Blowback is a B****
Facebook did what? Amazon almost got how much in HQ2 offers? and more.
Life in Facebookistan: After years of lording it over the Fourth Estate, Facebook’s leadership is getting a taste of what accountability journalism can actually do. Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Confessore, Ceclia Kang, Matthew Rosenberg and Jack Nicas‘ blockbuster story “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis” in The New York Times could very well lead to the departure of longtime company COO Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg‘s trusted #2 and the person most responsible not only for developing Facebook’s business model but also for steering its political course. And as the Times report shows, not only did Sandberg and Zuckerberg turn a blind eye to the problems being generated by the giant platform as it rapidly grew (election manipulation, ethnic and religious violence, etc), when the full ramifications of Russian infiltration of the platform started to spread, Sandberg and her handpicked team preferred denial and ugly lobbying tactics to meaningful disclosure.
The most damning parts of the Times story—that Definers Public Affairs, one of the lobby firms hired by Facebook to help with damage control, aggressively targeted philanthropist George Soros as the supposed ringmaster of anti-Facebook criticism, and that a company official leaned on the Anti-Defamation League to tag the Freedom from Facebook coalition as using anti-Semitic tropes—are generating a rapid and powerful backlash. Patrick Gaspard, the president of Soros’ Open Society Foundation, has written an open letter to Sandberg, expressing his shock and disappointment that not only has the company failed to adequately monitor hate and disinformation on its platform, but that it has been “active in promoting these distortions” itself, calling it “beyond the pale” and threatening the “very values underpinning our democracy.”
Last night, Facebook ended its relationship with Definers Public Affairs, Mike Isaac and Jack Nicas report for The Times. The company disputes that it asked Definers to spread false information, and claims that Zuckerberg and Sandberg were not aware of the specifics of its work. Definers was last in the news as the organization hired by EPA director Scott Pruitt in a no-bid contract to do media monitoring work.
In another example of Facebook paying for activity that it supposedly says it wants to stop, Definers ran a conservative website called NTK Network where it published “news” stories aimed at propping up clients, like Facebook, and which often were picked up and spread. Some other examples of NTK Network’s work: stories promoting then-EPA director Scott Pruitt‘s anti-regulation drive, stories attacking the New York Times and AP for filing public records requests pertaining to Brett Kavanaugh‘s wife’s village board service, and attempting to discredit a Democratic congressman for comparing Russian interference in the 2016 election to Pearl Harbor.
Crooked Media, the liberal podcast network started by three former Obama staffers, said in a statement posted to Twitter that it was re-evaluating its relationship with the company’s founder Tim Miller, who had been a contributor to its shows.
Miller tweeted in his defense that he is disgusted by the rise of anti-semitism including people who falsely targeted Soros, and insisted that Definers had only “shared a narrow document about an anti-Facebook group’s funding” and that it was entirely factual, as Open Markets organizers have acknowledged they get funding from Soros.”
Can Facebook unwind this mess? My prediction: Zuckerberg will push out Sandberg. He has made many public commitments in the last year to actually trying to fix the messes made by his creation, and right now one imagines there are many employees at Facebook wondering if his promises to fight misinformation and hate speech mean anything.
In other Facebook news: the presidents of France and Facebookistan have announced a six-month partnership aimed at figuring out how to better deal with online hate speech, Mark Scott and Zachary Young report for Politico EU. Both governments plan to meet regularly between now and May, when the European elections take place. France will gain greater access to Facebook’s internal workings, while Facebook will learn how to better manage pesky meatspace countries’ concerns about inflammatory speech online.
A BBC News investigative team reports on how Facebook’s rapid spread in Nigeria, where it has jumped from 16 to 24 million users since its CEO Mark Zuckerberg first visited Lagos in August 2016, has fostered the deadly spread of false news inflaming religious tensions between Muslims and Christians. As the BBC notes, Facebook is aware of the issue and has responded by setting up a fact-checking system, bragging that once inappropriate content is reported and verified, it can reduce its spread by 80%. The problem though, is that the company just has four fact checkers who can’t keep up with all the content shared by 24 million people.
Hey non-Facebook users! You think you aren’t on Facebook? Actually, as Donie O’Sullivan of CNN notes, buried deep in the written answers provided by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to Senate investigators, the company actually keeps track of data of people without a Facebook account. It just calls them “non registered users.” If you’ve visited a web page with a Facebook Like or Comment button on it, the company’s servers have logged your device.
Related: Reuters’s Angus Berwick reports on how China is helping Venezuela build a national identity card program to track its citizens social, political and economic behavior. The so-called “fatherland card” is being “linked by the government to subsidized food, health and other social programs most Venezuelans rely on to survive.”
Tech and politics: Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, the founder of SumofUs, senior product manager at Change.org and a longtime digital campaigner, has written a must-read on the inadequacies of progressive UX (user experience) design. She doesn’t hold back—every tool that Democrats used to mobilize volunteers and reach voters, gets critiqued.
If you are at an organization that people join, donate to, learn from or act in partnership with, and you worry about whether you membership model is working, then you might be interested in signing up for Ted Fickes of Bright +3’s “membership innovation community of practice.”
Amazon rain: As the Amazon HQ2 news continues to reverberate, we’re learning more about what other cities and states offered the giant company to try to lure it to their town. For example, Atlanta and the state of Georgia promised not just $2 billion in incentives but also an exclusive lounge and free parking for Amazon executives at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and a dedicated Amazon car on MARTA, the city’s public transit system, as Greg Bluestein reports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The state of Pennsylvania offered $4.6 billion in subsidies over 25 years. Columbus, Ohio offered $2.8 billion in tax incentives over 30 years. Texas and Dallas promised $1.1 billion along with a dedicated fund for affordable housing near the site and an Amazon U education campus nearby. The Guardian’s Julia Carrie Wong offers a rundown.
Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission has ruled that the state doesn’t have to reveal its tax incentives offer to Amazon, claiming that it is exempt from the law because it is a trade secret, Matthew Zablerek reports for the Record-Journal.
Writing for the Daily News, Matt Stoller of the Open Markets Institute points out that Amazon extracted much more than money” from New York and Virginia, the winners of its HQ2 contest. “The company extracted raw political power. In Virginia, Governor Ralph Northram committed the state to actually engage in a statewide deregulation campaign, or, as it’s put in the contract, to ‘reassess existing laws and regulations to assure they are not unduly harming innovation.’ And Virginia will notify Amazon of any Freedom of Information Act requests by the public so the company can ‘seek a protective order or other appropriate remedy’ to quash it.”
Brave new world: Researchers at NYU have figured out how to use a neural network to generate artificial fingerprints, Alex Hern reports for The Guardian.
Just in time for the holiday shopping season, Mozilla has a nifty guide to all the tech buys that you may want to avoid because they’re just a bit too creepy about spying on you.