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Facebook Remains Under Fire For Continuously Spreading Covid-19 Vaccine Misinformation 

President Joe Biden called out tech giants and social media platforms like Facebook for failing to tackle the problem of misinformation being spread regarding the Covid-19 vaccine. The White House released a statement in which they claimed to have zeroed in on the “disinformation dozen,” which is in reference to 12 major social media accounts that have shown to be responsible for spreading a majority of the anti-vaccine misinformation online. 

“Facebook has repeatedly said it is going to take action, but in reality we have seen a piecemeal enforcement of its own community standards where some accounts are taken off Instagram but not Facebook and vice versa. There has been a systemic failure to address this,” said Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), the organization behind the “disinformation dozen” study.

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The report identified 12 “superspreader accounts,” and a Facebook spokesperson claims the company has permanently banned all pages groups and accounts that “repeatedly break the rules on Covid misinformation including more than a dozen pages groups and accounts from these individuals.”

The CCDH confirmed that they have removed 35 accounts across multiple social media platforms so far. There are currently about 8.4 million followers spread across 62 active accounts that are still spreading anti-vaccine misinformation.

The main issue with these accounts is the amount of followers who believe that the information is real. Many of these accounts post false facts about the vaccine that claim its unsafe, ineffective, and not worth getting despite the overwhelming amount of evidence from a multitude of studies on these vaccines before they were distributed to the public. 

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Jessica Gonzalez is the co-CEO at Free Pass, a media equity group, who recently spoke out about how a lot of these posts are prevalent on Spanish-language Facebook.

“Facebook needs a much better mechanism to stop the spread of false information about the vaccine, and they need to make sure they’re doing that across languages. It’s difficult to gauge the scope of the issue when Facebook doesn’t share figures.”

According to the social media watchdog Accountable Tech, “11 out of the top 15 vaccine related-posts on Facebook last week contained disinformation or were anti-vaccine.”

Vaccination rates in the US are currently plateauing as new cases continue to rise among unvaccinated individuals almost exclusively. 67% of Americans have received at least one vaccination and 58% are fully vaccinated. 

“Action needs to be taken regarding vaccine misinformation. Social media has greatly contributed to this misinformation – there’s no doubt. When we have a public health crisis and people are dying every day, enough is enough,” said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.

US and Iran Conflict

Facebook Claims Hackers In Iran Used Platform To Target US Military Personnel 

Facebook announced last week that it had removed 200 accounts that they discovered were run by a group of hackers based in Iran as a part of a larger cyber-spying operation mainly targeting US military personnel and people working at defense and aerospace companies. 

The group is known as “Tortoiseshell” to security experts, and they all used fake online profiles to connect with individuals in the military, build personal connections and drive them to other sites where they would be tricked into clicking links that would infect their systems with spying malware. Some of the conversations between the hackers and personnel would go on for months to really establish that trust.

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“This activity had the hallmarks of a well-resourced and persistent operation, while relying on relatively strong operational security measures to hide who’s behind it,” Facebook’s investigations team said in a blogpost.

“The group made fictitious profiles across multiple social media platforms to appear more credible, often posing as recruiters or employees of aerospace and defense companies”

Facebook’s team claimed that the group used email, messaging, and collaboration services to distribute the malware. A spokesperson for Microsoft, which was also involved in the cyberattack, claimed that they have been made aware of the hacking and would be taking extra measures to prevent something like this from happening in the future. 

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“The hackers also used tailored domains to attract its targets, including fake recruiting websites for defense companies, and it set up online infrastructure that spoofed a legitimate job search website for the US Department of Labor.”

Facebook claimed the hackers mainly were targeting individuals in the US, and a few others in the UK and Europe in general. The campaign has been running since 2020, and has supposedly impacted around 200 individuals.

“The campaign appeared to show an expansion of the group’s activity, which had previously been reported to concentrate mostly on the IT and other industries in the Middle East. Our investigation found that a portion of the malware used by the group was developed by Mahak Rayan Afraz, an IT company based in Tehran with ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Facebook said. 

Facebook claimed that it has now blocked the malicious domains that it knows of from being shared, and Google is also taking steps to make sure all domains are blocked.

Instagram

Head Of Instagram Says App Is ‘No Longer For Sharing Photos’

Adam Mosseri, head of popular social media app Instagram, claimed recently that the platform is shifting its focus to compete more directly with TikTok. This means Instagram will begin prioritizing putting entertainment, videos, and shopping at the center of the apps experience. 

“We are no longer a photo-sharing app. The number one reason people say they use Instagram, based on research, is to be entertained.” 

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He went on to explain how he recently “told the company that because of this data, Instagram will lean into the entertainment trend and video. TikTok and YouTube are huge competitors to Instagram, so in order to stay relevant, the app must evolve.”

“People are looking to Instagram to be entertained, and there’s stiff competition, and there is more to do and we have to embrace that, and that means change.”

Mosseri discussed how the app is currently experimenting with a change that involves showing users more recommended posts in their feeds that directly relate to the accounts that they already follow. 

Media reports on this shift stated that the changes would “make Instagram theoretically function similarly to how YouTube manages its home page.” TikTok has a similar function that shows users recommended videos and users based on the other posts that they’ve liked. 

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Mosseri claims beyond just posts and users, however, Instagram will be working to make the recommendations more topical, so users can tell the app what kind of content they want to see more or less of. 

Mosseri says that “Instagram’s goals moving forward are to embrace video more broadly beyond its IGTV, Reels, and Stories integrations. Instagram wants to focus on more full-screen, immersive, mobile-first video experiences over the square photo-sharing app that it has been.”

The rise of recommended content has been growing exponentially among all social media platforms. Some users love it, and some hate it, which is why Apple recently implemented an update that lets users decide which apps can track what the user is doing. 

It’ll be interesting to see how much Instagram shifts to be more like TikTok or YouTube, and if that shift will help it gain more popularity, or cause a decrease in user engagement due to the fact that many people complain about missing when Instagram was just for uploading one photo at a time. 

Britney Spears Star

Britney Spears Speaks Out After Request To End Conservatorship 

Britney Spears spoke for the first time in front of a judge to request an end to her conservatorship. After the pop star made headlines with the shocking revelations of what her team and family have put her through, she took to social media to speak to her fans directly who have been so supportive and outspoken about the abuse Spears has faced over the past two decades. 

“I just want to tell you guys a little secret, I believe as people we all want the fairy tale life and by the way I’ve posted … my life seems to look and be pretty amazing … I think that’s what we all strive for !!!!” Spears posted on her Instagram.

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“I’m bringing this to people’s attention because I don’t want people to think my life is perfect because IT’S DEFINITELY NOT AT ALL … and if you have read anything about me in the news this week … you obviously really know now it’s not !!!!”

“I apologize for pretending like I’ve been ok the past two years … I did it because of my pride and I was embarrassed to share what happened to me … but honestly who doesn’t want to capture their Instagram in a fun light !!!!” 

“Believe it or not, pretending that I’m ok has actually helped … so I decided to post this quote today because by golly if you’re going through hell … I feel like Instagram has helped me have a cool outlet to share my presence … existence … and to simply feel like I matter despite what I was going through and hey it worked … so I’ve decided to start reading more fairy tales,” Spears concluded her post.

While the Instagram caption seemed to make sense in terms of the week Spears’ has had, many of her fans who have led the #FREEBRITNEY movement have exposed multiple times that the singer is not in control of her own social media as a part of her conservatorship. 

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This became especially apparent with the release of the “Framing Britney Spears” documentary and numerous press conferences her father and his attorney have held in which they claimed Britney was fine and liked the conservatorship. Many fans said if she really felt like that why has she never said anything herself? Why is it always through other people or a screen and never from her voice directly? 

Well, during the virtual hearing in a Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday, Spears finally was able to speak for herself, and she didn’t hold back with how much she despised her conservatorship.

“I want changes and I want changes going forward. I don’t want to be evaluated to determine if I’ve regained my mental capacity. I just want my life back. All I want is to own my money and for my boyfriend to be able to drive me in his car. I want to sue my family.”

Spears must now file a formal petition to end the conservatorship, something she always had the ability to do, but was never told she could. After the petition is filed an investigator will be appointed by the court to the case, and they will speak to everyone involved in the current arrangement. 

Future court proceedings may be sealed moving forward until an actual solution is met, however, one thing is now for sure, the world truly knows what Britney Spears has been enduring throughout her whole career, and a change will be made.

Miami Florida

Florida Governor DeSantis Targets Social Media Platforms In Newly Signed Bill

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is targeting social media platforms ina newly signed bill that’s meant to monitor how social media platforms moderate online content. 

The legislation is one of the largest steps made by a Republican governor ever since allegations of online censorship were thrown at tech giants Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Tech industry leaders, however, claim that the legislation is unconstitutional and is setting everyone up for a massive court battle. 

On Monday, DeSantis claimed that a “council of censors in Silicon Valley are to blame for shutting down the debate over Covid-19 lockdowns and the origins of the coronavirus.”

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“I would say those lockdowns have ruined millions of people’s lives all around this country. Wouldn’t it have been good to have a full debate on that in our public square? But that was not what Silicon Valley wanted to do.”

The bill that he signed specifically “prohibits tech platforms from suspending or banning political candidates in the state, with possible fines of $250,000 per day if the de-platformed candidate is seeking statewide office and $25,000 per day if the candidate is running for a non-statewide office,” according to CNN.

The legislation would also give Florida residents the power to sue tech companies for de-platforming. Similar bills have been in the works in states such as Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Utah. 

US lawmakers have been proposing significant changed to the federal law in its relation to the legal leeway that tech platforms have when it comes to online censorship. The federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, has been under fire by Democrats who argue that the platform’s benefit from a law that was created before the technology even existed. 

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Tech industry leaders have repeatedly denied blocking or removing content solely based on political ideology. Many tech platforms began flagging posts that discussed the Covid-19 pandemic, but were spreading harmful misinformation. 

After multiple Republicans and former president Donald Trump continued to spread falsehoods and misinformation about the 2020 election and the sanctity of our Democracy, many political leaders began getting deplatformed for the harmful information they were spewing. 

Florida’s legislation will “force tech platforms to step back from moderating their sites due to the threat of litigation by any internet user, from foreign extremists to disgruntled internet trolls,” said the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a tech trade group.

“Florida taxpayers will also end up paying their share in the cost of enforcing new regulations, and for the inevitable legal challenges that will come along with the legislature’s effort to adopt a law with glaring constitutional challenges,” CCIA president Matt Schruers, wrote in an op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel.

“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution — backstopped by Section 230 — makes it abundantly clear that states have no power to compel private companies to host speech, especially from politicians,” said Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, a co-author of Section 230, in a statement regarding the signing on the Florida bill.

Twitter on Phone

Twitter Researching New ‘Twitter Blue’ Paid Premium Service 

Twitter is currently in talks to launch a paid subscription service called Twitter Blue, according to unreleased features of the app discovered by independent researcher, Jane Machum Wong. Wong has previously made a name for herself online for uncovering upcoming tech projects involving popular social media apps. 

Wong shared screenshots of the service on her Twitter, which shows that the premium service will cost $2.99 a month. 

If this service does come into existence, planned features would include the ability to save and organize tweets into specific collections, which expands on Twitter’s current bookmark feature which organizes your saved tweets chronologically. 

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The service would also come up with an “undo tweet” button, which would allow users to prevent a tweet from being sent for a few seconds after posting; similar features currently exist in certain email services such as Gmail. 

Twitter has been relatively open about the fact that they’ve been inquiring about starting a premium paid service. Back in January the social media platform bought Revue, a newsletter provider that allows users to write and publish subscription emails. 

Earlier this month it purchased Scroll, a subscription service that removes any advertisements from news sites. Scroll’s former chief executive, Tony Haile, confirmed that Twitter acquired the company as a part of their plan to “integrate into a broader Twitter subscription later in the year.” 

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Wong believes that besides Twitter Blue, the company will likely begin exploiting more expensive tiers in their subscription services. 

“Twitter is also working on a tiered subscription pricing model, with one tier having more paid features than the other. For example, users on higher-priced tiers could enjoy premium experiences, such as clutter-free news reading experience.”

After Apple rolled out an update for their mobile devices that allows users to deny an app access to tracking their activity for advertising purposes, Twitter and other social media platforms have been exploring other means of bringing in revenue. Advertising is the main way these apps make money, especially considering Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. are all free to download and use. 

Only 4% of iPhone users have reportedly opted to allow app tracking to continue with the new feature, despite Twitter telling it;s investors that the feature would only have a “modest impact” on revenue. Only time will tell how successful Twitter Blue will actually be and if users will be willing to pay for an app that they’ve had access to for over a decade for free.

Facebook Phone App

Facebook’s Ban On Donald Trump Will Continue To Hold 

Facebook’s oversight board ruled this Wednesday that its suspension of former President Donald Trump was justified following his role in the January 6th insurrection attack on the Capitol building. 

The panel claimed that this means the company doesn’t need to reinstate Trump’s access to Facebook and Instagram, however, they also mentioned that the company was wrong to impose an indefinite ban, and the platform has six months to either restore Trump’s account, make his suspension permanent, or suspend him for a specific period of time. 

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Facebook joined a multitude of other social media platforms that banned Trump in January after a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol Building. Trump used his accounts to “incite violent insurrection” as ruled by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a handful of other platforms. 

“In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities. The Board declines Facebook’s request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty.”

Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg claimed that “Facebook will now determine an action that is clear and proportionate following the ruling. Until then, Trump’s accounts will remain suspended.”

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The board’s ruling could also set a potential precedent for how social media platforms treat posts from political leaders. The decision to ban Trump has led to a major debate over the power these tech companies have, but also the power that our political leaders have when it comes to the things they say and the influence they have; especially when it comes to violent attacks on our government. 

Many have argued that Facebook’s ban on Trump has been long overdue, as his posts have often started conversations that led to multiple violations of the platform’s hate speech policies, however, because of his political power, those violations were rarely regulated. 

Many researchers also emphasized the fact that Trump’s constant efforts to undermine the 2020 election and constant baseless claims against our democracy and Biden’s win created a social media environment fueled by violent political rage. 

The former president, however, has previously teased that regardless of what the platforms decide, he won;t be returning to them, and will potentially start his own social media platform to communicate with his supporters; essentially a personal blog. 

Amazon Using ‘Fake’ Twitter Accounts To Defend Working Conditions 

Amazon has received a slew of criticism within the past year of the pandemic due to the harsh working conditions their warehouse/lower level employees have had to endure at the sake of their own health and safety. Now, a surge of “fake” Twitter accounts have emerged to defend the corporation and push back on criticisms presented during the pandemic. 

Many of the accounts are meant to be Amazon warehouse employees who love working for the company and believe Unions aren’t actually helpful. A majority of the account handles begin with “AmazonFC” followed by the first name of the “employee” and warehouse designation. The accounts often only tweet about Amazon in response to criticism and refute any tweets claiming the company enforces “robotic” working conditions that lead to “high injury rates.” 

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One account, which has since been suspended, tweeted: “Unions are good for some companies, but I don’t want to have to shell out hundreds a month just for lawyers!”

This is not the first time Amazon has used social media to try to combat criticism. Many Amazon employee accounts from 2018 and 2019 have since been deleted due to exposure. Amazon did confirm, however, that the latest tweets being spread online were fake. 

“Many of these are not Amazon FC Ambassadors – it appears they are fake accounts that violate Twitter’s terms. We’ve asked Twitter to investigate and take appropriate action.” 

The spokesperson for Amazon who released the statement above refused to acknowledge how many Twitter accounts were run by real Amazon ambassadors and how the company regulates fake accounts. Bellingcat is an investigative journalism site that compiled a list of at least 56 Amazon Ambassador Twitter accounts. 

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Some of the accounts only recently became active and were almost immediately suspended by Twitter. Some Twitter users have even created their own parody accounts to make fun of the corporation’s attempt at combating criticism. 

Recently, Amazon CEO Dave Clark and the official Amazon News Twitter account criticized Senator Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Congressman Mark Pocan over certain policies. Those tweets backfired for Amazon after it was revealed that Amazon engineers flagged the tweets because they were concerned that they were “unnecessarily antagonistic which would risk Amazon’s brand reputation.” 

Other leaked memos that initially sparked these fake Twitter accounts cited complaints from Amazon managers over delivery truck drivers leaving bottles of their urine and bags of their feces in trucks, despite the fact that Amazon’s PR account claimed all reports of workers needing to urinate in bottles to keep up with their workload was false. 

The National Labor Relations Board is also currently determining “whether to consolidate multiple complaints from workers over the past year alleging interference from Amazon against workers’ attempts to organize or form a union,” according to the Guardian.

How ‘Instagrammable’ Immersive Experiences Are Shaping Commercial Real Estate

Ari Rastegar is the CEO of Rastegar Property Company, a real estate company focused on value-oriented properties. Rastegar recently wrote about how these types of “instagrammable” locations will likely be a major player in rebuilding the industry as the pandemic comes to an end within the next year or so. 

Facebook To Restore News Sharing Services In Australia 

Facebook announced that it will be restoring all news pages in Australia after the platform and Australian government agreed to certain changes within the media coding that would grant greater control over what appears on the platform from both parties. 

Facebook and the Australian government have been at odds for months now. Initially Australia was attempting to pass legislation that would require Facebook and Google to pay news and media outlets for their content before they’re able to share it across their platforms. “The initial version of the legislation would have allowed media outlets to bargain either individually or collectively with Facebook and Google — and to enter binding arbitration if the parties couldn’t reach an agreement,” according to reports

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This week the Australian government also released a statement in which they claimed they would “amend the code to include a provision that must take into account whether a digital platform has made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses.” 

Campbell Brown is Facebook’s vice president for global news partnerships who recently spoke with the media regarding the new deal. 

“The government has clarified Facebook will retain the ability to decide if news appears on the platform so that we won’t automatically be subject to forced negotiation.” 

Brown continued to explain that the “agreement will allow Facebook to support the publishers they choose to, including small and local publishers. Our company will also be restoring the news on Facebook in Australia in the coming days.” 

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Brown is of course referring to Facebook’s decision last week to remove all news articles and services from the platform, barring Australians from finding or sharing news. This move not only impacted the thousands of media publishers on Facebook, but government agencies and services as well. The removal of media outlets indirectly removed pages for emergency government services and charities, leaving many Australians who are dependent on those services without the ability to access them. 

Facebook’s recent decision to restore the news came after the Australian Senate discussed the recent media laws passed that allowed the platform to take away so many essential services and pages. 

“It’s always been our intention to support journalism in Australia and around the world, and we’ll continue to invest in news globally, and resist efforts by media conglomerates to advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook,” Brown explained. 

Google, on the other hand, has already been attempting to surpass the new legislation by partnering with some of Australia’s largest media organizations. All of these deals are currently unconfirmed, but will likely be revealed in the coming weeks.