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Slain reporter’s father takes on Facebook over violent video

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Slain reporter's father takes on Facebook over violent video

The family of a slain journalist is asking the Federal Trade Commission to take action against Facebook for failing to remove online footage of her shooting death.

Andy Parker said Tuesday the company is violating its own terms of service in hosting videos on Facebook and its sibling service Instagram that glorify violence.

His daughter, TV news reporter Alison Parker, and cameraman Adam Ward, were killed by a former co-worker while reporting for Roanoke, Virginia’s WDBJ-TV in August 2015. Video footage of the shooting — some of which was taken by the gunman — repeatedly resurfaces on Facebook and Instagram despite assurances from top executives that it will be removed, says a complaint filed Tuesday by Parker and attorneys with the Georgetown Law Civil Rights Clinic.

“The reality is that Facebook and Instagram put the onus on victims and their families to do the policing of graphic content — requiring them to relive their worst moments over and over to curb the proliferation of these videos,” says the complaint.

The complaint says Facebook is engaging in deceptive trade practices by violating its own terms of service and misrepresenting the safety of the platform and how hard it is for users to get harmful and traumatic content removed.

Facebook, which is based in Menlo Park, California, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Andy Parker said during a news conference announcing the FTC complaint that he also wants to see action from Congress. That echoed some of the calls made last week by whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, who has accused the company of harming children, inciting political violence and fueling misinformation.

“Alison’s murder, shared on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, is just one of the egregious practices that are undermining the fabric of our society,” Parker said.

Parker said he agreed with Haugen on the need for Congress to impose new curbs on the long-standing legal protections for speech posted on social media platforms.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have called for stripping away some of the protections granted by a 25-year-old law — in a provision known as Section 230 — that shields internet companies from liability for what users post. In her Senate testimony last week, Haugen urged lawmakers to remove the protections in cases where dominant content driven by computer algorithms favors massive engagement by users over public safety.

Parker previously worked with the Georgetown law clinic to file a similar FTC complaint last year against Google and its YouTube service. The FTC declined to comment on the latest filing and doesn’t typically disclose whether or not it has decided to investigate a complaint. Parker said he hoped that Lina Khan, the new head of the FTC appointed by President Joe Biden, would take the complaints more seriously.

But Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University and co-director of its High Tech Law Institute, said he sees problems with the case that Parker is making by alleging violations of Facebook’s terms of service. The social media platforms’ terms of service don’t provide a solid promise that everything on their sites will meet the standards, he said, and in fact they include caveats that, “We can’t do a perfect job.”

The FTC is legally able to ignore complaints filed by non-government parties, Goldman noted. As a result, such complaints “are often just for show,” he said.

In this case, Parker used the platform of announcing the complaint to appeal to Congress to curb the liability protections for social media under Section 230.

Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney who has brought several cases against Facebook, said the deceptive trade practices and false promises of online safety alleged in Parker’s complaint “are viable claims.”

“The FTC has broad authority to investigate and prosecute deceptive practices,” said Romer-Friedman, who heads the civil rights and class-actions practice at law firm Gupta Wessler in Washington.

Attorneys and advocates working with Parker, who said he’s never watched the videos of his daughter’s killing, detailed on Tuesday the extent to which they’ve tried to take those videos down, including appeals to Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

Advocates for the Coalition for a Safer Web said they created their own software with the ability to find the videos, but some of the videos reported to Facebook earlier this month were still up just before the group filed its FTC complaint.

“Facebook wants the public to self-police. They want you to report, they want me to report. They want me to watch the videos and report them,” Parker said. “And even when you do report it, they ignore you.”


WASHINGTON (AP)

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Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India

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Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India

Facebook in India has been selective in curbing hate speech, misinformation and inflammatory posts, particularly anti-Muslim content, according to leaked documents obtained by The Associated Press, even as the internet giant’s own employees cast doubt over its motivations and interests.

Based on research produced as recently as March of this year to company memos that date back to 2019, internal company documents on India highlight Facebook’s constant struggles in quashing abusive content on its platforms in the world’s biggest democracy and the company’s largest growth market. Communal and religious tensions in India have a history of boiling over on social media and stoking violence.

The files show that Facebook has been aware of the problems for years, raising questions over whether it has done enough to address the issues. Many critics and digital experts say it has failed to do so, especially in cases where members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are involved.

Across the world, Facebook has become increasingly important in politics, and India is no different.

Modi has been credited for leveraging the platform to his party’s advantage during elections, and reporting from The Wall Street Journal last year cast doubt over whether Facebook was selectively enforcing its policies on hate speech to avoid blowback from the BJP. Modi and Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have exuded bonhomie, memorialized by a 2015 image of the two hugging at the Facebook headquarters.

The leaked documents include a trove of internal company reports on hate speech and misinformation in India that in some cases appeared to have been intensified by its own “recommended” feature and algorithms. They also include the company staffers’ concerns over the mishandling of these issues and their discontent over the viral “malcontent” on the platform.

According to the documents, Facebook saw India as one of the most “at risk countries” in the world and identified both Hindi and Bengali languages as priorities for “automation on violating hostile speech.” Yet, Facebook didn’t have enough local language moderators or content-flagging in place to stop misinformation that at times led to real-world violence.

In a statement to the AP, Facebook said it has “invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali” which “reduced the amount of hate speech that people see by half” in 2021.

“Hate speech against marginalized groups, including Muslims, is on the rise globally. So we are improving enforcement and are committed to updating our policies as hate speech evolves online,” a company spokesperson said.

This AP story, along with others being published, is based on disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal counsel. The redacted versions were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.

Back in February 2019 and ahead of a general election when concerns of misinformation were running high, a Facebook employee wanted to understand what a new user in India saw on their news feed if all they did was follow pages and groups solely recommended by the platform itself.

The employee created a test user account and kept it live for three weeks, a period during which an extraordinary event shook India — a militant attack in disputed Kashmir had killed over 40 Indian soldiers, bringing the country close to war with rival Pakistan.

In the note, titled “An Indian Test User’s Descent into a Sea of Polarizing, Nationalistic Messages,” the employee whose name is redacted said they were “shocked” by the content flooding the news feed. The person described the content as having “become a near constant barrage of polarizing nationalist content, misinformation, and violence and gore.”

Seemingly benign and innocuous groups recommended by Facebook quickly morphed into something else altogether, where hate speech, unverified rumors and viral content ran rampant.

The recommended groups were inundated with fake news, anti-Pakistan rhetoric and Islamophobic content. Much of the content was extremely graphic.

One included a man holding the bloodied head of another man covered in a Pakistani flag, with an Indian flag partially covering it. Its “Popular Across Facebook” feature showed a slew of unverified content related to the retaliatory Indian strikes into Pakistan after the bombings, including an image of a napalm bomb from a video game clip debunked by one of Facebook’s fact-check partners.

“Following this test user’s News Feed, I’ve seen more images of dead people in the past three weeks than I’ve seen in my entire life total,” the researcher wrote.

The report sparked deep concerns over what such divisive content could lead to in the real world, where local news outlets at the time were reporting on Kashmiris being attacked in the fallout.

“Should we as a company have an extra responsibility for preventing integrity harms that result from recommended content?” the researcher asked in their conclusion.

The memo, circulated with other employees, did not answer that question. But it did expose how the platform’s own algorithms or default settings played a part in producing such objectionable content. The employee noted that there were clear “blind spots,” particularly in “local language content.” They said they hoped these findings would start conversations on how to avoid such “integrity harms,” especially for those who “differ significantly” from the typical U.S. user.

Even though the research was conducted during three weeks that weren’t an average representation, they acknowledged that it did show how such “unmoderated” and problematic content “could totally take over” during “a major crisis event.”

The Facebook spokesperson said the test study “inspired deeper, more rigorous analysis” of its recommendation systems and “contributed to product changes to improve them.”

“Separately, our work on curbing hate speech continues and we have further strengthened our hate classifiers, to include four Indian languages,” the spokesperson said.


NEW DELHI, India (AP)

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Microsoft and Etisalat coact to develop 5G enterprise

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Etisalat and Microsoft join forces to unleash its latest 5G enterprise by emerging Azure Multi-access Edge Compute, a power move to highlight the giant’s partnership with Emirate’s telco.

In a press release, Etisalat revealed that its recent collaboration with the Big Tech titan’s digital crime unit (DCU) will empower digital security in the Middle East to heighten security in the region against any cyber threats.

The union will harness both company’s capacities by partnering Etisalat Core Orchestration and Microsoft’s Azure ARM to develop a 5G driven edge computing plug-and-play framework for companies to leverage threat intelligence solutions.

“Azure MEC offers service providers and customers the same set of tools to build and manage their cloud infrastructure. Our customers can maximize their efforts by employing a ‘build once and deploy many’ strategy to optimize their investments,” regional director, Enterprise and Partner Group (EPG), Microsoft UAE, Naim Yazbeck, said in a statement.

Edge computing is a genre of computing created either on-site or in the vicinity of a specific data source, decreasing the necessity for data to be processed in a remote data center. The technology intends to optimize various industries, minimize latency, and support the complete hosting of applications to produce fast and safe 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI) applications.

“Etisalat Edge Computing solutions will help customers transform the way they operate, especially transportation, smart manufacturing, logistics, and Oil and Gas,” vice president Fixed and Mobile Core at Etisalat, Khaled Al Suwaidi, said in a statement.

“This drastically increases the value for traditional networks to transition into 5G to develop intelligent and autonomous next-generation technology that unlocks potential opportunities to our customers,” he added.

In reference to the press release, the partnership between the tech companies is an extension of last year’s promising collaboration.

Last year, Etisalat joined forces with the Big Tech mogul to create a public cloud-first plan via a digital transformation program that allowed the Emirati telco to develop a platform intertwined with automation and AI.   

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Facebook’s oversight board seeks details on VIPs’ treatment

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Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says the company has fallen short of full disclosure on its internal system that exempts high-profile users from some or all of its content rules.

Facebook “has not been fully forthcoming” with the overseers about its “XCheck,” or cross-check, system the board said in a report Thursday. It also said it will review the system and recommend how the social network giant could change it.

The board started looking into the XCheck system last month after The Wall Street Journal reported that many VIP users abuse it, posting material that would cause ordinary users to be sanctioned — including for harassment and incitement of violence. For certain elite users, Facebook’s rules reportedly don’t seem to apply. There were at least 5.8 million exempted users as of last year, according to the Journal article.

Facebook is generally not bound under the oversight board’s rules to follow its recommendations.

“We believe the board’s work has been impactful, which is why we asked the board for input into our cross-check system, and we will strive to be clearer in our explanations to them going forward,” Facebook said in a statement Thursday.

The report said Facebook wrongly failed to mention the XCheck system when it asked the board earlier this year to rule on its ban on former President Donald Trump’s accounts following the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

“Facebook only mentioned cross-check to the board when we asked whether Mr. Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content-moderation processes,” the report said.

In May, the board upheld Facebook’s suspension of Trump’s accounts, which came out of concern that he incited violence leading to the Jan. 6 riot. But the overseers told Facebook to specify how long the suspension would last. Facebook later announced that Trump’s accounts would be suspended for two years, freezing his presence on the social network until early 2023, to be followed by a reassessment.

Trump announced Wednesday the launch of a new media company with its own social media platform. He said his goal is to create a rival to the Big Tech companies that have shut him out and denied him the megaphone that was paramount in his national rise.

Twitter, which was Trump’s platform of choice, banned him permanently after the Jan. 6 assault.

The oversight board said Thursday that for its review, Facebook agreed to provide the internal company documents on the XCheck system that were referenced in the Journal article. Facebook documents were leaked to the newspaper by Frances Haugen, a former product manager in the company’s civic integrity unit who also provided them to Congress and went public this month with a far-reaching condemnation of the company.

In a separate blog post, the board said Haugen has accepted its invitation for a meeting in coming weeks, to discuss her experiences “and gather information that can help push for greater transparency and accountability from Facebook through our case decisions and recommendations.”

Haugen’s accusations of possible serious harm to some young people from Facebook’s Instagram photo-sharing platform raised outrage among lawmakers and the public.

The board said in its report that in some cases, “Facebook failed to provide relevant information to the board, while in other instances, the information it did provide was incomplete.”

In a briefing to the board, “Facebook admitted it should not have said that (XCheck) only applied to a ‘small number of decisions,'” the report said. “Facebook noted that for teams operating at the scale of millions of content decisions a day, the numbers involved … seem relatively small, but recognized its phrasing could come across as misleading.”

Facebook created the oversight panel to rule on thorny content issues following widespread criticism of its problems responding swiftly and effectively to misinformation, hate speech and harmful influence campaigns. The board’s decisions have tended to favor free expression over the restriction of content. Its members include a former prime minister of Denmark and a former editor-in-chief of British newspaper the Guardian, along with legal scholars, human rights experts and journalists.

The board’s independence has been questioned by critics who say it’s a Facebook PR campaign intended to draw attention away from deeper problems of hate and misinformation that flourish on its platforms.


WASHINGTON (AP)

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