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Facebook Q2 Profit Nearly Doubles as Monthly Active Users Top 3 Billion

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 31 July 2020

Facebook reported Thursday that its quarterly profit had nearly doubled and users grew despite a boycott by advertisers and the pandemic-induced economic turmoil.

The leading social network said it made a profit of $5.2 billion (roughly Rs. 38,877 crores) on $18.7 billion (roughly Rs. 1.39 lakh crores) in revenue in the recently ended quarter, as the number of people using the platform monthly rose to 2.7 billion.

“This was a strong quarter for us, especially compared to what we expected at the start,” chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said.

Shares in the Silicon Valley-based technology giant were up six percent in after-market trades following release of the earnings figures.

The number of people using the tech giant’s overall “family” of apps including WhatsApp and Messenger each month topped three billion, according to Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg said he could not predict when Facebook employees would return their offices, in light of surge in coronavirus cases.

“It is incredibly disappointing because it seems like the US could have avoided this current surge in cases if our government had handled this better,” Zuckerberg said.

Facebook expected as much as half of its employees to be working from home on a long-term basis in the next five to ten years.

Defending the story

Zuckerberg sought to highlight the importance of technology firms during the crisis, as he recounted his testimony at a Congressional antitrust hearing along with CEOs of Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet at a panel investigating market dominance.

“As I said yesterday the tech industry is an American success story,” Zuckerberg said.

“Products, we build have changed the world for the better and improved people’s lives.”

Use of Facebook has surged as people staying close to home due to the pandemic turn to the platform to virtually connect with friends and loved ones.

“Imagine going through this pandemic two decades ago when the internet was nascent Facebook didn’t even exist,”Zuckerberg said.

He remained adamant that Facebook does not want hate speech on the social network, despite criticism that the social network does not do enough to fight misinformation and vitriol.

Organisers of a Facebook ad boycott have vowed to continue their campaign, saying the social network’s top executives have failed to offer meaningful action on curbing hateful content.

The boycott aimed at pressing Facebook to act on toxic and hateful content has the support of more than 900 companies and organizations.

Zuckerberg said he was “troubled” by calls for regulators to make it more difficult to target advertising, saying such a move would hurt businesses trying to connect with customers, especially during economic turmoil.

“This would reduce opportunities for small businesses so much that would probably be felt at a macroeconomic level,” Zuckerberg said.

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Facebook, Twitter Step Up Fight Against Misinformation on US Elections

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By Reuters | Updated: 13 August 2020

Social media platforms stepped up fight against misinformation on the US elections, with Facebook starting a hub to help users with poll-related resources and Twitter expanding rules against misinformation on mail-in ballots and early voting.

The move comes as online social networks have been drawing flak for what has been called a lax approach to fake news reports and misinformation campaigns, which many believe affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

Twitter’s move will involve coming up with new policies “that emphasise accurate information about all available options to vote, including by mail and early voting.”

“We’re focused on empowering every eligible person to register and vote through partnerships, tools and new policies,” Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Twitter’s vice president for public policy in the Americas, told Reuters in an email.

Facebook, meanwhile, launched a Voting Information Center to help users with accurate and easy-to-find information about voting wherever they live.

The company said in a blog it was also speaking with officials about misinformation surrounding election results as an emerging threat.

Twitter said it would roll out measures on new tools, policies and voting resources in the next month. It is exploring how to expand its “civic integrity policies” to address mischaracterisations of mail-in voting and other procedures.

The finer details of the step are still being finalised.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that voting by mail, which is expected to increase dramatically due to the coronavirus outbreak, is susceptible to large-scale fraud.

The process is not new in the United States — nearly one in four voters cast 2016 presidential ballots that way.

Many experts have said that routine methods and the decentralised nature of US elections make it very hard to interfere with mailed ballots.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Trump Administration Asks Court to Dismiss Big Tech’s Challenge to Social Media Executive Order

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By Reuters | Updated: 13 August 2020

The Trump administration has filed a motion asking a court to dismiss a lawsuit against the president’s executive order targeting social media companies, calling it a “profound misunderstanding,” according to a copy of the motion seen by Reuters.

The lawsuit was brought in June by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a Washington-based tech group funded by Facebook, Alphabet’s Google, and Twitter. It marked the first major legal test of President Donald Trump’s directive.

Trump issued an executive order in May against social media companies in an attempt to regulate platforms where he has been criticised, just days after Twitter took the rare step of fact-checking one of his tweets about mail-in voting. Trump threatened to scrap or weaken a law known as Section 230, which protects Internet companies from litigation over content posted by users.

The lawsuit by CDT argued Trump’s social media executive order violates the First Amendment rights of social media companies, will chill future online speech and reduce the ability of Americans to speak freely online.

The administration argues that the executive order only directs government agencies, and not private companies, to act.

“The EO challenged here imposes no obligations on any private party,” said the motion filed by the Department of Justice in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, which was seen by Reuters.

“It directs executive officials to take steps that could lead various agencies to examine … allegations that large social media online platforms have displayed political bias in moderating content,” the motion said.

The lawsuit reflects long-simmering tensions between the Trump administration and social media companies that have become key tools in Trump’s political arsenal.

Avery Gardiner, CDT’s general counsel, called Trump’s executive order “unconstitutional.” CDT’s lawsuit argues that the White House ran afoul of the First Amendment, which prohibits government officials from retaliating against an individual or entity for engaging in protected speech.

“Instead of actually trying to address the merits of the issues, and to engage in litigation that will show the severe constitutional deformities of the executive order, it is resorting to legal maneuvering,” Gardiner said on Wednesday, referring to the Trump administration’s move.

The CDT has negotiated a briefing schedule with the DOJ. CDT will be filing its response by the end of August and the government is likely to respond by September 21, she said.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said the administration moved to dismiss the case because “it is not a valid legal argument.”

“The left-wing lobbying organisation’s brief seems to suggest it doesn’t understand how administrative action works or possibly that it doesn’t understand the nature of the judicial system,” he told Reuters on Wednesday.

The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

Twitter called the executive order a “reactionary and politicised approach to a landmark law.” It declined comment on the CDT lawsuit. Google and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump’s order seeks to channel complaints about political bias to the Federal Trade Commission. At a recent Senate hearing, the agency’s chairman, Joseph Simons, said the FTC has not taken any action to enforce the order.

The US Commerce Department has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking new transparency rules in how social media companies moderate content after Trump’s executive order directed the action. Earlier this month FCC Chairman Ajit Pai agreed to open the petition to public comment for 45 days.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Facebook’s Enforcement on Suicide, Child Nudity Posts Affected by COVID-19 Pandemic

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By Associated Press | Updated: 12 August 2020

Looks like the machines aren’t ready to take over just yet.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected Facebook’s ability to remove harmful and forbidden material from its platforms, the company said Tuesday. Sending its content moderators to work from home in March amid the pandemic led the company to remove less harmful material from Facebook and Instagram around suicide, self-injury, child nudity, and sexual exploitation.

Sending its human reviewers home meant that Facebook relied more on technology, rather than people, to find posts, photos, and other content that violates its rules.

“Today’s report shows the impact of COVID-19 on our content moderation and demonstrates that, while our technology for identifying and removing violating content is improving, there will continue to be areas where we rely on people to both review content and train our technology,” Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, wrote in a blog post.

The company said Tuesday that it has since brought many reviewers back to working online from home and, “where it is safe,” a smaller number into offices.

But Facebook also said its systems have gotten better at proactively detecting hate speech, meaning it is found and removed before anyone sees it. The company said its detection rate increased 6 points in the second quarter, to 95 percent from 89 percent. Facebook said it took action on 22.5 million pieces of content — like posts, photos or videos — for hate speech violations in the second quarter, up from 9.6 million in the first quarter. The social network said that’s because it has expanded its automation technology into Spanish, Arabic and Indonesian and made improvements to its English detection technology.

Facebook also announced Tuesday that it is banning caricatures of Black people in the form of blackface, as well as dehumanising depictions of Jewish people that include images or other depictions of Jewish people running the world or controlling major institutions such as media networks, the economy or the government.

In the Netherlands and Belgium, images of Black Pete, or Zwarte Piet, that use blackface features and stereotyping characteristics will also be removed, the company said. Zwarte Piet is a sidekick of Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of St. Nicholas, a Santa-like character who brings children gifts in early December.

White people often don blackface makeup, red lipstick, and curly black wigs to play Black Pete during street parties honoring Sinterklaas.

The character has been at the center of fierce and increasingly polarised debate in recent years between opponents who decry him as a racist caricature and supporters who defend him as an integral part of a cherished Dutch tradition. As a result, some towns and cities have phased out blackface at street parties.

An organisation called Netherlands Is Improving welcomed the news. “August 11 is a happy day: From today, Black Pete is officially no longer welcome worldwide on Facebook and Instagram,” the group said.

Others were less inclined to celebrate. Populist lawmaker Geert Wilders tweeted a photo of a Black Pete shortly after the Facebook announcement accompanied by the text: “Facebook and Instagram ban images of Zwarte Piet. The totalitarian state of the intolerant nagging left-wing anti-racists is getting closer.”

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Facebook Removed Seven Million Posts in Second Quarter for False Coronavirus Information

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By Reuters | Updated: 12 August 2020

Facebook said on Tuesday it removed 7 million posts in the second quarter for sharing false information about the novel coronavirus, including content that promoted fake preventative measures and exaggerated cures.

It released the data as part of its sixth Community Standards Enforcement Report, which it introduced in 2018 along with more stringent decorum rules in response to a backlash over its lax approach to policing content on its platforms.

The world’s biggest social network said it would invite proposals from experts this week to audit the metrics used in the report, beginning in 2021. It committed to the audit during a July ad boycott over hate speech practices.

The company removed about 22.5 million posts with hate speech on its flagship app in the second quarter, a dramatic increase from 9.6 million in the first quarter. It attributed the jump to improvements in detection technology.

It also deleted 8.7 million posts connected to “terrorist” organisations, compared with 6.3 million in the prior period. It took down less material from “organised hate” groups: 4 million pieces of content, compared to 4.7 million in the first quarter.

The company does not disclose changes in the prevalence of hateful content on its platforms, which civil rights groups say makes reports on its removal less meaningful.

Facebook said it relied more heavily on automation for reviewing content starting in April as it had fewer reviewers at its offices due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That resulted in less action against content related to self-harm and child sexual exploitation, executives said on a conference call.

“It’s graphic content that honestly at home it’s very hard for people to moderate, with people around them,” said Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president for integrity.

Facebook said it was expanding its hate speech policy to include “content depicting blackface, or stereotypes about Jewish people controlling the world.”

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Facebook Has Not Shared ‘Evidence’ of Serious International Crimes in Myanmar: UN Investigator

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By Reuters | Updated: 11 August 2020

The head of a UN investigative body on Myanmar said Facebook has not released evidence of “serious international crimes,” despite vowing to work with investigators looking into abuses in the country including against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Nicholas Koumjian, head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar (IIMM), told Reuters the social media giant was holding material “highly relevant and probative of serious international crimes” but had not shared any during year-long talks.

He declined to give details of the material the IIMM had asked for.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Myanmar is facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over a 2017 military crackdown on the Rohingya that forced more than 730,000 people to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar denies genocide and says its armed forces were conducting legitimate operations against militants who attacked police posts.

UN investigators said Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that fuelled the violence.

The company says it is working to stop hate speech and has deleted accounts linked to the military including senior army officials but preserved data.

The UN Human Rights Council set up the IIMM in 2018 to collect evidence of international crimes in Myanmar to be used in future prosecutions.

“Unfortunately, to date, the Mechanism has not received any material from Facebook but our discussions continue and I am hopeful that the Mechanism will eventually receive this important evidence,” Koumjian said on Monday.

His comments followed a move by Facebook last week to block a bid by Gambia, which brought the genocide case against Myanmar at the ICJ in the Hague, to obtain posts and communications by members of Myanmar’s military and police.

The social media giant urged the US District Court for the District of Columbia to reject the demand, which it said would violate a US law that bars electronic communication services from disclosing users’ communications.

In a statement last week the company said it could not comply with Gambia’s request but was working with the IIMM.


© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Facebook Financial Formed to Help In-Platform Payment Services

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 11 August 2020

Facebook on Monday said it has created a new unit devoted to financial services to harmonise payment systems on its platform.

The new group, called Facebook Financial, will be headed by e-commerce veteran David Marcus, who was a president at PayPal before joining the leading social network six years ago.

Marcus is one of the creators of Facebook’s digital money network Libra, and heads the team building a Novi digital wallet tailored for the currency.

The Novi wallet — set to launch when Libra coins debut — promises to give Facebook opportunities to build financial services into its offerings, offer to expand its own commerce and let more small businesses buy ads on the social network.

Facebook Financial will handle management and strategy for all payments and money services across the Silicon Valley company’s platform.

“Today various payments features exist across our apps, and we want to make sure decision making, execution and compliance are not fragmented,” Facebook said in an email reply to an AFP inquiry.

“We want to be able to give people the ability to make a payment however they choose — debit, credit, or Libra digital currencies.”

Noting security concerns posed by Facebook’s yet-to-be-launched digital currency Libra, the Federal Reserve last week revealed plans for its own instant payments system.

FedNow will provide households and businesses with instant access to payments, for wages, government benefits or sales, without waiting days for checks to clear, the Fed said.

The system, which is not due to launch for two to three years, “will be designed to maintain uninterrupted 24x7x365 processing with security features to support payment integrity and data security,” the central bank said.

Facebook’s announcement last year of plans to design the Libra cryptocurrency and payments system raised immediate red flags for global finance officials who expressed a barrage of withering criticism about the security and reliability of a private network.

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