have never been explained,” he says. “We explain how to use Google so you know what type of content to create.” Among the comments on the course, there are, of course, users who think it’s a scam, and have created their own YouTube videos with their own explanations. But Fons is unfazed: “Clickbait is what you have to do,” he says.

Neither is Fons concerned about the Spanish YouTubers who make off to Andorra for tax reasons. “It’s not my place to give my opinion on what they do,” he says. “I am not strictly a YouTuber. I am an entrepreneur who has a YouTube channel. It is different. In my case, the money coming in is part of the business. I generate wealth in Spain and will continue to be taxed here. I don’t have that option [to go to a tax haven]. If I wanted to do that I would have to take advantage of legal loopholes and I’m not going to.”

Fons’ main global competitor is the Briton Neil Patel, who has 100,000 more subscribers than Fons but fewer total views despite having posted more videos. Forty percent of Fons’ audience is in Latin America – YouTube provides YouTubers with this kind of data in the form of graphs. “It has one that shows the average retention of all YouTube videos of the same length as yours,” he says. “If your video is above average, it promotes you.”

Rags to riches

Fons’ recent success is the latest step forward in a long, and not always successful, career in digital marketing that started in earnest in 2013 when he decided to specialize in search engine optimization (SEO) – the name given to strategies to increase website traffic from search engines. Today SEO is a basic tool for most companies with digital interests: businesses that do not appear on page one of Google’s results, do not exist. Now, as Fons points out, the coronavirus pandemic has meant that even long-established businesses have had to close their doors if they have failed to devise a digital strategy.

In January 2013, Fons did nothing but create websites in order to get them to show up in Google searches, place ads on them and attract hits. The first month, he created 10 websites and made €2.48. He could be forgiven for feeling discouraged.

But, the self-taught Fons plowed on. In order to learn which criteria Google rewarded in its results, he ended up creating 1,430 websites. Each one had something different. “I was seeing which ones worked well and which ones didn’t,” he says. “I started to create my own positioning strategy.”

The choice of sites was not random. He looked for the ones that had the most searches and paid the most for ad clicks: “Paella, Inem courses [courses run by the National Institute of Employment], outlets,” he says. “For recipes, I had the 220 keywords with the most traffic: mojitos, baked chicken….” Fons wrote the content for each page and used Adsense, a Google tool, to fill the pages with ads. When someone clicked, Fons earned money. Within a year, he was earning €1,500 a month. In 2016, three years after starting out, he was making more than €18,000 a month.

Put like that, it sounds easy, but Fons scarcely made €1,300 in the whole of 2013. At the time, he was living in Spain’s Valencia region and was making a living by writing texts at night for €4 each for the website, Fiber.

Fons’ story is typical of a tech entrepreneur – he’s had several failures, has fully committed to getting better at what he does, has made a video that leads to something new and has put in long working hours. His first failure was as a student and musician. After enrolling to study architecture, he left university to go on a six-year tour as a singer of a band called Rembrandt42, which is still on the music-streaming site Spotify. He met his ex-wife during a concert and, subsequently settled down to a job at a family-run water treatment company. “We were cleaning legionella tanks,” he recalls.

But Fons had big dreams. “I wanted to do like [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg and blow things apart,” he says. First, he created a social network for collectors, called Nakoko. “It wasn’t much of a start-up,” he says. “It was just me putting all my work and money into it. I went totally broke.” After that, he tried to set up a Spanish eBay, called lovende. “I got even more broke,” he says. “When I couldn’t even afford to pay for my son’s optional vaccinations, everything changed. They cost €80 and I didn’t have the money. That’s when I stopped blaming others.”

During this period, he had, however, learned something about SEO and digital marketing. Then he saw a video of entrepreneur Pat Flynn, who was earning passive income from Google. “I thought, if this guy can do it, so can I,” he says.

“Companies would call me and ask me why I was being ranked above them,” he says. “That’s when I set up the agency.” After two years of quietly carving his own niche, he began to make a name for himself. Now, his business BIGSEO Agency, has a staff of 41. Each client pays him more than €30,000 a year for his services. In 2020, his company had a turnover of €4 million.

Thanks to his own personal journey, Fons has been able to observe the evolution of SEO. Google has always aimed to be the gateway to the internet. If the search engine didn’t work well, users would not be using the site millions of times a day. According to Fons, typing in the keywords is no longer enough. Google should also know whether someone searching for Nike sneakers wants to buy a pair for running or is an Air Jordan collector. “It’s about understanding the user’s intent even if the keyword isn’t there,” he says. “Whether the search is for boilers or cheap flights, the question is – what’s the problem?” Google will reward whichever website knows how to answer this best. “Getting customers for boilers is no longer about positioning ‘boiler service’ in Google,” he clarifies.

As a YouTuber, Fons has been a public figure with an impact on thousands of people. His community of followers is called Marketing Furious and they have a Facebook page with 75,000 members. That has also led him to address mental health issues that members of his community are increasingly open about. “Our brains are not wired to absorb thousands of opinions about us a day,” he says. “YouTuber El Rubius is under brutal pressure. But over a thousand people have paid me more than €700 to teach them something. The pressure is cranked up. Your subconscious gets the better of you. You think you’re strong and you can do it, but you can’t.” Fons has also encountered angry followers out and about. “When you have millions of views, anything can happen,” he says. “Think of a full Barça [soccer] stadium; 100,000 people. I’m sure there are 10 that are nuts.”

Fons is focused on video survival in an era when the apps TikTok and Instagram Reels are taking off. In his favor, his old videos keep popping up at the top of digital marketing searches. “On the other networks, you make a video and after eight hours no one sees it,” he says. “You can reach an audience, but turning it into a business is another matter. TikTok is all about short attention spans.”

 

Read from source: https://english.elpais.com/science_tech/2021-01-22/the-spanish-youtuber-who-made-1-million-in-a-week.html

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Google suspends ‘free speech’ app Parler

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Google has suspended “free speech” social network Parler from its Play Store over its failure to remove “egregious content”.

Parler styles itself as “unbiased” social media and has proved popular with people banned from Twitter.

But Google said the app had failed to remove posts inciting violence.

Apple has also warned Parler it will remove the app from its App Store if it does not comply with its content-moderation requirements.

On Parler, the app’s chief executive John Matze said: “We won’t cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!”

Launched in 2018, Parler has proved particularly popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives. Such groups have frequently accused Twitter and Facebook of unfairly censoring their views.

While Mr Trump himself is not a user, the platform already features several high-profile contributors following earlier bursts of growth in 2020.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz boasts 4.9 million followers on the platform, while Fox News host Sean Hannity has about seven million.

It briefly became the most-downloaded app in the United States after the US election, following a clampdown on the spread of election misinformation by Twitter and Facebook.

However, both Apple and Google have said the app fails to comply with content-moderation requirements.

Analysis: Necessary or draconian action?

By Shayan Sardarizadeh, BBC Monitoring

For months, Parler has been one of the most popular social media platforms for right-wing users.

As major platforms began taking action against viral conspiracy theories, disinformation and the harassment of election workers and officials in the aftermath of the US presidential vote, the app became more popular with elements of the fringe far-right.

This turned the network into a right-wing echo chamber, almost entirely populated by users fixated on revealing examples of election fraud and posting messages in support of attempts to overturn the election outcome.

In the days preceding the Capitol riots, the tone of discussion on the app became significantly more violent, with some users openly discussing ways to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory by Congress.

Unsubstantiated allegations and defamatory claims against a number of senior US figures such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Vice-President Mike Pence were rife on the app.

Google and Apple say they are taking necessary action to ensure violent rhetoric is not promoted on their platforms.

However, to those increasingly concerned about freedom of speech and expression on online platforms, it represents another example of draconian action by major tech companies which threatens internet freedom.

This is a debate which is certain to continue beyond the Trump presidency.

In a statement, Google confirmed it had suspended Parler from its Play Store, saying: “Our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence.

“In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”

Apple has warned Parler it will be removed from the App Store on Saturday in a letter published by Buzzfeed News.

It said it had seen “accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate” the attacks on the US Capitol on 6 January.

Mr Matze said Parler had “no way to organise anything” and pointed out that Facebook groups and events had been used to organise action.

But Apple said: “Our investigation has found that Parler is not effectively moderating and removing content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to the health and safety of users in direct violation of your own terms of service.”

“We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.”

In a related development, Google has kicked Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast off YouTube, saying it had repeatedly violated the platform’s rules.

The ex-White House aide’s channel had more than 300,000 subscribers.

“In accordance with our strikes system, we have terminated Steve Bannon’s channel ‘War room’ and one associated channel for repeatedly violating our Community Guidelines,” Google said in a statement.

“Any channel posting new videos with misleading content that alleges widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election in violation of our policies will receive a strike, a penalty which temporarily restricts uploading or live-streaming. Channels that receive three strikes in the same 90-day period will be permanently removed from YouTube.”

The action was taken shortly after the channel posted an interview with Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in which he blamed the Democrats for the rioting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

One anti-misinformation group said the action was long overdue after “months of Steve Bannon calling for revolution and violence”.

“The truth is YouTube should have taken down Steve Bannon’s account a long time ago and they shouldn’t rely on the labour of extremism researchers to moderate the content on their platform,” said Madeline Peltz, Senior Researcher at Media Matters for America.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55598887

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