Tech Savvy: Facebook faces the music
Facebook faces a rocky road to redemption after the social media giant has come under recent scrutiny for public missteps including security breaches, misinformation and privacy concerns.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently promised to rein in the treasure trove of data mining the company is based on with new services and a new approach to safeguarding personal information.
Earlier this month, Facebook users may have received several notifications that their favorite “Groups” changed their privacy settings to the consternation of some and celebration by others.
Groups have several privacy options: Public groups allow anyone to join, closed groups allow anyone to request membership, and secret groups do not appear in searches and new members must be added by an existing member, according to Slate.com.
“The ones changing their settings didn’t include the neighborhood news groups, outdoors communities or semi-professional writing groups. They were primarily meme groups with thousands of people,” Jane C. Hu wrote in an article about emerging technologies, public policy and society.
A meme is a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by internet users, according to Dictionary.com, like those of the recently departed Grumpy Cat coupled with some, perhaps, dour observations or comments.
“Some group administrators explained their changes in posts, saying that other meme groups have recently been banned by Facebook without warning or explanation, and that changing their group settings is meant to be a precaution against a similar fate,” Hu wrote for Slate.com.
A Facebook spokesperson said, “We removed several Groups ... after detecting content that violated our policies. … This content was posted to sabotage legitimate, non-violating Groups. We’re working to restore any Groups affected and to prevent this from happening again.”
According to Facebook’s “Community Standards,” groups can’t support terrorism or organized hate, mass or serial murder, human trafficking, or organized violence or criminal activity, nor can users post hate speech, violent or graphic content, or adult nudity and sexual activity.
And Facebook’s user base in the United States is dwindling, according to market research firm Edison Research. Its survey found that an estimated 15 million fewer people use Facebook now than in 2017, with the biggest drop being among teen users and millennials.
Speculation as to the reason for the drop is that Android mobile apps from companies, including Yelp, send data that could be used to personally identify the user for ad tracking straight to Facebook upon logging in, according to a new report from watchdog group Privacy International.
“Facebook Inc. unveiled a redesign that focuses on the Groups feature of its main social network ... and another sign that Facebook is moving toward more private, intimate communication,” according to a Bloomberg article last month by Kurt Wagner and Selina Wang.
The pair writes in the Bloomberg piece the new design for the mobile app — Facebook’s biggest change in five years — “highlights the Groups that users have joined, and now shows a personalized feed of activity across all the groups people are part of a special tab.”
“Today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook note in March.
Wagner and Wang wrote, “The company has been pushing more aggressively into groups for the past two years as people shy away from posting things publicly and look for more intimate ways to connect with friends and family.”
The recent changes were announced last month by Zuckerberg at the Facebook F8 conference in California, making Groups a bigger part of the Facebook user experience.
“We don’t have the strongest reputation on privacy right now," Zuckerberg said at the Facebook-hosted conference. “We need to change the way we’re running the company today."
The social network’s e-commerce service, called Marketplace, also got an upgrade. Sellers will soon be able to take payment directly through Facebook, including shipping costs, instead of having to arrange payment outside of Facebook via Facebook’s messaging app, Messenger.
Making headlines and another factor in Facebook’s navel-gazing is elected officials and human rights groups critical of the social media company for the spread of extremism and misinformation on its flagship site and on Instagram, according to The Associated Press.
Two months after the mass shooting at a mosque in New Zealand was live-streamed by the accused gunman on Facebook, violators of Facebook's "most serious policies" will now be immediately banned from using Facebook Live for a period of time, according to CNN.
The AP, a newsgathering cooperative, also reported Facebook started requiring all political advertisements taken out in the U.S., Britain and Brazil to disclose who paid for them in an effort to increase transparency and identify those who would divide voters and discredit democracy.
“In special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly interfering in the 2016 U.S. election, several Facebook groups were cited as tools to support President Donald Trump’s campaign or oppose Hillary Clinton’s,” according to Bloomberg.
Facebook announced this month two ranking updates to the algorithm that drives the News Feed, which will prioritize a user's closest friends and the links they'll find most relevant, according to a recent Engadget article by Amrita Khalid.
“The most recent tweaks are based on the results of surveys Facebook conducted beginning last year, a Facebook spokesperson told Engadget. The updates will happen gradually; users won't notice a change immediately,” Khalid wrote.