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Facebook Whistleblower Revealed, Claims Platform Encourages Hate Speech for Profit 

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“The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world,” whistleblower Frances Haugen said while alleging that Facebook regularly employs user anger to make money.


Whistleblower Revealed

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, identified herself on Sunday as the anonymous whistleblower who recently leaked some of the platform’s internal information to Congress and The Wall Street Journal.

Haugen publicly disclosed her identity during a Sunday night airing of “60 Minutes,” where she accused Facebook of driving hate speech to increase engagement on the platform. 

“It’s optimizing for content that gets engagement or reaction, but its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it’s easier to inspire people to anger than it is other emotions,” she told CBS’ Scott Pelley. 

“Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, [the platform will] make less money.” 

Haugen first turned over thousands of internal Facebook documents to federal law enforcement earlier this year. In the past month, the documents have spurred a Congressional hearing over the hold Facebook has on minors, as well as how its platforms are affecting their mental health. In one highly notable move, Facebook also indefinitely suspended its plan to release an “Instagram for Kids,” though the company claims it will resume the project at some point in the future. 

Facebook and Hate Speech

One document released by Haugen shows Facebook’s own researchers estimating that the platform may take action on as little as 3 to 5% of hate, along with only 0.6% of violence and incitement “despite being the best in the world at it.”

“The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world,” she said. 

In the “60 Minutes” piece, which runs for over 13 minutes, voiceovers from Pelley suggest that Haugen believes Facebook should be held responsible for the 2018 Myanmar genocide that was incited by the country’s military on Facebook. 

Pelley also cites the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Haugen suggests that Facebook needs to be held accountable for that event as it cut back on anti-violence and hate speech policies following the 2020 Elections.

“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” she said. “And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”

“I’ve seen a bunch of social networks and it was substantially worse at Facebook than anything I’d seen before.”

Haugen is set to testify before the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security on Tuesday. There, she hopes to convince Congress to impose federal regulations on how social media companies monitor hate speech.

That might not take too much convincing. Committee Chair Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) has already called the documents she leaked a “bombshell,’ and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are in agreement that some form of action must be taken. 

Facebook Denies Claims

Since The Wall Street Journal first released internal slides focusing on Instagram’s effects on teens last month, Facebook has played down the research now made public. 

In fact, on Thursday, it even suggested that the company itself “may [have] sensationaliz[ed] the negative impact on the graph.”

The release of Haugen’s interview was no different. On Saturday, Executive Nick Clegg dismissed allegations that Facebook should be held responsible for the Jan 6. insurrection amid rumors the “60 Minutes” piece would include such accusations. 

Evidence “does not support the idea that Facebook, or social media more generally, is the primary cause of polarization,” he added.

Following the release of the interview, Facebook spokesperson Lena Pietsch said, “Every day, our teams have to balance protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place.”

“We’ve made important improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content, know about it, and do nothing is just not true.”

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Employees at Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software Form First Union at a Major Gaming Company

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Organizers say the decision has the potential to upend labor practices in the gaming industry.


Raven Software QA Testers Win Union Bid

A group of 28 workers at Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software voted to form the first-ever union at a major U.S. gaming company. 

While the Game Workers Alliance is a small union, organizers in the space say its formation represents a major shift for the gaming industry and will encourage others in the sector to follow suit.

The newly unionized workers are quality insurance (QA) testers working at the Wisconsin-based studio to develop “Call of Duty.” QA testers work to sort out any glitches in games, and the jobs are notoriously known for extreme crunch periods where staffers work long stretches of hours before a game’s release.

During crunch periods, employees are regularly given 12- to 14-hour shifts with just a few days off each month in order to meet release deadlines.

Many QA testers have said they are treated as second-class to others in the industry. They are paid much lower — often minimum wage or close to it — work on contract cycles and, as a result, feel disposable.

That particular sentiment was underscored for workers at Raven Software in December when the company ended the contracts of about a dozen QA testers. The decision prompted the remaining QA testers to hold a walkout and, shortly after that, they began organizing to form a union, which they dubbed the Game Workers Alliance.

Activision’s Battle Against Unionization Effort

Activision did not support the push for unionization and actively fought against it. The company refused to voluntarily recognize the union, and just days after the group filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, it moved QA testers to different departments across its properties.

Activision also announced it would convert over 1,000 temporary QA workers to full-time employees, give them a pay raise to $20 an hour, and provide more benefits. However, management said the move would not apply to the unionizing workers because, under federal law, they could not try to encourage workers from voting against unionization by offering pay hikes or benefits. Union leaders repudiated that argument.

Additionally, Activision fought against the union petition, arguing that any union would need to include all of the studio’s employees, but the Labor Board rejected the claim and let the effort proceed.

According to multiple reports, Activision management continued to push against the union in the weeks leading up to the vote. Some Raven employees told The Washington Post company leaders had suggested at a town hall meeting that unionization could hurt game development and impact promotions and benefits. The following day, the managers allegedly sent an email urging workers to “vote no.” 

On Monday, Labor Board prosecutors announced they had determined that Activision illegally threatened workers and enforced a social media policy that violated bargaining rights. Activision denied the new allegations.

The two parties will have until the end of the month to file an objection, and if none are filed, the union becomes official. It is currently unclear how Activision and Raven will respond, but they have signaled that they might not make the transition period easy for the union.

According to internal documents seen by Bloomberg, the company has repeatedly mentioned that it can take a while for a union to negotiate its first contract.

In a statement following the vote, an Activision spokesperson told The Post that the company respects the right of its employees to vote for or against a union, but added: “We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 of Raven employees. We’re committed to doing what’s best for the studio and our employees.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)

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Uber Forks Over $19 Million in Fine for Misleading Australian Riders

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The penalty is just the latest in a string of lawsuits going back years.


Uber Gets Fined

Uber has agreed to pay a $19 million fine after being sued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for making false or misleading statements in its app.

The first offense stems from a company policy that allows users to cancel their ride at no cost up to five minutes after the driver has accepted the trip. Despite the terms, between at least December 2017 and September 2021, over two million Australians who wanted to cancel their ride were nevertheless warned that they may be charged a small fee for doing so.

Uber said in a statement that almost all of those users decided to cancel their trips despite the warnings.

The cancellation message has since been changed to: “You won’t be charged a cancellation fee.”

The second offense, occurring between June 2018 and August 2020, involved the company showing customers in Sydney inflated estimates of taxi fares on the app.

The commission said that Uber did not ensure the algorithm used to calculate the prices was accurate, leading to actual fares almost always being higher than estimated ones.

The taxi fare feature was removed in August 2020.

A Troubled Legal History

Uber has been sued for misleading its users or unfairly charging customers in the past.

In 2016, the company paid California-based prosecutors up to $25 million for misleading riders about the safety of its service.

An investigation at the time found that at least 25 of Uber’s approved drivers had serious criminal convictions including identity theft, burglary, child sex offenses and even one murder charge, despite background checks.

In 2017, the company also settled a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for $20 million after it misled drivers about how much money they could earn.

In November 2021, the Justice Department sued the company for allegedly charging disabled customers a wait-time fee even though they needed more time to get in the car, then refused to refund them.

Later the same month, a class-action lawsuit in New York alleged that Uber charged riders a final price higher than the upfront price listed when they ordered the ride.

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Report Finds That Instagram Promotes Pro-Eating Disorder Content to 20 Million Users, Including Children

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According to the study, even users hoping to recover were given eating disorder content because they were “still in Instagram’s algorithmically curated bubble.”


Instagram Promotes Eating Disorder Content

Instagram promotes pro-eating disorder content to millions of its users, including children as young as nine-years-old, according to a Thursday report from the child advocacy non-profit group Fairplay.

The report, titled “Designing for Disorder: Instagram’s Pro-eating Disorder Bubble,” studied what it called an eating disorder “bubble,” which consisted of nearly 90,000 accounts that reached 20 million unique users. The average age of the bubble was 19, but researchers found users aged nine- and 10-years-old that followed three or more of these accounts. Roughly one-third of those in the bubble were underage. 

According to Fairplay, Instagram’s parent company Meta derives $2 million in revenue a year from the bubble and another $228 million from those who follow it. 

“In addition to being profitable, this bubble is also undeniably harmful,” the report said. “Algorithms are profiling children and teens to serve them images, memes and videos encouraging restrictive diets and extreme weight loss.”

“Meta’s pro-eating disorder bubble is not an isolated incident nor an awful accident,” it continued. “Rather it is an example of how, without appropriate checks and balances, Meta systematically puts profit ahead of young people’s safety and wellbeing.”

Researchers identified the bubble by first looking at 153 seed accounts with over 1,000 followers that posted content celebrating eating disorders. Some used phrases like “thinspiration” or other slang terms like “ana” and “mia” to refer to specific eating disorders. Others included an underweight body mass index in their bios. 

Those seed accounts alone had roughly 2.3 million collective followers, 1.6 million of which were unique. Of those unique users, researchers looked at how many seed accounts each followed to determine that nearly 90,000 accounts were part of the eating disorder bubble. Those accounts totaled over 28 million followers, 20 million of which were unique.

These pages posted content ranging from memes and photos of extreme thinness to screenshots of progress on calorie counting apps. One user said they were on their third day of eating just 300 calories. 

Others, including children under the age of 13, put their current weights and goal weights in their account bios. Some wrote that they “hate food” or were “starving for perfection.”

Content’s Impact on Children

Fairplay claimed that many of those in the bubble wanted to recover but were essentially trapped in Instagram’s algorithm. 

“Many of the biographies of users in the bubble talk about wanting to or being in recovery, wanting to get ‘better’, to ‘heal’ or being aware of how unwell they were,” the report said. “However, these users are still in Instagram’s algorithmically curated bubble. They will still be feeding content from other accounts in the bubble, including the seed accounts, that normalizes, glamorizes or promotes eating disorders.”

The report also showcased the firsthand account of a 17-year-old eating disorder survivor and activist identified as Kelsey. Kelsey wrote that it was impossible to “imagine a time when the app didn’t have the sort of content that promotes disordered eating behavior.” 

“I felt like my feed was always pushed towards this sort of content from the moment I opened my account,” Kelsey continued.

“That type of content at one point even got so normalized that prominent figures such as the Kardashians and other female and male influencers were openly promoting weight loss supplements and diet suppressors in order to help lose weight.”

Kelsey said Instagram delivered that content without any relevant searches, but posts about body positivity needed to be actively sought out. 

The report concluded by arguing that there needs to be legislation that regulates platforms like Instagram by requiring them to prioritize user safety, particularly for children.

Meta and Instagram have long been accused of disregarding child safety. Last year, a whistleblower unveiled documents that revealed the company knew of the harm it posed to young people, specifically regarding body image. A Meta spokesperson told The Hill that they were unable to address the most recent allegations in Fairplay’s report.

“We’re not able to fully address this report because the authors declined to share it with us, but reports like this often misunderstand that completely removing content related to peoples’ journeys with or recovery from eating disorders can exacerbate difficult moments and cut people off from community,” the spokesperson said.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (CNet)

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