The News from BuzzFeed News is finally here!
In this week's episode:
- Shani Hilton talks to Krystie Yandoli about her reporting on what former Roseanne writers think of the show's revival.
- Katie Notopoulos and Nicole Nguyen talk about the underground economy of fake reviews on Amazon.
- Host Julia Furlan has to sort the real headlines from the fake news in a quiz with Jane Lytvynenko.
- Hayes Brown tells us why we don't need to get so worked up about the royal wedding.
Listen to this week’s episode:
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Julia Furlan: Hi everybody. I'm Julia Furlan and this is The News from BuzzFeed News. Here's what's going down on our first ever episode: We wonder what happened to feminist Roseanne, Amazon reviews that can't always be trusted, we bust through fake news, and finally, a moment of calm.
The Lede with Shani Hilton
JF: In the new version of ABC's Roseanne, the working class icon Roseanne Conner is a Trump supporter. The new Roseanne watches Fox News, she calls her sister snowflake, and she sticks to the Trump script when she's talking about Hillary Clinton. Reporter Krystie Lee Yandoli spoke with several writers from the original show who said that the Roseanne Conner of the 90s would not recognize the Roseanne of 2018. This is The Lead with Shani Hilton.
Shani Hilton: So this week you had this great story; you talked to writers who worked on the earlier version of Roseanne in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and got their perspective on the transformation of the show. And one thing that they told you, that I think a lot of people were interested to read and hear, was that they don’t recognize this version of Roseanne Conner.
Krystie Yandoli: Yeah definitely. This version of Roseanne Conner in the ‘90s was known for being a feminist and a champion for the little guy, if you will. Very outspoken and radical in her ideas and beliefs on television, at a time when that wasn’t exactly the norm.
"A boy starts life way up here on a throne, and a girl is down here. So if a boy is pushing a girl around, he’s trying to keep her down, but if a girl is pushing a boy around she’s trying to elevate herself. Can’t you see that?"
KY: But Roseanne Conner in 2018 is a Trump supporter. One writer told me that even though it made sense to them Roseanne Conner in 2018 might like Trump because he talked about jobs, it also didn’t make sense to them that she wasn’t more upset at Trump’s attitude towards women, and his general misogyny.
SH: I’m old enough to have been a casual watcher of the show during its original run and I do remember that her character, while very outspoken and tough, was also incredibly open-minded and warm. How has that shifted? Or has it?
KY: Well the writers I spoke to do think that’s shifted, and they think it’s shifted because Roseanne Conner in 2018 seems to reflect the politics, personality, and attitude of Roseanne Barr in 2018.
SH: Right, Roseanne Barr has said some pretty wild stuff on Twitter.
KY: Yes. Roseanne Barr, the person, not only has been pretty unapologetically outspoken about her support for Trump and his general policies...
Jimmy Fallon: But then also with your big hit comes people that aren’t so happy as well. If you say that you’re a supporter of Donald Trump, or…
RB: Oh yeah people are mad about that.
RB: But you know, I don’t give a f***
KY: … She has also tweeted some really radical conspiracy theories. She tweeted that Nancy Pelosi is a reptile and a criminal. She tweeted that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats are secretly hosting a worldwide sex trafficking and pedophilia ring. And then she also accused a Parkland shooting survivor of performing a Nazi salute.
SH: Totally normal things for a really popular actor to say.
KY: Not so much.
SH: So I think that when you look at the changes in the new series versus the previous iteration of it, it's really easy to draw the parallels between Roseanne the person and Roseanne the character now.
But writers who worked on the previous version of the show seemed to be a little perplexed about the evolution of the character. We're all really familiar with people's beliefs changing over time. So it's not that crazy that for example, Roseanne Conner would become a Trump supporter. But some of the things that you are talking about in terms of just the core of the character seem strikingly different.
KY: Yes the writers I spoke to who worked on the original series did mention that you know for a character who's been on television for 10 seasons, it's not super crazy for there to be you know some continuity errors and minor differences because of all the different people who will have worked on the show. But with that said, Roseanne Conner’s character in the show's revival does seem to be noticeably different from the original series in her politics and then even in minor character traits and storyline differences. There's also a point in one episode in the revival when Roseanne Conner the character and her husband Dan talk to Darlene about her parenting style and they kind of make a jest about you know spanking her daughter as a form of punishment whereas in the original series Roseanne had an entire storyline in an episode dedicated to the fact that she wanted to break the cycle of child abuse because of how she was raised. So writers just found there to be some pretty big holes and differences in her character herself.
SH: Reboots are so popular now and they have been for the last couple of years. And it really does feel like people want to process the world that we live in through the lens of things that were comforting to them when they were young.
That's what I feel when I watch reboots. When I watch reboots of films and reboots of shows and sometimes it's really disappointing and sometimes it's exactly what you needed, and it seems like Roseanne is doing that right now for this political moment.
KY: Yes, and it's difficult for people to separate the nostalgia of the Roseanne revival with this political moment. Trump even called Roseanne to congratulate her on her incredibly high ratings, which television episode on network television hasn't achieved those ratings since 2014 so it was a really big deal. But Trump called Roseanne to congratulate her. She was happy about it and talked about how happy she was about that. So it's difficult for people while there's such nostalgia involved in the revival and people love it for that reason, it's hard to separate the happiness and the comfort you want to feel compared to you know the politics you can't really ignore of the show.
SH: It is resonating with people. They are still — they are getting that fix that they've been looking for.
KY: Yeah writers I spoke to said the reason they're still watching the show is because despite Roseanne Conner’s politics and things they may not agree with, they still at the end of the day feel like they're watching you know a show about a family going through struggles and triumphs and life's everyday little moments and that's the thing that they still hold on to.
SH: And people are going to be getting more of that because it was renewed within a couple of episodes of the first season. Yeah, numbers don’t lie and clearly, people are hungry for this kind of storytelling.
"Thank you for making America great again!"
JF: That was the lead with Shani Hilton.
Did you hear that? That's Jojo, our gender neutral news robot. Whenever you hear that cute little beep beep boop it means that Jojo is here to help you find more information about what we're talking about. So here's how it works. I'll give you a keyword that you can text to Jojo, and they will send you the link to the story. So if you want to read Krystie's reporting on BuzzFeed.com, text the word “Roseanne” to the number (929) 236-9577.
You'll get it sent right to your phone where you can save it to read after you finish this episode.
Search History with Katie Notopoulos
JF: You know how the Internet is a place where everything good can eventually just go bad? Well, Amazon is officially part of that because a lot of the reviews that you see on Amazon are actually fake.
Here are tech reporters Katie Notopoulos and Nicole Nguyen talking about the underground marketplace of fake reviews on Amazon. This is Search History.
Katie Notopoulos: So, how did you find these people? Were they just doing it out in the open?
Nicole Nguyen: So long story short I went on Amazon to buy clip-on earring converters, which turn normal earrings into earrings you can wear without a piercing. So I just went with the ones with the most five-star reviews and they were crap. They had this layer of gold foil with plastic underneath like fake play jewelry for little kids.
And I thought like, “How can this be? This had thousands of five-star reviews!” Which I soon realized were fake. And that started me down this path hunting for people who write these disingenuous reviews.
KN: How do sellers get people to write fake reviews? Like, especially for a verified purchase.
NN: Well Amazon sellers used to be allowed to give their products away for free or at deep discount in exchange for reviews, and these reviews were considered quote honest, but in reality they were much more positive than genuine reviews because there's a psychology attached to getting something for free that skews how you think about something you buy.
So in 2016, Amazon banned all of these kinds of incentivized reviews. This ban drove this review economy underground into these Facebook groups, private slack channels, subreddits, discord servers ... And that's where sellers and these review brokers find these reviewers for hire. But instead of reviews that were incentivized with just free stuff, people were actually paid real money — in addition to the free stuff — to rate a product five stars. So in banning incentivized reviews, Amazon actually made the problem worse. And by that I mean much harder to detect.
KN: So walk me through that process. Like how does that actually work, from where these fake reviewers come from to how it ends up in your actual Amazon shopping experience.
NN: So on Facebook, for example, it's mostly sellers posting photos of their product to a review club Facebook group and after a reviewer says that they're interested in reviewing that product, that seller will send them a link to their product and the reviewer will buy that item with their own credit card, their own Amazon account, the whole shebang. And after that person proves to the seller they've published their five-star review, the seller will refund them the amount of the item plus an extra commission. And what this process does is ensure that the review appears to be genuine. So because the reviewer purchases the item from their own Amazon account — their personal Amazon account — the review gets a little badge that says it's a verified purchase, making it nearly impossible to detect what's real and what's not.
KN: Is there any way for like you or me to be able to sniff out these fake reviews? Like a regular shopper, would we be able to tell if something says “verified buyer 5 stars I love this product,” how would we know?
NN: It's really, really hard. But I do want to point out that just because something has fake reviews doesn't mean it's necessarily inferior. I think the problem with paid-for reviews is that they make it very difficult for consumers — even savvy ones — to know if what they're buying is actually good or bad.
KN: And reviews matter a lot on Amazon, right? Like I don't always necessarily read the reviews, but I know that it algorithmically will push up in the suggestions ones that have lots of reviews, right?
NN: Yeah, there are many different ways Amazon does this. One of them is Amazon's Choice which is a little badge you see on a product, And that's not chosen by a human! That's chosen, like most things on the Internet, by an algorithm, and--
KN: I was — by the way, I was shocked to learn that because I really assumed that that was like some sort of editorial pick.
NN: I totally agree. You and I cover the Internet and I was also surprised to find this, that like some Amazon staff person wasn't like, “Oh these vitamin supplements are like the best on Amazon and you should buy them.”
NN: It’s actually based on price, availability, shipping speeds, and recent reviews. So, reviews are really important because that badge, the Amazon's Choice badge, leads to a lot of purchases.
KN: And on Amazon a lot of the times you'll get multiple sellers for the same item, so it matters if the seller has a good rating, right?
NN: That's absolutely true. When you search for something on Amazon that top shelf that appears in your search results, it really drives a lot of sales. And to show up on those top search results, the only differentiator besides price — and most of them are the same price because they all come from the same source — are reviews. And so if you pay for thousands of five-star reviews then you're more likely to get that sale than if you had just you know like 23 Star reviews for example.
KN: What is Amazon doing to stop this, these fake reviews? Can it stop it?
NN: Amazon did work to ban incentivized reviews in 2016 which as we've already noted didn't actually seem to work. And Amazon has also sued thousands of individuals who write and sell reviews, but there's not really much Amazon can do beyond targeting these groups off of the platform where these review economies live.
An Amazon spokesperson told me that they are blocking and suspending accounts of sellers and reviewers that they find are violating their terms of service and actively doing so, and that inauthentic reviews made up less than 1 percent of all reviews on Amazon in March. But even one is unacceptable. But to that point like I said the whole review ecosystem is designed to evade Amazon's detection. So I don't think that that percentage is fully representative of all of the fake reviews that are on the site. And beyond that, it's really tricky for Amazon too. They need to keep sellers happy; their third-party marketplace is a huge revenue driver. They brought in 32 billion dollars last year and deleting a bunch of five-star reviews would not make sellers happy because they rely on those reviews for their income for sales.
KN: I really learned a lot here about how to be a more cautious and smart shopper on Amazon, which I shop on a lot to be perfectly honest. Nicole if people have any tips for you, how can they get in touch with you?
NN: They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JF: That was Search History with Katie Notopoulos.
If you're listening to this and thinking, "Wow I bet those people are really good at Twitter!” You're kind of right actually. We've got you. Well, Jojo's got you. Text Jojo the word “whomst,” that's W-H-O-M-S-T, my favorite word, and once you do, Jojo will send you the Twitter handles of everybody on this week's episode. Jojo’s phone number again is (929) 236-9577. And it's also in the show notes for this episode.
Fake News You Can Use
JF: Internet bullshit is everywhere. That's why we have Fake News You Can Use, which is where our crack fake news debunker Jane Lytvynenko quizzes me on what's fake and what's real, and then tells us how to be better at weeding out the fake news in our lives. Hi Jane, how ya doing?
Jane Lytvynenko: Hi, I'm doing well! It's a beautiful spring weather outside and it's still garbage on the Internet.
JF: Ah, the sweet smell of Internet garbage. Here we are. So what are the fake news stories we're looking at this week?
JL: OK I have three kind of fun ones for you. So we'll see how you do on them.
JF: Great. Great.
JL: So the first one is actually my favorite one. So the guy who threw his shoes at George W. Bush is running for office in Iraq. Real or fake?
JF: This one I actually know is true because I read about it and I think that it's kind of an incredible story.
JL: So you're right it is real. He's only running for now for parliament but we're going to wait for the other shoe to drop and stay with the story.
JF: Wow Jane, wow. I can't fire you, but I would if I could. What’s our next question?
JL: Trump, the famous president, just tapped Dr. Oz, the famous television doctor, to be a government health adviser. Real or fake?
JF: Dr. Oz... You know, I feel like this is fake because Dr. Oz has notably dodgy credentials. It just seems too perfect, these two television personalities coming together on the internet. I’m gonna say it’s fake.
JL: You are wrong!
JF: *gasp* What! Oh my god. Wait, what? No, I thought it was too perfect! Wow, I’m genuinely shocked.
JL: I am so sorry, but this is reality. So Donald Trump did name a bunch of people to what's called the President's Council of Sports Fitness and Nutrition. So it's a panel it's an advisory panel, and Dr. Oz is on it. So is a New England Patriot coach, an actor from The Incredible Hulk, and they're all for just two-year terms so it's not you know it's not that bad.
JF: I don't know...
JL: Listen I don't know what to tell you. I honestly thought it was fake when I clicked on the story too. And then it turned out to be real. And here we are.
JF: Wow Jane, that one really got me. What have we got coming up next.
JL: OK, do you remember Kanye West?
JF: Yes I've heard of him.
JL: Here's a tweet by Samuel L. Jackson that seemingly refers to Kanye West. I'm going to read the tweet to you and I'm going to ask you if it's real or fake.
JL: Maybe if we underpaid these modern mumble rappers and overpaid teachers, there would be smarter people in the future and less shitty music.
JF: And the question is whether or not Samuel L. Jackson the famous actor tweeted this?
JL: Yes that's right.
JF: Oh no... I'm going to say that this is fake because I think that there is a portion of the Internet that really enjoys stirring shit on Twitter and I feel like this is classic Twitter stirring but I honestly, I don't know. I could be wrong. But I'm going to say that this is fake.
JL: So you are correct. It's fake. Samuel L. Jackson has actually tweeted about Kanye but that's beside the point; this tweet specifically is fake. If you search for it on Twitter it has never been tweeted. So essentially if you search this on Twitter you're going to find that it's fake really quickly. But from the outset, it might look like a real screenshot
JF: Oooph. OK. Well I feel like I narrowly passed that quiz but I almost failed it.
JL: Fun Fact: if you get all 3 wrong I get fired. So this Samuel L. Jackson tweet this fake Samuel L. Jackson tweet actually brings me nicely to a little tip that I want to leave with our listeners and that tip is a reverse image search. So there's a couple of different ways to do a reverse image search. If you use the Chrome browser you can just right click on any image and select “search Google for image” and it'll do it for you automatically. You can also just upload a photo into Google Images.
JF: You mean you could drag it from your desktop into Google Images?
JL: Yeah exactly. Or you can use a Chrome or Firefox or what have you extension. The one that I really like to use is called 10-I. So when I saw this fake Samuel L. Jackson tweet the first thing I did was I did a reverse image search and I typed in the keywords Samuel L. Jackson and I saw that the only people who have ever shared this tweet are those really really really junky websites that don't really have a good reputation or any kind of reputation online. And so that made me question whether this hugely viral tweet was even real.
JF: Well I appreciate this because I use reverse image search all the time actually but it's usually because someone at our work or someone on the Internet is mentioning a pop star and I have no idea who the person is.
JL: Yeah your use is a lot more practical. I use it in breaking news situations to figure out if a viral tweet that I'm looking at is real or fake, but I really like your method of finding out who all these celebrities are because I have no idea who they are either.
JF: And that's why we're here Jane. We're here to teach the people how to reverse image search pop stars so that they can feel like they're more in the news and they understand what's going on.
JL: We just say that they will understand the “sole” of the problem.
JF: No you will not bring these shoe puns back. Absolutely not. You're fired, Jane.
JF: If you want to take the fake news quiz yourself. Just text JoJo the word "quiz." I hope you do better than I did.
Calm Down with Hayes Brown
JF: It is too easy to get worked up about things these days. So Deputy World Editor Hayes Brown is here to talk us down about this teeny tiny event that's happening next week in England.
Hayes Brown: Hey everyone. It's time for calm down with Hayes Brown. So pour yourself some tea, light some incense, and let's all calm down. Now this week we are talking about the impending royal wedding. And let me tell you, people are hype. From the reaction out there you'd assume that Beyonce has a new baby. There's royal wedding hats, there's royal wedding mugs. There's even corgies getting married, and apparently some of you out there are sick of it.
But I'm here to tell all of you: calm down. I'm in favor of the royal wedding and everything that comes along with it. And no it's not because I, you know, desperately am waiting for season three of the Crown to come out. I am, but that's not the reason.
So here's the thing: I just really like Harry and Meghan together as a unit. They're cute. It is a classic love story. Boy who is never going to be King of England meets biracial American actor and voila. If your problem is you don't like the monarchs, I think it's actually a pretty reasonable way for them to run their government.
So while the Prime Minister actually has the job of running the country, the monarchs smile, wave, occasionally photo ops, cutting ribbons of Tesco ... And the wedding itself is a goddamn spectacle and I am so here for it.
If this hasn't convinced you, know what that's fair. Or is your problem with the English monarchy is the hundreds of years of death and colonialism, I understand. But you know what, If you really hate it that much, there’s going to be so much time until the next royal wedding bothers you. William and Kate's babies — literal babies — It's going to be years before they have a royal wedding of their own. So let us have this.
And until then, let's all just take a deep breath, and calm down.
JF: Don't you feel a little bit more chill? That's because it was Calm Down, With Hayes Brown. And that's the show for this week. Thank you so much for joining us.
This episode was produced by the PodSquad! That's Megan Detrie, Alex Laughlin, Camila Salazar, and me, Julia Furlan. Our boss is Cindy Vanegas-Gesuale, and our music is by Chad Crouch. And special thank you to Jojo, who holds us down. And fun fact, was the original model for the robot emoji. It's a true story.