Changing Facebook’s name will not deter lawmaker or regulatory scrutiny, experts say

Facebook will continue to confront the same pressures even after a rebrand, the experts said. (File/AFP)
Facebook will continue to confront the same pressures even after a rebrand, the experts said. (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 October 2021

Changing Facebook’s name will not deter lawmaker or regulatory scrutiny, experts say

Facebook will continue to confront the same pressures even after a rebrand, the experts said. (File/AFP)
  • Changing Facebook's name is unlikely to enable the tech giant to distance itself from public scrutiny
  • This comes after a whistleblower leaked thousands of internal documents that showed it contributed to increased polarization online

Renaming Facebook Inc. is unlikely to enable the tech giant to distance itself from regulatory and public scrutiny around the potential harms caused by its social media apps, marketing and branding experts told Reuters.
Tech publication The Verge reported on Tuesday that the California-based firm is planning to change to reflect that as well as owning the social media platform that made it a global household name, it also now includes other thriving businesses like Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus.
The company declined to comment regarding the report on the possible rebranding. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.
Facebook is battling intense scrutiny after a whistleblower leaked thousands of internal documents that showed it contributed to increased polarization online when it made changes to its content algorithm, failed to take steps to reduce vaccine hesitancy, and was aware that popular social media app Instagram harmed the mental health of teenage girls.
The US Senate held a hearing earlier this month into the effect of Instagram on young users.
“Legislators and politicians are sufficiently smart to not be fooled by a rebranding,” said James Cordwell, an Internet analyst at Atlantic Equities.
Renaming can be an effective strategy to allow subsidiary brands to maintain their own reputations, said Marisa Mulvihill, head of brand and activation at Prophet, a branding and marketing consultancy. But the media and regulators “are not going to stop investigating or creating reforms just because you rebranded,” she added.
The new parent company name could reflect Facebook’s focus on building the ‘metaverse,’ The Verge reported, referring to a proposed digital world where people can use different devices to move and communicate in a virtual environment.
It could also prevent a possible negative perception around the Facebook name from affecting WhatsApp, the messaging app used by nearly 2 billion people globally, and Oculus, its virtual reality brand, experts said.
According to Prophet’s annual ranking, Facebook’s brand relevance to US consumers has dropped “precipitously” over the past several years, Mulvihill said.
“What you don’t want is for that to proliferate and have a negative halo effect on other parts of your business,” said Deborah Stafford-Watson, head of strategy at brand consultancy firm Elmwood.
Other major companies have taken similar steps. Google reorganized under a holding company called Alphabet in 2015, as the company best known for Internet searches increasingly pursued ambitions like autonomous driving technology.
In 2003, cigarette seller Philip Morris rebranded itself as Altria, at a time when the company owned Kraft Foods. It later spun off the food division.
While the move to rebrand as Altria didn’t remove the negative connotations of tobacco from the cigarette brands itself, it did help to limit the effects on Kraft, Mulvihill said.
Facebook will continue to confront the same pressures even after a rebrand, the experts said.
“I don’t think it’s going to help Facebook mitigate regulators’ scrutiny or the general public’s skepticism, if not distrust,” said Natasha Jen, a partner at Pentagram, a design studio that does advertising and communication work. “Trust is something you need to earn.”


Facebook whistleblower says transparency needed to fix social media ills

Haugen said the company should be required to disclose which languages are supported by its tech safety systems. (AFP)
Haugen said the company should be required to disclose which languages are supported by its tech safety systems. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2021

Facebook whistleblower says transparency needed to fix social media ills

Haugen said the company should be required to disclose which languages are supported by its tech safety systems. (AFP)
  • Facebook whistleblower says the degree to which Facebook is harmful in languages other than English will leave people “even more shocked”

LONDON: A deeper investigation into Facebook’s lack of controls to prevent misinformation and abuse in languages other than English is likely to leave people “even more shocked” about the potential harms caused by the social media firm, whistleblower Frances Haugen told Reuters.
Haugen, a former product manager at Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook, spoke at the Reuters Next conference on Friday.
She left the company in May with thousands of internal documents which she leaked to the Wall Street Journal. That led to a series of articles in September detailing how the company knew its apps helped spread divisive content and harmed the mental health of some young users.
Facebook also knew it had too few workers with the necessary language skills to identify objectionable posts from users in a number of developing countries, according to the internal documents and Reuters interviews with former employees.
People who use the platform in languages other than English are using a “raw, dangerous version of Facebook,” Haugen said.
Facebook has consistently said it disagrees with Haugen’s characterization of the internal research and that it is proud of the work it has done to stop abuse on the platform.
Haugen said the company should be required to disclose which languages are supported by its tech safety systems, otherwise “Facebook will do ... the bare minimum to minimize PR risk,” she said.
The internal Facebook documents made public by Haugen have also raised fresh concerns about how it may have failed to take actions to prevent the spread of misleading information.
Haugen said the social media company knew it could introduce “strategic friction” to make users slow down before resharing posts, such as requiring users to click a link before they were able to share the content. But she said the company avoided taking such actions in order to preserve profit.
Such measures to prompt users to reconsider sharing certain content could be helpful given that allowing tech platforms or governments to determine what information is true poses many risks, according to Internet and legal experts who spoke during a separate panel at the Reuters Next conference on Friday.
“In regulating speech, you’re handing states the power to manipulate speech for their own purposes,” said David Greene, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The documents made public by Haugen have led to a series of US congressional hearings. Adam Mosseri, head of Meta Platforms’ Instagram app, will testify next week on the app’s effect on young people.
Asked what she would say to Mosseri given the opportunity, Haugen said she would question why the company has not released more of its internal research.
“We have evidence now that Facebook has known for years that it was harming kids,” she said. “How are we supposed to trust you going forward?“


Twitter admits policy ‘errors’ after far-right abuse

Twitter launched new rules Tuesday blocking users from sharing private images of other people without their consent. (File/AFP)
Twitter launched new rules Tuesday blocking users from sharing private images of other people without their consent. (File/AFP)
Updated 04 December 2021

Twitter admits policy ‘errors’ after far-right abuse

Twitter launched new rules Tuesday blocking users from sharing private images of other people without their consent. (File/AFP)
  • Twitter admitted policy errors which say anyone can ask Twitter to take down images of themselves posted without their consent
  • This comes after a screenshot of a far-right call-to-action circulated on Telegram claiming things now “work more in our favor.”

WASHINGTON: Twitter’s new picture permission policy was aimed at combating online abuse, but US activists and researchers said Friday that far-right backers have employed it to protect themselves from scrutiny and to harass opponents.
Even the social network admitted the roll out of the rules, which say anyone can ask Twitter to take down images of themselves posted without their consent, was marred by malicious reports and its teams’ own errors.
It was just the kind of trouble anti-racism advocates worried was coming after the policy was announced this week.
Their concerns were quickly validated, with anti-extremism researcher Kristofer Goldsmith tweeting a screenshot of a far-right call-to-action circulating on Telegram: “Due to the new privacy policy at Twitter, things now unexpectedly work more in our favor.”
“Anyone with a Twitter account should be reporting doxxing posts from the following accounts,” the message said, with a list of dozens of Twitter handles.
Gwen Snyder, an organizer and researcher in Philadelphia, said her account was blocked this week after a report to Twitter about a series of 2019 photos she said showed a local political candidate at a march organized by extreme-right group Proud Boys.
Rather than go through an appeal with Twitter she opted to delete the images and alert others to what was happening.
“Twitter moving to eliminate (my) work from their platform is incredibly dangerous and is going to enable and embolden fascists,” she told AFP.
In announcing the privacy policy on Tuesday, Twitter noted that “sharing personal media, such as images or videos, can potentially violate a person’s privacy, and may lead to emotional or physical harm.”
But the rules don’t apply to “public figures or individuals when media and accompanying Tweets are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”
By Friday, Twitter noted the roll out had been rough: “We became aware of a significant amount of coordinated and malicious reports, and unfortunately, our enforcement teams made several errors.”
“We’ve corrected those errors and are undergoing an internal review to make certain that this policy is used as intended,” the firm added.


However, Los Angeles-based activist and researcher Chad Loder said their account was permanently blocked after reports to Twitter over publicly-recorded images from an anti-vaccine rally and a confrontation outside the home of a former Vice journalist.
“Twitter is saying I must delete my tweets featuring photographs of people at newsworthy public events that did indeed get news coverage, or I will never get my account back,” Loder told AFP, adding it was the third report of their account to Twitter in 48 hours.
“The current mass-reporting actions by the far-right are just the latest salvo in an ongoing, concerted effort to memory-hole evidence of their crimes and misdeeds,” Loder added, using a term popularized by George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.
Experts noted that Twitter’s new rules sound like a well-intentioned idea but are incredibly thorny to enforce.
One reason is that the platform has become a key forum for identifying people involved in far-right and hate groups, with Internet sleuths posting their names or other identifying information.
The practice of so-called “doxxing” has cost the targets their jobs, set them up for intense public ridicule and even criminal prosecution, while the activists who post the information have faced threats or harassment themselves.
A major example was the online effort to track down people involved in the violence at the US Capitol, which was stormed in January by Donald Trump supporters seeking to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.
Even the US Federal Bureau of Investigation regularly posts images on its feed of as-yet unnamed people it is seeking in connection with the violence.
“Twitter has given extremists a new weapon to bring harm to those in the greatest need of protection and those shining a light on danger,” said Michael Breen, president and CEO of advocacy group Human Rights First, which called on Twitter to halt the policy.
The new rules, announced just a day after Parag Agrawal took over from co-founder Jack Dorsey as boss, wander into issues that may be beyond the platform’s control.
“It gets complicated fast, but these are issues that are going to be resolved probably in our courts,” said Betsy Page Sigman, a professor emeritus at Georgetown University. “I’m not optimistic about Twitter’s changes.”


Twitter’s design, engineering heads to step down in management rejig

The moves come just days after co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down as chief executive officer. (File/AFP)
The moves come just days after co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down as chief executive officer. (File/AFP)
Updated 04 December 2021

Twitter’s design, engineering heads to step down in management rejig

The moves come just days after co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down as chief executive officer. (File/AFP)
  • Twitter's design and engineering heads will step down from their roles as part of a management restructuring campaign

LONDON: Twitter Inc. said on Friday its engineering head Michael Montano and design chief Dantley Davis would step down from their roles by the end of this month, as part of a broader management restructuring at the social networking site.
The moves come just days after co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down as chief executive officer and handed over the reins to Chief Technology Officer Parag Agrawal.
Twitter said Agrawal, in his newly assumed role, has decided to reorganize the leadership structure at the company and shift to a general manager model for consumer, revenue and core tech that would oversee all core teams across engineering, product management, design and research.
Product lead Kayvon Beykpour, revenue product lead Bruce Falck and Vice President of Engineering Nick Caldwell will now lead the three units respectively, the company said.
Twitter added Lindsey Iannucci, a senior operations and strategy executive at the company, would be the chief of staff.


BuzzFeed to go public after raising less money than expected

BuzzFeed to go public after raising less money than expected
Updated 04 December 2021

BuzzFeed to go public after raising less money than expected

BuzzFeed to go public after raising less money than expected
  • The digital company also raised $150 million in debt financing as part of the deal

American digital company BuzzFeed, known for its viral content and journalism, will go public on Dec. 6 after it initially raised less money than expected.

In a press release on Friday, BuzzFeed said that it had finalized a merger with 890 5th Avenue Partners, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), which aims to raise funds through an initial public offering to acquire an existing company.

Buzzfeed’s shares are expected to start trading on the Nasdaq on Monday under the ticker symbol “BZFD.”

BuzzFeed aimed to be valued on Wall Street at $1.5 billion but it raised just $16 million from the SPAC deal, which was announced in June.

The company initially said that 890 5th Avenue Partners held about $288 million in cash, but the majority of investors ultimately withdrew.

The digital company also raised $150 million in debt financing as part of the deal.

BuzzFeed, created in 2006, first became known for its lists and topical quizzes, before broadening its offerings with a Pulitzer Prize-winning news division, YouTube channel and podcasts.

In November 2020, the platform, headquartered in New York, bought the Huffington Post news site from Verizon without disclosing the amount.

Buzzfeed’s public listing comes just days after employees at the news arm staged a 24-hour walkout protesting the company’s failure to offer certain contract conditions, including a salary base of $50,000, after nearly two years of negotiations.

“BuzzFeed won’t budge on critical issues like wages — all while preparing to go public and make executives even richer,” the union said on Twitter.

As part of the SPAC deal, BuzzFeed has also acquired Complex Networks, a media company jointly run by Verizon and Hearst.


Young Arabs’ heavy reliance on social media seen as a double-edged sword 

Young Arabs’ heavy reliance on social media seen as a double-edged sword 
Updated 04 December 2021

Young Arabs’ heavy reliance on social media seen as a double-edged sword 

Young Arabs’ heavy reliance on social media seen as a double-edged sword 
  • From social change to extremism, the Arab obsession with social media is regarded as a Catch-22
  • Arab experts weigh the pros and cons of young people’s massive dependence on social media

DUBAI: Social media is no longer a mere secondary method of communication. In recent years, it has become a powerful tool that can influence public opinion and educate and influence the youth — facets demonstrated over the last decade by the impact of networks on major political and social events in the Middle East.

In the early years of the Arab Spring, even before Instagram was as widespread as it is today, activists resorted to Facebook and Twitter to amplify their demands.

During the Beirut blast of Aug. 4, 2020, Lebanese at home and abroad resorted to social media to depict the aftermath of destruction and cry to the world for help, as well as to mobilize their community at home and abroad to assist those in need.

One could argue that the violence that took place in Palestine, the Gaza Strip and Israel in May gained more visibility internationally due to social media. The pleas were heard, the violence was seen and even experienced vicariously thanks to widespread sharing on social networks.

During such events, critical and verified information was shared just as much as news that misinformed and relayed falsified data — the double-edged sword of social networks.

Global social media dependency has continued to rise in recent years, particularly during the coronavirus disease pandemic. According to Hootsuite’s July 2020 report on Global Digital Growth, since COVID-19 there has been a 10 percent increase in digital adoption compared with 12 months earlier. Almost 51 percent of the global population currently uses social media, with a rate of 1 million new users per day, according to Simon Kemp. 

As for the Arab world, the 2021 Arab Barometer report on the digital divide in the region confirmed an increase in internet usage for all countries in the Middle East and North Africa during the pandemic, which Daniella Raz argues in The Arab World’s Digital Divide has fostered “a digital divide that is affected by the economic status of the country and education level of its citizens.”

According to the Arab Youth Survey 2021, 61 percent of Arab youth use social media as a news source, compared with 34 percent who consume news online and 9 percent through newspapers — making social media the number one source of news for young people.

The MENA region’s youth population is increasingly dependent on social media platforms to access information, particularly video and visually driven social networks, says Fares Akkad, director of media partnerships for news in growth markets across Asia Pacific, Latin America, Middle East Africa, and Turkey at Meta.

A man wearing a facemask as a preventative measure against the COVID-19 virus rides a bicycle in front of a mural. (AFP/File Photo)

“This is a trend that has raised its bar overtime and has been boosted especially during the pandemic and it is likely to grow at a larger and faster pace,” he tells Arab News.

“We have seen the strength and scale of the digital world, giving a platform and voice to millions who may otherwise not have it, providing an open and accessible venue through which regular people—can connect, access a plethora of information from politics to lifestyle and fashion.”

During COVID-19 there was a noticeable shift in how the Arab public retrieves information, from traditional media to new media, particularly social media. This led many Arab governments to redefine how they use networking platforms as ways to communicate critical information with their populations.

The World Health Organization also launched its official pages on social media platforms, including WhatsApp — an action that acknowledged how, during the pandemic, social media became a primary source through which official information and data was disseminated.

However, the same Arab Youth Survey conducted in 2019 showed how 80 percent of Arab youth use social media as a source of information, compared with online (61 percent) and newspapers (27 percent).

The drop in using social media as a news source — from 80 percent in 2019 and 79 percent in 2020 to 61 percent in 2021 — highlights the rise in hesitation from using these platforms to get information.

“From most of the surveys I have done it is shown clearly that much of the younger generation today is relying on social media for news,” Jad Melki, associate professor and journalism and media studies director at the Institute of Media Research and Training at the Lebanese American University, told Arab News.

“A lot of the youth don’t follow news to start with — they are more interested in entertainment than following news.”

Reluctance to use the platforms stems from negative attributes — as critical information is shared to the public for the greater good, so too are false rumors and misinformation, which have contributed to a rise in fear and panic among among people. This is true particularly among the youth — many of whom do not yet have the experience to fact-check information or turn to other sources.

A case in point is Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen’s testimony before the US Congress in October, where she stated that Facebook’s products “harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy.” She claimed the company should declare “moral bankruptcy” if it is to move forward.

Haugen also accused the company of sowing divisions and fueling ethnic violence, placing — as she said in Washington — “astronomical profits before people.”

A woman looks at the Instagram page of Saudi influencer Ragda Bakhorji, in Dubai on April 7, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Haugen came forward as the source of a series of revelations in the Wall Street Journal based on internal Facebook (now Meta) documents that revealed the company knew how harmful Instagram was to teenagers’ mental health, and how changes to Facebook’s News Feed feature had also made the platform more divisive among young people.

Haugen’s testimony suggests social media is no longer a secondary method of communication, but a powerful tool that influences public opinion, and there are positives and negatives in its use.

It can educate just as much as it can misinform; bring people and cultures together as well as fuel terrorism and extremism. In many cases, social media is also overtaking mainstream media outlets as the preferred method of choice for how to obtain information.

Akkad affirms that Meta’s house of apps has prioritized making sure “everyone can access credible and accurate information.” He says Meta  removes false claims about vaccines, conspiracy theories, and misinformation that could lead to physical harm.

Currently, Akkad says, Meta removes content that violates its community standards, including more than 20 million pieces of false COVID-19 and vaccine content.

The platform has built a global network of over 80 independent fact-checking partners who rate the accuracy of posts covering more than 60 languages across its apps, with its partners in the Arab region including AFP, Reuters and Fatabyyano. 

It has also displayed warnings on more than 190 million pieces of COVID-related content on Facebook that Meta’s fact-checking partners rated as false, partly false, altered, or missing context. 

Jordanian make-up artist Alaa Bliha, 27, speaks to a journalist in the basement apartment where she lives with her mother and young brother in the capital Amman, on February 2, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

On the positive side, Meta has helped, says Akkad, over 2 billion people find credible COVID-19 information through its COVID-19 Information Center and News Feed pop-ups.

Yet is this enough to diminish the spread of false information?

Arpi Berberian, a social media manager at Create Media Group in Dubai, believes that to protect Arab youth, or any people at that, social media must be regulated.

While it is the primary source for young people in terms of receiving and processing news, “it should also be up to the receiver to fact check and source check what they read online. Especially when it comes to political news,” she told Arab News. 

“It is hard to generalize across Arab countries given the different political systems, educational levels and cultures,” said Melki.

“Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq or what we call Western Asia, has been the most in turmoil outside Yemen and Libya, and part of that turmoil is related to social media habits and obtaining information.”

Melki says that you can see, as the youth get older and the generation shifts, they become more and more interested in politics and following news. Moreover, as Melki points out, traditional news is now circulating largely online and through social media.

“However, a significant majority still watches television — TV remains king across all demographics, particularly when there is a conflict,” he says.

“We did a survey during the Lebanese protests in 2019 and television was the number one way to receive news followed by social media.”

A picture taken on February 4, 2013 in Riyadh shows a Saudi woman using a tablet computer. (AFP/File Photo)

Melki added that the survey found the same regarding Syrian refugees whether inside or outside of camps — television is the number one way to receive the news.

Can social media dependency in the Arab world be reversed and does it need to be?

“I don’t think it can be reversed. It can be improved though,” says Berberian. “There needs to be guidelines imposed by governments on social media outlets, especially on major outlets that have millions of users of all ages.

“It also doesn’t seem to be a good idea to allow some of the major social media platforms to be run by one entity without any balance. Accountability and the safety of its users needs to be at the forefront of social media’s outlets.”

If social media dependency cannot be reduced in the Arab world, and it has become, as analysts state, one, if not the, primary way for the youth and the general populace to receive critical information, then the way forward is for regulation and education. But then who is to regulate and educate and by what terms?

Especially in nations that lack opportunities for youth available elsewhere, social media becomes a window to the world and one with endless social and business possibilities, and this is the double-edged sword of social media: Its pros and cons can almost be equally weighed.