- 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.
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)
Facebook Is Reviewing More Than 2,200 Hours of Footage for Next-Gen AI
The project, which could prove to be revolutionary, is already raising some big privacy concerns.
Facebook’s Next-Gen AI
Facebook announced Thursday that it has captured more than 2,200 hours of first-person video that it will use to train next-gen AI models.
The company said it aims to make the AI, called Ego4D, capable of understanding and identifying both real and virtual objects through a first-person perspective using smart glasses or VR headsets. In effect, that could potentially help users do everything from remembering where they placed forgotten items to recording others in secret.
Facebook listed five key scenarios the project aims to tackle and gave real-world examples of how each may look for people who will eventually use the AI.
- “What happened when?” With that scenario, Facebook gave the example, “Where did I leave my keys?”
- “What am I likely to do next?” There, Facebook gave the example, “Wait, you’ve already added salt to this recipe.”
- “What am I doing?” For example, “What was the main topic during class?”
- “Who said what when?” For example, “What was the main topic during class?”
- “Who is interacting with whom?” For example, “Help me better hear the person talking to me at this noisy restaurant.”
Facebook said the amount of footage it has collected is 20 times greater than any other data set used by the company.
In the wake of recent controversy surrounding Facebook, it’s important to note that the footage wasn’t reaped from users. Instead, the company said it, and 13 university partners, compiled the footage from more than 700 participants around the world.
Still, that hasn’t alleviated all privacy concerns.
In an article titled, “Facebook is researching AI systems that see, hear, and remember everything you do,” The Verge writer James Vincent said that although the project’s guidelines seem practical, “the company’s interest in this area will worry many.”
Vincent pointe out that the AI announcement doesn’t mention anything in the way of privacy or removing data for people who may not want to be recorded.
A Facebook spokesperson later assured Vincent that privacy safeguards will be introduced to the public in the future.
“For example, before AR glasses can enhance someone’s voice, there could be a protocol in place that they follow to ask someone else’s glasses for permission, or they could limit the range of the device so it can only pick up sounds from the people with whom I am already having a conversation or who are in my immediate vicinity,” the spokesperson said.
Among positive reception, some believe the tech could be revolutionary for helping people around the house, as well as for teaching robots to more rapidly learn about their surroundings.
FDA Issues Its First E-Cigarette Authorization Ever
The authorization only applies to tobacco-flavored products, as the FDA simultaneously rejected several sweet and fruit-flavored e-cigarette cartridges.
FDA Approves E-Cigarette
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an e-cigarette pen sold under the brand name Vuse on Tuesday, as well as two tobacco-flavored cartridges that can be used with the pen.
This marks the first time the FDA has ever authorized the use of vaping products. In a news release, the agency said it made the decision because “the authorized products’ aerosols are significantly less toxic than combusted cigarettes based on available data.”
“The manufacturer’s data demonstrates its tobacco-flavored products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products — either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption — by reducing their exposure to harmful chemicals,” the agency added.
The company that owns Vuse, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company, also submitted several sweet and fruit-flavored pods for review; however, those were all rejected. While the FDA did not specify which flavors it rejected, it did note that it has yet to make a decision on whether to allow menthol-flavored e-cigarettes, including ones sold under Vuse.
FDA Is Reviewing All Vape Products Still on the Market
In January 2020, the FDA banned pre-filled pods with sweet and fruity flavors from being sold. While other e-cigarette related products, including some forms of flavored vapes, were allowed to stay on the market for the time being, they were only able to do so if they were submitted for FDA review.
The FDA’s primary issue with fruity cartridges stems from statistics showing that those pods more easily hook new smokers, particularly underage smokers.
In fact, in its approval of the Vuse products, the FDA said it only authorized them because it “determined that the potential benefit to smokers who switch completely or significantly reduce their cigarette use, would outweigh the risk to youth, provided the applicant follows post-marketing requirements aimed at reducing youth exposure and access to the products.”
While some have cheered the FDA’s decision, not everyone was enthusiastic. Many critics cited a joint FDA-CDC study in which nearly 11% of teens who said they vape also indicated regularly using Vuse products.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Wall Street Journal) (The Washington Post)
Kaiser Permanente Health Workers Vote To Authorize Strike Over Pay, Staffing, and Safety
The vote could inspire unioned Kaiser workers in other states to eventually approve strikes of their own.
Workers Approve Strike
Over 24,000 unioned nurses and other healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente hospitals voted Monday to authorize strikes against the company in California and Oregon.
The tens of thousands of workers who cast a ballot make up 86% of the Kaiser-based healthcare professionals represented by either the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) or the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. An overwhelming 96% voted to approve the strike.
According to both unions, the list of workers includes nurses, pharmacists, midwives, and physical therapists.
The vote itself does not automatically initiate a strike; rather, it gives the unions the power to call a strike amid stalled contract negotiations between Kaiser and the unions. If the unions ultimately tell their members to begin striking, they will need to give a 10-day warning.
The California and Oregon contracts expired Sep. 30, but several more Kaiser-based union contracts are rapidly approaching their expiration dates as well. That includes contracts for more than 50,000 workers in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, Washington state, and D.C. Notably, the demands from those workers echo many of the demands made by California and Oregon’s union members.
At the center of this potential strike are three issues: staffing problems, safety concerns, and proposed revisions to Kaiser’s payment system. For months, nurses have been publicly complaining about long shifts spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing shortages, and an over-reliance on contract nurses.
Because of that, they’re seeking to force Kaiser to commit to hiring more staff, as well as boost retention.
But the main catalyst for any looming strikes is pay. According to UNAC/UHCP, Kaiser wants to implement a two-tier payment system, which would decrease earnings by 26% to 39% for employees hired from 2023 onward. On top of that, those new employees would see fewer health protections.
The unions and their members worry such a system could lead to an increased feeling of resentment among workers since they would be paid different rates for performing the same job. They also worry it could exacerbate retention and hiring issues already faced by the hospital system.
Additionally, the workers want to secure 4% raises for each of the next three years, but Kaiser’s currently only willing to give 1%, citing a need to reduce labor costs to remain competitive.