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Facebook sure does love free $peech

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Ensuring politicians in the 2020 election stay truthful is hard work, so Facebook has decided it’s going to sit this one out.

Joe Biden’s campaign team sent a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandberg and global elections policy chief Katie Harbath that essentially called on the company to take down a Trump campaign ad that made debunked claims regarding the Biden family’s relationship with Ukraine. Facebook responded to that letter today with their own letter to Biden saying that the company’s policies prevented it from making judgment calls on the veracity of speech in political advertisements. The New York Times has a full run-down of the situation.

Facebook isn’t alone in this manner; Fox News is remaining fair and balanced on the issue as well. CNN refused to run the ad.

Political campaigns are messy, so America’s largest content company — with more content moderators than any publication in the country — is leaving it to the free press to debunk what it’s getting paid to broadcast. But it’s not that Facebook wants to keep raking in stupid amounts of advertising dollars. It’s that the company is grounded in a “fundamental belief in free expression,” they say.

Here’s a quote from the company’s letter to Biden’s team: “Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is.”

I’m sorry, what? Facebook’s “respect for the democratic process” should raise eyebrows given how its products have been used in some highly publicized scenarios. But how does a platform that’s been abused so much to the detriment of democratic processes feel like it deserves to rattle that phrase off as another PR talking point?

Here’s the rest of the letter:

If Facebook just wants to allow politicians to spout mistruths and conspiracy theories without fact checks on its platforms as status updates from their personal pages, then some of these claims could be taken more seriously, but Facebook is getting paid to push these messages to its users. It’s algorithmically deciding where these messages go based on parameters set by the campaigns via a system it designed.

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Before you sound off, yeah, political advertising isn’t anything new. I am well aware that TV channels and newspapers have carried messy attack ads and hauled in the advertising revenues for decades, but Facebook is a platform designed around scale. Scale has allowed the company to tap massive revenue streams, but it’s also opened up the company to critiques. The company has learned to respect this scale after sizable amounts of external pressure were applied, but they’ve always defaulted to dated comparisons when it’s profitable to them.

Newspaper and TV political ads are painted with a wider brush and are subject to more stringent laws, but there’s a responsibility in Facebook’s precise ad-targeting that the company still doesn’t seem to respect. The company has the tools to push out judgment calls on content, and it could still do so on a case-by-case basis. Some truths are buried in more nuance than others, but by painting all political claims in its same bath of indifference to truth, Facebook is abusing its scale and creating a platform where a politician’s speech is exempt, as if political leaders aren’t the ultimate primary sources on politically contentious matters.

Political advertising legislation is going to take far too long to catch up to the current landscape of technology platforms — it would be nice if we could trust Facebook to stay at a moral forefront that isn’t legally mandated. Twitter and YouTube aren’t immune to this same criticism either, but Facebook is operating in broad daylight, believing that they can reverse engineer a free expression mission statement to prevent responsibility-free revenues from leaking out.

NEWS

Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

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But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

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One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

[embedded content]

Searchenginejournal.com

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