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Facebook reportedly ignored its own research showing algorithms divided users

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An internal Facebook report presented to executives in 2018 found that the company was well aware that its product, specifically its recommendation engine, stoked divisiveness and polarization, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.

Yet, despite warnings about the effect this could have on society, Facebook leadership ignored the findings and has largely tried to absolve itself of responsibility with regard to partisan divides and other forms of polarization it directly contributed to, the report states. The reason? Changes might disproportionately affect conservatives and might hurt engagement, the report says.

“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” one slide from the presentation read. The group found that if this core element of its recommendation engine were left unchecked, it would continue to serve Facebook users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.” A separate internal report, crafted in 2016, said 64 percent of people who joined an extremist group on Facebook only did so because the company’s algorithm recommended it to them, the WSJ reports.

Leading the effort to downplay these concerns and shift Facebook’s focus away from polarization has been Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global public policy and former chief of staff under President George W. Bush. Kaplan is a controversial figure in part due to his staunch right-wing politics — he supported Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh throughout his nomination — and his apparent ability to sway CEO Mark Zuckerberg on important policy matters. Kaplan has taken on a larger role within Facebook since the 2016 election, and critics say his approach to policy and moderation is designed to appease conservatives and stave off accusations of bias.

Kaplan, for instance, is believed to be partly responsible for Facebook’s controversial political ad policy, in which the company said it would not regulate misinformation put forth in campaign ads by fact-checking them. He’s also influenced Facebook’s more hands-off approach to speech and moderation over the last few years by arguing the company doesn’t want to seem biased against conservatives.

The Wall Street Journal says Kaplan was instrumental in weakening or entirely killing proposals to change the platform to promote social good and reduce the influence of so-called “super-sharers,” who tended to be aggressively partisan and, in some cases, so hyper-engaged that they might be paid to use Facebook or might be a bot. Yet, Kaplan pushed back against some of the proposed changes — many of which were crafted by News Feed integrity lead Carlos Gomez Uribe — for fear they would disproportionately affect right-wing pages, politicians, and other parts of the user base that drove up engagement.

One notable project Kaplan undermined was called Common Ground, which sought to promote politically neutral content on the platform that might bring people together around shared interests like hobbies. But the team building it said it might require Facebook take a “moral stance” in some cases by choosing not to promote certain types of polarizing content and that the effort could harm overall engagement over time, the WSJ reports. The team has since been disbanded.

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White House organizes harassment of Twitter employee as Trump threatens company

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The White House has set its sights on a single Twitter employee after the company attached a fact-checking link to two of the president’s tweets containing lies and misinformation related to voter fraud. The charge was led on Fox News Wednesday morning, with Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway targeting Twitter’s head of site integrity, Yoel Roth, after digging up some tweets that were critical of Trump, Conway, and the administration.

Conway called the employee “horrible” and directed listeners to go after him. “Somebody in San Francisco go wake him up and tell him he’s about to get a lot more followers,” she said on air. Immediately, the call was picked up by right-wing personalities and Trump supporters, who began sharing screenshots of the employee’s tweets. Roth is already facing a torrent of abuse and harassment, including multiple death threats, reports Protocol.

Twitter won’t be taking any action against Roth for his tweets, and the company tells BuzzFeed News he was not responsible for the fact-checks. “No one person at Twitter is responsible for our policies or enforcement actions, and it’s unfortunate to see individual employees targeted for company decisions,” a Twitter spokesperson tells The Verge.

Twitter fact-checked Trump’s tweets late on Tuesday afternoon by attaching information designed to clarify common lies and misinformation on mail-in voting resulting in rampant voter fraud, which is untrue and unsupported by any evidence. According to a Twitter spokesperson, the tweets “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots.” Tapping or clicking the link attached to Trump’s tweets that says “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” leads to a series of news articles and links debunking the lies.

Trump and the Republican National Committee are targeting states trying to expand mail-in voting as a way to help enfranchise more voters and to create safer conditions for voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, as higher voter turnout rates among historically disenfranchised voters tend to harm Republican candidates. The RNC, in fact, sued California over the weekend for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mail-in voting expansion plan for the 2020 election, claiming mail-in voting leads to voter fraud and calling the move an “illegal and brazen power grab.”

Trump has consistently targeted tech companies that don’t show him unquestioning adulation. Twitter’s decision to label his falsehoods sent him on a tirade against the company. Trump immediately responded to Twitter’s actions with threatening messages, writing on his Twitter account on Tuesday evening that the company is “now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election,” and reiterating his false statement that mail-in ballots “will lead to massive corruption and fraud.”

Trump on Wednesday then threatened “big action” against the company and said he will regulate or shut down any social media platform. While he doesn’t have the authority to shut down private companies for exercising their constitutional rights, Trump’s escalation of rhetoric, combined with the targeting of individual employees, is a disturbing new advancement in his culture war.

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Facebook’s latest TikTok-inspired app is a music-making platform called Collab

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Facebook’s experimental app division has a new product out today called Collab that promises to deliver a new approach to collaborative music making. The app, launching as an invite-only beta on iOS, is from Facebook’s NPE division (short for new product experimentation). If it already in that brief description sounds like another swing at the cultural and creative juggernaut that is TikTok, that’s because it is.

Collab’s primary pitch is that you can create short-form videos split into three simultaneous sources, so you can perform a single song by playing three different instruments and stitching it all together. Or you and one or two other friends can collaborate together by each supplying one of three parts.

Here’s the real TikTok-style feature: these videos, for now, can only be posted publicly to the Collab feed, where any other user can use it to create a video of their own. Say you like one person’s guitar part, and another’s vocals. You can put your own beat over it with a virtual drum pad on your iPhone and make a whole new song. Facebook says you can’t remix the underlying music, and everyone whose parts are used in a new Collab post get properly credited. You also won’t be able to just use other people’s parts to create a new song — you’ll have to record something new to contribute yourself.

Facebook says you’ll still be able to share them to other platforms, like Instagram and TikTok, but only after they’re posted to Collab. There also won’t be a “save to camera roll” option for getting the videos off Collab, at least for now.

Facebook said it expedited the release of an in-progress version of Collab to give people a creative outlet during the pandemic, hence the invite-only beta. “Facebook’s New Product Experimentation team is launching an invite-only beta of Collab, an iOS app that brings together creators and fans to create, watch, and mix and match original videos, starting with music. Digital spaces can connect us when we can’t be together in person, and Collab is a new way to create together,” a company spokesperson tells The Verge.

The key words there in that statement are “starting with music.” This may be designed around music making and short-form music videos, but the entire point of the NPE division is to experiment and move quickly with new app ideas to see which might stick. If Collab proves successful in the music realm, it may grow organically as a powerful set of tools for other media formats, too. And Facebook doesn’t yet know what exactly a new community might do with the ability to use and remix content so freely.

The same was true of TikTok, which barreled toward mind-bending popularity in its earlier days thanks to near-identical features like react and duet, which allowed users to borrow others’ posts to react to or collaborate with, without needing permission. In fact, TikTok only became a massive, worldwide phenomenon by first starting as a Chinese lip-syncing platform and growing from there into a unique fusion of Instagram, Vine, and YouTube.

Thanks to its music licensing deals that ensure posts can sample brand new pop and hip-hop singles and its powerful recommendation algorithm, TikTok is now one of the most popular social media apps on the planet. It has its own fast-growing culture, newly-minted celebrities, and the attention of Hollywood’s elite — just last week, Disney’s head of streaming, Kevin Myers, resigned to take a job as TikTok’s new CEO. It’s clear this is the kind of global pop culture cachet, with the massive engagement metrics that come with it, Facebook wants for an app of its own.

Facebook has tried, and failed, to emulate TikTok in the past, most notably with the Reels editing feature on Instagram and the standalone app Lasso. The company also goes to great lengths to monitor up-and-coming startups that might steal its social thunder. For those reasons, Collab is as much a set of unique music-making tools as it is another stab at reclaiming the teenage cool factor every Facebook product, from the main app to Instagram, inevitably cedes to younger, more culturally savvy apps over time.

The company says you can sign up to try Collab here, and availability will start with iPhone owners in the US and Canada. But the NPE team has been working on the product for a few months, and the company says it already has creators using it to fill the feed with usable clips new users can draw from.

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Samsung Money is the company’s new Samsung Pay-linked debit card program

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Samsung has announced further details for its upcoming debit card program: it’s called Samsung Money by SoFi (which, as previously announced, is partnering with Samsung on the program), and it’ll tie in directly with the existing Samsung Pay app.

Originally announced earlier in May, today’s news offers more concrete information on what Samsung Money will actually offer — specifically, a cash management account and a Samsung Money debit card (a Mastercard issued by The Bancorp Bank).

Samsung is promising that Samsung Money will feature no account fees (although the fine print reserves the right to change that in the future) and “higher interest” compared to the national average (although Samsung doesn’t go into specifics).

A key part of the Samsung Money program is the Samsung Pay app integration: customers will be able to easily apply for the card directly from the app and start using it through Samsung Pay on their phones once approved, before the physical card even arrives. Furthermore, you’ll be able to use the Samsung Pay app to check your balance, review past purchases, freeze your card, and flag fraudulent purchases.

All of those features, however, are pretty standard in today’s world of tech company-backed cards. Samsung Money, however, is looking to stand out with a few Samsung-specific perks. Purchases made with the Samsung Money card earn Samsung Rewards program points, which can be redeemed on future Samsung purchases.

Samsung also promises that Samsung Money accounts will be FDIC insured for up to $1.5 million (six times higher than the usual $250,000 guarantee of most debit cards). And through the SoFi partnership, Samsung Money customers will be able to use any of the 55,000 ATMs in the Allpoint ATM network without any charges.

Samsung isn’t the only tech company looking to expand into the world of finance: Apple, of course, has its full-fledged Apple Card credit card, Venmo has offered a debit card since 2018, and Uber offers branded credit and debit cards. Google is also rumored to be working on a similar debit card program that would tie into its Google Pay system for managing and tracking payments, much like Samsung’s new program.

The Samsung Money card will be available later this summer, but customers can sign up for the waitlist starting today on Samsung’s website here.

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