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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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TikTok Bans Ads for Weight Loss Supplements and Fasting Apps

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  • TikTok said Wednesday that it will ban advertisements for fasting apps and weight loss supplements. It will also add new restrictions on ads that “promote a harmful and negative body image.”
  • Part of its new policies include only allowing viewers ages 18 and up to see ads for “weight management products” and barring ads with irresponsible claims. 
  • The app is also partnering with the National Eating Disorder Association to connect users with resources directly on the app and will support Weight Stigma Awareness Week (Sept. 28-Oct.2) with information about the topic on its discover page. 
  • The move comes after months of users noticing increased ads for Intermittent fasting apps and other weight-related products, which many found concerning considering TikTok’s massive young user base. 

New Restrictions Announced 

TikTok announced some new restrictions for weight loss advertisements on its platform Wednesday in an effort to support body positivity.

“We’re introducing new ad policies that ban ads for fasting apps and weight loss supplements, and increase restrictions on ads that promote a harmful or negative body image,” the company’s Safety Policy Manager, Tara Wadhwa, wrote in a blog post.

These types of ads do not support the positive, inclusive, and safe experience we strive for on TikTok.”

Wadhwa said the app recognizes the role the internet plays in exacerbating weight stigma and body shaming and wants to do more to make TikTok a safe and comfortable environment for its users.

As far as what those new policies will be, TikTok said:

  • Advertisements for weight-management products can now only reach users ages 18 and up. 
  • Stronger restrictions will be placed on weight loss and implied weight-loss claims.
  • Further restrictions will be introduced to limit irresponsible claims made by products that promote weight loss management or control.
  • Ads promoting weight loss and weight management products or services cannot promote a negative body image or negative relationship with food.

Concerns for Young Users 

Those are some pretty important changes that address ads that have recently become common on the app. Over the last few months, TikTok users have complained about being served ads for products like intermitted fasting apps. That sparked a ton of concerns, especially since TikTok has such a young user base. 

According to internal company documents viewed by The New York Times, in July, TikTok classified more than a third of its 49 million daily users in the United States as being 14 years old or younger.

Other Efforts 

But that’s not all the app is doing to support inclusion and body positivity.

TikTok has also partnered with the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) to connect its users with resources directly on the app.

We’ll soon begin redirecting searches and hashtags – for terms provided to us by NEDA, or associated with unsafe content we’ve removed from our platform – to the NEDA Helpline, where NEDA can then provide our community with confidential support, tools, and resources,” TikTok explained.

On top of that, the app is also supporting Weight Stigma Awareness Week, which runs from September 28-October 2.

During that time, it will have a dedicated page on it’s discover tab to support NEDA’s #EndWeightHateCampaign in an effort to educate the community about the topic, why it matters, and how users can find support for themselves or others.

In its announcement, TikTok also reminded users that they can always use its existing features to block content, users, and comments that they find disturbing, and report ads that violate its policies. 

While some would like to see TikTok do more to combat diet culture on its platform, the move has generally been met with praise, and it puts the app closer in line with policies platforms like Instagram have enacted.

Last year, Instagram started restricting users under the age of 18 from viewing ads promoting weight loss and cosmetic procedures. It also barred posts that make “miraculous” claims about weight loss while also including coupon codes or other commercial elements. Those changes were meant to target products people like the Kardashians and others promoted: flat tummy teas, appetite suppressant lollipops, and other items of that nature. 

Ultimately, it seems like TikTok is listening to its users by creating these new policies.

“Though there’s always more work we can do in this critical area, we think these are steps in the right direction,” it said in its blog post. “We continue to look for new ways to support our community and foster a positive environment for everyone on TikTok.”

See what others are saying: (Forbes) (CNBC) (Mashable

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Charli D’Amelio’s Dunkin’ Partnership Proves Successful

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  • TikTok’s most-followed creator, Charli D’Amelio, partnered with the coffee chain Dunkin’ to add her go-to order to its menu for a limited time.  
  • A Dunkin’ official told TMZ that the chain sold hundreds of thousands of her signature drink, “The Charli,” within the first five days of launching. It also set a record for daily users on the Dunkin’ app the first day of the launch after seeing a 57% increase in app downloads. 
  • Dunkin’ even saw a 20% sales boost for all cold brews that day as well as a 45% surge the following day. 
  • This collaboration, along with musician Travis Scott’s partnership with McDonald’s, has many interested to see if and how more chains will use big names as marketing tools in the future. 

The Charli 

Officials at Dunkin’ have finally given some insight into just how powerful its partnership with 16-year-old Charli D’Amelio has been for the coffee chain. 

D’Amelio, of course, is TikTok’s most famous personality, and she recently teamed up with Dunkin’ to get her go-to coffee order on its menu for a limited time. The drink is called “The Charli,” a cold brew with whole milk and three pumps of caramel swirl.

It officially debuted in stores on Sept. 2. As part of the partnership, she also launched a contest with the chain. For that, the company invited her fans to post a picture on Instagram, recreating a memorable moment of Charli and her Dunkin’ drink using the hashtag #CharliXDunkinContest. Then, on Sept. 19, National Dance Day, five lucky winners were selected to join a virtual hang out with Charli. 

It was probably fair to assume that the drink would be a success given Charli’s massive following and influence these days. She’s currently sitting at 88.4 million followers on TikTok alone. and the drink has been spotted all over the app, with fans, friends, and influencers trying it out themselves.

However, Drayton Martin, vice president of brand stewardship at Dunkin’, just confirmed to TMZ that the chain sold hundreds of thousands of the signature drink within the first five days of launch. Dunkin’ also set a record for daily users on its app the day her drink debuted after seeing a 57% increase in app downloads. 

Apparently it wasn’t just “The Charli” that saw success. Dunkin’ also saw a 20% sales boost for all cold brews the first day as well as a 45% surge the next day. 

Travis Scott’s McDonald’s Deal 

These numbers are especially interesting to look at when acknowledging how lucrative Travis Scott’s limited edition collab with McDonald’s has proved to be. His partnership was for a $6 combo that included a Quarter Pounder with bacon and lettuce, fries, BBQ sauce, and a Sprite. 

That launched on Sept. 9, and he also sold some exclusive Mcdonald’s themed merch on his website at the time. 

Within days of the launch, several McDonald’s locations reported running out of ingredients to make the meals. In a memo sent to employees, McDonald’s said: “We’ve created a program that’s so compelling to our customers that it’s stretching our world-class supply chain; and if demand continues at these levels, more restaurants will break supply.”

Tons of people have been trying to get their hands on this meal. In fact, it even became a trend on TikTok to order it using a range of phrases. According to USA Today, McDonald’s even noted some of the various ways customers have been ordering the meal in their memo to employees. Some were part of marketing and social media materials for it, like the phrase “Say Cactus Jack sent me.”

Other variations include “It’s lit, sick mode,” “The Fornite guy burger,” or “You know why I’m here” which is often followed by customers playing Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode.” 

Eventually, McDonald’s said the promotion will continue through Oct. 4 as scheduled. However, starting Sept. 22, customers who want the meal have to order it through the McDonald’s app. So maybe that will intentionally slow sales, or perhaps downloads for that app soar as it did for Dunkin’ with D’Amelio’s help.

Ultimately, both collaborations have shown just how influential big names can be in the fast food and drink world. It’ll be interesting to see if and how chains will continue to use people with massive followings as advertising tools in the future. 

See what others are saying: (TMZ) (USA Today) (Chicago Sun Times

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Twitter to Investigate Auto-Crop Algorithm After Accusations of Racial Bias

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  • Twitter users believe they discovered a racial bias in an algorithm the platform uses to automatically select which part of an image it shows in a photo preview.
  • Many argued that the auto-cropping tool showed a white bias after testing the theory with photos of Black and white people, cartoon characters, and even dogs. 
  • However, others who tested the theory generated results that did not support this idea. Regardless, most users admit that these experiments have their limitations and agree that the current results at least show that this is something worth looking into.
  • The company released a statement saying it tested its system for bias in the past but admitted it needs to conduct further analysis of it. Online, Twitter employees seemed to welcome the public discourse and the company promised to share its results as well as further actions it may take.

Potential White Bias 

Twitter responded to concerns over its automatic cropping algorithm Sunday after users believed they discovered a racial bias in the tool.

In 2018, Twitter began auto-cropping photos in its timeline previews to prevent them from taking up too much space in the main feed and to allow multiple photos to appear in the same tweet. To do this, the company uses several algorithmic tools that focus on the most important part of the picture, like faces or text. 

However, users recently began to spot issues with the algorithm. The first person credited for highlighting a potential problem was PhD student Colin Madland. He made his discovery while highlighting a different racial bias he thinks he found on the video-conference company Zoom. 

Madland tweeted that when his Black colleague uses a virtual background on Zoom, his head is erased. When he uploaded examples to show this happening to his Black colleague and not himself, he noticed that Twitter was only showing his own face in its preview. 

Soon after, others followed up with more targetted experiments. Cryptographic and infrastructure engineer Tony Arcieri, for example, tweeted out two long images with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and Former President Barack Obama. 

The two photos have the politicians stacked on top of each other in different orders but with white space in between them. The experiment showed that Twitter would focus on McConnell, no matter what order the photos were stacked in.

Another user found that the algorithm even focused on McConnell when two photos of Obama were present in a single stack.

A similar white preference appeared in examples of Black and white men in suits, Simpsons characters Lenny and Carl, and even black and white dogs. 

Examples That Don’t Support White Bias Theory

Others looking into this theory of a white bias found results that did not support the idea. 

For example, one user found that photos of Obama were cropped for the preview over photos of Donald Trump. 

Still, some researching the trends noted that these experiments do have their limitations and are likely influenced by tons of other factors. Some believe the algorithm recognized high profile figures or considers brightness and contrast, among other photo elements.

Twitter’s Chief Design Officer (CDO), Dantley Davis, even suggested that the choice of cropping sometimes takes brightness of the background into consideration.

However, ohers found examples that rejected that idea. Regardless, all these tests did a lot to convince people that there was something worth looking at here, including Davis, who has been experimenting himself.

He’s not alone in his research. In fact, plenty of other Twitter users have been going to great lengths to track their results as they try to study what is going on.

Twitter Promises to Investigate 

On Sunday, a Twitter spokesperson eventually released a statement admitting that the company had work to do.

“Our team did test for bias before shipping the model and did not find evidence of racial or gender bias in our testing,” the company explained.

But it’s clear from these examples that we’ve got more analysis to do. We’ll continue to share what we learn, what actions we take, and will open source our analysis so others can review and replicate.” 

Davis also isn’t the only employee that has appeared to welcome all of this public discourse. The company’s Chief Technology Officer, Parag Argawal tweeted, “This is a very important question. To address it, we did analysis on our model when we shipped it, but needs continuous improvement. Love this public, open, and rigorous test — and eager to learn from this.”

See what others are saying; (The Next Web) (The Guardian) (Mashable

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