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Key Takeaways From the Explosive “Facebook Papers”

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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)

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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.

See what others are saying: (ABC) (NASDAQ) (Los Angeles Times)

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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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Etsy Sellers Strike Amid Increased Transaction Fees and Mandatory Offsite Advertising

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“What began as an experiment in marketplace democracy has come to resemble a dictatorial relationship between a faceless tech empire and millions of exploited, majority-women craftspeople,” an Etsy seller wrote in a petition. 


Thousands of Etsy Sellers Shut Down Shops

Roughly 15,000 Etsy sellers are closing up their online shops starting Monday in protest of several grievances they have with the platform, including a new fee increase.

Starting on Monday, transaction fees are getting boosted from 5% to 6.5% on the platform. CEO Josh Silverman sent a memo claiming that this hike will allow the company to “make significant investments in marketing, seller tools, and creating a world-class customer experience,” but sellers have been frustrated by the change. 

“Etsy’s last fee increase was in July 2018. If this new one goes through, our basic fees to use the platform will have more than doubled in less than four years,” seller Kristi Cassidy wrote in a petition calling for a strike. As of Monday morning, over 50,000 Etsy sellers, customers, and employees had signed the petition.

“These basic fees do not include additional fees for Offsite ads – which started during the first wave of the pandemic,” Cassidy continued. 

Offsite ads allow Etsy to advertise sellers’ products on other websites like Google. Sellers who make over $10,000 a year reportedly have no way of opting out of the program and Etsy takes at least 12% of sales generated through the promotions. 

“Etsy fees are an unpredictable expense that can take more than 20% of each transaction,” Cassidy wrote. “We have no control over how these ads are administered, or how much of our money is spent.”

Etsy became a pandemic success story as online shopping rose amid lockdowns. Many turned to the platform to purchase masks and other goods, prompting its stock, sales, and number of sellers to rise. 

“It’s really obnoxious to tell us sellers, ‘Hey, we made record profits last year and we’re gonna celebrate by raising your fees a whole bunch,’” Bella Stander, a maps and guidebooks publisher who sells on Etsy, told the Wall Street Journal.  

What Etsy Sellers Are Demanding

Currently, there are over five million sellers on Etsy. Cassidy hopes that if enough of them unite, the company will have to respond. 

“As individual crafters, makers and small businesspeople, we may be easy for a giant corporation like Etsy to take advantage of,” she wrote. “But as an organized front of people, determined to use our diverse skills and boundless creativity to win ourselves a fairer deal, Etsy won’t have such an easy time shoving us around.”

In the petition’s list of demands, it asks that Etsy cancel the transaction fee increase, allow sellers to opt out of offsite ads, and provide a transparent plan to crack down on resellers who take up space on the platform.

It also demanded that Etsy end its “Star Seller Program,” which impacts how sellers can interact with their buyers.

“Etsy was founded with a vision of ‘keeping commerce human’ by ‘democratizing access to entrepreneurship.’ As a result, people who have been marginalized in traditional retail economies — women, people of color, LGBTQ people, neurodivergent people, etc. — make up a significant proportion of Etsy’s sellers,” Cassidy wrote.

“But as Etsy has strayed further and further from its founding vision over the years, what began as an experiment in marketplace democracy has come to resemble a dictatorial relationship between a faceless tech empire and millions of exploited, majority-women craftspeople.”

In a statement to Yahoo Finance, an Etsy spokesperson claimed that sellers were the company’s “top priority.”

“We are always receptive to seller feedback and, in fact, the new fee structure will enable us to increase our investments in areas outlined in the petition, including marketing, customer support, and removing listings that don’t meet our policies,” the spokesperson said. “We are committed to providing great value for our 5.3 million sellers so they are able to grow their businesses while keeping Etsy a beloved, trusted, and thriving marketplace.”

The strike was a trending topic on Twitter Monday morning. Many sellers took to the social media site to pledge their support to the movement. 

Many sellers are urging buyers to refrain from using the site for the remainder of the week, which is how long the protest is currently scheduled to last.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (Yahoo Finance) (TechCrunch)

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