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Purging political content from Facebook, Zuckerberg is a modern-day Pandora

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, seen here in 2019. For years, Zuckerberg’s company has encouraged division and radical politics, realizing just how popular and profitable it can be along the way, Jaime Watt writes.

By Jaime WattContributing Columnist

Sun., Feb. 14, 20213 min. read

This week, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook will test changes to its algorithm to cut back the political content on its network and rein in divisiveness. The move is welcome news for those who recognize the corrosive influence of the platform on political discourse and who are aghast at its real-life consequences.

Canada, alongside Brazil and Indonesia, will be the sandbox for this shift.

Perhaps we should feel lucky. Somehow, I doubt it.

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That’s because this decision reveals Zuckerberg to be no more than a modern-day Pandora, attempting to recapture the ills and monsters he has previously released from the box. For years, his company has encouraged division and radical politics, along the way realizing just how popular and profitable it can be. Over time, Facebook’s users have been rewired to seek out disagreement and extremes, rather than the connections and shared values of friends and family.

So, it’s no surprise that Facebook’s platform has become something very different from the social network it set out to create.

For those who have been paying attention, like New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose, this shift has been a long time coming. If Zuckerberg is Pandora, then consider Roose our Cassandra, another heroine of Greek mythology who was cursed with the power of tragic prophecies doomed to be ignored by all.

Over the summer, Roose began tracking the top performing link posts on U.S. Facebook, sharing the top 10 via his Twitter account. This list was a consistent revolving door of heavily biased news outlets and political agitators like Ben Shapiro, Franklin Graham and Breitbart News. It captured, in real time, the degradation of discourse on Facebook. Given the world’s largest social network is also a primary source of news for millions of North Americans, this is an alarming trend.

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To be clear, it’s no accident that these are the top performers. For too long, Facebook’s algorithms — and indeed its business model — have preferred divisive and extreme content over peer-to-peer interaction or reliable news sources.

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So, while some argue that Facebook is addressing the root of the issue by focusing on the algorithms that got it into this mess in the first place, I disagree. Facebook’s algorithms will always be geared toward the ultimate purpose of more engagement, greater profits and wider use. Sadly, that purpose is best served by content that feeds us what we’ve been taught to desire: self-affirming perspectives and extreme opinions.

When Facebook’s desire to moderate that content comes in conflict with its bottom line, the company’s true colours are revealed.

After the presidential election, Facebook modified its algorithm to prioritize trustworthy, respected news sources in order to curtail misinformation about election fraud and stopping “the steal.” The encouraging move left many to wonder if it would be permanently implemented to clean up the site and turn down the temperature.

Unfortunately, the move was temporary. This and similar changes to the algorithm had to be canned when it became clear they would not only calm divisions, but also reduce user engagement. At Facebook, profit trumps any desire to clean up the platform. And as long as users continue to prefer exactly the sort of content that has wrought so much havoc on our civil society and our politics, don’t expect any serious change.

The cynical view is that Facebook is simply blowing smoke to avoid intervention by the new Biden administration’s tech skeptics. Biden himself admitted in a January interview that he’s “never been a fan of Facebook” or of Zuckerberg. Many Facebook hawks within the Federal Trade Commission and elsewhere believe the new administration is their opportunity to finally go after what they see as a flagrant violation of antitrust laws.

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But Zuckerberg also faces pressure from within. In November, Buzzfeed reported widespread disillusionment among Facebook employees — only 51 per cent of whom said they believed the company has a positive impact on the world. That’s a massive problem in a sector as competitive as tech.

So, before we congratulate Zuckerberg for this change, let’s consider the motives behind it. More importantly, let’s see if it sticks or, for that matter, if it makes a difference.

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Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist. He is a freelance contributing columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @jaimewatt

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Updating Special Ad Audiences for housing, employment, and credit advertisers

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On June 21, 2022 we announced an important settlement with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that will change the way we deliver housing ads to people residing in the US. Specifically, we are building into our ads system a method designed to make sure the audience that ends up seeing a housing ad more closely reflects the eligible targeted audience for that ad.

As part of this agreement, we will also be sunsetting Special Ad Audiences, a tool that lets advertisers expand their audiences for ad sets related to housing. We are choosing to sunset this for employment and credit ads as well. In 2019, in addition to eliminating certain targeting options for housing, employment and credit ads, we introduced Special Ad Audiences as an alternative to Lookalike Audiences. But the field of fairness in machine learning is a dynamic and evolving one, and Special Ad Audiences was an early way to address concerns. Now, our focus will move to new approaches to improve fairness, including the method previously announced.

What’s happening: We’re removing the ability to create Special Ad Audiences via Ads Manager beginning on August 25, 2022.

Beginning October 12th, 2022, we will pause any remaining ad sets that contain Special Ad Audiences. These ad sets may be restarted once advertisers have removed any and all Special Ad Audiences from those ad sets. We are providing a two month window between preventing new Special Ad Audiences and pausing existing Special Ad Audiences to enable advertisers the time to adjust budgets and strategies as needed.

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For more details, please visit our Newsroom post.

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Impact to Advertisers using Marketing API on September 13, 2022

For advertisers and partners using the API listed below, the blocking of new Special Ad Audience creation will present a breaking change on all versions. Beginning August 15, 2022, developers can start to implement the code changes, and will have until September 13, 2022, when the non-versioning change occurs and prior values are deprecated. Refer below to the list of impacted endpoints related to this deprecation:

For reading audience:

  • endpoint gr:get:AdAccount/customaudiences
  • field operation_status

For adset creation:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdAccount/adsets
  • field subtype

For adset editing:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdCampaign
  • field subtype

For custom audience creation:

  • endpoint gr:post:AdAccount/customaudiences
  • field subtype

For custom audience editing:

  • endpoint gr:post:CustomAudience

Please refer to the developer documentation for further details to support code implementation.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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Introducing an Update to the Data Protection Assessment

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Over the coming year, some apps with access to certain types of user data on our platforms will be required to complete the annual Data Protection Assessment. We have made a number of improvements to this process since our launch last year, when we introduced our first iteration of the assessment.

The updated Data Protection Assessment will include a new developer experience that is enhanced through streamlined communications, direct support, and clear status updates. Today, we’re sharing what you can expect from these new updates and how you can best prepare for completing this important privacy requirement if your app is within scope.

If your app is in scope for the Data Protection Assessment, and you’re an app admin, you’ll receive an email and a message in your app’s Alert Inbox when it’s time to complete the annual assessment. You and your team of experts will then have 60 calendar days to complete the assessment. We’ve built a new platform that enhances the user experience of completing the Data Protection Assessment. These updates to the platform are based on learnings over the past year from our partnership with the developer community. When completing the assessment, you can expect:

  • Streamlined communication: All communications and required actions will be through the My Apps page. You’ll be notified of pending communications requiring your response via your Alerts Inbox, email, and notifications in the My Apps page.

    Note: Other programs may still communicate with you through the App Contact Email.

  • Available support: Ability to engage with Meta teams via the Support tool to seek clarification on the questions within the Data Protection Assessment prior to submission and help with any requests for more info, or to resolve violations.

    Note: To access this feature, you will need to add the app and app admins to your Business Manager. Please refer to those links for step-by-step guides.

  • Clear status updates: Easy to understand status and timeline indicators throughout the process in the App Dashboard, App Settings, and My Apps page.
  • Straightforward reviewer follow-ups: Streamlined experience for any follow-ups from our reviewers, all via developers.facebook.com.

We’ve included a brief video that provides a walkthrough of the experience you’ll have with the Data Protection Assessment:

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The Data Protection Assessment elevates the importance of data security and helps gain the trust of the billions of people who use our products and services around the world. That’s why we are committed to providing a seamless experience for our partners as you complete this important privacy requirement.

Here is what you can do now to prepare for the assessment:

  1. Make sure you are reachable: Update your developer or business account contact email and notification settings.
  2. Review the questions in the Data Protection Assessment and engage with your teams on how best to answer these questions. You may have to enlist the help of your legal and information security points of contact to answer some parts of the assessment.
  3. Review Meta Platform Terms and our Developer Policies.

We know that when people choose to share their data, we’re able to work with the developer community to safely deliver rich and relevant experiences that create value for people and businesses. It’s a privilege we share when people grant us access to their data, and it’s imperative that we protect that data in order to maintain and build upon their trust. This is why the Data Protection Assessment focuses on data use, data sharing and data security.

Data privacy is challenging and complex, and we’re dedicated to continuously improving the processes to safeguard user privacy on our platform. Thank you for partnering with us as we continue to build a safer, more sustainable platform.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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Resources for Completing App Store Data Practice Questionnaires for Apps That Include the Facebook or Audience Network SDK

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Resources for Completing App Store Data Practice Questionnaires for Apps That Include the Facebook or Audience Network SDK

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