(CNN) — Last week, even as it came under fire from the White House over its role in spreading anti-vaccine misinformation, Facebook hadn’t taken the simple step of blocking the #VaccinesKill hashtag on its platform.
Now the hashtag is hidden on the platform, locked behind a message that says Facebook is “keeping our community safe.”
The change happened hours after Facebook was asked why the page full of anti-vaccination falsehoods was easy to find. If this sounds familiar, it’s because almost the exact same thing happened with Facebook-owned Instagram two years ago, during one of the company’s previous efforts to tell people that, seriously, it really was doing a great job of moderating anti-vaccine content.
It’s yet another example of the Whack-a-mole that happens all across social media. Reporters or other users notice content that clearly violates a platform’s policies; they ask why it is being permitted; the platform whacks it away; and then the cycle repeats.
Attention was brought to the existence of the #VaccinesKill content last weekend, after President JoeBiden accused Facebook of “killing people” by letting lies spread on its platforms.
Biden later walked that back and focused his ire on individuals and organizations who use Facebook to spread disinformation.
It remains quite hard to get a handle on the scope of the problem. Many of the so-called “disinformation dozen” that Biden criticized, who were identified in a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate as super-spreaders of anti-vaccine propaganda, have been banned in some way from one or another of Facebook’s platforms or have gone quiet. Some of the “dozen” have learned how to post in ways that create less risk Facebook will take action against them.
But in different corners of the never-ending website, there are egregious violations of Facebook policies that are meant to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
A review of the #VaccinesKill hashtag page on Saturday showed posts from ordinary users with fear-mongering messages about “vaccines literally eating people’s brains” and shadowy forces launching a “population reduction plan.” Other posts warned people against “injecting this software into your system” and said “if you love your children then don’t let them get the jab!”
The hashtag page was not particularly active, but it was clear that some users wanted their Facebook friends to latch onto #VaccinesKill rhetoric, and were using the hashtag accordingly.
Some users attached videos from Fox host Tucker Carlson and InfoWars host Alex Jones. In another case, a user shared an anti-vaccination article from a website that pretended to be an authoritative news source. Some of the posts were accompanied by a Facebook label that pointed people to accurate information about vaccines.
Similar posts full of misinformation were seen on the #VaccinesKill hashtag on Instagram in 2019.
Back then, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Instagram blocked the #VaccinesKill hashtag. It still is blocked there.
But the hashtag remained active on Facebook. “Our process to determine whether a hashtag violates our policies takes several factors into account, including the percentage of content using the hashtag that violates,” a Facebook spokesperson said in response to questions.
“We began blocking the #VaccinesKill hashtag on Instagram in 2019 because there was a substantial portion of content with the hashtag that violated our policies. At the time, Facebook content with the hashtag did not reach our threshold to block the hashtag,” the spokesperson said. “Now, the #VaccinesKill hashtag on Facebook violates our policies against misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines and we’ve blocked it from search.”
Facebook said it also removes individual posts with the hashtag “that violate Community Standards when we become aware of them.”
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.