Facebook faux pas
June 12, 2019

Facebook is trying to claim Mark Zuckerberg had nothing to do with violating Federal Trade Commission rules. It reportedly has emails that show otherwise.

As the social media giant prepares to pay a fine of upwards of $5 billion for violating users' privacy, it's also scrambling to ensure its CEO isn't implicated in the ongoing settlement discussions. That's become especially difficult, seeing as Facebook has "uncovered emails that appear to show" Zuckerberg was "closely involved" with "potentially problematic privacy practices at the company," people familiar with the matter tell The Wall Street Journal.

The FTC has been investigating Facebook for over a year, prompting Facebook to dig up the emails in question. They include an April 2012 exchange in which "Zuckerberg asked employees about an app that claimed to have built a database stocked with information about tens of millions of Facebook users," one person tells the Journal. Zuckerberg asked "if such extensive data collection was possible and if Facebook should do anything to stop developers from displaying that data," the Journal continues. The discussion continued until Facebook agreed to suspend the app. Regulators have reportedly taken notice of that particular conversation, but noted it took place before the FTC's rule went into effect in 2012.

The Journal has not seen the emails, and said "it couldn't be determined" if they "reveal practices that violated the 2012 accord." A Facebook spokesperson said the company has "fully cooperated with the FTC’s investigation to date," adding that "at no point did Mark or any other Facebook employee knowingly violate the company's obligations under the FTC consent order." Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Kathryn Krawczyk

May 29, 2019

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has no patience left for Facebook.

During an interview with KQED on Wednesday, Pelosi slammed the social media giant for refusing to take down videos that have been clearly doctored, including clips of her slowed down so it sounds like she is slurring her words. These videos are being shared by right-wing sites, as well as President Trump, who tweeted footage that had obviously been manipulated.

"We have said all along, poor Facebook, they were unwittingly exploited by the Russians," Pelosi said. "I think wittingly, because right now they are putting up something that they know is false. I think it's wrong. I can take it ... but [Facebook is] lying to the public." By not taking down videos known to be false, Facebook has proven "that they were willing enablers of the Russian interference in our election," she added.

Pelosi spoke with KQED not long after Special Counsel Robert Mueller made his remarks about the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and she shared her concerns over the Department of Justice policy against indicting a sitting president. "I don't know that our founders would have thought that we would have a jury — that would be the Senate — that would be so oblivious to the facts and the truth, a jury that would be an enabler of the crimes," she said. Catherine Garcia

March 11, 2019

Facebook confirmed on Monday that it pulled several advertisements placed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) campaign that called for the breakup of Facebook, Amazon, and Google. But "in the interest of allowing robust debate," Facebook told Politico, "we are restoring the ads."

The ads, placed Friday, targeted a small audience; they were replaced by text saying, "This ad was taken down because it goes against Facebook's advertising policies." Warren's original message was: "Three companies have vast power over our economy and our democracy. Facebook, Amazon, and Google. We all use them. But in their rise to power, they've bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field in their favor." The ads linked to a petition urging Warren supporters to back "our plan to break up these big tech companies."

A Facebook spokesperson told Politico that the ads were removed because they "violated our policies against use of our corporate logo." In response, Warren tweeted: "Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let's start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power. Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn't dominated by a single censor." Catherine Garcia

May 9, 2016

Former Facebook employees in charge of the site's news curation have revealed that the "trending" news section, claimed to be a reflection of "topics that have recently become popular on Facebook," was routinely manipulated, and that conservative news stories were often suppressed. One ex-worker told Gizmodo that stories about CPAC, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics were kept from appearing in the "trending" section despite the fact that they actually were trending among the site's users. In other instances, stories that weren't actually popular enough to appear in the trending section were added anyway.

"It was absolutely bias. We were doing it subjectively. It just depends on who the curator is and what time of day it is," a former curator said. "Every once in awhile a Red State or conservative news source would have a story. But we would have to go and find the same story from a more neutral outlet that wasn't as biased." The former curator said that even if the site's algorithm picked up a story from a conservative outlet, they would exclude it unless a mainstream site was covering it.

Stories about Syria, on the other hand, were added to the section even if people weren't actually talking about it on Facebook, because "it was deemed important for making the network look like a place where people talked about hard news." The same thing happened with the Black Lives Matter movement, the curator said. "Facebook got a lot of pressure about not having a trending topic for Black Lives Matter," the individual said. "They realized it was a problem, and they boosted it in the ordering. They gave it preference over other topics."

Read the entire scoop on Facebook's inner-workings over at Gizmodo.

Update, 4:48 p.m.: Facebook told BuzzFeed News in a statement Monday they "take allegations of bias very seriously," and that their guidelines "do not permit the suppression of political perspectives." Becca Stanek

January 5, 2016

In its latest user experiment, Facebook allegedly crashed its own app for Android users with the purpose of seeing how long it would take users to give up on using the social media site. The findings, intended to help Facebook develop a contingency plan should its relationship with Android operator Google ever go sour, were reportedly surprising: According to tech journal The Information, "the company wasn't able to reach the threshold" of when people would give up, because "people never stopped coming back." Even if the app was down for hours, The Guardian reports that users simply switched over from the app to the mobile version of the site.

Though this test reportedly happened just once "several years ago," The Guardian reports that the social network is catching flak for once again going too far in its user testing. As The Verge's Casey Newton explains, the real problem is that "users are almost totally unaware of these experiments." "And if they do eventually find out about them, they can't really leave — because there's simply no other meaningful Facebook-like service in the market," Newton writes. "That gives the company a moral imperative to treat its users honestly."

This isn't the first time Facebook experimented on its users, either. Back in 2014, Facebook found itself in hot water after it was revealed that it had experimented on users to study "emotional contagion" by purposefully putting more positive or negative content on news feeds to see if it affected what users then posted. Becca Stanek

March 10, 2015

Facebook has officially recognized that "fat" isn't a feeling.

After a Change.org petition for Facebook to remove its "feeling fat" status update option received more than 16,000 signatures, Facebook listened to the complaints. The petition said that "fat is not a feeling" and encourages body issues.

"We've heard from our community that listing 'feeling fat' as an option for status updates could reinforce negative body image, particularly for people struggling with eating disorders," Facebook said in a statement. "So we're going to remove 'feeling fat' from the list of options. We'll continue to listen to feedback as we think about ways to help people express themselves on Facebook."

If you want to brag about the pizza or cookies you just ate, you can still do so on Facebook — and now, there won't be status options to make you feel guilty about it. Meghan DeMaria

October 2, 2014

Facebook has clarified its "real-name policy" after facing backlash from LGBT Facebook users, who argued that the company allegedly forced people to use their "legal names" on their profiles, causing many drag queens' accounts to be suspended.

After meeting with LGBT activists on Wednesday, Facebook's chief product officer, Chris Cox, clarified the company's policy. "Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name," Cox stated. "The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life." Those "authentic names" could include the names members of the LGBT community use in day-to-day life, even if they're not the same names on their birth certificates.

Cox added that users' profiles were suspended when "several hundred accounts" were reported as fake. Facebook's policy in this case is to "suspend the profile until the user submits some form of identification that matches the name on the page," Time reports. At the meeting with activists, Facebook reportedly promised a "technical fix" to improve the name policy. "We're taking measures to provide much more deliberate customer service to those accounts that get flagged so that we can manage these in a less abrupt and more thoughtful way," Cox said in the statement.

David Campos, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and one of those who met with Facebook employees on Wednesday, told Time that the meeting was "extremely productive," and the activists were pleased with the meeting's results. "Drag queens spoke and Facebook listened," Campos said. "Both sides actually agreed on the idea that the objective was for people to use their real name, and that doesn't always mean legal identity." Meghan DeMaria

June 5, 2014

A Cincinnati woman says that employees at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center shared private medical records on Facebook, alerting everyone on the "Team No Hoes" page that she had been diagnosed with syphilis.

The anonymous woman's attorney, Mike Allen, told WTWL News that she is suing UC Medical Center, two employees, and her ex-boyfriend, who they say convinced the employees to release the medical records, violating state and federal laws. "She's absolutely devastated," Allen said. "This is the most private of private medical information that was posted on Facebook, and went out to a group on Facebook that had a huge dissemination."

The fine, upstanding community members at the "Team No Hoes" page used the post to call the woman a "hoe" and a "slut" in the comments section. Allen says that his client doesn't want to go out or talk to people, and has lost several friends because of the incident. "This could have been avoided if UC Medical Center had proper protections," he said. The woman is seeking more than $25,000 in damages, and is asking that the hospital look at procedures so this never happens again. UC Medical Center said it is investigating the claim. Watch the WTWL report below. --Catherine Garcia

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