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Australia Sues Facebook Over Its Use of Onavo To Snoop

Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is suing Facebook over its use, in 2016 and 2017, of the Onavo VPN app to spy on users for commercial purposes. From a report:
The ACCC’s case accuses Facebook of false, misleading or deceptive conduct toward thousands of Australian consumers, after it had promoted the Onavo Protect app — saying it would keep users personal activity data private, protected and secret and not use it for any other purpose, when it was being used to gather data to help Facebook’s business. “Through Onavo Protect, Facebook was collecting and using the very detailed and valuable personal activity data of thousands of Australian consumers for its own commercial purposes, which we believe is completely contrary to the promise of protection, secrecy and privacy that was central to Facebook’s promotion of this app,” said ACCC chair Rod Sims in a statement. “Consumers often use VPN services because they care about their online privacy, and that is what this Facebook product claimed to offer. In fact, Onavo Protect channelled significant volumes of their personal activity data straight back to Facebook.”

Facebook Said It’s Developing A Tool To Read Your Brain

Facebook told employees this week that it’s developing a tool to summarize news articles so users won’t have to read them. It also laid out early plans for a neural sensor to detect people’s thoughts and translate them into action. From a report:
[…] He [Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer] also detailed a neural sensor to read commandments from people’s brains. Having acquired neural interface startup CTRL-labs in 2019, Facebook demonstrated its progress in the field with a sensor that takes “neural signals coming from my brain, down my spinal cord along my arm, to my wrist” and allows a user to make a physical action. Schroepfer noted that it could be used for typing, holding a virtual object, or controlling a character in a video game. “We all get the privilege of seeing the future because we are making it,” he said. Still, Facebook’s chief technology officer seemed to anticipate any criticisms of the products — or past failures — by touting safety measures. “We have to build responsibly to earn trust and the right to continue to grow,” he said. “It’s imperative that we get this right so that people around the world get all these amazing technologies … without experiencing the downsides.”

New Survey Reveals Teens Get Their News from Social Media and YouTube

Celebrities, influencers, and personalities have as much influence as a source of current events as friends, family, and news organizations.

Teens today are not only getting the majority of their news online, but they are turning away from traditional media organizations to find out about current events on social media sites and YouTube, often from online influencers and celebrities, according to a new poll by Common Sense and SurveyMonkey.

The survey found that more than half of teens (54%) get news at least a few times a week from social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and 50% get news from YouTube.

Teens’ news habits reflect the diversity of the modern media landscape. And, while most news organizations maintain accounts on social media and other platforms, they are competing for attention with corporate brands, celebrities, influencers, and personal connections. Of those teens who get their news from YouTube, for example, six in 10 say they are more likely to get it from celebrities, influencers, and personalities rather than from news organizations utilizing the platform.

What’s noteworthy is that, even with so many relying on alternative sources for the majority of their news, teens are more confident in the news they get directly from news organizations. Of teens who get news of current events from news organizations, 65% say it helps them better understand what is going on. In contrast, just 53% of teens who get news from social media say it helps them better understand what is going on, while 19 percent say it has made them more confused about current events.

Amid ongoing concerns about the impact of information disseminated through social media on elections, older teens’ news habits may have political implications. Of the teens age 16 and 17 who say they’ll be eligible to vote in the 2020 election, 85% are likely to cast a ballot, including 61% who say they’re “very likely.”

“These findings raise concerns about what kind of news the next generation is using to shape their decisions,” said James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense. “There are few standards for what constitutes news and how accurately it’s portrayed on the platforms teens use. With the 2020 election coming up, we need to make sure teens are getting their news from reliable sources, thinking critically, and making informed decisions.”

This latest survey is part of a Common Sense partnership with SurveyMonkey to examine media and technology trends affecting kids and their parents and to share actionable data and insights with families.

“While it’s notable that teens rely heavily on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to stay informed, their reliance on news from celebrities and influencers rather than journalists may have pernicious implications,” said Jon Cohen, chief research officer at SurveyMonkey. “It’s a bit of a paradox: Overwhelmingly teens say they are interested in keeping up with the news, but they’re not seeking out either traditional or new media to do so.”

Selected key findings

  1. A large majority of teens age 13 to 17 in the U.S. (78%) say it’s important to them to follow current events.
  2. Teens get their news more frequently from social media sites (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) or from YouTube than directly from news organizations. More than half of teens (54%) get news from social media, and 50% get news from YouTube at least a few times a week. Fewer than half, 41%, get news reported by news organizations in print or online at least a few times a week, and only 37% get news on TV at least a few times a week.
  3. YouTube recommendations drive news consumption. Among all teens who get their news from YouTube—regardless of how often—exactly half (50%) say they most often find news on YouTube because it was recommended by YouTube itself (i.e., as a “watch next” video or in the sidebar). Almost half as many (27%) say they follow or subscribe to a specific channel for news on YouTube, and fewer say they find their news on YouTube through search (10%) or because it was shared by someone they know in real life (7%).
  4. Sixty percent of teens who get news from YouTube say they are more likely to get it from celebrities, influencers, and personalities as compared to news organizations (39%). The difference is even more apparent among daily YouTube news consumers (71% vs. 28%).
  5. Nearly two in three teens (65%) who get news directly from news organizations say doing so has helped them better understand current events, compared with 59% of teens who get their news from YouTube (56%) and 53% who get their news from social media sites (53%). Nearly two in 10 teens (19%) say that getting news from social media has made them more confused about current events.
  6. Teens clearly prefer a visual medium for learning about the news. A majority (64%) say that “seeing pictures and video showing what happened” gives them the best understanding of major news events, while just 36% say they’d prefer to read or hear the facts about what happened.
  7. Politically, teens are more likely to be moderate and identify as Democrats, but they are open to ideas from sources whose opinions differ from their own. Just under half of teens (45%) say they get news from sources that have views different from their own once a week or more, and only 14% say they never get news from sources with different views. Slightly fewer (35%) say they discuss political issues with people who have different views once a week or more, and 19% say they never discuss politics with people who have opposing views.

The study comes on the heels of the release of Common Sense’s revamped Digital Citizenship Curriculum, which gives teachers lessons to help students develop skills to be critical consumers of news at a time when they are navigating a fast-changing digital terrain fraught with fake media, hate speech, cyberbullying, and constant digital distraction.

Methodology: This SurveyMonkey Audience survey was conducted June 14 to 25, 2019, among 1,005 teenagers age 13 to 17 in the United States. Respondents for these surveys were selected from more than 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate for the full sample is +/-4.0 percentage points. Data has been weighted for age and sex using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of people in the United States age 13 to 17. Find the full survey results and more information about Common Sense research here.

Big Tech Continues Its Surge Ahead of the Rest of the Economy

While the rest of the U.S. economy languished earlier this year, the tech industry’s biggest companies seemed immune to the downturn, surging as the country worked, learned and shopped from home. From a report:

On Thursday, as the economy is showing signs of improvement, Amazon, Apple, Alphabet and Facebook reported profits that highlighted how a recovery may provide another catalyst to help them generate a level of wealth that hasn’t been seen in a single industry in generations. With an entrenched audience of users and the financial resources to press their leads in areas like cloud computing, e-commerce and digital advertising, the companies demonstrated again that economic malaise, upstart competitors and feisty antitrust regulators have had little impact on their bottom line. Combined, the four companies reported a quarterly net profit of $38 billion.

Amazon reported record sales, and an almost 200 percent rise in profits, as the pandemic accelerated the transition to online shopping. Despite a boycott of its advertising over the summer, Facebook had another blockbuster quarter. Alphabet’s record quarterly net profit was up 59 percent, as marketers plowed money into advertisements for Google search and YouTube. And Apple’s sales rose even though the pandemic forced it to push back the iPhone 12’s release to October, in the current quarter. On Tuesday, Microsoft, Amazon’s closest competitor in cloud computing, also reported its most profitable quarter, growing 30 percent from a year earlier. “The scene that’s playing out fundamentally is that these tech stalwarts are gaining more market share by the day,” said Dan Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities. “It’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ for this group of tech companies and everyone else.”

Facebook Targeted In UK Legal Action Over Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Facebook is being sued for failing to protect users’ personal data in the Cambridge Analytica breach. The scandal involved harvested Facebook data of 87 million people being used for advertising during elections. Mass legal action is being launched against Facebook for misuse of information from almost one million users in England and Wales. Facebook said it has not received any documents regarding this claim. The group taking action — Facebook You Owe Us — follows a similar mass action law suit against Google. Google You Owe Us, led by former director Richard Lloyd, is also active for another alleged mass data breach. Both represented by law firm Millberg London, the Google case is being heard in the Supreme Court in April next year.

The Facebook case will argue that by taking data without consent, the firm failed to meet their legal obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998. Representative claimant in the case Alvin Carpio said: “When we use Facebook, we expect that our personal data is being used responsibly, transparently, and legally. By failing to protect our personal information from abuse, we believe that Facebook broke the law. Paying less than 0.01% of your annual revenue in fines — pocket change to Facebook — is clearly a punishment that does not fit the crime. Apologizing for breaking the law is simply not enough. Facebook, you owe us honesty, responsibility and redress. We will fight to hold Facebook to account.”

Zuckerberg Acknowledges ‘Risk of Civil Unrest’ After US Elections, Promises Newsfeed Updates, too little too late

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told analysts on a conference call Thursday evening that the company plans to post notices at the top of users’ news feeds on November 3rd discrediting any claims by either candidate in the U.S. presidential election that they have won the election if the site deems the claim premature… The move, said Zuckerberg, is being made because “There is a risk of civil unrest across the country, and given this, companies like ours need to go well beyond what we’ve done before.”

The conference call with analysts followed a third-quarter earnings report Thursday afternoon in which Facebook’s results topped expectations, helped by gains in active users that also were higher than Wall Street expected.

Zuckerberg said Facebook “helped 4.4 million people register [to vote] exceeding the goal that we set for ourselves this summer.”

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Facebook Will Pay Users To Log Off Before 2020 Election

Facebook is offering users money to refrain from using the site and Instagram in the weeks leading up to the bitterly contested November elections. The New York Post reports:
To assess the impact of social media on voting, the company will pay selected members up to $120 to deactivate their accounts beginning at the end of September. “Anyone who chooses to opt-in — whether it’s completing surveys or deactivating FB or IG for a period of time — will be compensated,” Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois tweeted last week. “This is fairly standard for this type of academic research.” The Silicon Valley giant said it expects 200,000 to 400,000 people to take part.

“Representative, scientific samples of people in the US will be selected and invited to participate in the study. Some potential participants will see a notice in Facebook or Instagram inviting them to take part in the study,” Facebook said. “Study samples will be designed to ensure that participants mirror the diversity of the US adult population, as well as users of Facebook and Instagram.” The results of the study are expected to be released sometime next year.

Facebook Accused of Watching Instagram Users Through Cameras

Facebook is again being sued for allegedly spying on Instagram users, this time through the unauthorized use of their mobile phone cameras. Bloomberg reports:
The lawsuit springs from media reports in July that the photo-sharing app appeared to be accessing iPhone cameras even when they weren’t actively being used. Facebook denied the reports and blamed a bug, which it said it was correcting, for triggering what it described as false notifications that Instagram was accessing iPhone cameras.

In the complaint filed Thursday in federal court in San Francisco, New Jersey Instagram user Brittany Conditi contends the app’s use of the camera is intentional and done for the purpose of collecting “lucrative and valuable data on its users that it would not otherwise have access to.” By “obtaining extremely private and intimate personal data on their users, including in the privacy of their own homes,” Instagram and Facebook are able to collect “valuable insights and market research,” according to the complaint.

A Whistleblower Says Facebook Ignored Global Political Manipulation

Facebook ignored or was slow to act on evidence that fake accounts on its platform have been undermining elections and political affairs around the world, according to an explosive memo sent by a recently fired Facebook employee and obtained by BuzzFeed News. From the report:
The 6,600-word memo, written by former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang, is filled with concrete examples of heads of government and political parties in Azerbaijan and Honduras using fake accounts or misrepresenting themselves to sway public opinion. In countries including India, Ukraine, Spain, Bolivia, and Ecuador she found evidence of coordinated campaigns of varying sizes to boost or hinder political candidates or outcomes, though she did not always conclude who was behind them. “In the three years I’ve spent at Facebook, I’ve found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry, and caused international news on multiple occasions,” wrote Zhang, who declined to talk to BuzzFeed News. Her Linkedin profile said she “worked as the data scientist for the Facebook Site Integrity fake engagement team” and dealt with “bots influencing elections and the like.”

“I have personally made decisions that affected national presidents without oversight, and taken action to enforce against so many prominent politicians globally that I’ve lost count,” she wrote. The memo is a damning account of Facebook’s failures. It’s the story of Facebook abdicating responsibility for malign activities on its platform that could affect the political fate of nations outside the United States or Western Europe. It’s also the story of a junior employee wielding extraordinary moderation powers that affected millions of people without any real institutional support, and the personal torment that follow

Hate Speech on Facebook Is Pushing Ethiopia Dangerously Close To a Genocide

Ethnic violence set off by the assassination of a popular singer has been supercharged by hate speech and incitements shared widely on the platform. From a report:
Throughout his life, Ethiopian singer Hachalu Hundessa sang about love, unity, and raising the marginalized voices of his Oromo ethnic group. He had always tried to keep his work and politics separate, saying, “Art should not be subject to political pressure.” But it became increasingly difficult for him to keep these two worlds apart, thanks to a politically-motivated disinformation campaign orchestrated on Facebook through a network of newly created pages and designed to demonize Hundessa. The incendiary campaign claimed Hundessa abandoned his Oromo roots in siding with Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy. Abiy, Ethiopia’s first Oromo leader, has been heavily criticized by hard-line Oromo nationalists who believe he has abandoned his heritage by appeasing other ethnic groups. The impact was devastating.

Hundessa was assassinated on June 29 while driving through the capital Addis Ababa. The man police charged with Hundessa’s killing told prosecutors that he was working as an assassin for the Oromo Liberation Front, an armed nationalist group linked to numerous violent attacks — and who told the shooter that Oromia would benefit from the death of one of its most famous singers. Hundessa’s death at age 34 set off a wave of violence in the capital and his home region of Oromia. Hundreds of people were killed, with minorities like Christian Amharas, Christian Oromos, and Gurage people suffering the biggest losses. This bloodshed was supercharged by the almost-instant and widespread sharing of hate speech and incitement to violence on Facebook, which whipped up people’s anger. Mobs destroyed and burned property. They lynched, beheaded, and dismembered their victims. The calls for violence against a variety of ethnic and religious groups happened despite the government shutting down the internet within hours of Hundessa’s murder. Soon, the same people who’d been calling for genocide and attacks against specific religous or ethnic groups were openly posting photographs of burned-out cars, buildings, schools and houses, the Network Against Hate Speech, a volunteer group tracking hate speech in Ethiopia, told VICE News.

These attacks reflect the volatile nature of ethnic politics in Ethiopia. Abiy’s rise to power in 2018 led to a brief period of hope that Ethiopia could be unified under the first Oromo to lead the country. But that quickly evaporated, and the country has since been wracked by violence, coinciding with a rapid increase in access to the internet, where Facebook dominates. And rather than helping to unify the country, Facebook has simply amplified existing tensions on a massive scale.

US Teens Are Being Paid to Spread Disinformation on Social Media

The Washington Post covered “a sprawling yet secretive campaign that experts say evades the guardrails put in place by social media companies to limit online disinformation of the sort used by Russia” during America’s last presidential campaign in 2016.

According to four people with knowledge of the effort, “Teenagers, some of them minors, are being paid to pump out the messages…”
The campaign draws on the spam-like behavior of bots and trolls, with the same or similar language posted repeatedly across social media. But it is carried out, at least in part, by humans paid to use their own accounts, though nowhere disclosing their relationship with Turning Point Action or the digital firm brought in to oversee the day-to-day activity. One user included a link to Turning Point USA’s website in his Twitter profile until The Washington Post began asking questions about the activity. In response to questions from The Post, Twitter on Tuesday suspended at least 20 accounts involved in the activity for “platform manipulation and spam.” Facebook also removed a number of accounts as part of what the company said is an ongoing investigation…

The months-long effort by the tax-exempt nonprofit is among the most ambitious domestic influence campaigns uncovered this election cycle, said experts tracking the evolution of deceptive online tactics. “In 2016, there were Macedonian teenagers interfering in the election by running a troll farm and writing salacious articles for money,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “In this election, the troll farm is in Phoenix….”

The messages — some of them false and some simply partisan — were parceled out in precise increments as directed by the effort’s leaders, according to the people with knowledge of the highly coordinated activity, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect the privacy of minors carrying out the work… The messages have appeared mainly as replies to news articles about politics and public health posted on social media. They seek to cast doubt on the integrity of the electoral process, asserting that Democrats are using mail balloting to steal the election — “thwarting the will of the American people,” they alleged. The posts also play down the threat from covid-19, which claimed the life of Turning Point’s co-founder Bill Montgomery in July…

By seeking to rebut mainstream news articles, the operation illustrates the extent to which some online political activism is designed to discredit the media. While Facebook and Twitter have pledged to crack down on what they have labeled coordinated inauthentic behavior, in Facebook’s case, and platform manipulation and spam, as Twitter defines its rules, their efforts falter in the face of organizations willing to pay users to post on their own accounts, maintaining the appearance of independence and authenticity.

One parent even said their two teenagers had been posting the messages since June as “independent contractors” — while being paid less than minimum wage.

Facebook Threatens To Cut Off Australians From Sharing News

The threat escalates an antitrust battle between Facebook and the Australian government, which wants the social-media giant and Alphabet’s Google to compensate publishers for the value they provide to their platforms. The legislation still needs to be approved by Australia’s parliament. Under the proposal, an arbitration panel would decide how much the technology companies must pay publishers if the two sides can’t agree. Facebook said in a blog posting Monday that the proposal is unfair and would allow publishers to charge any price they want. If the legislation becomes law, the company says it will take the unprecedented step of preventing Australians from sharing news on Facebook and Instagram.

Cory Doctorow’s New Book Explains ‘How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism’

If we’re going to break Big Tech’s death grip on our digital lives, we’re going to have to fight monopolies. That may sound pretty mundane and old-fashioned, something out of the New Deal era, while ending the use of automated behavioral modification feels like the plotline of a really cool cyberpunk novel… But trustbusters once strode the nation, brandishing law books, terrorizing robber barons, and shattering the illusion of monopolies’ all-powerful grip on our society. The trustbusting era could not begin until we found the political will — until the people convinced politicians they’d have their backs when they went up against the richest, most powerful men in the world. Could we find that political will again…?

That’s the good news: With a little bit of work and a little bit of coalition building, we have more than enough political will to break up Big Tech and every other concentrated industry besides. First we take Facebook, then we take AT&T/WarnerMedia. But here’s the bad news: Much of what we’re doing to tame Big Tech instead of breaking up the big companies also forecloses on the possibility of breaking them up later… Allowing the platforms to grow to their present size has given them a dominance that is nearly insurmountable — deputizing them with public duties to redress the pathologies created by their size makes it virtually impossible to reduce that size. Lather, rinse, repeat: If the platforms don’t get smaller, they will get larger, and as they get larger, they will create more problems, which will give rise to more public duties for the companies, which will make them bigger still.

We can work to fix the internet by breaking up Big Tech and depriving them of monopoly profits, or we can work to fix Big Tech by making them spend their monopoly profits on governance. But we can’t do both. We have to choose between a vibrant, open internet or a dominated, monopolized internet commanded by Big Tech giants that we struggle with constantly to get them to behave themselves…

Big Tech wired together a planetary, species-wide nervous system that, with the proper reforms and course corrections, is capable of seeing us through the existential challenge of our species and planet. Now it’s up to us to seize the means of computation, putting that electronic nervous system under democratic, accountable control.

With “free, fair, and open tech” we could then tackle our other urgent problems “from climate change to social change” — all with collective action, Doctorow argues. And “The internet is how we will recruit people to fight those fights, and how we will coordinate their labor.

“Tech is not a substitute for democratic accountability, the rule of law, fairness, or stability — but it’s a means to achieve these things.”

Facebook and Google Serve As Vectors For Misinformation While Hobbling Local Journalism and Collecting Taxpayer Subsidies, Group Says

Facebook and Google are hollowing out local communities by serving as vectors for misinformation while hobbling local journalism and collecting taxpayer subsidies, a new paper from progressive think tank the American Economic Liberties Project charges. Both companies cite benefits their platforms offer small businesses as a key defense against critiques of their size and power. The paper, dated Aug. 30, is sure to presage further scrutiny of the impact they’ve had on local communities.

The brief, by Pat Garofalo, the group’s director of state and local policy, argues that: Google doesn’t do enough to protect against fraud, allowing scammers to get their own numbers and websites listed on Google to the detriment of legitimate businesses. Facebook, by design, boosts shoddy and sensationalist content, crowding out legitimate local news and information, all as it and Google have come to dominate the local advertising market that was long the lifeblood of community journalism. Both have sucked up potentially billions in local taxpayer dollars via tax breaks as well as subsidies and discounts on utilities they’ve gotten in exchange for building data centers. Garofalo recommends remedies including more antitrust enforcement at the federal and state levels and an end to preferential treatment by states and localities, either voluntarily or under force of law.

Instagram Wasn’t Removing Photos and Direct Messages From Its Servers

A security researcher was awarded a $6,000 bug bounty payout after he found Instagram retained photos and private direct messages on its servers long after he deleted them.

Independent security researcher Saugat Pokharel found that when he downloaded his data from Instagram, a feature it launched in 2018 to comply with new European data rules, his downloaded data contained photos and private messages with other users that he had previously deleted. It’s not uncommon for companies to store freshly deleted data for a time until it can be properly scrubbed from its networks, systems and caches. Instagram said it takes about 90 days for deleted data to be fully removed from its systems. But Pokharel found that his ostensibly deleted data from more than a year ago was still stored on Instagram’s servers, and could be downloaded using the company’s data download tool. Pokharel reported the bug in October 2019 through Instagram’s bug bounty program. The bug was fixed earlier this month, he said.

Study: US Adults Who Mostly Rely On Social Media For News Are Less Informed, Exposed To More Conspiracy Theories

According to a new report from Pew Research, U.S. adults who get their news largely from social media platforms tend to follow the news less closely and end up less informed on several key subjects when compared to those who use other sources, like TV, radio, and news publications.

The firm first asked people how they most commonly get their news. About one-in-five (18%) said they mostly use social media to stay current. That’s close the percentages of those who say they use local TV (16%) or cable TV (16%) news, but fewer than those who say they go directly to a news website or app (25%). Another 13% said they use network TV and only 3% said they read a newspaper. To be clear, any study that asks users to self-report how they do something isn’t going to be as useful as those that collect hard data on what the consumers actually do. In other words, people who think they’re getting most of their news from TV may be, in reality, undercounting the time they spent on social media â” or vice versa.

That said, among this group of “primarily” social media news consumers, only 8% said they were following the key news story of the 2020 U.S. election “every closely,” compared with 37% of cable TV viewers who said the same, or the 33% of print users who also said this. The social media group, on this topic, was closer to the local TV group (11%). On the topic of the Coronavirus outbreak, only around a quarter (23%) of the primarily social media news consumers said they were following news of COVID-19 “very closely.” All other groups again reported a higher percentage, including those who primarily used cable TV (50%), national network TV (50%), news websites and apps (44%), and local TV (32%) for news.

Related to this finding, the survey respondents were also asked 29 different fact-based questions about news topics from recent days, including those on Trump’s impeachment, the COVID-19 outbreak, and others. Those who scored the lowest on these topics were the consumers who said they primarily used social media to get their news. Across 9 questions related to foundational political knowledge, only 17% of primarily social media news consumers scored “high political knowledge,” meaning they got 8 to 9 of the questions right. 27% scored “middle political knowledge” (6-7 right) and 57% scored “low political knowledge” (5 or fewer right.) The only group that did worse were those who primarily relied on local TV. 45% of who got their news from news primarily via websites and apps, meanwhile, had “high political knowledge,” compared with 42% for radio, 41% for print, 35% for cable TV, and 29% for network TV. The social media group of news consumers was also more exposed to fringe conspiracies, like the idea that the pandemic was intentionally planned.

To Keep Trump From Violating Its Rules…Facebook Rewrote the Rules

After Trump’s infamous “the shooting starts” post, Facebook deputies contacted the White House “with an urgent plea to tweak the language of the post or simply delete it,” the article reveals, after which Trump himself called Mark Zuckerberg. (The article later notes that historically Facebook makes a “newsworthiness exception” for some posts which it refuses to remove, “determined on a case-by-case basis, with the most controversial calls made by Zuckerberg.”) And in the end, Facebook also decided not to delete that post — and says now that even Friday’s newly-announced policy changes still would not have disqualified the post:
The frenzied push-pull was just the latest incident in a five-year struggle by Facebook to accommodate the boundary-busting ways of Trump. The president has not changed his rhetoric since he was a candidate, but the company has continually altered its policies and its products in ways certain to outlast his presidency. Facebook has constrained its efforts against false and misleading news, adopted a policy explicitly allowing politicians to lie, and even altered its news feed algorithm to neutralize claims that it was biased against conservative publishers, according to more than a dozen former and current employees and previously unreported documents obtained by The Washington Post. One of the documents shows it began as far back as 2015…

The concessions to Trump have led to a transformation of the world’s information battlefield. They paved the way for a growing list of digitally savvy politicians to repeatedly push out misinformation and incendiary political language to billions of people. It has complicated the public understanding of major events such as the pandemic and the protest movement, as well as contributed to polarization. And as Trump grew in power, the fear of his wrath pushed Facebook into more deferential behavior toward its growing number of right-leaning users, tilting the balance of news people see on the network, according to the current and former employees…

Facebook is also facing a slow-burning crisis of morale, with more than 5,000 employees denouncing the company’s decision to leave Trump’s post that said, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” up… The political speech carveout ended up setting the stage for how the company would handle not only Trump, but populist leaders around the world who have posted content that test these boundaries, such as Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Narendra Modi in India…

“The value of being in favor with people in power outweighs almost every other concern for Facebook,” said David Thiel, a Facebook security engineer who resigned in March after his colleagues refused to remove a post he believed constituted “dehumanizing speech” by Brazil’s president.

Facebook Knows It Encourages Division

A Facebook team had a blunt message for senior executives. The company’s algorithms weren’t bringing people together. They were driving people apart. “Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.” That presentation went to the heart of a question dogging Facebook almost since its founding: Does its platform aggravate polarization and tribal behavior? The answer it found, in some cases, was yes.

Facebook had kicked off an internal effort to understand how its platform shaped user behavior and how the company might address potential harms. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg had in public and private expressed concern about “sensationalism and polarization.” But in the end, Facebook’s interest was fleeting. Mr. Zuckerberg and other senior executives largely shelved the basic research, according to previously unreported internal documents and people familiar with the effort, and weakened or blocked efforts to apply its conclusions to Facebook products. Facebook policy chief Joel Kaplan, who played a central role in vetting proposed changes, argued at the time that efforts to make conversations on the platform more civil were “paternalistic,” said people familiar with his comments.

Why Don’t We Just Ban Targeted Advertising?

Google and Facebook, including their subsidiaries like Instagram and YouTube, make about 83 percent and 99 percent of their respective revenue from one thing: selling ads. It’s the same story with Twitter and other free sites and apps. More to the point, these companies are in the business of what’s called behavioral advertising, which allows companies to aim their marketing based on everything from users’ sexual orientations to their moods and menstrual cycles, as revealed by everything they do on their devices and every place they take them. It follows that most of the unsavory things the platforms do—boost inflammatory content, track our whereabouts, enable election manipulation, crush the news industry—stem from the goal of boosting ad revenues. Instead of trying to clean up all these messes one by one, the logic goes, why not just remove the underlying financial incentive? Targeting ads based on individual user data didn’t even really exist until the past decade. (Indeed, Google still makes many billions of dollars from ads tied to search terms, which aren’t user-specific.) What if companies simply weren’t allowed to do it anymore?

Let’s pretend it really happened. Imagine Congress passed a law tomorrow morning that banned companies from doing any ad microtargeting whatsoever. Close your eyes and picture what life would be like if the leading business model of the internet were banished from existence. How would things be different?

Many of the changes would be subtle. You could buy a pair of shoes on Amazon without Reebok ads following you for months. Perhaps you’d see some listings that you didn’t see before, for jobs or real estate. That’s especially likely if you’re African-American, or a woman, or a member of another disadvantaged group. You might come to understand that microtargeting had supercharged advertisers’ ability to discriminate, even when they weren’t trying to.