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Authors of new book depict ‘Facebook’s dilemma and its ugly truth’

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With scrutiny of Big Tech intensifying every single week, an ambitious new book is measuring Facebook’s missteps and miseries. As the title indicates, it’s not pretty:

    “An Ugly Truth” is the name of the book, co-authored by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, both of whom report for the NYT. The book comes out on Tuesday. As I perused an early copy, I was struck by the vastness of the story. Facebook is, as Kang and Frenkel write, an “unstoppable profit-making machine,” affecting all of Earth, from the US to Myanmar. The authors have produced a valuable record of what went wrong, when, where, why, specifically in the last five years.

      “No Filter” author Sarah Frier, who was tasked with reviewing “An Ugly Truth” for The Times, says the book documents a clear pattern: “The social media behemoth does as little as possible to prevent disasters from happening, then feebly attempts to avoid blame and manage public appearances.” That’s why the back cover of the book cleverly lists the company’s apologias over the years: “I’m sorry.” “We need to do better.” “We need to do a better job.”

          The authors conclude that “even if the company undergoes a radical transformation in the coming years, that change is unlikely to come from within.” Why? Because “the algorithm that serves as Facebook’s beating heart is too powerful and too lucrative. And the platform is built upon a fundamental, possibly irreconcilable dichotomy: its purported mission to advance society by connecting people while also profiting off them. It is Facebook’s dilemma and its ugly truth.”

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          Key quotes from the book

          — The narrative focuses on both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, as this excerpt in the NYT illustrates. Together, “they methodically built a business model that is unstoppable in its growth… and entirely deliberate in its design.”

          — From the prologue: “Zuckerberg’s three greatest fears, according to a former senior Facebook executive, were that the site would be hacked, that his employees would be physically hurt, and that regulators would one day break up his social network.”

          — The first chapter opens with an engineer at Facebook abusing his access to users’ private info to snoop on a woman who had ghosted him after one date. Numerous engineers were caught doing so with their work laptops — and were fired. But “it was unknown how many others had gone undetected.” The Telegraph has an extract from this chapter of the book…

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          — Facebook security experts were alarmed about FB posts from “domestic extremists” in the run-up to January 6. Some FB execs “floated getting Zuckerberg to call Trump to find out what the president would say” at his rally. “They ultimately decided against the move, out of concern that the conversation would likely leak to the press. It could make Facebook complicit in whatever Trump did that day.”

          “The ultimate takedown”

          “This is a book intended to make you outraged at Facebook,” Frier wrote in her review. “But if you’ve read anything about the company in recent years, you probably already are. Frenkel and Kang faced the challenge of unearthing new and interesting material about one of the most heavily debated communication tools of our modern age. More than 400 interviews later, they’ve produced the ultimate takedown via careful, comprehensive interrogation of every major Facebook scandal. ‘An Ugly Truth’ provides the kind of satisfaction you might get if you hired a private investigator to track a cheating spouse: It confirms your worst suspicions and then gives you all the dates and details you need to cut through the company’s spin.”

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          Facebook’s response

          When I told a company spokesperson that I was writing about the book’s findings, I received this sharp-elbowed statement in response: “There have been 367 books published on Facebook, each claiming novel insight into how we operate. It seems this one is not only a rehash of history but relies on anecdotes supplied by mostly unnamed critics.”

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          I can only think of a handful of books about Facebook, but that number, 367, is quite close to the number of sources Kang and Frenkel say they had…

            About their access

            In the preamble, the authors say they conducted more than 1,000 hours of interviews with execs, current and former employees, family members, friends, classmates, investors, advisers, and others. “While Zuckerberg and Sandberg initially told their communications staff that they wanted to make sure their perspectives were conveyed in this book, they refused repeated requests for interviews,” the authors write. “On three occasions, Sandberg invited us to off-the-record conversations in Menlo Park and New York, with the promise that those conversations would lead to longer interviews for the record. When she learned about the critical nature of some of our reporting, she cut off direct communication. Apparently the unvarnished account of the Facebook story did not align with her vision of the company and her role as its second-in-command. Zuckerberg, we were told, had no interest in participating.”

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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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            Facebook Owner Meta Launches New Platform, Safety Hub to Protect Women in India

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            Meta (formerly Facebook) on Thursday announced a slew of steps to protect woman users on its platform, including the launch of StopNCII.org in India that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII).

            Meta has also launched the Women’s Safety Hub, which will be available in Hindi and 11 other Indian languages, that will enable more women users in India to access information about tools and resources that can help them make the most of their social media experience, while staying safe online.

            This initiative by Meta will ensure women do not face a language barrier in accessing information Karuna Nain, director (global safety policy) at Meta Platforms, told reporters here.

            “Safety is an integral part of Meta’s commitment to building and offering a safe online experience across the platforms and over the years the company has introduced several industry leading initiatives to protect users online.

            “Furthering our effort to bolster the safety of users, we are bringing in a number of initiatives to ensure online safety of women on our platforms,” she added.

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            StopNCII.org is a platform that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII).

            “It gives victims control. People can come to this platform proactively, hash their intimate videos and images, share their hashes back with the platform and participating companies,” Nain said.

            She explained that the platform doesn’t receive any photos and videos, and instead what they get is the hash or unique digital fingerprint/unique identifier that tells the company that this is a known piece of content that is violating. “We can proactively keep a lookout for that content on our platforms and once it”s uploaded, our review team check what”s really going on and take appropriate action if it violates our policies,” she added.

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            In partnership with UK Revenge Porn Helpline, StopNCII.org builds on Meta’s NCII Pilot, an emergency programme that allows potential victims to proactively hash their intimate images so they can”t be proliferated on its platforms.

            The first-of-its-kind platform, has partnered with global organisations to support the victims of NCII. In India, the platform has partnered with organisations such as Social Media Matters, Centre for Social Research, and Red Dot Foundation.

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            Nain added that the company is hopeful that this becomes an industrywide initiative, so that victims can just come to this one central place to get help and support and not have to go to each and every tech platform, one by one to get help and support.

            Also, Bishakha Datta (executive editor of Point of View) and Jyoti Vadehra from Centre for Social Research are the first Indian members in Meta”s Global Women”s Safety Expert Advisors. The group comprises 12 other non-profit leaders, activists, and academic experts from different parts of the world and consults Meta in the development of new policies, products and programmes to better support women on its apps.

            “We are confident that with our ever-growing safety measures, women will be able to enjoy a social experience which will enable them to learn, engage and grow without any challenges.

            “India is an important market for us and bringing Bishakha and Jyoti onboard to our Women”s Safety Expert Advisory Group will go a long way in further enhancing our efforts to make our platforms safer for women in India,” Nain said.

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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.

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            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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