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Facebook in Australia: What happened after news was blocked?

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By Reality Check and BBC Monitoring

BBC News

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Critics of Facebook say the company’s ban on news appearing on its platform in Australia has made it more difficult for people to access reliable sources – and increased the influence of bad and misleading information.

Unintended consequences

It quickly became clear that one effect of the tech giant’s move was that in addition to news providers, emergency services were also being blocked.

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Some Australian government health-department and emergency-services pages found that their Facebook accounts had been affected.

They were later restored after Facebook was notified.

Welfare groups such as Women’s Health Tasmania also faced difficulties.

“We stream physical activity classes through Facebook,” says Jo Flanagan, the group’s chief executive. “We push public-health-generated Covid updates.

“Clients use messages on Facebook to contact us when they don’t have phone credit. It was very disruptive.”

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The page is now working again.

Will Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia, said: “Pages such as government, public-safety and education pages should not be impacted by this announcement.

“We apologise to any pages that were inadvertently impacted.”

The day after the ban, we checked some of the pages that had faced problems, including a satirical-news site, a women’s legal-services page, and a weather-forecasting platform. They had all been reactivated.

Facebook says it’s working to restore other sites that have also been blocked inadvertently.

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Has bad information increased?

We can’t give a definitive answer to this for all Facebook users in Australia.

But we’ve done some digging with data-analysis tool CrowdTangle, itself part of the Facebook family of online products.

Using CrowdTangle, it’s possible to look at the most popular Facebook posts related to a particular topic over a given time in a given country – it therefore gives you a pretty good idea what’s been shared on that subject.

In one example, we looked at Facebook posts from pages in Australia related to Covid-19 and vaccines over two 24-hour periods – before and after the ban was imposed.

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  • In four separate searches before the ban, the overwhelming majority of the top 20 performing posts and links came from verified pages of well-known media organisations, government and public-health bodies – only one or two posts with potentially misleading content.
  • After the ban, the same searches revealed up to five posts containing misleading content about Covid-19 or vaccines
  • After the ban, a search for posts with links to external websites led us to content from alternative- or holistic-medicine pages, some expressing anti-vaccine views. These pages weren’t classified as “news”, and following the ban they could still be accessed via Facebook.
image captionLinks to some websites promoting inaccurate claims about the pandemic still work in Australia (“False” label added to image for clarification)

Facebook has responded to its critics by saying its commitment to combating misinformation has not changed.

“We are directing people to authoritative health information and notify them of new updates via our Covid-19 Information Centre,” it says.

“We’re also continuing our third-party fact-checking partnerships with AAP (Australian Associated Press) and AFP (Agence France-Press), who review content and debunk false claims online.”

However, Peter Bodkin, editor of the AAP fact-checking team, says his news organisation’s content is being restricted. The AAP can still rate and label posts on Facebook and tack on links to reliable AAP stories, but users cannot share the site’s articles themselves.

“It seems like a terrible outcome, to state the obvious,” he says.

Facebook is also blocking Australian users from sharing fact-checking articles, even from partners like @AapFactcheck – which means users now can’t use news articles OR debunks to counter misinfo when they see it

— Peter Bodkin (@peter_bodkin) February 17, 2021

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The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Fact-checking sites are, of course, accessible without any need to go through Facebook.

However, Russell Skelton, of ABC’s (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) fact-checking project with RMIT University, points out that the ban affects precisely the audience that fact-checkers want to reach.

“Some 11 million-plus Australians use Facebook as their primary source of news,” he says.

“Facebook’s action has certainly prevented us from engaging with a more diverse audience who do not come to the ABC news website for their information.”

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Reporting by Jack Goodman, Shayan Sardarizadeh, Olga Robinson and Christopher Giles

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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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