The constant influence of dark ads

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Media captionHow to find out which groups are behind Brexit ads on Facebook

Over the past three months, Britain's Future, a pro-Brexit group, has spent more on political advertising on Facebook than anyone - more even than the People's Vote.

So last week I called a prominent figure in the Brexit camp about it. Did he know Tim Dawson, the only person publicly associated with the group? "Yes". Did he know who was funding him? "No, but…"

And there followed a proud sermon on how political donors are using groups like Britain's Future to influence public debate.

It goes like this. There are a huge number of donors, who support Brexit. They were very much for Leave in June 2016; in many cases, they have been against Britian's membership of the European Union for decades. They are rich. But they don't want to stick their head above the political parapet.

To do so risks the ire of Remainers, constant interrogation by journalists, scrutiny from regulators, and perhaps social isolation in some circles.

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Do digital echo chambers exist?

It’s often said that social media is one of the primary causes of social divisions today - but could it be that actually it’s also a force for good? Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption It’s often said that social media is one of the primary causes of social divisions today - but could it be that actually it’s also a force for good?

A common, and ostensibly common sense, assumption about the era we are living through is that social media is a primary cause of polarisation.

I have often endorsed this idea, whether explicitly or implicitly, during my time at the BBC. Twitter has generally struck me as the industrialisation of confirmation bias. Facebook, a softer version of the same. And other platforms, such as Instagram, similar.

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Tech giants write to ministers to spell out views on internet regulation

The 'Online Harms' white paper is expected to be published in March Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The 'Online Harms' white paper is expected to be published in March

The world's biggest internet companies have written to UK government ministers to outline how they believe harmful online activity should be regulated.

The digital giants, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, say the difference between illegal and harmful content must be formally recognised.

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Why are the BBC and ITV creating BritBox?

A screenshot of the BritBox website Image copyright BritBox/PA

Two inescapable trends are driving the TV business around the world today - one in consumer behaviour, the other in business strategy.

The first is exponential growth in streaming, with an accompanied decline in scheduled TV.

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MPs give Big Tech a hammering over privacy and fake news

Facebook logo against Fake News background Image copyright Getty Images

In scope, ambition, likely impact and news value - that is, what it has brought to light - the DCMS Select Committee report on fake news and disinformation is a significant moment.

Indeed, when the history of regulation of the technology sector in Britain is written some day, its unlikely path to the top of the best-seller list will owe a substantial debt to the work of this cross-party group of MPs.

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Can Nick Clegg help Facebook grow up?

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Media captionNick Clegg: Facebook will do 'whatever it takes' to make the platform safer for vulnerable people

When interviewed, anyone starting a new job has an advantage over colleagues who have been in post for a long time: they can plausibly say that historic mistakes weren't their fault.

Sir Nick Clegg deployed this advantage to full effect today. On several issues where I was expecting to meet resistance, and therefore have to push him, he instead put his hands up and acknowledged error.

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Amol: My media predictions for 2019

The willingness of humanity to forfeit decision-making to algorithms is likely to grow exponentially. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The willingness of humanity to forfeit decision-making to algorithms is likely to grow exponentially.

Looking back over my predictions for 2018, I realise they were a mixed bag at best, wet and woolly at worst. Now there's a mixed metaphor to get the year underway.

I was cowardly or wrong with my specific punts, and a bit obvious with my broad themes.

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Revealed: The winner of the Russell Prize for the best writing of 2018

Bertrand Russell Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bertrand Russell's writing combined plain language, pertinent erudition and moral force

And so we come at last to that key annual moment in the life of licence fee payers everywhere: The Russell Prize.

For those unblessed few who had the misfortune to miss last year's inaugural event, this is a prize-giving ceremony in honour of my hero, Bertrand Russell.

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Social reform in the digital age

The Gambling Commission says 52% of online gamblers have gambled using a mobile or tablet in the last 4 weeks Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Gambling Commission says 52% of online gamblers have gambled using a mobile or tablet in the last 4 weeks

Social change has sped up and social media is one of the main reasons why.

The latest evidence is the whistle-to-whistle ban on sport advertising agreed by major betting firms in Britain this week. As my distinguished colleague Richard Conway was the first to reveal, the likes of Ladbrokes-Coral, Bet365, William Hill, Paddy Power and Betfair have, through their membership of the Remote Gambling Association, made the move voluntarily.

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Why tech is taking a hammering

The FAANGs have been savaged over the past week
Image caption The FAANGs have been savaged over the past week

Technology stocks have had a very bad week. For the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) which have led the charge in growth over the past decade, it was grim.

At their lowest point, all five were down more than 20 per cent from their peaks. This translates to hundreds of billions of dollars in value being wiped from them.

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