- 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)
Apple Will Cut Its App Store Commission Fee in Half for Small App Makers
- In January, Apple will launch its Small Business Program, which cuts its 30% App Store commission fee in half for developers with less than $1 million in annual net sales on its platform.
- The move comes as Apple faces growing scrutiny from lawmakers and businesses slamming it for what they call anti-competitive practices in its App Store.
- While some view the change as Apple extending an olive branch to developers, larger companies that have criticized its App Store policies, like Spotify and Epic Games, called the program a “‘window dressing” and a calculated move to preserve its monopoly.
- According to the analytics firm Sensor Tower, the top 1% of app publishers generate 93% of the revenue across the App Store and Google’s Play Store.
Apple’s Small Business Program
Apple said Wednesday that it will cut its App Store commission fee in half for developers with less than $1 million in annual net sales on its platform.
The move is part of its new Small Business Program and will go into effect on Jan. 1.
Since Apple currently takes a 30% commission from the total price of paid apps and in-app purchases, this change cuts the fee down to 15% for small and new developers.
This is a pretty major move coming from Apple, and many are describing it as the company’s attempt at extending an olive branch to developers because lawmakers and businesses around the world are focusing intensely on its App Store business practices. Many have already faulted Apple for anti-competitive and unfair behavior.
Big Companies React
At first glance, it actually does seem a little surprising that Apple would do this. In its annual filing with the SEC last month, Apple said reducing its App Store commission rate could hurt its financial results since it’s a major revenue point for its business.
However, Apple will continue to charge top-grossing apps its 30% fee, so it’s very likely that the financial impact of this change could be minimal.
In fact, several experts note that apps are typically a sort of “winner-takes-most” kind of business. According to a 2019 estimate from the app analytics firm Sensor Tower, the top 1% of app publishers generate 93% of the revenue across the App Store and Google’s Play Store.
The news is definitely good for small businesses, especially those hurting amid the pandemic. It also opens doors for those looking to add more virtual offerings under their businesses.
Still, the big companies who have been critical of Apple won’t see it as helpful. Epic Games, for instance, which is still in legal battles with Apple, released a statement criticizing the move.
“This would be something to celebrate were it not a calculated move by Apple to divide app creators and preserve their monopoly on stores and payments, again breaking the promise of treating all developers equally,” it said.
“By giving special 15 percent terms to select robber barons like Amazon, and now also to small indies, Apple is hoping to remove enough critics that they can get away with their blockade on competition and 30 percent tax on most in-app purchases. But consumers will still pay inflated prices marked up by the Apple tax.”
Spotify, which has also challenged Apple’s App Store fees before, also commented on the matter.
“Apple’s anti-competitive behavior threatens all developers on iOS, and this latest move further demonstrates that their App Store policies are arbitrary and capricious,” it said.
“While we find their fees to be excessive and discriminatory, Apple’s tying of its own payment system to the App Store and the communications restrictions it uses to punish developers who choose not to use it, put apps like Spotify at a significant disadvantage to their own competing service. Ensuring that the market remains competitive is a critical task.”
“We hope that regulators will ignore Apple’s ‘window dressing’ and act with urgency to protect consumer choice, ensure fair competition, and create a level playing field for all,” it concluded.
Conservatives Flock to Parler After Outrage Over Facebook and Twitter Policies
- Since the election, millions of people have been joining alternative social media platforms like Parler that have much more lax content regulations than traditional sites.
- Last week, Parler was the most downloaded app on both Android and Apple devices, and the company’s user base more than doubled from 4.5 million to 10 million.
- Rumble, a platform that bills itself as an alternative to YouTube, has also seen a massive bump in new users, a fact that the company’s CEO credited in large part to recent traffic from Parler.
- Numerous big-name conservative influencers have been pushing their followers to join these platforms, arguing that mainstream companies like Twitter and Facebook censor their content.
- Critics say that the alternative sites are allowing misinformation, conspiracies, and hateful content to flourish, effectively creating a dangerous echo chamber where people only hear what they want.
Parler Sees Huge Boom
Millions of conservative social media users have been flocking to alternative platforms in the weeks following the election amid allegations of censorship on traditional sites like Facebook and Twitter, which have been cracking down on election misinformation.
The most significant example is Parler, a social media company founded in 2018 that markets itself as a “free speech” and unbiased alternative to Twitter and Facebook. Unlike those platforms, Parler leaves most moderation decisions up to individual users.
While it does have guidelines barring criminal activity, terrorism, child pornography, copyright violations, and fraud, the regulation of that content is done by volunteers called “community jurors,” not the platform itself.
The site, which is financially backed by a number of prominent conservative donors, has largely attracted a base of Trump supporters and right-wing users, and in the weeks since the election, the number of users has grown exponentially.
In fact, according to data from Google and other analytics firms, Parler was the most-downloaded app on both Android and Apple devices for the majority of last week, prompting the platform’s user base to more than double from 4.5 million to 10 million in that same time.
Conservative Voices Encourage Migration
Notably, Parler’s chief operating officer and co-founder Jeffrey Wernick claimed that this growth was not to due to “any one person or group, but rather to Parler’s efforts to earn our community’s trust, both by protecting their privacy, and being transparent about the way in which their content is handled on our platform.”
However, at the same time, others pointed to the fact that a number of major conservative influencers have recently encouraged their followers to switch over the platform, including the Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, who lashed out at Twitter after the company flagged an article she posted claiming Democrats were trying to steal the election.
“This is the same group who abused power in 2016,” she tweeted two days after the election. “I will be leaving soon and going to Parler. Please open an account on @parler right away.”
Conservative radio host Mark Levin also echoed that sentiment, and encouraged his 2.7 million Twitter followers to do the same.
“Hurry and follow me at Parler,” he tweeted. “I may not stay at Facebook or Twitter if they continue censoring me. And one day I’ll have left their platforms. Parler is a wonderful alternative and is growing, and we need you there ASAP. It believes in truly open speech.”
Rumble Sees Uptick in Users
Notably, the mass exodus to Parler has not just helped the platform itself grow, but other similar platforms as well.
For example, the video-sharing site Rumble, which bills itself as an alternative to YouTube, has also seen a major spike in new users, which the company’s Chief Executive Chris Pavlovski directly attributed to traffic from Parler.
“I can confirm for the 1st time ever, Parler is sending Rumble more referral traffic than Facebook/Twitter combined,” he tweeted. “Dependency on them is now a thing of the past Next up, Rumble will dethrone YouTube.”
Pavlovski also told The Washington Post that his company has seen a big uptick in users since Election Day and that he expects the company will end the month with 80 million unique users, which is up from 60 million in October and 40 million this summer.
Rumble has been around since 2013, much longer than Parler, but the fact that its base is expected to double from what it was this summer is still incredibly significant. Part of that big increase is also due to the fact that, like Parler, major conservative influencers have been encouraging their followers to go to Rumble.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Ca.), a major ally of President Donald Trump, has recently been pushing his supporters to use the site. Major creators have also said they will bring their content to the platform, including Charlie Kirk, the founder of conservative youth organization Turning Point USA, as well as conservative commentator and Parler investor Dan Bongino.
Also like Parler, Rumble has very lax moderation rules. While its terms of service prohibit videos that show the assembly of weapons as well as other obscene content like pornography, nudity, or child exploitation, the platform has taken a very hands-off approach when it comes to misinformation and false claims, even regarding the election and the coronavirus.
“We don’t get involved in scientific opinions; we don’t have the expertise to do that and we don’t want to do that,” Pavlovski told The Post.
Criticisms and Concerns
However, to that point, experts who study online misinformation have said that false claims that have been removed off other platforms are popping up on Parler. The same is true for some users that have been banned by other platforms, like far-right talk-show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, as well as the far-right militia group The Proud Boys, among others.
Many experts say the fact that this kind of content is thriving on Parler is cause for alarm.
“What we’ve seen in the past with some of these other fringe or alternative social media sites is, if there’s no rules and if it’s really siloed, then what happens is it gets more and more extreme,” Shannon McGregor, a professor who studies social media at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told NPR.
McGregor also specifically pointed to Gab, another alternative social network that has become well-known for hosting anti-Semitic and white nationalist content.
Even before the recent boom on Parler, critics have argued that the platform was a haven for posts that spread far-right extremism, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy theories. Now, many are worried that the rise of these alternative platforms will just create an echo chamber of people sharing that kind of content without any kind of fact-checking or warning system.
“When people see news they don’t like, they split off to start their own to confirm their bias. this splintering is dangerous — and it’s only beginning,” reporter J.D. Durkin explained on Twitter.
“I think it’s great there are more platforms in the media space than ever before — good people are earning paychecks doing what they love. what’s dangerous are the echo chambers created as a result and the toxicity against anything telling you what you don’t want to hear.”
While that is certainly an alarming possibility, especially when paired with the historical nature of these sites to slip into extremism, the big question that remains is will these platforms ever get big enough to really rival Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube?
While Parler now has 10 million users, that is still a fraction of Twitter’s 187 million daily users and Facebook’s nearly 2 billion.
Meanwhile, even the leading conservative voices that have encouraged people to switch over to Parler are still using Twitter and Facebook, including Bartiromo and Bongino, and many experts are skeptical that the conservatives with the biggest audiences will actually leave larger social media apps, even though they are telling their audiences too.
“All these people have accounts on Twitter because that’s where journalists are and that’s where the press is,” McGregor explained. “If they actually left Twitter, they would be less newsworthy.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Forbes)
Spotify to Buy Podcast Hosting Company Megaphone for $235 Million
- After purchasing exclusive shows, a podcast player, podcast creation software, and more, Spotify is planning to purchase the podcast hosting company Megaphone for $235 million.
- This new acquisition will help Spotify put ads in more podcasts by expanding the use of its system that makes real-time decisions about which ads a specific listener should hear based on their data, as well as the goals of the various ad deals Spotify is currently running.
- A survey Spotify recently sent to users has also sparked speculation that the streaming service is considering launching a separate subscription service for podcasts.
What Spotify’s Megaphone Deal Really Means
Spotify is looking to acquire the podcast hosting company Megaphone for $235 million, another major deal may help solidify its dominance in the podcasting world.
For the last few years, the streaming service has been working aggressively to snag both podcasting networks and popular programs.
Now, it’s going even further with this new acquisition that will help it put ads in more podcasts.
Megaphone is a company that offers technology for podcast publishers and advertisers seeking targeted slots on podcasts, and according to The Verge, the multimillion-dollar deal wouldn’t affect Spotify’s own podcasts since it already hosted its shows on Megaphone.
Instead, it means Megaphone hosted podcasts– from publishers like ESPN, the Wall Street Journal, and others– will have access to Spotify’s proprietary ad insertion technology, called Streaming Ad Insertion.
That system makes real-time decisions about which ads a specific listener should hear based on their data, as well as the goals of the various ad deals Spotify is currently running.
This purchase is major for Spotify because it means the company now owns a fully rounded-out podcasting ecosystem, including a network of exclusive shows, a podcast player, podcast creation software, a hosting company, and its own ad sales team.
Rumors of Potential Spotify Podcast Subscription Service
As such a strong force in the podcasting world, it not too surprising that earlier this week, reports surfaced suggesting Spotify might be considering launching a separate paid subscription service just for podcasts.
Right now, you can listen to podcasts on Spotify for free with ads, or without ads if you’re one of the 150 million people who pay for its music streaming membership.
Still, it’s worth noting that this change isn’t official. In fact, reports only surfaced after the company sent out a new survey to some users, including Variety’s Andrew Wallenstein.
Competitors Eye Big Podcast Purchases
Spotify isn’t the only company with its eyes on podcasts.
This week, several outlets reported that Apple and Sony are reportedly eyeing a $300-$400 million acquisition of the podcast network Wondery.
There are at least two other companies that have joined them for negotiations. They haven’t been identified and nothing has been finalized, but it has been confirmed that Spotify is not one of the bidders.
If this deal happens, it would be one of the priciest agreements in the industry.