Facebook’s problems in Europe are piling upSeptember 21, 2018
Věra Jourová is the European Commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality. Once upon a time, she had a Facebook account. It did not go well. “For a short time, I had a Facebook account,“ Jourová said at a news conference Thursday. “It was a channel of dirt. I didn’t expect such an influx of hatred. I decided to cancel the account because I realised there will be less hatred in Europe after I do this.”
Of course, quitting social media in flamboyant fashion has long been a popular activity for government and non-government users alike. The “Why I’m Leaving Twitter” Medium post is our generation’s “Why I’m Leaving New York” Movable Type entry.
But Jourová’s words carry more weight than most. She has a policy beef with Facebook, and also the means to enforce it. Jourová says Facebook’s terms of service are misleading, and has called upon the company to clarify them. In a post Thursday on that other channel of dirt, Twitter.com, she said:
“I want #Facebook to be extremely clear to its users about how their service operates and makes money. Not many people know that #Facebook has made available their data to third parties or that for instance it holds full copyright about any picture or content you put on it.”
Obviously you, as a devoted reader of The Interface, already knew both these things. But our penetration in the European market is still low. (Forward this email to a friend!)
Jourová says European authorities could sanction Facebook next year if it doesn’t like what it hears from the company soon. “I was quite clear that we cannot negotiate forever,” she said at the news conference. “We need to see the result.”
In the meantime, it’s clear that Facebook has a Europe problem. In the Wall Street Journal, Valentina Pop and Sam Schechner remind us about all the other recent regulatory actions against the company:
The sharply worded salvo comes on top of a series of legislative proposals and regulatory actions from Europe aimed at reining in the power and perceived excesses of a cadre of big tech companies. The EU in May implemented a sweeping new privacy law, GDPR, and its parliament recently approved a draft copyright bill aimed at making Silicon Valley companies pay more money to support music firms and news publishers.
Meanwhile, BuzzFeed’s Alex Wickham reports that the United Kingdom’s Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is drafting new regulations of its own:
BuzzFeed News has obtained details of the proposals, which would see the establishment of an internet regulator similar to Ofcom, which regulates broadcasters, telecoms, and postal communications.
Home secretary Sajid Javid and culture secretary Jeremy Wright are considering the introduction of a mandatory code of practice for social media platforms and strict new rules such as “takedown times” forcing websites to remove illegal hate speech within a set timeframe or face penalties. Ministers are also looking at implementing age verification for users of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
These are problems, though not insurmountable ones. Facebook can modify its terms of service easily enough. It could probably live with faster takedown time requirements, as it’s already doing in Germany, and with age verification requirements.
A point often made by Ben Thompson is that requirements like these often serve only to entrench incumbents. If a UK startup wanted to build a social network, how soon would it be expected to have a global moderation team that could take down posts within a few hours? How much capital would it need to build age verification?
European regulations, in other words, may come at the expense of European industry. And they may reinforce the dominance of tech giants here in the United States as well.
Still, that doesn’t mean Facebook, Google, and friends have nothing to worry about here. What strikes me most about the recent rush toward regulation abroad isn’t any one proposal — it’s how fast they’re coming.
And how high they’re stacking up.
One of Facebook’s absolute weirdest policies is that moderators are instructed to allow “white separatism” and “white nationalism” on the platform, but not “white supremacy.” The company argues that white nationalism “doesn’t seem to be always associated with racism (at least not explicitly.)” Suffice to say that this policy has been exploited by people are explicitly racist for the express purpose of spreading racism on Facebook. The company will now “review” the policy, Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler report:
On Wednesday, Facebook told Motherboard it had received the committee’s letter, and it was reviewing the specific policy. In its letter, the committee pointed to a Facebook Page promoting white nationalism called “It’s okay to be white” which had over 13,000 followers; another called “American White History Month 2” that posts supremacist, nationalist, and separatist memes with over 254,000 followers; and “Nationalist Agenda,” a page focused on “Preserving [European] Racial and Cultural Heritage with over 8,000 followers. Facebook told Motherboard it has now taken action against the violating content and the individuals behind it.
Harper Neidig updates us on tech companies’ efforts to pass a national privacy law to undercut the one just passed by consumer advocates in California:
Chester, who says public interest groups are banding together to come up with their own legislative principles, believes the frameworks being pushed by industry lobbyists don’t go far enough.
“What has to happen is the basic business practices have to change,” he said. “We believe there need to be restrictions on how these companies engage in data collection. These so-called principles are really principles to undermine privacy, not to protect it.“
Facebook has been criticized for “embedding” employees in the Trump campaign for the 2016 election to assist it in effective ad buying. (The Clinton campaign rejected using embeds.) Now Facebook says it will pull back on the effort, Sarah Frier and Jennifer Jacobs report:
The company will still offer technical support and basic training to candidate campaigns and political advocacy organizations, but it won’t visit campaign headquarters with as much frequency or provide as much strategic support as it did for Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Instead, Facebook officials said they are working to improve the company’s political advertising website to give free advice to campaigns more equitably.
Shannon Vavra has details on what the country is doing to protect itself against foreign trolls and hackers:
In the absence of an overarching cybersecurity doctrine, government agencies have been limited in how they can legitimately deter foreign adversaries and respond to cyberattacks — even as the attacks are escalating exponentially
This comes at a time when the administration has been bleeding cyber talent and facing criticism for its approach to election security — it eliminated the role of cybersecurity coordinator earlier this year, and the FBI has been losing cyber talent as well.
That new cyber strategy is much needed: California Democrat Bryan Caforio is the latest to experience a likely foreign cyber-attack, Andy Kroll reports.
Amazon-owned live-streaming site Twitch is now blocked in China, Shannon Liao reports:
The major game streaming site is largely no longer accessible and its app has been removed from Apple’s local App Store, after it saw a noticeable boost in popularity last month, as spotted by Abacus.
Last month, Twitch hit the No. 3 spot among free apps in China, as locals began downloading the app to watch e-sports matches at the Asian Games. State-run broadcaster CCTV chose not to air the Asian Games, so users had to find alternative ways to watch the competition, especially as China performed well during the event and brought back two gold medals. Although the performance wasn’t streamed through the major broadcaster, China’s two wins were later covered by state-run media.
Journalists could conceivably be prosecuted for scraping sites like Facebook in the name of reporting. The Knight Institute is calling on Facebook to carve out a safe-harbor exception for journalism in its terms of service:
The letter, citing my newly published report by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, lists a variety of journalists who have continued to pursue stories on Silicon Valley despite possible penalty under the CFAA. For instance, the Knight letter cites a Gizmodo report that explored Facebook’s algorithms identifying “people you know” and a New York Timesarticle that exposed fake accounts. The letter also names a PBS Newshour reporter whose story about political advertisements was completely stymied for fear of penalty.
Facebook was asked to respond to the Knight letter by last Friday. To date there has been minimal public response by the company. A statement by Campbell Brown, the head of the company’s global news partnerships, reads: “We do have strict limits in place on how third parties can use people’s information, and we recognize that these sometimes get in the way of this work.” The company has not, however, amended or removed those limits. (Editor’s note: The Knight Institute informed the author, after posting, that Facebook reached out to them in response to the letter. The Institute and Facebook are in continuing discussions about the “safe harbor” proposal.)
Lachlan Markay finds “a sprawling network of Facebook pages running ads paid for by a handful of companies traced to a Democratic law firm in Colorado.” And the ads are gross:
A pair of posts promoted this week on a Facebook page titled The Keg Bros contained two videos, one attacking Republican megadonor Rebekah Mercer and one hailing Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard makes us want to go Democrat,” reads text in one of the videos, interspersed with footage of Mike Myers’ Austin Powers mouthing “hot hot hot.” It adds, “America’s voted, and she’s the hottest member of Congress on either side of the aisle.”
The ad ends by declaring Gabbard a “certified C.W.I.L.F.,” presumably short for “congresswoman I’d like to fuck.”
Adi Robertson reviews The Creepy Line, a documentary about Google and Facebook that spins criticism about privacy and echo chambers into a conspiracy about anti-conservative censorship:
In other words, the film epitomizes a popular claim that Silicon Valley is censoring American conservatives on web platforms. This claim plays on bipartisan fears about the power of internet gatekeepers, and it’s sparked several lawsuits, multiple congressional hearings, and a few tweetstorms from President Donald Trump. But the evidence has been mostly speculative or anecdotal, and The Creepy Line is supposed to provide a rigorous, scientific analysis to back it up. Instead, it’s a blinkered and misleading guide to how internet platforms work.
Here’s a great little story about how a garbage website with no known methodology came to supply Google for answers to a series of popular searches about celebrity net worths:
The American media has printed guesses and lies about celebrities for as long as the two have existed; that’s hardly Google or Amazon’s fault. But because “the internet” has become our default source for information, it is easier for tabloid facts to circulate under credible logos. The trivia that results can be hard to dispel.
And a high reported net worth can make a difference out here in the real world. According to Jonathan Greenberg, a former Forbes writer, Donald Trump often tried to game the Fortune 400 list, repeatedly inflating reports of his wealth in order to bolster the impression of him as an iconically rich guy. That tactic has worked out pretty well for him so far.
Blame Instagram for the sudden resurgence in appreciation for raw concrete structures, says James Tarmy:
That renewed attention, McLeod says, translated into conservation efforts. “Brutalism sort of came into its own with these groundswell, grassroots movements.” Perhaps most prominent, the SOS Brutalism campaign (#sosbrutalism), which in turn became an exhibition, which in turn produced a book, became a global effort to save dozens of the world’s brutalist buildings.
“Just the act of simply ‘liking’ something meant that those ‘likes’ turned into conservation campaigns,” McLeod says. The Sirius apartment building in Australia, for instance, faced demolition last year, but was ultimately saved by a campaign—#saveoursirius—that logged 2,964 posts on Instagram.
I got to team up with Ashley Carman, who covers dating apps for us closely, to write about the launch of Facebook Dating in Colombia:
Facebook Dating is now a reality. Four months after announcing that it would add dating features, the social network said today that it has begun testing its new dating product in Colombia. At first glance, Facebook Dating closely resembles competitor Hinge. Both depart from the swiping model popularized by Tinder in favor of asking users to answer question prompts and start conversations based on something in a person’s profile. What sets Facebook Dating apart is its integration with Groups and Events, drawing on other aspects of Facebook to expand the dating pool and encourage users to meet in public.
“Dating has been a behavior that we’ve seen on Facebook for a really long time,” product manager Nathan Sharp said in an interview with The Verge. “We want to make it easier and more comfortable for people to engage in. We just thought that now was the right time.”
we should be able to participate in social media without having to show how many followers or likes we have. Just like how we can turn off the comments we should be able to turn off the display of followers. This has an intense negative impact on our self worth.
— ye (@kanyewest) September 20, 2018
Madison Malone Kirchner writes that Kanye West’s notion of Twitter minus follower counts is a good one. (Counterpoint: how else am I supposed to gauge my self-worth?)
Are there merits to metrics? Sure. Of course. Follower and like counts can help approximate credibility: The accounts that many Twitter users deem worth following are more likely to be credible. But there are many exceptions to that rule — super-viral accounts with millions of followers and crap content. And most of us aren’t boasting follower counts in the millions and retweet counts in the hundreds of thousands anyway. Instead, we play a calculation game, tweeting for our small audiences and watching — and hoping — our various numbers go up. And when you really stop to think about that … it’s a weird, potentially damaging, way to live.
My deeply unpopular take is that GIFs are overrated. No one wants to watch a short movie about your feelings.
And finally …
Chamath Palihapitiya, who used to lead Facebook’s growth team in its all-important early days, caused a stir last year when he said that social media is ripping apart society. This year, he began hemorrhaging partners at his venture-capital firm, Social Capital. And after dismissing credible reports of internal chaos at his firm today as “fake news,” he gave an interview to Reed Albergotti at The Information to clarify whose side he’s really on. It turns out the side he is on is Chamath’s:
“I would rather spend time with the people that are 100% aligned with what I want to do and the person that’s most aligned with what I want to do is me,” he said.
Congratulations to Chamath on his self-alignment. Somehow I suspect we’re about to see a lot more Social Capital employees align themselves right out the door.
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