Facebook should ban campaign ads. End the lies. – TechCrunch

Permitting falsehood in political advertising would work if we had a model democracy, but we don’t. Not only are candidates dishonest, but voters aren’t educated, and the media isn’t objective. And now, hyperlinks turn lies into donations and donations into louder lies. The checks don’t balance. What we face is a self-reinforcing disinformation dystopia.

That’s why if Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube don’t want to be the arbiters of truth in campaign ads, they should stop selling them. If they can’t be distributed safely, they shouldn’t be distributed at all.

No one wants historically untrustworthy social networks becoming the honesty police, deciding what’s factual enough to fly. But the alternative of allowing deception to run rampant is unacceptable. Until voter-elected officials can implement reasonable policies to preserve truth in campaign ads, the tech giants should go a step further and refuse to run them.

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This problem came to a head recently when Facebook formalized its policy of allowing politicians to lie in ads and refusing to send their claims to third-party fact-checkers. “We don’t believe, however, that it’s an appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny” Facebook’s VP of policy Nick Clegg wrote.

The Trump campaign was already running ads with false claims about Democrats trying to repeal the Second Amendment and weeks-long scams about a “midnight deadline” for a contest to win the one-millionth MAGA hat.

Trump Ad

After the announcement, Trump’s campaign began running ads smearing potential opponent Joe Biden with widely debunked claims about his relationship with Ukraine. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter refused to remove the ad when asked by Biden.

In response to the policy, Elizabeth Warren is running ads claiming Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg endorses Trump because it’s allowing his campaign lies. She’s continued to press Facebook on the issue, asking “you can be in the disinformation-for-profit business, or you can hold yourself to some standards.”

It’s easy to imagine campaign ads escalating into an arms race of dishonesty.

Campaigns could advertise increasingly untrue and defamatory claims about each other tied to urgent calls for donations. Once all sides are complicit in the misinformation, lying loses its stigma, becomes the status quo, and ceases to have consequences. Otherwise, whichever campaign misleads more aggressively will have an edge.

“In open democracies, voters rightly believe that, as a general rule, they should be able to judge what politicians say themselves.” Facebook’s Clegg writes.

But as is emblematic of Facebook’s past mistakes, it’s putting too much idealistic faith in society. If all voters were well educated and we weren’t surrounded by hyperpartisan media from Fox News to far-left Facebook Pages, maybe this hands-off approach might work. But in reality, juicy lies spread further than boring truths, and plenty of “news” outlets are financially incentivized to share sensationalism and whatever keeps their team in power.

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Protecting the electorate should fall to legislators. But incumbents have few reasons to change the rules that got them their jobs. The FCC already has truth in advertising policies, but exempts campaign ads and a judge struck down a law mandating accuracy.

Granted, there have always been dishonest candidates, uninformed voters, and one-sided news outlets. But it’s all gotten worse. We’re in a post-truth era now where the spoils won through deceptive demagoguery are clear. Cable news and digitally native publications have turned distortion of facts into a huge business.

Most critically, targeted social network advertising combined with donation links create a perpetual misinformation machine. Politicians can target vulnerable demographics with frightening lies, then say only their financial contribution will let the candidate save them. A few clicks later and the candidate has the cash to buy more ads, amplifying more untruths and raising even more money. Without the friction of having to pick up the phone, mail a letter, or even type in a URL like TV ads request, the feedback loop is shorter and things spiral out of control.

Many countries including the UK, Ireland, and the EU ban or heavily restrict TV campaign ads. There’s plenty of precedent for policies keeping candidates’ money out of the most powerful communication mediums.

Campaign commercials on US television might need additional regulation as well. However, the lack of direct connections to donate buttons, microtargeting, and rapid variable testing weaken their potential for abuse. Individual networks can refuse ads for containing falsehoods as CNN recently did without the same backlash over bias that an entity as powerful as Facebook receives.

This is why the social networks should halt sales of political campaign ads now. They’re the one set of stakeholders with flexibility and that could make a united decision. You’ll never get all the politicians and media to be honest, or the public to understand, but just a few companies could set a policy that would protect democracy from the world’s . And they could do it without having to pick sides or make questionable decisions on a case-by-case basis. Just block them all from all candidates.

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Facebook wrote in response to Biden’s request to block the Trump ads that “Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is.”

But banning campaign ads would still leave room for open political expression that’s subject to public scrutiny. Social networks should continue to let politicians say what they want to their own followers, barring calls for violence. Tech giants can offer a degree of freedom of speech, just not freedom of reach. Whoever wants to listen can, but they shouldn’t be able to jam misinformation into the feeds of the unsuspecting.

If the tech giants want to stop short of completely banning campaign ads, they could introduce a format designed to minimize misinformation. Politicians could be allowed to simply promote themselves with a set of stock messages, but without the option to make claims about themselves or their opponents.

Campaign ads aren’t a huge revenue driver for social apps, nor are they a high-margin business nowadays. The Trump and Clinton campaigns spent only a combined $81 million on 2016 election ads, a fraction of Facebook’s $27 billion in revenue that year. $284 million was spent in total on 2018 midterm election ads versus Facebook’s $55 billion in revenue last year, says Tech For Campaigns. Zuckerberg even said that Facebook will lose money selling political ads because of all the moderators it hires to weed out election interference by foreign parties.

Surely, there would be some unfortunate repercussions from blocking campaign ads. New candidates in local to national elections would lose a tool for reducing the lead of incumbents, some of which have already benefited from years of advertising. Some campaign ads might be pushed “underground” where they’re not properly labeled, though the major spenders could be kept under watch.

If the social apps can still offer free expression through candidates’ own accounts, aren’t reliant on politicians’ cash to survive, won’t police specific lies in their promos, and would rather let the government regulate the situation, then they should respectfully decline to sell campaign advertising. Following the law isn’t enough until the laws adapt. This will be an ongoing issue through the 2020 election, and leaving the floodgates open is irresponsible.

If a game is dangerous, you don’t eliminate the referee. You stop playing until you can play safe.



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EBay, Stripe and Mastercard drop out of Facebook’s Libra Association – TechCrunch

Oof — a week after PayPal announced plans to part ways with Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency project and the related association of the same name, three more names are reportedly breaking away: eBay, Stripe and Mastercard. (Update: and now Visa!)

In a comment to TechCrunch, a Stripe spokesperson leaves the door open for them to potentially work with Libra in the future — but not right now:

“Stripe is supportive of projects that aim to make online commerce more accessible for people around the world. Libra has this potential. We will follow its progress closely and remain open to working with the Libra Association at a later stage.”

Word of eBay’s exit comes via Reuters, which quotes an eBay spokesperson as saying:

“We highly respect the vision of the Libra Association; however, eBay has made the decision to not move forward as a founding member.”

Mastercard’s looming departure, meanwhile, just broke in the WSJ.

This is a fairly massive hit for the project, with three flagship partners all bailing simultaneously. It all happens just days after reports that regulatory pressure behind the scenes was causing a number of members to reconsider their support.

Update: Visa has now backed out as well, citing regulatory concerns directly:

Visa has decided not to join the Libra Association at this time. We will continue to evaluate and our ultimate decision will be determined by a number of factors, including the Association’s ability to fully satisfy all requisite regulatory expectations.

Story developing..

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Why each Libra member’s mutiny hurts Facebook – TechCrunch

There’s a strategic cost to the defection of Visa, Stripe, eBay, and more from the Facebook-led cryptocurrency Libra Association. They’re not just names dropping off a list. Each potentially made Libra more useful, ubiquitous, or reputable. Now they could become obstacles to the token’s launch or growth.

Fearing regulators’ inquiries not just into their Libra involvement but the rest of their businesses, these companies are pulling out at least for now. None had made precise commitments to integrating Libra into their products, and they’ve said they could still get involved later. But their exit clouds the project’s future and leaves Facebook to absorb more of the blowback.

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Here’s what each of the departing Libra Association members brought to the table and how they could spawn new challenges for the cryptocurrency:

Visa

With one of most widely-accepted payment methods, Visa could have helped make Libra universally spendable. It’s also one of the most prestigious names in finance, lending deep credibility to the project. Visa’s departure leaves Libra looking more like tech companies barging into payments, conjuring fears of their move fast, break things approach that could cause financial ruin if Libra runs into problems. It also could leave Libra with a much weaker presence in brick-and-mortar shops. No one will want to own a cryptocurrency that doesn’t appreciate in value and can’t be easily spent.

MasterCard

The involvement of MasterCard alongside Visa made Libra look like the incumbents adapting to modern technologies. This made it less threatening, and gave cryptocurrency an air of inevitability. MasterCard would have also brought an even wider network of locations where Libra could one day be used for payment. Now MasterCard and Visa might actively work against Libra to prevent their payment methods being made obsolete by Libra and its elimination of transaction fees through the blockchain. Two of Libras biggest allies could become its biggest foes.

PayPal

Facebook has repeatedly told regulators that its Calibra app plus integrations into Messenger and WhatsApp would not be the only Libra wallets, pointing to PayPal . Facebook’s head of Libra David Marcus told Congress when asked about the social network’s outsized power to exploit Libra through its own Calibra wallet that “you have companies like PayPal and others that will, of course, collaborate, but [also] compete with us”. Now Facebook won’t have a scaled payment method it doesn’t own to point to as a likely alternative for people who don’t want to trust Facebook’s Calibra, Messenger, or WhatsApp to be their Libra wallet. The Libra Association also loses PayPal’s enormous network of online merchants that accept it, plus the inroad to integration into its peer-to-peer payback app Venmo. PayPal convinced the mainstream public to trust online payments — the exact kind of trust Facebook desperately needs. The fact that Marcus was also the former president of PayPal but couldn’t keep it in the association raises concerns about the group’s coalition-building prowess.

Stripe

Stripe’s enormous popularity with ecommerce vendors made it a valuable Libra Association member. Together with PayPal, Stripe facilitates a huge portion of online transactions outside of China. Its ease of integration made it a top pick for developers Facebook surely hoped would build atop Libra. Stripe’s exit destroys a critical bridge to the fintech startup ecosystem that could have helped institutionalize Libra. Now the association will have to work on engineering payment widgets from scratch without Stripe’s assistance, which could slow adoption if it ever launches.

There’s a clear reason all these payment processors bailed. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) wrote a letter to Visa, MasterCard, and Stripe’s CEOs this week explaining that “If you take this on, you can expect a high level of scrutiny from regulators not only on Libra-related activities, but on all payment activities.”

eBay

As one of the longest standing ecommerce companies, eBay bolstered beliefs that Libra could be used to power transactions between untrusted strangers without a costly middleman. It might have also put Libra into practice on one of the top western online marketplaces outside of Amazon. Without destinations like eBay onboard, average netizens will have fewer opportunities to be exposed to Libra’s potential to eliminate transaction fees.

Mercado Pago

One of the lesser-known Libra Association members, Mercado Pago helps merchants receive payments via email or in installments. The idea of connecting financially underserved populations has been core to Facebook’s pitch for why Libra should exist. The Libra Association has been light on the details of how exactly it serves this demographic, relying on the inclusion of partners like Mercado Pago to help it figure this out later. Mercado Pago’s departure leaves Libra looking more like a financial power grab rather than a tool to assist the disadvantaged.

Who’s Left?

On Monday, the remaining Libra Association members will meet to finalize the initial member list, elect a board, and create a charter to govern the project. This forced the hands of the companies above, who had their last chance to depart this week before being pulled deeper into Libra.

Facebook Currency Hearing

UNITED STATES – JULY 16: David Marcus, head of Facebook’s Calibra digital wallet service, prepares to testify during the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on “Examining Facebook’s Proposed Digital Currency and Data Privacy Considerations” on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Who’s left includes venture capital firms, ride sharing companies, non-profits, and cryptocurrency companies. They are less tied up with the status quo of payment processing, and therefore had less to lose. The blockchain-specific companies were likely hoping to piggyback on financial giants like Visa to get Libra approved and create more legitimacy for their industry as a whole.

These partners could help fund an ecosystem of Libra developers, create daily use cases, spread the system in the developing world, and push for alliances between Libra and cryptocurrency players. Facebook will need to fight to keep them aboard if it wants to avoid Libra looking like a unilateral disruption of the economy.

For Libra to actually launch, Facebook needs to make serious concessions and divert from its initial vision. Otherwise if it continues to butt heads with regulators, more members could flee. One option floated by Libra Association member Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z Crypto partner Chris Dixon was for Libra to be denominated in US dollars instead of a basket of international currencies. That might lessen fears that Libra intends to compete directly with the dollar.

It’s become apparent that Facebook will not get its ideal cryptocurrency out the door. This is the brand tax of 100 scandals coming back to bite it. Now the best it can hope for is to get even a watered-down version launched, prove it can actually help the underbanked, and then hope to convince regulators it’s well-intentioned.

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What you need to know now – TechCrunch

This week California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, published draft guidance for enforcing the state’s landmark privacy legislation.

The draft text of the regulations under the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) will undergo a public consultation period, including a number of public hearings, with submissions open until December 6 this year.

The CCPA itself will take effect in the state on January 1, with a further six months’ grace period before enforcement of the law begins.

“The proposed regulations are intended to operationalize the CCPA and provide practical guidance to consumers and businesses subject to the law,” writes the State of California’s Department of Justice in a press release announcing the draft text. “The regulations would address some of the open issues raised by the CCPA and would be subject to enforcement by the Department of Justice with remedies provided under the law.”

Translation: Here’s the extra detail we think is needed to make the law work.

The CCPA was signed into law in June 2018 — enshrining protections for a sub-set of US citizens against their data being collected and sold without their knowledge.

The law requires businesses over a certain user and/or revenue threshold to disclose what personal data they collect; the purposes they intend to use the data for; and any third parties it will be shared with; as well as requiring that they provide a discrimination-free opt-out to personal data being sold or shared.

Businesses must also comply with consumer requests for their data to be deleted.

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Cryptocurrency’s bad day continues as the SEC blocks Telegram’s $1.7 billion planned token sale – TechCrunch

Cryptocurrency’s bad news day continues to get worse as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has said it has filed an emergency action and received a restraining order for the $1.7 billion planned token offering of Telegram’s blockchain.

The move from the SEC follows the continued dissolution of the corporate alliance that was supporting Facebook’s planned Libra cryptocurrency.

Telegram’s ambitious founder Pavel Durov was hoping to launch the Telegram Open Network as a payment option that would exist apart from the global regulatory system in much the same way that Libra would have done, according to initial TechCrunch reporting.

While the Telegram offering had been in the works since January 2018, it had run into problems by the middle of last year and the future of the protocol was already in jeopardy.

According to the SEC complaint, Telegram Group and its TON Issuer subsidiary began raising capital in January 2018 to finance the company’s business, including the development of the TON blockchain and Messenger .

The defendants sold 2.9 billion tokens at discounted prices to 171 initial investors, including more than 1 billion of the company’s tokens to 39 U.S. buyers.

Telegram said it would deliver the tokens to the purchasers by no later than October 31, 209 and the purchasers would be able to sell them into the market. According to the SEC complaint Telgram failed to register their offers and sales of the tokens, which the SEC considers to be securities.

“Our emergency action today is intended to prevent Telegram from flooding the U.S. markets with digital tokens that we allege were unlawfully sold,” said Stephanie Avakian, Co-Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in a statement. “We allege that the defendants have failed to provide investors with information regarding Grams and Telegram’s business operations, financial condition, risk factors, and management that the securities laws require.”

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Facebook leads in news consumption among social feeds, but most don’t trust it, says Pew – TechCrunch

As Facebook prepares to launch a “news tab” this month featuring news stories curated by humans to complement the headlines that appear in your social feed generated by your friends’ shares, paid promotions and algorithms, a new report paints a damning picture of how social media is viewed as a news platform today.

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Pew social media news consumption

A survey from the Pew Research Center found that more than half of the U.S. adults surveyed by the group this past July — some 52% — already get their news from Facebook, making it the most popular social platform for news sourcing, with YouTube and Twitter the second- and third-most popular at 28% and 17%, respectively, and a variety of other platforms like Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit and Snapchat also making smaller but notable appearances.

Overall, a full 88% of all those surveyed believed that social media has “at least some control” over the news people see.

But sentiments about that control are poor.

A majority — 62% — of respondents believe social media has “too much control” over the mix of news we see on their platforms, and 55% said they believed that this results in a worse mix of news. A full 53% identified one-sided news and 51% named inaccurate news as “very big problems” on social media.

The findings are unsettling: They underscore an already huge amount of power that the likes of Facebook have when it comes to news consumption, but they also underscore how people seem to have already determined that the effect of that has been bad.

The findings also come on the heels of disturbing stories about how much those platforms get manipulated by bad actors. The stories of how political groups and state actors hiding their identities have promoted misleading stories on social platforms stretch back years at this point, but even as the platforms work to try to identify and take down these accounts, other misuse that is less hidden continues to arise.

Just last month, it was found that those promoting stories through paid channels (advertising, that is) can rewrite news headlines to fit their own political agendas, shifting the tone of the news for the vast majority of people who never click through to stories and only read the summary headlines as they scroll to see the latest pictures of their friends’ kids.

And it’s not just bad news for consumers. Publishers have long lamented that they don’t get a cut of any kind on the revenues that social platforms make from sharing their stories and turning them into monetizing traffic, and there has been some thinking that this would soon change as a result of increased regulatory scrutiny. However, a report in the WSJ this week implies that this might not be changing anytime soon. It claims that Facebook will only be paying a small handful of the publishers whose content will get shared in its human-curated news tab.

Drilling into some of the more interesting details, Pew found that Republicans are more cynical about the effect of social media on news than Democrats, with 75% of those on the right believing that social media has too much control, versus 53% of those on the left. Ironically, these numbers appear to run counter to the assumption that social media is an echo chamber of your own opinions.

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Pew also notes that 48% of social media news consumers — recall that more Republicans than Democrats believe social media sites have too much control — believe the news they see is “liberal or very liberal.” That compares to 14% believing news is conservative or very conservative. This would support the feeling among many on the right that the media is too liberal, but also that they are being fed news that is not in keeping with their own political leanings.

The survey also puts paid to the recent report about how only a handful of publishers will get paid by Facebook: 82% of respondents feel that not all news sources are treated equally by social media now — meaning some get more circulation than others. Some 88% believe that those publishing “attention-grabbing” articles, otherwise known as “click bait,” are more likely to appear in the feed. And, 84% believe that social media following plays an important role, and 79% believe that the political leaning of the story affects how much it appears in your feeds.

On the division between male and female readers, the report’s findings are not unsurprising and follow much of the same lines we’ve seen in other social media surveys: the likes of Reddit lean heavily to male readers, while Facebook leans female.

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Lastly, while the report is more about bias in news and sentiment around that, it’s interesting to note which platforms are appearing here and in what concentration. TikTok — which many think could be the next big juggernaut in social — is at less than 1 % when it comes to being a platform for getting news. Snapchat, meanwhile, also is languishing at a mere 6% for news delivery.

Given their heavy concentration on younger users, this points to the fact that younger people are not really using any social channels to get news, but also that they are not particularly interested in reading news. Social platforms may currently be positioned as pariahs in the news landscape, but they don’t have to be: these could also be opportunities to change the conversation, bringing in more people who traditionally are not being cut in.

Pew surveyed 5,107 respondents from its American Trends research panel from July 8 to July 21.

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CcHub’s iHub acquisition, Andela’s $50M run rate and layoffs, Transsion’s IPO – TechCrunch

Two of Africa’s powerhouse tech incubators joined forces in September. Nigerian innovation center and seed-fund CcHub acquired Nairobi based iHub.

The purchase amount was undisclosed, but CcHub will finance the deal out of its real estate project to build a new 10-story HQ in Lagos, CcHub CEO Bosun Tijani told TechCrunch.

Details are emerging on how the two entities will operate together, but Tijani noted some degree of autonomy. The names — CcHub and iHub — will remain the same. Tijani is now co-CEO of both organizations.

Nekesa Were continues as iHub managing director. And iHub’s existing programs will remain, with CcHub extending to Kenya some of its existing activities in education, healthcare and governance.

CcHub will also use the iHub addition to expand the investment scope of its Growth Capital Fund.

The acquisition brings together two of Africa’s most powerful tech hubs by membership networks, volume of programs, startups incubated and global visibility. CcHub and iHub visitors and partnerships span Zuckerberg, Mayer, Facebook, Google and several African governments.

There’ll be a lot to cover on how this merger shapes up. At a high level, for now, the CcHub-iHub union creates a direct innovation link between two of Africa’s most active markets for VC and startup formation — Nigeria and Kenya .

Africa-focused tech talent accelerator Andela announced cuts of 400 junior engineers across Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria just as the startup released first-time earnings figures indicating it will surpass $50 million in revenues for 2019.

On the disjointed news, Andela CEO told TechCrunch the layoffs were due to a shift in market demand for the startup’s more senior developers.

Andela’s client base is comprised of more than 200 companies around the world that pay for the African developers Andela selects and trains to work on projects.

The Series D tech-venture is one of Africa’s most visible (by press volume) and best funded ― backed by $181 million in VC from investors that include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Johnson said the layoffs were not due to a lack of demand or financial woes. That’s probably why Andela released first-time figures of a $50 million run rate for 2019, something of a rarity for a startup to reach in less than five years. That’s even more rare for ventures in Africa. Only one VC-backed digital company has revealed annual revenues between $50 and $100 million. That’s Jumia, the e-commerce startup, which listed in an NYSE IPO earlier this year.

The departing Andela software engineers gained severance packages and are receiving placement assistance from partners, including incubators CcHub and iHub.

Chinese mobile phone and device maker Transsion listed in an IPO on Shanghai’s new Nasdaq-like STAR Market, a Transsion spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch.

Headquartered in Shenzhen, Transsion is a top seller of smartphones in Africa under its Tecno brand. The company has also started to support venture funding of African startups.

Transsion issued 80 million A shares at an opening price of 35.15 yuan (≈ $5.00) to raise 2.8 billion yuan (or ≈ $394 million).

Transsion plans to spend 1.6 billion yuan (or $227 million) of its STAR Market raise on building more phone assembly hubs, and around 430 million yuan ($62 million) on research and development, including a mobile phone R&D center in Shanghai.

Transsion has a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia and announced plans to build an R&D facility in India.

There are a couple things to watch with Transsion’s IPO. First, the public listing and accompanying capital could mean more venture funding for African startups.

Transsion-funded Future Hub already teamed up with Kenya’s Wapi Capital in August to source and fund early-stage African fintech startups.

Transsion’s IPO and growing presence in Africa also accompanies TechCrunch coverage over the last year that signals China’s growing digital influence in Africa (see Extra Crunch analysis).

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch

African tech around the ‘net

 

 

 

 

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Facebook sure does love free $peech – TechCrunch

Ensuring politicians in the 2020 election stay truthful is hard work, so Facebook has decided it’s going to sit this one out.

Joe Biden’s campaign team sent a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandberg and global elections policy chief Katie Harbath that essentially called on the company to take down a Trump campaign ad that made debunked claims regarding the Biden family’s relationship with Ukraine. Facebook responded to that letter today with their own letter to Biden saying that the company’s policies prevented it from making judgment calls on the veracity of speech in political advertisements. The New York Times has a full run-down of the situation.

Facebook isn’t alone in this manner; Fox News is remaining fair and balanced on the issue as well. CNN refused to run the ad.

Political campaigns are messy, so America’s largest content company — with more content moderators than any publication in the country — is leaving it to the free press to debunk what it’s getting paid to broadcast. But it’s not that Facebook wants to keep raking in stupid amounts of advertising dollars. It’s that the company is grounded in a “fundamental belief in free expression,” they say.

Here’s a quote from the company’s letter to Biden’s team: “Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is.”

I’m sorry, what? Facebook’s “respect for the democratic process” should raise eyebrows given how its products have been used in some highly publicized scenarios. But how does a platform that’s been abused so much to the detriment of democratic processes feel like it deserves to rattle that phrase off as another PR talking point?

Here’s the rest of the letter:

If Facebook just wants to allow politicians to spout mistruths and conspiracy theories without fact checks on its platforms as status updates from their personal pages, then some of these claims could be taken more seriously, but Facebook is getting paid to push these messages to its users. It’s algorithmically deciding where these messages go based on parameters set by the campaigns via a system it designed.

Before you sound off, yeah, political advertising isn’t anything new. I am well aware that TV channels and newspapers have carried messy attack ads and hauled in the advertising revenues for decades, but Facebook is a platform designed around scale. Scale has allowed the company to tap massive revenue streams, but it’s also opened up the company to critiques. The company has learned to respect this scale after sizable amounts of external pressure were applied, but they’ve always defaulted to dated comparisons when it’s profitable to them.

Newspaper and TV political ads are painted with a wider brush and are subject to more stringent laws, but there’s a responsibility in Facebook’s precise ad-targeting that the company still doesn’t seem to respect. The company has the tools to push out judgment calls on content, and it could still do so on a case-by-case basis. Some truths are buried in more nuance than others, but by painting all political claims in its same bath of indifference to truth, Facebook is abusing its scale and creating a platform where a politician’s speech is exempt, as if political leaders aren’t the ultimate primary sources on politically contentious matters.

Political advertising legislation is going to take far too long to catch up to the current landscape of technology platforms — it would be nice if we could trust Facebook to stay at a moral forefront that isn’t legally mandated. Twitter and YouTube aren’t immune to this same criticism either, but Facebook is operating in broad daylight, believing that they can reverse engineer a free expression mission statement to prevent responsibility-free revenues from leaking out.



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Silicon Valley’s competing philosophies on tech ethics with The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz – TechCrunch

“If Silicon Valley is going to keep telling itself the story that the only uses of their technology will be the most optimistic, the most hopeful, the most salubrious, the most prosocial,” New Yorker staff writer Andrew Marantz told me in Part 1 of this recent conversation for Extra Crunch, “you can try to rebut that logically, or you can just disprove it by showing a very glaring counterexample. If somebody is going around and saying, ‘all swans are white,’ you can argue against that logically, or you can just show them a black swan.”

Author Photo Andrew Marantz credit Luke Marantz fix

Image via Penguin Random House

Marantz, a brilliant and eclectic writer, has in recent years trained his attention on the tech world and its contribution to social unrest in the United States and beyond. He has just published a new book, “Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation“, which, along with recent New Yorker essays expanding on the book’s themes, is sure to provoke debate.

In part 2 of our conversation below, we discuss the Alt-Right and White Nationalists in tech and politics; Silicon Valley spirituality today; competing philosophies of tech ethics; and more.

Greg Epstein: If you look at the alt-right later that year and in 2017, I myself spent a lot of time poring over these figures like Richard Spencer and Gavin McInnes, and their videos, and their writings, and whatever thinking, ‘These guys are really taking over our society right now.

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Instagram launches Create mode with On This Day throwbacks – TechCrunch

Instagram has finally turned Throwback Thursday into an official feature. It’s part of the new Instagram “Create” mode that launches today in Stories, bringing the app beyond the camera. Create makes Instagram a more omni-purpose social network with the flexibility to adapt to a broader range of content formats.

For now, the highlight of Create is the “On This Day” option that shows a random feed post you shared on the same calendar date in the past. Tap the dice button to view a different On This Day post, and once you find one you prefer, you can share it to Stories as an embedded post people can open.

The launch could make it easy for users to convert their old impermanent content into fresh ephemeral content. That could be especially helpful because not everyone does something Stories-worthy every day. And given how many #TBT throwbacks get shared already, there’s clearly demand for sharing nostalgia with new commentary.

Instagram Create On This Day

When asked about Create mode, an Instagram spokesperson told me, “this new mode helps you combine interactive stickers, drawings and text without needing a photo or video to share . . . On This Day suggests memories and lets you share them via Direct and Stories.” It’d sure be nice if embedded On This Day video posts played inside of Stories, but for now you have to tap to open them on their own page.

Instagram actually launched a different way to share throwbacks, called “Memories,” early this year. But most users didn’t know about it because it was tucked in the Profile -> Three-Line ‘Hamburger’ Sidebar -> Archive option used to for Highlighting or Restoring expired Stories or post you’d hidden.

Instagram Archive Memories

Now On This Day is much more accessible as part of the new Create Mode inside the Stories composer, which replaces Type mode with more options for sharing without your camera than just posting text. You can access it by swiping right at the bottom of the screen from the Stories camera, instead of left to other options like Boomerang. Create lets you use features otherwise added as Stickers atop photos and videos, but on their own with new suggestions of what to share:

-Countdown timer with suggestions for “The Weekend,” “Quittin’ Time,” and “School’s Out”

Instagram Create Countdown

-Quiz with suggestions including “What’s my biggest fear?” and “Only one of these is true” (The Quiz sticker already had suggestions)

Instagram Create Quiz

-Poll with suggestions including “Sweet or savory?” and “Better first date: dinner or movie?”

Instagram Create Poll

-Question with suggestions including “If you had 3 wishes…” and “Any hidden talents?”

Instagram Create Questions

Instagram is also offering a new version of its Giphy -powered GIFs feature inside Create. It lets you search for a GIF and see it tiled three times vertically as the background of your Create post, rather than laid on top.

Instagram Create GIFs

Through all these features, Create lets people generate new things to share even if they’re laying in bed or stuck somewhere. As Instagram grows internationally to more users with lower-quality phones, and replaces Facebook for many people, the ability to share text and other stuff without having to use their camera could increase people’s posting. Between the Camera shutter modes and room for more sharing styles in Create, Instagram can encompass most any content.

As of today, Instagram is about more than photos and videos. It’s stepping up as a multi-faceted social app just as Facebook’s battered brand becomes desperate to turn Instagram into its reputation and business lifeboat.

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