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How war shaped Meta

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Good morning! How Facebook is responding to Russia’s war shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s been years in the making. I'm Issie Lapowsky, and I can't stop watching the new “West Side Story” on Disney+. It is incredible.

Lessons of war

History won’t look kindly at the way Facebook fumbled the genocide in Myanmar. The platform’s failure to control anti-Rohingya propaganda at the outset is by now well-recorded, including in a 60-page report and a $150 billion lawsuit.

By Facebook’s own admission, in late 2017 as violence spiked, the company’s AI systems missed more than 80% of the hate speech it eventually removed. Facebook at that time also had no formal human rights policy, no rules around misinformation that can lead to violence and almost no staff who spoke the local language. The company had also never banned government officials from the platform before.

Within a few years, all that changed. The situation in Myanmar and the widespread attention to Facebook’s role in it shook the company from its complacency, helping prompt Facebook to hire more Burmese speakers, craft new policies and, for the first time in its history, ban a slew of high-ranking government officials from the platform.

Why bring that up now? Not because I want to pat Facebook on the back, but because looking at what Facebook has learned from Myanmar and other conflicts around the world can tell us a lot about how it’s responding to Russia’s war in Ukraine right now.

  • “Meta and the other platforms are in a vastly better and more prepared position than they were a few years ago,” said Emerson Brooking, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
  • It’s why, the moment the invasion began in earnest, Meta could flip a switch and turn on protections for users in Ukraine. It had already used that feature in more than a dozen places, including Afghanistan.
  • And it’s why the company started cracking down on Russian state media in the region within days (although, as I’ve argued, that was years later than it should have).
  • “Whilst this does feel in many ways somewhat atypical just because of the enormity of the global response, which is quite unusual, I think many of our reflexes are ones that we have largely developed before,” Meta’s president of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, recently told Protocol.

Meta hasn’t just honed these reflexes in war zones. It’s learned from global elections in the U.S. and elsewhere.

  • Facebook created its first election war room before the 2018 U.S. midterms, in what some worried was just a PR stunt to appease critics post-2016.
  • But the war room concept — now known as the Special Operations Center — created at least some sort of structure that the company can lean on in times of crisis.
  • These centers are staffed around the clock, with employees working in shifts and briefing the next shift when its members come online. “It helps facilitate fast communication,” said Katie Harbath, Facebook’s former public policy director who helped set up the 2018 war room.

Facebook, of course, has not perfected any of this. Whistleblower Sophie Zhang has spoken extensively about how Meta has continually overlooked dangers in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East while tending to trouble at home and in Europe. And nothing could prepare Meta for the lengths Russia has gone to, which include threatening to categorize the company itself as an extremist organization. But Meta has now demonstrated in Russia and Ukraine that it has the tools to act fast and forcefully when it wants to. The question now is: Where else in the world should it use them?

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the most significant geopolitical event since at least the fall of the Soviet Union.
  • But it’s hardly the only place where Meta has a responsibility to keep users safe in the face of widespread violence.
  • How far should the company go to achieve those ends?

Meta is almost certainly going to face pressure to apply these standards far and wide. But as Facebook’s former head of Counterterrorism, Brian Fishman, recently told me, the world should be wary of asking it to do so. “What I worry about is companies being concerned about setting a precedent that they will then be asked to use all the time,” Fishman said. “What we need them to be able to do is set a bar that's really high, and all of us outside understand that that bar is really high.”

— Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)

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People are talking

IDEO partner Bryan Walker said we’ve barely figured out remote collaboration:

  • “Most of what we’re doing is trying to replicate how we used to collaborate and work in person, now in a new channel, rather than designing the experience based on the affordances of this channel.”

Meta's metaverse isn't the future, said former Nintendo of America COO Reggie Fils-Aimé:

  • "Facebook itself is not an innovative company. They have either acquired interesting things like Oculus and Instagram, or they've been a fast follower of people's ideas."

Whatever happens to Meta, Palmer Luckey thinks it might be his doing:

  • "When we were acquired, people told me Oculus would be taken over and turned into Facebook. I think it's been the other way around: Facebook got taken over by Oculus, and it turned into Oculus."

Coming up

SXSW kicked off on Friday and will run through March 20. Protocol's Fintech and Climate teams are on the ground there.

An EU committee is voting on crypto regulations today. The new framework would require crypto issued or traded in the EU to meet “minimum environmental sustainability standards.”

Social Media Marketing World starts todayand focuses on organic and paid social marketing, social strategy and content marketing

The Lobby:Enterprise conference begins Wednesday, a networking event for SaaS, enterprise and fintech leaders.

The first three episodes of “WeCrashed” drop Friday, with new weekly installments of the WeWork drama landing every Friday through April 22.

In other news

YouTube globally blocked access to channels tied to Russian state-run media. Previously, the ban only covered Europe.

Shenzhen is going back into lockdown, which means Foxconn and other companies are stopping operations in the China tech hub. It's more bad news for the global supply chain.

Instagram launched Live Moderator, which allows live streamers to assign a mod who can report comments, remove viewers from a livestream and turn off comments for specific viewers.

Meta employees: start saving your quarters. The company is getting rid of a few campus perks, including free laundry and valet services, and workers aren’t happy.

Uber is raising prices. The company is adding a temporary surcharge for customers to help offset the uptick in gas prices.

Alan Chang is leaving Revolutto help raise funds for a new crypto venture, Bloomberg reported. Chang was the fintech company’s CRO.

Courtney Sanchez is leaving Vimeo. Sanchez has been with the company for eight years and most recently served as COO.

Danny Bernstein joined Microsoft as a product lead. Bernstein spent nearly a decade at Google.

White House 🤝 TikTok

The White House last week briefed some of TikTok’s top creators about the war to ensure that the message they relay to millions of fans is the right message. If that sounds like an SNL skit, it was this weekend. But it’s actually not a joke.

After Russia cut off access to Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites, millions of people are turning to TikTok as their source of information. If you want to get war facts straight from our government, Kahlil Greene, Victoria Hammett or Jules Terpak are among the creators who were at the briefing.


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