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Facebook draws fire over plan to reduce political content | CBC News

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U.S. social media giant Facebook should be more transparent about how it is reducing the political content Canadians are seeing as they prepare to head to the polls in the federal election, New Democrat Charlie Angus says.

NDP MP Charlie Angus says Facebook should tell Canadians more about the algorithm it is using to reduce the political content they see in their feeds. (CBC)

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American social media giant Facebook should be more transparent about how it is reducing the political content Canadians are seeing as they prepare to head to the polls in the federal election, says New Democrat Charlie Angus.

In an interview with CBC News, Angus said Facebook has “unprecedented power” and is the source of information for many Canadians.

“When Facebook says they’re going to be having less political coverage, I want to know what does that mean practically, because if they are throttling political conversation and political information when many people coming off the pandemic are getting their information online, that could be very troubling,” said Angus, a longtime NDP MP who has participated in the work of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation, which studies the influence of social media platforms on countries around the world.

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Angus’s comments came Wednesday as Facebook unveiled its 2021 Canadian Election Integrity Initiative, which outlines steps it plans to take to prevent its platform from being used by bad actors to influence the election or to spread misinformation or disinformation.

The initiative also includes the continuation of a pilot project Facebook launched in February to reduce the political content that Canadian users see automatically in their Facebook feeds in favour of posts from friends and family.

Facebook Canada’s public policy manager Rachel Curran defended the decision to reduce the amount of political content Canadians see in a Twitter exchange with Conservative Senator Denise Batters. (CBC)

In a response to Conservative Senator Denise Batters, who tweeted Wednesday that “information suppression” could “help the incumbent government,” Rachel Curran, Facebook’s public policy manager and a former aide to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said the suggestion was “inaccurate and unhelpful.”

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“Facebook announced a reduction in organic political content (not political ads) back in Feb, because Canadian users want to see less of it in their feeds,” Curran tweeted. “It affects content equally across the political spectrum and all parties have been briefed.”

Angus, however, is concerned.

“If they have decided that when you get up in the morning there’s going to be more stories about cat videos than what’s happening on the political front, I don’t know if that is helpful,” Angus said. “They need to explain very clearly. They need to be transparent about what they are doing so we know that Facebook’s algorithm builders aren’t monkey-wrenching public conversation.”

The algorithm can’t be kept in a black box when we’re talking about democracy.– New Democrat Charlie Angus

Angus said Facebook should make public the algorithm it is using to restrict political content in Canadian users’ feeds.

“The algorithm can’t be kept in a black box when we’re talking about democracy. That would be a fundamental. There has to be a transparency factor that we know why content is being promoted or why content is being diminished online through the algorithm.”

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Angus also questioned whether political players could manipulate the algorithm to reduce political content to favour one party or another.

“Gaming the algorithm is something that you can be rest assured that data mercenaries are working on right now, and the ones who solve that problem will sell it to the highest political bidder,” Angus said.

Liberal Party spokesman Alex Deslongchamps said communication via social media is important to the party but didn’t directly comment on Facebook’s decision to reduce political content.

“It’s important that Canadians are able to easily access and exchange ideas with political leaders and candidates online, and we have taken strong steps to ensure transparency and accountability on social media during elections,” Deslongchamps wrote.

“Positive engagement online, including on Facebook and other social media platforms, continues to be an important way that the Liberal Party and our candidates work to involve more Canadians in our democracy and elections. Regardless of the platform, the Liberal Party will continue to pursue innovative and engaging ways to connect with more people about our plan to keep Canada moving forward.

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Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada is concerned about social media companies’ censoring conservative views by removing posts the companies consider misinformation or contrary to their community standards. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

For Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada (PPC), which has actively protested against some of the public health restrictions imposed during the pandemic, Facebook’s plan to remove content it classifies as misinformation is more troubling.

“We obviously support their intervening to prevent blatant misinformation that can cause harm, and attempts to distort and manipulate the elections,” said Martin Masse, spokesman for the party. “But Facebook (and Twitter and YouTube) rules have clearly been excessive and crossed the line into overt censorship of non-political correct views, and in particular conservative oriented views, these past few years.”

Masse said the PPC is less concerned by the move to reduce political content.

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“Facebook is a private company that is trying to please its clients, and if they believe their users want to see less political content, then it’s up to them to make this decision. Given that users can change their settings to see more if they want, we have no problem with this.”

The Bloc Québécois focused on its election advertising plans and refused to comment on Facebook’s decision to reduce political content.

“At the Bloc Québécois, we value being present in traditional Quebec media, notably in national and regional radio as well as on large advertising billboards,” wrote Yves Perron, chairman of the Bloc’s election campaign and candidate in the riding of Berthier–Maskinongé. “On the digital side, we will be present in banners in Quebec media in their online versions. Finally, when we do social media advertising, we will ensure that we fulfil all the legal requirements.”

The Conservative and Green parties have not yet responded to requests by CBC News for comment.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

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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.

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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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