Facebook is paying British newspaper the Daily Telegraph to run a series of sponsored articles called “Being human in the information age” defending it against claims it is encouraging the spread of misinformation, aiding in the spread of hate speech, violating privacy, and generally ruining society in myriad other ways, Business Insider reported on Wednesday.
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The partnership has resulted in over two dozen articles in the past month, mostly parroting public relations-style claims that Facebook is working hard to rein all of this in. Per Business Insider:
The series — called “Being human in the information age” — has published 26 stories over the last month, to run in print and online, and is produced by Telegraph Spark, the newspaper’s sponsored content unit.
“Fake news, cyberbullying, artificial intelligence — it seems like life in the internet age can be a scary place,” the articles say. “That’s why Telegraph Spark and Facebook have teamed up to show how Facebook and other social media platforms are harnessing the power of the internet to protect your personal data.”
Running sponsored content is not unusual for a company of Facebook’s size, and many news operations do have independent arms that generate paid content for clients. The series is also clearly marked as “Brought to you by Facebook.”
However, as Business Insider noted, some of the content run by the Telegraph is a bit on the nose. One article from March 6, 2019 titled “Tackling hate speech and terrorism on social media” the previous week was light on details, but touted how Facebook is “using AI to proactively identify content and investing in larger review teams to monitor and remove content that could inflame and inspire violence.”
Another dated March 13, 2019 was titled “What action is Facebook taking to tackle terrorist content?” That was two days before a white supremacist gunman live-streamed a massacre of 50 worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left scores more wounded.
Facebook removed at least 1.5 million copies of the video over the next 24 hours, but the damage was already done.
It wasn’t until about three weeks later (and well after the shooting) that Facebook finally determined white nationalism should be banned under its existing policies against white separatism and supremacy.
As Business Insider noted, this week Facebook appeared to be hesitant in enforcing that policy against videos of Canadian far-right activist Faith Goldy perpetuating a conspiracy theory asserting the forcible “replacement” of whites in Western countries by people of colour and Jews.
This week, the picture looks very different.https://t.co/YJ0ErDJuHV
— CEP Europe (@CEPinEurope) March 20, 2019
We are a technological species, and always have been. Maybe the speed of change feels overwhelming, and what is normal to our children is scary for us. But that is the same as it ever was.
Also in the mix: A post touting how the internet era is favourable to libertarian ideals of “crypto-anarchism,” comparing the age of the internet to the invention of the printing press:
In the 15th century, the printing press pulled the monopoly on “information” away from the church and state, giving common people a chance to receive and promote different ideas. Political and religious principles were soon displayed against each other like goods in a bazaar and, within decades, hundreds of small printers across Europe would crank out a deluge of views to create the Reformation and the Enlightenment. To varying degrees, states then and since have tried to control freedom of speech.
WHY WAS THIS BROUGHT TO ME BY FACEBOOK pic.twitter.com/rirFnz1V6T
— Julia Carrie Wong (@juliacarriew) April 3, 2019
According to Business Insider, it is “not clear how much Facebook is paying the Daily Telegraph for the articles, or who comes up with the initial story ideas,” with both the company and the Telegraph declining comment.
Facebook has come under unprecedented scrutiny in the past few years amid a long series of privacy scandals, accusations it is easily gamed by hoax news sites and malicious political actors, and of failing to act even after repeated warnings its platform was promoting pro-genocide propaganda in Myanmar.
(United Nations official Christopher Sidoti recently told Gizmodo the company is still not doing enough to clean up racist posts in Myanmar, saying it was “as though the approach was apologise after the fact rather than try to prevent it in the first place.”)
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that House Democrats were planning on hammering Facebook and fellow tech giant Google about the proliferation of far-right propaganda online at a hearing next week.
Facebook and other tech giants have also faced major backlash in Europe more broadly, where European Union legislators passed the sweeping General Data Protection Regulation, which took effect last year.
Politicians in Australia have been notably even more critical, with reports indicating they plan to pass a world-first law that could impose jail time on social media executives who fail to promptly remove “abhorrent violent material” from their platforms.
That the sponsored content series is running in the British press may have something to do with its hostile reception by members of Parliament after a data-sharing scandal involving political firm Cambridge Analytica, which was based in the UK. They have yet to really sort that mess out.
The company has at times fired back; CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly told executives last year the company was at war with its critics, while Facebook hired a lobbying firm then accused of promoting conspiracy theories about billionaire philanthropist, Holocaust survivor, and Facebook critic George Soros. This is certainly a more milquetoast form of defending itself. But please do remember not to take anything labelled “Brought to you by Facebook” with less than a spoonful of salt.