Facebook and the French: Some Tension Perhaps?

January 15, 2021

For the first time Facebook is calling out a individuals connected to a Western military for conducting a propaganda campaign on its platforms. CNN reports, “Facebook Accuses People Tied to French Military of Running Troll Accounts.” Even more intriguing, the accounts resembled and interacted with similar Russian troll accounts. Reporter Donie O’Sullivan writes:

“The deceptive tactics allegedly used, which include using Facebook to pose as locals in the targeted countries, mirror misinformation campaigns run by the Russian government. … According to Facebook, the operations targeted the ‘Central African Republic and Mali, and to a lesser extent Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Chad.’ Facebook removed the accounts and also announced on Tuesday that it had removed accounts, also posing as Africans, that were linked to Russian troll group. In some cases, Facebook said, the fake French and Russian accounts even interacted with each other.”

Though it is not new to see influence campaigns target the same regions, their actively engaging each other is. Facebook says it found the two sides commenting on each other’s posts, befriending each other, and denouncing each other for being fake. Russian trolls operating in Africa, we’re told, are connected to the group that allegedly acted to influence the 2016 US presidential election. O’Sullivan continues:

“Facebook said the alleged French accounts ‘posted primarily in French and Arabic about news and current events including France’s policies in Francophone Africa, the security situation in various African countries, claims of potential Russian interference in the election in the Central African Republic (CAR), supportive commentary about French military, and criticism of Russia’s involvement in CAR.’ Elections are due to take place in CAR later this month. One post in French read, ‘The Russian imperialists are a gangrene on Mali! Watch out for the tsarist lobotomy!’ The alleged Russian accounts, in turn, criticized the French.”

Wow—gangrene imperialists and tsarist lobotomies! I suppose trolls are not known for their subtlety. Facebook has removed about 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts, with a total of about 5,000 followers, tied to the alleged French operation. It also shuttered two networks of pages linked to Russia, which had about 6 million followers. For its part, the French Defense Ministry neither confirmed nor denied its involvement. Russia continues to deny it has ever engaged in such tactics.

Cynthia Murrell, January 15, 2021

Facebook Focuses on an AI-Driven Future

January 7, 2021

Thousands of Facebook employees were treated to project announcements and product demos at the company’s end-of-the-year meeting. BuzzFeed News got its hands on an audio recording of the proceedings and shares a few highlights in, “Facebook Is Developing a Tool to Summarize Articles so You Don’t Have to Read Them.” As have many of us, Facebook has had a challenging year. However, company executives painted a positive picture at the meeting. We are not surprised to see the company pinning many hopes on AI. Writer Ryan Mac reports:

“Despite the turmoil, the company’s leaders said the social networking company has moved forward, adding some 20,000 new workers this year. With more people around the world at home, the company has experienced record usage, said Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer. … Among the advancements touted by Schroepfer were the company’s commitments to artificial intelligence, which has often been seen internally as a panacea to the social network’s ills. He noted that Facebook’s data centers were receiving ‘new systems’ that would make them 10 to 30 times faster and allow Facebook’s artificial intelligence (AI) to essentially train itself. ‘And it is actually the key tool we are using right now today in production to fight hate speech, misinformation, and honestly the hardest possible content problems we face,’ Schroepfer said, noting a company talking point that Facebook now detects 95% of all hate speech on the platform. In recent weeks, departing Facebook employees have pushed back on the idea that AI could cure the company’s content moderation problems. While Facebook employs thousands of third-party human moderators, it’s made it clear that AI is how it plans to patrol its platform in the future, an idea that concerns workers.”

The employees are right to be concerned. Experience shows AI is still a long way from consistently discerning nuance in human language. Facebook will save money by creating algorithms over hiring people to moderate the platform, but that will do little to stem the tide of false information or hateful speech. Another new tool that leverages AI looks like another way to spread false, or at least incomplete, information—”TL;DR” (the popular abbreviation for “Too Long, Didn’t Read”) will summarize news articles into bulleted lists. No word on whether this is connected to Semantic Scholar’s tool by the same name designed for use with academic texts.

Other curious announcements include the development of a universal translator (a la Star Trek) and “Horizon,” a VR social network where users’ avatars can hang out together (inspired by pandemic isolation, perhaps?) Then there is the brain-reading device. Last year Facebook bought neural-interface startup CRTL-labs and has since made progress on a device that can translate thoughts into physical actions. Potential applications, says Schroepfer, include typing, manipulating virtual objects, or driving a character in a video game. Will they put that together with the Horizon project? Hmmm.

Cynthia Murrell, January 7, 2021

Zuckasar and Bezoder or Caeberg and Alexos?

December 24, 2020

I spotted this image in Google Images. Miraculously I was able to locate it by querying “Zuckerberg Caesar.” Bingo.

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The idea is that the Facebook poobah seems to look like the Big J. As you will recall, some of his friends allegedly unliked the Ruler of the World using real knives, not unfollows.

I read “Jeff Bezos Reportedly Considers Himself the Alexander the Great of Modern Exploitation.” The source of this revelation in tottering Oxford don or donette (no, not a donut, gentle reader). The insight appears in an online information service called Jezebel which recycled an interview from an alleged Amazon whiz person.

I learned:

According to an Amazon cybersecurity engineer who spoke anonymously and quite candidly with Logic Magazine, working at Amazon is much more Philip K. Dick than it is Plutarch, despite Jeff Bezos’s boner for Alexander the Great:

“Jeff Bezos studies other “great men” in history and imagines himself to be a kind of Alexander the Great. There’s even a building on the Amazon campus called Alexandria, which was the name of one of the company’s early projects to get every single book that had ever been published to be listed on Amazon.”

image image

I see the resemblance. Uncanny. The mosaic reminds me of the thousands of AWS services which contribute to Mr. Bezos’ wealth.

One question: Why are these business leaders embracing the war fighters and dictators of yesteryear?

There are other helpful models; for example:

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JP Morgan is a potential role model.

The ancient history thing may not be about money. Perhaps the appeal is for the allure of power and the world domination thing. Interesting. I am looking forward to Messrs. Zuckerberg and Bezos commissioning Bernadette Banner. She can create the Big J armor for the Zuck and come up with a period correct outfit from 370 BC for Mr. Bezos.

Great for live streaming when the monopoly hearings become available. Perfect for Shopify T shirt vendors and TikTok snippets with Wal-Mart adverts.

Stephen E Arnold, December 24, 2020

Jargon to Watch: Facebook Out Innovates with Wordage

December 4, 2020

I read “Facebook Splits Up Unit at Center of Contested Election Decisions.” The write up contains yet another management maneuver from the Oracular High School Science Club Management Methods. Feel free to ponder the article; I did not. Instead my attention was pinned by the arrow clear thinking expressed in this two word confection:

central integrity

Here’s the deck chair shuffling on the good ship USS Facebook:

Employees from Civic Integrity, who have been at the center of Facebook’s contested decisions on how to handle posts from politicians such as President Donald Trump and its influence in politically fragile countries like Myanmar, will now join teams in a bigger organization called Central Integrity under Facebook vice president Guy Rosen, according to the memos sent Wednesday and two current employees.

From civic to central integrity. Remarkable. This phrase has taken pride of place from revenge bedtime procrastination, execution management systems, and intersubjective process.

Kudos to the Facebook phrase creating team.

Stephen E Arnold, December 4, 2020

A Facebook Promise: Good As Gold

December 3, 2020

Oops. A Facebook algorithm’s mistake is causing the company to offer apologies and refunds, we learn from CNBC’s article, “Facebook to Reimburse Some Advertisers After Miscalculating Effectiveness Data.” Citing a report from Ad Exchanger, writer Lucy Handley informs us:

“The company’s ‘conversion lift’ tool suffered a glitch that reportedly affected thousands of ads between August 2019 and August 2020. Facebook fixed the error in September and is now offering a credit to clients ‘meaningfully affected’ by the bug. Conversion lift helps brands understand how ads lead to sales, using a ‘gold-standard methodology’ that links ads on Facebook’s platforms, including Instagram, to business performance, according to an explanation of the tool on Facebook’s website. The free tool shows ads to separate test and control groups and then compares sales conversions for each. Then, based on the results of the study, an advertiser can decide how much to spend on the social network.”

Though the error was discovered and fixed in September, the company is just now getting around to informing clients. According to Facebook, a “small number” of advertisers were affected, though what that behemoth considers a small number is unclear. Handley reminds us:

“This isn’t the first time Facebook has admitted mistakes in reporting. In September 2016, it said it overestimated the average time people spent viewing video ads over a two-year period, and in 2017 a report found that Facebook claimed to reach more people in some U.S. states and cities than official population data said existed in those areas.”

Yep, Facebook is starting 2021 with its true colors flying. I suppose it is nice to see some things remain consistent.

Cynthia Murrell, December 3, 2020

Some US Big Tech Outfits Say Laisse Tomber

December 2, 2020

The trusted “real news” outfit Thomson Reuters published “Amazon, Apple Stay Away from New French Initiative to Set Principles for Big Tech.” Quelle surprise! The “principle” is the silly notion of getting big US technology companies to pay their taxes, fair taxes. Incroyable? Companies not getting with the program allegedly include Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. These four firms are likely to perceive the suggestion of fairness as a demonstration of flawed logic. It is possible that the initiative may become a cause célèbre because money. France is a mere country anyway.

Stephen E Arnold, December 2, 2020

Facebook Dating Cleared for Launch in EU

November 6, 2020

Facebook has cleared a regulatory hurdle in Europe, meaning it will soon launch its dating service in 32 more countries over a year after going live in the US. An opt-in option within the Facebook app, the service is currently available in 20 countries. Voice of America reports the development in, “Facebook Launches Dating Service in Europe.” The brief write-up reveals:

“The social media company had postponed the rollout of Facebook Dating in Europe in February after concerns were raised by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), the main regulator in the European Union for a number of the world’s biggest technology firms, including Facebook. The DPC had said it was told about the Feb. 13 launch date on Feb. 3 and was very concerned about being given such short notice. It also said it was not given documentation regarding data protection impact assessments or decision-making processes that had been undertaken by Facebook.”

Facebook Dating’s product manager Kate Orseth assures us that users who create a dating profile can delete it whenever they want without deleting their entire Facebook profile. The service grabs first names and ages from users’ Facebook profiles and does not allow users to edit them. Last names are not displayed, but one can choose to share other personal information right from the main profile. How many users understand how easily AI tech could be used to correlate that information and pinpoint their identities? We advise caution for anyone who chooses to use Facebook Dating, whatever continent one lives on.

Cynthia Murrell, November 6, 2020

Facebook: High School Science Club Management Faces Modest Challenge

November 4, 2020

Imagine running an elite high school for really smart people. Now think about having almost half of the people in school think you are a dork. Sound cool?

According to “49% Facebook Employees Don’t Believe It Had Positive Impact On World” seems to suggest that the senior management of ever lovable Facebook has this hurdle to surmount, crawl around, tunnel under, or leap over. The write up states:

Facebook released the results of its internal half-yearly “Pulse survey.” One of the key findings reported by Buzzfeed is that only 51% of employees believe that Facebook is having a positive impact on the world. The survey was taken by 49,000 Facebook employees in a period of two weeks in October.

How does one manage this “half don’t get with the program” issue? The write up does not consider this management question. But we learn:

Recently, the company has been working on various issues with the platform. The company first got rid of anti-vax content, then aimed to remove misinformation about the holocaust. The social media giant also took two good initiatives for flu shots and making U.S. citizens aware of voting. While those are all good things, the issues run deeper.

The challenge, however, is not limited to employees. If “Most Americans Think Social Media Has a Negative Effect on the US” presents accurate data, Facebook faces a larger management task.

Even more intriguing is Facebook’s growth runway. “Facebook Makes More Money per User Than Rivals, But It’s Running Out of Growth Options” asserts that Snap and Pinterest seems to be in “double digit  year-over-year growth in users, revenue, and average revenue per user.” The reason? Advertising strategies.

“Move fast and break things” may apply to running a company in an manner that keeps half of the employees in a happy place. Maybe if management buys lunch, more people will feel good about the company’s innovative approach to making the world closer together. Maybe?

Stephen E Arnold, November 4, 2020

Facebook: Be a Good Neighbor

October 27, 2020

Engadget published “Facebook Is Testing a Nextdoor-Like Neighborhoods Feature in Canada.” The write up reports:

Facebook is testing a feature called Neighborhoods that would allow users to join community-based groups, much as you can with Nextdoor.

The article says:

Facebook’s Neighborhoods feature could allow the social network to display hyper-local ads and gather more data on users, judging by the screenshots seen so far.

At the end of the write up, the author reminds me that Facebook is under investigation.

What’s interesting is that the Facebook “innovation,” if the article is accurate, is a good example of me-too; that is, a smaller company figures out a service, attracts users, and, on the surface at least, is successful.

Could the business tactics playbook for an outfit like Facebook contain this tactic: Copy and crush?

Worth watching as the country of Facebook confronts those next door. Now the music for “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” are echoing:

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…

Stephen E Arnold, October 27, 2020

Algorithm Tuning: Zeros and Ones Plus Human Judgment

October 23, 2020

This is the Korg OT-120 Orchestral Tuner. You can buy it on Amazon for $53. It is a chromatic tuner with an eight octave detection range that supports band and orchestra instruments. Physics tune pianos, organs, and other instruments. Science!

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This is the traditional piano tuner’s kit.

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You will need ears, judgment, and patience. Richard Feynman wrote a letter to a piano tuner. The interesting point in Dr. Feynman’s note was information about the non-zero stiffness of piano strings affects tuning. The implication? A piano tuner may have to factor in the harmonics of the human ear.

The Korg does hertz; the piano tuner does squishy human, wetware, and subjective things.

I thought about the boundary between algorithms and judgment in terms of piano tuning as I read “Facebook Manipulated the News You See to Appease Republicans, Insiders Say”, published by Mother Jones, an information service not happy with the notes generated by the Facebook really big organ. The main idea is that human judgment adjusted zeros, ones, and numerical recipes to obtain desirable results.

The write up reports:

In late 2017, Zuckerberg told his engineers and data scientists to design algorithmic “ranking changes” that would dial down the temperature.

Piano tuners fool around to deliver the “sound” judged “right” for the venue, the score, and the musician. Facebook seems to be grabbing the old-fashioned tuner’s kit, not the nifty zeros and ones gizmos.

The article adds:

The code was tweaked, and executives were given a new presentation showing less impact on these conservative sites and more harm to progressive-leaning publishers

What happened?

We learn:

for more than two years, the news diets of Facebook audiences have been spiked with hyper conservative content—content that would have reached far fewer people had the company not deliberately tweaked the dials to keep it coming, even as it throttled independent journalism. For the former employee, the episode was emblematic of the false equivalencies and anti-democratic impulses that have characterized Facebook’s actions in the age of Trump, and it became “one of the many reasons I left Facebook.”

The specific impact on Mother Jones was, according to the article:

Average traffic from Facebook to our content decreased 37 percent between the six months prior to the change and the six months after.

Human judgment about tool use reveal that information issues once sorted slowly by numerous gatekeepers can be done more efficiently. The ones and zeros, however, resolve to what a human decides. With a big information lever like Facebook, the effort for change may be slight, but the impact significant. The problem is not ones and zeros; the problem is human judgment, intent, and understanding of context. Get it wrong and people’s teeth are set on edge. Unpleasant. Some maestros throw tantrums and seek another tuner.

Stephen E Arnold, October 23, 2020

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