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In the midst of the Capitol riot, Facebook faced its own insurgency

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WASHINGTON (AP) As supporters of Donald Trump stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, fighting police and forcing lawmakers into hiding, an insurgency of a different kind was unfolding within the largest social media company in the world.

Thousands of miles away in California, Facebook engineers were rushing to fine-tune internal controls to slow the spread of disinformation and incentive content. The emergency actions, some of which were canceled after the 2020 election, included banning Trump, freezing comments in groups with record-breaking hate speech, filtering the Stop the Steal rally cry and l ’empowerment of content moderators to act more assertively by labeling the US as temporary high. Place of risk for political violence.

At the same time, frustration erupted inside Facebook over what some saw as the company’s stopping and often reversed response to the rise of extremism in the United States.

Haven’t we had enough time to figure out how to deal with discourse without allowing violence? an employee wrote on an internal bulletin board during the height of the January 6 turmoil. We’ve been fueling this fire for a long time, and we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s now out of control.

It’s a question that still hangs over the company today, as Congress and regulators investigate Facebook’s role in the January 6 riots.

New internal documents provided by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen provide rare insight into how the company appears to have simply stumbled into the January 6 riot. It quickly became apparent that even after years of being under the microscope for insufficiently monitoring its platform, the social network failed to understand how rioters spent weeks swearing on Facebook itself to prevent Congress to certify the electoral victory of Joe Bidens.

The documents also appear to reinforce Haugens’ claim that Facebook has put growth and profits ahead of public safety, opening the clearest window yet on how Facebook’s conflicting impulses to protect its business and protect democracy clashed in the days and weeks leading up to the January attempted bombing. 6 shots.

This story is based in part on disclosures made by Haugen to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in drafted form by legal counsel for Haugens. The drafted versions received by Congress were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the Associated Press.

What Facebook called the Break the Glass emergency measures put in place on January 6 were essentially a toolkit of options designed to stem the spread of dangerous or violent content that the social network had first used in the past. ‘The bitter 2020 elections are approaching. No fewer than 22 of those measures were rolled back at some point after the election, according to an internal spreadsheet analyzing the company’s response.

As soon as the elections were over, they either turned them off or they returned the settings to what they were before, to prioritize growth over safety, Haugen said in an interview with 60 Minutes.

An internal Facebook report after Jan. 6, previously reported by BuzzFeed, criticized the company for having a piecemeal approach to the rapid growth of Stop the Steal pages, related sources of disinformation, and violent and inciting comments.

Facebook says the situation is more nuanced and that it is carefully calibrating its controls to respond quickly to spikes in hateful and violent content, as it did on January 6. The company said it was not responsible for the rioters’ actions and having tighter place controls before that day would not have helped.

Facebook’s decisions to introduce or phase out certain security measures took into account signals from the Facebook platform as well as information from law enforcement, spokeswoman Dani Lever said. When these signals changed, the measurements also changed.

Lever said some of the measures remained in place until February and others remain active today.

Some employees were unhappy with Facebook’s handling of problematic content even before the January 6 riots. An employee who left the company in 2020 left a long note accusing promising new tools, backed by extensive research, being limited by Facebook for fear of responses from the public and stakeholders. of Trump’s allies and investors).

Likewise (although more concerning) I have seen already built and functioning backups canceled for the same reasons, wrote the employee, whose name is blacked out.

Research conducted by Facebook long before the 2020 campaign leaves little doubt that its algorithm could pose a serious danger for the spread of disinformation and the potential radicalization of users.

A 2019 study, titled Carols Journey to QAnonA Test User Study of Misinfo & Polarization Risks Encountered through Recommendation Systems, described the results of an experiment conducted with a test account established to reflect the views of a strongly conservative prototypical but not the 41-year-old North Carolina extremist. women. This test account, using the alias Carol Smith, indicated a preference for mainstream news sources like Fox News, followed comedy groups that mocked liberals, embraced Christianity, and was a fan of Melania Trump.

Within a single day, the page recommendations for this account generated by Facebook itself had evolved into a fairly disturbing and polarizing state, according to the study. On Day 2, the algorithm recommended more extremist content, including a group related to QAnon that the fake user didn’t join because she wasn’t naturally drawn to conspiracy theories.

A week later, the test subject stream featured a deluge of extreme, conspiratorial, and graphic content, including articles reviving Obama’s false birth lie and linking the Clintons to the murder of a former US senator. State of Arkansas. Much of the content has been distributed by questionable groups run from overseas or by administrators known to have broken Facebook’s bot activity guidelines.

These findings led the researcher, whose name was redacted by the whistleblower, to recommend security measures ranging from removing content with known plot credentials and disabling major contributor badges for commentators. disinformation to lowering the threshold number of subscribers required before Facebook verifies the identity of a page administrator.

Among other Facebook employees who read the research, the response has been almost universally favorable.

Hey! This is such a thorough, well-described (and disturbing) study, one user wrote, his name obscured by the whistleblower. Do you know of any concrete changes that have resulted from it?

Facebook said the study was one of many examples of its commitment to continuously study and improve its platform.

Another study given to congressional investigators, titled Understanding the Dangers of Harmful Topic Communities, explained how like-minded people embracing a borderline subject or identity can form echo chambers for misinformation that normalizes harmful attitudes. , stimulates radicalization and may even provide a justification for violence. .

Examples of these harmful communities include QAnon and hate groups promoting theories of race war.

The risk of violence or harm offline becomes more likely when like-minded people come together and support each other in taking action, the study concludes.

Prosecution documents filed by federal prosecutors against those who allegedly stormed Capitol Hill contain examples of like-minded people coming together.

Prosecutors said a prominent militia leader Oath Keepers used Facebook to discuss forming an alliance and plans to coordinate with another extremist group, the Proud Boys, before the riot on Capitol Hill.

We have decided to work together and close this street, wrote on Facebook Kelly Meggs, described by authorities as the head of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, according to court records.

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2/ https://apnews.com/article/donald-trump-technology-business-social-media-media-87cc5087fc653539811ee87ed79464f5

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