Facebook scrutiny
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What's inside the Facebook Papers

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Good morning! This Monday, more damaging reports about Facebook come out, Amazon underpaid some workers, and Adobe employees who aren't vaccinated may face severe consequences.

The Facebook Papers land

A bad-news avalanche fell on Facebook Friday night and continued through the weekend and into Monday morning. News outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC and CNN published a series of stories documenting Facebook's role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and showing just how efficiently conspiracies related to QAnon and election fraud spread on the platform.

The stories, which some have dubbed the Facebook Papers, were part of a collaboration among newsrooms to sift through the internal reports and documentation amassed by whistleblower Frances Haugen (though one Times story was apparently based on documents it obtained independently). Earlier last week, Facebook attempted to frame the effort as some sort of plot by the media to gang up on the company.

The Facebook Papers stories largely confirm existing narratives: That Facebook doesn't moderate its platform equally around the world, that it prioritizes growth over user safety and that the very structure of the company and platform are part of the overarching problem.

  • One internal report leaked to the newsrooms titled "Carol's Journey to QAnon" told the story of a fake account that Facebook researchers set up, posing as a conservative Christian mom named Carol Smith in North Carolina. Within a week of setting up the account, a Facebook integrity researcher found that Carol's feed was filling up with QAnon content. Facebook didn't ban QAnon accounts until October of the following year.
  • The documents also show that some inside Facebook have come to see the Like and Share buttons as part of the problem, increasing pressure on users and making it too easy to spread problematic content.
  • The documents also show how Facebook sorts the world into "tiers," and decides where to use its moderation resources, along with the ways it works with governments to deal with controversial content on the platform.

Two events are under particular scrutiny: Facebook's response to the 2020 election and its actions leading up to the Jan. 6 riot. A report from November 2020 found that 10% of all U.S. views of political content were posts about election fraud.

  • The internal research also shows how the company's efforts to ban Stop the Steal groups were thwarted by the site's own design. As Stop the Steal groups came down, more popped up in their place due to "super inviters" who were able to quickly rebuild their audiences. According to the Post, 137 users were responsible for inviting more than 500 people each to one such group.
  • Facebook has since made changes to groups, which, among other things, prohibit persistent violators from creating or inviting anyone to join a group. A spokesperson for the company told the Post, "The responsibility for the violence that occurred on January 6 lies with those who attacked our Capitol and those who encouraged them."

Another staggering, if unsurprising, detail nestled in the Post's writeup: On Jan. 6, the Instagram account cited most frequently for inciting violence was @realDonaldTrump. Facebook banned Trump from its platforms a day later, a suspension that will continue until at least 2023.

What impact will this actually have on Facebook? For a company that has only gotten more financially successful the more wounded its reputation has become, all of this might be par for the course. But the onslaught of reports coincides with an already high-stakes week for the company.

  • It's announcing Q3 earnings today, at which point we'll get a look at how Facebook's ad business weathered Apple's new anti-tracking efforts. Snap shared last week how its own ad business has struggled, sending its stock price tumbling.
  • Apple's changes for advertisers have made a bigger impact than expected, Facebook indicated last month. This might not bode well for today's earnings call.
  • Facebook is hosting its Connect conference Thursday, where it's expected to share the latest on its augmented and virtual reality ambitions. It's also apparently going to announce a new name?

That's all in addition to more Haugen testimony today, this time before the U.K. Parliament, and whatever else comes of the Facebook Papers collaboration. It's looking like another rough week in a rough month in a rough year for Facebook.

Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM FACEBOOK

Jack is one of 40,000 people working on safety and security issues at Facebook. Hear more from Jack on why Facebook supports updating regulations on the internet's most pressing challenges, including reforming Section 230 to set clear guidelines for all large tech companies.

Learn more

People are talking

Jack Dorsey says he's worried about rising inflation in the United States:

  • "Hyperinflation is going to change everything. It's happening."

Epic doesn't think Apple deserves a break on its court-ordered injunction, it wrote in a court filing:

  • "History shows … that in the absence of an injunction, Apple will not make any changes."

On Protocol | Fintech: Dami Osunsanya wishes SoftBank eventually won't need its Opportunity Fund for diverse founders:

  • "We would hope, 20 to 30 years from now, you don't need a dedicated pool of capital — that it's all very much embedded."

Intelligence official Michael Orlando says the U.S. needs to remain a powerhouse in sectors like bioscience and semiconductors:

  • "We've got to focus on these industries because we can't afford to lose them."

Coming this week

Tech Talks begins today. The Apple event is dedicated to helping developers, and it'll run through mid-December.

YouTube, TikTok and Snap execs will testify before Congress tomorrow. The Senate Commerce Committee plans to ask them about kids' safety on their platforms.

Adobe MAX starts tomorrow. The conference includes sessions on everything from AR to social media, and lots of producers and actors are scheduled to speak.

Facebook Connect takes place Thursday. The event is all about the future of AR and VR, and Mark Zuckerberg will be delivering the keynote.

In other news

PayPal said it's not interested in Pinterest. After a few days of rumors — and investor reactions that liked the deal for Pinterest but not for PayPal — the company said Sunday night that it's not pursuing a deal right now.

Get vaccinated or get out, Adobe told its employees. The company said if workers don't get the COVID-19 vaccine by early December, they'll be placed on unpaid leave.

Tesla pulled its latest Full Self Driving beta. Elon Musk said the company was "seeing some issues" with the latest build, and was rolling back to the previous one (which is 10.2, in case you need to check this morning).

On Protocol | Policy: An antitrust suit against Google just got more interesting. New information from a suit by several states revealed how much publishers pay for online ad exchanges, details about kids' privacy, codenames and more.

Amazon underpaid many of its employees on leave, according to The New York Times. It's all wrapped into a big HR issue within the company, causing some workers' doctor's notes to get lost in Amazon software, among other things.

Theranos trial testimony shifted gear last week. Earlier, prosecutors argued that the startup had operational issues, but now they're homing in on claims that Theranos intentionally led investors and patients astray.

Sono Motors wants to go public. The EV company had looked into a public listing back in March, and at the time expected to be valued at $1 billion. It finally filed for a U.S. IPO on Friday.

Chinese EV maker Xpeng says it designed a flying car and hopes to get it in the sky by 2024. It would be able to drive on roads and, usefully, would also come with parachutes. But by now, we all know how these flying car plans tend to go.

Basking in glory

Everyone loves a little appreciation. If that weren't true, Microsoft wouldn't have rolled out a whole Praise app for co-workers to pat each other on the back. But the company is rolling out an addition to the app next month that may not work out the way it intended.

Microsoft is introducing an update to Teams next month that will allow users to see all of the praise they received over the past six months. If you're having a bad day it might be nice to walk down memory lane — just don't hold it against anyone who failed to congratulate you.

A MESSAGE FROM FACEBOOK

Jack is one of 40,000 people working on safety and security issues at Facebook. Hear more from Jack on why Facebook supports updating regulations on the internet's most pressing challenges, including reforming Section 230 to set clear guidelines for all large tech companies.

Learn more

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