Facebook on Tuesday fired back after a series of withering Wall Street Journal reports that the company failed to keep users safe, with the social media giant noting an increase in staff and spending on battling abuses.
The company has been under relentless pressure to guard against being a platform where misinformation and hate can spread, while at the same time remain a forum for people to speak freely. It has struggled to respond.
A series of recent Wall Street Journal reports said the company knew its Instagram photo-sharing tool was hurting teenage girls’ mental health, and that its moderation system had a double standard allowing VIPs to skirt rules.
One of the articles, citing Facebook’s own research, said a 2018 change to its software ended up promoting political outrage and division.
But Facebook said Tuesday it has spent more than $13 billion in the past five years on teams and technology devoted to fighting abuses.
Some 40,000 people now work on safety and security for the California-based tech giant, quadruple the number in the year 2016, according to Facebook.
“How technology companies grapple with complex issues is being heavily scrutinized, and often, without important context,” Facebook contended in a blog post.
The social network launched an about.facebook.com/progress website to showcase work done to counter abuses.
Facebook’s Nick Clegg also attacked the reporting in a blog post on Saturday, saying the articles were unfair.
“At the heart of this series is an allegation that is just plain false: that Facebook conducts research and then systematically and willfully ignores it if the findings are inconvenient for the company,” he wrote.
The Journal stories cited, in part, studies commissioned by the company and which contained disturbing revelations like: “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”
Clegg said the stories selectively employed quotes in a way that offered a deliberately lop-sided view of the company’s work.
“We will continue to ask ourselves the hard questions. And we will continue to improve our products and services as a result,” he said in the closing lines of his post.
Facebook recently launched an effort targeting users working together on the platform to promote real-world violence or conspiracy theories, beginning by taking down a German network spreading Covid misinformation.
The new tool is meant to detect organized, malicious efforts that are a threat but fall short of the social media giant’s existing rules against hate groups, said Facebook’s head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher.
Facebook on Friday said it disabled its topic recommendation feature after it mistook Black men for “primates” in video at the social network.
A Facebook spokesperson called it a “clearly unacceptable error” and said the recommendation software involve was taken offline.
“We apologize to anyone who may have seen these offensive recommendations,” Facebook said in response to an AFP inquiry.
“We disabled the entire topic recommendation feature as soon as we realized this was happening so we could investigate the cause and prevent this from happening again.”
Facial recognition software has been blasted by civil rights advocates who point out problems with accuracy, particularly it comes to people who are not white.
Facebook users in recent days who watched a British tabloid video featuring Black men were show an auto-generated prompt asking if they would like to “keep seeing videos about Primates,” according to the New York Times.
The June 2020 video in question, posted by the Daily Mail, is titled “White man calls cops on black men at marina.”
While humans are among the many species in the primate family, the video had nothing to do with monkeys, chimpanzees or gorillas.
A screen capture of the recommendation was shared on Twitter by former Facebook content design manager Darci Groves.
“This ‘keep seeing’ prompt is unacceptable,” Groves tweeted, aiming the message at former colleagues at Facebook.
Facebook released new security measures Thursday to protect users in Afghanistan after the lightning takeover of the country by the Taliban, who are already barred from the social media giant’s platforms.
Following recommendations from activists, journalists and civil society groups, the company said users can now shield their posts from people they don’t know.
Also, users of Facebook-owned Instagram in Afghanistan will receive notifications informing them of methods to protect their accounts.
“We’re working closely with our counterparts in industry, civil society and government to provide whatever support we can to help protect people,” tweeted Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s security policy.
He added that the company has temporarily removed the ability to view a user’s friend list and search an accounts friends list in Afghanistan, to guard against the risk of targeting people possibly wanted by the Taliban.
The militants’ takeover of Afghanistan poses tricky questions for tech giants such as Facebook and Twitter.
On WhatsApp, the account of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid appears to have been blocked, while the Financial Times reported that a Taliban WhatsApp helpline allowing citizens to report looting had been shut down.
WhatsApp’s owner Facebook confirmed that it has for years viewed the Taliban as terrorists, and is blocking the group’s accounts on these networks, as well as Instagram.
The policy prompted a barbed response from Mujahid when asked if the Taliban would protect freedom of speech.
“The Facebook company, this question should be asked to them,” he said.
Facebook on Friday began rolling out encryption for voice or video calls made through its Messenger texting app, ratcheting up privacy for users.
The move comes as the sanctity of data on smartphones becomes an increasingly sensitive topic.
Encrypting text chats on Messenger has been an option since 2016.
The number of audio or video calls made on Messenger has surged since then to more than 150 million daily, prompting Facebook to add the option of scrambling exchanges from one end to the other to prevent snooping.
“The content of your messages and calls in an end-to-end encrypted conversation is protected from the moment it leaves your device to the moment it reaches the receiver’s device,” Messenger director of product management Ruth Kricheli said in a blog post.
“This means that nobody else, including Facebook, can see or listen to what’s sent or said.”
End-to-end encryption is already widely used by apps including Facebook-owned WhatsApp and is becoming an industry standard.
“People expect their messaging apps to be secure and private,” Kricheli said.
Facebook disclosed that it is testing encrypting group chats and calls on Messenger, as well as direct messages at its image-centric Instagram social network.
“We’ll also kick off a limited test with adults in certain countries that lets them opt-in to end-to-end encrypted messages and calls for one-on-one conversations on Instagram,” Kricheli said.
Apple’s recent announcement that it would scan encrypted messages for evidence of child sexual abuse has revived debate on online encryption and privacy, raising fears the same technology could be used for government surveillance.
The move represents a major shift for Apple, which has until recently resisted efforts to weaken its encryption that prevents third parties from seeing private messages.
Apple argued in a technical paper that the technology developed by cryptographic experts “is secure, and is expressly designed to preserve user privacy.”
Nonetheless, encryption and private specialists warned the tool could be exploited for other purposes, potentially opening a door to mass surveillance.
The Apple move comes following years of standoffs involving technology firms and law enforcement.
FBI officials have warned that so-called “end to end encryption,” where only the user and recipient can read messages, can protect criminals, terrorists and pornographers even when authorities have a legal warrant for an investigation.
TikTok was the world’s most downloaded app last year, overtaking Facebook and its messaging platforms, market tracker App Annie said Tuesday.
The Chinese-owned video app surged in popularity despite efforts by former president Donald Trump to ban it or force a sale to US-based investors, according to the research firm.
TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, is believed to have one billion users worldwide including more than 100 million in the United States, and its short-form videos are especially popular with young smartphone users.
US President Joe Biden in June revoked executive orders from his predecessor seeking to ban TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat from US markets on national security concerns but ordered a review of the potential risks of foreign-owned internet services.
While political debate about the video-snippet sharing sensation roiled, TikTok climbed from the fourth most downloaded app in 2019 to the top spot last year, according to App Annie data.
On the way, TikTok stepped over Facebook and two of the US internet giants texting apps Messenger and WhatsApp, the market tracker determined.
Facebook on Wednesday reported its profit doubled in the recently ended quarter as digital advertising surged, but warned of cooler growth in the months ahead in an update which sent its share sinking.
Profit jumped to $10.4 billion on revenue of $29 billion, a 56 percent increase from last year, mainly from a jump in ad revenues, Facebook said in its second quarter report.
The number of people using the social network monthly climbed to 2.9 billion, a year-over-year gain of seven percent. And some 3.5 billion people used at least one of the company’s apps including Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.
“We had a strong quarter as we continue to help businesses grow and people stay connected,” Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in an earnings release.
However, Facebook shares slipped some four percent as the tech giant warned that growth was expected to slow due to regulatory actions and a tweak to the iPhone operating software that could hurt its ad targeting.
“We continue to expect increased ad targeting headwinds in 2021 from regulatory and platform changes, notably the recent iOS updates,” Facebook said in the earnings release.
The move by Apple early this year has sparked a major rift with Facebook and other tech rivals and could have major implications for data privacy and the mobile ecosystem.
Apple began requiring apps to tell users of its mobile devices what tracking information they want to collect and get permission to do so.
Opting out of being tracked makes it harder for companies such as Facebook to target the ads on which they depend for revenue.
– At antitrust crossroads – The results come with Facebook and other large tech firms facing heightened scrutiny from antitrust enforcers in the United States and elsewhere for their dominance of key economic sectors.
Facebook won dismissal of a case brought in US federal court last year, but authorities are seeking to refile the case which could potentially lead to a breakup of the social media giant.
Facebook is on track to bring in more than $100 billion in annual ad revenue for the first time, according to industry tracker eMarketer.
Google is the top digital ad publisher with nearly 29 percent of the market, with Facebook having the second largest share just shy of 24 percent, eMarketer reported.
“This quarter’s Facebook results are extremely strong and show little sign of impact from Apple’s iOS update as of yet,” said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson.
The current quarter “will be a much more important quarter to pay attention to, as the full effects of the Apple update take hold,” she added.
Ad revenue gains were driven by increasing prices, with “enormous” demand for Facebook and Instagram ad space driving competition, according to the analyst.
Facebook recently said it was combining specialists from across its hardware, gaming and virtual reality units to build an immersive digital world known as the “metaverse.”
The “metaverse,” a term coined by sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson, refers to a shared online world in which multiple users can hang out, spend money, consume media and potentially even work
Like internet personalities, the world over, Kenyan TikTok comedian Mark Mwas was intrigued when Facebook announced a $1 billion plan to pay content creators like him.
But the 25-year-old, whose following surged past 160,000 as entertainment-starved Kenyans flocked to the app during the pandemic, is sceptical that fans would follow him to the older social network.
“In our market, Facebook is kinda old-fashioned,” said Mwas, who posts skits about campus life in a mixture of Swahili, English, and Sheng slang.
“Like, Mom is on Facebook and doesn’t know what TikTok is,” he told AFP in an email. “My content is suited for the millennials, who prefer other platforms.”
Announced last week, Facebook’s $1 billion will pay the creators of popular posts, from fashionistas to comedians and video gamers, through 2022.
It is the strongest signal yet that the US social media giant now recognises the strategic importance of the “creator economy”.
YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat have waged an increasingly fierce battle to attract figures with big followings that can in turn attract serious advertising revenues.
Last November, photo and video app Snapchat began paying $1 million a day to top creators, although the payments have since tapered off. Popular YouTubers have been receiving a slice of the site’s billions in ad revenues since 2007.
Facebook has been comparatively slow on the uptake. While the site began paying popular video-makers in 2017, most vloggers have found YouTube to be far more lucrative.
Facebook-owned Instagram has meanwhile launched the careers of many a food blogger and fashion influencer, but the app only began sharing its advertising income directly with them last year.
Traditionally, the bulk of Insta-celebrities’ earnings has come through product endorsement deals negotiated directly with brands.
Joe Gagliese, co-founder of international influencer agency Viral Nation, said it was not surprising that Facebook’s efforts had lagged behind competitors’.
Founded in 2004, Facebook had already built a hugely lucrative advertising business by the time the phenomenon of full-time internet celebrities emerged at the end of the decade. Courting influencers wasn’t crucial to its “primary business”, Gagliese said.
But as creators have headed elsewhere, their predominantly young followings have followed — contributing to a sense that Facebook, in the eyes of Gen Z, has become an irredeemably uncool website where their parents hang out.
Facebook’s user base is indeed ageing. The proportion of over-65s has shot up roughly a quarter over the past year — almost double the average, according to the Digital 2021 report from media companies We Are Social and Hootsuite.
In the meantime, Chinese-owned TikTok was the world’s most downloaded app in the first half of 2021.
It has largely replaced Facebook as the driver of international social media crazes — not least during the pandemic, as bored millions have turned to its dance videos and cooking trends for light relief.
In this context, Facebook’s $1 billion gambit is being seen partly as an attempt to regain cultural relevance and stem the youth exodus.
“The only way for these platforms to keep their relevance with younger generations is to understand what resonates with them and keep up with the pace of innovation,” said Claudia Cameron, head of marketing and insights at Amsterdam-based influencer agency IMA.
“Creators are a very important part of this equation, as they set the tone for what’s cool.”
A drop in the ocean?
While young users from Iran to Brazil have been flocking elsewhere, industry insiders say it is far too early to regard Facebook as doomed.
“You can’t underestimate them, because they are so powerful when it comes to the tech,” said Gagliese.
Facebook’s vast income — it raked in $84.2 billion in advertising revenues last year, more than the GDP of some countries — gives it huge funds with which to innovate.
It is also, despite its relative loss of street cred, still growing, with 2.8 billion monthly users worldwide.
Gagliese suggested Facebook should be spending far more on its efforts to lure internet stars from other platforms.
“Unless Facebook leans in really hard — I’m talking, ‘way more than a billion dollars’ hard — it’s going to be very hard for them to attract all these new creators,” he said.
Facebook has yet to outline detailed plans for the $1 billion, but Cameron pointed out that a large chunk will likely be distributed via Instagram, which still enjoys a “cool” factor.
That would be good news for TikTok comedian Mwas, who also has a sizeable following there.
Former US President Donald Trump announced Wednesday he is filing a class-action lawsuit against Facebook, Twitter and Google, escalating his years-long free speech battle with tech giants who he argues have wrongfully censored him.
“I’m filing, as the lead class representative, a major class-action lawsuit against the big tech giants including Facebook, Google and Twitter as well as their CEOs, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey — three real nice guys,” Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
The nation’s top tech firms have become the “enforcers of illegal, unconstitutional censorship,” added the 75-year-old Republican, who was banned from posting on Facebook and Twitter in the wake of the deadly January 6 siege of the US Capitol by his supporters.
Trump says he is being joined in the suit by the America First Policy Institute and thousands of American citizens who have been “de-platformed” from social media sites.
“Through this lawsuit we are standing up for American democracy by standing up for free speech rights of every American — Democrat, Republican, independent, whoever it may be,” Trump said. “This lawsuit is just the beginning.”
Trump said he is filing the suit in US District Court in southern Florida, where he is seeking an immediate halt to censorship, blacklisting and what he called the “cancelling” of people who share his political views.
Trump stressed that he is not looking for any sort of a settlement. “We’re in a fight that we’re going to win,” he said.
Facebook banned Trump indefinitely on January 7 over his incendiary comments that preceded the Capitol insurrection by his supporters one day earlier.
Twitter quickly followed suit and permanently suspended Trump’s account due to the “risk of further incitement of violence.”
In June, following a review by Facebook’s independent oversight board, Facebook narrowed the ban to two years.
Trump said YouTube and its parent organization Google have deleted “countless videos” addressing the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including those that questioned the judgement of the World Health Organization.
The Republican billionaire, his allies and many supporters say the ban on Trump and others amount to censorship and abuse of their power.
“There is no better evidence that big tech is out of control than the fact that they banned the sitting president of the United States,” Trump said.
Trump has begun a series of public engagements, including campaign-style rallies, as he seeks to maintain his status as the most influential Republican in the nation.
He has teased a potential 2024 presidential run but has made no announcement on his political future.
A US judge on Monday dismissed the blockbuster antitrust action against Facebook filed last year by federal and state regulators, helping lift the value of the social media giant above $1 trillion for the first time.
Judge James Boasberg of the US District Court of Washington, DC dismissed the cases filed in December by the Federal Trade Commission and more than 40 states, which could have rolled back Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and the messaging platform WhatsApp.
The federal lawsuit “failed to plead enough facts to plausibly establish a necessary element… that Facebook has monopoly power in the market for personal social networking services,” the judge said in a 53-page opinion, while allowing authorities the opportunity to refile the case.
In lawsuits filed in December that were consolidated in federal court, US and state officials called for the divestment of Instagram and WhatsApp, arguing that Facebook had acted to “entrench and maintain its monopoly to deny consumers the benefits of competition.”
The judge issued a separate opinion dismissing the case by the states, saying attorneys general had waited too long to bring the case for the acquisition of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.
The judge said the FTC complaint “says almost nothing concrete on the key question of how much power Facebook actually had… it is almost as if the agency expects the court to simply nod to the conventional wisdom that Facebook is a monopolist.”
The federal agency based its case on a “vague” assertion that Facebook controlled more than 60 percent of the social networking market, but the FTC “does not even allege what it is measuring.”
Boasberg wrote that “the market at issue here is unusual in a number of ways, including that the products therein are not sold for a price… the court is thus unable to understand exactly what the agency’s ’60 percent-plus’ figure is even referring to, let alone able to infer the underlying facts that might substantiate it.”
Still he ruled that “this defect could conceivably be overcome by re-pleading,” allowing the federal agency the possibility of refiling the action.
Facebook shares surged after the decision, lifting the company’s market valuation above $1 trillion for the first time.
– ‘We compete fairly’ –
In a statement, the company said, “We are pleased that today’s decisions recognize the defects in the government complaints filed against Facebook. We compete fairly every day to earn people’s time and attention and will continue to deliver great products for the people and businesses that use our services.”
The ruling comes a week after a US congressional panel advanced legislation that would lead to a sweeping overhaul of antitrust laws and give more power to regulators to break up large tech firms, specifically aiming at Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.
The actions come amid growing concerns on the power of major tech firms, which have increasingly dominated key economic sectors and have seen steady growth during the pandemic.
Critics of Facebook said the rulings highlight the need to revise antitrust laws for the internet age.
“This is a setback — not the end — in the FTC’s fight against dominant Big Tech monopolies like Facebook,” said Charlotte Slaiman of the consumer group Public Knowledge.
“The FTC should continue this important work, as the judge has indicated the agency can still file a new complaint if it can address these concerns. At the same time, Congress’ ongoing work to pass new laws and rules to address the power of Big Tech, as well as broader antitrust reforms, is now especially important and urgent.”
Facebook on Wednesday confirmed it is working on a smartwatch that might on day connect with augmented reality glasses being developed by the leading social network.
Facebook Reality Labs is investing in ways to make AR glasses more useful, unit head Andrew “Boz” Bosworth said in a tweet responding to a Verge report that the social network is aiming to unveil a smartwatch next year.
features will include cameras, and it will integrate with Facebook apps such as image-centric social network Instagram, according to the Verge.
“We’ve said we want AR glasses to be truly useful — we’re investing in technologies across the board that will make that interaction feel more natural and intuitive,” Bosworth tweeted.
He cautioned that research doesn’t always result in a finished product.
“We’ll share more when we’re ready,” Bosworth said.
“And just like with our glasses work, we will consult third party experts to help us get these right.”
Facebook went public a while ago with plans for a launch this year of smart glasses which connect to smartphones as part of an alliance with eyewear titan EssilorLuxottica.
The Ray-Ban branded eyewear, a move by Facebook into wearable tech, is an early step in a project to create futuristic eyewear that augments real-world views with data or graphics from the internet, according to chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook on Friday set its ban on former US president Donald Trump for two years, saying he deserved the maximum punishment for violating platform rules over a deadly attack by his supporters on the US Capitol.
The two-year ban will be effective from January 7, when Trump was booted off the platform, and comes after Facebook’s independent oversight board said the indefinite ban should be reviewed.
“Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols,” Facebook vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg said in a post.
In updating its policies, Facebook also said it will no longer give politicians blanket immunity for deceptive or abusive content at the social network based on their comments being newsworthy.
At the end of Trump’s two-year ban, Facebook will enlist experts to assess whether his activity at the social network still threatens public safety, according to Clegg.
“If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded,” Clegg said.
When Trump’s suspension is lifted, he will face strict sanctions that could rapidly escalate to permanent removal from the social network for rule-breaking, according to Clegg.
“We know today’s decision will be criticized by many people on opposing sides of the political divide,” Clegg said.
“But, our job is to make a decision in as proportionate, fair and transparent a way as possible, in keeping with the instruction given to us by the Oversight Board.”
Last month, the independent oversight board said Facebook was right to oust Trump for his comments regarding the deadly January 6 rampage at the US Capitol but that the platform should not have applied an “indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension.”
Trump denounces ‘insult’
Trump said in a statement the ban was an “insult” to voters, renewing his false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
“They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing,” Trump said.
But Angelo Carusone of the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters for America, called Facebook’s move dangerous, saying that if Trump is reinstated, “the platform will remain a simmering cauldron of extremism, disinformation, and violence.”
Activists joined together in a group that facetiously calls itself The Real Facebook Oversight Board decried the social network’s latest steps as belated and insufficient.
“Facebook shouldn’t have needed a $130 million Oversight Board and a team of law professors to tell them dictators and authoritarians were running wild on their platforms,” the group said in a release.
Trump was suspended from Facebook and Instagram after posting a video during the attack by his fired-up supporters challenging his election loss, in which he told them: “We love you, you’re very special.”
The panel gave Facebook six months to justify why his ban should be permanent — putting the ball in company chief Mark Zuckerberg’s court and spotlighting weaknesses in the platform’s plan for self-regulation.
Zuckerberg has stressed his belief that private companies should not be the arbiters of truth when it comes to what people say.
The oversight board, which was created as part of Zuckerberg’s vision for a “supreme court” for difficult content decisions, said it has begun a review of the latest decision on Trump “and will offer further comment once this review is complete.”
A “newsworthiness” allowance granted to a small number of posts at Facebook left Trump free to rile supporters with claims that had been disproven.
Facebook will begin publishing the “rare instances” in which offending posts are tolerated, and will not treat content posted by politicians any differently from content posted by anyone else, according to Clegg.
New York University Stern Center deputy director Paul Barrett welcomed the move by Facebook.
“Donald Trump illustrated how a political leader can abuse social media to undermine democratic institutions such as elections and the peaceful transfer of power,” Barrett said.
“Facebook was justified in removing Trump from its platforms, and now the company has appropriately decided to enforce its rules more vigorously against other political figures, as well.”