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An unfiltered look at Facebook

An unfiltered look at Facebook

Good morning! This Monday, what we learned from an unreleased Facebook report, a judge ruled against Prop. 22, and Google Health is no more.

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The Big Story

Facebook's popularity contest

Facebook wants to be more open. Or so said Mark Zuckerberg in 2020: "My goal for this next decade isn't to be liked," he said on an earnings call, "but to be understood." But it turns out the truth isn't always pretty.

Facebook has been studying its most popular content, and released its first "Widely Viewed Content Report" last week. But The New York Times reported it was actually the second such report in existence; Facebook made one for Q1 of 2021, too, but at the last minute decided not to release it.

  • Why? Because, among other things, the most popular URL on Facebook for the first three months of 2021 was an incorrect and badly framed news story about a doctor who died after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. That story showed up in nearly 54 million people's News Feeds, and was shared by anti-vax groups and others.
  • Facebook ultimately published the Q1 report after the Times story came out.

The reality is Facebook isn't the stakes-free playground it likes to claim to be. Part of Facebook's stance in recent months has been that while there's some news and other Serious Matters on the platform, by and large it's a way for people to send dumb memes to their friends.

  • While that's at least somewhat true — prompts like "Does sugar go in spaghetti?" and animal memes do fill Facebook's most-popular charts — the unreleased report is much heavier on news sources and COVID-related stories than the one Facebook put out of its own volition.
  • In the Q1 report, The Washington Post, ABC News, CNN and NBC News are all in Facebook's top 10 list of domains. By Q2, they'd been replaced by TikTok, Spotify, Amazon and playeralumniresources.com, the Green Bay Packer-affiliated meme page. (Gotta love the internet.)

There's a big lesson here in how the rankings changed. When the first report came together, "We ended up holding it because there were key fixes to the system we wanted to make," Facebook's Andy Stone said. "We're guilty of cleaning up our house a bit before we invited company."

  • What those fixes were is not clear, but the outcome sure is: Facebook took some of the news out of News Feed, and replaced it with silly videos and sick beats.
  • It's a useful reminder that for all its talk of Facebook being a public square and a reflection of humanity, the company has a set of tools that it can deploy to more or less fundamentally change the nature of the platform from one quarter to the next.

Facebook is a hard company to understand. With 2 billion people on the platform, even a "most popular" list is but a tiny sliver of the actual activity in the Big Blue app, and Facebook's data only covers how many times a post was viewed in a News Feed.

  • How many times it was clicked on, liked, shared, reported? All good info to have, all still mysterious. It's not clear how we should understand "what happens on Facebook," or if that's even a useful goal.

Even Facebook may not understand Facebook, if it's promising more openness only to panic when it sees what's really in the mirror. It's like Mike Caulfield, a professor at Washington State University Vancouver, tweeted on Sunday: "If Facebook was legitimately surprised at what was popular on their platform that's not reassuring, that's absolutely terrifying."

— David Pierce (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM TRELLO

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. Just as with building a healthier lifestyle, enacting measures of support on the day-to-day level is where lasting change is made.

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People Are Talking

Digital currency could be in the U.S. central bank's future, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan thinks:

  • "I would imagine in the years ahead — it's something the Fed is actively working on now — and I can see reasons why that will eventually get developed; China is already doing their own experiment with it."

Factory equipment manufacturers are cashing in on the electric vehicle boom, said John Kacsur, vice president of the automotive and tire unit for Rockwell Automation:

  • "This industry is the Wild, Wild West right now."

Dan Schulman said his mission to reinvent PayPal started in part thanks to Apple:

  • "I think a lot of people thought that PayPal had seen its best days. The day I arrived was the day Apple Pay was announced — that was my 'welcome to Silicon Valley' gift. We had to redefine ourselves."

Creator Joshbigosh said OnlyFans' eventual ban on sexually explicit material leaves him and others in the dark:

  • "We as content creators risk losing everything. I'm in the process of buying a home right now, am I going to lose everything I just worked so hard for?"

Making Moves

GMIS International is happening this week. The event brings together a bunch of leaders in government IT in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

AWS canceled its in-person re:Inforce conference, set to start tomorrow in Houston, but it'll run a livestream featuring keynote speakers and leadership sessions.

The Oculus Quest 2 is back on sale starting tomorrow. All of the new headsets will come with a silicone cover after some initial customers complained of skin irritation.

President Biden will hold a cybersecurity meeting on Wednesday. It will involve his national security team and business execs.

In Other News

  • Prop. 22 is unconstitutional, a California judge ruled, arguing that the measure limits the ability of future legislatures to "define app-based drivers as workers subject to workers' compensation law," among other things.
  • Two young men can proceed with a lawsuit against Twitter that alleges the company didn't act fast enough to remove explicit videos of the two when they were underage. That ruling wouldn't be possible without FOSTA, a rule carved out of Section 230.
  • The T-Mobile data breach affected 5 million more people than initially reported. That brings up the total number of affected past and prospective customers to more than 53 million, some of whom have already sued the company for damages.
  • Google Health is reportedly breaking up. As the unit's head, David Feinberg, leaves to work for Cerner, the company is dispersing its projects and teams across different departments, according to Business Insider.
  • There's an app that's helping Afghan civilians know what's going on. It's called Ehtesab, and it uses crowdsourced reports to understand what's happening in the country — whether it be a power outage or a bombing — and pushes out relevant information via notifications.

One More Thing

Where are you working?

Work from home doesn't necessarily mean you're working from your home; maybe you're hooked up to a hotspot at a park, or maybe you're at a Starbucks by your house. At the end of the week, you'll be able to more easily let your co-workers know wherever that might be.

Google Calendar is letting users share their location with those already looped in on their calendar. The tool could be a good way for your colleagues to know whether you're in a good place to touch base. But if you don't want people to know where you are, you can always keep it disabled.

A MESSAGE FROM TRELLO

"Well, that meeting could have been an email." A recent joint study from Harvard Business School and New York University found that the average number of meetings increased 12.9% during the pandemic. Meetings are the first and fastest way for your company to free up valuable team time.

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