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Far-right sources on Facebook get more engagement than any other political posts, study finds

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The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was carried out by a flock of supporters of QAnon’s extremist ideology based on false claims, far-right zealots and others convinced of the falsehood that a presidential election had been stolen from former president Donald Trump.

If they were avid Facebook users, their beliefs could have been affirmed by misinformation across the platform, according to a recent New York University study.

Researchers from the school’s Center for Cybersecurity found that far-right content generated the highest engagement — clicking, sharing and commenting — per follower across partisan groups.

The findings are part of a larger study that will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, but the timeliness of the report motivated the team to release some information early, according to lead researcher and PhD candidate Laura Edelson.

Edelson and her colleagues determined that engagement from far-right and far-left news sources peaked around Election Day and Jan. 6, when President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral votes were counted. Yet, engagement with far-right content was more intense than other news sources.

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Researchers used categories for media sources and information from extreme right and left, devised by NewsGuard and Media Bias Fact Check, independent data providers that survey the news ecosystem and rate the political leanings and quality of media.

“It’s a finding I find concerning,” Edelson said in an interview with The Washington Post. “What that is saying is even at those crucial moments, content from sources that spread misinformation was more engaging than content from reliable sources.”

The conclusions of the study are troublesome yet unsurprising.

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The spread of false information has risen with the growth of social media platforms. The country is transitioning from a presidential term marred by “alternative facts” and dealing with social networks that shirk responsibility for what is shared on their platforms, according to scholars.

The study shows the extent of the misinformation problem and just how polarizing social media can be, according to Kurt Braddock, an assistant professor of public communication in the School of Communication at American University.

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The results of the analysis echo human behavior and how people seek information, which includes not wanting to spend too much time thinking about things or engaging with ideas that are contrary to their beliefs, he said.

“We tend to seek out information that affirms our ideas,” he said, adding that social media algorithms, which track what a person likes and pushes more of that in front of them, can worsen our natural tendencies. “We can get into patterns and cycles where these beliefs become so ingrained.”

Researchers looked at a Facebook page with more than 100 followers and more than 2,900 news and information sources from NewsGuard and Media Bias Fact Check.

After collecting data of 8.6 million public posts between Aug. 10 to Jan. 11, the team concluded that far-right sources designated as spreaders of misinformation had an average of 426 interactions per thousand followers per week compared to the average of 259 weekly interactions per thousand followers from “non-misinformation sources.”

Sources identified as being center or left typically had a lower ceiling on engagement if the news sources were unreliable, called a “misinformation penalty” in the study.

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Joe Osborne, a Facebook representative, told The Post in a statement that the report looks mostly at how people engage with content, which shouldn’t be confused with how many people actually see it on Facebook.

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“When you look at the content that gets the most reach across Facebook, it’s not at all as partisan as this study suggests,” he said.

Edelson said she and her team would love to look at the data that Facebook hasn’t made available to verify the company’s claim.

She and her colleagues wrote that Facebook’s CrowdTangle gives researchers information about engagement, reactions, shares and comments, but not about how many people actually saw a piece of content or spent time reading it.

For instance, a 2014 study found liberals think more analytically than moderates or conservatives and that briefly training people to think analytically caused them to develop more liberal opinions.

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“It means you can’t discern fact from fiction and that make your decisions based on emotions rather than rationality,” said Heidi Julien, professor of information science in the Department of Information Science at the University at Buffalo.

Edelson and her team said that more research is needed to study other social platforms and their algorithms. They also noted that higher relative engagement for far-right sites doesn’t imply that there is more far-right content on Facebook, or that Facebook users prefer far-right content.

To repair the damage caused by misinformation, the issue must be placed at the forefront of policy agendas and addressed at the school level so the next generation will have more news literacy, Julien said.

Braddock and other experts from the Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab are researching the effectiveness of memes rebuffing misinformation, another step that is needed for scholars to determine how to curtail the spread of fabrications.

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“We’re all vulnerable to [false beliefs] to some extent,” he said. “The idea of dissonance, that’s a human trait — it’s not a left or right trait.”

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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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.


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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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