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Senators Ask Facebook to “End Finstas,” Compare Social Media to Big Tobacco in Hearing About Its Effects on Teens

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A clip of Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) asking a Facebook exec if the company would “commit to ending finsta,” which he described as a “product or service” of the company, has now been viewed online more than 6 million times. 


Lawmakers: Instagram for Kids Should Be Scrapped

The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection interrogated Facebook on Thursday over its plans to expand how kids utilize Instagram, one of its social media platforms. 

In perhaps their clearest bipartisan message, the lawmakers agreed that Facebook should not revive newly-paused plans to build an “Instagram for Kids.” 

“If we’re dealing with Facebook’s real world, where the safeguards are more illusory than real, there should be no Instagram for kids, period,” Committee Chair Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) said ahead of a hearing with Facebook’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis. “If they were really committed to kids’ safety, if there were real-world evidence of it, I might think differently about it. But Instagram for kids is plainly just more of the same.”

During the meeting, Davis, unsurprisingly, would not commit to the company fully scrapping Instagram for Kids.

In an experiment to directly see how Instagram promotes to teens, Blumenthal said his office created an account posing as a 13-year-old, then followed other accounts that were associated with diet extremism and eating disorders. After a single day, Blumenthal said the profile was only recommended accounts for self-harm and eating disorders.

The hearing was spurred by Blumenthal and ranking Republican Marsha Blackburn (Tn.) following the Wall Street Journal’s posting of multiple internal Facebook documents on Sep. 14. The same whistleblower who provided the documents to the WSJ later handed over a copy directly to Congress ahead of the hearing.

Those documents — published as a series of statistics on slideshow presentations — detail a number of disturbing data sets, including that 6% of American teens and 13% of British teens who told Facebook researchers that they had suicidal thoughts were able to directly trace those thoughts back to Instagram.

Facebook has repeatedly played down the leaked slide decks, arguing that they fail to capture the positive effects also presented within those slides. For example, the company has since stated that “more than half of respondents self-report that Instagram makes their feelings of loneliness better.”

Upon releasing two of the decks in full Wednesday night, Facebook again tried to diminish the results of its less than positive research by suggesting that the company itself “may [have] sensationaliz[ed] the negative impact on the graph.” In response, the WSJ published four additional slide decks in full, likely revealing much more information than Facebook had planned to make public. 

Facebook’s Tactics Compared to Big Tobacco

During the hearing, Blumenthal likened Facebook’s model for attracting minors to its platforms as similar to that of Big Tobacco.

“[Facebook] has hidden its own research on addiction and the toxic effects of its products, it has attempted to deceive the public and us in Congress about what it knows, and it has weaponized childhood vulnerabilities against children themselves,” he said. 

Echoing Blumenthal, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Ma.) compared Instagram to “that first childhood cigarette, meant to get teens hooked early, exploiting the peer pressure of popularity and ultimately endangering their health.” He’s also vowed to reintroduce a bill that would ban features like autoplay, push alerts, and accomplishment badges from being available to minors. 

Davis refuted such claims and offered the counterargument that Facebook’s “products actually add value and… enrich teen’s lives.”

“They enable them to connect with their friends, with their family,” especially during the ongoing pandemic, she argued.

Blumenthal’s “Finsta” Blunder

During what has become easily the most viral moment of the hearing, Blumenthal asked Davis if Facebook would “commit to ending finsta,” which he described as a “product or service” of the company.

“We don’t actually do finsta,” Davis replied. “What finsta refers to is young people setting up accounts where they may want to have more privacy. You refer to it as privacy from their parents. In my interaction with teens, what I’ve found is that they sometimes like to have an account where they can interact just with a smaller group of friends.”

“Finsta is slang for a type of account, it’s not a product,” she later added.

“Okay, will you end that type of account?” Blumenthal said, continuing to press Davis.

“I’m not sure I understand exactly what you’re asking,” Davis said. “What I can say is that based on what we’ve seen in terms of teens using those kinds of accounts, we’ve actually given them additional privacy options, to address those kinds of issues, where they want more privacy so that they can have more privacy.”

“Well, I don’t think that’s an answer to my question,” Blumenthal said, ending the conversation.

The clip, which was viewed over 6 million times in the 24 hours after it was recorded, led to many mocking Blumenthal for seemingly not understanding that “finstas” — AKA, “fake Instagrams” — are a type of secondary account created by users, not an explicit feature offered by the platform.

However, earlier comments from Blumenthal show that he is more aware of the reality of what finstas are than the viral clip suggests.

“Facebook describes these secret accounts as ‘a unique value proposition,’” he said after correctly describing what finstas are. “It’s a growth strategy, a way to boost its monthly active user metric. That active user metric is of great interest to your investors, to the markets, and it looks to me like it’s another case of prioritizing growth over children’s safety.”

Still, Blumenthal has continued to be criticized for claiming that finstas are a “product” of Facebook or that “Facebook has done… finstas.” While finstas are indeed likely a valuable prospect for boosting Facebook’s metrics, their origin does not originate from and has not been publicly promoted by the company itself. 

See what others are saying: (Axios) (The New York Times) (Ars Technica)

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Meta Reinstates Trump on Facebook and Instagram

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The company, which banned the former president two years ago for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, now says the risk to public safety has “sufficiently receded.” 


Meta Ends Suspension

Meta announced Wednesday that it will reinstate the Facebook and Instagram accounts of former President Donald Trump, just two years after he was banned for using the platforms to incite a violent insurrection.

In a blog post, the company said the suspensions would be lifted “in the coming weeks” but with “new guardrails in place to deter repeat offenses.”

Specifically, Meta stated that due to Trump’s violations of its Community Standards, he will face “heightened penalties for repeat offenses” under new protocols for “public figures whose accounts are reinstated from suspensions related to civil unrest.”

“In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” the blog post continued.

The company also noted its updated protocols address content that doesn’t violate its Community Standards but “contributes to the sort of risk that materialized on January 6, such as content that delegitimizes an upcoming election or is related to QAnon.”

However, unlike direct violations, that content would have its distribution limited, but it would not be taken down. As a penalty for repeat offenses, Meta says it “may temporarily restrict access to […] advertising tools.”

As far as why the company is doing this, it explained that it assessed whether or not to extend the “unprecedented” two-year suspension it placed on Trump back in January of 2021 and determined that the risk to public safety had “sufficiently receded.”

Meta also argued that social media is “rooted in the belief that open debate and the free flow of ideas are important values” and it does not want to “get in the way of open, public and democratic debate.”

“The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying — the good, the bad and the ugly — so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box,” the tech giant added.

Response

Meta’s decision prompted widespread backlash from many people who argue the former president has clearly not learned from the past because he continues to share lies about the election, conspiracy theories, and other incendiary language on Truth Social.

“Trump incited an insurrection. And tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Ca.) tweeted. “He’s shown no remorse. No contrition. Giving him back access to a social media platform to spread his lies and demagoguery is dangerous. @facebook caved, giving him a platform to do more harm.”

According to estimates last month by the advocacy groups Accountable Tech and Media Matters for America, over 350 of Trump’s posts on the platform would have explicitly violated Facebook’s policies against QAnon content, election claims, and harassment of marginalized groups.

“Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to reinstate Trump’s accounts is a prime example of putting profits above people’s safety,”  NAACP President Derrick Johnson told NPR

“It’s quite astonishing that one can spew hatred, fuel conspiracies, and incite a violent insurrection at our nation’s Capitol building, and Mark Zuckerberg still believes that is not enough to remove someone from his platforms.”

However, on the other side, many conservatives and Trump supporters have cheered the move as a win for free speech.

Others, like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) also asserted that Trump “shouldn’t have been banned in the first place. Can’t happen again.”

Trump himself echoed that point on in a post on Truth Social, where he claimed Facebook has lost billions of dollars both removing and reinstating him.

Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution! THANK YOU TO TRUTH SOCIAL FOR DOING SUCH AN INCREDIBLE JOB. YOUR GROWTH IS OUTSTANDING, AND FUTURE UNLIMITED!!!” he continued. 

The question that remains, however, is whether Trump will actually go back to Facebook or Instagram. As many have noted, the two were never his main platforms. Twitter was always been his preferred outlet, and while Elon Musk reinstated his account some time ago, he has not been posting on the site.

There is also the question of how Truth Social — which Trump created and put millions of dollars into — would survive if he went back to Meta’s platforms. The company is already struggling financially, and as Axios notes, if Trump moves back, it signals to investors that he is not confident in the company.

On the other hand, Trump’s lawyers formally petitioned Meta to reinstate him, which could indicate that this goes beyond just a symbolic win and is something he actually wants. Additionally, if he were to start engaging on Facebook and Instagram again, it would immediately give him access to his over 57 million followers across the two platforms while he continues his 2024 presidential campaign.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Axios) (The New York Times)

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Meta Encouraged to Change Nudity Policy in Potential Win For Free The Nipple Movement

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The company’s oversight board said Meta’s current rules are too confusing to follow, and new guidelines should be developed to “respect international human rights standards.”


Rules Based in “A Binary View of Gender”

In a move many have described as a big step for Free The Nipple advocates, Meta’s oversight board released a decision Tuesday encouraging the company to modify its nudity and sexual activity policies so that social media users are treated “without discrimination on the basis of sex or gender.”

The board—which consists of lawyers, journalists, and academics—said the parent company of Facebook and Instagram should change its guidelines “so that it is governed by clear criteria that respect international human rights standards.”

Its decision came after a transgender and nonbinary couple had two different posts removed for alleged violations of Meta’s Sexual Solicitation Community Standard. Both posts included images of the couple bare-chested with their nipples covered along with captions discussing transgender healthcare, as they were fundraising for one of them to undergo top surgery.

Both posts, one from 2021 and another from 2022, were taken down after users reported it and Meta’s own automated system flagged it. The posts were restored after an appeal, but the oversight board stated that their initial removal highlights faults in the company’s policies. 

“Removing these posts is not in line with Meta’s Community Standards, values or human rights responsibilities,” the board said in its decision, 

According to the board, Meta’s sexual solicitation policy is too broad and creates confusion for social media users. The board also said the policy is “based on a binary view of gender and a distinction between male and female bodies.

“Such an approach makes it unclear how the rules apply to intersex, non-binary and transgender people, and requires reviewers to make rapid and subjective assessments of sex and gender, which is not practical when moderating content at scale,” the decision continued. 

Free the Nipple Movement

The board stated that the rules get especially confusing regarding female nipples, “particularly as they apply to transgender and non-binary people.”

While there are exceptions to Meta’s rules, including posts in medical or health contexts, the board said that these exceptions are “often convoluted and poorly defined.” 

“The lack of clarity inherent in this policy creates uncertainty for users and reviewers, and makes it unworkable in practice,” the decision said. 

The board’s recommended that Meta change how it manages nudity on its platforms. The group also requested that Meta provide more details regarding what content specifically violates its Sexual Solicitation Community Standard. 

For over a decade, Meta’s nudity policies have been condemned by many activists and users for strictly censoring female bodies. The Free the Nipple movement was created to combat rules that prevent users from sharing images of a bare female chest, but still allow men to freely post topless photos of themselves. 

Big names including Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and Florence Pugh have advocated for Free the Nipple.
Meta now has 60 days to respond to the board’s recommendations. In a statement to the New York Post, a spokesperson for the company said Meta is “constantly evaluating our policies to help make our platforms safer for everyone.”

See What Others Are Saying: (Mashable) (The New York Post) (Oversight Committee Decision)

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Amazon Labor Union Receives Official Union Certification

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The company already plans to appeal the decision.


Amazon Labor Union’s Victory 

The National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday certified the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) Staten Island election from April, despite Amazon’s objections. 

After Staten Island staffers won the vote to unionize by 500 votes in the spring of 2022, Amazon quickly filed a slew of objections, claiming that the ALU had improperly influenced the election. Amazon pushed for the results to be overturned. 

Now, the National Labor Relations Board has dismissed Amazon’s allegations and certified the election. This certification gives legitimacy to the ALU and puts Amazon in a position to be penalized should they decide not to bargain with the union in good faith. 

“We’re demanding that Amazon now, after certification, meet and bargain with us,” ALU attorney Seth Goldstein said to Motherboard regarding the certification. “We’re demanding bargaining, and if we need to, we’re going to move to get a court order enforcing our bargaining rights. It’s outrageous that they’ve been violating federal labor while they continue to do so.”

Negotiate or Appeal 

Amazon has until Jan. 25 to begin bargaining with the ALU, or the online retailer can appeal the decision by the same deadline. The company has already announced its plan to appeal. 

“As we’ve said since the beginning, we don’t believe this election process was fair, legitimate, or representative of the majority of what our team wants,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel, said in a statement.

This win comes after two recent defeats in ALU’s unionization efforts. The union lost an election at a facility in Albany and another in Staten Island. 

ALU’s director Chris Smalls told Yahoo! Finance that he is unconcerned about these losses.

“For us, whatever campaign is ready to go, the Amazon Labor Union is going to throw their support behind it, no matter what…We know that it’s going to take collective action for Amazon to come to the table,” he told the outlet. “So, for us, it’s never unsuccessful. These are growing pains, and we’re going to fight and continue to grow.”

See what others are saying: (Vice) (NPR) (Bloomberg)

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