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Facebook hits pause on algorithmic recommendations for political and social issue groups

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With just days to go before the U.S. election, Facebook quietly suspended one of its most worrisome features.

During Wednesday’s Senate hearing, Senator Ed Markey asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about reports that his company has long known its group recommendations push people toward more extreme content. Zuckerberg responded that the company had actually disabled that feature for certain groups — a fact Facebook had not previously announced.

“Senator, we have taken the step of stopping recommendations in groups for all political content or social issue groups as a precaution for this,” Zuckerberg told Markey.

TechCrunch reached out to Facebook with questions about what kind of groups would be affected and how long the recommendations would be suspended at the time but did not receive an immediate response. Facebook first confirmed the change to BuzzFeed News on Friday.

“This is a measure we put in place in the lead up to Election Day,” Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois told TechCrunch in an email. “We will assess when to lift them afterwards, but they are temporary.”

The cautionary step will disable recommendations for political and social issue groups as well as any new groups that are created during the window of time. Facebook declined to provide additional details about the kinds of groups that will and won’t be affected by the change or what went into the decision.

Researchers who focus on extremism have long been concerned that algorithmic recommendations on social networks push people toward more extreme content. Facebook has been aware of this phenomenon since at least 2016, when an internal presentation on extremism in Germany observed that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools.” In light of the feature’s track record, some anti-hate groups celebrated Facebook’s decision to hit the pause button Friday.

“It’s good news that Facebook is disabling group recommendations for all political content or social issue groups as a precaution during this election season. I believe it could result in a safer experience for users in this critical time,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt told TechCrunch. “And yet, beyond the next week, much more needs to be done in the long term to ensure that users are not being exposed to extremist ideologies on Facebook’s platforms.”

On Facebook, algorithmic recommendations can usher users flirting with extreme views and violent ideas into social groups where their dangerous ideologies can be amplified and organized. Before being banned by the social network, the violent far-right group the Proud Boys relied on Facebook groups for its relatively sophisticated national recruitment operation. Members of the group that plotted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer also used Facebook groups to organize, according to an FBI affidavit.

While it sounds like Facebook’s decision to toggle off some group recommendations is temporary, the company has made an unprecedented flurry of choices to limit dangerous content in recent months, possibly in fear that the 2020 election will again plunge it into political controversy. Over the last three months alone, Facebook has cracked down on QAnon, militias and language used by the Trump campaign that could result in voter intimidation — all surprising postures considering its longstanding inaction and deep fear of decisions that could be perceived as partisan.

After years of relative inaction, the company now appears to be taking seriously some of the extremism it has long incubated, though the coming days are likely to put its new set of protective policies to the test.

TechCrunch

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This Bangladeshi-Pakistani Couple Named Their Son ‘India’, Here’s Why

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This Bangladeshi-Pakistani Couple Named Their Son 'India', Here's Why

Last Updated: January 30, 2023, 09:46 IST

Bangladeshi-Pakistani couple named their kid ‘India’. (Credits: Facebook/Omar Esa)

This Bangladeshi-Pakistani couple named their kid ‘India’ and the reason will leave you in splits.

A Bangladeshi-origin and Pakistani-origin couple have named their kid India and their rationale behind the decision is leaving the Internet in splits. Omar Esa, a popular nasheed singer, took to Facebook to share a hilarious photo of him and his wife with their kid lying between them. Yep, just like the three neighbouring countries lie next to each other on the map. Originally called Ibrahim, the kid has been given a ‘new name’ by his parents: India.

“A WARNING to all new parents and condolences to all the parents who did what we did, so me and my begum made the silly mistake to let our firstborn Ibrahim sleep in our bed from when he was a little baby, you know new parents and that, we were so protective over him,” Esa wrote on Facebook.

“Well now this little guy is used to this sleeping arrangement and always ends up in the middle of us when we are sleeping even though he has his own bedroom. So as I’m Pakistani origin and my wife is Bangladeshi origin, we have given Ibrahim a new name, we call him India now as he’s right in the middle of his Pakistani and Bangladeshi parents, India causing mad issues in my life,” he added.

“Photographer may be America,” quipped one Facebook user. “This is crazy because my sister took this photo and she lives in America and is an American citizen ,” Esa replied. In the comments, while many shared stories of their own problems with their kids taking up their beds, matters also got a bit heated with citizens from the three neighbours exchanging barbs. Well, here’s hoping the entire thing was a joke. For Ibrahim’s sake more than anyone else’s.

‘India’ is not all that weird of a name for a kid if you consider some of the other names we’ve heard in the past. For instance, a restaurant owner jokingly told everyone that her granddaughter was named ‘Pakora’ after the most popular dish at the restaurant. After her post started going viral, Hilary Braniff said that she made the whole thing up to bring some cheer in the industry amid rising costs and increasing energy bills, reported BelfastLive. The real baby, actually born on August 24 last year, is Braniff’s first granddaughter. She is, thankfully, named Grace.

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Awkward police mishap on popular Aussie beach: ‘Not a great idea’

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Awkward police mishap on popular Aussie beach: 'Not a great idea'

Two police officers were left with bruised egos on Saturday after their car became bogged at a popular beach in Western Australia.

The male officers were new to the Esperance area, Western Australia Police revealed in a post on Facebook, and their interesting attempt to meet the locals left the masses amused.

Pictures of the incident were shared online and show the Toyota Camry — a front-wheel drive — parked up nice and close to the water’s edge at the popular Wharton Beach. The officers are seen trying to free the wheels of their car from the sand but eventually turned to locals for help.

Police officers became bogged in the sand at a Wharton beach in WA. Source: Facebook/WA Police Force

The beach is popular for surfing and allows vehicle access, but only for 4WD cars as smaller cars may struggle. So it’s no surprise their Toyota Camry got stuck. Another beachgoer helped the police car to safety with a video showing the white 4WD pulling the police vehicle from the sand using a rope.

The unusual scenes caught the attention of dozens of beachgoers who watched as the car was being towed. Photos were also shared on a popular Facebook page ‘Bogged’ where it racked up thousands of likes and comments from amused social media users.

WA police responds to amusing beach blunder

Esperance Police has increased patrols over the holiday period in response to an increased number of “hoon drivers” on popular beaches in the area. It’s believed these officers were carrying out their patrol when they became stuck. Goldfields-Esperance District WA Police shared details of the ordeal on Facebook and thanked those who rushed to the officers’ aid.

“Esperance Police would like to welcome SC Neville to the team who started today and found a new way to engage with our wonderful local community,” the post said, alongside photos of the incident.

No one was injured and no damage was done to the car, police said. The egos of the officers involved, however, “are in for repair” the police force joked after their beach blunder was made public.

Locals on the beach rushed to the aid of the police officers after car got bogged on sand.

Locals on the beach rushed to the aid of the officers. Source: Facebook/WA Police Force

“Imagine driving a Camry on the beach,” one person mocked on Facebook with others agreeing it’s “not a great idea” to be driving a two-wheeled-drive on the sand.

“When you’re asked to ‘patrol the beaches’ and you take it literally….,” another joked.

“Hahaha they’re only human too… good to see the locals and tourists helping where needed! Well done,” one other said.

A beachgoer in a white 4WD helped tow the police car off the sand.

A beachgoer in the white 4WD helped tow the police car off the sand. Source: Facebook/Bogged

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‘Fire-breathing demon’: shelter opts for honesty in adoption ad for ‘full-jerk’ dog | Dogs

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Maybe he’s born with it, maybe he really is a “full jerk”, “fire-breathing demon” and equally adorable 26lb dog with boundary issues.

Meet Ralphie, a 14-month-old French bulldog whose owners surrendered him at the Niagara SPCA, a no-kill shelter in Niagara Falls, New York earlier this month where a very unconventional approach is being taken to finding him new owners.

In their Facebook ad for his adoption, the shelter didn’t sugarcoat Ralphie’s aggressive nature that they say would only be suitable for the “Mother of Dragons” as an owner – a reference to a fearsome character from Game of Thrones.

In a post that garnered thousands of engagement on Facebook, the shelter admitted that they try to downplay the less desirable characteristics of their dogs in adoption ads, but that this was too tough a task for Ralphie – so they decided to be brutally honest instead.

“We don’t actually have too many nice things to say so we’re just going to come out with it,” they wrote. “Ralphie is a terror in a somewhat small package.”

It could be because his previous owners may have spoiled him by giving in to all his whims, and created boundary issues, the ad said.

It appears that his adorable traits may have landed him with owners who made him “the boss” – which only led them to eventually letting him go. Within two weeks of being rehomed, the second owners had to give him up because he irritated their older dog.

But the shelter at this point knows what that could’ve actually implied: “Ralphie is a fire-breathing demon and will eat our dog, but hey, he’s only 26lb.”

“Lots of people withheld Ralphie’s less than desirable traits, but we’re going to tell you all about it,” the ad read. “He’s a whole jerk – not even half.

“If you show a moment of weakness, prepare to be exploited.”

Turns out that the honesty in the post is what appealed to people.

“I’d like to donate toward his adoption fee,” one Facebook user responded to the ad. “I’m bossy and too much for some people too, so he’s a little bit my spirit animal.”

Others chimed in with their own (not so polite) theories.

“Sometimes it’s not an upbringing, rather genetic and chemical imbalance. He would have to be placed with someone who understands mental illness in dogs,” wrote one person. “Not all dogs can be cured with hugs and kisses.”

“So in human terms, Ralphie is a spoiled brat?” commented another person. “He was given a mile and took two instead. There is someone out there that would take Ralphie and all his quirks. He just has to learn his boundaries and his human stick to them.”

Many commended the shelter for their honesty in the post.

Last week, the shelter shared another update, and it looks like he is getting better – even though it’s in very tiny steps.

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