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Facebook Implements New Rules on the Use of Memes by Political Candidates



In yet another example of the rising emphasis on social media as a political messaging tool, Facebook has this week updated its guidelines in order to make it compulsory for political candidates to disclose any partnerships with influencers who post memes or similar content on their behalf.

On Instagram in particular, Facebook will now require that such arrangements be implemented via Instagram’s Branded Content Ads, which will add a clear “Paid Partnership With” label to these posts. 

This comes after US Democratic Presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg partnered with a group called ‘Meme 2020’, which was founded by Jerry Media chief executive Mick Purzycki, in order to commission the creation of memes by various Instagram influencers to help boost Bloomberg’s messaging​, and hopefully connect with younger voters.

Bloomberg meme example

Bloomberg memes like this have flooded Instagram of late, and many users had been unclear on the motivations behind such. When it was reported that Bloomberg had commissioned their creation, criticism of the individual accounts, and of Instagram, rose quickly, which has now lead to Facebook implementing the new guidelines to provide more transparency.

Bloomberg meme

It’s a questionable tactic – but then again if it works…

Bloomberg, who has a net worth of $62.8 billion (according to Forbes), has reportedly been spending more than a million dollars per day on Facebook ads, on average, over the past few weeks, outpacing all other candidates, including the Trump campaign, which is the next leading political spender on Facebook promotion. The candidates are not outlaying that type of cash for nothing – the massive focus on social media underlines how valuable political campaigners now see the medium, and how much political operatives believe that social platforms can influence voter response.

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Of course, we already know that social media can indeed influence voter action, and we know this because Facebook itself has conducted research proving such.

Back in 2010, Facebook said that around 340,000 extra voters turned out to take part in the US Congressional elections because of a single election-day Facebook message. Facebook commissioned a study in which it sent out two variations of a polling prompt to a group of US users – one prompt called on people to get out and vote, while another used the same message, with the added impetus of displayed images of your Facebook friends who had already voted.

Facebook election day prompt

The results of the test showed that users who received the informational message (the top message in the above image) voted at a similar rate as those who saw no message at all, but those who saw the social message – with images of their friends included (lower example in above image) – were 2% more likely to click the ‘I voted’ button and 0.4% more likely to head to the polls than the either group. 

As noted in the report:

“Political mobilization messages [were] delivered to 61 million Facebook users during the 2010 US congressional elections. The results show that the messages directly influenced political self-expression, information seeking and real-world voting behavior of millions of people. Furthermore, the messages not only influenced the users who received them but also the users’ friends, and friends of friends.” 

Back in 2012, Facebook was very keen to tout its capacity to influence voter behavior in this respect, meeting with various political groups to sell them on Facebook ads, often using the above study as a reference point. But after the 2016 US Presidential Election, and the revelations of how Facebook’s audience targeting tools may have been used to manipulate voters, Facebook CEO dismissed the suggestion, saying that:

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“The idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way – I think is a pretty crazy idea. Voters make decisions based on their lived experience.”  

To be fair, Zuckerberg was talking about fake news specifically in this instance, but the last line, referring to ‘lived experience’ is particularly dismissive of Facebook’s potential to influence – which, given the above study, and several others like it, Zuck would know is not true.

Facebook has since changed its tune on this, and has been working to implement new measures to ensure that is platform is not weaponized for political gain. But the fact that candidates are spending a million dollars a day on Facebook ads shows that even if Facebook doesn’t want to believe it has the capability to decide who wins elections, campaigners do. 

If you’re not taking the potential influence of social platforms seriously in this respect, you’re likely not paying attention. 

As such, the new regulations on political memes and influencer partnerships make sense – though it’ll be interesting to note just if and how effective this approach ends up being either way. Without this enforced disclosure, I suspect memes could have more significant influence than people realize – but with the ‘paid for’ tags, they’ll likely lose credibility, and relevance, making it a significant change.

NOTE: In response to questions from journalists, Facebook has confirmed that influencer posts like this will not go into its Ad Library, while Facebook will only fact-check these posts if they are posted in the voice of the influencer, as opposed to the politician paying for the post. Clear? Solid? Good.

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Meta’s Developing and ‘Ethical Framework’ for the Use of Virtual Influencers



Meta's Developing and 'Ethical Framework' for the Use of Virtual Influencers

With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters that have evolved into genuine social media influencers in their own right, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear markers as to what’s real and what’s not, and how such creations can be used in their apps.

The coming metaverse shift will further complicate this, with the rise of virtual depictions blurring the lines of what will be allowed, in terms of representation. But with many virtual influencers already operating, Meta is now working to establish ethical boundaries on their application.

As explained by Meta:

From synthesized versions of real people to wholly invented “virtual influencers” (VIs), synthetic media is a rising phenomenon. Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs, with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast huge follower counts, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, fundraise for organizations like the WHO, and champion social causes like Black Lives Matter.”

Some of the more well-known examples on this front are Shudu, who has more than 200k followers on Instagram, and Lil’ Miquela, who has an audience of over 3 million in the app.

At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that this is not an actual person, which makes such characters a great vehicle for brand and product promotions, as they can be utilized 24/7, and can be placed into any environment. But that also leads to concerns about body image perception, deepfakes, and other forms of misuse through false or unclear representation.

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Deepfakes, in particular, may be problematic, with Meta citing this campaign, with English football star David Beckham, as an example of how new technologies are evolving to expand the use of language, as one element, for varying purpose.

The well-known ‘DeepTomCruise’ account on TikTok is another example of just how far these technologies have come, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where they could be used to, say, show a politician saying or doing something that he or she actually didn’t, which could have significant real world impacts.

Which is why Meta is working with developers and experts to establish clearer boundaries on such use – because while there is potential for harm, there are also beneficial uses for such depictions.

Imagine personalized video messages that address individual followers by name. Or celebrity brand ambassadors appearing as salespeople at local car dealerships. A famous athlete would make a great tutor for a kid who loves sports but hates algebra.

Such use cases will increasingly become the norm as VR and AR technologies are developed, with these platforms placing digital characters front and center, and establishing new norms for digital connection.

It would be better to know what’s real and what’s not, and as such, Meta needs clear regulations to remove dishonest depictions, and enforce transparency over VI use.

But then again, much of what you see on Instagram these days is not real, with filters and editing tools altering people’s appearance well beyond what’s normal, or realistic. That can also have damaging consequences, and while Meta’s looking to implement rules on VI use, there’s arguably a case for similar transparency in editing tools applied to posted videos and images as well.

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That’s a more complex element, particularly as such tools also enable people to feel more comfortable in posting, which no doubt increases their in-app activity. Would Meta be willing to put more focus on this element if it could risk impacting user engagement? The data on the impact of Instagram on people’s mental health are pretty clear, with comparison being a key concern.

Should that also come under the same umbrella of increased digital transparency?

It’s seemingly not included in the initial framework as yet, but at some stage, this is another element that should be examined, especially given the harmful effects that social media usage can have on young women.

But however you look at it, this is no doubt a rising element of concern, and it’s important for Meta to build guardrails and rules around the use of virtual influencers in their apps.

You can read more about Meta’s approach to virtual influencers here.

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Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps



Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps

Meta has published a new set of safety tips for journalists to help them protect themselves in the evolving online connection space, which, for the most part, also apply to all users more broadly, providing a comprehensive overview of the various tools and processes that it has in place to help people avoid unwanted attention online.

The 32-page guide is available in 21 different languages, and provides detailed overviews of Meta’s systems and profile options for protection and security, with specific sections covering Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The guide begins with the basics, including password protections and enabling two-factor authentication.

It also outlines tips for Page managers in securing their business profiles, while there are also notes on what to do if you’ve been hacked, advice for protection on Messenger and guidance on bullying and harassment.

Meta security guide

For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.

Meta security guide

While for WhatsApp, there are explainers on how to delete messages, how to remove messages from group chats, and details on platform-specific data options.

Meta security guide

There are also links to various additional resource guides and tools for more context, providing in-depth breakdowns of when and how to action the various options.

It’s a handy guide, and while there are some journalist-specific elements included, most of the tips do apply to any user, so it could well be a valuable resource for anyone looking to get a better handle on your various privacy tools and options.

Definitely worth knowing either way – you can download the full guide here.

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Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump



Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with relatives of slain commander Qasem Soleimani ahead of the second anniverary of his death in a US drone strike in Iraq – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Tom Brenner

Twitter said Saturday it had permanently suspended an account linked to Iran’s supreme leader that posted a video calling for revenge for a top general’s assassination against former US president Donald Trump.

“The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.

The account, @KhameneiSite, this week posted an animated video showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump, who ordered a drone strike in Baghdad two years ago that killed top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s main accounts in various languages remain active. Last year, another similar account was suspended by Twitter over a post also appearing to reference revenge against Trump.

The recent video, titled “Revenge is Definite”, was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.

According to Twitter, the company’s top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.

The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.

As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Soleimani was the architect of its strategy in the Middle East.

He and his Iraqi lieutenant were killed by a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.

Khamenei has repeatedly promised to avenge his death.

On January 3, the second anniversary of the strike, the supreme leader and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi once again threatened the US with revenge.

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Trump’s supporters regularly denounce the banning of the Republican billionaire from Twitter, underscoring that accounts of several leaders considered authoritarian by the United States are allowed to post on the platform.

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