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Facebook Said to Be Probed by US Agency for ‘Systemic’ Racial Bias in Hiring, Promotions

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By Reuters | Updated: 6 March 2021

A US agency investigating Facebook Inc for racial bias in hiring and promotions has designated the probe as “systemic,” attorneys for three job applicants and a manager who claim the company discriminated against them told Reuters on Friday.

A “systemic” probe means the agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, suspects company policies may be contributing to widespread discrimination.

The EEOC typically resolves disputes through mediation or allowing complainants to sue employers. But agency officials designate a few cases “systemic,” enabling investigators to rope in specialists to analyse company data and potentially bring a broader lawsuit representing entire classes of workers.

Facebook operations program manager Oscar Veneszee Jr. and two applicants denied jobs brought a charge last July to the EEOC, and a third rejected applicant joined the case in December. They have alleged Facebook discriminates against Black candidates and employees by relying on subjective evaluations and promoting problematic racial stereotypes.

The designation of the EEOC’s probe has not been previously reported.

The EEOC has not brought allegations against Facebook. Its investigation, which may last months more, may not result in findings of wrongdoing. The agency declined to comment.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone declined to comment on the status of the probe or specific allegations but said that “it is essential to provide all employees with a respectful and safe working environment.”

“We take any allegations of discrimination seriously and investigate every case,” he said.

The EEOC brought in systemic investigators by last August and received detailed briefing papers from both sides over the last four months, said Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney at Gupta Wessler representing Veneszee and the job candidates.

Employment law firms Mehri & Skalet and Katz Marshall & Banks also are helping the workers.

The EEOC’s Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Washington offices are involved, attorneys from the firms said.

Facebook’s counsel, Covington & Burling, did not respond to a request for comment.

Increasing racial and gender diversity has been a persistent challenge for the nation’s largest tech companies, which at times have blamed a shortage of qualified candidates from underrepresented groups. But tech workers have grown emboldened to publicly challenge that notion and allege in formal complaints that biased employment practices cause disparities.

Romer-Friedman said he and his colleagues told the EEOC in a submission last month that one such Facebook policy is awarding employees bonuses of up to $5,000 when a candidate they refer is hired. Referred candidates tend to reflect the makeup of existing employees, disadvantaging Black professionals, he said.

Facebook said about 3.9 percent of its US employees as of last June were Black.

David Lopez, a former EEOC general counsel now teaching at Rutgers University, said that systemic investigations are significant because of the additional resources involved. When they result in allegations of wrongdoing, multimillion-dollar settlements sometimes follow, he said, citing recent cases against Dollar General Corp and Walmart.

In the year ended last September 30, 13 of the 93 EEOC merit lawsuits were systemic, according to agency data.

Last December, the Justice Department accused Facebook of discriminating against US workers broadly, saying it gave hiring preference to temporary workers such as H-1B visa holders.

Alphabet’s Google last month agreed to spend $3.8 million (roughly Rs. 27.8 crores) to settle US government allegations that it underpaid women and unfairly passed over women and Asians for job openings.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook Delivers Gender-Biased Job Advertisements, Says US Study

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By Reuters | Updated: 10 April 2021

Facebook users may not be learning about jobs for which they are qualified because the company’s tools can disproportionately direct ads to a particular gender “beyond what can be legally justified,” university researchers said in a study published on Friday.

According to the study, in one of three examples that generated similar results, Facebook targeted an Instacart delivery job ad to a female-heavy audience and a Domino’s Pizza delivery job ad to a male-heavy viewership.

Instacart has mostly female drivers, and Domino’s mostly men, the study by University of Southern California researchers said.

In contrast, Microsoft’s LinkedIn showed the ads for delivery jobs at Domino’s to about the same proportion of women as it did the Instacart ad.

“Facebook’s ad delivery can result in skew of job ad delivery by gender beyond what can be legally justified by possible differences in qualifications,” the study said. The finding strengthens the argument that Facebook’s algorithms may be in violation of U.S. anti-discrimination laws, it added.

Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne said the company accounts for “many signals to try and serve people ads they will be most interested in, but we understand the concerns raised in the report.”

Amid lawsuits and regulatory probes on discrimination through ad targeting, Facebook has tightened controls to prevent clients from excluding some groups from seeing job, housing and other ads.

But researchers remain concerned about bias in artificial intelligence (AI) software choosing which users see an ad. Facebook and LinkedIn both said they study their AI for what the tech industry calls “fairness.”

LinkedIn engineering vice president Ashvin Kannan said the study’s results “align with our own internal review of our job ads ecosystem.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook Removes 16,000 Accounts for Buying-Selling Fake Reviews

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By Reuters | Updated: 9 April 2021

Social media company Facebook suspended 16,000 accounts for selling or buying fake reviews of products and services on its platforms, after the Britain’s competition watchdog intervened for the second time, the regulator said.

US-based Facebook also made further changes to detect, remove, and prevent paid content which could mislead users on its platforms, including popular photo-sharing app Instagram, UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said on Friday.

“We have engaged extensively with the CMA to address this issue. Fraudulent and deceptive activity is not allowed on our platforms, including offering or trading fake reviews,” a Facebook representative said.

The CMA began a crackdown on false reviews from 2019 when it first asked Facebook and e-commerce platform eBay to check their websites after it found evidence of a growing marketplace for misleading customer reviews on the platforms.

Facebook has also been under scrutiny by the CMA for antitrust concerns over the technology company’s acquisition of GIF website Giphy. It has been under pressure the world over for its data sharing practices as well as fake news and hate speech.

“The pandemic has meant that more and more people are buying online, and millions of us read reviews to enable us to make informed choices when we shop around. That’s why fake and misleading reviews are so damaging,” said CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli.

CMA’s crackdown on Facebook coincides with Britain’s efforts to set up a dedicated digital markets unit within the regulatory authority to specifically look at governing digital platforms.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook Sued by Muslim Civil Rights Group Over Hate Speech

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By Associated Press | Updated: 9 April 2021

A civil rights group is suing Facebook and its executives, saying CEO Mark Zuckerberg made “false and deceptive” statements to Congress when he said the giant social network removes hate speech and other material that violates its rules.

The lawsuit, filed by Muslim Advocates in Washington, DC, Superior Court on Thursday, claims Zuckerberg and other senior executives “have engaged in a coordinated campaign to convince the public, elected representatives, federal officials, and non-profit leaders in the nation’s capital that Facebook is a safe product.”

Facebook, the lawsuit alleges, has been repeatedly alerted to hate speech and calls to violence on its platform and done nothing or very little. Making false and deceptive statements about removing hateful and harmful content violates the District of Columbia’s consumer-protection law and its bar on fraud, the lawsuit says.

“Every day, ordinary people are bombarded with harmful content in violation of Facebook’s own policies on hate speech, bullying, harassment, dangerous organizations, and violence,” the lawsuit says. “Hateful, anti-Muslim attacks are especially pervasive on Facebook.”

In a statement, Facebook said it does not allow hate speech on its platform and said it regularly works with “experts, non-profits, and stakeholders to help make sure Facebook is a safe place for everyone, recognising anti-Muslim rhetoric can take different forms.

The company based in Menlo Park, California, said it has invested in artificial intelligence technologies aimed at removing hate speech and proactively detects 97 percent of what it removes.

Facebook declined to comment beyond the statement, which did not address the lawsuit’s allegations that it has not removed hate speech and anti-Muslim networks from its platform even after it was notified of their existence.

For example, the lawsuit cites research by Elon University professor Megan Squire, who published research about anti-Muslim groups on Facebook and alerted the company. According to the lawsuit, Facebook did not remove the groups — but it did change how outside academics can access its platform so that the kind of research Squire did would be “impossible other than if done by Facebook employees.”

Facebook’s hate speech policy prohibits targeting a person or group with “dehumanising speech or imagery,” calls for violence, references to subhumanity and inferiority as well as generalisations that state inferiority. The policy applies to attacks on the basis of race, religion, national origin, disability, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, and serious disease.

But in one example from April 25, 2018, Squire reported to Facebook a group called “Purge Worldwide,” according to the lawsuit. The group’s description reads: “This is an anti Islamic group A Place to share information about what is happening in your part of the world.”

Facebook responded that it would not remove the group or the content. The lawsuit cites other examples of groups with names like “Death to Murdering Islamic Muslim Cult Members” and “Filth of Islam” that Facebook did not remove despite being notified, even though Facebook policy prohibits “reference or comparison to filth” on the basis of religion. In the latter case Facebook did remove some posts from the group, but not the group itself.

The lawsuit also cites an exception Facebook made to its policy for former President Donald Trump, for whom Facebook made an exception to its rules when he posted as a candidate in 2016 about banning all Muslims from entering the US.

Zuckerberg and other social media executives have repeatedly testified before Congress about how they combat extremism, hate and misinformation on their platforms. Zuckerberg told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the issue is “nuanced.”

“Any system can make mistakes” in moderating harmful material, he said.

The plaintiffs seek a jury trial and damages of $1,500 (roughly Rs. 1.12 lakhs) per violation.

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Twitter ‘Milk Tea Alliance’ Emoji Launched in Support of the Pro-Democracy Movement

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 April 2021

Social media giant Twitter on Thursday launched an emoji for the Milk Tea Alliance, a global online pro-democracy movement that has united anti-Beijing campaigners in Hong Kong and Taiwan with protesters in Thailand, Myanmar and beyond.

Activists welcomed the announcement of the emoji – a white cup set against a background of three colours representing different shades of milk tea in Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan – for the first anniversary of the movement.

The Milk Tea Alliance sprang from a Twitter war that flared after Chinese nationalists accused a young Thai actor and his girlfriend of supporting democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwanese independence.

It is named after a shared passion for sweet tea drinks in the three places.

Use of the hashtag peaked again in February after the military coup in Myanmar, where protesters using the hashtag rallied regional support.

“We have seen more than 11 million Tweets featuring the #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag over the past year,” Twitter said in an announcement that pushed the hashtag to among the top trending in Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan on Thursday.

Previously, Twitter launched emojis for #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements.

The Twitter emoji showed global recognition and lent greater credibility to the youth movement, said prominent Thai activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, one of the alliance’s leading voices.

“It’s important as it shows the young people fighting for democracy that the world is with them and they’re making an impact,” Netiwit told Reuters. “It’s a sign that online activism can go much further.”

Twitter is blocked in China and its apparent endorsement of a movement with a strong current of opposition to Beijing was unlikely to hurt its business, said James Buchanan, a lecturer at Bangkok’s Mahidol University International College.

“Twitter has plenty to gain by appealing to young people in the Asian markets that are open to them,” he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook Weathers Social Media Turmoil, TikTok Rises: US Survey

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 8 April 2021

Facebook usage has held steady in the United States despite a string of controversies about the leading social network, even as younger users tap into rival platforms such as TikTok, a survey showed Wednesday.

The Pew Research Center survey from early 2021 found 69 percent of American adults use Facebook, and 72 percent used at least one social media site, levels which have been stable for the past five years.

“While there has been much written about Americans’ changing relationship with Facebook, its users remain quite active on the platform,” the researchers wrote.

“Seven-in-ten Facebook users say they use the site daily, including 49 percent who say they use the site several times a day.”

The report suggests Facebook’s US usage has weathered a spate of controversies in recent years including the Cambridge Analytica scandal in the 2016 election, which involved the accessing of the personal data of millions of users without their consent, and concerns over disinformation and privacy.

Even with Facebook usage steady, the report showed a varied social media landscape with growth in Snapchat, Facebook-owned Instagram and TikTok among those under 30, and broad use of the Google-owned video-sharing platform YouTube.

Some 81 percent of adults said they used YouTube, up from 73 percent in 2019.

In the first Pew survey on TikTok, 21 percent of all adults – including 48 percent of those under 30 – said they had used the Chinese-owned video app which has come under national security scrutiny.

Among younger adults age 18-29, Instagram was massively popular at 71 percent, along with Snapchat (65 percent). Facebook usage in this age group was in line with the general population at 70 percent.

Twitter, which has struggled to expand beyond its core base, was used by 23 percent of Americans including 42 percent of the under-30 age group.

Nextdoor, the social network focused on local communities, was used by 13 percent of adults, according to Pew’s first survey on the platform.

Reddit, the online bulletin board at the centre of a controversy over stock-trading forums, saw its usage rise to 18 percent of adults from 11 percent in 2019, according to the survey.

The findings were based on a survey of 1,502 US adults from January 25 to February 8 by cellphone and landline phone, with an estimated margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

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ShareChat Raises $502 Million From Snap, Twitter, Others; Valuation Tops $2 Billion

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 April 2021

ShareChat content-sharing platform said it has raised $502 million (roughly Rs. 3,720 crores) in fresh funding from Tiger Global, Snap, and some existing investors such as Twitter, valuing it at more than $2 billion (roughly Rs. 14,840 crores).

The funding was led by US venture capital firm Lightspeed Venture Partners and American investment firm Tiger, ShareChat said in a statement on Thursday.

Tiger Global and Snap, owner of popular photo-messaging app Snapchat, are new investors in the Indian platform.

The funding signals growing investor interest in Indian social media apps that are looking to tap into pent-up demand after New Delhi banned dozens of Chinese apps, including ByteDance’s TikTok, following an India-China border clash last year.

Moj and other similar alternatives of the popular video app TikTok have been finding favour with users in India, where smartphone use has been rapidly surging.

ShareChat is now valued at little more than $2.1 billion (roughly Rs. 15,590 crores), it said, adding that new funds will be used to double down on technology initiatives and support user growth.

“With this infusion of capital we would continue to aggressively grow our user base,” ShareChat CEO Ankush Sachdeva said.

The ShareChat app has 160 million users in India and Moj has 120 million. Moj and other similar TikTok alternatives have been finding favour with users in India, where smartphone use has been rapidly surging.

ShareChat has plans to raise more funds from investors in the coming months, a source familiar with its plans said.

The company declined to comment on future funding plans.

ShareChat’s valuation makes it India’s latest “unicorn”, which describes tech startups valued at more than $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,420 crores).

Including the latest funding, ShareChat has now raised $766 million (roughly Rs. 5,690 crores) over six funding rounds.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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