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Facebook Bans Holocaust Denial, Reversing Previous Policy

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  • Facebook announced Monday that it was expanding its hate speech policy to ban content that denies or distorts the Holocaust, a significant reversal from Mark Zuckerberg, who previously said he would leave the content up because it was not “intentional.”
  • In a blog post, the company cited the rise of antisemitism and lack of knowledge about the Holocaust among young people as the reasoning behind their decision.
  • While many applauded the move, they also argued that Facebook could have done this years ago and that the company was only taking action now because of pressure campaigns like Stop Hate for Profit.
  • Others also noted that the company made similar changes this week like banning QAnon and anti-vax ads, and argued Facebook was only reversing these policies to get good press ahead of the election.

Facebook Reverses Holocaust Denial Policy

Facebook will now ban all content that denies or distorts the Holocaust, the company announced Monday, reversing a years-long policy promoted by CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg has long argued that his platform should not be an “arbiter of truth” and intervene in questions of free speech. In 2018, he told Recode that while he found Holocaust denial “deeply offensive,” as a Jewish person himself, he did not think Facebook should regulate it.

“At the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong,” he said. “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.” 

Now, Zuckerberg seems to have backtracked entirely, and in a Facebook post on Monday, he said the company would be expanding its hate speech policy to include Holocaust denial.

“We’ve long taken down posts that praise hate crimes or mass murder, including the Holocaust,” he wrote. “But with rising anti-Semitism, we’re expanding our policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust as well.”

“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” Zuckerberg continued.

“My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech.” 

Rise in Antisemitic Violence and Holocaust Ignorance

The claim that antisemitism and anti-Semitic violence is rising is one that has been backed up by numerous recent reports. In May, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that 2019 saw the highest level of antisemitic incidents since the organization first started tracking in 1979.

This general trend has been supported by other organizations, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which reported that in 2018 that the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes had increased by nearly 40% from 2014.

However, that rise also goes beyond the U.S., which is something Facebook noted in the official blogpost announcing the policy change. In addition to “the well-documented rise in anti-Semitism globally,” the platform also said its decision was supported by “the alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people.”

The company specifically noted a recent study that found that almost one in four U.S. adults aged 18-39 “said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, that it had been exaggerated or they weren’t sure.”

The study, which went viral last month following its publication, also found generally shocking levels of ignorance that Gen Z and Millenial Americans had about the Holocaust.

Among other things, that study reported that nationally, 63% of respondents did not know 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and one in every eight said they had not even heard about it before.

Perhaps most relevant to Facebook’s new policy, the study also found that nearly half of people said had seen Holocaust denial or distortion in posts on social media or elsewhere online. 

Facebook Accused of Fostering Antisemitism

As is the case with other forms of hate speech and conspiracies, Facebook has long been accused of letting antisemitism flourish by allowing Holocaust denial on the platform.

In July, the ADL published an extensive report on the issue titled “Facebook Has a Holocaust Denial Problem.” Among other things, that report found that both public and private Holocaust denial groups that the platform shared anti-Semitic content that violated Facebook’s existing and long-held community guidelines.

The same month that report was published, the ADL also launched the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which involved an ad boycott of Facebook from over 1,000 major companies as well as a separate campaign where celebrities froze their Instagram and/or Facebook accounts for one day. 

While some said those efforts fell short, a number of people applauded Facebook’s Monday announcement and called the move a win for the campaign.

“Good news—another win for #StopHateForProfit: Facebook should have banned Holocaust denial long ago, but better late than never,” actor Sacha Baron Cohen, who has been a vocal critic of Facebook, tweeted.

Many others also hit on the point that this decision from Facebook was a good step, but it should have been done long ago. In a statement, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt commended the move, but noted that the ADL had been encouraging the platform to take this step for almost 10 years.

Greenblatt also implied that despite how Facebook may have presented the decision in their remarks, the company was not taking the action out of goodwill for the Jewish community, but rather because of external pressure from Stop Hate for Profit and other campaigns.

“As Facebook finally decides to take a stance against Holocaust denial and distortion, they claim it is because of their work with the Jewish community over the past year,” he said. “We question this claim because if they had wanted to support the Jewish community, this change could have been implemented at any point in the last nine years.”

Questions Over Timing

Other’s also had similar questions about the timing of the decision, noting that in the last two weeks alone, Facebook has made some major reversals, including saying it will temporarily stop all political ads after the election and announcing it will ban QAnon. On Tuesday morning, the company also announced it will start banning anti-vax ads.

As a result, many argued that, despite years of pressure, Facebook is only choosing to crack down on these issues now to get good press and appear as though they are addressing deep-rooted issues ahead of Election Day.

While plenty of people have still said these new changes are better late than never, others claim they were too little too late, pointing out that Facebook had four years to address these issues, but waited until the election was already well underway.

Facebook has been criticized both for its oversized role in allowing the spread of misinformation on the platform in the lead-up to the 2016 election and for not doing enough to address those issues in preparation for the 2020 election.

Also on Monday, a new study published by the German Marshall Fund Digital reported that engagement with misleading websites on Facebook has more than tripled since the 2016 election, despite all the so-called achievements Facebook has touted in this area, and all the millions of dollars it poured into these efforts.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (TIME) (The Guardian)

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FDA Recalls 11,000 Ice Cream Containers and Sportsmix Pet Food Products

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  • Over 11,000 cartons of Weis Markets ice cream were recalled after a customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor. 
  • The FDA also expanded a recall of Sportsmix pet food over concerns that the products may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins.
  • So far, more than 70 dogs have died and more than 80 pets have become sick after eating Sportsmix food. The agency recommends taking your pet to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

Metal Pieces in Weis Ice Cream Cause Massive Recall

The Food and Drug Administration announced two major product recalls this week following serious consumer complaints.

The first came Sunday when the agency revealed that over 11,000 cartons of Weis Market ice cream were recalled. “The products may be contaminated with extraneous material, specifically metal filling equipment parts,” the FDA’s statement explained.

At least one customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor.

Those containers were available in 197 Weis Market grocery stores, but they have already been pulled from shelves. The products have a sell-by date of October 21, 2020, and customers who purchased the product can return it for a full refund.

Along with removing 10,869 units of the Cookies and Cream containers, the brand also recalled 502 3-gallon bulk containers of Klein’s Vanilla Dairy Ice Cream.

Those bulk containers were not for retail sale, but were instead sold to one retail establishment in New York and have since been removed.

Sportsmix Recall Follows 70 Pet Deaths, 80 Illnesses

The second major recall came Tuesday when the FDA expanded a recall of Sportmix dog food.

According to the agency, the product may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins – toxins produced by the Aspergillus flavus mold, which can grow on corn and other grains used as ingredients in pet food.

As of Tuesday, more than 70 pets have died and more than 80 have gotten sick after eating Sportsmix pet food. Not all the cases have been officially confirmed as aflatoxin poisoning at this time. This count also may not reflect the total number of pets affected.

For now, the FDA is asking pet owners and veterinary professionals to stop using the impacted Sportsmix products that have an expiration date on or before July 9, 2022, and have “05” in the date or lot code.

More detailed information about the recalled products can be found on the FDA’s announcement page.

Pets experiencing aflatoxin poisoning may have symptoms like sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice, and/or diarrhea. In some cases, this toxicity can cause long-term liver issues without showing any symptoms. Because of this, pet owners are being advised to take their animals to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

There is currently no evidence that pet owners who have handled the affected food are at risk of aflatoxin poisoning. Still, the FDA recommends that wash your hands after handling pet food.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (USA TODAY) (PEOPLE)

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Signal and Telegram Downloads Surge After WhatsApp Announces It Will Share Data With Facebook

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  • Downloads for Signal and Telegram have skyrocketed in the last week, with the encrypted messaging apps boasting 7.5 million and 9 million new followers, respectively.
  • The growth comes after WhatsApp said it will require almost all users to share personal data with its parent company Facebook.
  • It also comes after Parler’s shutdown and bans against President Trump from Twitter and Facebook, which prompted his supporters to turn specifically to Telegram.

Telegram and Signal See Big Boost

Downloads for the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram have surged in the last week after WhatsApp announced that it will start forcing all users outside the E.U. and U.K. to share personal data with Facebook.

Last week, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, told users that they must allow Facebook and its subsidiaries to collect their phone numbers, locations, and the phone numbers of their contacts, among other things.

Anyone who does not agree to the new terms by Feb. 8 will lose access to the messaging app. The move prompted many to call for people to delete WhatsApp and start using other services like Signal or Telegram.

Now, it appears those calls to use other encrypted messaging apps have been heard. According to data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower, Signal saw 7.5 million installs globally through the App Store and Google Play from Jan. 6 to Jan. 10 alone, marking a 4,200% increase from the previous week.

Meanwhile, Telegram saw even more downloads. During the same time, it gained 9 million users, up 91% from the previous week. It was also the most downloaded app in the U.S.

WhatsApp responded to the exodus by attempting to clarify its new policy in a statement Monday.

“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way,” the company said. “Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.”

Other Causes of App Growth

Notably, some of the spikes in the Telegram downloads, specifically, also come from many supporters of President Donald Trump flocking to alternative platforms after Parler was shut down and Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook.

Far-right chat room membership on the platform has increased significantly in recent days, NBC News reported. Conversations in pre-existing chatrooms where white supremacist content has already been shared for months has also increased since the pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week.

According to the outlet, many of the president’s supporters have moved their operations to the app in large part because it has very lax community guidelines. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have recently cracked down on groups and users sharing incendiary content, known conspiracy theories, and attempting to organize events that could lead to violence.

There have been several documented instances of Trump supporters now using Telegram channels to discuss planned events and urge acts of direct violence. Per NBC, in one channel named “fascist,” users have called on others to “shoot politicians” and “encourage armed struggle.” A post explaining how to radicalize Trump supporters to become neo-Nazis also made rounds on the “fascist” channel, among others. 

Membership one channel frequently used by members of the Proud Boys has grown by more than 10,000 in recent days, seeming to directly attract users from Parler.

“Now that they forced us off the main platforms it doesn’t mean we go away, it just means we are going to go to places they don’t see,” a user posted in the chatroom, according to NBC.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Business Insider) (CNBC)

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Pornhub Removes All Unverified User Uploads, Taking Down Most of Its Videos

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  • Pornhub is now removing all videos that were not uploaded by verified users.
  • Before the massive purge, the site hosted around 13.5 million videos. As of Monday morning, there were only 2.9 million videos left. 
  • The move is part of a series of sweeping changes the company made days after The New York Times published a shocking op-ed detailing numerous instances of abuse on the site, including nonconsensual uploads of underage girls.
  • Following the article, numerous businesses cut ties with the company, including Mastercard and Visa, which both announced Thursday that they will not process any payments on the site.

Pornhub Purges Videos

Pornhub removed the vast majority of its existing videos Monday, just hours after the company announced that it would take down all existing videos uploaded by non-verified users.

According to reports, before the new move was announced Sunday night, Pornhub hosted about 13.5 million videos, according to the number displayed on the site’s search bar. As of writing, that search bar shows just over 2.9 million videos. 

The decision comes less than a week after the company announced it would only allow video uploads from content partners and members of its Model program.

At the time, Pornhub claimed it made the decision following an independent review launched in April to eliminate illegal content. However, many speculated that it was actually in large part due to an op-ed published in The New York Times just days before. That piece, among other things, found that the site had been hosting videos of young girls uploaded without their consent, including some content where minors were raped or assaulted.

The article prompted a wave of backlash against Pornhub and calls for other businesses to cut ties with the company. On Thursday, both Visa and Mastercard announced that they would stop processing all payments on the site.

“Our investigation over the past several days has confirmed violations of our standards prohibiting unlawful content on their site,” Mastercard said in a statement.

Less than an hour later, Visa tweeted that it would also be suspending payments while it completed its own investigation.

Pornhub Claims It’s Being Targeted

However, in its blogpost announcing the most recent decision, Pornhub claimed that it was being unfairly targeted.

Specifically, the company noted that Facebook’s own transparency report found 84 million instances of child sexual abuse content over the last three years. By contrast, a report by the third-party Internet Watch Foundation found 118 similar instances on Pornhub in the same time period.

Notably, the author of The Times report, Nicholas Krisof, specifically said the Internet Watch Foundation’s findings represented a massive undercount, and that he was able to find hundreds of these kinds of videos on Pornhub in just half an hour.

Still, the site used the disputed numbers to point a finger at others.

“It is clear that Pornhub is being targeted not because of our policies and how we compare to our peers, but because we are an adult content platform,” the statement continued.

“Every piece of Pornhub content is from verified uploaders, a requirement that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter have yet to institute,” the company added. 

However, Pornhub’s implication that it is somehow more responsible because it only let verified users post content is a highly impractical comparison. First of all, Pornhub is a platform created exclusively for porn, content the social media companies the company name-checked explicitly prohibit.

Second of all, and the vast majority of people who use those platforms are not verified, and it would be impossible for a company like Facebook or YouTube to limit content to only verified users without entirely undermining their own purposes.

Verification Concerns

Even beyond that, there are also still questions about Pornhub’s verification process. According to their site, all someone needs to do to become verified is to simply have a Pornhub account with an avatar and then upload a selfie of themselves holding a piece of paper with their username and Pornhub.com written on it.

While the company did tell reporters the process would be made more thorough sometime next year, they did not provide any specific details, prompting questions about exhaustive the verification process will ultimately be.

That question is highly important because, at least per its current policies, the verification process makes it so users are eligible to monetize their videos as part of the ModelHub program.

If the new verification process is still weak or has loopholes, people could easily slip through the cracks and continue to profit. However, on the other side, there are also big concerns among sex-workers that if the process is too limited, they will be able to make money on the platform.

That concern has already been exacerbated by some of the other actions taken since The Times article was published. For example, after Mastercard and Visa made their announcements, numerous sex workers and activists condemned the decision, saying it would seriously hurt how porn performers collect income —  not just on Pornbub, but on other platforms as well. 

“By targeting Pornhub and successfully destroying the ability for independent creators to monetize their content, they have made it easier to remove payment options from smaller platforms too,” model Avalon Fey told Motherboard last week. “This has nothing to do with helping abused victims, and everything to do with hurting online adult entertainers to stop them from creating and sharing adult content.”  

Other performers also expressed similar concerns that the move could spillover to smaller platforms. 

“I am watching to see if my OnlyFans will be their next target and sincerely hoping not,” amateur performer Dylan Thomas also told the outlet.

“Sex workers are scared by this change, despite not having uploaded any illegal content,” Fey continued, “because we have seen these patterns before and have had sites and payment processors permanently and unexpectedly shut down.”

See what others are saying: (Motherboard) (The Verge) (Bloomberg)

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