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Politics

Facebook to Congress: We’re (still) trying to eliminate gun sales

Facebook responds to questions from 13 senators prompted by a Protocol investigation. But key questions remain unanswered.

Facebook to Congress: We’re (still) trying to eliminate gun sales

Facebook told a group of U.S. senators that its years-long battle to eliminate peer-to-peer gun sales across its platforms "is not done" and that it will "continue to strengthen" enforcement. The 13 lawmakers had publicly sent the questions to Facebook following a Protocol investigation in February, which found that private groups on the website remain a popular place to buy and sell firearms despite Facebook's 2016 ban on gun sales.

Facebook's response, however, leaves many key questions unanswered, including how many gun groups it has removed from the site for violating its policies and how it expects users to report suspected gun sales in closed groups. In the letter, signed by VP of public policy Kevin Martin, Facebook said it did not track how many private groups are suspended for violating its firearms policy, which prohibits the sale or transfer of guns, gun parts, ammunition and 3D-printing files for firearms.


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Martin said Faceook had "policies in place to protect against repeat offenders and recidivist behavior," but he did not provide details. "While we cannot provide specific details lest bad actors use the information to game the system," he wrote, "Facebook would not allow group administrators to set up a new group similar to a previously removed group."

The back and forth between Facebook and Congress represents the latest in a line of content moderation challenges for the company, underscoring how difficult it is to maintain user privacy and engagement while also banning certain behavior.

It's unclear whether members of Congress will seek further answers from Facebook on how it is working to eliminate gun sales, which have persisted despite numerous attempts to prevent users from using the website to arrange private, unregulated transactions. When Facebook announced its ban on gun sales in January 2016, it effectively took a political stand against the so-called "gun show loophole" that Congress could close by enacting universal background checks.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who along with Sen. Ed Markey led the latest letter from concerned senators, voiced his displeasure with Facebook's response. "Facebook's non-answer answer is disappointing, but not surprising. I really hope Facebook can do a better job for the sake of the American people, and use their power to keep users safe, connected and well-informed. That's what we need and deserve, especially in challenging times like the ones we're living with the coronavirus pandemic," Menendez told Protocol.

Protocol sent more than a dozen detailed questions to Facebook seeking to clarify the company's responses. A Facebook spokesperson declined to address any of the questions, saying, "We have no additional comment beyond what is in the letter."

Facebook's approach is similar to how the company has handled inquiries from congresspeople in the past. The latest letter bears striking resemblance to one Facebook sent Sen. Markey in 2016 following criticism in the press over the company's ability to enforce its ban on gun sales. Since then, Facebook has tweaked its AI-based algorithm to automatically detect suspected gun-sale posts numerous times, in part to better detect thinly veiled coded language that's become popular among users.

Common examples include uploading a photo of a gun with the words "Not for sale/Not for trade, just want to discuss" or "PM me to discuss." The approach is meant to shift the conversation to private messaging where, as Protocol demonstrated, users are often eager to discuss terms of a sale or trade.


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In its letter to Sen. Menendez, Facebook addressed changes in its algorithm generally, saying that its "proactive AI technology is able to detect content that includes images of firearms and signals that indicate an intent to sell (including posting contact information such as phone numbers and usernames for other social media accounts and price information)."

As Facebook continues to try to enforce its ban, at least one group has been removed in recent weeks for violating it. The Virginia Gun Enthusiasts group, which Protocol highlighted as an example of how easily users are able to continue to skirt Facebook's ban, has been shut down. Users who try and access the page instead get a blank screen.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the group was removed for violating its policies.

Protocol | Workplace

Silicon Valley has a new recruitment strategy: The four-day workweek

Everything you need to know about how tech companies are beta testing the 32-hour week.

Since the onset of COVID-19, more companies have begun to explore shortened workweeks.

Photo: Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

At software company Wildbit, most employees are logged off on Fridays. That's not going to change anytime soon.

To Natalie Nagele, the company's co-founder and CEO, a full five days of work doesn't necessarily mean the company will get more stuff done. She pointed to computer science professor Cal Newport's book, "Deep Work," which explains how a person's ability to complete meaningful work cuts off after just about four hours. That book, Nagele told Protocol, inspired the company to move to a four-day workweek back in 2017.

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Sarah Roach

Sarah Roach is a reporter and producer at Protocol (@sarahroach_) where she contributes to Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. She is a recent graduate of George Washington University, where she studied journalism and mass communication and criminal justice. She previously worked for two years as editor in chief of her school's independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet.

When the COVID-19 crisis crippled societies last year, the collective worldwide race for a cure among medical researchers put a spotlight on the immense power of big data analysis and how sharing among disparate agencies can save lives.

The critical need to exchange information among hundreds of international agencies or departments can be tough to pull off, especially if it's medical, financial or cybersecurity information that is highly protected by regulatory guardrails.

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James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Power

The game industry comes back down to Earth after its pandemic boom

Game company earnings reports this week show a decline from last year's big profits.

The game industry is slowing down as it struggles to maintain last year's record growth.

Photo: Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The video game industry is finally slowing down. After a year of unprecedented and explosive growth due to the COVID-19 pandemic, big game publishers and hardware makers are starting to see profits dip from their 2020 highs and other signs of a return to normalcy.

This week alone, Sony and Nintendo both posted substantial drops in profit compared to this time a year ago, with Sony's operating income down more than 40% and Nintendo's down 17%. Grand Theft Auto maker Take-Two Interactive saw a dip in revenue and said its forecast for the rest of the fiscal year would not match last year's growth, while EA posted a revenue bump but an operating income decline of more than 43% compared to this time a year ago. Ubisoft, which reported earnings last month, saw its sales and bookings this past quarter drop by 14% and 21%, respectively, when compared to a year ago.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Allocations wants to make it easier to invest in startups as a group

Now valued at $100 million, it's emerging from stealth to challenge Carta and Assure in the SPV market.

Kingsley Advani, CEO of Allocations, wants to make it easier to form SPVs.

Photo: Allocations

Software is eating the world, including the venture industry. Carta and Assure have made it easier than ever for people to band together on deals. AngelList's venture arm debuted new ways to create rolling funds. But the latest startup to challenge the incumbents in the space is Allocations, a Miami-based startup that's making it easy to create and close special purpose vehicles, or SPVs, in hours.

"If you look at Pinduoduo and group shopping, SPVs are group investing," said Kingsley Advani, Allocations' founder and CEO. Instead of one investor having to cough up millions, multiple people can write smaller checks in an SPV and invest as a cohort. It's a trend that's taken off in 2021 as investors compete to get into hot startups.

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Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

Protocol | Fintech

How BankProv switched from community banking to crypto banking

BankProv is almost 200 years old, but it's competing with new banking startups by going after the newest area of finance — crypto.

BankProv's main office in Amesbury, Massachusetts hearkens back to its past. But the bank is looking to the future.

Photo: Google Street View

When BankProv was started, horse and buggy was state of the art for moving money. Now it's looking to use bitcoin and ether.

The bank was founded in 1828 as the Provident Bank — a name it kept until last July — and now wants to be a key provider for crypto companies that need banking services.

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Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at tgeron@protocol.com or tgeron@protonmail.com.

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