Connect with us

Business

Key Takeaways From the Explosive “Facebook Papers”

Published

on

Among the most startling revelations, The Washington Post reported that CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally agreed to silence dissident users in Vietnam after the country’s ruling Communist Party threatened to block access to Facebook.


“The Facebook Papers” 

A coalition of 17 major news organizations published a series of articles known as “The Facebook Papers” on Monday in what some are now calling Facebook’s biggest crisis ever. 

The papers are a collection of thousands of redacted internal documents that were originally turned over to the U.S. Securities and Exchanges Commission by former product manager Francis Haugen earlier this year. 

The outlets that published pieces Monday reportedly first obtained the documents at the beginning of October and spent weeks sifting through their contents. Below is a breakdown of many of their findings.

Facebook Is Hemorrhaging Teens 

Both Bloomberg and The Verge reported that Facebook is struggling to retain its hold over teens.  

For example, The Verge said the internal documents it reviewed showed that since 2019, teen users on Facebook’s app have fallen by 13%, with the company expecting another staggering falloff of 45% over the next two years. Meanwhile, the company reportedly expects its app usage among 20- to 30-year-olds to decline by 4% in the same timeframe.

Facebook also found that fewer teens are signing up for new accounts. Similarly, the age group is moving away from using Facebook Messenger.

In an internal presentation, Facebook data scientists directly told executives that the “aging up issue is real”  and warned that if the app’s average age continues to increase as it’s doing right now, it could disengage younger users “even more.”

“Most young adults perceive Facebook as a place for people in their 40s and 50s,” they explained. “Young adults perceive content as boring, misleading, and negative. They often have to get past irrelevant content to get to what matters.” 

The researcher added that users under 18 additionally seem to be migrating from the platform because of concerns related to privacy and its impact on their wellbeing.

Facebook Opted Not To Remove “Like” and “Share” Buttons

In its article, The New York Times cited documents that indicated Facebook wrestled with whether or not it should remove the “like” and “share” buttons.

The original argument behind getting rid of the buttons was multi-faceted. There was a belief that their removal could decrease the anxiety teens feel since social media pressures many to want to achieve a certain number of likes per post. There was also the hope that a decrease in this pressure could lead to teens posting more. Away from that, Facebook additionally needed to tackle growing concerns about the lightning-quick spread of misinformation.

Ultimately, its hypotheses failed. According to the documents reviewed by The Times, hiding the “like” button didn’t alleviate the social anxiety teens feel. It also didn’t lead them to post more. 

In fact, it actually led to users engaging with posts and ads less, and as a result, Facebook decided to keep the buttons. 

Despite that, in 2019, researchers for Facebook still asserted that the platform’s “core product mechanics” were allowing misinformation and hate to flourish.

“The mechanics of our platform are not neutral,” they said in the internal documents.

Facebook Isn’t Really Regulating International Hate

The Atlantic, WIRED, and The Associated Press all reported that terrorist content and hate speech continue to spread with ease on Facebook.

That’s largely because Facebook does not employ a significant number of moderators who speak the languages of many countries where the platform is popular. As a result, its current moderators are widely unable to understand cultural contexts. 

Theoretically, Facebook could solidify an AI-driven solution to catching harmful content spreading among different languages, but it still hasn’t been able to perfect that technology. 

“The root problem is that the platform was never built with the intention it would one day mediate the political speech of everyone in the world,” Eliza Campbell, director of the Middle East Institute’s Cyber Program, told the AP. “But for the amount of political importance and resources that Facebook has, moderation is a bafflingly under-resourced project.”

According to The Atlantic, as little as 6% of Arabic-language hate content on Instagram was detected by Facebook’s systems as recently as late last year. Another document detailed by the outlet found that “of material posted in Afghanistan that was classified as hate speech within a 30-day range, only 0.23 percent was taken down automatically by Facebook’s tools.”

According to The Atlantic, “employees blamed company leadership for insufficient investment” in both instances.

Facebook Was Lackluster on Human Trafficking Crackdowns Until Revenue Threats

In another major revelation, The Atlantic reported that these documents appear to confirm that the company only took strong action against human trafficking after Apple threatened to pull Facebook and Instagram from its App Store. 

Initially, the outlet said employees participated in a concerted and successful effort to identify and remove sex trafficking-related content; however, the company did not disable or take down associated profiles. 

Because of that, the BBC in 2019 later uncovered a broad network of human traffickers operating an active ring on the platform. In response, Facebook took some additional action, but according to the internal documents, “domestic servitude content remained on the platform.”

Later in 2019, Apple finally issued its threat. After reviewing the documents, The Atlantic said that threat alone — and not any new information — is what finally motivated Facebook to “[kick it] into high gear.” 

“Was this issue known to Facebook before BBC enquiry and Apple escalation? Yes,” one internal message reportedly reads. 

Zuckerberg Personally Made Vietnam Decision

According to The Washington Post, CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally called a decision last year to have Facebook agree to demands set forth by Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party.

The party had previously threatened to disconnect Facebook in the country if it didn’t silence anti-government posts.

“In America, the tech CEO is a champion of free speech, reluctant to remove even malicious and misleading content from the platform,” the article’s authors wrote. “But in Vietnam, upholding the free speech rights of people who question government leaders could have come with a significant cost in a country where the social network earns more than $1 billion in annual revenue.” 

“Zuckerberg’s role in the Vietnam decision, which has not been previously reported, exemplifies his relentless determination to ensure Facebook’s dominance, sometimes at the expense of his stated values,” they added.

In the coming days and weeks, there will likely be more questions regarding Zuckerberg’s role in the decision, as well as inquiries into whether the SEC will take action against him directly. 

Still, Facebook has already started defending its reasoning for making the decision. It told The Post that the choice to censor was justified “to ensure our services remain available for millions of people who rely on them every day.”

In the U.S., Zuckerberg has repeatedly claimed to champion free speech while testifying before lawmakers.

Other Revelations

Among other findings, the Financial Times reported that Facebook employees urged management not to exempt notable figures such as politicians and celebrities from moderation rules. 

Meanwhile, reports from Politico, CNN, NBC, and a host of other outlets cover documents related to Facebook’s market dominance, how much it downplayed its role in the insurrection, and more.  

Outside of these documents, similar to Haugen, another whistleblower submitted an affidavit to the SEC on Friday alleging that Facebook allows hate to go unchecked.

As the documents leaked, Haugen spent Monday testifying before a committee of British Parliament.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Axios) (Protocol)

Business

Workers in Alabama Will Rehold Vote to Unionize After Amazon Interfered With First Election, Agency Finds

Published

on

Among other actions, federal officials found that Amazon improperly placed an unmarked U.S. Postal Service mailbox in front of its warehouse.


Workers Will Redo Union Vote

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, will revote on whether or not to unionize thanks to a ruling issued Monday by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The workers previously agreed not to unionize by a vote of 1,798 to 738 in April. Had they voted yes, the group would have set a precedent by becoming the first Amazon employees in the country to be represented by a union.

Following the initial vote, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union — which led the charge for employees to organize — filed unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB, an independent federal agency. There, it alleged that Amazon at times broke the law while campaigning against the effort. 

In its Monday decision, the NLRB’s Atlanta regional director Lisa Henderson agreed, saying Amazon, “essentially highjacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process.”

She additionally noted that Amazon “improperly polled employees when it presented small groups of employees with the open and observable choice to pick up or not pick up ‘Vote No’ paraphernalia in front of” managers.

Amazon Challenges NLRB Ruling

Amazon is expected to appeal Henderson’s decision. 

“It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count. ​​As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” spokesperson Kelly Nantel said according to NPR. 

In a statement, Nantel also cited the fact that the results of the first vote were overwhelming. 

Convincing employees to flip the results will likely be an uphill battle. To do so, those in favor of unionizing will need to convince hundreds to vote differently or convince thousands of workers who sat out the last round to now vote. 

Still, this is a second breath of life for pro-unionists. While some believe the outcome could change given high employee turnover rates at Amazon, many others expect it to hold firm as a “no” vote. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (WVTM) (The Washington Post)

Continue Reading

Business

CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart Helped Fuel the Opioid Crisis, Jury Finds

Published

on

While all three chains have vowed to appeal, this ruling is a massive win for plaintiffs who argued that opioid manufacturers and retailers violated “public nuisance” laws when contributing to the opioid epidemic.


Jury Sides Against Retailers

A federal jury in Cleveland agreed Tuesday that CVS Health, Walgreens, and Walmart — three of the country’s biggest pharmacy chains — are responsible for contributing to the opioid crisis in two Ohio counties.

This is the first time that the retail arm of the drug industry has been held accountable for opioid overdoses and deaths. It’s also the first time a jury has been used to decide in a major opioid lawsuit.

Previously, only manufacturers such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson faced settlements or penalties, though the latter narrowly escaped $465 million in opioid fines in Oklahoma earlier this month after the state’s Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling. 

Many plaintiffs in thousands of similar lawsuits all across the country are seeing the Ohio jury’s decision as an optimistic sign — especially since most of them are using the same argument. Plaintiffs in Ohio alleged that either opioid manufacturers or retailers violated “public nuisance” laws by ignoring harm caused by opioid abuse that later snowballed into a full-fledged public health crisis. 

Retailers Vow to Appeal

Unsurprisingly, all three chains have promised to appeal Tuesday’s verdict.

There is precedent to think this decision could be overturned. For example, the now-overturned J&J lawsuit first successfully used the public nuisance argument in lower courts, but during an appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court thought the plaintiff’s argument was too broad. 

That said, every state has different public nuisance laws, so there may not be a clear-cut answer as to what actually could happen with all these cases. 

Despite a pending appeal, the judge overseeing Tuesday’s Ohio verdict will make a determination on how much these companies must pay after additional hearings in the spring. 

While the retail arm has largely avoided settling up to this point, if this case ultimately does not go their way, it could open the door for future settlements if they decide that route is less costly than going to trial. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (The Wall Street Journal)

Continue Reading

Business

Biden Authorizes Release of 50 Million Barrels of Oil From U.S. Reserve To Ease Gas Prices

Published

on

Experts believe the release will, at best, provide temporary relief to extremely high gas prices but only if other countries tap into a significant amount of oil from their reserves as well. 


Biden Taps Into Oil Reserves

President Joe Biden authorized the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve on Tuesday in an attempt to bring down staggeringly high gas prices.

“American consumers are feeling the impact of elevated gas prices at the pump and in their home heating bills, and American businesses are, too, because oil supply has not kept up with demand as the global economy emerges from the pandemic,” a White House announcement reads. “That’s why President Biden is using every tool available to him to work to lower prices and address the lack of supply.”

As of Tuesday morning, the national average of gas sat at $3.40, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). While down slightly over the last few days, the national average for November remains the highest it’s been since 2013. 

Despite the announcement, Americans shouldn’t expect to see an immediate drop in gas costs. In fact, gas prices are unlikely to be impacted much in the coming weeks since the government’s reserve only stores crude oil, which will need time to be refined into gasoline. 

Many analysts expect gas from the reserves to start reaching consumers’ pumps around mid-December, but even then, it will likely be used up in around a week. Last year, the U.S. used about 8 million barrels of gas from the reserve a day.

Those two factors are likely major contributors to why this news didn’t do much to calm the oil market. Following the announcement Tuesday, the benchmark oil price in the U.S. — measured by West Texas Intermediate crude futures — actually rose. 

Last week, Biden asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into “mounting evidence of anti-consumer behavior by oil and gas companies” amid rising gas prices. 

Price Concerns Persist

In its announcement, the White House said the U.S. release is being taken “in parallel with other major energy consuming nations, including China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom.” 

A number of analysts cited by various news publications have predicted that this kind of multi-country release is the only chance the U.S. actually has of meaningfully impacting gas prices.

“The bottom line for motorists is this moves the needle — but barely, and maybe not for a very long period of time,” Patrick De Haan, an industry expert at Gas Buddy, explained to The Washington Post. “It’s certainly something, but how much that something is will be contingent on how much the other countries put in.”

It is currently unclear how much oil the other countries plan to release, though Indian officials have said the country will release 5 million barrels from its reserve. 

Efforts could also go south in the long-term if the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) pushes back. It previously warned of a possible response if Biden decided to make this type of release, with the organization arguing that the U.S. has no real justification for needing to tap into its reserve. 

“There’s a threat this could lead to a risk of prices being elevated for longer if OPEC holds back meaningful production increases as a result,” De Haan told The Post. 

Overall, the release of oil is a tricky situation for Biden. He was already facing stacking criticism from Republicans for recent inflation and supply chain bottlenecks. Even now, many have said the release of 50 million barrels isn’t good enough on its own.

On the other side, Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) have argued that tapping into the reserve could provide temporary relief.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Business Insider) (Fox Business)

Continue Reading