Ever since Russian agents and other opportunists abused its platform in an attempt to manipulate the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook has insisted — repeatedly — that it’s learned its lesson and is no longer a conduit for misinformation, voter suppression and election disruption.
But it has been a long and halting journey for the social network. Critical outsiders, as well as some of Facebook’s own employees, say the company’s efforts to revise its rules and tighten its safeguards remain wholly insufficient to the task, despite it having spent billions on the project. As for why, they point to the company’s persistent unwillingness to act decisively over much of that time.
“Am I concerned about the election? I’m terrified,” said Roger McNamee, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and an early Facebook investor turned vocal critic. “At the company’s current scale, it’s a clear and present danger to democracy and national security.”
The company’s rhetoric has certainly gotten an update. CEO Mark Zuckerberg now casually references possible outcomes that were unimaginable in 2016 — among them, possible civil unrest and potentially a disputed election that Facebook could easily make even worse — as challenges the platform now faces.
“This election is not going to be business as usual,” Zuckerberg wrote in a September Facebook post in which he outlined Facebook’s efforts to encourage voting and remove misinformation from its service. “We all have a responsibility to protect our democracy.”
Yet for years Facebook executives have seemed to be caught off guard whenever their platform — created to connect the world — was used for malicious purposes. Zuckerberg has offered multiple apologies over the years, as if no one could have predicted that people would use Facebook to live-stream murders and suicides, incite ethnic cleansings, promote fake cancer cures or attempt to steal elections.
While other platforms like Twitter and YouTube have also struggled to address misinformation and hateful content, Facebook stands apart for its reach and scale and, compared to many other platforms, its slower response to the challenges identified in 2016.
In the immediate aftermath of President Donald Trump’s election, Zuckerberg offered a remarkably tone-deaf quip regarding the notion that “fake news” spread on Facebook could have influenced the 2016 election, calling it “a pretty crazy idea.” A week later, he walked back the comment.
Since then, Facebook has issued a stream of mea culpas for its slowness to act against threats to the 2016 election and promised to do better. “I don’t think they have become better at listening,” said David Kirkpatrick, author of a book on Facebook’s rise. “What’s changed is more people have been telling them they need to do something.”
The company has hired outside fact-checkers, added restrictions — then more restrictions — on political advertisements and taken down thousands of accounts, pages and groups it found to be engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” That’s Facebook’s term for fake accounts and groups that maliciously target political discourse in countries ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe.
It’s also started added warning labels to posts that contain misinformation about voting and has, at times, taken steps to limit the circulation of misleading posts. In recent weeks the platform also banned posts that deny the Holocaust and joined Twitter in limiting the spread of an unverified political story about Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, published by the conservative New York Post.
All this unquestionably puts Facebook in a better position than it was in four years ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s fully prepared. Despite tightened rules banning them, violent militias are still using the platform to organize. Recently, this included a foiled plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan.
In the four years since the last election, Facebook’s earnings and user growth have soared. This year, analysts expect the company to rake in profits of $23.2 billion on revenue of $80 billion, according to FactSet. It currently boasts 2.7 billion users worldwide, up from 1.8 billion at this time in 2016.
Facebook faces a number of government investigations into its size and market power, including an antitrust probe by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. An earlier FTC investigation socked Facebook with a large $5 billion fine, but didn’t require any additional changes.
“Their No. 1 priority is growth, not reducing harm,” Kirkpatrick said. “And that is unlikely to change.”
Part of the problem: Zuckerberg maintains an iron grip on the company, yet doesn’t take criticism of him or his creation seriously, charges social media expert Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University communications professor. But the public knows what’s going on, they said. “They see COVID misinformation. They see how Donald Trump exploits it. They can’t unsee it.”
Facebook insists it takes the challenge of misinformation seriously — especially when it comes to the election.
“Elections have changed since 2016, and so has Facebook,” the company said in a statement laying out its policies on the election and voting. “We have more people and better technology to protect our platforms, and we’ve improved our content policies and enforcement.”
Grygiel says such comments are par for the course: “This company uses PR in place of an ethical business model.”
Kirkpatrick notes that board members and executives who have pushed back against the CEO — a group that includes the founders of Instagram and WhatsApp — have left the company.
“He is so certain that Facebook’s overall impact on the world is positive” and that critics don’t give him enough credit for that, Kirkpatrick said of Zuckerberg. As a result, the Facebook CEO isn’t inclined to take constructive feedback. “He doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to. He has no oversight,” Kirkpatrick said.
The federal government has so far left Facebook to its own devices, a lack of accountability that has only empowered the company, according to U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who grilled Zuckerberg during a July Capitol Hill hearing.
Warning labels are of limited value if the algorithms underlying the platform are designed to push polarizing material at users, she said. “I think Facebook has done some things that indicate it understands its role. But it has been, in my opinion, far too little, too late.”
By BARBARA ORTUTAY and DAVID KLEPPER Associated Press.
Didi pushes back on IPO rumors
Famous Beijing-based giant Didi denied any allegations of plans to go private in a bid to satisfy the Chinese government amidst latest regulations concerning users’ data security.
After the Wall Street Journal released a report discussing the possibility of Didi going private, the ride-hailing app’s shares increased by approximately 50 percent in Thursday’s pre-market trade.
The company has been targeted by Beijing regulators ever since it made its U.S. market debut about a month ago, followed by several U.S. senators asking its financial markets regulator to launch an investigation concerning the company’s Chinese share listings.
In a statement that came as a reaction to the report, Didi debunked any allegations of going private as it currently switching it focus to cybersecurity.
“The rumors about the privatization of Didi are untrue, and the company is currently actively cooperating with cybersecurity reviews,” Didi said on Chinese social media platform Weibo.
Two days after the Beijing-based firm began trading shares on New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the Beijing cyberspace supervisory authority ordered Chinese online stores to remove Didi from their app stores under the pretense that it is illegally collecting users’ personal data.
The Chinese authorities’ move influenced the firm’s market value, leading to a sharp drop by around a third ever since Didi raised its initial public offering (IPO) to $4.4 billion a month ago.
Since Didi’s released its IPO on NYSE at the end of June, the Chinese driver service broker’s shares fell drastically in value.
On Thursday, Didi shares finished its U.S. trading day with a rise of 11.3 percent.
Didi, alongside many Chinese Big Tech companies such as Alibaba and ByteDance have been under the Chinese government’s scrutiny regarding their behavior of monopolizing the market to their benefit.
This led to some of the firms’ largest share prices slump in the U.S., Hong Kong, and mainland China’s trading market as China puts the industry under tough scrutiny.
In parallel, Didi follows a comparable business model to its American competitor Ube. The Chinese app had already conquered Uber in a vicious price war in its home market.
Google is battling against a $1 billion legal claim
Google is charging people for their digital purchases in its Play Store through an “unfair and excessive” manner, according to a new legal lawsuit filed against the tech giant.
On behalf of 19.5 million Android phone users in the UK, the legal action is seeking up to $1 billion from Google.
The lawsuit has been filed with the Competition Appeal Tribunal in London by former Citizens Advice digital policy manager Liz Coll, who’s claiming that the 30 percent cut Google takes from digital purchases on its app store is unjust.
“Google created the Android app marketplace and controls it with a vice-like grip,” Coll said, explaining that Google has went against UK and European competition law.
In response, Google defended its case by issuing a statement saying that “Android gives people more choice than any other mobile platform in deciding which apps and app stores they use, in fact most Android phones come preloaded with more than one app store.”
“We compete vigorously and fairly for developers and consumers,” Google noted, mentioning that 97 percent of developers on Google Play don’t pay any service fee at all, which means their apps are free to consumers.
“Less than 0.1 percent of developers are subject to a 30 percent service fee and only when they’re earning over one million dollars, that fee is comparable with our competitors and allows us to constantly reinvest in building a secure, thriving platform that benefits everyone who uses it,” Google highlighted.
The trillion-dollar tech giant recently decreased its service charge to 15 percent for all app creators making less than $1 million, with only a small group of the most valuable app developers paying 30 percent.
According to Google, the charge allows the company to “constantly reinvest in building a secure, thriving platform that benefits everyone who uses it.”
The $1 billion lawsuit is the latest incident in an ongoing battle with both Apple and Google, as they’re currently under intense scrutiny following Epic Games’ legal action.
Epic argued that the Play Store and Apple’s app store policies and management were against producing fruitful competition, as the American video game and software developer described the two tech giants as “monopolistic.”
For the past years, major tech firms have been in hot water over anti-trust and monopoly charges.
In 2020, ten U.S. states led by Texas, brought legal action against Google over its ad revenue practices, accusing Google with illegally collaborating with the popular social network Facebook.
“As internal Google documents reveal, Google sought to kill competition and has done so through an array of exclusionary tactics, including an unlawful agreement with Facebook, its largest potential competitive threat,” the lawsuit stated.
“This Goliath of a company is using its power to manipulate the market, destroy competition, and harm you, the consumer,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said regarding Google through a video released on Twitter.
The key question many analysts have been asking is to what extent Google should be given the freedom to charge its services as it sees fit, no matter what the cost is to other developers.
Rick rolls past a billion views on YouTube
When it comes to famous memes from the 2000s, millennials are just never going to give them up.
Anyone who was active on the internet since 2009 surely stumbled upon Rick Astley’s music hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Almost 12 years later, and the music video has exceeded one billion views on YouTube on Wednesday.
For the Generation Z who weren’t surfing the web at that time, the video itself started off as an internet meme under the name “Rick Roll,” which is the most famous prank in the internet’s history.
The prank consisted of luring people to click on a hyperlink that claims to be one thing but turns out to be the red-haired iconic singer’s video “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
The British singer cannot deny the impact the meme had on his music video. According to YouTube, on April Fool’s Day this year, the “Rick roll” generated 2.3 million views.
Following Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” A-ha’s “Take on Me,” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Rick Astley’s song is the fourth in line to join the 80’s hits on YouTube.
The 55-year-old singer celebrated the achievement on Twitter, saying in a video “So I’ve just been told that ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ has been streamed a billion times on YouTube. That is mind-blowing. The world is a wonderful and beautiful place, and I am very lucky.”
To celebrate the huge milestone, 2,500 copies of the 7-inch blue vinyl of Astley’s popular song were released. Exclusively signed by the singer himself, the $17 vinyl completely sold out, according to Astley’s official website.
In the past, the singer voiced his perspective on the “Rick roll” meme, saying that he’s completely fine with it.
In a 2008 interview with the L.A. Times, the famous meme figure in every millennial’s childhood said “I think it’s just one of those odd things where something gets picked up and people run with it. That’s what’s brilliant about the internet.”
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