- More than 250 Facebook workers have signed a letter written by fellow employees opposing the company’s decision to let politicians post content that includes false information.
- The letter represents a significant shift for Facebook, where employees have remained relatively quiet in public about internal problems, even as workers at other tech companies have recently held protests over a number of issues.
- The letter was praised by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of whom have been vocal critics of the policy.
- Separately, a man in California filed to run for governor just so he could run fake ads.
Facebook Employee Letter
Facebook employees have written a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other top executives in protest of the platform’s new rule that allows politicians to post anything they want, including false information.
According to The New York Times, which obtained a copy of the letter Monday, the message has been posted for two weeks on Facebook Workplace, the company’s internal communication board for employees.
Several sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Times that more than 250 employees have signed the message.
In the letter, the employees say that Facebook is a place of free expression, but they are worried that the policy would undo all the work they have done since the 2016 election to fight misinformation.
“Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing,” the workers wrote. “Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for.”
“We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.”
The employees go on to say they believe the policy has the potential to “increase distrust in our platform” and that it “communicates that we are OK profiting from deliberate misinformation campaigns by those in or seeking positions of power.”
They continue that the policy could “undo integrity product work” that teams had done to prepare for the 2020 election, adding, “this policy has the potential to continue to cause harm in coming elections around the world.”
The letter then outlines six proposals for improvement, such as holding all ads to the same standard, restricting political ads from being targeted to custom audiences, observing election silence periods, setting joint ad spending caps for both politicians and Political Action Committees (PACs), and other policies aimed at generally making Facebook’s policies for political ads clearer.
The Facebook employees close the letter saying they want to have an open dialogue and see actual change, and that they “look forward to working towards solutions together.”
A First for Facebook
The letter represents a significant change for Facebook for a number of reasons.
First of all, it shows that even some of the people who work at Facebook are opposed to the company’s political speech policy— and so much so that they are willing to speak out.
That in of itself is big because internal resistance at Facebook is quite uncommon.
Facebook has not usually been included in the recent wave of internal revolts and protests at other big tech companies, like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, where employees have held mass protests against their companies’ impact on climate change, sexual harassment policies, and contracts with military and law enforcement bodies.
Notably, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced that he would accelerate the company’s climate goals in September. The move came after Amazon workers, who for years had pressured Bezos to do more to address the company’s carbon footprint, planned a 1,700 worker walkout.
But Facebook simply has not engaged in the same kind of initiatives, at least publicly.
Facebook is well known for having a strong sense of mission and a tight-knit corporate culture among its rank and file employees. As a result, dissatisfaction among employees is rarely put in public view.
As VICE points out, most of the time Facebook employees have engaged in activism, it is “tacked onto activist movements at other companies.”
For example, in May 2018, Facebook workers joined over 1,000 Google employees in staging a sit-in to protest retaliation against employee activism.
Now, many experts are saying that the fact that Facebook employees have written this letter and that others have signed it could signal a big change for Facebook and its culture.
Especially because with sticky situations like this, there is always the fear among employees of their company retaliating against them.
Politicians Response to Policy
The letter and the risk that employees who support it are taking has not gone unnoticed.
Politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) applauded the Facebook employees’ efforts.
“Courageous workers at Facebook are now standing up to the corporation’s leadership, challenging Zuckerberg’s disturbing policy on allowing paid, targeted disinformation ads in the 2020 election,” she wrote on Twitter.
Several senators also chimed in, including 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
“Facebook’s own employees know just how dangerous their policy allowing politicians to lie in political ads will be for our democracy,” Warren tweeted. “Mark Zuckerberg should listen to them—and I applaud their brave efforts to hold their own company accountable.”
Both Ocasio-Cortez and Warren have been arguably some of the most vocal critics of the new Facebook policy.
A few weeks ago Warren ran a fake ad that said Zuckerberg had endorsed Trump in the 2020 election.
The ad later went on the explain that this is not true, but added, “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.”
Similarly, last week, a clip of Ocasio-Cortez questioning Zuckerberg about the policy at a Congressional hearing went viral.
“Could I run ads targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal?” the Congresswoman asked, referring to her sweeping plan to address climate change that has been largely opposed by Republicans.
“Congresswoman, I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head,” Zuckerberg responded. “I think probably?”
An Unusual Political Move
Days later, a PAC run by Adriel Hampton, a political activist who runs a marketing firm in San Francisco, tested Ocasio-Cortez’s question by running an ad that spliced together audio clips of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) so it sounded like he was saying he supported the Green New Deal.
Facebook later said that it had removed the ad, most likely due to the fact that PACs and independent organizations are not individual politicians, so the policy exempting political figures does not apply to them.
But that did not stop Hampton, who on Monday formally registered as a candidate for governor of California just so he can run false Facebook ads.
“The genesis of this campaign is social media regulation and to ensure there is not an exemption in fact-checking specifically for politicians like Donald Trump who like to lie online,” Hampton told CNN.
“I think social media is incredibly powerful,” he continued. “I believe that Facebook has the power to shift elections.”
Facebook, for its part, responded to the letter in a statement to the media.
“Facebook’s culture is built on openness, so we appreciate our employees voicing their thoughts on this important topic,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We remain committed to not censoring political speech, and will continue exploring additional steps we can take to bring increased transparency to political ads.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (VICE) (Business Insider)
Next Round of the Streaming War Kicks-Off With Disney+ Launch
- After months of anticipation, Disney+ officially launched. While its content was met with largely decent reviews, it did face criticism from fans who were upset that the site crashed and had connection problems on its first day.
- Meanwhile, an executive at Apple TV+ stepped down after the platform premiered two weeks ago to less than exciting reviews.
- Apple and Disney are the latest to introduce their own streaming services, with more to follow. With Disney+ now in full swing, many wonder what the future of streaming will look like, and what will happen to platforms like Netflix.
With the launch of Disney+ in full swing, the streaming wars are seeing its latest– and potentially biggest– battle.
On Tuesday, Disney’s highly anticipated streaming service launched in the United States. Containing content that ranges from Disney’s classic animated films, to Star Wars and Marvel productions, the buildup to Disney+ was filled with fanfare and anticipation.
When users went to watch both old and new shows, however, many hit a bump in the road. Several fans reported having connection issues with the service. In an appropriate nod to the studio’s catalog, Ralph and Venellope von Schweetz from Wreck it Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet deliver the bad news in an error message.
Fans online reported receiving this message when trying to view content, load shows, and log in to or edit their profiles. Disney was the number one trending topic on Tuesday morning, accompanied by hashtags like #DisneyPlusDown and #DisneyPlusFail. Disney+ responded on Twitter, saying demand for the service “exceeded our highest expectations.”
Despite this bump in the road, the content on Disney+ has generated a relative amount of praise. High School Musical: The Musical: The Series has been hailed by USA Today as “nostalgia done right”
The Mandalorian, the highly anticipated Star Wars series, has also seen fairly decent reviews. The Los Angeles Times called it a “safe” but “entertaining blockbuster” while The Verge said it proved Star Wars can work on the small screen.
The Mandalorian became a trending topic of its own, followed by other nostalgic Disney shows like Gargoyles and Lizzie McGuire.
Apple TV+ Executive Leaves
Disney, however, was not the only streamings service making headlines. The Hollywood Reporter announced that Kim Rozenfeld is leaving his role as the head of scripted, unscripted and documentary programming at Apple TV+.
Rozenfeld will still remain with the company in some capacity. According to the Reporter, he will work as a producer and has a first-look deal with Apple.
Apple TV+ launched two weeks ago to less than enthusiastic reviews. Of its four scripted originals, the service heavily marketed its celebrity-packed series The Morning Show. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, and Reese Witherspoon, the show was picked up for a second season before it even aired. Reviews for it ended up being less than favorable.
Each of the service’s original shows generated low buzz in comparison to larger projects at other streaming services like Netflix. Variety published a study done by Parrot Analytics that looked at the demand for new shows in 2019 following their first 24 hours of release. Apple TV+’s content all fell at the bottom of the list, with The Morning Show squarely in last place.
Not all press for Apple TV+ was negative, though. Starting at $5 a month, it is among the more affordable streaming options. The remainder of its scripted shows also got the green light for second seasons.
Future of Streaming
These stories do shine a light onto the world of streaming and the so-called “streaming wars” that studios, networks, and other services are finding themselves fighting. In the cases of Disney+ and Apple TV+, both have had problems as they launched, a technical error in one case and a business shake-up in another. Still, based on excitement and critical review alone, it does feel that Disney+ is leading the charge as far as services that could become a serious threat to dethrone Netflix as the king of streaming.
Disney owns multiple facets of the entertainment industry, including ABC, Marvel, ESPN, 20th Century Fox, and earlier this year gained full control of Hulu. With all these properties in its back pocket, it has almost always seemed the obvious leader in this fight.
With other companies poised to launch services of their own, it begs the question: how do they plan to compete with Disney’s large catalog of content?
Right now, it seems NBC Universal will have their service, Peacock, be free to users with ads. On the other hand, HBO Max, which comes from Warner Media, is aiming to be on the more expensive side of the spectrum at $14.99 per month. Both have been in ongoing battles to get their content back from places like Netflix to put on their own services. Peacock has secured The Office and HBO Max grabbed Friends. Those two shows are among the most popular on Netflix.
See what others are saying: (Fox Business) (The Hollywood Reporter) (CNBC)
Apple Card Faces Investigation After Accusations of Gender Discrimination
- A popular Twitter thread has accused Apple Card, which is put out in partnership with Goldman Sachs, of gender bias.
- A programmer said he got 20 times the credit card limit as his wife, despite the fact that they file joint tax returns and the fact that she has a higher individual credit score than he does.
- Others said they faced similar problems, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who now holds a ceremonial role at the company.
- Goldman Sachs insisted that gender is not a factor in card applications and approvals, but New York’s Department of Financial Services said it will investigate.
Thread Accusing Apple Card of Gender Bias Goes Viral
The New York Department of Financial Services says it will be looking into potential gender discrimination from Apple Card after several people, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, accused it of having a bias.
Problems with Apple Card, which is made in partnership with Goldman Sachs, first made their way to the surface when programmer and author David Heinemeier Hansson posted a twitter thread accusing it of sexism. He wrote that it approved him of a higher limit than his wife.
According to Hansson, even after his wife paid off her card in full, she was not allowed to spend until the next billing period.
He initially said that customer service was overall unhelpful when trying to address the problem. One day after posting his thread, however, he followed up to say that his wife’s limit was bumped up.
As for his wife’s experience with Apple, he says she spoke to two representatives. He claims that the first said it was not discrimination and blamed it on the algorithm.
The second encouraged his wife to check her credit score again. Hansson and his wife both ended up checking their scores and learned that his wife actually had a higher score than he did.
He continued to share his frustrations with this algorithm and its lack of transparency.
Steve Wozniak and Others Back Up the Claim
Once this thread blew up, many others said they had experienced a similar problem.
Just read this thread. My wife has a way better score than me, almost 850, has a higher salary and was given a credit limit 1/3 of mine. We had joked that maybe Apple is just sexist. Seems like it’s not a joke. Beyond f’ed up.— Carmine Granucci (@whoiscarmine) November 9, 2019
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who now holds a ceremonial role at the company, also replied to Hansson. Wozniak said his wife got ten times less than he did, despite them having shared assets and accounts.
I’m a current Apple employee and founder of the company and the same thing happened to us (10x) despite not having any separate assets or accounts. Some say the blame is on Goldman Sachs but the way Apple is attached, they should share responsibility.— Steve Wozniak (@stevewoz) November 10, 2019
He also said his wife had difficulty with customer service, and could not use her card after paying it off as well.
Janet made the phone calls to the number given but got nowhere. She also has paid off her card totally but still can’t use it until the next billing cycle.— Steve Wozniak (@stevewoz) November 10, 2019
In a Sunday interview with Bloomberg, Wozniak elaborated on his concerns about Apple Card and the algorithm behind it.
“These sorts of unfairnesses bother me and go against the principle of truth. We don’t have transparency on how these companies set these things up and operate,” he told the outlet. “Our government isn’t strong enough on the issues of regulation. Consumers can only be represented by the government because the big corporations only represent themselves.”
“Algos obviously have flaws,” he added. “A huge number of people would say, ‘We love our technology but we are no longer in control.’ I think that’s the case.”
Goldman Sachs and New York’s DFS Respond
While some did respond to both Hansson and Wozniak saying they did not experience this, tweets accusing Apple Card of gender bias blew up, prompting several responses.
Goldman Sachs released a statement on Sunday saying that, “In all cases, we have not and will not make decisions based on factors like gender.”
“With Apple Card, your account is individual to you; your credit line is yours and you establish your own direct credit history,” the statement read. “Customers do not share a credit line under the account of a family member or another person by getting a supplemental card.”
They also said that applications are evaluated independently, looking at things like income, credit score, and debt management.
Linda Lacewell, the Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services said she would be looking into the matter.
“We will work to investigate what may have gone wrong, and if the algorithm used by Apple Card did indeed promote unlawful discrimination we will take appropriate action,” she wrote in a Medium post on Sunday. “But this is not just about looking into one algorithm — DFS wants to work with the tech community to make sure consumers nationwide can have confidence that the algorithms that increasingly impact their ability to access financial services do not discriminate and instead treat all individuals equally and fairly no matter their sex, color of skin, or sexual orientation.”
She encouraged consumers who have been affected by this, as well as tech leaders who have commentary on it, to reach out to New York’s DFS.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (The Verge) (Bloomberg)
Instagram Will Test Hiding Likes in the US Starting This Week
- Instagram will start testing a feature this week that hides like counts on posts for some users in the United States.
- The feature has already been piloted in countries including Australia, Ireland, and Canada.
- Some say the change will help improve people’s well-being and allow them to focus on the content they post.
- Others doubt Instagram’s intentions, are concerned about its potential impact on businesses, and have suggested that features in the comment section are more of a problem.
Instagram CEO Announces Change
Instagram likes will disappear from public view for some accounts in the U.S. this week in an effort to help users focus more on content.
Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri officially announced the long-rumored plan at a Wired tech event in San Francisco on Friday and followed it up with a Twitter post.
“It’s about young people,” Mosseri said at the Wired25 conference. “The idea is to try to ‘depressurize’ Instagram, make it less of a competition and give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them.”
Mosseri added, “We will make decisions that hurt the business [in the short term] if they’re good for people’s well-being and health — because it has to be good for the business over the long-term.”
The change shouldn’t come as a complete surprise since Mosseri has talked about making this move in the past. In fact, Instagram has already been testing hidden likes for a few months in places like Canada, Brazil, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand, Italy, and Australia.
However, Instagram won’t be getting rid of likes altogether. Users will still be able to view their likes themselves, they just won’t be displayed publically to their followers anymore.
Reactions to the Change
The decision has received pretty mixed responses from users. Many are concerned about how this will impact marketing strategies for businesses, influencers, or emerging artists that use the platform for promotion. However, Karen Civil, a social media strategist, argued that influencers shouldn’t pay too much attention to how many likes their posts get.
Many others have supported the move, as they believe it will stop people from allowing likes to control their content. Some, like Kim Kardashian-West, have specifically focused more on how this move could impact people’s well-being.
“As far as mental health… I think taking the likes away and taking that aspect away from [Instagram] would be really beneficial for people,” she said Wednesday at the New York Times’ DealBook Conference ahead of the official announcement.
“I know the Instagram team has been having a bunch of conversations with people to get everyone’s take on that and they’re taking it really seriously, and that makes me happy,” she added.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also praised the move on Saturday by retweeted Mosseri’s post and adding, “Great step.”
Meanwhile, Rapper Cardi B argued that the comment section should be a bigger concern. In a video posted to Instagram, she said she noticed toxic behavior increasing on the platform after users were given the option to like and reply to comments.
“If anything is affecting Instagram right now, I really feel it’s the way the comments have been done or have been changing these past few years.”
“Because I feel people been saying the most weirdest shit, been starting the craziest arguments, been starting to race bait, all because of comments, because they want to get to the top, they want to get the most reactions.”
Fellow artist Nicki Minaj also chimed in on the news, vowing to stop using the platform altogether.
She argued that the move is bad for independent artists who use Instagram for power and exposure. She also suggested, among other things, that Instagram might be hiding likes to manipulate what posts users see on their feed.
A Wave of Demetrication
Instagram appears to be the latest platform experimenting with what many describe as “demetrication,” where social media companies reduce the importance of public metrics.
Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, has also been testing hiding likes on its platform for users in Australia. Earlier this year, YouTube changed the way it displays subscriber counts.
On several occasions, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey has hinted that he too was reconsidering whether the platform should publicize metrics. Twitter denied that it plans to remove likes and retweets but did say it was looking at the features as part of wider moves to “improve the health” of conversations happening on the site.