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A group of moms on Facebook built an island of good-faith vaccine – The Washington Post

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“On both sides, there’s people telling the truth, at least their truth,” said Buchanan, 32, who last month became infected with the coronavirus. “But on the pro-vaccine side, there was just more logic” — and more links to solid research. “On the anti-vaccine side, there was more conspiracy.”

Now he’s going to get vaccinated.

As covid-19 cases surge in the United States, jeopardizing the reopening of schools and offices and rekindling debates about mask and vaccination mandates, the battle to win over the vaccine skeptical has taken on fresh urgency. Much of that struggle is happening on social media, where misinformation about the vaccines continues to flourish. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all established rules against posting false information about covid and vaccines. Yet just this weekend Facebook said the most-shared link on its site from January to March this year was an article that raised concerns that coronavirus vaccines could lead to death.

Amid the online scare stories and anti-vaccine memes, an army of local influencers and everyday users is waging a grass-roots campaign on Facebook, Reddit and other platforms to gently win over the vaccine skeptical. They’re spending hours moderating forums, responding to comments, linking to research studies, and sharing tips on how to talk to fearful family members.

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“It feels a lot like covid is something that is completely out of control and there is nothing we can do, like it’s this out-of-control wildfire, and I’m just one person with a little hose,” said Kate Bilowitz, an Oakland, Calif.-based mom who works for a real estate company and co-founded Vaccine Talk. “But when people reach out to us, it feels like it’s making a little bit of a difference.”

Their work exemplifies Facebook’s stated goal to “bring the world closer together.” But Bilowitz and others who run similar forums say that the interventions made by technology companies are often counterproductive, and that software algorithms frequently delete valuable conversations mistaken for misinformation.

“Facebook is attempting to shut down misinformation by shutting down all conversation entirely,” she said. “I strongly believe that civil, evidence-based discussion works, and Facebook’s policies make it extremely difficult for that to happen.”

Facebook leans on software and its army of 15,000 human moderators to detect covid misinformation. Last month, it said it had taken down more than 20 million posts since the start of the pandemic. But it routinely misses new memes and conspiracy theories, while at times scrubbing legitimate information. At the same time, its news feed algorithms boost posts that get the most engagement, often helping the most sensational claims go viral.

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Twitter and Google-owned YouTube have employed similar strategies, using algorithms to parse text posts and listen to videos, sometimes banning them immediately and other times flagging them for a human to review. The companies have peppered their sites with links to official coronavirus information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization, as well as pushing articles from mainstream news organizations to the top of people’s feeds and search results.

President Biden on July 19 said that Facebook was not killing people, but that coronavirus vaccine misinformation on its site was killing people. (The Washington Post)

While the White House is launching a project to pay micro-influencers to spread pro-vaccine messaging, a handful of carefully designed and self-policed online spaces, such as the Vaccine Talk group on Facebook, are showing that it is possible to change people’s minds, one nuanced post at a time. To do it, they’re adopting moderation systems and rules of discourse very different from those of the social media platforms.

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People’s attitudes toward the coronavirus vaccines are complex, and it’s hard to quantify the role social media has played in sowing or overcoming their doubts. A recent survey by Rutgers University found that people who get their news primarily from Facebook were less likely to be vaccinated than any other group of news consumers.

But research also supports the idea that social media can be a force for pro-vaccine persuasion, under the right circumstances. A forthcoming study from researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that people on the fence about vaccination can be swayed by learning that others around them are getting vaccinated. And a 2020 study by health misinformation researchers Emily Vraga of the University of Minnesota and Leticia Bode of Georgetown University showed that social media users who rebut misleading claims with factual information may not persuade the original poster but can influence the beliefs of others who witness the exchanges.

People concerned about vaccine safety may be easier to convince than those who don’t trust the government or medical authorities, said Wendy King, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Earlier this year, King surveyed more than 5 million U.S. adults about their attitudes toward coronavirus vaccines. Many who said they may not or won’t get vaccinated said they feared side effects — a sign they may be influenced by misinformation.

“They are reading a lot of nonscientific literature and a lot of social media posts about things that are happening to people post-vaccine, and they are really worried,” King said.

That’s what happened for Bilowitz, 35. She first turned to Facebook for information on childhood vaccinations in 2015, after she gave birth. Months earlier, there had been a measles outbreak at Disneyland, which officials blamed on too-low vaccination rates. She realized a Facebook group she had joined was run by vaccine opponents, part of the anti-vaccine movement that flourished on social media long before the coronavirus pandemic.

After Bilowitz and some other moms got kicked out of that group, they formed the Vaccine Talk group to focus on evidence-based information.

“The most important rule was ‘civility,’ ” Bilowitz said. “There are some groups online where people just yell at each other. We wanted to just be able to talk to one another without it getting that way.”

Vaccine Talk now has nearly 70,000 members, each of whom must gain administrators’ approval to join and commit to a code of conduct. Strict rules prohibit users from misrepresenting themselves, offering medical advice and harassing or bullying people. Another key rule: Be ready to provide citations within 24 hours for any claim you make. Twenty-five moderators and administrators in six countries monitor the posts, and those who flout the rules are kicked out.

“Usually, the hardcore anti-vaxxers cannot follow the rules,” Bilowitz said. “They are usually spamming people with their commentary. I think it’s hard for them: They are basically coming out of an echo chamber.”

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Vaccine Talk represents exactly the type of conversations Facebook says it wants to cultivate. But Bilowitz said the social network’s often clumsy and heavy-handed enforcement of covid misinformation policies has made their work more difficult. In June, Facebook temporarily shut down the group because someone posted an article deemed to be misinformation. But the poster had been seeking advice on how to rebut the article.

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“We were just caught up in the algorithm,” Bilowitz said, “and felt there wasn’t a human in charge of the process.”

To combat covid misinformation, Facebook has created both a banner across its site and a tab on covid-related posts that link people to authoritative information from public health organizations. The company’s head of health, Kang-Xing Jin, said surveys suggest vaccine acceptance on the part of American Facebook users has increased since January, from about 70 percent to upward of 80 percent. But he has also acknowledged the challenge in drawing a line between posts that evince earnest skepticism and those that are ideologically motivated.

Monica Buescher, a 32-year-old teacher in Vacaville, Calif., said she went “deep down the rabbit hole” of anti-vaccine misinformation when she had her second child in 2019. Convinced that shots were dangerous, she nonetheless wanted to hear the pro-vaccine side. She found her way to Vaccine Talk, which she said had a reputation among anti-vaccine groups as being “mean” for banning those who made claims without scientific evidence.

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On Vaccine Talk, Buescher credits a handful of people with walking her through the scientific evidence and persuading her that routine childhood vaccines are safe and effective. Now, Buescher is helping her friends and family navigate conflicting information about coronavirus vaccines.

“It’s mostly just offering my experience, hopefully in an unassuming way that implies I’ve tried to understand both sides,” she said.

Vaccine Talk isn’t the only venue for such conversations. In other corners of the Internet where ground rules and moderators facilitate conversations that don’t spiral into shouting matches, people who had avoided getting vaccinated against the coronavirus are finding reasons to do so.

Ryan Steward, 29, a mechanic and pastor from Spartanburg, S.C., had never hesitated to get vaccines for himself or his family — until he started hearing scary stories about the covid shots.

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“I wanted to find a way to break out of my echo chambers,” he said, “find something to shake me out of this fear that had been instilled in me by misinformation and by the media.”

A frequent user of automotive forums on the social media site Reddit, Steward was aware of a popular group called “r/ChangeMyView,” where people post a controversial opinion and invite others to challenge their assumptions. Those who succeed are awarded points, a system meant to incentivize users to keep their replies civil and constructive.

On Aug. 8, Steward posted there for the first time, spelling out his concerns about coronavirus vaccines. He cited the lack of full Food and Drug Administration approval (which came on Monday), the potential for long-term side effects and reports of breakthrough cases among the vaccinated — and braced himself for a cavalcade of vitriol. But aside from one nasty comment that was quickly deleted by the group’s moderators, he got the opposite.

“I understand where you’re coming from,” wrote one user. “The same concerns crossed my mind. However, you aren’t just deciding on the risks of the vaccine, or not. You’re deciding on the risks of the vaccine or the risks of covid.” Other commenters explained the FDA approval process, linked to academic studies and pointed to the pro-vaccine consensus among doctors worldwide, not just in the United States.

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Steward felt grateful — and convinced.

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“Within a matter of two hours, my mind had been changed completely,” he said. He showed the thread to his wife, who agreed to get vaccinated if he went first. So Steward scheduled an appointment — and received his first Moderna shot on Aug. 13.

In interviews, two moderators of ChangeMyView said they see their forum as an oasis of polite discourse in a digital landscape dominated by shouting matches. They also said it’s a constant struggle, on the part of more than 20 active moderators and a core of conscientious users, to keep it that way.

If you want to persuade someone, “approaching them with a sense of empathy is very important — and very much missing, I think, from a huge amount of conversation that happens online,” said London entrepreneur Stuart Johnson, 20, one of the subreddit’s active moderators. “Even if you’re completely right, if your post is just strongly calling out the other person or generalizing about them, they will completely close down. Their ego will no longer allow them to change their mind.”

Johnson also acknowledged, however, that the person has to be open to having their mind changed in the first place. Surveys suggest that many vaccine holdouts are more likely to be persuaded by mandates or cash payments than online debate.

The big tech companies have also made significant changes to their moderation policies during the pandemic. Last year, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all said that posts promoting fake treatments for covid would be taken down. And they’ve worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization to append links to authoritative information on any post they deem to be about covid or vaccines. YouTube also has begun working with hospital groups to create new video series that offer authoritative medical information in response to popular health-related searches.

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Yet online misinformation has proved resilient. A study published earlier this month by researchers at Yale University found that Twitter users learn over time to tweet more “expressions of moral outrage” when such tweets generate more likes and retweets. “Even if platform designers do not intend to amplify moral outrage,” the authors wrote, “design choices aimed at satisfying other goals such as profit maximization via user engagement can indirectly affect moral behavior because outrage-provoking content draws high engagement.”

Outside these purpose-built forums, pro-vaccine messages from everyday Americans can also have an impact. Chelsey Palmer, a 32-year-old lawyer from Jacksonville, Fla., held off getting vaccinated until late June — first because she was pregnant and then because “covid seemed like it died down a little bit.”

But in recent weeks, as the delta variant spread, she saw appeals from local medical professionals in her Facebook feed describing worsening conditions in hospitals.

“Seeing people who were here locally in Jacksonville, just sharing their own experiences of what was going on, seeing their firsthand experience, really gave me the push I needed to get” vaccinated, Palmer said.

In general, Palmer does not see Facebook as a good place to go for vaccine information, however.

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“For the average person who’s not really trying to use critical thinking on social media, it’s actually a pretty dangerous place,” she said, noting that her feed is also riddled with scaremongering and conspiracy theories.

For those debating whether to get vaccinated, “I would not recommend going to social media,” Palmer said. “I would recommend going to a doctor.”

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Updates to Section 7 of the Developer Policies – Facebook Gaming Policies

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We have updated Section 7 of the Developer Policies effective immediately. No change is required from the developers’ end, only awareness about these changes.

As part of our continuous focus on improving developers’ experience, we have made some updates to the Section 7 of the Developer Policies which covers all Facebook Gaming Products, such as Web Games on Facebook.com, Instant Games and Cloud Games. As part of this update we have removed outdated policies, and streamlined the language and structure of Section 7 to better reflect the existing state of our Facebook Gaming Products. We have also reorganized some policies under the Quality Guidelines. These updates do not introduce any product change, nor do they include any new requirements for developers.

Please review the updated Section 7 to familiarize yourself with the updated content structure.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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Creating Apps with App Use Cases

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With the goal of making Meta’s app creation process easier for developers to create and customize their apps, we are announcing the rollout of an updated process using App Use Cases instead of the former product-focused process. App Use Cases will enable developers to quickly create apps by selecting the use case that best represents their reason for creating an app.

Currently, the product-focused app creation process requires developers to select an app type and individually request permission to API endpoints. After listening to feedback from developers saying this process was, at times, confusing and difficult to navigate, we’re updating our approach that’s based on App Use Cases. With App Use Cases, user permissions and features will be bundled with each use case so developers can now confidently select the right data access for their needs. This change sets developers up for success to create their app and navigate app review, ensuring they only get the exact data access they need to accomplish their goals.

Starting today Facebook Login will be the first use case to become available to developers. This will be the first of many use cases that will be built into the app creation process that will roll out continually in 2023. For more information please reference our Facebook Login documentation.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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Understanding Authorization Tokens and Access for the WhatsApp Business Platform

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The WhatsApp Business Platform makes it easy to send WhatsApp messages to your customers and automate replies. Here, we’ll explore authentication using the Cloud API, hosted by Meta.

We’ll start with generating and using a temporary access token and then replace it with a permanent access token. This tutorial assumes you’re building a server-side application and won’t need additional steps to keep your WhatsApp application secrets securely stored.

Managing Access and Authorization Tokens

First, let’s review how to manage authorization tokens and safely access the API.

Prerequisites

Start by making sure you have a developer account on Meta for Developers. You’ll also need WhatsApp installed on a mobile device to send test messages to.

Creating an App

Before you can authenticate, you’ll need an application to authenticate you.

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Once you’re signed in, you see the Meta for Developers App Dashboard. Click Create App to get started.

Next, you’ll need to choose an app type. Choose Business.

After that, enter a display name for your application. If you have a business account to link to your app, select it. If not, don’t worry. The Meta for Developers platform creates a test business account you can use to experiment with the API. When done, click Create App.

Then, you’ll need to add products to your app. Scroll down until you see WhatsApp and click the Set up button:

Finally, choose an existing Meta Business Account or ask the platform to create a new one and click Continue:

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And with that, your app is created and ready to use. You’re automatically directed to the app’s dashboard.

Note that you have a temporary access token. For security reasons, the token expires in less than 24 hours. However, you can use it for now to test accessing the API. Later, we’ll cover how to generate a permanent access token that your server applications can use. Also, note your app’s phone number ID because you’ll need it soon.

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Click the dropdown under the To field, and then click Manage phone number list.

In the popup that appears, enter the phone number of a WhatsApp account to send test messages to.

Then, scroll further down the dashboard page and you’ll see an example curl call that looks similar to this:

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curl -i -X POST https://graph.facebook.com/v13.0//messages -H 'Authorization: Bearer ' -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -d '{ "messaging_product": "whatsapp", "to": "", "type": "template", "template": { "name": "hello_world", "language": { "code": "en_US" } } }'

Note that the Meta for Developers platform inserts your app’s phone number ID and access token instead of the and placeholders shown above. If you have curl installed, paste the command into your terminal and run it. You should receive a “hello world” message in WhatsApp on your test device.

If you’d prefer, you can convert the curl request into an HTTP request in your programming language by simply creating a POST request that sets the Authorization and Content-Type headers as shown above, including the JSON payload in the request body.

Since this post is about authentication, let’s focus on that. Notice that you’ve included your app’s access token in the Authorization header. For any request to the API, you must set the Authorization header to Bearer .

Remember that you must use your token instead of the placeholder. Using bearer tokens will be familiar if you’ve worked with JWT or OAuth2 tokens before. If you’ve never seen one before, a bearer token is essentially a random secret string that you, as the bearer of the token, can present to an API to prove you’re allowed to access it.

Failure to include this header causes the API to return a 401 Unauthorized response code.

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Creating a Permanent Access Token

Knowing that you need to use a bearer token in the Authorization header of an HTTP request is helpful, but it’s not enough. The only access token you’ve seen so far is temporary. Chances are that you want your app to access the API for more than 24 hours, so you need to generate a longer-lasting access token.

Fortunately, the Meta for Developers platform makes this easy. All you need to do is add a System User to your business account to obtain an access token you can use to continue accessing the API. To create a system user, do the following:

  • Go to Business Settings.

  • Select the business account your app is associated with.
  • Below Users, click System Users.
  • Click Add.
  • Name the system user, choose Admin as the user role, and click Create System User.
  • Select the whatsapp_business_messaging permission.
  • Click Generate New Token.
  • Copy and save your token.

Your access token is a random string of letters and numbers. Now, try re-running the earlier request using the token you just created instead of the temporary one:

curl -i -X POST https://graph.facebook.com/v13.0//messages -H 'Authorization: Bearer ' -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -d '{ "messaging_product": "whatsapp", "to": "", "type": "template", "template": { "name": "hello_world", "language": { "code": "en_US" } } }'

Your test device should receive a second hello message sent via the API.

Best Practices for Managing Access Tokens

It’s important to remember that you should never embed an App Access Token in a mobile or desktop application. These tokens are only for use in server-side applications that communicate with the API. Safeguard them the same way you would any other application secrets, like your database credentials, as anyone with your token has access to the API as your business.

If your application runs on a cloud services provider like AWS, Azure, GCP, or others, those platforms have tools to securely store app secrets. Alternatively there are freely-available secret stores like Vault or Conjur. While any of these options may work for you, it’s important to evaluate your options and choose what works best for your setup. At the very least, consider storing access tokens in environment variables and not in a database or a file where they’re easy to find during a data breach.

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Conclusion

In this post, you learned how to create a Meta for Developers app that leverages the WhatsApp Business Platform. You now know how the Cloud API’s bearer access tokens work, how to send an access token using an HTTP authorization header, and what happens if you send an invalid access token. You also understand the importance of keeping your access tokens safe since an access token allows an application to access a business’ WhatsApp messaging capabilities.

Why not try using the Cloud API, hosted by Meta if you’re considering building an app for your business to manage WhatsApp messaging? Now that you know how to obtain and use access tokens, you can use them to access any endpoint in the API.

First seen at developers.facebook.com

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