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Antivaxx microinfluencers are Facebook’s next big problem

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They have thousands or tens of thousands of followers and friends. They publish grainy livestreams and sleek videos questioning the safety of Covid-19 vaccines and the effectiveness of face masks and lockdowns. They are the small-numbers, long-tail peddlers of health disinformation. They are the coronavirus misinformation microinfluencers – and they are Facebook’s next big problem.

Microinfluencers are, to a degree, a problem of Facebook’s own making. They were born out of a crackdown on conspiracy-focused, pseudoscientific and QAnon-adjacent pages and groups at the end of 2020. That crackdown targeted the big guns but largely ignored the individuals within those communities who had garnered sizeable followings. When the crackdown came, bereft fans flocked from the big pages to the microinfluencers.

The way Facebook is designed helped these microinfluencers grow and spread their message. They quickly provided a constant stream of content, and raked in small but devoted crowds of supporters courtesy of the platform’s “follow” function – which allows users to see a profile’s public posts without becoming one of their friends, the number of which is limited to 5,000. “The ban of pages and groups that formed community hubs has come late enough that active users from those groups have turned their personal pages into decentralised hubs,” explains Joe Ondrak, a senior researcher at anti-misinformation firm Logically, which first raised the alarm about the microinfluencer trend in a December 2020 report.

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The kind of posts published by these profiles is more or less what you would expect: baseless claims that vaccines will inevitably give you horrific side effects, bogus allegations that the pandemic is a pantomime orchestrated by governments and multinationals, false insinuations against Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates or US chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci.

Microinfluencers often interview each other, and repost each other’s content, effectively knitting a self-validating network of dubious claims. Usually each microinfluencer fits – naturally or deliberately – a certain stock character: there are former healthcare workers who play the part of the whistleblowers-cum-experts; there are “reporters”, religiously filming every single anti-lockdown or anti-vaccine protest, and reposting videos of similar events from other countries; and there are the courtroom warriors, who call on people to carry out citizen’s arrests on Matt Hancock or the whole UK government – a fantasy strongly reminiscent of QAnon’s shattered prophecies.

What makes microinfluencers different, and potentially more insidious, is that it is pretty hard to gauge their impact. “This has become a pseudo-Twitter network of posting, cross-posting and following that has formed ‘under the radar’ of analytics software,” Ondrak explains. The conventional tools used by disinformation researchers – like Ondrak himself – are effective at scouring pages and groups for keywords or specific pieces of content, but what goes on on private profiles is impossible to find that way – and therefore, harder to counter. “Mapping out and monitoring this network of users is extremely time and labour intensive. There is no ‘at a glance’ way to see their influence, but their posts often receive shares in the hundreds and sometimes thousands, boosting the spread of disinformation from personal profile to personal profile.”

There are proxies, though. Some microinfluencer posts will be shared widely enough to make it into the surviving vaccine-sceptical or vaccine-hesitant public groups. Using CrowdTangle, an insights tool owned and operated by Facebook, WIRED found 26 private profiles of microinfluencers – mostly British, but also American and Australian – that kept popping up in English-speaking vaccine-focused groups and pages.

Between November 1 and January 17, their posts were shared in 586 groups and 112 pages: some of those groups and pages were unabashedly about vaccines and alternative medicine; others focused on themes including wellness and mysticism, religion, Bernie Sanders, Vladimir Putin, Jeremy Corbyn, comedian Jimmy Dore, and local news and gossip. In the same period, posts by the top three microinfluencers – all with between 15,000 and 20,000 followers – garnered about 350,000 interactions (shares, comments, and reactions to their posts) altogether.

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Most of the shared posts were videos – and here the numbers tell a more worrisome story. Since November, videos published by WIRED’s sample of microinfluencers received 8.7 million views. One very successful video – a 28-minute-long cavalcade of self-styled healthcare professionals reciting vaccine disinformation – published in December on the page of a microinfluencer with 14,000 followers, was viewed 3.2 million times.

The video was apparently taken down – it is unclear whether by the microinfluencer herself or by Facebook moderators – last week, but by that time it had been up for over a month. Back in December 2020 Facebook promised that it would act more aggressively to stomp out vaccine disinformation – but its promise doesn’t appear to have been fully kept. Some posts from microinfluencers have been branded with a fact-checking label pointing out inaccuracies or falsehoods – a label that the microinfluencers and their followers tend to regard as a medal of honour – but dozens of videos in which similar claims are repeated are still live.

“Our AI and 35,000 strong team proactively find and remove harmful content across every part of Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson says. The company, however, wants to make sure that speaking about vaccines on its platform is still possible, which is why it resorts to removal just in extreme cases. Facebook did not respond to a direct question about the difficulty of moderating personal profiles as opposed to pages or groups.

Some microinfluencers appear to have already had enough of Facebook, especially after the platform’s actions in the wake of the Capitol insurrection on January 6. One of the UK’s most popular microinfluencers recently announced that he would be moving to alternative social network MeWe; another started re-uploading her most popular posts on alternative video-hosting services. Other microinfluencers, following the evolution of QAnon in the US, are toning down the vaccine rhetoric and mass-arrest predictions, and are embracing the new conspiracy theory – the “sovereign citizen movement.”

There’s even the odd bit of irony, like the microinfluencer who – after months of railing against vaccines and the New World Order – this week devoted a video to fending off accusations of being an Illuminati, and explaining how a strangely shaped bush in one of her past videos was not a freemasonry symbol.

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Spread across Facebook and fiendishly difficult to track and monitor, microinfluencers are unlikely to fade away – especially while they still have such an engaged and loyal following. And, over time, the messages they share are likely to get more extreme. ”While pages and groups were often concerned with one or two issues, microinfluencers are people with their own beliefs and interests,” says Ondrak. “This means that one microinfluencer could spread content that flits from antivaxx, to Covid-denialism, to QAnon-lore and more esoteric beliefs as their own personal journey down the rabbit hole intensifies.”

Gian Volpicelli is an investigative reporter at WIRED. He tweets from @Gmvolpi

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


For the latest tech news and reviews, follow Gadgets 360 on Twitter, Facebook, and Google News. For the latest videos on gadgets and tech, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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Facebook Owner Meta Launches New Platform, Safety Hub to Protect Women in India

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Meta (formerly Facebook) on Thursday announced a slew of steps to protect woman users on its platform, including the launch of StopNCII.org in India that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII).

Meta has also launched the Women’s Safety Hub, which will be available in Hindi and 11 other Indian languages, that will enable more women users in India to access information about tools and resources that can help them make the most of their social media experience, while staying safe online.

This initiative by Meta will ensure women do not face a language barrier in accessing information Karuna Nain, director (global safety policy) at Meta Platforms, told reporters here.

“Safety is an integral part of Meta’s commitment to building and offering a safe online experience across the platforms and over the years the company has introduced several industry leading initiatives to protect users online.

“Furthering our effort to bolster the safety of users, we are bringing in a number of initiatives to ensure online safety of women on our platforms,” she added.

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StopNCII.org is a platform that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII).

“It gives victims control. People can come to this platform proactively, hash their intimate videos and images, share their hashes back with the platform and participating companies,” Nain said.

She explained that the platform doesn’t receive any photos and videos, and instead what they get is the hash or unique digital fingerprint/unique identifier that tells the company that this is a known piece of content that is violating. “We can proactively keep a lookout for that content on our platforms and once it”s uploaded, our review team check what”s really going on and take appropriate action if it violates our policies,” she added.

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In partnership with UK Revenge Porn Helpline, StopNCII.org builds on Meta’s NCII Pilot, an emergency programme that allows potential victims to proactively hash their intimate images so they can”t be proliferated on its platforms.

The first-of-its-kind platform, has partnered with global organisations to support the victims of NCII. In India, the platform has partnered with organisations such as Social Media Matters, Centre for Social Research, and Red Dot Foundation.

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Nain added that the company is hopeful that this becomes an industrywide initiative, so that victims can just come to this one central place to get help and support and not have to go to each and every tech platform, one by one to get help and support.

Also, Bishakha Datta (executive editor of Point of View) and Jyoti Vadehra from Centre for Social Research are the first Indian members in Meta”s Global Women”s Safety Expert Advisors. The group comprises 12 other non-profit leaders, activists, and academic experts from different parts of the world and consults Meta in the development of new policies, products and programmes to better support women on its apps.

“We are confident that with our ever-growing safety measures, women will be able to enjoy a social experience which will enable them to learn, engage and grow without any challenges.

“India is an important market for us and bringing Bishakha and Jyoti onboard to our Women”s Safety Expert Advisory Group will go a long way in further enhancing our efforts to make our platforms safer for women in India,” Nain said.

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Facebook Adds New Trend Insights in Creator Studio, Which Could Help Shape Your Posting Strategy

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Facebook’s looking to provide more content insight within Creator Studio with the rollout of a new ‘Inspiration Hub’ element, which highlights trending content and hashtags within categories related to your business Page.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

As you can see in these screenshots, posted by social media expert Matt Navarra, when it becomes available to you, you’ll be able to access the new Inspiration Hub from the Home tab in Creator Studio.

At the right side of the screen, you can see the first of the new insights, with trending hashtags and videos from the last 24 hours, posted by Pages similar to yours, displayed above a ‘See more’ prompt.

When you tap through to the new hub, you’ll have a range of additional filters to check out trending content from across Facebook, including Page category, content type, region, and more.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

That could be hugely valuable in learning what Facebook users are responding to, and what people within your target market are engaging with in the app.

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The Hub also includes insights into trending hashtags, within your chosen timeframe, which may further assist in tapping into trending discussions.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

How valuable hashtags are on Facebook is still up for debate, but you’ll also note that you can filter the displayed results by platform, so you can additionally display Instagram hashtag trends as well, which could be very valuable in maximizing your reach.

Much of this type of info has been available within CrowdTangle, Facebook’s analytics platform for journalists, for some time, but not everyone can access CrowdTangle data, which could make this an even more valuable proposition for many marketers.

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Of course, overall performance really relates to your own creative, and thinking through the action that you want your audience to take when reading your posts. But in terms of detecting new content trends, including hashtag usage, caption length, videos versus image posts, and more, there’s a lot that could be gleaned from these tools and filters.

It’s a significant analytics addition – we’ve asked Facebook for more info on the rollout of the new option, and whether it’s already beyond test mode, etc. We’ll update this post if/when we hear back.

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