Friday, May 20, 2016
Facebook faces growing criticism of bias and censoring posts
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has met with conservative political leaders to play down allegations of anti-conservative bias.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has met with conservative political leaders to play down allegations of anti-conservative bias.
Facebook has been outed — it is not, as its millions of users around the world had always presumed, everybody’s friend.
Just as Google had to quietly drop its axiom “don’t be evil”, the sanctity of Silicon Valley’s moral authority took another hit in the past week through revelations that Facebook “curates” the trending news items on its social media platform rather than allow its supposedly neutral “algorithms” to determine them without bias.
The furore, first reported on Gizmodo, the respected IT website, was exacerbated because as Facebook contractors explained, those curators are encouraged to focus on material from mainstream news sites, or what they believe is important, rather than news feeds featuring “conservative” items or personalities.
Essentially, Facebook operates as a traditional newsroom, with all its biases and corporate imperatives, rather than as a neutral and unimpeachable tool of audience demand, as it has always been made out to be.
Furthermore, the revelations confirmed beliefs that Facebook, a powerful corporation capitalised at $US117 billion ($161bn) on the NASDAQ exchange, has, and perpetuates, a liberal bias — much like the home of Facebook and its IT brethren, Silicon Valley.
Facebook quickly back-pedalled, releasing a statement from its vice president of search, Tom Stocky, saying it took “these reports extremely seriously” but “found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true”.
Stocky added Facebook’s “rigorous guidelines … to ensure consistency and neutrality … do not permit the suppression of political perspectives” or the “prioritisation of one viewpoint over another”.
Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg, the 32-year-old Facebook founder and chief executive, met conservative political leaders, including a representative of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, to quell the allegations of anti-conservative bias.
Facebook’s politics in this instance is not the key point (and Zuckerberg has been careful to split his allegiances, recently announcing a sponsorship deal with both the Republicans and Democrats for their conventions and declining to endorse candidates publicly).
And the importance of its trending section, established in 2014 to counter rival social media site Twitter, is arguable, given it is a minor sidebar on any Facebook page and not the main newsfeed users are drawn to, full of humble brags about your friends’ children, empathetic politics and news articles your friends like.
Even some of the proclivities of Facebook’s vaunted Edge Rank algorithm that selects material for individual feeds, which tech site Mashable half seriously describes as “far more valuable than the recipe of Coca-Cola or KFC’s 11 herbs and spices”, are known about. It promotes video heavily, though only if the video is delivered through Facebook’s own platform, links from your closest friends, boosts articles that viewers read intently, while restricting delivery of commercial posts unless businesses pay. It is a not-so-neutral net.
We know the main feeds are curated by humans; the shock is knowing that behind the Trending News feed are humans picking and choosing items you believe are unfettered information.
Broadly, any evidence that Facebook acts like a traditional newsroom opens the company to the charge it should be regulated like any other media company, as well as exposing new legal issues concerning copyright, defamation and other legal responsibilities.
And of course, media organisations, including this one (The Australian is published by News Corporation), are increasingly antagonistic towards the platform despite still needing to collaborate. Facebook offers a massive audience to journalists but no longer the clicks through to independent news sites. Facebook has become the mega-publisher.
In Australia, Facebook’s power is growing quickly, thanks to a successful push into mobile and, more recently, video. Consequently, “Facebook has become one of, if not the leading player in Australia’s $1.7bn digital display market”, says Venture Consulting chief executive Justin Jameson.
“Facebook has greater penetration and higher usage than any other app, especially among younger demographics. Hence most advertisers feel that they have to be on Facebook.”
But recent history shows Facebook imposes its community standards upon any user or group it deems unsuitable. And when you’re a $US117bn company, it turns out those standards become unpredictable, restrictive and at odds with the mantra of internet companies that “information wants to be free”.
A major sell of the FANG economy (the acronym given to the unregulated digital giants — Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Google — which dominate the globe) has always been its infallibility, that advances in design and technology make the world better on every level. Silicon Valley, the epicentre of the FANG universe, has appropriated the essence of trickle down economics, telling the world that what’s good for technology is good for everybody and, furthermore, Silicon Valley knows just what is good for everybody.
What’s good for Google and Facebook in particular is their aggregation of all information under their umbrellas so they can become the two largest advertising companies ever ($US74bn and $US17bn annual revenue respectively). Their vaunted nobility is crumbling as their behaviour emphasises the dangers and duality when gargantuan for-profit corporations build such concentrated power.
And that power is unaccountable and often illogical. Facebook regularly censors posts by Australians. The Australian has recently published stories detailing the unhappy experiences of Christian family groups that have found their material censored by Facebook. But it turns out Facebook can be surprisingly non-discriminatory when it blocks postings.
Editor of the left-leaning independent media website, New Matilda, Chris Graham is still incredulous Facebook suspended the accounts of many of his subscribers when he published a 6000-word speech by Arrernte writer, feminist, unionist and activist Celeste Liddle marking International Women’s Day.
The piece was accompanied by a photograph of two Aboriginal women from the remote central Australian community of Ampilatwatja. They happened to be bare-breasted.
Facebook temporarily banned the post and accounts of users who shared it, saying the image breached its community standards on nudity. Graham remains dumbfounded. Images of a naked Kim Kardashian are allowed on Facebook and Graham laughed at an image from the Burning Man festival of a naked woman riding a bicycle with a dildo protruding from its handle bars, saying publication of it showed Facebook’s disingenuousness.
“Good luck to her, who cares, but there was no problem with that image,” he laughed. “It was like shooting fish in a barrel,” he says of finding “clear double standards” in Facebook’s policy.
“I would say in their defence, I can understand their dilemma because they’ve got to draw a line somewhere and they literally have to please the whole world — find a community standard that pleases the whole world,” Graham says.
Facebook told Graham the image was unsuitable because of “complaints”. But the source and content of these complaints are not explained. Indeed, they could have been about the content of Liddle’s speech; Facebook won’t tell. If Graham had published the image in a magazine or on TV, the complaints process would be transparent through industry regulatory bodies such as the Australian Press Council or the television’s Code of Practice.
“Small publishers like me should be genuinely terrified,” Graham says. “I got banned so I couldn’t publish, and that’s terrifying for a publisher because we genuinely didn’t publish that image to inflame anything. The rules are, there are no rules other that what Facebook decides.”
The Christian lobby group Family Voice Australia has had at least five posts “strangely disappear” from Facebook, says Ros Phillips, including some the group paid to “boost” (for certain fees, Facebook “pushes” your posts to more users than would happen organically).
FVA reported an innocuous story about a Minnesota community’s response to a ban on nativity scenes, and paid $20 to “boost” it. Rather quickly, the “boost” stopped. “When we asked why, they said it did not meet ‘our standards’,” Phillips says. That was after the lobby group had trouble finding someone at Facebook to query, also a common complaint about the site.
According to Graham and Phillips, Facebook’s “standards” are only activated by complaints from users. “Given the number of our readers who got their Facebook accounts suspended, there’s either an awful number of people complaining or a small number of very vocal people complaining, or all is not as it appears at Facebook,” Graham says.
Facebook has a set of “community standards” that sit below its stated mission “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”. Facebook says it restricts nudity “because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content”. Explicitly, it says: “genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks” are out, as are “some images of female breasts if they include the nipple”. But breastfeeding is in.
“Photographs of paintings, sculptures and other art that depicts nude figures” are also allowed though, again, practice suggests otherwise. Facebook is appealing a French ruling that the social network can be sued over its decision to remove the account of a French user who posted a photo of a famous 19th-century painting, Gustave Courbet’s 1866 The Origin of the World, which depicts female genitalia.
No matter what your standards or politics are, they are likely more defined than Facebook’s.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was reportedly overheard last year asking Zuckerberg how he could counteract offensive posts about the refugee crisis. In February, he confirmed that Facebook would clamp down on xenophobic posts.
Politicians, of the left, right and in between, appreciate the power of the world’s most potent media platform. Facebook has nearly 1.1 billion active users daily (and 1.6 billion active in any given month) and has grown every quarter of its existence.
Its appeal as a seemingly impassive, noble aggregator of information was a potent part of its appeal. Seemingly, its proprietor, Zuckerberg, was a kid in a T-shirt with no expansion plans, not some voracious Charles Foster Kane.
But this week’s revelations should give pause. Facebook is a corporation prone to the same foibles and biases any other corporate entity may encounter.
But this is an almighty powerful, unaccountable corporation and it might not be your friend, at least politically, or share your standards.
Sen. Reid Ducks Question on Transgenders Using Capitol Bathrooms
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says the Obama administration's "guidance" requiring public schools to allow transgender students use the restroom of their choice "is not some new theory that they came up with." Reid told a news conference on Tuesday that the guidance is "long-established law, and we should follow the law here and every place else."
At the same time, Reid refused to say whether restrooms on Capitol Hill should follow the same guidance given to public schools.
A reporter asked Reid if he agrees that the administration's directive to schools should be applied to the "Capitol at large," including Senate and House office buildings.
"I got your question," Reid interrupted. "Here's -- here's my -- here's how I feel about this. I gave a speech on the floor this morning. I'm saying the law should be enforced. This is -- what the administration did is not some new theory they came up with. It's long-established law and we should follow the law here and every place else.
"And I also referred -- what went on last year in Reno, Nevada -- Washoe County schools. They did the right thing. They followed the law and it's worked out fine."
"So if we're here in the Capitol...you'd be OK with it?" the reporter followed up.
"I've answered the question," Reid snapped. "OK, Next question? There isn't a next question. Thank you."
And thus ended the Democrats' weekly briefing.
Earlier Tuesday, on the Senate floor, Reid said the bathroom debate, "at its core...comes down to a simple question: With whom do we stand? Do we stand with the bullies, or do we stand up for the bullied? Do we defend the persecutors, or do we come to the defense of the persecuted?
"These are the questions posed to us by the North Carolina law that undermines the civil rights of transgender Americans."
The North Carolina law, HB2, says people must use public, multiple-occupancy restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to their "biological sex," which is defined as "the physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person's birth certificate."
The law also requires "statewide consistency" in regulations pertaining to "discriminatory practices," meaning that local juridictions may not set anti-discrimination policies that conflict with state law.
"The law is clearly and completely illegal," Reid said on the Senate floor. "It is in direct opposition to federal civil rights statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. Federal courts [but not Congress] have made it clear that sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act covers transgender individuals."
Reid called the North Carolina law "shocking and discriminatory," with "far-reaching consequences."
"This is about access to employment, education and just about everything else in public life. This is about whether we are going to allow our fellow citizens to be bullied, intimidated and harassed."
Reid hailed the "thoughtful and common-sense policies" of a Nevada school system that allows biological males to use the ladies' room, and biological females to use the men's room.
"I stand with the administration in opposing the North Carolina law," Reid said. "I stand with Americans – all Americans – against this shameful bullying. And most of all, I stand with the transgender people of North Carolina, who are the targets of state-sponsored discrimination. My heart goes out to them. This is not how our great nation should operate. We are better than this.
"I look forward to the day – and it is coming soon – when this hateful law is struck down."
The White House opened its first "gender-neutral" (single stall) bathroom a year ago.
Obama the Rainbow Warrior
"On May 17, Americans and people around the world mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia by reaffirming the dignity and inherent worth of all people, regardless of who they love or their gender identity," Barack Obama proclaimed in a White House statement. There was not a companion statement from anywhere in the Muslim world.
"[T]here is much work to be done to combat homophobia and transphobia," Obama said, and he's certainly waging that combat — mandating school bathroom polices, suing North Carolina, social engineering the military, lighting up the White House in rainbow colors to celebrate same-sex marriage, etc.
In another recent example of Obama's agenda, he appointed a man who identifies as a woman to his Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships. That man, former husband and father of three, now goes by the name Barbara Satin. Let's just say we find his surname particularly ... interesting in the context of a faith-based organization. "Given the current political climate," Satin said in a statement, "I believe it's important that a voice of faith representing the transgender and gender non-conforming community ... be present and heard in these vital conversations." This miniscule group suffering from gender disorientation pathology has a far outsized voice.
Often left not only unheard but shamed or silenced are the views of doctors like Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins, who says simply, "Transgendered men do not become women, nor do transgendered women become men." Such scientific truth is considered "transphobic" by this administration.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Obama's Army secretary, Eric Fanning, who is the first homosexual leader of any U.S. military service — just four short years after Obama ordered military "gay pride" celebrations.
On a final note of what we consider to be related news, a new study from Emory University concludes, "HIV infection is hyperendemic among MSM [men who have sex with men] in many areas of the United States, particularly in the South." Indeed, in some cities, as many as four in 10 homosexual men have HIV, a rate that far outstrips their straight counterparts. Is it "homophobic" to point that out? You certainly won't hear it from any Obama council.
UK: Labour refuses to discipline MEP who compared Israel to the Nazis, as critics call for his suspension
Labour has refused to discipline an MEP who compared Israel to the Nazis, as critics accuse the Party of failing to clamp down on anti-Semitism despite promises to take the matter seriously.
MPs have called from Afzal Khan to be suspended for writing on Twitter: "The Israeli Government are [sic] acting like Nazi's [sic] in Gaza”.
A Labour spokesman confirmed that Mr Khan, who was awarded a CBE for his community and interfaith work in 2008, would not face any disciplinary action but said he had been “reminded of his responsibilities”.
Andrew Percy MP and Sir Eric Pickles MP have called on the Labour Party to suspend Mr Khan for his “deeply offensive” comments. “It is staggering how often Labour politicians casually reference the Nazis when discussing the world's only Jewish state,” Mr Percy said.
“This is deeply offensive, causes a great deal of hurt to the Jewish community in the UK. Labour should move to suspend Afzal Khan immediately and start to take the issue of anti-Semitism more seriously"
Sir Eric, who is the UK's Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, said: "Another day, another Labour anti-Semite caught red-handed. Jeremy Corbyn's failure to even suspend this MEP makes an absolute mockery of his promise to tackle anti-Semitism within his Party".
Mr Khan, who tweeted the comment August 2014 while posting a link to an blog post, is co-founder of The Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester.
Joan Ryan MP, Chair, Labour Friends of Israel, said: “As the European Forum on Antisemitism has made clear, drawing comparisons between contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis is totally unacceptable.”
It comes after Labour was accused of “suppressing” a key report into anti-Semitism and Michael Dugher MP, called for Ken Livingstone to be kicked out of the party over his comments he made apparently dismissing concerns about anti-Semitism within Labour.
Jonathan Sacerdoti, director of communications at Campaign Against Anti-Semitism said that the Party’s failure to discipline Mr Khan “clearly signals to the Jewish community that they are not taking this problem seriously”.
He said: "Comparing the Jewish state to Nazis, who killed over 6 million Jews in a systematic act of genocide, minimises the true extent of the Holocaust and attempts to portray the victims of the Holocaust as the new Nazis.
"It seems the Labour Party only has zero tolerance of anti-Semitism when it doesn't cost them too much politically. They are not willing to discipline anti-Semites in the party when the political price is too high.” [i.e. Must not upset Muslims]
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.