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Facebook’s Stance on Political Ads Once Again Highlights a Common Flaw in its Policy Approach

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There’s an old Saturday Night Live sketch, starring Norm McDonald, called ‘Bible Challenge’ in which the competition is based on honesty, with each contestant confessing to their knowledge of the Bible, and winning points based on whether they knew the answer, or they didn’t (apologies for the low-quality clip).

This came to mind when contemplating Facebook’s current approach to political ads and posted commentary from elected officials. Facebook’s stance once again came under scrutiny this week after Twitter decided to add a fact-check warning to two tweets from US President Donald Trump. That prompted Trump to call for changes to the laws which protect social platforms from liability for the content that users post on their platforms – if the platforms are going to edit people’s posts, then the current regulations should no longer apply, according to the Trump administration.

If any change is made to these laws, that would impact Facebook as well, and arguably even more so, given The Social Network has more than 10x as many daily active users. So where does Facebook stand on the matter?

As you would expect, Facebook says that any such change would have an adverse impact.

Repealing or limiting Section 230 […] will restrict more speech online, not less. By exposing companies to potential liability for everything that billions of people around the world say, this would penalize companies that choose to allow controversial speech and encourage platforms to censor anything that might offend anyone.”

But Facebook has also stood by its decision not to take action on the same statements from President Trump that Twitter has, which Trump has also re-posted on his Facebook Page.

Facebook post from Donald Trump

As per Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg:

“I disagree strongly with how the President spoke about this, but I believe people should be able to see this for themselves, because ultimately, accountability for those in positions of power can only happen when their speech is scrutinized out in the open.”

So Facebook is still sticking to its guns, and will not subject posts from politicians to fact checks.

Is that the right approach, or does it create a dangerous situation where influential leaders can say whatever they want, unchecked, unhindered, and able to reach a very large audience?

The answer is not simple – for better or worse, Facebook’s approach does make some sense.

Facebook’s stance, which I don’t think that it’s done well in communicating, is that these people are elected officials, these are the leaders that the voting public has chosen. Therefore we have a right to hear what they gave to say, good or bad, true or not. As the leaders chosen by the majority, it should be up to the people to then judge their public actions, which, in part, is based on what they say. If anything, social platforms merely add transparency, and for every post and comment, the voters can judge for themselves how they feel, and make a more informed decision on their support (or not).

It’s not an illogical position, but that process yet again highlights a common flaw in Facebook’s policy approach – that being that Facebook errs on the side of optimism, and assumes the best in people, while overlooking the potential negatives.

That’s what lead to the Cambridge Analytica situation – Facebook gave various academic groups access to vast collections of user data, under the promise that none of them would use such insight for any purpose beyond their stated research demands. Of course, at least one of them did, and in retrospect, it seems overly optimistic of Facebook to have assumed that nobody would be tempted to misuse its powerful audience insights for such purpose. But Facebook didn’t have any systems or processes in place to stop this, it just assumed nothing would go wrong. Until it did.

The same thing happened with Facebook’s SDK – Facebook gave developers full access to user insights, under the provision that they would only gather people’s personal information if they needed such. Many apps ended up sucking in a huge amounts of people’s personal data, and not only on the users of their apps, but also their friends and family, who were connected to them through Facebook’s expanded network.

The developers shouldn’t have been able to access so much data, and Facebook has since implemented significant restrictions on such. But Facebook, again, didn’t consider the potential negatives of this process – it simply, seemingly, hoped that developers just wouldn’t misuse its tools.

At best, Facebook failed to consider the potential for misuse in both cases. Which brings us back to its stance on political ads.

As noted, Facebook’s approach does make some sense – these are the people that we have elected, and we have a right to hear whatever they have to say. The flaw, however, is in how Facebook assumes that will play out.

As explained by Zuckerberg last October:

I believe in giving people a voice, because at the end of the day, I believe in people. And as long as enough of us keep fighting for this, I believe that more people’s voices will eventually help us work through these issues together and write a new chapter in our history — where from all of our individual voices and perspectives, we can bring the world closer together.”

Again, the principle is that the people can judge for themselves, but that also assumes that people will have the capacity to determine truth from fact on their own, and that leaders won’t share outright lies or misinformation to challenge that. Which, as we’ve seen repeatedly, is not the case.

As an example, back in March, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro urged cities to remain open as normal amid the COVID-19 outbreak, saying  that:

We must return to normality – the few states and city halls should abandon their scorched-earth policies.”

Bolsonaro has constantly downplayed the pandemic, labeling it ‘a little flu’ and ‘ nothing to be afraid of’.

This is an elected official, so according to Facebook’s approach, the Brazilian people should be free to decide if these statements are true or not. But in this case, that’s an extremely dangerous approach.

Many people will take Bolsonaro’s advice based on his word alone, which could lead to them heading out, against official health advice. Almost 29,000 Brazilians have been killed by COVID-19 thus far, while the WHO has said that the nation is now the new epicenter for the pandemic. As such, Bolsonaro’s statement, in retrospect, is fairly dangerous, and the fact that the President advised such has given significant weight to a counter-narrative that has almost undoubtedly lead to more deaths.

The risks in this case would outweigh the transparency benefits.

But that’s basically Facebook’s approach, which brings me back to that SNL sketch from years ago. The flaw in Facebook’s stance on political content is that it won’t fact check such because it trusts that the various elements simply won’t gratuitously misuse their capacity.

Norm McDonald’s character wins ‘The Bible Game’ not because his character is the most honest, but because he’s the opposite – yet the rules of the game don’t account for his behavior.

In principle, the idea of not implementing fact checks on posts from political leaders makes some sense. But in practice, it might just make it easier for the most unscrupulous candidates to win.

Socialmediatoday.com

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17 Content Options for Each Stage of the Sales Journey [Infographic]

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17 Content Options for Each Stage of the Sales Journey [Infographic]

Looking to formulate a better content strategy for 2023?

This will help – the team from Orbit Media has put together a listing of 17 content formats, and where they fit within the sales funnel which could provide some inspiration for your planning.

There are some good pointers here, with specific approaches that you can take at each stage of the journey.

Check out the full listing below – while you can read more on the Orbit Media website.

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Meta Soars by Most in Decade, Adding $100 Billion in Value

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Meta Soars by Most in Decade, Adding $100 Billion in Value

Correction: February 2, 2023 This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article misstated how much Meta expected to spend on its deal with the virtual reality start-up Within. It is $400 million, not $400 billion. Meta’s stock surged on Thursday …

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Twitter’s Cancelling Free Access to its API, Which Will Shut Down Hundreds of Apps

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Twitter’s Cancelling Free Access to its API, Which Will Shut Down Hundreds of Apps

Well, this is certainly problematic.

Twitter has announced that, as of February 9th, it’s cutting off free access to its API, which is the access point that many, many apps, bot accounts, and other tools use to function.

That means that a heap of Twitter analytics apps, management tools, schedulers, automated updates – a range of key info and insight options will soon cease to function. Which seems like the sort of thing that, if you were Twitter, you’d want to keep on your app.

But that’s not really how Twitter 2.0 is looking to operate – in a bid to rake in as much revenue as absolutely possible, in any way that it can, Twitter will now look to charge all of these apps and tools. But most, I’d hazard a guess, will simply cease to function.

The bigger business apps already pay for full API access – your Hootsuite’s and your Sprout Social’s – so they’ll likely be unaffected. But it could stop them from offering free plans, which would have a big impact on their business models.

The announcement follows Twitter’s recent API change which cut off a heap of Twitter posting tools, in order, seemingly, to stop users accessing the platform through a third-party UI. 

Now, even more Twitter tools will go extinct, a broad spread of apps and functions that contribute to the real-time ecosystem that Twitter has become. Their loss, if that’s what happens, will have big impacts on overall Twitter activity.

On the other hand, some will see this as another element in Twitter’s crackdown on bots, which Twitter chief Elon Musk has made a personal mission to eradicate. Musk has taken some drastic measures to kill off bots, some of which are having an impact, but Musk himself has also admitted that such efforts are reducing overall platform engagement

This, too, could be a killer in this respect

It’ll also open the door to Twitter competitors, as many automated update apps will switch to other platforms. This relates to things like updates on downtime from video games, weather apps, and more. There are also tools like GIF generators and auto responders – there’s a range of tools that could now look for a new home on Mastodon, or some other Twitter replicant. 

In this respect, it seems like a flawed move, which is also largely ignorant of how the developer community has facilitated Twitter’s growth. 

But Elon and Co. are going to do things their own way, whether outside commentators agree or not – and maybe this is actually a path to gaining new Twitter data customers, and boosting the company’s income. 

But I doubt it.

If there are any third-party Twitter apps that you use, it’ll be worth checking in to see if they’re impacted before next week.



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