Category Archives: Facebook

Facebook and YouTube are Removing Alleged Name of Whistleblower

It is stunning how much damage people can do by posting the (potential) name of a whistleblower on social media, and having that name be passed around. This poses a dilemma for social media platforms. Both Facebook and YouTube are deleting content that includes the alleged name of the whistleblower that sparked a presidential impeachment inquiry. Twitter is not.

The New York Times reported a statement they received in an email from a Facebook spokeswoman:

“Any mention of the potential whistleblower’s name violates our coordinating harm policy, which prohibits content ‘outing of witness, informant or activist’,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “We are removing any and all mentions of the potential whistleblower’s name and will revisit this decision should their name be widely published in the media or used by public figures in debate.”

The New York Times reported that an article that included the alleged name of the whistleblower was from Brietbart. This is interesting, because Breitbart is among the participating publications that Facebook included in Facebook’s “high quality” news tab. (Other publications include The New York Times, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, Bloomberg, ABC News, Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News.) Facebook has been removing that article, which indicates that the company does not feel the article is “high quality”.

CNN reported that a YouTube spokesperson said videos mentioning the potential whistleblower’s name would be removed. The spokesperson said YouTube would use a combination of machine learning and human review to scrub the content. The removals, the spokesperson said, would affect the titles and descriptions of videos as well as the video’s actual content.

The Hill reported that Twitter said in a statement that it will remove posts that include “personally identifiable information” on the alleged whistleblower, such as his or her cell phone number or address, but will keep up tweets that mention the name.

Facebook will not Fact-Check Political Ads

Those who use Facebook should view the political ads they see on the social media platform with a healthy dose of skepticism. CNN reported that Facebook will not fact-check political ads.

That means individual people will need to do their own research on whatever content those type of ads contain. Sadly, I don’t think that most people will bother to do their own fact-checking, especially for political ads that spread misinformation that matches the person’s political leanings.

Facebook released its decision to not fact-check political speech in September of 2019. Facebook stated that it does not believe it is appropriate for them “to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public scrutiny.”

That’s why Facebook exempts politicians from our third-party fact-checking program. We have had this policy on the books for over a year now, posted publicly on our site under eligibility guidelines. This means we will not send organic content or ads from politicians to our third-party fact-checking partners for review. However, when a politician shares previously debunked content including links, videos and photos, we plan to demote that content, display related information from fact-checkers, and reject its inclusion in advertisements.

That said, Facebook doesn’t appear to be adhering to the part about demoting ads that contain previously debunked content. The New York Times reported in October 2019 that a 30-second ad released by the Trump campaign provided misinformation about Joe Biden, and the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

According to The New York Times, the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down that ad. Facebook responded to the Biden campaign by saying the ad had been viewed five million times on the site, and declaring that the ad did not violate company policies.

Facebook’s decision to opt-out of fact-checking political ads extends to the UK. According to CNN, Facebook will not fact-check ads run by British political parties or the thousands of candidates running for election to the House of Commons. This comes as the UK is preparing for a historic December election regarding Brexit.

Facebook Introduces Facebook News

Facebook announced that it is starting to test Facebook News, which is described as “a dedicated place for news on Facebook”, to a subset of people in the United States. The initial test showcases local original reporting from the largest major metro areas of the country, beginning with New York, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington D.C., Miami, Atlanta, and Boston.

How does Facebook decide which publishers to include? The announcement provides an explanation.

They need to be in our News Page Index, which we developed in collaboration with the industry to identify news content. They also need to abide by Facebook’s Publisher Guidelines, these include a range of integrity signals in determining product eligibility, including misinformation – as identified based on third-party fact checkers – community standards violations (e.g. hate speech), clickbait, engagement bait, and others…. Lastly, they must serve a sufficiently large audience, with different thresholds for the four categories of publishers.

Facebook says it talked to news organizations about what they’d like to see included in a news tab, how their stories should be presented, and what analytics to provide. Facebook also talked to people and publishers, and identified key features to make Facebook news valuable.

Those key features are:

Today’s Stories
– chosen by a team of journalists to catch you up on the news throughout the day.

Personalization – based on the news you read, share and follow, so you can find new interests and topics and Facebook News is fresh and interesting every time you open it.

Topic sections – to dive deeper into business, entertainment, health, science & tech, and sports.

Your Subscriptions – a section for people who have linked their paid news subscriptions to their Facebook account.

– to hide articles, topics, and publishers you don’t want to see.

I find the part called “Your Subscriptions” interesting. I don’t use Facebook, so it never occurred to me that some people are buying a subscription to their favorite news sites and connecting it to their Facebook account. I cannot help but wonder how that affects the news site if people choose to start accessing it only through Facebook.

Facebook Removed Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior from Iran and Russia

Facebook announced that they removed four separate networks of accounts, Pages and Groups for engaging in inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram. According to Facebook, three of those networks of accounts originated in Iran, and one originated in Russia.

Facebook stated that all of these operations created networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing. Facebook has shared its findings with law enforcement, policymakers, and industry partners. In addition, Facebook shared some samples of content that had been posted by some of those Pages. Those who are interested can view it on the Facebook Newsroom announcement.

We’re constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people. We’re taking down these Pages, Groups, and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted. In each of these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.

Here are some details about what Facebook found so far:

  • They removed 93 Facebook accounts, 17 Pages, and four Instagram accounts for violating Facebook’s policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior. Facebook states that this activity originated in Iran and focused primarily on the United States, and some on French-speaking audiences in North Africa.
  • The individuals behind this activity used compromised and fake accounts – some of which had already been disabled by Facebook’s automated systems. Those accounts were used to masquerade as locals, manages Pages, join Groups, and to drive people to off-platform domains connected to Facebook’s previous investigation into the Iran-linked “Liberty Front Press”.
  • The Page admins and account owners typically posted about local political news and geopolitics including topics like public figures in the US, politics in the US and Israel, support of Palestine and conflict in Yemen.
  • About 7,700 accounts followed one or more of these Pages, and around 145 people followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.

While it is good that Facebook is making an effort to remove fake accounts and inauthentic behavior, it isn’t enough. This keeps happening. Those who use Facebook or Instagram need to be smarter about what accounts they follow, Groups they join, or Pages they interact with. Never follow an off-site link to a website that you haven’t heard of. It could be leading you to “fake news” designed to make you feel outrage.

Facebook Considers Alternative Currency for Libra

As you may have heard, Facebook announced its Libra cryptocurrency, and Calibra digital wallet, in July of 2019. Since then, some of the companies that were founding members of the Libra Association have left it. According to Reuters, Facebook is now considering “alternative approaches of the currency token” that Libra would use.

Facebook Inc (FB.O), facing growing skepticism about its digital currency project Libra, said on Sunday the initiative could use cryptocurrencies based on national currencies such as the dollar, instead of the synthetic one it initially proposed.

There were originally 28 founding members of the Libra Association. PayPal made the decision to forgo further participation in the Libra Association on October 4, 2019. CNBC reported on October 11, 2019, that Ebay, Stripe, Mastercard, Visa, and Mercado Pago “are all dropping out of Facebook’s libra cryptocurrency project”. Reuters reported that Booking Holdings Inc has also left the group.

David Marcus heads the Libra project for Facebook. Reuters reported that Marcus told a banking seminar that the Libra Association’s main goal was to create a more efficient payments system, but that it was open to looking at alternative approaches of the currency token it would use.

David Marcus shared some potential alternatives: “… we could have a series of stablecoins, a dollar stablecoin, a euro stablecoin, a sterling pound stablecoin, etc,” That said, David Marcus also stated he was not suggesting currency-pegged stablecoins were the Libra Association’s new preferred option.

Facebook is still aiming for a June 2020 launch of Libra. It acknowledges that the target could be missed due to regulatory hurdles. Personally, I think this is a mess. Those considering using (or investing in) Libra likely are interested in it because it is cryptocurrency. The suggestion that Libra could be based on stablecoin (as David Marcus calls it) could turn off those who prefer cryptocurrency.

PayPal Withdraws from Facebook’s Libra

CNBC reported that PayPal is withdrawing from Facebook’s Libra Association. CNBC provided a statement from PayPal:

PayPal has made the decision to forgo further participation in the Libra Association at this time and to continue to focus on advancing our existing mission and business priorities as we strive to democratize access to financial services for underserved populations.

Facebook announced its Libra cryptocurrency and Calibra, a digital wallet for Libra, in June of 2019. The U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing about Facebook’s Libra project on July 16, 2019.

CNBC points out that David Marcus, who leads the Libra project at Facebook was previously the president of PayPal. According to CNBC, PayPay said that it is still “supportive of Libra’s aspirations” and that it will continue to partner with Facebook in the future.

Bloomberg reported that several founding members of the Facebook-led Libra project have been wavering whether to fully embrace the effort. According to Bloomberg, there are concerns about maintaining positive relationships with regulators who have reservations about the initiative.

The Libra Association is a group of 28 founding member companies. The organization asked those members to reaffirm their commitment to the project later this month. Before Libra was unveiled, those companies signed nonbinding letters of intent to explore the association.

CNBC reported that all founding members were expected to invest a minimum of $10 million to fund the operating costs of the association and to launch an incentive program to drive adoption. It appears that those investments have not been made.

Now, with PayPal withdrawing from the Libra Association, things aren’t looking so good. I think it might be a bit scary to be the first company to withdraw from something like this. As soon as one does, though, it creates a path for other companies to choose to leave as well.

Officials Want Facebook to Halt End-to-End Encryption Plans

BuzzFeed News reported that officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia are set to publish an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The officials do not want Facebook to enact end-to-end encryption across its messaging services. The text of the open letter is in the BuzzFeed News article.

The letter is signed by U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. The letter, as BuzzFeed News puts it, “raises concerns that Facebook’s plan to build end-to-end encryption into its messaging apps will prevent law enforcement agencies from finding illegal activity conducted through Facebook, including child sexual exploitation, terrorism, and election meddling.”

The officials want Facebook to “prioritize public safety” in designing its encryption by enabling law enforcement to gain access to illegal content in a manageable format and by consulting with local governments ahead of time to ensure the changes will allow this access.

In short, Facebook is being pressured to allow law enforcement to spy on the messages sent and received by users of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Much of the wording of the letter indicates that the purpose of this is to enable law enforcement to catch people who are grooming or trafficking children. But, the letter doesn’t say anything about the limitations that various governments would have regarding what they can snoop on. Nothing is said about requiring a warrant before accessing the information.

Personally, I find this sketchy. If Facebook decides to succumb to the bidding of these world leaders, they will be opening a Pandora’s Box that they will not be able to reverse. Once a big social media site allows law enforcement to indiscriminately spy on users – there is nothing that will stop it from happening.