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Facebook Adds “False Information” Labels and Other Tools Ahead of 2020 Election

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  • Facebook announced that it would be ramping up its measures to fight foreign interference, increase transparency, and reduce misinformation heading into the 2020 election.
  • Some of its plans include giving candidates added protection on their accounts, allowing users to see how much candidates spend on ads, and putting labels on posts that contain misinformation. 
  • This comes during a controversial time for Facebook, which removed foreign accounts because of inauthentic behavior and attempting to influence the election on the same day it announced its plans.
  • The company has also come under fire for deciding to not remove candidate’s posts that contain misinformation, though in a conference call announcing Monday’s changes, Mark Zuckerberg did say there could be exceptions.

Facebook’s New Initiatives

Facebook has announced a list of initiatives it will take to reduce misinformation and address other concerns ahead of the 2020 election.

In a Monday blog post called “Helping to Protect the 2020 US Elections,” the company broke down its plans to “protect the democratic process.”

The bottom line here is that elections have changed significantly since 2016 and Facebook has changed, too,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a conference call announcing the changes. 

The first measure the social media giant is taking aims to fight against foreign interference. The company plans to combat inauthentic behavior and add extra protection for candidate accounts. This will be done via a new tool called Facebook Protect that candidates can sign up for. Along with increasing security on the accounts, it also will monitor for hacking threats. 

The next announced plan is to increase transparency on the site. Facebook said it will make pages more transparent and show the confirmed owner of pages, label state-controlled media, and help users understand political ads. Part of this will include allowing users to see how much presidential candidates are spending on Facebook ads, and will even break down where money is being directed geographically.

The last part of their initiative is to reduce the spread of misinformation on the platform. The company plans to invest $2 million in media literacy projects so users can better understand what is on their feed. It is also banning ads that encourage people not to vote. 

Fact-checking labels will also be added to posts that contain misinformation. Third-party fact-checkers will verify whether or not the information is false or partially false. Users can then see an explanation as to why the information being presented is inaccurate. 

Source: Facebook

Recent Controversies around Facebook

These announcements come at a time when Facebook’s role in the election has been more scrutinized by the pubic than ever. As far as fact-checking misinformation, the site faced a lot of backlash when it said it would not remove posts from political leaders that broke Facebook policy, including spreading false facts. At the time, Zuckerberg said he did not think it was right for a private company to censor politicians. 

Among the critics of this choice was presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who ended up making a fake ad saying that Zuckerberg endorsed President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. She quickly said this was not true then added, “But what Zuckerberg *has* done is given Donald Trump free rein to lie on his platform — and then to pay Facebook gobs of money to push out their lies to American voters.”

On Monday’s conference call, Zuckerberg did note there were instances where exceptions to this policy would have to be made. Among possible instances where this could apply, Zuckerberg listed, “if a politician is calling for violence or inciting violence, if there is a risk of imminent physical harm, and of course voter suppression, which is calling to remove other people’s voice.” 

This sweeping plan of initiatives also came on the same day that Facebook said it had uncovered Russian and Iranian operations to influence the 2020 election. In a separate blog post, Facebook announced that it had “removed four separate networks of accounts, Pages and Groups for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram.”

Three of those networks came from Iran, while the other came from Russia. According to a Washington Post report, the Russian account, in particular, boasted support for Trump while laying attacks against candidate Joe Biden.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Verge) (Reuters UK)

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Facebook Blocks News in Australia Over Proposed Media Compensation Law

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  • Australian leaders condemned Facebook on Thursday after it blocked all Australians from sharing domestic and international news on the platform and prevented all global users from sharing news by Australian publishers.
  • Facebook also wiped the pages of state health departments and emergency services that provide resources amid the pandemic and the ongoing fire season, though it later restored those systems.
  • The move comes as Australia prepares to pass a law that would require large tech companies to pay media organizations for content that appears on their platforms.
  • Facebook and Google have long fought against the legislation, but Google shifted its stance Thursday, saying it entered a three-year agreement to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for its content.

Facebook Escalates Battle With Australia

Facebook took the unprecedented step Thursday of blocking news access on the platform in Australia – a drastic escalation of a battle over a proposed regulatory law in the country.

Under the legislation, which is expected to pass in the next week, tech giants would be required to negotiate compensation with news organizations for the content that appears on their platforms.

Those who support the law argue that traditional media organizations have been steadily declining while big companies like Facebook and Google, which have become major distributors of news, continue to make billions of dollars from digital advertising. As a result, proponents believe that these companies have a responsibility to help support news organizations whose content they profit off of by driving traffic to the sites.

Facebook and Google, however, have fought hard against the law. They have said it is unworkable for a number of reasons and claimed it would incentivize the news organizations to jack up prices during negotiations.

Now that is all but certain Australia will approve the law soon, Facebook has reinforced its opposition efforts. Not only does Facebook’s current ban block Australians from sharing both domestic and international news sources on the platform, but it also prevents all Australian publishers from being seen on Facebook everywhere else in the world.

The ban also goes beyond the news. According to reports, pages for state health departments were also wiped clean just three days before the launch of a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program. Emergency services were also taken out, including the Bureau of Meteorology, which has been providing essential weather data in the middle of fire season.

Pages for nonprofits and charities were also taken away, meanwhile, groups dedicated to spreading conspiracy theories about vaccines, 5G, Bill Gates, and the end of the world remained up.

Facebook, for its part, blamed the disappearances on the proposed legislation.

“As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted,” a spokesperson told reporters, though the company eventually agreed to revive the public service pages.

Facebook Slammed By Politicians

Facebook’s decision to ban all news in Australia — especially the blocking of essential service accounts — sparked outrage from leaders in the country.

Many politicians condemned Facebook for preventing access to health information in a pandemic and censoring news.

“The fact that there are organizations like state health departments, fire and emergency services… who have had their Facebook pages blocked, that’s a public safety issue,” Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told the Associated Press.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also took aim at Facebook in a post on the platform. 

“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” he said. “These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them.”

Morrison went on to say that the government would not back down and urged Facebook to work constructively with them like Google, which has taken the opposite approach.

Google Strikes Deal With Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Shortly before Facebook imposed its block, Google announced that it had made a three-year agreement to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for its content in Australia as well as the U.S. and the U.K.

The search engine — which just a weeks ago threatened to make its products unavailable in Australia over the proposed law— has since changed its mind and instead struck several multimillion-dollar deals with other Australian publishers.

While many praised Google for its approach, some media watchdog groups are worried that these deals will only further the ability of large tech companies make news organizations beholden to them.

Others have also expressed concern over Google’s deal with Murdoch, who has been lobbying the Australian government to push tech companies to pay news organizations for years, and who The New York Times described as “quite cozy with Australia’s conservative government.” 

At the same time, other industry leaders have said this will be a net good for journalism and likely a model for other countries, including Microsoft, whose president wrote a blog post last week arguing that the U.S. should enact similar legislation.

See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Uber Asks EU To Adopt Prop 22-Style Standards

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  • Uber outlined a proposal to the European Union on Monday that, if implemented, would essentially enact policies similar to California’s prop 22.
  • Prop-22, which became law in the state following the 2020 Elections, exempts app-based transportation companies from classifying their drivers as employees.
  • The EU will not immediately entertain Uber’s proposal. Instead, it plans to meet with workers next week to hear their concerns.
  • On a related note, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court will decide on Friday whether two Uber drivers should be entitled to minimum wage, paid leave, and rest breaks.

Uber’s Push for Prop 22 in the EU

Uber began lobbying the European Union Monday to adopt Prop-22 style standards.

Notably, Prop 22, which was approved by California voters in November, exempts app-based transportation and delivery companies from having to classify their drivers as employees. Instead, drivers are classified as “gig workers.”

Since its introduction, the proposition has been controversial. That’s because it eliminated a number of benefits drivers would have seen as employees, including sick pay and workers’ compensation. While it did promise wage guarantees and health insurance stipends, even those aspects have proved controversial

Uber pushing for this type of policy in Europe isn’t much of a surprise. In fact, right after Prop 22 passed, Uber indicated that wanted to go global with similar models

In a message sent to the European Commission, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi argued that workers are entitled to have control over when and where they want to work.

“We believe a new approach is possible,” he said. “One where having access to protections and benefits doesn’t come at the cost of flexibility and of job creation.”

“This could include helping platform workers pay into existing public social protection schemes,” he added, ‘or it could mean an industry-funded portable benefits fund, allowing platform workers to accrue funds to access the protections and benefits they want.”

“Critically, whatever the model, there must be an industry level playing field to ensure all independent workers have consistent earnings whichever app they choose to work on.”

That said, the EU won’t immediately entertain Uber’s request. Next week, it plans to meet with workers and representatives on gig workers’ rights to obtain their feedback on how to improve working conditions.

UK Set To Decide Major Workers’ Rights Case 

On Feb 19., the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is set to rule on a 2016 case involving two Uber drivers who allege they’re entitled to rights such as minimum wage, paid leave, and rest breaks.

Should Uber lose, it would essentially be forced to adopt policies opposite of those currently in play by California’s Prop 22. Still, it could take several months for such a decision to go into effect. 

Last week, a lawsuit aiming to overturn California’s Prop 22 was also filed in the U.S. While that lawsuit was originally filed with the state’s Supreme Court, the court ultimately decided not to hear the case. Now, it will be heard in the Alameda County Superior Court. 

See what others are saying: (TechCrunch) (CNBC) (U.S. News & World Report)

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Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban Instructed Team Not To Play National Anthem Before Home Games

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  • Mark Cuban, billionaire TV personality and Dallas Mavericks owner, told media outlets Tuesday that in November, he instructed his team not to play the national anthem at the start of home games. 
  • Cuban initially refused to discuss why he made the decision but reportedly consulted with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver before pulling the plug on “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
  • On Wednesday, Cuban said in a statement, “[We] loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the anthem does not represent them. We feel that their voices need to be respected and heard, because they have not been.
  • While some fans vowed to stop watching Mavericks games, others applauded the move, noting that most other countries do not play their national anthems before sports games. 

Update: The NBA has now released a statement saying, “With NBA teams now in the process of welcoming fans back into their arenas, all teams will play the national anthem in keeping with longstanding league policy.”

Cuban Cuts National Anthem 

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told multiple media outlets Tuesday that he has instructed the team to stop playing the national anthem before home games.

“It was my decision, and I made it in November,” Cuban, who is also a billionaire investor and “Shark Tank” personality, told The New York Times. 

Notably, Cuban’s statement explains why the national anthem was not played in any of the team’s 13 preseason and regular-season games this year. 

Cuban initially refused to comment on why he made the decision, but on Wednesday, he released a statement explaining his decision.

“We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country,” he said. “But we also loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the anthem does not represent them. We feel that their voices need to be respected and heard, because they have not been.

Many outlets also have cited his previous support for encouraging players to kneel during the anthem if they choose.

“Whether it’s holding their arm up in the air, whether it’s taking a knee, whatever it is, I don’t think this is an issue of respect or disrespect to the flag or to the anthem or to our country,” Cuban told ESPN last June. “I think this is more a reflection of our players’ commitment to this country and the fact that it’s so important to them that they’re willing to say what’s in their heart and do what they think is right.”

A month later, Cuban said in a now-deleted tweet, “The National Anthem Police in this country are out of control. If you want to complain, complain to your boss and ask why they don’t play the National Anthem every day before you start work.”

@Mcuban

While the NBA league book requires players to stand for the national anthem, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that rule would not be enforced this season. Similarly, Cuban said he consulted with Silver on the decision not to play the national anthem.

What Are People Saying?

Reaction to Cuban’s decision has been a bit of a mixed bag. 

Some, such as former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R), said they no longer plan to watch Mavericks games. 

“The American flag Flag of United States & National Anthem Multiple musical notes were two of the things that united people in this country,” Walker tweeted. “Regardless of sex or race or ethnic background or political party-these were the civic rituals that brought us together. They still should. I will not watch @dallasmavs anymore.”

Others backed the decision, including one U.S. Marine veteran who tweeted that they take “ZERO issue with Mark Cuban’s decision… The National Anthem is not and should not be a requirement for any game to be played — it’s two separate things.”

A number of sports reporters also chimed in.

“The US is an outlier when it comes to the pre-game national anthem,” The New York Times reporter Christopher Clarey said. “Would have more resonance as a rarity instead of being the rule.”

Meanwhile, USA Today columnist Nancy Armour summed up the situation by saying, “There are no doubt some who are deeply moved by The Star-Spangled Banner, and see it as a way to honor those who have and do serve this country.

“But there are also those for whom it is a reminder of this country’s failings, and the work we still need to do to achieve true equality,” Armour added.

“And then there are those for whom it is simply an extra two minutes to grab a hot dog and beer or make a run for the bathroom. I suspect the majority of Americans fall into that last category. Oh, they might not admit it. But go to any game, and look at the number of people who are talking, texting, taking photos or walking to their seats during the anthem. I have, and it’s a lot. I even saw a guy vaping during the anthem once.”

Like Armour later noted, Yahoo Sports reporter Leander Schaerlaeckens pointed out that the Mavericks’ policy was already in effect for months “before anybody even noticed. So what are we even talking about here?”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (ESPN) (The Athletic)

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