Facebook and Facebook Messenger

  • On May 21, said it would allow many employees to work from home permanently. Mark Zuckerberg told workers during a staff meeting that was live streamed on his Facebook page that within a decade as many as half of the company’s more than 48,000 employees would work from home. Employee compensation will be adjusted based on the cost of living in the locations where workers choose to live. However, it was pointed out that none of the articles on the topic referred to contracted workers for content moderation, whose working conditions before and during the pandemic have come under criticism.[1]

  • On May 15, a group of Democratic senators sent a letter to Facebook urging the company to take steps to curb coronavirus misinformation that is not in English. The letter from Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) notes that more than 60 million Americans speak another language and cites a study from Avaaz (noted in previous reports) that Facebook fails to issue warning labels on content in those languages at a much higher rate.[2]

  • On May 12, released its biannual Community Standards Enforcement Report which provided the latest metrics on the number of controversial posts removed from the platform. The company took action against more than 2 billion pieces of content violating its community standards between January and March 2020 and an upsurge in content promoting hate and violence was particularly noteworthy. Facebook attributed the sharp increase in hate speech removals to technology improvements for automatically identifying images and text.[3] However, AI hasn’t played as big a role in handling coronavirus misinformation. Facebook has instead relied primarily on human reviewers at over 60 partner fact-checking organizations. Only once a person has flagged something, such as an image with a misleading headline, do AI systems take over to search for identical or similar items and automatically add warning labels or take them down. The team hasn’t yet been able to train a machine-learning model to find new instances of disinformation itself.[4]

  • On May 6, announced the names of the first members of its Oversight Board for content moderation appeals and policy (covered by many outlets).

  • On April 22, removed “pseudoscience” from the list of categories advertisers can use to target people, following an investigation from The Markup. The social media platform’s ad portal showed more than 78M Facebook users were interested in pseudoscience, The Markup reported. We've removed this targeting option to prevent potential abuse in ads,” a Facebook spokesperson confirmed in an email.[5]

  • On April 22, announced extra steps to make Pages and accounts with large audiences more transparent: Facebook will provide the location of high-reach Facebook Pages [and Instagram accounts] on every post they share, so people have more information to help them gauge the reliability and authenticity of the content they see in their feeds. This step, primarily focused on protecting election integrity, will be piloted in the US, starting specifically with Facebook Pages [and Instagram accounts] that are based outside the US but reach large audiences based primarily in the US. It builds on a past effort to include the primary country location of the people who manage a Page.

  • On April 21, announced that Facebook was taking steps to bring content reviewers back on a voluntary basis to assist with moderation.[6]

  • On April 20, on Good Morning America, Mark Zuckerberg stated that protests of stay-at-home orders in violation of state social distancing rules organized through Facebook qualify as "harmful misinformation."[7] This does not impact all lockdown protests - only those that are prohibited by government's guidance on social distancing.

  • On April 20, announced it is shutting down event pages for anti-quarantine protests in states with stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. A company spokesperson told Politico that it has removed protesters’ event pages and messages encouraging rallies in California, New Jersey, and Nebraska after state governments advised those events are currently prohibited by law. “...events that defy government's guidance on social distancing aren’t allowed on Facebook,” the spokesperson said. A Facebook representative also told CNN that it’s in discussions with four other states — New York, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — to determine if planned protests would violate those states’ stay-at-home orders.[8]

  • On April 16, announced in a blog post that “in the coming weeks” it will begin notifying users who have interacted with misinformation about the novel coronavirus that is subsequently removed from the platform. Users who liked, reacted to or commented on potentially harmful debunked content will see a message in their news feeds directing them to the World Health Organization's Myth busters page. There, the WHO dispels some of the most common falsehoods about the pandemic.[9] Facebook said the design in its blog post is an “early version” and that it’s also testing “more explicit” variations.[10]

  • Facebook is also adding a new section to its coronavirus information center dedicated to vetted articles that focus on debunking misinformation, and said that during March it applied warning labels on about 40 million posts related to the pandemic, based on roughly 4,000 articles reviewed by its third-party fact checkers.

  • On April 14, announced that an interactive Health Alert interactive service in partnership with the WHO already on WhatsApp is being expanded to Facebook Messenger. Messenger’s 1.3B monthly active users will be able to ask questions and get quick answers about the virus.[11]

  • On April 7, Consumer Reports ran an article about a “test” designed to see how well Facebook is policing coronavirus-related advertising. Seven ads, including two that described dangerous claims Nick Clegg (below) had specifically said would trigger rejection, were approved and scheduled to run on Facebook. Only one ad, with an image of a stock shot of a respirator-style face mask, was rejected, suggesting Facebook is using image recognition—one of its strong suits—to flag posts. Consumer Reports pulled all the ads from the schedule before they had the chance to actually appear. When contacted, Facebook confirmed all the ads violated their policies and closed the fake account created to run them.[12]

  • On April 1, COO Sheryl Sandberg participated in a podcast, “Skimm’d from The Couch”, in which she maintained that the lessons learned from its numerous mistakes over the past couple of years has prepared it to deal with the crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic. She said, “Some of the troubles we had and some of the mistakes we made over the past years, we worked so hard to correct those and set ourselves up, they’re serving us well”.[13]

  • On March 30, in response to an investigation by Politico[14], Facebook said it removed private groups that spread falsehoods from recommendations shown to users about communities that they may want to join. Within these invite-only online communities, the company also has added an information box that links directly to official government advice.

  • On March 30, pledged $100M to support journalists; $25M is in the form of an emergency grant for local news through the Facebook Journalism Project (the first round went to 50 local newsrooms in the US and Canada) and $75M will go towards “additional marketing spend to move money over to news organizations around the world.”[15].

  • In India on March 30, launched a Corona Helpdesk Chatbot on its Messenger platform to raise awareness and provide authentic and accurate information in order to debunk fake news about coronavirus. Users can go to the Facebook page on MyGov Corona Hub and start a chat in either English or Hindi by typing ‘Get Started’, which will prompt them to either type in a query or choose from a list of frequently asked questions.[16]

  • On March 26, Facebook Messenger introduced Coronavirus Community Hub, offering tips, authoritative information and other resources, weeks after launching a similar information hub on WhatsApp, its other messaging service.[17]

  • On March 25, Nick Clegg, FB’s vice president of global affairs and communications, in an interview with NPR, again distinguished their approach to the virus as distinct from how they may handle political misinformation in the future: “...in a democracy with an independent press and with the claims and counterclaims that politicians make about each other, we think it's very important that private companies should allow voters for themselves to make their own judgments about what politicians are saying, about the future of their country, whereas when it comes to a medical pandemic, as I say, underpinned by science and by authoritative institutions such as the CDC and the WHO and others, it's, of course, much easier for us to act under the strict expertise and guidance from those institutions themselves.”[18]

  • On March 25, in an effort to encourage social distancing, Facebook communicated that they released a series of Physical Distancing Profile Frames that allow people to place frames around their profile pictures with various phrases and hashtags like: Stay Home Save Lives, #Quaranteam, #StayHome[19]

  • On March 23, Facebook began enlisting outside developers to create ways its Messenger service can help health organizations; they invited software experts to take part in an online “hackathon” aimed at creating ways to use Messenger to ease social-distancing and deliver accurate information about the pandemic.[20]

  • On March 18, Facebook announced that it is launching a Coronavirus Information Center, featured at the top of NewsFeed, to provide a central place for people to get the latest news and information.[21]

  • Facebook is limiting the number of people a user can forward a message to in Messenger in order to curb the spread of misinformation.[22]

  • Although Facebook doesn't usually remove content, it is removing coronavirus misinformation because it could cause physical harm.[23]

  • Introduced a pop-up at the top of search results that directs users to credible health information[24]

  • Sending alerts to users who have shared or attempted to share misleading content.[25]

  • From the outset, Facebook has tried to distinguish its approach on the pandemic to how it may act in future cases of misinformation. In an interview with NY Times, Mark Zuckerberg noted, "When you're dealing with a pandemic, a lot of the stuff we're seeing just crossed the threshold...So it's easier to set policies that are a little more black and white and take a much harder line."[26]

  • Partnered with International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to support the fact-checking community by broadening the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, the COVID-19 related misinformation effort, with a budget of $1 million in grants[27]. USA Today has joined Facebook’s third-party fact checking network.

  • Prohibiting ads from making health or medical claims related to the coronavirus in product listings on commerce surfaces, including those listings that guarantee a product will prevent someone from contracting it[28]

  • Banning ads and commercial listings for medical masks, hand sanitizer, surface disinfecting wipes, and COVID-19 testing kits, and prohibiting exploitative tactics in ads[29]

  • Providing free ads to global health organizations; in their updates they describe giving WHO “as many free ads as they need” and “millions in ad credits to other health authorities” [30]

  • Adopted a 3 tiered approach to mitigating misinformation: (1) "disrupting economic incentives because most false news is financially motivated;" (2) "building new products to curb the spread of false news;" and (3) "helping people make more informed decisions when they encounter false news."[31]

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/21/technology/facebook-remote-work-coronavirus.html
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2020/05/13/facebook-removes-record-number-of-hate-speech-posts-infographic
  3. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/05/12/1001633/ai-is-still-largely-baffled-by-covid-misinformation/
  4. https://themarkup.org/coronavirus/2020/04/23/want-to-find-a-misinformed-public-facebooks-already-done-it
  5. https://about.fb.com/news/2020/04/coronavirus/
  6. https://thehill.com/homenews/media/493649-zuckerberg-says-stay-at-home-protests-organized-through-facebook-qualify-as
  7. https://www.syracuse.com/coronavirus/2020/04/coronavirus-facebook-shuts-down-anti-quarantine-protest-events-at-request-of-states.html
  8. https://about.fb.com/news/2020/04/covid-19-misinfo-update/
  9. https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/4/16/21223972/facebook-coronavirus-hoaxes-warning-misinformation-avaaz
  10. https://messengernews.fb.com/2020/04/14/world-health-organization-launches-messenger-experience-to-help-deliver-accurate-information-on-covid-19/
  11. https://www.consumerreports.org/social-media/facebook-approved-ads-with-coronavirus-misinformation/
  12. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/01/facebooks-sandberg-learning-from-our-mistakes-prepared-us-to-deal-with-the-coronavirus.html
  13. https://www.politico.eu/article/facebook-misinformation-fake-news-coronavirus-covid19/
  14. https://about.fb.com/news/2020/03/coronavirus/#joint-statement
  15. https://www.thedrum.com/news/2020/03/30/facebook-launches-chatbot-and-news-hub-india-fight-against-misinformation
  16. https://techcrunch.com/2020/03/26/facebook-community-hub-messenger-fight-coronavirus-misinformation/
  17. https://www.npr.org/2020/03/25/821591134/how-facebook-wants-to-handle-misinformation-around-the-coronavirus-epidemic
  18. Email dated March 25 from Shaarik Zafar, Public Policy at Facebook, to partners and coalition members
  19. https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/business/2020/03/23/facebook-enlists-its-messenger-to-fight-coronavirus-misinformation/
  20. https://about.fb.com/news/2020/03/coronavirus/#coronavirus-info-center
  21. https://www.phonearena.com/news/Facebook-Messenger-limit-forwarding_id123205
  22. https://www.campaignasia.com/article/is-facebook-coping-with-the-steady-wave-of-covid-19-misinformation/458277
  23. https://www.campaignasia.com/article/is-facebook-coping-with-the-steady-wave-of-covid-19-misinformation/458277
  24. https://wwd.com/business-news/media/facebook-instagram-twitter-coronavirus-social-media-1203541823/
  25. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/15/business/media/coronavirus-facebook-twitter-social-media.html
  26. https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2020/flash-grants-of-up-to-50k-are-now-available-for-fact-checkers-fighting-coronavirus-misinformation/
  27. https://about.fb.com/news/2020/03/coronavirus/#banning-ads
  28. https://about.fb.com/news/2020/03/coronavirus/
  29. https://about.fb.com/news/2020/03/coronavirus/
  30. https://www.facebook.com/facebookmedia/blog/working-to-stop-misinformation-and-false-news

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