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The ‘Silicon Six’ Spread Propaganda. It’s Time to Regulate Social Media Sites.

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I get it: I’m one of the last people you’d expect to hear warning about the danger of conspiracies and lies. I’ve built a career on pushing the limits of propriety and good taste. I portrayed Borat, the first fake news journalist, along with satirical characters such as Ali G, a wannabe gangster, and Bruno, a gay fashion reporter from Austria. Some critics have said my comedy risks reinforcing old racial and religious stereotypes.

I admit that most of my comedy over the years has been pretty juvenile. However, when Borat was able to get an entire bar in Arizona to sing “throw the Jew down the well,” it revealed people’s indifference to anti-Semitism. When, as Bruno, I started kissing a man in a cage fight in Arkansas and nearly started a riot, it showed the violent potential of homophobia. And when, disguised as an ultra-woke developer, I proposed building a mosque in one rural community, prompting a resident to proudly admit, “I am racist, against Muslims,” it showed a wide acceptance of Islamophobia.

The ugliness my jokes help reveal is why I’m so worried about our pluralistic democracies. Demagogues appeal to our worst instincts. Conspiracy theories once confined to the fringe are going mainstream, fueled in part by President Donald Trump, who has spread such paranoid lies more than 1,700 times to his 67 million Twitter followers. It’s as if the Age of Reason – the era of evidential argument – is ending, and now knowledge is delegitimised and scientific consensus is dismissed. Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which thrives on shared lies, is on the march. Hate crimes are surging, as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.

All this hate and violence actually has something in common: It’s being facilitated by a handful of Internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media platforms reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify content that keeps users engaged – stories that appeal to our baser instincts and trigger outrage and fear. That’s why fake news outperforms real news on social media; studies show that lies spread faster than truth.

On the Internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC, and the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel Prize winner. We have lost a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.

When I, as Ali G, asked the astronaut Buzz Aldrin, “What woz it like to walk on de sun?” the joke worked, because we, the audience, shared the same facts. If you believe the moon landing was a hoax, the joke was not funny.

When Borat got that bar in Arizona to agree that “Jews control everybody’s money and never give it back,” the joke worked because the rest of us knew that the depiction of Jews as miserly is a conspiracy theory originating in the Middle Ages.

Social media platforms make it easier for people who share the same false premises to find one another, and then the technology acts as an accelerant for toxic thinking. When conspiracies take hold, it’s easier for hate groups to recruit, easier for foreign intelligence agencies to interfere in our elections and easier for a country like Myanmar to commit genocide against the Rohingya.

Yes, social media companies have taken some steps to reduce hate and conspiracies on their platforms. Yet these steps have been mostly superficial, and the next 12 months could be pivotal: British voters will go to the polls next month while online conspiracists promote the despicable theory of “great replacement” that white Christians are being deliberately replaced by Muslim immigrants. Americans will vote for president while trolls and bots perpetuate the disgusting lie of a “Hispanic invasion.” And after years of YouTube videos calling climate change a “hoax,” the United States is on track, a year from now, to formally withdraw from the Paris agreement.

Unfortunately, the executive of these platforms don’t appear interested in a close look at how they’re spreading hate, conspiracies and lies. Look at the speech Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg delivered last month that warned against new laws and regulations on companies like his.

Zuckerberg tried to portray the issue as one involving “choices” around “free expression.” But freedom of speech is not freedom of reach. Facebook alone already counts about a third of the world’s population among its users. Social media platforms should not give bigots and paedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target victims.

Zuckerberg claimed that new limits on social media would “pull back on free expression.” This is utter nonsense. The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law” abridging freedom of speech, but this does not apply to private businesses. If a neo-Nazi comes goose-stepping into a restaurant and starts threatening other customers and saying he wants to kill Jews, would the restaurant owner be required to serve him an elegant eight-course meal? Of course not. The restaurant owner has every legal right, and, indeed, a moral obligation, to kick the Nazi out. So do Internet companies.

Zuckerberg seemed to equate regulation of companies like his to the actions of “the most repressive societies.” This, from one of the six people who run the companies that decide what information so much of the world sees: Zuckerberg at Facebook; Sundar Pichai at Google; Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google’s parent company, Alphabet; Brin’s ex-sister-in-law, Susan Wojcicki, at YouTube; and Jack Dorsey at Twitter. These super-rich “Silicon Six” care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy. This is ideological imperialism – six unelected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law. Surely, instead of letting the Silicon Six decide the fate of the world order, our democratically elected representatives should have at least some say.

Zuckerberg speaks of welcoming a “diversity of ideas,” and last year, he gave us an example. He said he found posts denying the Holocaust “deeply offensive,” but he didn’t think Facebook should take them down “because I think there are things that different people get wrong.” This is madness. The Holocaust is a historical fact, and those who deny it aim to encourage another one. There’s no benefit in pretending that “the Holocaust is a hoax” is simply a “thing” that “different people get wrong.” Zuckerberg says that “people should decide what is credible, not tech companies.” But two-thirds of millennials say they haven’t even heard of Auschwitz. How are they supposed to know what’s “credible”? How are they supposed to know that the lie is a lie?

When it comes to removing content, Zuckerberg asked, “where do you draw the line?” Yes, that can be difficult, but here’s what he’s really saying: Removing lies and conspiracies is just too expensive.

Facebook, Google, and Twitter are unthinkably rich, and they have the best engineers in the world. They could fix these problems if they wanted to. Twitter could deploy an algorithm to remove more white supremacist hate speech, but they reportedly haven’t because it would eject some very prominent politicians. Facebook could hire enough monitors to actually monitor, work closely with groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP and purge deliberate lies from their platforms.

But they won’t, because their entire business model relies on generating more engagement, and nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear and outrage.

These companies pretend they’re something bigger, or nobler, but what they really are is the largest publishers in history – after all, they make their money on advertising, just like other publishers. They should abide by basic standards and practices just like the ones that apply to newspapers, magazines, television and movies. I’ve had scenes in my movies cut or truncated to abide by those standards. Surely companies that publish material to billions of people should have to abide by basic standards just like film and television studios do.

Zuckerberg said social media companies should “live up to their responsibilities,” but he’s totally silent about what should happen when they don’t. By now, it’s pretty clear that they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. In other industries, you can be sued for the harm you cause: Publishers can be sued for libel; people can be sued for defamation. I’ve been sued many times. But social media companies are almost completely protected from liability for the content their users post – no matter how indecent – by Section 230 of, get ready for it, the Communications Decency Act.

That immunity has warped their whole worldview. Take political ads. Fortunately, Twitter finally banned them, and Google says it will make changes, too. But if you pay Facebook, it will run any “political” ad you want, even if it’s a lie. It’ll even help you micro-target those lies to users for maximum effect. Under this twisted logic, if Facebook were around in the 1930s, it would have allowed Adolf Hitler to post 30-second ads on his “solution” to the “Jewish problem.” Here’s a good way for Facebook to “live up to” its responsibilities: Start fact-checking political ads before running them, stop micro-targeted lies immediately, and when ads are false, don’t publish them.

Section 230 was amended last year so that tech companies can be held responsible for paedophiles who use their sites to target children. Let’s also hold them responsible for users who advocate for the mass murder of children because of their race or religion. And maybe fines are not enough. Maybe it’s time for Congress to tell Zuckerberg and his fellow CEOs: You already allowed one foreign power to interfere in US elections; you already facilitated one genocide; do it again and you go to prison.

In the end, we have to decide what kind of world we want. Zuckerberg claims his main goal is to “uphold as wide a definition of freedom of expression as possible.” Yet our freedoms are not only an end in themselves, but they’re also a means to another end – to our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And today these rights are threatened by hate, conspiracies and lies.

A pluralistic democratic society should make sure that people are not targeted, not harassed and not murdered because of who they are, where they come from, who they love or how they pray. If we do that – if we prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference and experts over ignoramuses – maybe we have a chance of stopping the greatest propaganda machine in history. We can save democracy. We can still have a place for free speech and free expression.

And, most important, my jokes will still work.

© The Washington Post 2019

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Making Apps Easier to Access as Demand Surges

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As more people shelter and take to the web, simplifying their login experiences is proving helpful

As more people adapt to new public health and safety measures, they’re increasingly turning to apps for communication, connection and community — from text and video chat, to gaming and entertainment, to social good. We’re seeing spikes in usage across a wide range of interests and activities.

With this in mind, we think it’s important that app developers understand what they can do, today, to anticipate and help ease any friction users might experience as day-to-day needs continue to surge.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen above average usage of Facebook Login, which lets people use their Facebook account to login to numerous apps and sites. When Android features such as Custom Tabs and/or Express Login are used to open Facebook Login, people are able to connect to apps at higher rates.

We think there’s a strong signal that seamless login products like Facebook Login and its Android features are making it easier for people to quickly connect with their passions and interests at this time of increasing need.

And beyond what the data tells us, we’re anecdotally hearing this directly from developers too.

For example, the team at Wink says users are spending significantly longer times on its video chat app, and that Facebook Login is helping to boost its registration numbers:

“The biggest challenge now is that millions of people worldwide are forced to stay home, so online social connections are more important than ever. We’re seeing significant uptick in organic traffic to Wink from many countries, and users are spending significantly longer time on our app, to chat by voice and video with other users around the world. Facebook Login offers a lower friction registration process, and it’s helping to increase our registration completion rate.” – Andy Tian, CEO of Asia Innovations Group

Additionally, Mattel163, which has seen a spike in people playing UNO, thinks simplifying its login process is making it easier for groups to quickly connect to have some fun:

“There is a need to stay connected with one another, no matter how far apart. With the help of Facebook Login, Mattel163 has been able to provide social connectivity and joy through UNO. UNO players can join the game and share their special in-game moments on Facebook. Once in the game, players can add each other as friends, play together in a team-based 2V2 session, or set up a private game in Room Mode with friends. Recently, we provided free Room Mode to all players, where friends can meet, chat, customize rules, and goof off as if they were playing traditional UNO.” – Amy Huang, CEO of Mattel163

It’s clear apps are playing a critical role right now, helping people all over the world connect to their loved ones, interests and needs. If you’re a developer looking for ways to enable and help people at this time, evaluating your login experience may be a helpful place to start.

We have a collection of best practices, implementation examples and other resources for developers interested in implementing Facebook Login. Similarly, if you’d like to explore how to optimize this for Android users, make sure you’re using the updated Android SDK (which includes Custom Tabs for Android by default), and enable Express Login.

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How Startups are Pivoting During the Pandemic

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Businesses throughout the world are facing unprecedented obstacles because of COVID-19. And for startups, the economic implications of the pandemic will have long-lasting effects. While the challenges are still new, businesses are already reevaluating their goals, customer relationships, marketing tactics, and staffing models in order to weather the storm. Here’s how four startups are rethinking business strategies, supporting each other, and helping communities as they pave the way for the future.

In the UK, Collective Benefits, a Facebook Accelerator London alumni startup that provides big company benefits for the self-employed, has seen an uptick in demand for its services. “We’ve been overwhelmed with enquiries from the self-employed looking for protections and a safety net. They need financial support now,” says Kimberly Hurd, CRO. “To help, we accelerated the launch of our direct-to-consumer beta program to give freelancers direct access to our benefits and protections like sick pay. We ran a four-day, full-team sprint to open up to our waitlist and were completely overwhelmed by the response.”

In addition to providing more benefits to more people, Kimberly and her team have partnered with the UK Fintech and freelancer community to lobby for clearer and quicker income support for the self-employed. With the influx of work to be done, Kimberly has made a concerted effort to help her team focus on their health during this time. “We mandate breaks. It’s important to give time and space to reflect, think and focus on family and mental and physical health.”

While businesses like Kimberly’s are dealing with an increase in demand, other businesses are pivoting to focus on new business goals. “Don’t waste a crisis. Adapt quickly and take the opportunity to prepare for the future,” says Roger Do, CEO at QSearch, a Facebook Accelerator startup based in Singapore. QSearch offers a social listening dashboard where customers can easily create and test communication strategies on platforms like Facebook. “With the pandemic, we saw a need to bring forward some of our product development plans and accelerate the shift towards AI and machine learning. We were planning to gradually make that shift in two-years’ time, but to ensure our product is relevant and timely given the changing times, we’ve moved fast to accelerate this in just two months,” says Roger.

QSearch’s ability to quickly change its course is paying off. “As a result, we’ve seen a reduced cost of data analysis by 70% and our clients are also experiencing a higher ROI for their spend,” says Roger. Through the struggle, the one thing that Roger says helps is the support of the business community. “The Asian business community’s response has been inspiring to see. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, everyone in the startup ecosystem is chipping in to help and do our part.”

This support expands beyond Asia into other countries where startups are banding together to support one another. “Being in touch with other entrepreneurs during this hard time is helping me a lot,” says Felipe Miranda Costa, CEO and CTO at Cloudia—a Brazil-based company offering virtual assistants for modern health clinics. “In each conversation I have with a peer, there are always some good insights.”

During the pandemic, Felipe’s team has partnered up with Colab, a startup they met while participating in Hack Station, the Facebook Accelerator program in Sao Paulo. Together they’re working on a project called Brasil Sem Corona (Brazil without Corona) to help monitor the number of people infected by the virus throughout the country. Cloudia also created a chatbot to answer questions and concerns about COVID-19 that its customers can use with their patients.

Like Cloudia, many startups are working to provide helpful and accurate information about the pandemic. Facebook Accelerator alumni Turn.IO, a company committed to giving social impact organisations a platform to have conversations that improve lives, is doing just that. “With countries experiencing a massive need for direct communication about COVID-19, Turn.io developed a pro bono solution—HealhAlert,” says Lieze Langford, Business Manager at Turn.io. “HealthAlert disseminates accurate, timely information to the public via WhatsApp at population scale.”

The team is partnering with the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide information and support to any person using WhatsApp in the world. “Our strategy remains the same, but the execution has focused on faster roll-out and standardised content and user experiences so that global NGOs and governments can launch WhatsApp solutions within a week,” says Lieze. While these times are especially challenging for startups in all parts of the world, startups like these are finding ways to focus on new opportunities at hand that not only support their companies but the lives of those around them.

Looking for additional resources to keep your operation running smoothly? Check out our COVID-19 resource page for tips on running a business during economic downturns, social distancing and well-being. We’ve included a list of Facebook startup program alumni that have been identified as startups that are actively supporting COVID-19 response efforts. If you’re a startup that would like to be featured on our resource page or want to learn more about what our startup program alumni are doing to address COVID-19 challenges, please send a direct message to our Facebook for Startups page.

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Introducing Graph API v7.0 and Marketing API v7.0

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API Updates Provide Developers with Improved App Permissions and Campaign Controls
New Requirements Outlined for Mobile Developers and Facebook App Review

Today, we’re releasing Graph API v7.0 and Marketing API v7.0, along with v7.0 of the Mobile and Business SDKs. Together, these releases capture several timely updates, including new fields developers can use for the Instagram Hashtag Search API and Special Ad Categories and new permissions for page-related data. Additionally, we’re noting some important new requirements for mobile developers.

Lastly, we do have some API deprecations planned, however, we reduced the number in order to help minimize disruptions for our developer community during this challenging time. We have a lot of exciting updates to share with you, let’s dig in:

New Fields for Instagram Hashtag Search API & Special Ad Categories

We’re adding a timestamp field to the Instagram Hashtag Search API which will allow developers to get the creation time for any post accessible via this API. You can learn more about how to access this field in our v7.0 changelog.

We’re also making a minor, but important change to the special_ad_category field — we’re renaming it to special_ad_categories (note the change from singular to plural). Developers can specify a single special ad category (i.e., housing, employment, credit, or none) at the campaign-level. If your campaign does not need a special ad category, you can simply pass in an empty array, or [NONE] as the value.

New Permissions for Apps to Read/Write Page Data

We’re announcing six new permissions to replace manage_pages and publish_pages, all of which are outlined in our v7.0 changelog. Taken together, these new permissions will provide developers with more access and better control over page-related data. Availability of these new permissions will be released on a rolling basis, starting today through June 1, 2020.

Developers that already have access to manage_pages and publish_pages will be automatically migrated to the relevant, new permissions by June 1, 2020, and access will remain undisrupted.

Developers with no existing access to manage_pages or publish_pages should actively monitor their app dashboard for the new permissions as they begin rolling out today. By June 1, 2020, all developers will see the new permissions and are encouraged to apply. After this date, applications for manage_pages and publish_pages will be unavailable and no longer reviewed.

Finally, developers who have recently applied for access to manage_pages and publish_pages will continue to be reviewed, and if approved, will be automatically migrated to the relevant, new permissions.

New Deadlines & Requirements for Mobile Developers

If you’re an iOS developer, it’s important to point out Apple’s recent announcement, which states apps for iPhone or iPad must be built with the iOS 13 SDK or later and use Xcode 11 or later. The deadline for adhering to these new iOS requirements is June 30, 2020.

And if you’re an Android developer, note that Android SDK will now be using the Android X libraries. All apps leveraging the Facebook SDK v7.0 must migrate to Android X for continued use.

Important API Deprecations

As part of our ongoing commitment to privacy and security, we are removing access to a number of APIs. However, as a means of minimizing disruption for our developers in the current COVID-19 climate, we significantly reduced the number of APIs we are removing access to.

A list of endpoints that will be removed from the platform are listed in the v7.0 changelog, within their product or node sections. You should review this list to see if your app is impacted.

Also, please be aware of the upcoming version deprecations:

  • 7/26/2020 – Graph API v3.0 will no longer be available.

As always, if you have specific questions or concerns, there’s Facebook Developer Support. And if you haven’t already, please consider joining the Facebook Developer Community — it’s a tremendously helpful resource for communicating and connecting with Facebook developers all over the world.

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