Internal Facebook documents highlight its moderation and misinformation issues

The Facebook Papers, a vast trove of documents supplied by whistleblower Frances Haugen to a consortium of news organizations, has been released. The reporting, by Reuters, Bloomberg, The Washington Post and others, paints a picture of a company that repeatedly sought to prioritize dominance and profit over user safety. This was, however, despite a large number of employees warning that the company’s focus on engagement put users at risk of real-world violence.

The Washington Post, for instance, claims that while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg played down reports that the site amplified hate speech in testimony to Congress, he was aware that the problem was far broader than publicly declared. Internal documents seen by the Post claim that the social network had removed less than five percent of hate speech, and that executives — including Zuckerberg — were well aware that Facebook was polarizing people. The claims have already been rebutted by Facebook, which says that the documents have been misrepresented.

Zuckerberg is also accused of squashing a plan to run a Spanish-language voter-registration drive in the US before the 2020 elections. He said that the plan may have appeared “partisan,” with WhatsApp staffers subsequently offering a watered-down version partnering with outside agencies. The CEO was also reportedly behind the decision not to clamp down on COVID-19 misinformation in the early stages of the pandemic as there may be a “material tradeoff with MSI [Meaningful Social Interaction — an internal Facebook metric] impact.” Facebook has refuted the claim, saying that the documents have been mischaracterized.

Reuters reported that Facebook has serially neglected a number of developing nations, allowing hate speech and extremism to flourish. That includes not hiring enough staffers who can speak the local language, appreciate the cultural context and otherwise effectively moderate. The result is that the company has unjustified faith in its automatic moderation systems which are ineffective in non-English speaking countries. Again, Facebook has refuted the accusation that it is neglecting its users in those territories.

One specific region that is singled out for concern is Myanmar, where Facebook has been held responsible for amplifying local tensions. A 2020 document suggests that the company’s automatic moderation system could not flag problematic terms in (local language) Burmese. (It should be noted that, two years previously, Facebook’s failure to properly act to prevent civil unrest in Myanmar was highlighted in a report from Business for Social Responsibility.)

Similarly, Facebook reportedly did not have the tools in place to detect hate speech in the Ethiopian languages of Oromo or Amharic. Facebook has said that it is working to expand its content moderation team and, in the last two years, has recruited Oromo, Amharic and Burmese speakers (as well as a number of other languages).

Elsewhere, The New York Times reports that Facebook’s internal research was well-aware that the Like and Share functions — core elements of how the platform work — had accelerated the spread of hate speech. A document, titled "What Is Collateral Damage", says that Facebook’s failure to remedy these issues will see the company “actively (if not necessarily consciously) promoting these types of activities.” Facebook says that, again, these statements are based on incorrect premises, and that it would be illogical for the company to try and actively harm its users.

Bloomberg, meanwhile, has focused on the supposed collapse in Facebook’s engagement metrics. Young people, a key target market for advertisers, are spending less time on Facebook’s platform, with fewer teens opting to sign up. At the same time, the number of users may be artificially inflated in these age groups, with users choosing to create multiple accounts — “Finstas” — to separate their online personas to cater to different groups. Haugen alleges that Facebook “has misrepresented core metrics to investors and advertisers,” and that duplicate accounts are leading to “extensive fraud” against advertisers. Facebook says that it already notifies advertisers of the risk that purchases will reach duplicate accounts in its Help Center, and lists the issue in its SEC filings.

Wired focuses on how Facebook’s employees regularly leave valedictions when they leave the company. And how these missives have become increasingly gloomy, with one departing employee writing that the platform has a “net negative influence on politics.” Another said that they felt that they had “blood on their hands,” while a third said that their ability to effect changes to Facebook’s systems to improve matters was hampered by internal roadblocks.

The Verge offered more context on the company’s work in Ethiopia, where the lack of language and cultural experience was a huge problem. This meant that Facebook’s community standards weren’t available in all of the country’s official languages and automated moderation models were unavailable. In addition, there was no reliable access to fact-checking, and no ability to open a “war room” to help monitor activity during major events. (Facebook’s documentation says that it takes around a year to build the necessary capacity to address hate speech in a specific country.)

This same report adds that, in order to reduce the burden on the company’s limited human moderators, it would make it harder for users to report hate speech. In addition, those reports of hate speech would be automatically closed in cases where the post in question had received little attention. There is also a statement saying, broadly, that the team had exhausted its budget for the year and, as a consequence, there would be fewer moderators working on these issues towards the end of that period.

And, shortly after these reports were published, Frances Haugen sat down with the UK's select committee looking at its forthcoming Online Safety Bill. Much of what she said has already been expressed to regulators in the US, but her comments have been highly critical of Facebook. At one point, Haugen said that Facebook has been unwilling to sacrifice even "little slivers of profit" in order to make its product safer. She added that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg "has unilateral control over three billion people, [and that] there's no will at the top [of the company] to make sure these systems are run in an adequately safe way." 

Over the weekend, Axios reported that Facebook’s Sir Nick Clegg warned that the site should expect “more bad headlines” in the coming weeks. It's likely that whatever happens at the company's third-quarter announcement later today won't be sufficient to dispel the storm of bad press it is currently weathering. 

Updated 10:41am ET to include comments from Frances Haugen made to the select committee.

Facebook leak shows inner turmoil over approach to conservative content

Facebook has long been accused of playing favorites on multiple sides of the political spectrum, and it's now clear just how much of that uproar extends to the company's ranks. A leak to The Wall Street Journal reportedly shows Facebook leaders and staff have clashed numerous times over the social network's approach to conservative content, particularly outlets like Breitbart. Rank-and-file employees have accused Facebook of making "special exceptions" from policies for right-wing outlets, while senior-level staff warned of potential pitfalls.

Workers argued that Facebook kept Breitbart in a second tier of the News Tab, a section meant to focus on reliable news, despite very low trust and quality scores as well as misinformation violations. Facebook was not only making exceptions, one employee said, but "explicitly" endorsing outlets like this by including them as trusted partners. Staff claimed Facebook was "scared of political backlash" if it enforced policies equally, and believed the site let conservative influencers Diamond and Silk lobby fact checkers to avoid punishment for spreading misinformation.

Higher-ups countered with justifications for those decisions. They argued that booting a news outlet for trust scores would risk booting more mainstream outlets like CNN, for instance. When staff asked Facebook to intervene over Breitbart's alleged attempts to dodge sites' advertising blocks, a director said Facebook had to resist the urge and "rely on our principles and policies."

Facebook repeated its familiar stance in a response to TheJournal, maintaining that limited access to low-quality material to "improve people's experiences," not due to political leanings. A spokesperson added that Facebook studied the effects of potential changes before implementing them, and that publishers like Breitbart still met requirements for honoring rules against misinformation and hate speech.

The revelations likely won't satisfy people on either side of the American political spectrum. Liberals may be concerned Facebook is knowingly allowing the spread of heavily spun and outright false claims, while the right wing may see it as evidence of a claimed anti-conservative bias. The insights reveal a more conflicted approach to material, though. They also underscore the importance of tools meant to automatically limit the reach of misinformation — they could minimize internal debates by curbing fake news without requiring as much human input.

Disney+ show ‘Ahsoka’ will also reportedly star Hayden Christensen

Hayden Christensen isn't done playing Darth Vader. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he's reprising his role as the Sith Lord in the upcoming Disney+ series Ahsoka. Rosario Dawson will star as Ahsoka Tano, whom she also played in the second season of The Mandalorian. That's the first time Ahsoka's character appeared in a live-action Star Wars show — prior to that, Ahsoka was only seen in the franchise's animated entries.

Disney and Lucasfilm have yet to reveal the story for the live-action series. The Hollywood Reporter says, though, that it's set five years after the events in Return of the Jedi, similar to The Mandalorian. That Vader will be featured in a show about Ahsoka doesn't entirely come as a surprise, seeing she was Anakin Skywalker's padawan. But since Vader died in Return of the Jedi, it's unclear how his character will fit into Ahsoka's story, and whether he'll be shown in flashbacks or as a Force ghost.

Dave Filoni, who was involved in several previous Star Wars projects, will write the story and also serve as executive producer with Jon Favreau. The series will start production in 2022, though fans will get the chance to see Christensen play Vader before that in Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi that's set to debut early next year.

Disney+ show ‘Ahsoka’ will also reportedly star Hayden Christensen

Hayden Christensen isn't done playing Darth Vader. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he's reprising his role as the Sith Lord in the upcoming Disney+ series Ahsoka. Rosario Dawson will star as Ahsoka Tano, whom she also played in the second season of The Mandalorian. That's the first time Ahsoka's character appeared in a live-action Star Wars show — prior to that, Ahsoka was only seen in the franchise's animated entries.

Disney and Lucasfilm have yet to reveal the story for the live-action series. The Hollywood Reporter says, though, that it's set five years after the events in Return of the Jedi, similar to The Mandalorian. That Vader will be featured in a show about Ahsoka doesn't entirely come as a surprise, seeing she was Anakin Skywalker's padawan. But since Vader died in Return of the Jedi, it's unclear how his character will fit into Ahsoka's story, and whether he'll be shown in flashbacks or as a Force ghost.

Dave Filoni, who was involved in several previous Star Wars projects, will write the story and also serve as executive producer with Jon Favreau. The series will start production in 2022, though fans will get the chance to see Christensen play Vader before that in Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi that's set to debut early next year.

CD Projekt buys the indie studio behind ‘The Flame in the Flood’

Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt publisher CD Projekt has expanded its portfolio after picking up indie developer The Molasses Flood. The Boston-based studio is behind survival game The Flame in the Flood and action village-building title Drake Hollow.

Formed in 2014 by Bioshock, Halo and Guitar Hero veterans, The Molasses Flood caught CD Projekt's attention because it makes "games with heart," president and co-CEO Adam Kiciński said in a statement. “The Molasses Flood share our passion for video game development, they’re experienced, quality-oriented, and have great technological insight. I’m convinced they will bring a lot of talent and determination to the group.”

The Molasses Flood will operate independently from CD Projekt Red's other teams. The studio's next game is an "ambitious project" based on an existing CD Projekt franchise, which could very well mean another Cyberpunk or Witcher game. In any case, more details will be announced later.

This week, CDPR delayed the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S upgrades of Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3 to 2022. The studio previously planned to release the updates by the end of this year.

CD Projekt buys the indie studio behind ‘The Flame in the Flood’

Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt publisher CD Projekt has expanded its portfolio after picking up indie developer The Molasses Flood. The Boston-based studio is behind survival game The Flame in the Flood and action village-building title Drake Hollow.

Formed in 2014 by Bioshock, Halo and Guitar Hero veterans, The Molasses Flood caught CD Projekt's attention because it makes "games with heart," president and co-CEO Adam Kiciński said in a statement. “The Molasses Flood share our passion for video game development, they’re experienced, quality-oriented, and have great technological insight. I’m convinced they will bring a lot of talent and determination to the group.”

The Molasses Flood will operate independently from CD Projekt Red's other teams. The studio's next game is an "ambitious project" based on an existing CD Projekt franchise, which could very well mean another Cyberpunk or Witcher game. In any case, more details will be announced later.

This week, CDPR delayed the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S upgrades of Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3 to 2022. The studio previously planned to release the updates by the end of this year.

Trump’s social network is built on a platform it didn’t properly license

Add a licensing misstep to the list of problems facing former President Donald Trump’s social media network. The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) says The Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG) violated a licensing agreement when it recently launched a test version of TRUTH Social. The website ran on a modified version of Mastodon, a free and open-source platform for operating Twitter-like social media networks. Anyone can use Mastodon provided they comply with AGPLv3, the software license that governs its code.

One of the central provisions of AGPLv3 is that licensees must share their source code with all users. In the short time a test version of TRUTH Social was up earlier today, it did not do that. Now, the Software Freedom Conservancy, an organization that enforces open source software licenses, says TMTG has 30 days to comply with AGPLv3 or face the consequences.

“The license purposefully treats everyone equally (even people we don’t like or agree with), but they must operate under the same rules of the copyleft licenses that apply to everyone else,” SFC said in a blog post.

It says the company must “immediately” make TRUTH Social’s source code available to everyone who accessed the site earlier in the day. If TMTG fails to do so in 30 days, it will permanently lose access to the software it used to build its platform. “That’s how AGPLv3’s cure provision works — no exceptions — even if you’re a real estate mogul, reality television star, or even a former POTUS,” the SFC said. If TMTG doesn’t comply with the request, it could face a lawsuit. “We will be following this issue very closely and demanding that Trump’s Group give the corresponding source to all who use the site,” SFC said.

In closing, SFC shared details about how TRUTH Social was defaced earlier in the day. It says it found no evidence anyone “illegally broke” into the website. Instead, it notes the episode was the result of an improper configuration. “Once discovered, people merely used the site legitimately to register accounts and use its features,” the organization said.

Trump’s social network is built on a platform it didn’t properly license

Add a licensing misstep to the list of problems facing former President Donald Trump’s social media network. The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) says The Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG) violated a licensing agreement when it recently launched a test version of TRUTH Social. The website ran on a modified version of Mastodon, a free and open-source platform for operating Twitter-like social media networks. Anyone can use Mastodon provided they comply with AGPLv3, the software license that governs its code.

One of the central provisions of AGPLv3 is that licensees must share their source code with all users. In the short time a test version of TRUTH Social was up earlier today, it did not do that. Now, the Software Freedom Conservancy, an organization that enforces open source software licenses, says TMTG has 30 days to comply with AGPLv3 or face the consequences.

“The license purposefully treats everyone equally (even people we don’t like or agree with), but they must operate under the same rules of the copyleft licenses that apply to everyone else,” SFC said in a blog post.

It says the company must “immediately” make TRUTH Social’s source code available to everyone who accessed the site earlier in the day. If TMTG fails to do so in 30 days, it will permanently lose access to the software it used to build its platform. “That’s how AGPLv3’s cure provision works — no exceptions — even if you’re a real estate mogul, reality television star, or even a former POTUS,” the SFC said. If TMTG doesn’t comply with the request, it could face a lawsuit. “We will be following this issue very closely and demanding that Trump’s Group give the corresponding source to all who use the site,” SFC said.

In closing, SFC shared details about how TRUTH Social was defaced earlier in the day. It says it found no evidence anyone “illegally broke” into the website. Instead, it notes the episode was the result of an improper configuration. “Once discovered, people merely used the site legitimately to register accounts and use its features,” the organization said.

Apple TV+ renews ‘Mythic Quest’ for seasons three and four

Fans of Mythic Quest have much more of the show to look forward to. Apple TV+ has renewed the series for seasons three and four. The second season of the workplace sitcom aired this spring, and season three will arrive in 2022.

Co-creator Rob McElhenney (who plays Ian Grimm in the show) made the announcement with the help of a couple of familiar faces: Jason Sudeikis, the Emmy-winning face of fellow Apple TV+ comedy series Ted Lasso, and Anthony Hopkins, who received an Emmy nomination for narrating Mythic Quest's standalone "Everlight" episode. The series picked up another Emmy nomination this year for its sound editing.

Mythic Quest, which is from some of the folks behind It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, focuses on the developers of a hugely successful fictional MMORPG. Ubisoft co-produces Mythic Quest, so there's certainly a degree of authenticity to the show and how a game studio might actually operate.

Apple TV+ renews ‘Mythic Quest’ for seasons three and four

Fans of Mythic Quest have much more of the show to look forward to. Apple TV+ has renewed the series for seasons three and four. The second season of the workplace sitcom aired this spring, and season three will arrive in 2022.

Co-creator Rob McElhenney (who plays Ian Grimm in the show) made the announcement with the help of a couple of familiar faces: Jason Sudeikis, the Emmy-winning face of fellow Apple TV+ comedy series Ted Lasso, and Anthony Hopkins, who received an Emmy nomination for narrating Mythic Quest's standalone "Everlight" episode. The series picked up another Emmy nomination this year for its sound editing.

Mythic Quest, which is from some of the folks behind It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, focuses on the developers of a hugely successful fictional MMORPG. Ubisoft co-produces Mythic Quest, so there's certainly a degree of authenticity to the show and how a game studio might actually operate.