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Meta Said to Curtail Election Misinformation Efforts as US Midterm Vote Approaches: Details

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Facebook owner Meta is quietly curtailing some of the safeguards designed to thwart voting misinformation or foreign interference in US elections as the November midterm vote approaches.

It’s a sharp departure from the social media giant’s multibillion-dollar efforts to enhance the accuracy of posts about US elections and regain trust from lawmakers and the public after their outrage over learning the company had exploited people’s data and allowed falsehoods to overrun its site during the 2016 campaign.

The pivot is raising alarm about Meta’s priorities and about how some might exploit the world’s most popular social media platforms to spread misleading claims, launch fake accounts and rile up partisan extremists.

“They’re not talking about it,” said former Facebook policy director Katie Harbath, now the CEO of the tech and policy firm Anchor Change. “Best case scenario: They’re still doing a lot behind the scenes. Worst case scenario: They pull back, and we don’t know how that’s going to manifest itself for the midterms on the platforms.”

Since last year, Meta has shut down an examination into how falsehoods are amplified in political ads on Facebook by indefinitely banishing the researchers from the site.

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CrowdTangle, the online tool that the company offered to hundreds of newsrooms and researchers so they could identify trending posts and misinformation across Facebook or Instagram, is now inoperable on some days.

Public communication about the company’s response to election misinformation has gone decidedly quiet. Between 2018 and 2020, the company released more than 30 statements that laid out specifics about how it would stifle US election misinformation, prevent foreign adversaries from running ads or posts around the vote and subdue divisive hate speech.

Top executives hosted question and answer sessions with reporters about new policies. CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote Facebook posts promising to take down false voting information and authored opinion articles calling for more regulations to tackle foreign interference in US elections via social media.

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But this year Meta has only released a one-page document outlining plans for the fall elections, even as potential threats to the vote remain clear. Several Republican candidates are pushing false claims about the US election across social media. In addition, Russia and China continue to wage aggressive social media propaganda campaigns aimed at further political divides among American audiences.

Meta says that elections remain a priority and that policies developed in recent years around election misinformation or foreign interference are now hard-wired into company operations.

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“With every election, we incorporate what we’ve learned into new processes and have established channels to share information with the government and our industry partners,” Meta spokesman Tom Reynolds said.

He declined to say how many employees would be on the project to protect US elections full time this year.

During the 2018 election cycle, the company offered tours and photos and produced head counts for its election response war room. But The New York Times reported the number of Meta employees working on this year’s election had been cut from 300 to 60, a figure Meta disputes.

Reynolds said Meta will pull hundreds of employees who work across 40 of the company’s other teams to monitor the upcoming vote alongside the election team, with its unspecified number of workers.

The company is continuing many initiatives it developed to limit election misinformation, such as a fact-checking program started in 2016 that enlists the help of news outlets to investigate the veracity of popular falsehoods spreading on Facebook or Instagram. The Associated Press is part of Meta’s fact-checking program.

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This month, Meta also rolled out a new feature for political ads that allows the public to search for details about how advertisers target people based on their interests across Facebook and Instagram.

Yet, Meta has stifled other efforts to identify election misinformation on its sites.

It has stopped making improvements to CrowdTangle, a website it offered to newsrooms around the world that provides insights about trending social media posts. Journalists, fact-checkers and researchers used the website to analyse Facebook content, including tracing popular misinformation and who is responsible for it.

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That tool is now “dying,” former CrowdTangle CEO Brandon Silverman, who left Meta last year, told the Senate Judiciary Committee this spring.

Silverman told the AP that CrowdTangle had been working on upgrades that would make it easier to search the text of internet memes, which can often be used to spread half-truths and escape the oversight of fact-checkers, for example.

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“There’s no real shortage of ways you can organise this data to make it useful for a lot of different parts of the fact-checking community, newsrooms and broader civil society,” Silverman said.

Not everyone at Meta agreed with that transparent approach, Silverman said. The company has not rolled out any new updates or features to CrowdTangle in more than a year, and it has experienced hourslong outages in recent months.

Meta also shut down efforts to investigate how misinformation travels through political ads.

The company indefinitely revoked access to Facebook for a pair of New York University researchers who they said collected unauthorised data from the platform. The move came hours after NYU professor Laura Edelson said she shared plans with the company to investigate the spread of disinformation on the platform around the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, which is now the subject of a House investigation.

“What we found, when we looked closely, is that their systems were probably dangerous for a lot of their users,” Edelson said.

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Privately, former and current Meta employees say exposing those dangers around the American elections have created public and political backlash for the company.

Republicans routinely accuse Facebook of unfairly censoring conservatives, some of whom have been kicked off for breaking the company’s rules. Democrats, meanwhile, regularly complain the tech company hasn’t gone far enough to curb disinformation.

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“It’s something that’s so politically fraught, they’re more trying to shy away from it than jump in head first.” said Harbath, the former Facebook policy director. “They just see it as a big old pile of headaches.”

Meanwhile, the possibility of regulation in the US no longer looms over the company, with lawmakers failing to reach any consensus over what oversight the multibillion-dollar company should be subjected to.

Free from that threat, Meta’s leaders have devoted the company’s time, money and resources to a new project in recent months.

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Zuckerberg dived into this massive rebranding and reorganisation of Facebook last October, when he changed the company’s name to Meta Platforms. He plans to spend years and billions of dollars evolving his social media platforms into a nascent virtual reality construct called the “metaverse” — sort of like the internet brought to life, rendered in 3D.

His public Facebook page posts now focus on product announcements, hailing artificial intelligence, and photos of him enjoying life. News about election preparedness is announced in company blog posts not written by him.

In one of Zuckerberg’s posts last October, after an ex-Facebook employee leaked internal documents showing how the platform magnifies hate and misinformation, he defended the company. He also reminded his followers that he had pushed Congress to modernise regulations around elections for the digital age.

“I know it’s frustrating to see the good work we do get mischaracterised, especially for those of you who are making important contributions across safety, integrity, research and product,” he wrote on October 5. “But I believe that over the long term if we keep trying to do what’s right and delivering experiences that improve people’s lives, it will be better for our community and our business.”

It was the last time he discussed the Menlo Park, California-based company’s election work in a public Facebook post.

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Facebook Bans Major US Anti-Vaccination Group Children’s Health Defense for Spreading Covid-19 Misinformation

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Facebook-owner Meta said Thursday it had kicked one of the most influential US anti-vaccination groups off the social media network for spreading Covid-19 misinformation. The Children’s Health Defense (CHD), which has been a critic of Covid vaccines, immediately accused Meta of stifling its free speech rights. “Facebook is acting here as a surrogate for the federal government’s crusade to silence all criticism of draconian government policies,” CHD founder Robert Kennedy Jr., nephew of late president John F. Kennedy, said in a press release.

Meta spokesperson Aaron Simpson told AFP that the group’s accounts at Facebook and Instagram were shuttered on Wednesday. The ban came after repeated violations of Meta’s misinformation rules.

CHD said its social media accounts were followed by hundreds of thousands of people, and claimed the action by Meta came as a surprise.

In a release, the group shared a screen capture showing messages stating the accounts were suspended for violating Meta policies regarding “misinformation that could lead to real world harm.”

CHD contended that the ban could be related to a lawsuit it filed against Meta accusing the tech giant of infringing free speech rights by relying on US Centers for Disease Control regarding what Covid-19 information is scientifically backed.

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The anti-vaccine group has appealed a lower court ruling against it in the litigation, according to legal filings.

In other news, US teens have left Facebook in droves over the past seven years, preferring to spend time at video-sharing venues YouTube and TikTok, according to a Pew Research Center survey data out Wednesday. TikTok has “emerged as a top social media platform for US teens” while Google-run

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YouTube “stands out as the most common platform used by teens,” the report’s authors wrote.Pew’s data comes as Facebook-owner Meta is in a battle with TikTok for social media primacy, trying to keep the maximum number of users as part of its multi-billion-dollar ad-driven business.

The report said some 95 percent of the teens surveyed said they use YouTube, compared with 67 percent saying they are TikTok users.Just 32 percent of teens surveyed said they log on to Facebook — a big drop from the 71 percent who reported being users during a similar survey some seven years ago


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Elon Musk Said to Target Advertising Tech Firms in Twitter Suit Over Takeover Deal

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Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is attempting to walk away from his deal to acquire Twitter, is seeking documents from advertising technology firms as part of his quest to gain more information on bot and spam accounts on Twitter, according to filings in a Delaware court on Thursday. Twitter has sued the Tesla chief executive, who has accused Twitter of hiding information about how it calculates the percentage of bots on the service, for attempting to walk away from the $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,50,900 crore) agreement. A trial is scheduled for October 17.

Musk’s lawyers have subpoenaed both Integral Ad Science (IAS) and DoubleVerify for any documents or communications on their involvement in reviewing accounts or participation in any audit of Twitter’s user base.

IAS and DoubleVerify, which are both based in New York, use technology to independently verify that digital ads are viewed by real people. Advertisers use the services to ensure the ads they pay for are seen by potential customers and not automated bots.

Twitter, IAS and DoubleVerify did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In response to a tweet by a user who questioned how Twitter audits its service and also linked to a Reuters story on Musk targeting the ad firms, Musk tweeted: “Those are the questions that Twitter is doing everything possible to avoid answering …”

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In a countersuit earlier this month, Musk claimed that Twitter’s monetizable daily active users are 65 million lower than what the company has touted. Twitter has said it stands by its disclosures.

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The metric measures users who log onto Twitter through the website or apps that are able to serve ads or used paid products like subscriptions, according to Twitter filings.

© Thomson Reuters 2022


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Snap Said to Shut Down Development of Pixy Flying Selfie Drone Camera: Report

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Snapchat parent Snap will stop future development of its Pixy flying selfie drone, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter. Pixy, which costs $230 (roughly Rs. 18.300), will continue to be sold in its current iteration, according to the report.

The news comes nearly four months after the Santa Monica, California-based company launched the pocket-sized Pixy camera, which can fly a few feet above its user to take photos and videos.

Snap declined to comment on the report.

Rising costs and other economic woes have forced companies to curb their marketing spend, hurting ad-reliant online companies such as Snap, Facebook-parent Meta, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Last month, Snap had warned of “incredibly challenging conditions” due to the current economic turmoil and increasing competition after reporting disappointing results.

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The company, which is reeling from privacy changes made to Apple’s iPhone, had also said it would significantly slow hiring, invest in its advertising business and find new sources of revenue as part of its belt-tightening efforts.

On Monday, Snap said it had reached 1 million subscribers for its Snapchat premium subscription, after launching the service in June as a new source of revenue.

Social media companies including SnapTwitter, and Meta Platforms, which all earn the majority of revenue from selling digital advertising, are facing a weakening ad market due to record-high inflation causing brands to reign in their marketing spending.

Snap’s shares dropped 25 percent last month after disappointing second quarter earnings, as it suffered from weaker advertising demand than Wall Street had expected. Chief Executive Evan Spiegel said the company would work to speed up revenue growth, in part through new sources of revenue.

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© Thomson Reuters 2022

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