Facebook condemned Saturday what it called an “extreme” ruling by a Brazilian Supreme Court judge ordering it to block the accounts of 12 high-profile allies of President Jair Bolsonaro, which it vowed to appeal.
Brazil’s Supreme Court is overseeing an investigation into allegations that members of the far-right president’s inner circle ran a social media campaign to discredit the court, as well as slander and threaten its judges.
As part of that probe, Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered Facebook to suspend the accounts of 12 Bolsonaro allies, and Twitter another 16 accounts.
The US social media giants complied on July 25 — but initially only blocked visitors in Brazil from viewing the accounts.
The blocked users soon skirted the ban by telling their followers how to change their account settings to another country.
Moraes then ordered the US social media giants Thursday to enforce the suspension worldwide.
When Facebook did not initially comply, saying it would appeal to the full Supreme Court, Moraes fined the company 1.9 million reals ($365,000) and issued a summons for its top executive in Brazil, Conrado Lester.
“This new legal order is extreme, posing a threat to freedom of expression outside of Brazil’s jurisdiction and conflicting with laws and jurisdictions worldwide,” Facebook said in a statement.
“Given the threat of criminal liability to a local employee, at this point we see no other alternative than complying with the decision by blocking the accounts globally, while we appeal to the Supreme Court.”
The row comes as Facebook and Twitter face increasing pressure in the United States and around the world to act more aggressively against hate speech and false information on their platforms.
In Brazil, it is part of ongoing tension between Bolsonaro and the high court, which has also ordered a probe into allegations the president obstructed justice to protect members of his inner circle from police investigations.
The affected accounts include high-profile figures such as conservative former lawmaker Roberto Jefferson, business magnate Luciano Hang and far-right activist Sara Winter.
Twitter and Facebook suspended the accounts Friday of 16 allies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro after a Supreme Court judge ordered them blocked as part of a probe into an alleged disinformation campaign.
Tension has been soaring between the far-right leader and the court, which is investigating allegations that members of his inner circle ran a social media campaign to discredit the court, as well as slander and threaten its judges.
The two US social media giants are also facing increasing pressure to act more aggressively against hate speech and false information on their platforms.
Justice Alexandre de Moraes said in his court order — which enforced an earlier May ruling — the accounts must be blocked to stop “the ongoing dissemination of fake news, slanderous accusations, threats and crimes” against the court.
The affected accounts include high-profile figures such as conservative former lawmaker Roberto Jefferson, business magnate Luciano Hang and far-right activist Sara Winter.
Visitors to their Facebook and Twitter pages in Brazil, though not other countries, saw messages indicating they were blocked.
“This content isn’t available right now,” read their Facebook pages.
A Twitter notice explained: “Account withheld in Brazil in response to a legal demand”.
A linked message said the company “was compelled to withhold the original Tweet in response to a valid legal demand, such as a court order.”
The owners of the blocked accounts reacted furiously.
Winter called the court order worthy of a “dictatorship,” while Jefferson drew a comparison to Nazi Germany.
Facebook said Friday it would ban a “wider category of hateful content” in ads as the embattled social media giant moved to respond to growing protests over its handling of inflammatory posts.
Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook also would add tags to posts that are “newsworthy” but violate platform rules — following the lead of Twitter, which has used such labels on tweets from President Donald Trump.
The initiative comes with the leading social network facing a growing boycott by advertisers — with soft drink behemoth Coca-Cola and Anglo-Dutch giant Unilever joining Friday — as activists seek tougher action on content they deem to promote discrimination, hatred or violence.
The new policy on hateful content in ads will “prohibit claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others,” Zuckerberg said.
“We’re also expanding our policies to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers” from hateful ads, he continued.
Facebook has underscored its moves to stem racism in the wake of civil unrest triggered by the May 25 killing of African American George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“We invest billions of dollars each year to keep our community safe and continuously work with outside experts to review and update our policies,” a spokesperson said.
“The investments we have made in (artificial intelligence) mean that we find nearly 90 percent of hate speech” and take action before users report it.
– ‘Newsworthy’ exception – Zuckerberg said the “newsworthy” exemption normally occurs “a handful of times a year,” when Facebook decides to leave up a message that would ordinarily be removed for rule violations.
Under the new policy, Zuckerberg said, “we will soon start labeling some of the content we leave up because it is deemed newsworthy, so people can know when this is the case.”
He said users will be allowed to share the content “but we’ll add a prompt to tell people that the content they’re sharing may violate our policies.”
Twitter in recent weeks has labeled at least one Trump tweet misleading and has flagged others as violating platform rules, accessible only when users click through a warning. The move has angered the president and his allies.
Internet platforms have faced intense pressure from activists following Floyd’s death.
A coalition including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been urging companies to stop advertising on Facebook, using the #StopHateForProfit hashtag.
At the same time, Trump and his allies have voiced anger over what they claim is biased against conservatives.
– Brand boycott accelerates – Zuckerberg made no mention of the ad boycott but said the changes were based on “feedback from the civil rights community and reflect months of work with our civil rights auditors.”
Coca-Cola, a major force in global advertising, said it would suspend ads on social media for at least 30 days as it reassesses its policies, though it said the decision was not related to the #StopHateForProfit campaign.
“There is no place for racism in the world and there is no place for racism on social media,” James Quincey, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, said in a brief statement.
He said social media companies need to provide “greater accountability and transparency.”
Unilever, home to brands including Lipton tea and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, said it would stop advertising on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in the US until the end of 2020 due to the “polarized election period.”
American Honda said it would halt ads on Facebook in July, “choosing to stand with people united against hate and racism,” adding to a list that includes US telecom giant Verizon and sporting goods makers Patagonia, North Face and REI.
The Facebook move on hate speech in ads “is welcome but (they) account for a small portion of harmful content on the platform,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab, which monitors social media disinformation.
Michelle Amazeen, a Boston University professor of political communication, said details still remain unclear.
“Will Facebook allow independent verification of which content they tag and the subsequent effects on diffusion?” she asked.
A top German court on Tuesday ordered Facebook to stop merging data collected through its Whatsapp and Instagram subsidiaries or other websites unless users explicitly agree, in a legal victory for competition authorities.
Germany’s Federal Cartel Office (FCO) had told Facebook to rein in the data collecting in a landmark decision in 2019, but the social media giant appealed the order.
In a fast-track proceeding on Tuesday, Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (BGH) sided with the FCO watchdog in finding that Facebook was abusing its dominant position to force users to consent to all their data being collected.
“Facebook does not allow for any choice,” presiding judge Peter Meier-Beck said in the Karlsruhe courtroom.
He said the Silicon Valley company must comply with the order while its appeal is pending in a lower court.
It is a major setback for the social media giant, which has long been under scrutiny in privacy-conscious Germany.
Facebook insisted however there would be “no immediate changes” for users in Germany and stressed that the main appeals proceedings were still ongoing.
“We will continue to defend our position that there is no anti-trust abuse,” a spokesman said.
The personal data picked up through Facebook’s own platform, Whatsapp, Instagram and third-party websites serve to build up a user’s profile for the purposes of targeted advertising, a key income source for the group.
The Federal Cartel Office ordered the tech giant to stop combining information from Facebook and non-Facebook sources unless users gave “voluntary consent”.
It also said Facebook was not allowed to exclude people from its services if they chose to refuse permission.
Facebook said at the time it disagreed with the decision, arguing the German anti-trust body was setting rules that applied “to only one company” and that it underestimated the competition it faced from rivals.
‘Abuse of power’
The FCO however found that Facebook was by far the biggest social network in Germany, with over 23 million daily active users representing 95 percent of the market.
Rivals like Snapchat, YouTube or Twitter “only offer parts of the services of a social network” and are not directly comparable, the authority said.
Facebook lodged an appeal against the FCO ruling with the higher regional court in Duesseldorf that is ongoing.
But Tuesday’s fast-tracked decision at the BGH was aimed at settling a row about whether Facebook can keep combining data in the meantime.
FCO chief Andreas Mundt welcomed the preliminary outcome.
“When data is collected and used illegally, an anti-trust intervention must be possible to prevent an abuse of market power,” he said in a statement.
Professor Rupprecht Podszun, an expert in competition law at Heinrich Heine University Duesseldorf, called Tuesday’s decision a “big win” for the FCO.
The German battle against Facebook is seen as a legal first and is being closely watched at home and abroad as concern mounts about the power held by tech behemoths.
The Californian firm led by Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly come under fire in recent years over data protection and privacy.
In one major scandal in 2018, it emerged that data belonging to tens of millions of Facebook users had been harvested by consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, and used in part to support Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
Facebook is allowing users to turn off all political ads in a move aimed at quelling criticism of the leading social network’s hands-off approach to election misinformation.
The feature being rolled out in the United States from Wednesday and some other countries will give Facebook and Instagram users the option of blocking paid ads from candidates and political groups.
The initiative announced late Tuesday comes amid intense pressure on Facebook and other social media services to stem the flow of false information while remaining open platforms for political debate.
Facebook has steadfastly rejected calls to fact-check politicians including a plea from Democratic White House hopeful Joe Biden to clamp down on what he called rampant disinformation from President Donald Trump.
Facebook vice president of product management and social impact Naomi Gleit said the initiative expands on the social network’s “ad preferences” options which already allowed users to see fewer political ads.
She said the feature was being made available “as part of our preparations for the 2020 US elections” and would be offered “in countries where we have enforcement on ads about social issues, elections and politics” later this year.
Adam Chiara, a University of Hartford professor who follows social media and politics, said Facebook’s announcement may be a public relations move with little real impact.
Chiara said Facebook would be able to tout “a victory for not censoring speech” but that it “does nothing to help move away from the toxic speech on the platform.”
“I’m curious how many people will actually opt-out,” Chiara said. “Many Facebook users don’t even change their default privacy settings. How many will take the time to do this?”
Shannon McGregor, a University of North Carolina professor of political communication, said Facebook is “outsourcing” its content moderation to users and at the same time limiting the reach of political challengers and newcomers.
“This is likely to exacerbate the incumbency advantage,” McGregor said.
The researcher said that despite concerns about negative and malicious ads, many political messages are “benign,” promoting discussing and enabling lesser-known candidates to reach voters.
“I don’t think policies allowing users to opt-in or out of advertising are positive for democracy,” she said.
– Registering four million –
As part of the same announcement, Facebook said it would launch what it called “the largest voting information effort in US history” with an election hub and a goal of registering four million voters.
“We’re encouraging people to vote,” Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg wrote in USA Today.
“I believe Facebook has a responsibility not just to prevent voter suppression — which disproportionately targets people of color — but also to actively support well-informed voter engagement, registration and turnout.”
The efforts by Facebook appeared to address concerns that it allowed misinformation and foreign influence campaigns to target voters in the 2016 US election, in some cases aimed at discouraging voters or giving them inaccurate information.
Amid a toxic political environment, Twitter last month began labeling or limiting the reach of comments from Trump deemed to be inciting violence or promoting misinformation.
That prompted an angry response from Trump, who signed an executive order which could lead to more oversight of social media, despite doubts about its enforceability.
Zuckerberg in his statement Thursday reiterated Facebook’s policy which generally exempts politicians from fact-checking.
“Ultimately, I believe the best way to hold politicians accountable is through voting, and I believe we should trust voters to make judgments for themselves” he said.
At the same time he added that “we have rules against speech that will cause imminent physical harm or suppress voting, and no one is exempt from them.”
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on Friday promised to review the social network’s policies that led to its decision to not moderate controversial messages posted by US President Donald Trump.
The announcement, which came in the form of a letter to employees, appeared aimed at quelling anger inside the company that was so severe it prompted some to quit.
The outrage was sparked when Zuckerberg said Facebook would not remove or flag Trump’s recent posts that appeared to encourage violence against those protesting police racism.
Zuckerberg’s message Friday seemed to attempt to mollify that anger: “We’re going to review our policies allowing discussion and threats of state use of force to see if there are any amendments we should adopt,” Zuckerberg wrote.
This, he said, includes “excessive use of police or state force. Given the sensitive history in the US, this deserves special consideration.”
Social media platforms have faced mounting calls to moderate the president’s comments, most recently because of the unrest gripping the United States in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed while apprehended by police.
“The decision I made last week has left many of you angry, disappointed and hurt,” Zuckerberg said in the letter, which he posted on his Facebook page.
Timothy Aveni, a software engineer who resigned from the company, wrote on his Facebook page that the social media platform “will keep moving the goalposts every time Trump escalates, finding excuse after excuse not to act on increasingly dangerous rhetoric.”
Zuckerberg said he is exploring possible changes on how policy decisions are made at Facebook, along with more ways to advance racial justice and voter engagement.
“While we are looking at all of these areas, we may not come up with changes we want to make in all of them,” Zuckerberg cautioned.
As per voting, Zuckerberg said: “I have confidence in the election integrity efforts we’ve implemented since 2016.”
“But there’s a good chance that there will be unprecedented fear and confusion around going to the polls in November, and some will likely try to capitalize on that confusion,” he said.
The letter also addressed employees’ complaints that minorities have not been sufficiently represented internally.
“We’re going to review whether we need to change anything structurally to make sure the right groups and voices are at the table,” Zuckerberg said.
China said Facebook was unfairly targeting its biggest media companies on Friday after the network began attaching disclaimers to pages run by the country’s state-controlled news outlets.
Pages managed by news agency Xinhua and the fiery nationalist tabloid Global Times are now labelled “China state-controlled media”, after a policy change by the world’s largest social platform.
Facebook said it will add similar labels to pages and advertisements run by media outlets subject to editorial influence and financial backing by governments, including Russian state broadcaster RT.
The move comes with Facebook under scrutiny for failing for stem foreign interference in the 2016 US election, and after heated debate over how the network handles misinformation and inflammatory posts — including from US President Donald Trump.
But China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang accused Facebook of selective enforcement and said he hoped the company would “abandon its ideological prejudice”.
Foreign media outlets “should be given equal treatment” as long as they comply with local laws, he added.
Facebook’s definition of state-controlled media includes influence over editorial content as well as financial backing of outlets, said the platform’s cybersecurity chief Nathaniel Gleicher.
“People should know if the news they read is coming from a publication that may be under the influence of a government,” he wrote in a Thursday blog post announcing the new policy.
Relations between China and the United States have worsened on multiple fronts in recent months, with the two governments expelling journalists in tit-for-tat moves and trading barbs over the coronavirus outbreak and human rights.
The clash between Twitter and Donald Trump has thrust rival Facebook into turmoil, with employees rebelling against CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal to sanction false or inflammatory posts by the US president.
Some Facebook employees put out word of a “virtual walkout” to take place Monday to protest the social network’s stance and show support for the black community, according to tweeted messages.
“As allies we must stand in the way of danger, not behind. I will be participating in today’s virtual walkout in solidarity with the black community,” tweeted Sara Zhang, one of the Facebook employees in the action.
Nearly all Facebook employees are working remotely due to the pandemic.
“Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind,” Ryan Freitas, the design director of Facebook’s News Feed, tweeted Sunday, adding that he was organizing about 50 other employees who share his view.
At the root of the discord is Twitter’s unprecedented intervention last week when it tagged two Trump tweets about mail-in ballots with messages urging people to “get the facts.”
Zuckerberg reacted by telling Fox News that private social media platforms “shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.” Trump retweeted the interview.
On Friday, Twitter responded once again to a Trump tweet, this time after he used the platform to warn protesters outraged by the death at police hands of an unarmed black man that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Twitter covered up the tweet with a message warning it “violated Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.” Viewers had to click on the message to see the underlying tweet.
The message also was posted on Facebook, but Zuckerberg decided to let it stand unchallenged.
“I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the President’s tweets and posts all day,” he wrote Friday in a post.
“Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.”
But, Zuckerberg went on to say that “our position is that we should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies.”
Network in revolt
Twitter and Facebook both have in place systems to combat disinformation and dangerous content — appeals to hatred, harassment, incitement to violence and the like.
But Facebook exempts political personalities and candidates from these restrictions.
Zuckerberg’s position has not gone down well with many of his employees, who turned to Twitter and Medium to express their disapproval.
“I don’t know what to do, but I know doing nothing is not acceptable,” Jason Stirman, a member of Facebook’s research and development team, wrote on Twitter.
Other Facebook employees spoke out on Sunday.
David Gillis, a member of the design team who specializes in product safety and integrity, said he believed Trump’s looting and shooting tweet “encourages extra-judicial violence and racism.”
“While I understand why we chose to stay squarely within the four corners of our violence and incitement policy, I think it would have been right for us to make a ‘spirit of the policy’ exception that took more context into account,” he wrote.
Nate Butler, a Facebook product designer, added: “I need to be clear – FB is on the wrong side of this and I can’t support their stance. Doing nothing isn’t Being Bold. Many of us feel this way.”
A presidential call
To make matters worse, US media revealed Sunday that Zuckerberg and Trump spoke by telephone on Friday.
The conversation was “productive,” unnamed sources told the Axios news outlet and CNBC. Facebook would neither confirm nor deny the reports.
The call “destroys” the idea that Facebook is a “neutral arbiter,” said Evelyn Douek, a researcher at Harvard Law School.
Like other experts, she questioned whether Facebook’s new oversight board, formed last month to render independent judgments on content, will have the clout to intervene.
On Saturday, the board offered assurances it was aware there were “many significant issues related to online content” that people want it to consider.
“We will make decisions without regard to Facebook’s economic, political or reputational interests, in a fair, transparent and politically neutral manner,” it said.
Facebook, meanwhile, is directly affected by Trump’s counter-attack against Twitter.
The president signed a decree Thursday attacking one of the legal pillars of the US internet, Section 230, which shields digital platforms from lawsuits linked to content posted by third parties while giving them the freedom to intervene as they please to police the exchanges.
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday remote work is here to stay, and that half of the social network’s staff could be doing jobs from afar within a decade.
Zuckerberg devoted a live-streamed “town hall’ meeting with employees to how a remote-work trend compelled by the pandemic is being embraced by employees without affecting productivity.
He outlined steps Facebook will take to adapt operations to remote work for the long-term, saying it is quite possible that about half of the company’s employees could doing their jobs that way within 10 years.
“I think we’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work, at our scale for sure,” Zuckerberg said.
“But, we’re going to do this in a way that is measured and thoughtful and responsible and in phases over time.”
Initial steps will include “aggressively” hiring remotely instead of requiring face-to-face interviews with candidates.
“Most of us are working remotely at this point, so it doesn’t make sense for us to bring people into offices that a lot of them aren’t going to be able to go into anyway,” Zuckerberg said.
About 95 percent of Facebook employees work remotely due to pandemic concerns, and the company has told them they can continue to do their jobs that way through next year if desired.
Shifting aggressively to remote work brings opportunity to hire talented candidates who don’t live near cities where Facebook has offices, sparing them commutes, congestion and the high living costs of tech-company towns.
Zuckerberg said he wanted to protect Facebook workplace culture shaped on Silicon Valley campuses, known for playful, creative atmospheres, gourmet meals and other fun perks.
“This is fundamentally about changing our culture and the way that we are all going to work longterm,” Zuckerberg said.
“I am optimistic, but I want to make sure that we move forward a measured way.”
The move by Facebook follows an announcement from Silicon Valley rival Twitter, which recently announced that most of its workforce may continue telework indefinitely.
Some tech firms have said they don’t expect to bring most employees back to the office before 2021.
Earlier Thursday, Facebook said it was bulking up the Workplace version of its social network that helps employees get their jobs done remotely.
Workplace, which now has some five million paying users, is taking advantage of innovations in other parts of Facebook, adding virtual “rooms” where as many as 50 people can drop in for video chats and integrating services from its Portal smart screens and Oculus virtual reality.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday he was “pretty confident” his company could help prevent attempts to influence the political outcome of the US presidential election later this year.
Zuckerberg told the BBC in an interview that the social network was better prepared to counter online misinformation campaigns but admitted Facebook was “behind” during the 2016 election which Donald Trump won.
“Countries are going to continue to try and interfere and we are going to see issues like that but we have learnt a lot since 2016 and I feel pretty confident that we are going to be able to protect the integrity of the upcoming elections,” he said.
Zuckerberg described preventing electoral interference as a “little bit of an arms race” against countries such as Russia, Iran and China.
“We don’t want other governments to try and interfere in elections, so regardless of how effective that is I view it as our job to work with everyone we can to stop that from happening,” he added.
Facebook has been accused of helping Trump win through misinformation that was posted by foreign governments online.
In testimony to the US Senate in October 2017, Facebook said Russia-backed content reached as many as 126 million Americans on its platform during and after the 2016 vote.
It said it believed there were 120 fake Russian-backed pages which created 80,000 posts around the time of the campaign between Trump and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Quizzed about Facebook’s approach to misinformation during the current coronavirus pandemic, he said the company would remove content that would result in “immediate harm” to any user.
Facebook took down a claim by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro that scientists had “proved” there was a cure for coronavirus.
“That is obviously not true and so we took it down. It doesn’t matter who says it,” Zuckerberg said.
Facebook on Tuesday reached out to businesses struggling to survive the pandemic with free tools for creating online “Shops” at the social network and Instagram.
Merchants can easily set up shops on Facebook and Instagram, customize looks and display products, according to the California-based internet giant.
“The primary focus is to ensure small and medium size businesses have presences online and survive the current situation,” Facebook director of product management George Lee said during a press briefing on the new product.
Retail has been crushed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has closed real-world shops, disrupted supply chains, and left more than 36 million Americans jobless.
“We really hope that our commerce solutions help businesses not only survive but thrive during coming months, and adapt to new consumer behavior,” said Instagram Shopping product lead Layla Amjadi.
Facebook is already involved in e-commerce, with a Marketplace for selling goods and as a venue where businesses court customers through pages at the social network or Instagram.
Businesses have an option to buy Facebook ads to direct customers to their online shops. Sales can be consummated at websites off the social network.
Merchants in the US can use a Facebook checkout service to handle transactions, paying a nominal fee, according to Lee.
“This means any seller, no matter their size or budget, can bring their business online and connect with customers wherever and whenever it’s convenient for them,” Facebook said in a blog post.
Shops will roll out in coming months to some 160 million businesses that already use the social network.
Being in the midst of e-commerce comes with potential for money-making features in the future, and keeps people engaged with a Facebook platform that earns money from online ads.
Facebook plans to eventually weave Shops into its Messenger and WhatsApp communication platforms.
Facebook is also working on ways to sell products hawked during live video broadcasts, a popular form of content at the social network.
“People have been using live video on our apps to showcase products for years, from shoe stores announcing new sneakers to beauty influencers trying on different lipsticks,” Facebook said.
“Now, we’re making it easier to shop for products in real time.”
Facebook has seen a jump in usage as people hunkered down at home turn to the social network to stay connected while keeping their distance from one another.
Meanwhile, the economic hit from the pandemic has eroded budgets for advertising on which Facebook relies to make money.