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How to fix Facebook

Facebook crack

Good morning! This Tuesday, how to build a better Facebook, Magic Leap raises another $500 million, and "bro culture" is causing a ton of headaches for Blue Origin.

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The Big Story

Got those algorithm blues

Frances Haugen's testimony has some people daring to dream again that Facebook can be stopped from spreading disinformation, division and abuse. Haugen used the company's own internal research to boost the longtime criticism that algorithms on Facebook and Instagram prioritize shocking and extreme content. The reason is that it allows Facebook (and other social media services like YouTube and TikTok) to hold user attention — and monetize it.

Haugen suggested a few solutions, but the main one was simply going back to the olden days of Facebook: reverse-chronological feeds that show users whatever popped up most recently in their networks.

  • There's an intuitive appeal to this: If Facebook's curation is the problem, making it a little worse at showing false or hurtful things could maybe solve a lot of issues without actually getting rid of Facebook.
  • It also doesn't rely on a divided Congress to find consensus, so chronological feeds could theoretically happen right now, and they're basically how social media started.

But reverse-chronology isn't a silver bullet. Problems that Haugen's testimony zeroed in on — like misinformation or the kinds of content that threatens the mental health of some young Instagram users — wouldn't necessarily go away.

  • Falsehoods about vaccines and elections can be found in the latest posts by groups people belong to and recommended accounts they follow, as well as from their friends and relatives.
  • Teens could still see plenty of bullying or influencer accounts that make them feel bad by comparison, even without algorithms pushing that content to the top.
  • If you want to try a boring feed, you can turn on a reverse-chronological ordering for Twitter, which defaults to an algorithmic-based feed. Recency is, after all, the principle that structures users' lists on the service anyway.
  • But there's a reason it's not industry-standard even with Haugen's suggested spam controls: Imagine brands and misinfo purveyors posting even more often to get to the top of your feed.

A better solution might be transparency into how certain kinds of content performs on Facebook, which Haugen herself touted as an idea and is one in which researchers and lawmakers appear increasingly interested.

  • The company is relatively good at telling us about takedowns and bots, and of course we can see for ourselves how many reactions, shares and comments a particular piece of content gets.
  • But we don't necessarily know what kinds of misinformation persuades instead of just prompts outrage, what leads users to extreme groups, which scuzzy accounts amplify most problematic content or even very much about how far most content reaches.

The hope is to get a better sense of where to focus enforcement (which Haugen and researchers contend is sorely lacking) and if any other interventions might help.

  • But researchers and the platform still debate what kinds of transparency we need, who enforces it, who sees the information and how all of it might affect privacy.
  • Meanwhile, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, has also confirmed that the company will put in place optional controls for parents, try to "nudge" teens away from harmful content they keep returning to, and prompt young users to take breaks.

Legal or regulatory changes might also be an option. Haugen talked about a digital agency and modifying the law so platforms like Facebook have more legal responsibility for content that they boost algorithmically, both of which she supports, and breakup of the company, which she opposes.

  • Make no mistake: The effects of such changes would go far beyond Facebook, but that's also the point. Engagement-based content decisions play a role in extreme, false and violent content on YouTube, TikTok and, sadly, sometimes even TV news.
  • Not every outlet has the same problems with QAnon, election denial, vaccine misinformation, pro-anorexia content, calls to violence and so on — but the same incentives drive it across our information space.

The debate over feeds reminds us that, at the end of the day, we as humans seem to be drawn to this stuff. And that's one problem no one really has a solution to.

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

Protocol Event

The inside view with Bill McDermott

ServiceNow is quickly becoming one of enterprise technology's most well-known names. The company started by focusing on helping the IT department manage its workload, but is quickly expanding to other verticals and, on the way, becoming a deeper rival to other software giants like Salesforce.

Protocol's Joe Williams will talk to CEO Bill McDermott to learn what's ahead for the company and how it plans to hit $15 billion in annual revenue today at 10 a.m. PT.

A MESSAGE FROM TRELLO

In today's world, hybrid organizations face more challenges than ever. For companies to stay competitive, leaders need to proactively spot gaps, identify opportunities, and streamline work. Uncover how Trello Enterprise can help teams break down those department silos and share key information for more collaborative work.

Learn more

People Are Talking

JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon still has reservations about bitcoin, but said he won't tell his customers what to do:

  • "I personally think that bitcoin is worthless … I don't think you should smoke cigarettes, either."

Instacart's Fidji Simo thinks online grocery shopping will only get bigger in the coming years:

  • "Before the pandemic, many people weren't even aware that a service like ours existed. And that has been changed forever."

The Theranos testimony isn't particularly exciting, said Anne Kopf-Sill, a retired biotech exec who's been attending:

  • "A lot of it is very technically detailed and diagnostically detailed … I cannot imagine the jury is getting very much out of this."

On Protocol | Workplace: People are using Discord for work, but tech professor Aleshia Hayes said it's unclear if that's a good thing for anyone:

  • "The fact that my professional life has leaked into my Discord has made me less likely to engage with Discord."

Making Moves

Xiaohongshu is considering a Hong Kong IPO. The ecommerce startup, also know as Little Red Book, had paused its U.S. listing.

Pali Bhat is Reddit's first chief product officer. He's the former VP of product and design at Google Cloud.

Riyaz Faizullabhoy and Nassim Eddequiouaq joined a16z Crypto as CTO and CISO, respectively. The duo worked together on the Novi wallet at Facebook.

Peter Norvig is joining the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI as a distinguished education fellow. He's worked on AI efforts at Google and NASA Ames.

Shaunt Voskanian joined Figma as chief revenue officer. He last served as the SVP of global sales at Datadog.

In Other News

  • Amazon is leaving remote work plans up to teams. The company previously expected corporate employees to head to the office three days per week, but each team's directors will now make the call.
  • Netflix suspended three employees for trying to attend a leadership meeting, including software engineer Terra Field, a trans woman who took to Twitter to criticize a new Dave Chappelle comedy special. Netflix said her suspension is unrelated to the tweets.
  • Facebook is separating Instagram and Facebook accounts. The company has long combined the two for advertising purposes, but — ahead of "evolving advertising, privacy and regulatory environments" — is now keeping them apart unless users explicitly link them.
  • On Protocol: HTC is about to launch a new VR headset. It's also working on its own metaverse, as it tries to take on Oculus. And speaking of new headsets: Magic Leap raised another $500 million and has more hardware coming soon.
  • Blue Origin's "bro culture" is causing problems, sources told The Washington Post. Current and former employees said issues in the workplace have caused low morale and high turnover.
  • On Protocol | China: China is planning to regulate livestreams like it regulates TV. It's part of an effort to bring content of all kinds in like with the Chinese Communist Party ideology, no matter where people watch it.
  • You can now "soft block" on Twitter. The feature lets users remove a follower without actually blocking them.
  • On Protocol | Workplace: Sorry, but holiday parties will be mostly virtual this year. Again. Some companies are thinking of holding some sort of outdoor gathering, while others are sticking with online gift swaps and happy hours.
  • Facebook is putting all of its audio tools in one place. The company is rolling out an audio hub where users can find podcasts, live audio rooms and short-form audio.

One More Thing

Meet José Valim

Some software developers want other people to love the field just like they do. Count José Valim among them: He created the programming language Elixir, works at a company that helps people use that language and has written technical books about it.

Valim currently works as the chief adoption officer at Dashbit, which helps other companies apply the programming language he wrote. He was actually unsure if the language was going to take off at first, and said it took a while before people put their trust in it. Now, he's all about sharing tips and making the programming world a little less intimidating for others.

A MESSAGE FROM TRELLO

Powering a productive team means using a powerful tool. Meet Trello Enterprise: the tool designed to help your team move work forward. Trello Enterprise makes it easy to collaborate with teammates, organize tasks, and understand what's due now (and what's up next). It's more than work. It's a way of working together.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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