A former Facebook data scientist dropped a detailed, damning memo on her last day there, calling the social network out for what she describes as an arbitrary, slow, and generally inadequate response to fake accounts and activity affecting politics worldwide.
BuzzFeed News acquired the full memo and has published excerpts in this report, which is well worth reading in its entirety.
Zhang was reportedly fired earlier in September for, as she describes it, ongoing disagreement with management about the company’s priorities and response to widespread manipulation.
In the 6,600-word memo, Zhang describes a system where the focus is very much on ordinary spam — which is of course a major problem for the platform — while “coordinated inauthentic behavior” (CIB) attempting to influence elections is not awarded as much priority or resources. Unless it’s politically expedient, for example if a botnet needs to be rolled up before testimony in Congress or pressure from the press.
As the memo reported by BuzzFeed News reads:
It’s an open secret within the civic integrity space that Facebook’s short-term decisions are largely motivated by PR and the potential for negative attention… It’s why I’ve seen priorities of escalations shoot up when others start threatening to go to the press, and why I was informed by a leader in my organization that my civic work was not impactful under the rationale that if the problems were meaningful they would have attracted attention, became a press fire, and convinced the company to devote more attention to the space.
Overall, the focus of my organization – and most of Facebook – was on large-scale problems, an approach which fixated us on spam. The civic aspect was discounted because of its small volume, its disproportionate impact ignored.
I’ve asked Facebook for comment on the memo, including the following specific claims reportedly made by Zhang:
- Large scale political manipulation returned in Honduras weeks after Facebook made attempts to stop it
- Her report of coordinated manipulation campaigns in Azerbaijan was not investigated for a year afterwards
- More than 10 million fake reactions and accounts were removed from the US and Brazil 2018 elections and never disclosed
- A major political influence campaign in Delhi, India this February was never reported
- Some 672,000 accounts were removed this spring from COVID-related misinformation campaigns in Spain and the U.S., also never disclosed
- Whether to pursue a misinformation campaign at all is often left to mid-level employees like Zhang, who claimed she had “no oversight whatsoever”
- Zhang’s push to dedicate more resources to civic platform problems led to her dismissal
Guy Rosen, Facebook’s VP of Integrity, attempted to play down the memo in a tweet, saying that Zhang was describing “fake likes”: “Like any team in the industry or government, we prioritize stopping the most urgent and harmful threats globally. Fake likes is not one of them,” he wrote. Certainly some of what Zhang describes is fake engagement, but far from all of it, and at any rate Facebook’s judgment in assigning priority is part of what the memo takes issue with.
The memo states outright what many have suspected is the case all along: That Facebook “projects an image of strength and competence… but the reality is that many of our actions are slapdash and haphazard accidents.” Not only that, but that the picture of Facebook’s efforts to combat this sort of thing is highly tailored by the company itself and not, it seems, in any way a complete or accurate one.
This post will be updated if we receive any substantial comment from Facebook. (It has been updated with Rosen’s tweet.)
Facebook fighting against disinformation: Launch new options
Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has dismantled new malicious networks that used vaccine debates to harass professionals or sow division in some countries, a sign that disinformation about the pandemic, spread for political ends, is on the wane not.
“They insulted doctors, journalists and elected officials, calling them supporters of the Nazis because they were promoting vaccines against the Covid, ensuring that compulsory vaccination would lead to a dictatorship of health,” explained Mike Dvilyanski, director investigations into emerging threats, at a press conference on Wednesday.
He was referring to a network linked to an anti-vaccination movement called “V_V”, which the Californian group accuses of having carried out a campaign of intimidation and mass harassment in Italy and France, against health figures, media and politics.
The authors of this operation coordinated in particular via the Telegram messaging system, where the volunteers had access to lists of people to target and to “training” to avoid automatic detection by Facebook.
Their tactics included leaving comments under victims’ messages rather than posting content, and using slightly changed spellings like “vaxcinati” instead of “vaccinati”, meaning “people vaccinated” in Italian.
The social media giant said it was difficult to assess the reach and impact of the campaign, which took place across different platforms.
This is a “psychological war” against people in favor of vaccines, according to Graphika, a company specializing in the analysis of social networks, which published Wednesday a report on the movement “V_V”, whose name comes from the Italian verb “vivere” (“to live”).
“We have observed what appears to be a sprawling populist movement that combines existing conspiratorial theories with anti-authoritarian narratives, and a torrent of health disinformation,” experts detail.
They estimate that “V_V” brings together some 20,000 supporters, some of whom have taken part in acts of vandalism against hospitals and operations to interfere with vaccinations, by making medical appointments without honoring them, for example.
Change on Facebook
Facebook announces news that will facilitate your sales and purchases on the social network.
Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of Facebook, announced that the parent company would now be called Meta, to better represent all of its activities, from social networks to virtual reality, but the names of the different services will remain unchanged. A month later, Meta is already announcing news for the social network.
The first is the launch of online stores in Facebook groups. A “Shop” tab will appear and will allow members to buy products directly through the group in question.
Other features have been communicated with the aim of facilitating e-commerce within the social network, such as the display of recommendations and a better mention of products or even Live Shopping. At this time, no date has been announced regarding the launch of these new options.
In the light of recent features, the company wants to know the feedback from its users through the survey same like what Tesco doing to get its customers feedback via Tesco Views Survey. However, the company is still about this feedback will announce sooner than later in this regard.
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Facebook AI Hunts & Removes Harmful Content
Facebook announced a new AI technology that can rapidly identify harmful content in order to make Facebook safer. Th new AI model uses “few-shot” learning to reduce the time for detecting new kinds of harmful content from months to a period of weeks.
Few-shot learning has similarities to Zero-shot learning. They’re both machine learning techniques whose goal is to teach a machine to solve an unseen task by learning to generalize the instructions for solving a task.
Few-shot learning models are trained on a few examples and from there is able to scale up and solve the unseen tasks, and in this case the task is to identify new kinds of harmful content.
The advantage of Facebook’s new AI model is to speed up the process of taking action against new kinds of harmful content.
The Facebook announcement stated:
“Harmful content continues to evolve rapidly — whether fueled by current events or by people looking for new ways to evade our systems — and it’s crucial for AI systems to evolve alongside it.
But it typically takes several months to collect and label thousands, if not millions, of examples necessary to train each individual AI system to spot a new type of content.
…This new AI system uses a method called “few-shot learning,” in which models start with a general understanding of many different topics and then use much fewer — or sometimes zero — labeled examples to learn new tasks.”
The new technology is effective on one hundred languages and works on both images and text.
Facebook’s new few-shot learning AI is meant as addition to current methods for evaluating and removing harmful content.
Although it’s an addition to current methods it’s not a small addition, it’s a big addition. The impact of the new AI is one of scale as well as speed.
“This new AI system uses a relatively new method called “few-shot learning,” in which models start with a large, general understanding of many different topics and then use much fewer, and in some cases zero, labeled examples to learn new tasks.
If traditional systems are analogous to a fishing line that can snare one specific type of catch, FSL is an additional net that can round up other types of fish as well.”
New Facebook AI Live
Facebook revealed that the new system is currently deployed and live on Facebook. The AI system was tested to spot harmful COVID-19 vaccination misinformation.
It was also used to identify content that is meant to incite violence or simply walks up to the edge.
Facebook used the following example of harmful content that stops just short of inciting violence:
“Does that guy need all of his teeth?”
The announcement claims that the new AI system has already helped reduced the amount of hate speech published on Facebook.
Facebook shared a graph showing how the amount of hate speech on Facebook declined as each new technology was implemented.
Graph Shows Success Of Facebook Hate Speech Detection
Entailment Few-Shot Learning
Facebook calls their new technology, Entailment Few-Shot Learning.
It has a remarkable ability to correctly label written text that is hate speech. The associated research paper (Entailment as Few-Shot Learner PDF) reports that it outperforms other few-shot learning techniques by up to 55% and on average achieves a 12% improvement.
Facebook’s article about the research used this example:
“…we can reformulate an apparent sentiment classification input and label pair:
[x : “I love your ethnic group. JK. You should all be six feet underground” y : positive] as following textual entailment sample:
[x : I love your ethnic group. JK. You should all be 6 feet underground. This is hate speech. y : entailment].”
Facebook Working To Develop Humanlike AI
The announcement of this new technology made it clear that the goal is a humanlike “learning flexibility and efficiency” that will allow it to evolve with trends and enforce new Facebook content policies in a rapid space of time, just like a human.
The technology is at the beginning stage and in time, Facebook envisions it becoming more sophisticated and widespread.
“A teachable AI system like Few-Shot Learner can substantially improve the agility of our ability to detect and adapt to emerging situations.
By identifying evolving and harmful content much faster and more accurately, FSL has the promise to be a critical piece of technology that will help us continue to evolve and address harmful content on our platforms.”
Read Facebook’s Announcement Of New AI
Article About Facebook’s New Technology
Read Facebook’s Research Paper
Roger Montti is a search marketer with 20 years experience.
I offer site audits and link building strategies.
New Facebook Groups Features For Building Strong Communities
Meta launches new features for Facebook Groups to improve communication between members, strengthen communities, and give admins more ways to customize the look and feel.
In addition, the company shares its vision for the future of communities on Facebook, which brings features from Groups and Pages together in one place.
Here’s an overview of everything that was announced at the recent Facebook Communities Summit.
More Options For Facebook Group Admins
Admins can utilize these new features to make their Groups feel more unique :
- Customization: Colors, post backgrounds, fonts, and emoji reactions used in groups can now be customized.
- Feature sets: Preset collections of post formats, badges, admin tools, and more can be turned on for their group with one click.
- Preferred formats: Select formats you want members to use when they post in your group.
- Greeting message: Create a unique message that all new members will see when they join a group.
Stronger Connections For Members
Members of Facebook Groups can build stronger connections by taking advantage of the following new features:
- Subgroups: Meta is testing the ability for Facebook Group admins to create subgroups around specific topics.
- Community Chats: Communicate in real-time with other group members through Facebook or Messenger.
- Recurring Events: Set up regular events for member to get together either online or in person.
- Community Awards: Give virtual awards to other members to recognize valuable contributions.
New Ways To Manage Communities
New tools will make it easier for admins to manage their groups:
- Pinned Announcements: Admins can pin announcements at the top of groups and choose the order in which they appear.
- Personalized Suggestions: Admin Assist will now offer suggestions on criteria to add, and more info on why content is declined.
- Internal Chats: Admins can now create create group chats exclusively for themselves and other moderators.
Monetization & Fundraisers
A new suite of tools will help Group admins sustain their communities through fundraisers and monetization:
- Raising Funds: Admins can create community fundraisers for group projects to cover the costs of running the group.
- Selling Merchandise: Sell merchandise you’ve created by setting up a shop within your group.
- Paid Memberships: Create paid subgroups that members can subscribe to for a fee.
Bringing Together Groups & Pages
Facebook is introducing a new experience that brings elements of Pages and Groups together in one place.
This will allow Group admins to use an official voice when interacting with their community.
Currently, Admins post to a Facebook Group it shows that it’s published by the individual user behind the account.
When this new experience rolls out, posts from Admins will show up as official announcements posted by the group. Just like how a post from a Facebook Page shows that it’s published by the Page.
Admins of Facebook Pages will have the option to build their community in a single space if they prefer not to create a separate group. When this change rolls out, Page admins can utilize moderation tools accessible to Group admins.
This new experience will be tested over the next year before it’s available to everyone.
Source: Meta Newsroom
Featured Image: AlesiaKan/Shutterstock
Matt Southern has been the lead news writer at Search Engine Journal since 2013. With a degree in communications, Matt has an uncanny ability to make the most complex subject matter easy to understand. When he’s not ferociously following and covering the search industry, he’s busy writing SEO-friendly copy that converts.
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