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Facebook Exec Sounds Off On Its New Audio Features

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Photo shows Simo gesturing with one hand, with the Collision logo at top right.

A screengrab of Facebook app manager Fidji Simo being interviewed by Bloomberg social-media reporter … [+] Kurt Wagner at the Collision conference.

By Rob Pegoraro

After years of inviting us to mouth off online, Facebook wants us to use our mouths directly. 

Monday, the social network announced a set of audio features that aim to make the spoken word a major part of the Facebook experience. 

And Tuesday, Facebook app head Fidji Simo offered more detail about these plans in two appearances at the Collision conference—even as other speakers at that online event offered reminders of Facebook’s past missteps with social media.

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Simo pitched these coming features—sound-effects tools for Facebook users to play with, short-form “Soundbites” that they can record and share, the ability to find and play podcasts in the Facebook app, and live audio rooms in Facebook and Messenger—as Facebook’s response to people wanting to see each other’s faces less often.

“We’ve seen the rise of audio experiences over the last couple of years on all of the platforms,” Simo told Bloomberg social-media reporter Kurt Wagner. “But in the last year in particular with the pandemic, we’ve seen people turn to audio experiences, really because they want a meatier way to connect to others that doesn’t create all the video fatigue that I think we all have.”

Many of Facebook’s rivals have been thinking along similar lines. Spotify has been investing lavishly in its podcast business, Apple
AAPL
announced its own premium podcast platform Tuesday, and the early success of the live-audio-room app Clubhouse has already spurred Twitter to offer its own version of the concept, Spaces

Simo said Facebook could integrate all of these different forms of audio. For example, a creator could elect to record an audio room to turn it into a podcast, then share snippets of it as Soundbites. 

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Or as she said in a subsequent Q&A session Tuesday: “This space is really primed for reinvention, because it’s currently very fragmented.”

Wagner asked Simo about Facebook’s history of copying features from competitors—see Instagram cloning Snapchat with Stories and then mimicking TikTok with Reels

“Clubhouse has done something amazing,” Simo said. “I know how hard it is to create a new social format.”

But, she added, Facebook can bring these features to a vast universe of built-out communities. And it will provide tools to help creators make some money from the audiences for their spoken-word output: “We very well know that these formats don’t work if creators don’t have a path to monetization.”  

In both Collision appearances, Simo emphasized how Facebook can leverage its accomplishments in artificial intelligence. 

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In the Q&A, for example, she noted how its coming sound-studio tools will bring the equivalent of Messenger video filters (themselves a response to Snapchat’s comparable feature) to your voice. For instance, they’ll be able to make you sound like a radio announcer or an alien or lend you what Simo called “audio green screens,” background soundscapes like a beach or a forest. 

Simo told Wagner that Facebook will use its existing speech-to-text technology to provide live captions and to listen for violations of its content policies.

“We’re going to auto-detect any violation of our community standards using our artificial intelligence technology directly on the audio content,” she said. 

Listeners can also report violations of Facebook’s rules, she added: “We have a team of human reviewers who are going to review that in real time to make sure this content really abides by our standards.” 

But Facebook’s past attempts to stop real-time cruelty on its platform have come at the mental health of moderators who must watch people at their most vile. There’s no reason to think this pattern won’t repeat with live audio.

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As Facebook’s former chief information security officer Alex Stamos, now director of Stanford University’s Internet Observatory, said in a Collision Q&A Tuesday: “With hundreds of years of people being bad to each other, we need to take account of that when we design new systems.” 

After years of failing to heed that lesson, Facebook last year began assembling a “Responsible Innovation” team to audit new features for their abuse potential. Simo did not address this in her appearances, but Thursday Facebook spokesperson Che’von Lewis confirmed in an email that this group has been working on the new audio features.

One of Stamos’s Stanford colleagues, research manager Renée DiResta, gave Facebook some credit for learning between the 2016 and the 2020 elections.

“When there were instances of false and misleading content that were going viral, they were quite quick to act,” she said in a Collision panel Wednesday. “They were very very much more active in 2020.”

You have to hope that these lessons learned will also inform Facebook’s ventures into live audio. Because the enormous scale of this social network makes it unlike any other in one key way: What happens badly on Facebook doesn’t stay on Facebook.

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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.

See also  Facebook reverses policy to allow posts speculating that COVID-19 was made in a lab

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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