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In expanded crackdown, Facebook increases penalties for rule-breaking groups and their members

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In expanded crackdown, Facebook increases penalties for rule-breaking groups and their members

Facebook this morning announced it will increase the penalties against its rule-breaking Facebook Groups and their members, alongside other changes designed to reduce the visibility of groups’ potentially harmful content. The company says it will now remove civic and political groups from its recommendations in markets outside the U.S., and will further restrict the reach of groups and members who continue to violate its rules.

The changes follow what has been a steady, but slow and sometimes ineffective crackdown on Facebook Groups that produce and share harmful, polarizing or even dangerous content.

Ahead of the U.S. elections, Facebook implemented a series of new rules designed to penalize those who violated its Community Standards or spread misinformation via Facebook Groups. These rules largely assigned more responsibility to Groups themselves, and penalized individuals who broke rules. Facebook also stopped recommending health groups, to push users to official sources for health information, including for information about Covid-19.

This January, Facebook made a more significant move against potentially dangerous groups. It announced it would remove civic and political groups, as well as newly created groups, from its recommendations in the U.S. following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Previously, it had temporarily limited these groups ahead of the U.S. elections.)

As The WSJ reported when this policy became permanent, Facebook’s internal research had found that Facebook groups in the U.S. were polarizing users and inflaming the calls for violence that spread after the elections. The researchers said roughly 70% of the top 100 most active civic Facebook Groups in the U.S. had issues with hate, misinformation, bullying and harassment that should make them non-recommendable, leading to the January 2021 crackdown.

Today, that same policy is being rolled out to Facebook’s global user base, not just Facebook U.S. users.

That means in addition to health groups, users worldwide won’t be “recommended” civic or political groups when browsing Facebook. It’s important, however, to note that recommendations are only one of many ways users find Facebook Groups. Users can also find them in search, through links people post, through invites and friends’ private messages.

In addition, Facebook says groups that have gotten in trouble for violating Facebook’s rules will now be shown lower in recommendations — a sort of downranking penalty Facebook often uses to reduce the visibility of News Feed content.

The company will also increase the penalties against rule-violating groups and their individual members through a variety of other enforcement actions.

Frame 5

Image Credits: Facebook

For example, users who attempt to join groups that have a history of breaking Facebook’s Community Standards will be alerted to the the group’s violations through a warning message (shown above), which may cause the user to reconsider joining.

The rule-violating groups will have their invite notifications limited, and current members will begin to see less of the groups’ content in their News Feed, as the content will be shown further down. These groups will also be demoted in Facebook’s recommendations.

When a group hosts a substantial number of members who have violated Facebook policies or participated in other groups that were shut down for Facebook Community Standards violations, the group itself will have to temporarily approve all members’ new posts. And if the admin or moderator repeatedly approves rule-breaking content, Facebook will then take the entire group down.

This rule aims to address problems around groups that re-form after being banned, only to restart their bad behavior unchecked.

The final change being announced today applies to group members.

When someone has repeated violations in Facebook Groups, they’ll be temporarily stopped from posting or commenting in any group, won’t be allowed to invite others to join groups, and won’t be able to create new groups. This measure aims to slow down the reach of bad actors, Facebook says.

The new policies give Facebook a way to more transparently document a group’s bad behavior that led to its final shutdown. This “paper trail,” of sorts, also helps Facebook duck accusations of bias when it comes to its enforcement actions —  a charge often raised by Facebook critics on the right, who believe social networks are biased against conservatives.

But the problem with these policies is that they’re still ultimately hand slaps for those who break Facebook’s rules — not all that different from what users today jokingly refer to as “Facebook jail“. When individuals or Facebook Pages violate Facebook’s Community Standards, they’re temporarily prevented from interacting on the site or using specific features. Facebook is now trying to replicate that formula, with modifications, for Facebook Groups and their members.

There are other issues, as well. For one, these rules rely on Facebook to actually enforce them, and it’s unclear how well it will be able to do so. For another, they ignore one of the key means of group discovery: search. Facebook claims it downranks low-quality results here, but results of its efforts are decidedly mixed.

For example, though Facebook made sweeping statements about banning QAnon content across its platform in a misinformation crackdown last fall, it’s still possible to search for and find QAnon-adjacent content — like groups that aren’t titled QAnon but cater to QAnon-styled “patriots” and conspiracies).

Similarly, searches for terms like “antivax” or “covid hoax,” can also direct users to problematic groups — like the one for people who “aren’t anti-vax in general,” but are “just anti-RNA,” the group’s title explains; or the “parents against vaccines” group; or the “vaccine haters” group that proposes it’s spreading the “REAL vaccine information.” (We surfaced these on Tuesday, ahead of Facebook’s announcement.)

Cleary, these are not official health resources, and would not otherwise be recommended per Facebook policies — but are easy to surface through Facebook search. The company, however, takes stronger measures against Covid-19 and Covid vaccine misinformation — it says it will remove Pages, groups, and accounts that repeatedly shared debunked claims, and otherwise downranks them.

Facebook, to be clear, is fully capable of using stronger technical means of blocking access to content.

It banned “stop the steal” and other conspiracies following the U.S. elections, for example. And even today, a search for “stop the steal” groups simply returns a blank page saying no results were found.

Screen Shot 2021 03 16 at 12.55.29 PM 1

Image Credits: Facebook fully blocks “stop the steal”

So why should a search for a banned topic like “QAnon” return anything at all?

Why should “covid hoax?” (see below)

Screen Shot 2021 03 17 at 9.39.57 AM

Image Credits: Facebook group search results for “covid hoax”

If Facebook wanted to broaden its list of problematic search terms, and return blank pages for other types of harmful content, it could. In fact, if it wanted to maintain a block list of URLs that are known to spread false information, it could do that, too. It could prevent users from re-sharing any post that included those links. It could make those posts default to non-public. It could flag users who violate its rules repeatedly, or some subset of those rules, as users who no longer get to set their posts to public…ever.

In other words, Facebook could do many, many things if it truly wanted to have a significant impact on the spread misinformation, toxicity, polarizing and otherwise harmful content on its platform. Instead, it continues inching forward with temporary punishments and those that are often only aimed at “repeated” violations, such as the ones announced today. These are, arguably, more penalties than it had before — but also maybe not enough.

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Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy

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Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy

LAHORE, Pakistan — A court in Pakistan granted bail to a Christian falsely charged with blasphemy, but he and his family have separated and gone into hiding amid threats to their lives, sources said.

Haroon Shahzad (right) with attorney Aneeqa Maria. | The Voice Society/Morning Star News

Haroon Shahzad, 45, was released from Sargodha District Jail on Nov. 15, said his attorney, Aneeqa Maria. Shahzad was charged with blasphemy on June 30 after posting Bible verses on Facebook that infuriated Muslims, causing dozens of Christian families in Chak 49 Shumaali, near Sargodha in Punjab Province, to flee their homes.

Lahore High Court Judge Ali Baqir Najfi granted bail on Nov. 6, but the decision and his release on Nov. 15 were not made public until now due to security fears for his life, Maria said.

Shahzad told Morning Star News by telephone from an undisclosed location that the false accusation has changed his family’s lives forever.

“My family has been on the run from the time I was implicated in this false charge and arrested by the police under mob pressure,” Shahzad told Morning Star News. “My eldest daughter had just started her second year in college, but it’s been more than four months now that she hasn’t been able to return to her institution. My other children are also unable to resume their education as my family is compelled to change their location after 15-20 days as a security precaution.”

Though he was not tortured during incarceration, he said, the pain of being away from his family and thinking about their well-being and safety gave him countless sleepless nights.

“All of this is due to the fact that the complainant, Imran Ladhar, has widely shared my photo on social media and declared me liable for death for alleged blasphemy,” he said in a choked voice. “As soon as Ladhar heard about my bail, he and his accomplices started gathering people in the village and incited them against me and my family. He’s trying his best to ensure that we are never able to go back to the village.”

Shahzad has met with his family only once since his release on bail, and they are unable to return to their village in the foreseeable future, he said.

“We are not together,” he told Morning Star News. “They are living at a relative’s house while I’m taking refuge elsewhere. I don’t know when this agonizing situation will come to an end.”

The Christian said the complainant, said to be a member of Islamist extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and also allegedly connected with banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, filed the charge because of a grudge. Shahzad said he and his family had obtained valuable government land and allotted it for construction of a church building, and Ladhar and others had filed multiple cases against the allotment and lost all of them after a four-year legal battle.

“Another probable reason for Ladhar’s jealousy could be that we were financially better off than most Christian families of the village,” he said. “I was running a successful paint business in Sargodha city, but that too has shut down due to this case.”

Regarding the social media post, Shahzad said he had no intention of hurting Muslim sentiments by sharing the biblical verse on his Facebook page.

“I posted the verse a week before Eid Al Adha [Feast of the Sacrifice] but I had no idea that it would be used to target me and my family,” he said. “In fact, when I came to know that Ladhar was provoking the villagers against me, I deleted the post and decided to meet the village elders to explain my position.”

The village elders were already influenced by Ladhar and refused to listen to him, Shahzad said.

“I was left with no option but to flee the village when I heard that Ladhar was amassing a mob to attack me,” he said.

Shahzad pleaded with government authorities for justice, saying he should not be punished for sharing a verse from the Bible that in no way constituted blasphemy.

Similar to other cases

Shahzad’s attorney, Maria, told Morning Star News that events in Shahzad’s case were similar to other blasphemy cases filed against Christians.

“Defective investigation, mala fide on the part of the police and complainant, violent protests against the accused persons and threats to them and their families, forcing their displacement from their ancestral areas, have become hallmarks of all blasphemy allegations in Pakistan,” said Maria, head of The Voice Society, a Christian paralegal organization.

She said that the case filed against Shahzad was gross violation of Section 196 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which states that police cannot register a case under the Section 295-A blasphemy statute against a private citizen without the approval of the provincial government or federal agencies.

Maria added that Shahzad and his family have continued to suffer even though there was no evidence of blasphemy.

“The social stigma attached with a blasphemy accusation will likely have a long-lasting impact on their lives, whereas his accuser, Imran Ladhar, would not have to face any consequence of his false accusation,” she said.

The judge who granted bail noted that Shahzad was charged with blasphemy under Section 295-A, which is a non-cognizable offense, and Section 298, which is bailable. The judge also noted that police had not submitted the forensic report of Shahzad’s cell phone and said evidence was required to prove that the social media was blasphemous, according to Maria.

Bail was set at 100,000 Pakistani rupees (US $350) and two personal sureties, and the judge ordered police to further investigate, she said.

Shahzad, a paint contractor, on June 29 posted on his Facebook page 1 Cor. 10:18-21 regarding food sacrificed to idols, as Muslims were beginning the four-day festival of Eid al-Adha, which involves slaughtering an animal and sharing the meat.

A Muslim villager took a screenshot of the post, sent it to local social media groups and accused Shahzad of likening Muslims to pagans and disrespecting the Abrahamic tradition of animal sacrifice.

Though Shahzad made no comment in the post, inflammatory or otherwise, the situation became tense after Friday prayers when announcements were made from mosque loudspeakers telling people to gather for a protest, family sources previously told Morning Star News.

Fearing violence as mobs grew in the village, most Christian families fled their homes, leaving everything behind.

In a bid to restore order, the police registered a case against Shahzad under Sections 295-A and 298. Section 295-A relates to “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” and is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years and fine, or both. Section 298 prescribes up to one year in prison and a fine, or both, for hurting religious sentiments.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.

Morning Star News is the only independent news service focusing exclusively on the persecution of Christians. The nonprofit’s mission is to provide complete, reliable, even-handed news in order to empower those in the free world to help persecuted Christians, and to encourage persecuted Christians by informing them that they are not alone in their suffering.

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Individual + Team Stats: Hornets vs. Timberwolves

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CHARLOTTE HORNETS MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES You can follow us for future coverage by liking us on Facebook & following us on X: Facebook – All Hornets X – …

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What went wrong with ‘the Metaverse’? An insider’s postmortem

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What went wrong with 'the Metaverse'? An insider's postmortem


It’s now two years since Facebook changed its name to Meta, ushering in a brief but blazing enthusiasm over “the Metaverse”, a concept from science fiction that suddenly seemed to be the next inevitable leap in technology. For most people in tech, however, the term has since lost its luster, seemingly supplanted by any product with “artificial intelligence” attached to its description. 

But the true story of the Metaverse’s rise and fall in public awareness is much more complicated and interesting than simply being the short life cycle of a buzzword — it also reflects a collective failure of both imagination and understanding.  

Consider:

The forgotten novel

Ironically, many tech reporters discounted or even ignored the profound influence of Snow Crash on actual working technologists. The founders of Roblox and Epic (creator of Fortnite) among many other developers were directly inspired by the novel. Despite that, Neal Stephenson’s classic cyberpunk tale has often been depicted as if it were an obscure dystopian tome which merely coined the term. As opposed to what it actually did: describe the concept with a biblical specificity that thousands of developers have referenced in their virtual world projects — many of which have already become extremely popular.

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Snow Crash.

You can see this lack of clarity in many of the mass tech headlines attempting to describe the Metaverse in the wake of Facebook’s name change: 

In a widely shared “obituary” to the Metaverse, Business Insider’s Ed Zitron even compounded the confusion still further by inexplicably misattributing the concept to TRON, the original Disney movie from the 80s.

Had the media referenced Snow Crash far more accurately when the buzz began, they’d come away with a much better understanding of why so many technologists are excited by the Metaverse concept — and realize its early incarnation is already gaining strong user traction.  

Because in the book, the Metaverse is a vast, immersive virtual world that’s simultaneously accessible by millions of people through highly customizable avatars and powerful experience creation tools that are integrated with the offline world through its virtual economy and external technology. In other words, it’s more or less like Roblox and Fortnite — platforms with many tens of millions of active users. 

But then again, the tech media can’t be fully blamed for following Mark Zuckerberg’s lead.

Rather than create a vision for its Metaverse iterating on already successful platforms — Roblox’s 2020 IPO filing even describes itself as the metaverse — Meta’s executive leadership cobbled together a mishmash of disparate products. Most of which, such as remotely working in VR headsets, remain far from proven. According to an internal Blind survey, a majority of Zuckerberg’s own employees say he has not adequately explained what he means by the Metaverse even to them.

Grievous of all, Zuckerberg and his CTO Andrew Bosworth promoted a conception of the Metaverse in which the Quest headset was central. To do so, they had to overlook compelling evidence — raised by senior Microsoft researcher danah boyd at the time of the company acquiring Oculus in 2014 — that females have a high propensity to get nauseous using VR.

Meta Quest 3 comes out on October 10 for $500.
Meta Quest 3.

Contacted in late 2022 while writing Making a Metaverse That Matters, danah told me no one at Oculus or Meta followed up with her about the research questions she raised. Over the years, I have asked several senior Meta staffers (past and present) about this and have yet to receive an adequate reply. Unsurprisingly, Meta’s Quest 2 VR headset has an estimated install base of only about 20 million units, significantly smaller than the customer count of leading video game consoles. A product that tends to make half the population puke is not exactly destined for the mass market — let alone a reliable base for building the Metaverse. 

Ironically, Neal Stephenson himself has frequently insisted that virtual reality is absolutely not a prerequisite for the Metaverse, since flat screens display immersive virtual worlds just fine. But here again, the tech media instead ratified Meta’s flawed VR-centric vision by constantly illustrating articles about the Metaverse with photos of people happily donning headsets to access it — inadvertently setting up a straw man destined to soon go ablaze.

Duct-taped to yet another buzzword

Further sealing the Metaverse hype wave’s fate, it crested around the same time that Web3 and crypto were still enjoying their own euphoria period. This inevitably spawned the “cryptoverse” with platforms like Decentraland and The Sandbox. When the crypto crash came, it was easy to assume the Metaverse was also part of that fall.

But the cryptoverse platforms failed in the same way that other crypto schemes have gone awry: By offering a virtual world as a speculative opportunity, it primarily attracted crypto speculators, not virtual world enthusiasts. By October of 2022, Decentraland was only tracking 7,000 daily active users, game industry analyst Lars Doucet informed me

“Everybody who is still playing is basically just playing poker,” as Lars put it. “This seems to be a kind of recurring trend in dead-end crypto projects. Kind of an eerie rhyme with left-behind American cities where drugs come in and anyone who is left is strung out at a slot machine parlor or liquor store.”

All this occurred as the rise of generative AI birthed another, shinier buzzword — one that people not well-versed in immersive virtual worlds could better understand.

But as “the Metaverse” receded as a hype totem, a hilarious thing happened: Actual metaverse platforms continued growing. Roblox now counts over 300 million monthly active users, making its population nearly the size of the entire United States; Fortnite had its best usage day in 6 years. Meta continues plodding along but seems to finally be learning from its mistakes — for instance, launching a mobile version of its metaverse platform Horizon Worlds.  

Roblox leads the rise of user-generated content.
Roblox.

Into this mix, a new wave of metaverse platforms is preparing to launch, refreshingly led by seasoned, successful game developers: Raph Koster with Playable Worlds, Jenova Chen with his early, successful forays into metaverse experiences, and Everywhere, a metaverse platform lead developed by a veteran of the Grand Theft Auto franchise.

At some point, everyone in tech who co-signed the “death” of the Metaverse may notice this sustained growth. By then however, the term may no longer require much usage, just as the term “information superhighway” fell away as broadband Internet went mainstream.  

Wagner James Au is author of Making a Metaverse That Matters: From Snow Crash & Second Life to A Virtual World Worth Fighting For 

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it. Discover our Briefings.

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