By Cecilia Kang
Washington: Facebook has pushed back against the Biden administration’s denouncing of the social media giant for spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines, escalating tensions between the Silicon Valley company and the White House.
In a blog post on Saturday (Sunday AEST), Facebook called for the administration to stop “finger-pointing” and laid out what it had done to encourage users to get vaccinated. The social network also detailed how it had clamped down on lies about the vaccines, which officials have said led people to refuse to be vaccinated.
“The Biden administration has chosen to blame a handful of American social media companies,” Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice-president of integrity, said in the post. “The fact is that vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the US has increased.”
Rosen added that the company’s data showed that 85 per cent of its users in the United States had been or wanted to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. While President Joe Biden had set a goal of getting 70 per cent of Americans vaccinated by July 4, which the White House fell short of, “Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed,” Rosen said.
Facebook’s response follows a forceful condemnation of the company by Biden. When asked on Friday (US time) about the role of social media in influencing vaccinations, Biden declared in unusually strong language that the platforms were “killing people”.
“Look,” he added, “the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that — and they’re killing people.”
Other White House officials have also become increasingly vocal about how social media has amplified vaccine lies.
On Thursday (US time), Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, accused social media companies of not having done enough to stop the spread of dangerous health misinformation, calling it a national health crisis that had fostered vaccination hesitancy among Americans.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, also called out misinformation “that is leading to people not taking the vaccine, and people are dying as a result.” She said the White House had a responsibility to raise the issue.
The White House declined to comment on Facebook’s blog post on Saturday.
Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites have long struggled with their role as platforms for speech while protecting their users from disinformation campaigns, like Russian efforts to influence presidential elections or false statements about the pandemic.
In recent months, Facebook has taken steps against anti-vaccination ads and misstatements about the vaccines. In October, it said it would no longer allow anti-vaccination ads on its platform. In February, the company went further and said it would remove posts with erroneous claims about vaccines, including assertions that vaccines cause autism or that it is safer for people to contract the coronavirus than to receive the vaccinations.
But online misinformation about the vaccines has not been eradicated. Lies have spread that vaccines can alter DNA or that the vaccines don’t work.
On Saturday, Rosen said in the blog post that among Facebook’s American users, vaccine hesitancy had declined by 50 per cent since April and vaccine acceptance had increased by 10 to 15 percentage points, or to over 80 per cent from 70 per cent.
“While social media plays an important role in society, it is clear that we need a whole of society approach to end this pandemic,” Rosen said. “And facts — not allegations — should help inform that effort.”
The White House’s frustration with Facebook has mounted over several months, people with knowledge of the matter have said. While the Biden administration asked Facebook to share information about the spread of misinformation on the social network, the company refused to cooperate, the people have said.
On Friday, Robert Flaherty, the White House digital director, said in a tweet, “I guess I’m left with a simple question: How many people have seen COVID vaccine misinformation on Facebook?”
The New York Times
Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey
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 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.
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.
Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.