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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.

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.

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)

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.

TechCrunch

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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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Swedish Woman Flies To India To Marry Facebook Friend In UP’s Etah

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Swedish Woman Flies To India To Marry Facebook Friend In UP's Etah

Christen Liebert reportedly met Pawan Kumar on Facebook in 2012.

Etah:

It is said that love has no boundaries. The people of Etah in Uttar Pradesh witnessed something similar when a Swedish woman married a local resident recently.

Christen Liebert flew to India to marry Pawan Kumar, who she met on Facebook, according to Hindu customs at a school in Etah on Friday, news agency ANI reported.

Video of the marriage shared by ANI showed Christen Liebert, dressed in an Indian wedding dress, putting the garland around the groom’s neck during the varmala ceremony.

Christen Liebert reportedly met Pawan Kumar on Facebook in 2012.

Pawan Kumar, who completed his B. Tech from Dehradun, works as an engineer at a firm.

His family did not have any objection to the marriage.

The groom’s father Geetam Singh said that their happiness lies in the happiness of the children. “We totally agree with this marriage,” he said.

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