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Facebook’s suggestion to reform internet law is a ‘masterful distraction,’ says Silicon Valley …

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Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., speaks during a rally in the Capitol Building to call on the Senate to vote on House Democrats’ prescription drugs and health care package on Wednesday, May 15, 2019.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

At his fourth congressional testimony since July, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to offer his own suggestion for reforming the legal shield that protects his platform from liability for users’ posts. But two House Democrats said Wednesday that it’s nothing more than a red herring.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat whose district includes Silicon Valley, called Zuckerberg’s proposal a “masterful distraction” during a virtual press conference Wednesday. Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., said it’s “a classic example of Facebook hoping that we miss the point.”

Eshoo sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee and will have the opportunity to question Zuckerberg on Thursday.

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In his prepared remarks released ahead of Thursday’s hearing before two subcommittees of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Zuckerberg suggested that platforms should be held accountable based on their general adherence to best practices for addressing unlawful content, rather than for individual posts that slip through the cracks. He wrote that the adequacy of the moderation systems should depend on the size of the platform and be set by a third party.

Eshoo and Malinowski disagreed, and offered their own approach to reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in a bill they reintroduced on Wednesday.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been pushing to change the law, considered foundational for the internet, to remove some of its protections for the largest of the tech giants. But tech advocates say even seemingly small changes could disrupt services that all internet users have come to rely on.

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Eshoo and Malinowski’s “Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act,” seeks to take a narrow approach to reform. The bill would remove immunity under Section 230 in cases where a platform’s algorithm has amplified or recommended a post directly relevant to a case involving acts of international terrorism or civil rights violations.

Malinowski said the idea of the bill is to focus on the root problem, which is a business model that relies on convincing users to spend more time on the site, even if that means promoting inflammatory or divisive content. He said that Facebook seeks to distract from this basic model.

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“They want us to focus on putting out fires, and not on the fact that their product is flammable,” he said. “Facebook’s algorithms cause the spread of the very content that they are then forced to remove. And so what we are trying to do in this bill is to focus the attention of Congress on how the engine actually works.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who co-authored Section 230 back in the 1990s, similarly criticized Zuckerberg’s suggestions for reform in a statement. Wyden has remained cautious about attempts to alter the bill he helped write, and accused Zuckerberg of using the suggestions for his own gain.

“Mark Zuckerberg knows that rolling back Section 230 will cement Facebook’s position as the dominant social media company and make it vastly harder for new startups to challenge his cash cow,” Wyden said in the statement. “Everyone working to address real issues online should be deeply wary about Mark Zuckerberg’s proposals for new regulations.”

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Wyden referenced Facebook’s support of SESTA-FOSTA, a package that was passed into law in 2018 to remove liability protection for sites that hosted solicitations of sex work or trafficking. The law essentially shuttered parts of the internet and sex work advocates have claimed it has made the industry less safe.

He also critiqued his fellow lawmakers for hosting several hearings with the same CEOs.

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“Zuckerberg’s testimony is another reminder that Congress can’t craft smart tech policy if it keeps holding hearings featuring the same three big tech CEOs,” he said. “Pretending the internet is only Facebook, Twitter and Google will lead to laws that ensure that’s the result.”

Eshoo and Malinowski made two key changes to this iteration of their bill to focus it more directly on the largest social media platforms. First, they lowered the small business exemption from platforms with less than 50 million users to those with less than 10 million. And second, they added an exemption for internet infrastructure companies, like those that store data, provide cybersecurity or web hosting services, since they are not the main targets of the reform.

Zuckerberg will face congressional members alongside Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Thursday beginning at 12 p.m. Eastern Time.

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WATCH: The big, messy business of content moderation on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube

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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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