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Facebook Employees Protest Political Ads Policy in Letter to Zuckerberg

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  • 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.”

Previous coverage on what Facebook is doing to prepare for 2020.

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.”

Source: The Hill

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

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Tinder Plans to Roll Out Panic Button and Other Safety Features

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  • The popular dating app Tinder plans to unveil new in-app safety features for users who feel threatened during face-to-face meetups.
  • Match Group, Tinder’s parent company, is investing in a safety platform called Noonlight, which tracks users’ locations and alerts local authorities if any issues arise. 
  • The safety tools are free to use and will be introduced to U.S. Tinder users at the end of the month.
  • Match Group’s other dating apps will see the new features later this year.

Tinder’s New Features

Tinder is planning to add free in-app safety features for users whose dates go awry, including a panic button that can be pressed if something goes wrong, security check-ins, and an option to call authorities if needed.

Match Group, Tinder’s parent company who also owns Hinge and OkCupid, is making these features possible by investing in the safety platform Noonlight. Noonlight tracks users’ locations and alerts local authorities if any concerns arise.

“I think a lot about safety, especially on our platforms, and what we can do to curtail bad behavior,” Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg told The Wall Street Journal, who first reported the story. “There are a lot of things we tell users to do. But if we can provide tools on top of that, we should do that as well.”

Prior to in-person dates, Tinder users will have the option to manually enter information into a tool linked to Noonlight, such as details about the other party and times.

Source: The Wall Street Journal — Tinder

If at any point a user feels unsafe, they can press the alert button. Noonlight will then send a code for the user to enter. If the code isn’t entered, Noonlight will send a text. If the text goes unanswered, Noonlight will call the user. If the call is not answered or if the user confirms that they need assistance, Noonlight will alert local authorities and share the information previously entered with them, as well as the user’s location. 

Once the Noonlight tool is instated, Tinder users will also be able to add an emblem to their profiles to indicate the additional protection they have opted to take. 

The new security measures will be introduced to U.S. Tinder users at the end of January, while other Match Group dating apps will see the features in the next few months. 

Tinder is also currently testing a feature aimed to eliminate “catfishing” in which users will be required to take photos in certain poses to prove that they look like the images they upload. Profiles that pass the test will have a blue checkmark to indicate they were verified.

New Wave of Safety for Tech Platforms

While Tinder has previously monitored abusive language and images via in-app conversation, this is the first move it has taken to play a hand in regulating in-person interactions once users decide to meet up. 

This step comes after multiple cases of sexual assault and other crimes that users have traced back to relations made through the app. 

The dating app is following the lead of other platforms like Uber and Lyft, who have both rolled out additional security features in the wake of criticism for not doing enough to protect users from safety threats.

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (The Verge)

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Facial Recognition Technology on College Campuses

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Facial Recognition Technology, better known by its acronym, FRT, has been a hot topic for nearly a decade. Most fields have some form of FRT from Taylor Swift using it to identify stalkers at her concerts to police making quicker arrests by matching faces of suspects to a database of mugshots. All forms of FRT have one way or another been contested, but some of the most controversial places that it’s being used are college campuses. 

Recently, an anti-FRT group named Fight for the Future launched the largest nation-wide student campaign to demand that universities never use FRT on their campuses. There are multiple reasons why people love and despise FRT and in this video, we’re going to show you both sides of the argument and why it’s so controversial to use on college campuses. 

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Angled Toilet Designed to Shorten Employees’ Bathroom Breaks Met With Criticism

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  • A British company, StandardToilet, has filed a patent for a toilet fixture designed with a downward-sloping seat. 
  • The product is meant to be uncomfortable to sit on for more than five minutes, in an effort to reduce bathroom breaks and increase employee productivity.
  • StandardToilet also says their product will reduce bathroom lines in public spaces and serve better for people’s health.
  • The company’s idea has been supported by some, but largely slammed by others who claim it promotes an unhealthy expectation of workplace productivity and is inconsiderate to a range of users with differing needs.

A New Type of Toilet

A British startup has developed a toilet designed to be uncomfortable to sit on for longer than five minutes in an effort to increase workplace productivity.

StandardToilet has filed a patent for a toilet fixture with a seating surface sloped forward between 11-13 degrees. The company claims that this design will decrease the time that employees spend taking bathroom breaks, thus allowing them to devote more minutes to work. 

“In modern times, the workplace toilet has become private texting and social media usage space,” StandardToilet says on their website.  

The company estimates that about £16 billion ($20.8 billion) are lost annually to the time that people are spending using the bathroom at work in the U.K. They claim that reducing time spent sitting on the toilet will save about £4 billion of that sum. 

Mahabir Gill, the founder of StandardToilet, told Wired that sitting on the angled fixture for more than five minutes will cause strain on the legs, but “not enough to cause health issues.”

“Anything higher than that would cause wider problems,” Gill said. “Thirteen degrees is not too inconvenient, but you’d soon want to get off the seat quite quickly.”   

StandardToilet says that in addition to increasing employee productivity, their design will shorten bathroom lines in public places such as shopping malls and train stations.

They also claim studies have suggested that flat-surfaced toilets used now can cause medical issues, like swollen haemorrhoids and weakening of pelvic muscles. The company says its product can reduce musculoskeletal disorder “through promoting the engagement of upper leg muscles.”

Response to StandardToilet

While news of the proposed time-saving toilet has been supported by some, like the British Toilet Association (BTA), an organization that campaigns for better toilet facilities, it was also largely met with criticism. Jennifer Kaufmann-Buhler, an assistant professor of design history at Purdue University in Indiana, expressed that the idea is a bit controlling. 

“In an office, the one space you have where you can find privacy is often the toilet,” Kaufmann-Buhler told Wired. “So, god forbid that we want to make the one place where workers should have at least some autonomy – the toilet – another place where people impose the very capitalist idea that people should always be working.”

Kaufmann-Buhler’s sentiment was echoed across Twitter, where people were upset by StandardToilet’s motive.

Others pointed out the discomfort StandardToilet’s design would bring to those with physical disabilities.

The company told HuffPost in an email that the product isn’t designed to take the place of toilets for people with disabilities. StandardToilet’s website also notes that another benefit of the slanted toilet is “reduction in overspill usage of disabled facilities.” 

Nadine Vogel is the CEO of Springboard Consulting, a company that works with other businesses on how to serve workers with disabilities. She noted to HuffPost that there are other kinds of hindrances that might justify more time in the bathroom.

Vogel brought up examples of diabetic people testing their glucose levels or others simply needing a break for their mental health.

 “The fact that the concern is extended employee breaks ― well, what about people that have some kind of mental health situation that actually need that kind of longer break?” Vogel said.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Guardian) (Wired)

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