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).

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.

A summary from The Verge added that Facebook struggled to deal with COVID-19 misinformation in comment threads. (This was supported by Haugen’s testimony, who said that comments are often too short for the company’s automated moderation systems to act.) In addition, however, documents added that there were no plans to bolster this work to reduce the spread of vaccine misinformation. In addition, the company’s response to the January 6th insurrection was held up by technical and bureaucratic obstacles.

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, it won't be sufficient to dispel the tsunami of bad press it is currently weathering. 

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

‘Overwatch’ hero McCree will be renamed Cole Cassidy on October 26th

Overwatch hero Jesse McCree has a new name, and, no, it’s not Deadeye Dave. As promised, Blizzard has renamed the gunslinger in the aftermath of his real-life namesake leaving the studio back in August. As of October 26th, McCree will be known as Cole Cassidy.

“To make the new Overwatch better — to make things right — he had to be honest with his team and himself.” Blizzard said in a tweet. “The cowboy he was rode into the sunset, and Cole Cassidy faced the world at dawn.”

The real Jesse McCree left the studio after the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Activision Blizzard for fostering a “frat boy” workplace. While not directly named in the complaint, McCree reportedly took part in the infamous "Cosby Suite" where Blizzard employees, including former World of Warcraft creative director Alex Afrasiabi, allegedly harassed women. When it first announced the name change, Blizzard said it wanted to find one that better represented Overwatch’s ideals. It also promised it would no longer name in-game characters after employees.

Alongside the name change, Blizzard is testing two potential changes to Cassidy’s kit. It may tweak his Deadeye ultimate to make it more deadly and allow players to use his Combat Roll in midair. The latter change should help with avoiding vertical knockback abilities from heroes like Doomfist and Wrecking Ball. You can try out the tweaks by launching Overwatch’s Experimental mode.

‘Overwatch’ hero McCree will be renamed Cole Cassidy on October 26th

Overwatch hero Jesse McCree has a new name, and, no, it’s not Deadeye Dave. As promised, Blizzard has renamed the gunslinger in the aftermath of his real-life namesake leaving the studio back in August. As of October 26th, McCree will be known as Cole Cassidy.

“To make the new Overwatch better — to make things right — he had to be honest with his team and himself.” Blizzard said in a tweet. “The cowboy he was rode into the sunset, and Cole Cassidy faced the world at dawn.”

The real Jesse McCree left the studio after the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Activision Blizzard for fostering a “frat boy” workplace. While not directly named in the complaint, McCree reportedly took part in the infamous "Cosby Suite" where Blizzard employees, including former World of Warcraft creative director Alex Afrasiabi, allegedly harassed women. When it first announced the name change, Blizzard said it wanted to find one that better represented Overwatch’s ideals. It also promised it would no longer name in-game characters after employees.

Alongside the name change, Blizzard is testing two potential changes to Cassidy’s kit. It may tweak his Deadeye ultimate to make it more deadly and allow players to use his Combat Roll in midair. The latter change should help with avoiding vertical knockback abilities from heroes like Doomfist and Wrecking Ball. You can try out the tweaks by launching Overwatch’s Experimental mode.

WhatsApp users can now shop for items by category using ‘Collections’

Facebook, ever on the search for ways to monetize its apps, recently introduced Catalogs and a basic cart to WhatsApp so users could shop directly from their chats. Now, the company is refining that process with the addition of Collections, essentially categorized lists that make it easier for WhatsApp users to find products. 

With the new feature, businesses can now "organize items in their catalogs by category so customers no longer have to scroll through long lists of items to find what they’re looking for," WhatsApp said. From a user perspective, you'll now see categories for "men’s clothes, women’s clothes, shirts, pants" and more rather than just a list of products. As before, you can access a company's catalog through a sent link or shopping button in their header. 

WhatsApp noted that the app has become more popular for shopping in Brazil and India since COVID-19 started. Facebook and WhatsApp have a mixed record in developing countries, however — Brazil, for example, suspended WhatsApp's fledgling mobile payment system late last year.

The new feature is now live in time for the holiday season. Businesses interested in using it can learn how to do it using the video supplied by WhatsApp, above. 

WhatsApp users can now shop for items by category using ‘Collections’

Facebook, ever on the search for ways to monetize its apps, recently introduced Catalogs and a basic cart to WhatsApp so users could shop directly from their chats. Now, the company is refining that process with the addition of Collections, essentially categorized lists that make it easier for WhatsApp users to find products. 

With the new feature, businesses can now "organize items in their catalogs by category so customers no longer have to scroll through long lists of items to find what they’re looking for," WhatsApp said. From a user perspective, you'll now see categories for "men’s clothes, women’s clothes, shirts, pants" and more rather than just a list of products. As before, you can access a company's catalog through a sent link or shopping button in their header. 

WhatsApp noted that the app has become more popular for shopping in Brazil and India since COVID-19 started. Facebook and WhatsApp have a mixed record in developing countries, however — Brazil, for example, suspended WhatsApp's fledgling mobile payment system late last year.

The new feature is now live in time for the holiday season. Businesses interested in using it can learn how to do it using the video supplied by WhatsApp, above. 

Google turns those annoying call center menus into easy-to-navigate screens

In addition to the new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, Google also released more details about new capabilities that its Tensor chip enables. One of them is a much more intelligent way of handling those calls to businesses that sometimes have you waiting hours on end just to speak to a representative. Now, the Pixel will show you the current and projected wait times before you even place a call so you can call when it works for you. 

Additionally, when you do call and encounter an endless list of options (like, "Press 1 for branch location and hours" if you're calling a bank), you don't need to remember all of them carefully. Instead, Google will listen to them for you and show the automated menu options on the screen for you to tap. 

This is in addition to a "Hold For Me" feature Google introduced last year. Instead of having to stay on the line, Google Assistant will remain on the call for you. It understands the difference between a recorded message and an actual representative on the line. When a real life person is finally on, it'll alert you to take the call. 

Catch up on all the latest news from Google's Pixel 6 event!

Google turns those annoying call center menus into easy-to-navigate screens

In addition to the new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, Google also released more details about new capabilities that its Tensor chip enables. One of them is a much more intelligent way of handling those calls to businesses that sometimes have you waiting hours on end just to speak to a representative. Now, the Pixel will show you the current and projected wait times before you even place a call so you can call when it works for you. 

Additionally, when you do call and encounter an endless list of options (like, "Press 1 for branch location and hours" if you're calling a bank), you don't need to remember all of them carefully. Instead, Google will listen to them for you and show the automated menu options on the screen for you to tap. 

This is in addition to a "Hold For Me" feature Google introduced last year. Instead of having to stay on the line, Google Assistant will remain on the call for you. It understands the difference between a recorded message and an actual representative on the line. When a real life person is finally on, it'll alert you to take the call. 

Catch up on all the latest news from Google's Pixel 6 event!

Hitting the Books: How Amazon’s aggressive R&D push made it an e-commerce behemoth

Amazon is the Standard Oil of the 21st century. Its business operations and global reach dwarf those of virtually every other company on the planet — and exceed the GDP of more than a few countries — illustrating the vital importance innovation has on the modern economy. In his latest book, The Exponential Age: How Accelerating Technology is Transforming Business, Politics and Society, author Azeem Azhar examines how the ever-increasing pace of technological progress is impacting, influencing — and often rebuilding — our social, political and economic mores from the ground up.

The Exponential Age by Azeem Azhar
Diversion Books

Excerpted from The Exponential Age: How Accelerating Technology is Transforming Business, Politics and Society by Azeem Azhar. Copyright © 2021 Azeem Azhar. Printed with permission of the publisher, Diversion Books. All rights reserved.


In 2020, Amazon turned twenty-six years old. Over the previous quarter of a century, the company had transformed shopping. With retail revenues in excess of $213 billion, it was larger than Germany’s Schwarz Gruppe, America’s Costco, and every British retailer. Only America’s Walmart, with more than half a trillion dollars of sales, was bigger. But Amazon was, by this time, far and away the world’s largest online retailer. Its online business was about eight times larger than Walmart’s. Amazon was more than just an online shop, however. Its huge operations in areas such as cloud computing, logistics, media, and hardware added a further $172 billion in sales.

At the heart of Amazon’s success is an annual research and development budget that reached a staggering $36 billion in 2019, and which is used to develop everything from robots to smart home assistants. This sum leaves other companies — and many governments — behind. It is not far off the UK government’s annual budget for research and development. The entire US government’s federal R&D budget for 2018 was only $134 billion. 

Amazon spent more on R&D in 2018 than the US National Institutes of Health. Roche, the global pharmaceutical company renowned for its investment in research, spent a mere $12 billion in R&D in 2018. Meanwhile Tesco, the largest retailer in Britain — with annual sales in excess of £50 billion (approximately $70 billion) — had a research lab whose budget was in the “six figures” in 2016.

Perhaps more remarkable is the rate at which Amazon grew this budget. Ten years earlier, Amazon’s research budget was $1.2 billion. Over the course of the next decade, the firm increased its annual R&D budget by about 44 percent every year. As the 2010s went on, Amazon doubled down on its investments in research. In the words of Werner Vogels, the firm’s chief technology officer, if they stopped innovating they “would be out of business in ten to fifteen years.”

In the process, Amazon created a chasm between the old world and the new. The approach of traditional business was to rely on models that succeeded yesterday. They were based on a strategy that tomorrow might be a little different, but not markedly so.

This kind of linear thinking, rooted in the assumption that change takes decades and not months, may have worked in the past—but not anymore. Amazon understood the nature of the Exponential Age. The pace of change was accelerating; the companies that could harness the technologies of the new era would take off. And those that couldn’t keep up would be undone at remarkable speed.

This divergence between the old and the new is one example of what I call the “exponential gap.” On the one hand, there are technologies that develop at an exponential pace—and the companies, institutions, and communities that adapt to or harness those developments. On the other, there are the ideas and norms of the old world. The companies, institutions, and communities that can only adapt at an incremental pace. These get left behind—and fast.

The emergence of this gap is a consequence of exponential technology. Until the early 2010s, most companies assumed the cost of their inputs would remain pretty similar from year to year, perhaps with a nudge for inflation. The raw materials might fluctuate based on commodity markets, but their planning processes, institutionalized in management orthodoxy, could manage such volatility. But in the Exponential Age, one primary input for a company is its ability to process information. One of the main costs to process that data is computation. And the cost of computation didn’t rise each year; it declined rapidly. The underlying dynamics of how companies operate had shifted.

In Chapter 1, we explored how Moore’s Law amounts to a halving of the underlying cost of computation every couple of years. It means that every ten years, the cost of the processing that can be done by a computer will decline by a factor of one hundred. But the implications of this process stretch far beyond our personal laptop use—and far beyond the interests of any one laptop manufacturer.

In general, if an organization needs to do something that uses computation, and that task is too expensive today, it probably won’t be too expensive in a couple of years. For companies, this realization has deep significance. Firms that figured out that the effective price of computation was declining, even if the notional price of what they were buying was staying the same (or even rising), could plan, practice, and experiment with the near future in mind. Even if those futuristic activities were expensive now, they would become affordable soon enough. Organizations that understood this deflation, and planned for it, became well-positioned to take advantage of the Exponential Age.

If Amazon’s early recognition of this trend helped transform it into one of the most valuable companies in history, they were not alone. Many of the new digital giants—from Uber to Alibaba, Spotify to TikTok—took a similar path. And following in their footsteps were firms who understand how these processes apply in other sectors. The bosses at Tesla understood that the prices of electric vehicles might decline on an exponential curve, and launched the electric vehicle revolution. The founders of Impossible Foods understood how the expensive process of precision fermentation (which involves genetically modified microorganisms) would get cheaper and cheaper. Executives at space companies like Spire and Planet Labs understood this process would drive down the cost of putting satellites in orbit. Companies that didn’t adapt to exponential technology shifts, like much of the newspaper publishing industry, didn’t stand a chance.

We can visualize the gap by returning to our now-familiar exponential curve. As we’ve seen, individual technologies develop according to an S-curve, which begins by roughly following an exponential trajectory. And as we’ve seen, it starts off looking a bit humdrum. In those early days, exponential change is distinctly boring, and most people and organizations ignore it. At this point in the curve, the industry producing an exponential technology looks exciting to those in it, but like a backwater to everyone else. But at some point, the line of exponential change crosses that of linear change. Soon it reaches an inflection point. That shift in gear, which is both sudden and subtle, is hard to fathom. 

Because, for all the visibility of exponential change, most of the institutions that make up our society follow a linear trajectory. Codified laws and unspoken social norms; legacy companies and NGOs; political systems and intergovernmental bodies—all have only ever known how to adapt incrementally. Stability is an important force within institutions. In fact, it’s built into them.

The gap between our institutions’ capacity to change and our new technologies’ accelerating speed is the defining consequence of our shift into the Exponential Age. On the one side, you have the new behaviors, relationships, and structures that are enabled by exponentially improving technologies, and the products and services built from them. On the other, you have the norms that have evolved or been designed to suit the needs of earlier configurations of technology. The gap leads to extreme tension. In the Exponential Age, this divergence is ongoing—and it is everywhere.

Hitting the Books: How Amazon’s aggressive R&D push made it an e-commerce behemoth

Amazon is the Standard Oil of the 21st century. Its business operations and global reach dwarf those of virtually every other company on the planet — and exceed the GDP of more than a few countries — illustrating the vital importance innovation has on the modern economy. In his latest book, The Exponential Age: How Accelerating Technology is Transforming Business, Politics and Society, author Azeem Azhar examines how the ever-increasing pace of technological progress is impacting, influencing — and often rebuilding — our social, political and economic mores from the ground up.

The Exponential Age by Azeem Azhar
Diversion Books

Excerpted from The Exponential Age: How Accelerating Technology is Transforming Business, Politics and Society by Azeem Azhar. Copyright © 2021 Azeem Azhar. Printed with permission of the publisher, Diversion Books. All rights reserved.


In 2020, Amazon turned twenty-six years old. Over the previous quarter of a century, the company had transformed shopping. With retail revenues in excess of $213 billion, it was larger than Germany’s Schwarz Gruppe, America’s Costco, and every British retailer. Only America’s Walmart, with more than half a trillion dollars of sales, was bigger. But Amazon was, by this time, far and away the world’s largest online retailer. Its online business was about eight times larger than Walmart’s. Amazon was more than just an online shop, however. Its huge operations in areas such as cloud computing, logistics, media, and hardware added a further $172 billion in sales.

At the heart of Amazon’s success is an annual research and development budget that reached a staggering $36 billion in 2019, and which is used to develop everything from robots to smart home assistants. This sum leaves other companies — and many governments — behind. It is not far off the UK government’s annual budget for research and development. The entire US government’s federal R&D budget for 2018 was only $134 billion. 

Amazon spent more on R&D in 2018 than the US National Institutes of Health. Roche, the global pharmaceutical company renowned for its investment in research, spent a mere $12 billion in R&D in 2018. Meanwhile Tesco, the largest retailer in Britain — with annual sales in excess of £50 billion (approximately $70 billion) — had a research lab whose budget was in the “six figures” in 2016.

Perhaps more remarkable is the rate at which Amazon grew this budget. Ten years earlier, Amazon’s research budget was $1.2 billion. Over the course of the next decade, the firm increased its annual R&D budget by about 44 percent every year. As the 2010s went on, Amazon doubled down on its investments in research. In the words of Werner Vogels, the firm’s chief technology officer, if they stopped innovating they “would be out of business in ten to fifteen years.”

In the process, Amazon created a chasm between the old world and the new. The approach of traditional business was to rely on models that succeeded yesterday. They were based on a strategy that tomorrow might be a little different, but not markedly so.

This kind of linear thinking, rooted in the assumption that change takes decades and not months, may have worked in the past—but not anymore. Amazon understood the nature of the Exponential Age. The pace of change was accelerating; the companies that could harness the technologies of the new era would take off. And those that couldn’t keep up would be undone at remarkable speed.

This divergence between the old and the new is one example of what I call the “exponential gap.” On the one hand, there are technologies that develop at an exponential pace—and the companies, institutions, and communities that adapt to or harness those developments. On the other, there are the ideas and norms of the old world. The companies, institutions, and communities that can only adapt at an incremental pace. These get left behind—and fast.

The emergence of this gap is a consequence of exponential technology. Until the early 2010s, most companies assumed the cost of their inputs would remain pretty similar from year to year, perhaps with a nudge for inflation. The raw materials might fluctuate based on commodity markets, but their planning processes, institutionalized in management orthodoxy, could manage such volatility. But in the Exponential Age, one primary input for a company is its ability to process information. One of the main costs to process that data is computation. And the cost of computation didn’t rise each year; it declined rapidly. The underlying dynamics of how companies operate had shifted.

In Chapter 1, we explored how Moore’s Law amounts to a halving of the underlying cost of computation every couple of years. It means that every ten years, the cost of the processing that can be done by a computer will decline by a factor of one hundred. But the implications of this process stretch far beyond our personal laptop use—and far beyond the interests of any one laptop manufacturer.

In general, if an organization needs to do something that uses computation, and that task is too expensive today, it probably won’t be too expensive in a couple of years. For companies, this realization has deep significance. Firms that figured out that the effective price of computation was declining, even if the notional price of what they were buying was staying the same (or even rising), could plan, practice, and experiment with the near future in mind. Even if those futuristic activities were expensive now, they would become affordable soon enough. Organizations that understood this deflation, and planned for it, became well-positioned to take advantage of the Exponential Age.

If Amazon’s early recognition of this trend helped transform it into one of the most valuable companies in history, they were not alone. Many of the new digital giants—from Uber to Alibaba, Spotify to TikTok—took a similar path. And following in their footsteps were firms who understand how these processes apply in other sectors. The bosses at Tesla understood that the prices of electric vehicles might decline on an exponential curve, and launched the electric vehicle revolution. The founders of Impossible Foods understood how the expensive process of precision fermentation (which involves genetically modified microorganisms) would get cheaper and cheaper. Executives at space companies like Spire and Planet Labs understood this process would drive down the cost of putting satellites in orbit. Companies that didn’t adapt to exponential technology shifts, like much of the newspaper publishing industry, didn’t stand a chance.

We can visualize the gap by returning to our now-familiar exponential curve. As we’ve seen, individual technologies develop according to an S-curve, which begins by roughly following an exponential trajectory. And as we’ve seen, it starts off looking a bit humdrum. In those early days, exponential change is distinctly boring, and most people and organizations ignore it. At this point in the curve, the industry producing an exponential technology looks exciting to those in it, but like a backwater to everyone else. But at some point, the line of exponential change crosses that of linear change. Soon it reaches an inflection point. That shift in gear, which is both sudden and subtle, is hard to fathom. 

Because, for all the visibility of exponential change, most of the institutions that make up our society follow a linear trajectory. Codified laws and unspoken social norms; legacy companies and NGOs; political systems and intergovernmental bodies—all have only ever known how to adapt incrementally. Stability is an important force within institutions. In fact, it’s built into them.

The gap between our institutions’ capacity to change and our new technologies’ accelerating speed is the defining consequence of our shift into the Exponential Age. On the one side, you have the new behaviors, relationships, and structures that are enabled by exponentially improving technologies, and the products and services built from them. On the other, you have the norms that have evolved or been designed to suit the needs of earlier configurations of technology. The gap leads to extreme tension. In the Exponential Age, this divergence is ongoing—and it is everywhere.

Spotify opens its Car Thing waitlist to all US users

Spotify is expanding US availability of its Car Thing, an $80 music and podcast player for vehicles. The company debuted the gizmo back in the spring on an invite-only basis and only charged users for shipping during a test phase.

Those who signed up for the Car Thing waitlist before now will get first dibs on the company's first hardware device, though it's still in limited release for now. In addition, both free and Premium Spotify members in the country can now sign up for the waitlist, though the Car Thing requires a Premium subscription and a smartphone for connectivity. Everyone who signs up for the waitlist will eventually be offered a Car Thing.

Spotify worked on Car Thing for several years before it started shipping the device a few months ago. The idea is to bring infotainment features to almost any car, particularly older ones without newfangled touchscreens. Once you hook up Car Thing to your vehicle with the help of one of the included mounts, you can use it to play music and podcasts with either physical controls or "Hey Spotify" voice commands.