Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg posted on Facebook about the company’s plans to help small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19. In the post, she stated that the economic disruption poses a severe risk to small businesses. Facebook will help by awarding $100 million in cash grants and ad credits to small businesses.
…We’ve listened to small businesses to understand how we can best help them. We’ve heard loud and clear that financial support could enable them to keep the lights on and pay people who can’t come to work. That’s why today I’m announcing that Facebook is investing $100 million to help 30,000 small businesses in over 30 countries where our employees live and work…
Reuters reported that companies will be able to use cash to pay rent, cover operational costs, or run advertising on Facebook. Reuters also pointed out that Facebook will disclose more details soon about how businesses will be able to apply for assistance.
The Facebook for Business website now has a Boost With Facebook page. Small business owners who want to obtain a grant from Facebook can sign up for updates through that website. Facebook will begin taking applications in the coming weeks.
I think this is an excellent idea. Small businesses who receive a grant can make use of that money to keep their business running during the COVID-19 pandemic. The best part is that grants do not accrue interest and are not something that the small businesses who are eligible for this program will have to pay back to Facebook later on.
Facebook and Twitter have both stated that they have removed accounts that were operating out of Ghana and Nigeria, and that had ties to Russia’s IRA. This comes after CNN’s investigation uncovered activity that “had striking similarities to the Russian troll campaign of 2016, which created hundreds of accounts designed to pass as American”.
According to CNN, Facebook and Twitter had already been looking into some of the troll accounts when CNN notified the two companies of their investigation. Facebook announced:
Today, we removed 49 Facebook accounts, 69 Pages and 85 Instagram accounts for engaging in foreign interference – which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign actor – on Facebook, Instagram, and other internet platforms. This network was in the early stages of building an audience and was operated by local nationals – some wittingly and unwittingly – in Ghana and Nigeria on behalf of individuals in Russia. It targeted primarily the United States.
Facebook stated that they detected this network as a result of their internal investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior ahead of US elections. They note that their assessment benefited from their subsequent collaboration with a team of journalists at CNN. Facebook said it shared information with their industry peers, policy makers, and law enforcement.
Twitter, as you might expect, posted a thread of tweets about about the situation. The thread started with: “Our top priority is keeping people safe. In collaboration with law enforcement, industry peers, journalists, and expert researchers, we recently suspended a small network of accounts largely Tweeting in English and that presented themselves as based in the United States.”
The next tweet in the thread said: “These 71 removed accounts, operating out of Ghana and Nigeria and which we can reliably associate with Russia, attempted to sow discord by engaging in conversations about social issues, like race and civil rights.”
It would be smart to keep this in situation in mind as you use Facebook or Twitter. There is no logical reason to assume that every account you see is authentic. If you read or watch something on social media that causes you to feel angry or outraged, please wait a few minutes before sharing it. The account it came from just might be a troll – hoping to affect your emotional state so much that you share the content as quickly as possible. Don’t help the trolls!
It is a smart decision to do everything possible to limit the spread of coronavirus. Big tech companies are using the strategy of asking their employees to work from home. This may be a temporary decision, but I think the move could help normalize working from home.
The Verge reported that numerous tech companies have asked their Seattle-based employees to work from home to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. This includes Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and Bungie.
Microsoft is allowing and encouraging its employees based in Seattle or San Francisco to work from home. These employees can work from home through March 25, 2020.
CNBC reported that Amazon is asking employees at its Seattle and Bellevue, Washington, offices to work from home (if they are able to) until the end of the month. This decision was made after an employee tested positive for coronavirus. Amazon has also restricted all nonessential U.S. travel in response to coronavirus.
CNBC also reported that Facebook encouraged all of its 5,000 employees in Seattle to work from home for the rest of the month. Facebook has closed its Seattle office until Monday.
Twitter announced that it is strongly encouraging all employees globally to work from home if they’re able. Working from home will be mandatory for employees based in Twitter’s Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea offices (due in part to government restrictions). Interestingly, Twitter had already begun moving towards a more distributed workforce that’s increasingly remote.
Bungie stated that it has built a fully remote infrastructure for all Bungie employees across the globe, with the goal of prioritizing the safety of their employees.
My hope is that these moves will help to normalize working from home. Employees would no longer have spend time commuting, and could spend those hours with their families. They could reduce the amount they spend of gas each week. Workers could do their job without the risk of catching the next “office cold” or the flu.
Yesterday, The New York Times reported that Mike Bloomberg is working with Meme 2020 for the purpose of having the company make memes that support Bloomberg’s presidential campaign. Today, The Verge reported that Facebook will allow the memes for political campaigns, so long as the posts are clearly identified as ads. The memes will not be placed in Facebook’s political Ad Library.
“Branded content is different from advertising, but in either case we believe it’s important people know when they’re seeing paid content on our platforms,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Verge. “We’re allowing US-based political candidates to work with creators to run this content, provided the political candidates are authorized and the creators disclose any paid partnerships through our branded content tools.”
Personally, I wouldn’t have guessed that out of all the people who are running for president it would be Mike Bloomberg who decided to pay influencers to make memes about him. I don’t think there are too many 77-year-olds who understand what memes are, how fast they spread, or what they mean. I’d like to hear the story of how Bloomberg came to the conclusion that memes were exactly what his campaign needed.
But, that’s not the weirdest thing about this situation. According to The Verge, The Meme 2020 project is part of Jerry Media, the promoter behind the infamous Fyre Festival. Meme 2020 is led by Mick Purzycki, the executive director of Jerry Media. What could possibly go wrong?
TechCrunch reported that Facebook has acquired Scape Technologies. The company was founded in 2016 and is located in Shoreditch, London. Scape Technologies is building a cloud-based Vision Engine that allows camera devices to understand their environment, using computer vision.
Rather than relying on 3D maps built and stored locally, Scape’s Vision Engine builds and references 3D maps in the cloud, allowing devices to tap into a ‘shared understanding’ of an environment.
Initially focused on augmented reality, Scape’s first product is an SDK that allows AR content to be anchored to specific locations, outside and at an unprecedented scale.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to both TechCrunch, and Engadget: “We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans.” As such, we are left to speculate about why Facebook wanted to acquire Scape Technologies, and what the companies will create together.
Scape Technologies describes its Vision Engine as being built from scratch to process imagery from any source, resulting in a 3D representation of the environment. After the Vision Engine has created a 3D map, their ‘Visual Positioning Service’ determines the precise position of the camera devices, in the cloud. This allows Scape Technologies to achieve higher scalability and performance than any other approach.
To me, it sounds like the Vision Engine could be used to make a virtual reality game of some kind. In 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus VR for $2 billion.
Or, maybe Vision Engine could be used for other purposes. Scape Technologies says that its visual positioning service is currently available within London, but more cities will be announced shortly. They are also working on a public API that will allow any device to determine its location, given an image as an input, regardless of what use-case or platform you are targeting.
To me, this sounds like the Vision Engine could potentially be used for surveillance or law enforcement. That makes me very uncomfortable. Again, this is all speculation, and we will have to wait and see what happens.
Both Facebook and Twitter have announced that they have removed networks of accounts that were engaging in inauthentic behavior. The New York Times reported that the accounts used fake profile photos that were generated with artificial intelligence. The use of AI generated fake photos appears to be a new tactic.
Facebook announced that they removed two unconnected networks of accounts, Pages and groups for engaging in foreign and government interference. The first operation originated in the country of Georgia and targeted domestic audiences. Facebook removed 39 Facebook accounts, 344 Pages, 13 Groups and 22 Instagram accounts that were part of this group.
The second operation originated in Vietnam and the US and focused mainly on the US and some on Vietnam and Spanish and Chinese-speaking audiences globally. Facebook removed 610 accounts, 89 Facebook Pages, 156 Groups and 72 Instagram accounts that originated in Vietnam and the US and focused primarily on the US and some on Vietnam, Spanish and Chinese-speaking audiences globally.
Some of these accounts used profile photos generated by artificial intelligence and masqueraded as Americans to join Groups and post the BL content. To evade our enforcement, they used a combination of fake and inauthentic accounts of local individuals in the US to manage Pages and Groups. The page admins and account owners typically posted memes and other content about US political news and issues including impeachment, conservative ideology, political candidates, elections, trade, family values, and freedom of religion.
Facebook said its investigation linked this coordinated group to Epoch Media Group. The New York Times reported that Epoch Media Group is the parent company of the Falun Gong-related publication and conservative news outlet The Epoch Times. The Epoch Media Group has denied that it is linked to the network.
Twitter announced it removed 5,929 accounts for violating Twitter’s platform manipulation policies. Their investigation attributed these accounts to “a significant state-backed information operation” originating in Saudi Arabia.
The accounts represent the core portion of a larger network of more than 88,000 accounts engaged in spammy behavior across a wide range of topics. Twitter’s investigations traced the source of the coordinated activity to Smaat, a social media marketing and management company based in Saudi Arabia.
It is very important to realize that you cannot believe everything you see on social media. An account that appears to have a realistic photo could actually be one that was generated by AI. Do some fact checking before sharing things posted by accounts that are run by people you don’t know.
Facebook has a history of not being very good at protecting user’s data. This time, things are a bit different. Bloomberg reported that a thief stole payroll data for thousands of Facebook employees. The unexpected thing is that the thief did not obtain it by hacking.
According to Bloomberg, the personal information for tens of thousands of Facebook workers was compromised last month when a thief stole several corporate hard drives from an employee’s car. Why did the employee have hard drives in his car? That is a question that hasn’t been answered yet.
What is known is that the employee was a member of Facebook’s payroll department. The employee was not supposed to take the hard drives outside the office. Apparently, Facebook has taken some disciplinary action against the employee.
A Facebook spokeswoman told Bloomberg: “We worked with law enforcement as they investigated a recent car break-in and theft of an employee’s bag containing company equipment with employee payroll information stored on it.” The Facebook spokeswoman described the situation as “a smash and grab crime”.
It is a really strange situation. The car break-in happened on November 17, 2019. That puts it a little bit before the Thanksgiving holiday when many people shop for holiday presents (and leave them in their cars). I suspect that the thief had no idea what was in the bag when they stole it.
Bloomberg reported that Facebook started alerting employees affected by the situation on December 13, 2019. The employees were encouraged to notify their banks, and were offered a subscription to an identity theft monitoring service.