Archive for Social Media

Facebook Promptly Removes Mynamar Military Accounts

Facebook has reacted quickly and taken down many accounts of Myanmar’s military leaders after a damning UN report accused them of genocide and war crimes against the Muslim Rohingya population.

Removed

It has been reported that, following the release of the report, Facebook removed a total of 18 user accounts, and 52 pages associated with the Myanmar military. These are thought to include the page of its commander-in-chief.

All of the removed pages and accounts are thought to have had a total of almost 12 million followers.

The Situation, In Brief

The action by Facebook relates to the situation in Myanmar, formerly Burma, where approximately 25,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed and an estimated 700,000 forced to flee to Bangladesh in over the past year. The blame for the alleged genocide has been placed firmly at the door of the Myanmar military, and the country’s leader and Nobel Prize winner, Ang San Suu Kyi, has been widely criticised for apparently failing to use her position as head of government, or her moral authority, to stop the persecution and violence in Rakhine state.

Facebook – Several Reasons

As well as the fact that the accounts relate to suspected war criminals, Facebook has several reasons to act quickly in taking down the accounts of military leaders and their associates, including the fact that:

– Facebook, by its own admission, had been too slow up until now in acting to remove posts aimed at stirring up and spreading hatred against the minority Muslim Rohingya population.

– Facebook is a very popular social network in Myanmar, and thus bad as well as good messages can be distributed widely and quickly using the platform.

– The Tatmadaw (the official name of the armed forces of Myanmar) has been using its official Facebook pages to discredit allegations of the crimes it has committed, and to stir-up further fears about the Rohingya. Also, the Tatmadaw are thought to have been using bogus independent news and opinion pages to covertly push their own messages.

– Facebook is very aware that it has been used as a means to influence political opinion and even election outcomes in some other countries i.e. alleged Russian use of Facebook in the US election. This has made Facebook anxious to stop this happening.

– The social network, along with other platforms, apps, and tech giants, has long been accused by many different governments of failing to act / failing to act quickly enough to remove hate speech and racist content.

– Facebook and other platforms have been threatened with regulation e.g. Ofcom in the UK, and Facebook is anxious to claw back much of the trust it lost in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, as well as getting some good publicity.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Most businesses like to operate in and associate themselves with stable countries, particularly where they feel the government is trustworthy, and where the military don’t have too much power. The cost in human suffering in events and circumstances in Myanmar have been terrible, and this has also caused the economy to suffer, as its growth has slowed, it’s currency has dropped against the dollar, and as other countries and potential trading partners have tried to distance themselves from the current regime.

For Facebook, this has been a much-needed opportunity to present its positive side and show that it can and will act quickly to police its own network where it feels it has credible and conclusive evidence to do so, and to be able to justify its actions. This has been something that Facebook appears to have been much more keen to do lately e.g. in deleting 30+ pages and accounts attempting to influence the US midterm elections, and in removing 650+ fake Facebook accounts and pages, and pages designed to influence politics in US and the UK, as well as in the Middle East and Latin America.

The power and responsibility of social network platforms is now beginning to become apparent. Businesses are now major advertisers on social networks too, and as such, they need to ensure that they can reach the right audience in enough numbers and that their advertising doesn’t suffer from negative associations or being displayed next to content or posts that promote hatred.

Facebook Uses Scoring System To Manage Misinformation

It has been reported that Facebook allocates a trustworthiness score to some members to help it manage misinformation issues such as some members continually flagging / reporting stories as fake if they don’t agree with the content.

Score?

It is not publicly known exactly how the score is arrived at, but it has been reported recently in the Washington Posts that Facebook’s ‘Misinformation Team’ will be making use of the metric, a system that has taken a year to develop.

Why?

It is understood that the system, which Facebook denies amounts to a reputation score, is part of an initiative announced 2 years ago to find a way to deal with issues around fake news and fighting misinformation.

These include both making news with dubious / fake content appear lower in users’ news feeds, and stopping people from indiscriminately flagging news as fake in order to control and influence news and opinions.

Repeat Flaggers In The Spotlight

The scoring system will have a focus on stopping some Facebook members from simply flagging / reporting stories they don’t agree with.

Some commentators have speculated that this part of the scoring system works by correlating any false news reports with the decisions of independent fact-checkers, and by giving higher scores (and presumably higher news feed positions) to a user who makes a single complaint that is substantiated, than to a user who makes lots of complaints, only some of which are substantiated.

Not The First Time

Facebook is not the first and only platform to us such scoring systems for members. For example, Uber rates customers on scores they’ve given to drivers, Twitter has been reported as having used a reputation score to help recommend which members to follow, and a pilot scheme in China is allocating a social credit score to citizens based on their online behaviour.

Criticism

The Facebook scoring system has been criticised by some people who say that Facebook’s own trustworthiness is unregulated, the scoring system is automated and not transparent, and could amount to another way of Facebook using peoples’ data in a way they may not expect or want (bearing in mind the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

We are used to the idea that decisions that affect businesses are made using algorithms and automatic scoring systems i.e. search engine rankings. If the new Facebook scoring system works as it should and for the purpose that Facebook has stated, then it may contribute to better management of misinformation, which can only benefit the economy and businesses.

Unfortunately, how Facebook can be trusted to use our data behind the scenes is a sore subject at the moment, and it could be said that mistrust of Facebook and its motives with this move is expected and healthy. Since the Cambridge Analytics revelations, and findings that Facebook was used to distribute dubious, politically influential posts of Russian origins leading up to the US election, Facebook has to at least be seen / reported to be doing more to manage misinformation on its platform.

Unfortunately for Facebook, the scoring system is unlikely to appeal to President Trump, who has warned that it is dangerous for tech / social media companies such as Facebook to regulate themselves. Some commentators have suggested that this concern is partly based on a fear that conservative voices may be silenced by such measures.

Facebook Favours Free Speech Over Fake News Removal

In a recent Facebook media presentation in Manhattan, and despite the threat of social media regulation e.g. from Ofcom, Facebook said that removing fabricated posts would be “contrary to the basic principles of free speech”.

Fake News

The term ‘fake news’ has become synonymous with the 2016 US general election and accusations that Facebook was a platform for fake political news to be spread e.g. by Russia. Also, fake news is a term that has become synonymous with President Trump, who frequently uses the term, often (some would say) to act as a catch-all term to discredit/counter critical stories in the media.

In essence, fake news refers to deliberate misinformation or hoaxes, manipulated to resemble credible journalism and attract maximum attention, and it is spread mainly by social media. Facebook has tried to be seen to flag up and clean up obvious fake news ever since its reputation was tarnished by the election news scandals.

What About InfoWars?

The point was made to Facebook at the media presentation by a CNN reporter that the fact that InfoWars, a site having been known to have published false information and conspiracy theories, has been allowed to remain on the platform may be evidence that Facebook is not tackling fake news as well as it could.

A Matter of Perspective

To counter this and other similar accusations, Facebook has stated that it sees pages on both the left and the right side of politics distributing what they consider to be opinion or analysis but what others, from a different perspective, may call fake news.

Facebook also tweeted that banning those kinds of pages e.g. InfoWars, would be contrary to the basic principles of free speech.

A Matter of Trust

Ofcom research has suggested that people have relatively little trust in what they read in social media content anyway. The research showed that only 39% consider social media to be a trustworthy news source, compared to 63% for newspapers and 70% for TV.

Age Plays A Part

Other research from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, involving more than 7,800 responses from middle school, high school and college students in 12 US states focused on their ability to assess information sources. The results showed a shocking lack of ability to evaluate information at even as basic a level as distinguishing advertisements from articles. When you consider that many young people get their news from social media, this shows that they may be more vulnerable and receptive to fake stories, and their wide networks of friends could mean that fake stories could be quickly and widely spread among other potentially vulnerable recipients.

Although Facebook is known to have an older demographic now, many young people still use it, Facebook has tried to launch a kind of Facebook for children to attract more young users, and Facebook owns Instagram, partly as a means to try and mop up young users who leave Facebook. It could be argued, therefore, that Facebook, and other social media platforms have a responsibility to regulate some content in order to protect users.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Fake news stories are not exclusive to social media platforms as the number of retractions and apologies in newspapers over the years are a testament. The real concern has arisen about social media, and Facebook particularly, because of what appears (allegedly) to have been the ability of actors from a foreign power being able to use fake news on Facebook to actually influence the election of a President. Which party and President is in power in the US can, in turn, have a dramatic effect on businesses and markets around the world, and the opportunities that other foreign powers think they have.

Facebook is also busy fighting another crisis in trust that has arisen from news of its sharing of users’ personal data with Cambridge Analytica, and the company is focusing much of its PR effort not on talking specifically about fake news, but about how Facebook has changed, why we should trust it again, and how much it cares about our privacy.

Meanwhile in the UK, Ofcom chief executive Sharon White, has clearly stated that she believes that media platforms need to be “more accountable” in their policing of content. While this may be understandable, many rights and privacy campaigners would not like the idea that free speech could be influenced and curbed by governments, perhaps to suit their own agenda. The arguments continue.

12 Russian Intelligence Officers Charged With Election Hacking

Even though, in an interview this week, President Trump appeared to absolve Russia of election interference (since retracted), the US Department of Justice has now charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic officials in the 2016 US elections.

The Allegations

It is alleged by the US Justice Department that, back in March 2016, on the run-up to the presidential election campaign which saw Republican Donald Trump elected as president, the Russian intelligence officers were responsible for cyber-attacks on the email accounts of staff for Hillary Clinton’s Democrat presidential campaign.

Also, the Justice Department alleges that the accused Russians corresponded with several Americans (but not in a conspiratorial way), used fictitious online personas, released thousands of stolen emails (beginning in June 2016), and even plotted to hack into the computers of state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and voter software.

No Evidence Says Kremlin

The Kremlin is reported to have said that it believes there is no evidence for the US allegations, describing the story as an “old duck” and a conspiracy theory.

32, So Far

The latest allegations are all part of the investigation, led by Special Counsel Robert Meuller, into US intelligence findings that the Russians allegedly conspired in favour of Trump, and that some of his campaign aides may have colluded.
So far, 32 people (mostly Russians) have been indicted. 3 companies and 4 former Trump advisers have also been implicated.

Trump Says…

President Trump has dismissed allegations that the Russians help put him in the White House as a “rigged witch hunt” and “pure stupidity”.

In a press conference after his meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, President Trump, however, caused shock and disbelief when asked whether he thought Russia had been involved in US election interference, he said “I don’t see any reason why it would be”.

He has since appeared to backtrack by saying that he meant to say “wouldn’t” rather than “would”, and that he accepts his own intelligence agency’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and that other players may have been involved too.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Part of the fallout of constant struggle between states and super-powers are the cyber attacks that end up affecting many businesses in the UK. Also, if there has been interference in an election favouring one party, this, in turn, affects the political and economic decisions made in that country, and its foreign policy. These have a knock-on effect on markets, businesses and trade around the world, particularly for those businesses that export to, import from, or have other business interests in the US. Even though, in the US, one of the main results of the alleged electoral interference scandal appears to have been damaged reputations and disrupted politics, the wider effects have been felt in businesses around the world.

These matters and the links to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have also raised awareness among the public about their data security and privacy, whether they can actually trust corporations with it, and how they could be targeted with political messages which could influence their own beliefs.

Cambridge Analytica Re-Born

A new offshoot of Cambridge Analytica, the disgraced data analysis company at the heart of the Facebook personal data sharing scandal, has been set up by former members of staff under the name ‘Auspex’.

Old Version Shut Down

After news of the scandal, which saw the details of an estimated 87 million Facebook users (mostly in the US) being shared with CA, and then used by CA to target people with political messages in relation to the last US presidential elections, CA was shut down by its parent company SCL Elections. CA is widely reported to have ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the scandal.

Ethical This Time

Auspex, which (it should be stressed) is not just another version of CA, but is likely to carry on the same kind of data analysis work, has been set up by Ahmed Al-Khatib, a former director of Emerdata which was also set up after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Mr Al-Khatib has been reported as saying that Auspex will use ethically based, data-driven communications with a focus on improving the lives of people in the developing world.

Middle East and Africa

The markets in the developing world that Auspex will initially be focusing on are the Middle East and Africa, and the kinds of ethical work that it will be doing, according Auspex’s own communications, are health campaigning and tackling the spread of extremist ideology among a disenfranchised youth.

Compliant

Auspex has been quick to state that it has made changes and that it will be fully compliant from the outset, thereby hoping to further distance itself from its murky origins in CA.

Personnel

One thing that is likely to attract the attention of critics is that, not only is Mark Turnbull, the former head of CA’s political division the new Auspex Managing Director, but that the listed directors of the new company include Alastair Harris, who is reported to have worked at CA, and Omar Al-Khatib is listed as a citizen of the Seychelles.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal is relatively recent, and the ICO have only just presented their report about the incident. For many people, it may not feel right that personnel from Cambridge Analytica can appear to simply set up under another name and start again. Critics can be forgiven for perhaps not trusting statements about a new ethical approach, especially since Mark Turnbull appeared alongside former CA chief executive Alexander Nix in an undercover film by Channel 4, where Nix gave examples of how his company could discredit politicians e.g. by setting up encounters with prostitutes.

The introduction of GDPR has brought the matters of data security and privacy into sharp focus for businesses in the UK, and businesses will be all too aware of the possible penalties if they get on the wrong side of the ICO.

In the case of the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal, the ICO has recently announced that Facebook will be fined £500,000 for data breaches, and that it is still considering taking legal action against CA’s company’s directors. If successful, a prosecution of this kind could result in convictions and an unlimited fine.

£500,000 Fine For Facebook Data Breaches

Sixteen months after the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) began its investigation into the Facebook’s sharing the personal details of users with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, the ICO has announced that Facebook will be fined £500,000 for data breaches.

Maximum

The amount of the fine is the maximum that can be imposed under GDPR. Although it sounds like a lot, for a corporation valued at around $500 billion, and with $11.97 billion in advertising revenue and $4.98 billion in profit for the past quarter (mostly from mobile advertising), it remains to be seen how much of an effect it will have on Facebook.

Time Before Responding

Facebook has now been given time to respond to the ICO’s verdict before a final decision is made by the ICO.

Facebook have said, however, that it acknowledges that it should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and taken action back in 2015.

Reminder of What Happened

The fine relates to the harvesting of the personal details of 87 million Facebook users without their explicit consent, and the sharing of that personal data with London-based political Consulting Firm Cambridge Analytica, which is alleged to have used that data to target political messages and advertising in the last US presidential election campaign.

Also, harvested Facebook user data was shared with Aggregate IQ, a Data Company which worked with the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign in the run-up to the Brexit Referendum.

The sharing of personal user data with those companies was exposed by former Cambridge Analytica employee and whistleblower Christopher Wylie. The resulting publicity caused public outrage, saw big falls in Facebook’s share value, brought apologies from its founder / owner, and saw insolvency proceedings (back in May) for Cambridge Analytica and its parent SCL Elections.

What About Cambridge Analytica?

Although Facebook has been given a £500,000 fine, Cambridge Analytica no longer exists as a company. The ICO has indicated, however, that it is still considering taking legal action against the company’s directors. If successful, a prosecution of this kind could result in convictions and an unlimited fine.

AggregateIQ

As for Canadian data analytics firm AggregateIQ, the ICO is reported to still be investigating whether UK voters’ personal data provided by the Brexit referendum’s Vote Leave campaign had been transferred and accessed outside the UK and whether this amounted to a breach of the Data Protection Act. Also, the ICO is reported to be investigating to what degree AIQ and SCL Elections had shared UK personal data, and the ICO is reported to have served an enforcement notice forbidding AIQ from continuing to make use of a list of UK citizens’ email addresses and names that it still holds.

Worries About 11 Main Political Parties

The ICO is also reported to have written to the UK’s 11 main political parties, asking them to have their data protection practices audited because it is concerned that the parties may have purchased certain information about members of the public from data brokers, who might not have obtained consent.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

When this story originally broke, it was a wake-up call about what can happen to the personal data that we trust companies / corporations with, and it undoubtedly damaged trust between Facebook and its users to a degree. It’s a good job that the ICO is there to follow things up on our behalf because, for example, a Reuters/Ipsos survey conducted back in April found that, even after all the publicity surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, most users remained loyal to the social media giant.

Also, the case has raised questions about how our data is shared and used for political purposes, and how the using and sharing of our data to target messages can influence the outcome of elections, and, therefore, can influence the whole economic and business landscape. This has meant that there has now been a call for the UK government to step-in and introduce a code of practice which should limit how personal information can be used by political campaigns before the next general election.
Facebook has recently been waging a campaign, including heavy television advertising, to convince us that it has changed and is now more focused on protecting our privacy. Unfortunately, this idea has been challenged by the recent ‘Deceived By Design’ report by the government-funded Norwegian Consumer Council, which accused tech giants Microsoft, Facebook and Google of being unethical by leading users into selecting settings that do not actually benefit their privacy.