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You can now give Facebook’s Oversight Board feedback on the decision to suspend Trump

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Facebook’s Oversight Board feedback

Facebook’s “Supreme Court” is now accepting comments on one of its earliest and likely most consequential cases. The Facebook Oversight Board announced Friday that it would begin accepting public feedback on Facebook’s suspension of former President Trump.

Mark Zuckerberg announced Trump’s suspension on January 7, after the then-president of the United States incited his followers to riot at the nation’s Capitol, an event that resulted in a number of deaths and imperiled the peaceful transition of power.

In a post calling for feedback, the Oversight Board describes the two posts that led to Trump’s suspension. One is a version of the video the president shared the day of the Capitol riot in which he sympathizes with rioters and validates their claim that the “election was stolen from us.” In the second post, Trump reiterates those views, falsely bemoaning a “sacred landslide election victory” that was “unceremoniously & viciously stripped away.”

The board says the point of the public comment process is to incorporate “diverse perspectives” from third parties who wish to share research that might inform their decisions, though it seems a lot more likely the board will wind up with a tidal wave of subjective and probably not particularly useful political takes. Nonetheless, the comment process will be open for 10 days and comments will be collected in an appendix for each case. The board will issue a decision on Trump’s Facebook fate within 90 days of January 21, though the verdict could come sooner.

The Oversight Board specifically invites public comments that consider:

Whether Facebook’s decision to suspend President Trump’s accounts for an indefinite period complied with the company’s responsibilities to respect freedom of expression and human rights, if alternative measures should have been taken, and what measures should be taken for these accounts going forward.

How Facebook should assess off-Facebook context in enforcing its Community Standards, particularly where Facebook seeks to determine whether content may incite violence.

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How Facebook should treat the expression of political candidates, office holders, and former office holders, considering their varying positions of power, the importance of political opposition, and the public’s right to information.

The accessibility of Facebook’s rules for account-level enforcement (e.g. disabling accounts or account functions) and appeals against that enforcement.

Considerations for the consistent global enforcement of Facebook’s content policies against political leaders, whether at the content-level (e.g. content removal) or account-level (e.g. disabling account functions), including the relevance of Facebook’s “newsworthiness” exemption and Facebook’s human rights responsibilities.

The Oversight Board’s post gets very granular on the Trump suspension, critiquing Facebook for lack of specificity when the company didn’t state exactly which part of its community standards were violated. Between this and the five recent cases, the board appears to view its role as a technical one, in which it examines each case against Facebook’s existing ruleset and then makes recommendations for future policy rather than working backward from its own broader recommendations.

The Facebook Oversight Board announced its first cluster of decisions this week, overturning the company’s own choice to remove potentially objectionable content in four of five cases. None of those cases pertained to content relevant to Trump’s account suspension, but they prove that the Oversight Board isn’t afraid to go against the company’s own thinking — at least when it comes to what gets taken down.

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New Facebook Groups Features For Building Strong Communities

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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.
Facebook groups new featuresScreenshot from about.fb.com/news, November 2021.

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.
Facebook groups new featuresScreenshot from about.fb.com/news, November 2021.

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.
Facebook groups new featuresScreenshot from about.fb.com/news, November 2021.

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.
Facebook groups new featuresScreenshot from about.fb.com/news, November 2021.

Bringing Together Groups & Pages

Facebook is introducing a new experience that brings elements of Pages and Groups together in one place.

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This will allow Group admins to use an official voice when interacting with their community.

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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

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Featured Image: AlesiaKan/Shutterstock

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Facebook Shutting Down Facial Recognition via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Facebook announced that it is shutting down it’s use of facial recognition, including for uses related to the visually impaired. Facebook left the door open to exploring on-device facial recognition technologies that do not communicate with an external server.

Facebook cited general concern by individuals about the use of facial recognition and a lack of agreed-up regulations and standards as one reason they chose to do away with the use of facial recognition.

“There are many concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society, and regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use. Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.”

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Facebook Facial Recognition

Facial recognition technology was used for recognizing who users are from photos in the Memories feature, photos or videos. Tagging, where individuals name friends in an image will still be allowed.

Those who had opted into allowing Facebook to use facial recognition don’t have to do anything, Facebook will automatically delete the “template” used by Facebook to recognize the members.

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According to the announcement:

“People will no longer be able to turn on face recognition for suggested tagging or see a suggested tag with their name in photos and videos they may appear in. We’ll still encourage people to tag posts manually, to help you and your friends know who is in a photo or video.

If you have opted into our Face Recognition setting, we will delete the template used to identify you. If you have the face recognition setting turned off, there is no template to delete and there will be no change.”

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While many may view this as a positive change the impact might be felt more keenly by those who are visually impaired and relied on the automatic facial recognition to tell them who is in a photo shared on Facebook.

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Facebook noted:

“This change will also impact Automatic Alt Text (AAT), a technology used to create image descriptions for people who are blind or visually impaired. AAT currently identifies people in about 4% of photos. After the change, AAT will still be able to recognize how many people are in a photo, but will no longer attempt to identify who each person is using facial recognition.”

Facebook Facial Recognition is Not Going Away

Facebook indicated it will research ways to use facial recognition in ways that are useful in a way that respects users privacy.

Potential uses could be for people who need to verify their identity, particularly in situations where a person is locked out of their account.

Use of the facial recognition technology on the device and without accessing external servers was cited as an area to be explored.

Facebook stated:

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“Facial recognition can be particularly valuable when the technology operates privately on a person’s own devices. This method of on-device facial recognition, requiring no communication of face data with an external server, is most commonly deployed today in the systems used to unlock smartphones.

We believe this has the potential to enable positive use cases in the future that maintain privacy, control and transparency, and it’s an approach we’ll continue to explore as we consider how our future computing platforms and devices can best serve people’s needs.

The changes we’re announcing today involve a company-wide move away from this kind of broad identification, and toward narrower forms of personal authentication.”

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Facebook to Explore On-device Facial Recognition

On-device use of facial recognition is a popular and accepted use of the technology, for example, for unlocking a device. Beyond that some may feel uncomfortable with it and Facebook’s decision to drop facial recognition may be a sign of Facebook understanding that they may need to be proactive of overextending technology in ways that might provoke concerns over privacy.

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Read Facebook’s announcement of the end of Facebook’s use of facial recognition:

An Update On Our Use of Face Recognition

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Facebook Expands Climate Science Center to More Regions, Ramps Up Climate Misinformation Detection

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Facebook is taking stronger action to promote climate science, and tackle related misinformation on its platforms, as part of a renewed push for a broader, more inclusive global effort to combat the growing climate crisis.

As explained by Facebook:

Climate change is the greatest threat we all face – and the need to act grows more urgent every day. The science is clear and unambiguous. As world leaders, advocates, environmental groups and others meet in Glasgow this week at COP26, we want to see bold action agreed to, with the strongest possible commitments to achieve net zero targets that help limit warming to 1.5˚C.”

Facebook has been repeatedly identified as a key source of climate misinformation, and it clearly does play some role in this respect. But with this renewed stance, the company’s looking to set clear parameters around what’s acceptable, and what it’s looking to take action on, to play its part in the broader push.

First off, Facebook is expanding its Climate Change Science Center to more than 100 countries, while it’s also adding a new section that will display each nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, in comparison to their commitments and targets.

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Facebook Climate Science Center

Facebook first launched its climate change science center in September last year, in order to help connect users with more accurate climate information. The data powering the updates included in the Center is sourced directly from leading information providers in the space, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN Environment Program and more

The additional target tracking data for each nation will provide an extra level of accountability, which could increase the pressure on each region to meet their commitments through broader coverage and awareness of their progress.

Facebook’s also expanding its informational labels on posts about climate change, which direct users to the Climate Science Center to find out more information on related issues and updates.

Facebook climate misinformation labels

Facebook’s also taking more action to combat climate misinformation during the COP26 climate summit specifically:

Ahead of COP26, we’ve activated a feature we use during critical public events to utilize keyword detection so related content is easier for fact-checkers to find — because speed is especially important during such events. This feature is available to fact-checkers for content in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian, German, French and Dutch.

I mean, that does beg the question as to why they wouldn’t use this process all the time, but the assumption is that this is a more labor-intensive approach, which is only feasible in short bursts.

By combating such claims as they ramp up (Facebook also notes that climate misinformation ‘spikes periodically when the conversation about climate change is elevated’), that should help to lessen the impact of such, and negate some of the network effects of Facebook’s scale, in regards to amplification.

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Finally, Facebook also says that it’s working to improve its own internal operations and processes in line with emissions targets.

Starting last year, we achieved net zero emissions for our global operations, and we’re supported by 100% renewable energy. To achieve this we’ve reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 94% since 2017. We invest enough in wind and solar energy to cover all our operations. And for the remaining emissions, we support projects that remove emissions from the atmosphere.”

The next step for its operations will be to partner with suppliers who are also aiming for net zero, which will offset its business impacts entirely once fully in effect.

Facebook’s record on this front is spotty, not because of its own initiatives or endeavor, as such, but because of the way that controversial content can be amplified by the News Feed algorithm, which, inadvertently, provides an incentive for users to share more left-of-center, controversial, and anti-mainstream viewpoints, in order to get attention, and spark engagement in the app.

Which is a big problem with Facebook’s systems, and one that Facebook itself has repeatedly pointed to, albeit indirectly. Part of the reason this type of content sees increased attention on the platform is not because of Facebook itself, but is actually due to human nature, and people being able to share and engage with topics that resonate with them. Facebook says that this is a people problem, not a Facebook one.

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As Facebook’s Nick Clegg recently explained in regards to a similar topic, in broader political division:

The increase in political polarization in the US pre-dates social media by several decades. If it were true that Facebook is the chief cause of polarization, we would expect to see it going up wherever Facebook is popular. It isn’t. In fact, polarization has gone down in a number of countries with high social media use at the same time that it has risen in the US.

So it’s not Facebook that’s the issue, as per the evidence Clegg cites, but the fact that people now have more ways to discuss and engage with such can play a part in making it seem like Facebook is playing a bigger part.  

But that lets Facebook off the hook a bit. A key problem is the incentive that Facebook has built-in, in terms of Likes and comments, and the dopamine rush that people get from such. That gives people a reason to share more controversial content, because that sparks more notifications, and boosts their presence – so there is, inherently, a process on Facebook that drives this type of behavior, whether Facebook itself wants to acknowledge such or not.

Which is why it’s important that Facebook does take action – but the real question is, how effective will, or even can such countermeasures be, especially at Facebook’s scale?

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