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Did Facebook’s election labels work?

Did Facebook’s election labels work?

Good morning! This Thursday, Facebook's election labels might've boosted engagement, Shopify has no choice but to be a bank, Trump's blog shut down, Coinbase has a new competitor and AMC is giving free popcorn to shareholders.

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The Big Story

Did Facebook's election labels backfire?

Before suspending him from the platform indefinitely, Facebook all but plastered former President Donald Trump's posts with hundreds of labels that contained accurate information about the election in a bid to counter the prolific misinformation he was spreading on the platform.

One question we've been asking since that time: Did those labels work? The left-leaning group Media Matters crunched some numbers in a new report, and its findings aren't looking good for Facebook.

Posts Facebook labeled received 2.6 times more interactions than Trump's other posts, according to the report. Media Matters analyzed interactions on all of Trump's posts between Jan. 1, 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021.

  • All in, Facebook labeled "at least 506 Trump posts" during that time, the report says. Those posts received an average of about 407,000 interactions per post. Trump's unlabeled posts only got about 152,000 interactions on average.
  • Most popular of all? Trump's labeled posts that mentioned "stop the steal," which received a whopping 640,000 interactions each on average.

So, does that mean Facebook's election labels backfired and actually drove more people toward misinformation? Not exactly. Media Matters argues that the labels "actually amplified Trump's misinformation," but attributing causation here feels like a bit of a stretch.

  • Trump's labeled posts about the election results were also some of his most incendiary, and incendiary posts naturally drive more engagement on all social media platforms. Which is, you know, a problem for Facebook, independent of its labels, but I digress.
  • What does seem clear from this data is that the labels didn't tamp down on the spread of election misinformation on Facebook as much as some would have hoped.

But limiting the spread of misinformation wasn't the point, according to Facebook. "We developed informational labels ahead of last year's election to help people get reliable sources about the election process," Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told Protocol in a statement. "We feel confident those labels helped more people get dependable information and context about the 2020 election."

  • This seems to align with what Facebook was saying to its own staff last year, when BuzzFeed News obtained internal stats that suggested that labels only decreased shares by about 8%.
  • At the time, a Facebook data scientist wrote on a company discussion board that the labels were there simply "to provide factual information in context to the post."

Tech companies toyed with all different kinds of approaches to slowing down misinformation during the election.

  • Twitter covered some tweets entirely with warning labels or disabled sharing on them.
  • Twitter also required people to quote tweet, rather than retweet, in an attempt to "encourage thoughtful amplification," but reversed course in December after finding that Twitter users weren't being so thoughtful after all. Nearly half of the resulting quote tweets included just one word.

But when Facebook wants to stop a certain post — or a post from a certain person or page — from spreading, the truth is that it knows how to do that. In 2018, for example, the company tweaked its algorithm to highlight trustworthy news in the News Feed, but briefly ended up defining news as "politics, crime or tragedy," according to Wired. Facebook traffic to pretty much all other news tanked as a result.

  • In February, Facebook announced it was going to reduce the appearance of all political content from certain users' News Feeds as part of a test in Brazil, Indonesia and Canada.
  • And just last week, I wrote about how Facebook was going to limit the reach of posts from users who repeatedly spread misinformation.

If Facebook executives had wanted to stop Trump's posts from spreading, they could have stopped Trump's posts from spreading. Instead, they slapped information labels on his most inflammatory statements in hopes that it would be enough, until it wasn't. Then, they shut down his account entirely.

The question now is not whether the labels limited the posts' spread, but instead whether they actually swayed anyone who saw them and are an effective way to correct the record. That's a question for social science researchers. As it so happens, a team of outside academics has been studying Facebook's impact on the election since last year and is due to report on its findings this summer. Here's hoping we get some answers to that question then.

— Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)


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People Are Talking

Nvidia's Jensen Huang said he's still confident the Arm acquisition will eventually be approved:

  • "I expect this one to take 18 months so that's later this year, early next year. I am confident about the transaction. Our companies are complementary so we'll bring, by nature, innovations that come as a result of companies that come together and offer complimentary things."

On Protocol | Fintech: Shopify doesn't really want to be a bank, Kaz Nejatian said, but it found that too many merchants couldn't get help otherwise:

  • "We think the banking system is inherently unfair to small merchants, and especially unfair to small merchants who don't come from prestigious schools in big cities. The banking system probably works fine if your name is Mike. But it does not work fine if your name is Muhammad."

On Protocol | Policy: Rep. Zoe Lofgren introduced the EAGLE Act to allow more green cards to go to workers from India and elsewhere:

  • "Countries with relatively small populations are allocated the same number of visas as a relatively large-population country. The result? A person from a large-population country with extraordinary qualifications who could contribute greatly to our economy and create jobs waits behind a person with lesser qualifications from a smaller country. It makes no sense."

Making Moves

Alex Russell is leaving Google. He was one of Google's most staunch believers in the open web, and as for his next step, he said only that he's heading out on a long road trip.

Enjoy hired two new C-suite execs: Tiffany Meriweather as Enjoy's new chief legal officer, and Ettienne Brandt as chief commercial officer.

Jackson Williams is the new creator partnerships lead at Stir. He joins from Instagram.

Sean Mills is leaving Snap in September. Vanessa Guthrie will be the company's new head of original content.

Apple is bleeding car talent. It has lost "multiple top managers" on the self-driving car team, Bloomberg reported, including Dave Scott and Jaime Waydo. Still, the team is hundreds strong, and Doug Field remains in charge.

Prosus bought Stack Overflow for $1.8 billion. (Prosus also happens to be the largest shareholder in Tencent.)

Symphony bought FireEye for $1.2 billion, and Mandiant Solutions will now be its own company separate from FireEye.

In other news

  • Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce and Netflix are teaming up to fight climate change. They're part of the new Business Alliance to Scale Climate Solutions, a group that hopes to work together to help everyone meet their climate goals in the coming decades.
  • Facebook announced a bunch of new developer features. It's pushing even harder on business messaging in Messenger and WhatsApp, and continues to try to convince developers to get in on the ground floor of AR. It's also building an API just for researchers.
  • Ring is changing the way it works with police. Law enforcement will now have to publicly request data in the Neighbors app, in a feed all users can see, rather than working with users individually.
  • Apple is returning everyone to the office in September.Its hybrid plan includes working at the office Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, while Wednesdays and Fridays can be remote.
  • Call your money manager: Silicon Valley's richest are already working on ways to get around President Biden's new tax plan, and Recode reported that think it'll affect millionaires more than billionaires.
  • AMC is offering free popcorn to shareholders. It's part of a new Investor Connect program that seems designed to get all those Robinhood users to actually, you know, go to a movie. It's certainly one way to capitalize on meme-stock status!
  • Steve Wozniak lost a Section 230 case against Google, which he filed over YouTube videos that used his face to scam people out of their crypto. But a judge ruled YouTube isn't responsible.
  • From the Desk of Donald J. Trump has shut down. In true blogger form, Trump's page launched with great momentum and then kind of flagged over time. But there's apparently still more Trump Social coming soon.
  • REvil was behind the JBS ransomware attack, the FBI found. The same group has reportedly been behind attacks on Apple, Travelex and others.
  • Dropbox has a new big shareholder. Elliott Management told the company it's now Dropbox's second-largest shareholder (after Drew Houston), and it has a long history of actively trying to change the companies it holds.
  • On Protocol: Valorant might be the next big mobile game. Riot announced it's bringing the tactical shooter to smartphones — potentially before doing so on consoles — which is a good sign of where the money is in gaming right now.

One more thing

Pay your ERG leads

LinkedIn is going to start paying the leaders of its employee resource groups, Chief People Officer Teuila Hanson said, because it's work and should be compensated. "Historically," she told Axios, "these employees take on leadership roles and the associated work in addition to their day jobs, putting in extra time, energy, and insight. And despite the tremendous value, visibility and impact to the organization, this work is rarely rewarded financially."

This is both extremely logical — the people who run these internal groups do an enormous amount of work, and are increasingly valuable to companies trying to build a more diverse and equitable workplace — and a growing trend. Justworks's Michael Baptiste explained his company's thinking to us last year, and Twitter and others are following suit. These groups are important, they do hard work, and the industry is smart to recognize that.


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Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Facebook would limit the reach of user posts that repeatedly spread information. We meant misinformation. This story was updated on June 3, 2021.

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