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Facebook’s Associate General Counsel For Civil Rights, Julie Wenah, Reveals The Journey Of …



Julie Wenah, Associate General Counsel for Civil Rights, Facebook

Photo Credit: Julie Wenah

As recently as 2017, 1 in 4 Black Americans reported having experienced some form of online harassment as a result of their race or ethnicity. Since this Pew Research Center survey, many social media platforms have been called out for their lack of oversight and action on behalf of certain online communities, leading to widespread safety concerns, low trust, and tarnished brand identity. Coming from Airbnb where similar issues were presented, civil rights and tech lawyer Julie Wenah, has taken the responsibility of addressing comparable pain points at Facebook. 

Accepting the role as Associate General Counsel for Civil Rights, Wenah uses her impressive background and personal expertise to lead a wide-range of teams focusing on the development and impact of the social media giant’s myriad products. Providing guidance on how to responsibly build systems meant to protect the rights of historically marginalized communities, Wenah plays a key role in supporting Facebook’s ongoing efforts to thoughtfully innovate both their platform and industry.

“My primary goal is to help product teams anticipate potential civil rights harms in products and help effectively mitigate those risks,” Wenah noted. I had the pleasure of speaking with the global civil rights, privacy, and product inclusion lawyer shortly before announcing her move to Facebook. Mentioning the role with much enthusiasm, Wenah recognizes the impact of the work she’ll be doing and is enthusiastic about its implications. “I left my former company where we were serving millions, and now at Facebook, I get to serve billions,” she explained of the exponential increase of her reach. After previously working as a legal fellow at NASA, counseling teams studying microbial molecular changes in microgravity, and later with the Obama Administration leading the former President’s manufacturing communities’ agenda, Wenah remains dedicated to connecting people and building community no matter where her career takes her.   

On A Mission To Heal The World

Helping to instill civil rights best practices within the company under the leadership of Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Civil Rights, Roy Austin, the proactive and reactive work Wenah does to identify and address civil rights issues at Facebook mirrors that of her past contributions as Community Senior Counsel and Acting Africa Regional Counsel at Airbnb. It was there that Wenah happily worked for nearly 4 years, counseling product teams across continents on understanding varied experiences to realistically create equity, and pushing for an increase in transparency on how the brand handled discriminatory claims. These targeted efforts contributed to the incorporation of some of the the app’s most notable innovations, including its ‘Profile Photo Removal’ feature and Project Lighthouse – a first of its kind privacy-centric method shared with, recognized and revered by the tech industry, helping to eliminate disparities in how BIPOC experience Airbnb’s products.

 “My job [is] to make sure that organizations and companies that are building what the future will look like, are as inclusive as possible,” Wenah started. From constructing self-driving cars with inclusive signals meant to keep darker-skinned people safe from fatal accidents due to inherent bias, to making sure people with disabilities in need of screen reader capabilities are considered during the design stage, Wenah has never shied away from her moral obligation to advocate and create for those typically pushed to the margins. As one of few product inclusion lawyers (aka civil-rights-in-tech or in-product lawyer) with a broad industry to engage with, Wenah says her personal mission is centered around healing, a journey she’s been on for decades. 

A Way Around A Devastating Disturbance

In her career and personal passions, building with protected classes in mind has always been an ingrained ideal for Wenah. The daughter of Nigerian-American parents, her father was a student and worked at a newspaper company to earn a livable wage in order to support his wife and unborn child. However, as Wenah recounted, this good faith measure would land her father in hot water and her family in limbo.

“This is the job that he did to take care of my mom when she was pregnant with me,” she said. “And because it was a violation of his student visa, [ICE] deported him.” For years, Wenah watched her mother, even when she herself had difficulty dealing with the trauma of the incident, painstakingly manage a stable upbringing for her and her sister while her father helped from afar. Having been discovered in a sweep sent to their house for a different person entirely, her father’s deportation and its devastating effects on her family later helped guide Wenah’s academic choices. 

Attending Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, Wenah found herself inspired to hold the school’s first ever Women’s Empowerment Conference. “I’m one of those people who feels like, if I’m in a city for school or work, I have a responsibility to [the] community,” she explained. Upon receiving moving feedback from multiple attendees off the event’s diverse guest list, Wenah knew she’d been transformed into the change agent she is today. “It was at that moment I realized, ‘Wow, you can create something and bring people together and [they] can be healed.’” 

When Coloring Inside The Lines No Longer Creates The Perfect Picture

Later enrolling at Texas Southern University to earn her JD and Masters in Public Administration, Wenah was already on the path to fixing what she saw as a flawed system when the petition for her father’s return was granted. “As a child, I was taught to do the right thing,” she began. “If you do the right thing, if you keep your head down, if you work hard, read more, you will advance. I was taught that there was a formulaic way to success and to escape poverty,” Wenah concluded. After two decades of separation and finally reunited, Wenah found that coloring in the lines had worked, taking up a role at the White House with Former First Lady Michelle Obama, hoping to make her father proud. But within months of his arrival, her plans drastically changed.

“While I was working for [Mrs. Obama], I got the call that he was sick,” said Wenah. “I came back home, slept in the hospital with him for a week, and he was diagnosed with stage four cancer.” A self-described mathematician, Wenah says her mind went straight into problem-solving mode. “Graduation is in a month,” she recalled. “I’m going to graduate. I’m going to take the bar exam and I’m going to get a job and I’ll pay for chemo, and he’ll be healed,” said Wenah of her initial thought process. However, after both graduating and taking the bar, on day one of a new role for Mrs. Obama, Wenah received the grave news that her father had lost his battle with cancer.

“My father died before I could even get a paycheck to pay for chemo,” she shared. It was in this moment Wenah learned how going against the status quo could oftentimes lead to better outcomes. “Coloring outside of the lines in that situation would have been not taking a bar, spending time with him, recording him, learning more about my history, speaking more of my native tongue with him,” explained Wenah of what she could’ve done differently in the wake of her father’s diagnosis. 

A New Body Of Work

Still grieving her father’s loss, Wenah found herself comforted and inspired by Preparing My Daughter For Rain, author Key Ballah’s collection of poetry. Wenah states the book quickly changed her outlook on purpose and healing, ultimately influencing the work she currently does outside of the executive suite. 

“I recognize that all of us are moving in this world with different experiences that make us who we are,” declared Wenah. These experiences, she says, are paramount to figuring out our purpose and leading fulfilled lives that leave the world in a properly functioning state. Founding the creative collective, The Album & The Mixtape, Wenah’s helped thousands tap into their creativity to define their purpose and design their lives according to what they discover. Through community and comprehensive content, Wenah is helping a new generation of dreamers, doers, storytellers, and music lovers transform their lives and the world around them.

Leaving Airbnb for more challenging work after feeling in her gut it was time to go, Wenah credits both her faith and femininity as the greatest guides to her life and career. With the sharing of her story and all she does to support women in tech, the Women In Product Board member asserts that leaders can find power in their vulnerability and hopes to see more women with similar ideals serving in leadership roles in the near future. “Building products that shape our world is not a spectator sport” she asserted. “Frankly, things are better when women are at the table driving, leading, and being part of the development process.”

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Facebook Adds New Trend Insights in Creator Studio, Which Could Help Shape Your Posting Strategy




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Facebook’s looking to provide more content insight within Creator Studio with the rollout of a new ‘Inspiration Hub’ element, which highlights trending content and hashtags within categories related to your business Page.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

As you can see in these screenshots, posted by social media expert Matt Navarra, when it becomes available to you, you’ll be able to access the new Inspiration Hub from the Home tab in Creator Studio.

At the right side of the screen, you can see the first of the new insights, with trending hashtags and videos from the last 24 hours, posted by Pages similar to yours, displayed above a ‘See more’ prompt.

When you tap through to the new hub, you’ll have a range of additional filters to check out trending content from across Facebook, including Page category, content type, region, and more.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

That could be hugely valuable in learning what Facebook users are responding to, and what people within your target market are engaging with in the app.

The Hub also includes insights into trending hashtags, within your chosen timeframe, which may further assist in tapping into trending discussions.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

How valuable hashtags are on Facebook is still up for debate, but you’ll also note that you can filter the displayed results by platform, so you can additionally display Instagram hashtag trends as well, which could be very valuable in maximizing your reach.

Much of this type of info has been available within CrowdTangle, Facebook’s analytics platform for journalists, for some time, but not everyone can access CrowdTangle data, which could make this an even more valuable proposition for many marketers.

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Of course, overall performance really relates to your own creative, and thinking through the action that you want your audience to take when reading your posts. But in terms of detecting new content trends, including hashtag usage, caption length, videos versus image posts, and more, there’s a lot that could be gleaned from these tools and filters.

It’s a significant analytics addition – we’ve asked Facebook for more info on the rollout of the new option, and whether it’s already beyond test mode, etc. We’ll update this post if/when we hear back.

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Meta Updates Policy on Cryptocurrency Ads, Opening the Door to More Crypto Promotions in its Apps




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With cryptocurrencies gaining momentum, in line with the broader Web 3.0 push, Meta has today announced an update to its ad policies around cryptocurrencies, which will open the door to more crypto advertisers on its platforms.

As per Meta:

Starting today, we’re updating our eligibility criteria for running ads about cryptocurrency on our platform by expanding the number of regulatory licenses we accept from three to 27. We are also making the list of eligible licenses publicly available on our policy page.”

Essentially, in order to run any crypto ads in Meta’s apps, that currency needs to adhere to regional licensing provisions, which vary by nation. With crypto becoming more accepted, Meta’s now looking to enable more crypto companies to publish ads on its platform, which will provide expanded opportunity for recognized crypto providers to promote their products, while also enabling Meta to make more money from crypto ads.

“Previously, advertisers could submit an application and include information such as any licenses they obtained, whether they are traded on a public stock exchange, and other relevant public background on their business. However, over the years the cryptocurrency landscape has matured and stabilized and experienced an increase in government regulation, which has helped to set clearer responsibilities and expectations for the industry. Going forward, we will be moving away from using a variety of signals to confirm eligibility and instead requiring one of these 27 licenses.”

Is that a good move? Well, as Meta notes, the crypto marketplace is maturing, and there’s now much wider recognition of cryptocurrencies as a legitimate form of payment. But they’re also not supported by most local financial regulators, which reduced transaction protection and oversight, which also brings a level of risk in such process.

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But then again, all crypto providers are required to clearly outline any such risks, and most also highlight the ongoing market volatility in the space. This expanded level of overall transparency means that most people who are investing in crypto have at least some awareness of these elements, which likely does diminish the risk factor in such promotions within Meta’s apps.

But as crypto adoption continues to expand, more of these risks will become apparent, and while much of the crypto community is built on good faith, and a sense of community around building something new, there are questions as to how much that can hold at scale, and what that will then mean for evolving scams and criminal activity, especially as more vulnerable investors are brought into the mix.

Broader promotional capacity through Meta’s apps will certainly help to boost exposure in this respect – though again, the relative risk factors are lessened by expanded regulatory oversight outside of the company.

You can read more about Meta’s expanded crypto ad regulations here.

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Meta Outlines Evolving Safety Measures in Messaging as it Seeks to Allay Fears Around the Expansion of E2E Encryption




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Amid rising concern about Meta’s move to roll out end-to-end encryption by default to all of its messaging apps, Meta’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis has today sought to provide a level of reassurance that Meta is indeed aware of the risks and dangers that such protection can pose, and that it is building safeguards into its processes to protect against potential misuse.

Though the measures outlined don’t exactly address all the issues raised by analysts and safety groups around the world.

As a quick recap, back in 2019, Facebook announced its plan to merge the messaging functionalities of Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, which would then provide users with a universal inbox, with all of your message threads from each app accessible on either platform.

The idea is that this will simplify cross-connection, while also opening the door to more opportunities for brands to connect with users in the messaging tool of their choice – but it also, inherently, means that the data protection method for its messaging tools must rise to the level of WhatsApp, its most secure messaging platform, which already includes E2E encryption as the default.

Various child safety experts raised the alarm, and several months after Facebook’s initial announcement, representatives from the UK, US and Australian Governments sent an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting that the company abandon its integration plan.

Meta has pushed ahead, despite specific concerns that the expansion of encryption will see its messaging tools used by child trafficking and exploitation groups, and now, as it closes in on the next stage, Meta’s working to counter such claims, with Davis outlining six key elements which she believes will ensure safety within this push.

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Davis has explained the various measures that Meta has added on this front, including:

  • Detection tools to stop adults from repeatedly setting up new profiles in an attempt to connect minors that they don’t know
  • Safety notices in Messenger, which provide tips on spotting suspicious behavior
  • The capacity to filter messages with selected keywords on Instagram
  • More filtering options in chat requests to help avoid unwanted contact
  • Improved education prompts to help detect spammers and scammers in messages
  • New processes to make it easier to report potential harm, including an option to select “involves a child”, which will then prioritize the report for review and action

Meta messaging security options

Which are all good, all important steps in detection, while Davis also notes that its reporting process “decrypts portions of the conversation that were previously encrypted and unavailable to us so that we can take immediate action if violations are detected”.

That’ll no doubt raise an eyebrow or two among WhatsApp users – but the problem here is that, overall, the broader concern is that such protections will facilitate usage by criminal groups, and the reliance on self-reporting in this respect is not going to have any impact on these networks operating, at scale, under a more protected messaging framework within Meta’s app eco-system.

Governments have called for ‘backdoor access’ to break Meta’s encryption for investigations into such activity, which Meta says is both not possible and will not be built into its future framework. The elements outlined by Davis do little to address this specific need, and without the capacity to better detect such, it’s hard to see any of the groups opposed to Meta’s expanded encryption changing their stance, and accepting that the merging of all of the platform’s DM options will not also see a rise in criminal activity organized via the same apps.

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Of course, the counterargument could be that encryption is already available on WhatsApp, and that criminal activity of this type can already be undertaken within WhatsApp alone. But with a combined user count of 3.58 billion people per month across its family of apps, that’s a significantly broader interconnection of people than WhatsApp’s 2 billion active users, which, arguably, could open the door to far more potential harm and danger in this respect.

Really, there’s no right answer here. Privacy advocates will argue that encryption should be the standard, and that more people are actually more protected, on balance, by enhanced security measures. But there is also an undeniable risk in shielding even more criminal groups from detection.

Either way, right now, Meta seems determined to push ahead with the plan, which will weld all of its messaging tools together, and also make it more difficult to break-up its network, if any antitrust decisions don’t go Meta’s way, and it’s potentially pressed to sell-off Instagram or WhatsApp as a result.

But expect more debate to be had, in more countries, as Meta continues to justify its decision, and regulatory and law enforcement groups seek more options to help maintain a level of accessibility for criminal investigations and detection.

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