Former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang spent her time at the company identifying fake accounts that could manipulate election outcomes around the world.
When she was fired for “poor performance” last year, Facebook offered her a $64,000 severance package – if she signed a nondisparagement agreement, MIT technology review reported on Thursday.
Nondisparagement agreements are legally binding documents that prevent workers from sharing negative comments about the company and its employees.
This week, Insider published a sweeping NDA transparency project that reviewed 36 NDAs from major tech companies and discovered how far Silicon Valley’s giants will go to silence and control their employees. Workers said the agreements caused them to evade questions from family, seek treatment for depression and PTSD, and struggle to land new jobs after dozens of interviews, Insider’s Matt Drange reported.
Zhang said she turned down the money so she could publicly reveal the political manipulation happening on the platform.
According to Zhang, Facebook leadership had done little to address election interference. Facebook denies her claims. A Facebook spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Zhang’s severance package and its conditions.
After she left the company, Zhang posted a memo on her personal website that detailed how Facebook routinely ignored the issue. When she refused the company’s request to take the memo down, her entire website was suddenly shut down.
Zhang wrote in the memo first published on Buzzfeed News: “I know that I have blood on my hands by now,” and that “to give up … would be a betrayal of the very core of my identity.”
“In 2016, we and those in the government and media did not fully recognize the nature and scope of foreign interference in our elections,” a Facebook spokesperson has previously said about efforts to combat election interference. “Since 2017, we have removed over 150 covert influence operations originating in more than 50 counties, and a dedicated investigative team continues to vigilantly protect democracy on our platform both here and abroad.”
The most recent lesson on misinformation came from an unlikely teacher: the frozen meat company, Steak-umm. And Facebook, Twitter, and Google should take notes.
The Pennsylvania-based brand on Thursday posted a “beefy thread” on Twitter about “societal distrust in experts and institutions, the rise of misinformation, cultural polarization, and how to work toward some semblance of mutually agreed upon information before we splinter into irreconcilable realities.”
Steak-umm said “one universal goal everyone should prioritize is getting people from across the ideological spectrum closer to the same reality of baseline facts and evidence,” a difficult feat given in part the expansive nature of online platforms and “people’s access to infinite information.”
The company also said there can be shortcomings with experts and institutions, but that doesn’t make “fringe sources equally credible or trustworthy.”
Steak-umm didn’t name any names in its thread, but the challenges it discussed have been faced by Facebook, Google, and Twitter for years. Things have only intensified in difficulty since March 2020 as the group controls how much misinformation people see – and can therefore be influenced by – online. False information surrounding the coronavirus disease, political conspiracies, and the election specifically has taken center stage.
The companies have attempted to flag information they deemed to be misleading, including from those spreading fringe ideology, prompting backlash from some on the right who claim the platforms are censoring viewpoints they don’t agree with.
But some groups and posts, like those centered around the “Stop the Steal” campaign alleging the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, were allowed to proliferate before Facebook cracked down on them.
It will only apply the vaccine rule to its corporate, non-union workers, and not its roughly 700 union employees, who include building service workers and cleaners, Crain’s New York first reported.
“For our corporate employees, unless they receive a medical or religious accommodation, if they are not vaccinated by Sept. 6th they will be separated from the company,” Durst spokesman Jordan Barowitz told Crain’s.
A Durst spokesperson confirmed the policy to Insider.
It is not clear whether Durst’s corporate workers will need just one or both shots of a COVID-19 vaccine under the new rule. The organization did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for clarification.
Barowitz told the New York Post that Durst had informed corporate employees of the new mandate in June, and that it was “driven by the wishes of the employees who want to work in a safer environment.”
Durst’s union workers – who include building service workers, cleaners, and doormen – are protected under a collective bargaining agreement, an unnamed source familiar with the matter told The Post.
Facebook on Wednesday reported its second-quarter earnings that largely exceeded investor expectations while warning of growing pains to come.
Here’s a look at the key numbers:
Revenue: $29.1 billion versus $27.9 billion expected.
Earnings per share (EPS): $3.61 versus estimates of $3.02.
Total monthly active users (MAUs): 2.9 billion versus estimates of 2.9 billion.
Facebook’s MAU count is tied to its lucrative advertising business. The total number of ads delivered rose 6% year-over-year, Facebook said, while revenue from the segment was up 47%.
User numbers ballooned during 2020, as the pandemic kept people inside and online, but the firm said: “We expect year-over-year total revenue growth rates to decelerate significantly” in the second half of 2021.
Shares fell about 4.5% in late trading following the release.
The company said it continues “to expect increased ad targeting headwinds in 2021 from regulatory and platform changes, notably the recent iOS updates.” Investors were watching how a new privacy update from Apple would impact its bottom line.
The tech world is under antitrust scrutiny more broadly as lawmakers zero in on big industry players.
Zuckerberg receives a pre-tax annual allowance of $10 million for his family’s security, and in 2020, Facebook spent an additional $13.4 million on personal security for Zuckerberg “at his residences and during personal travel pursuant to Mr. Zuckerberg’s overall security program,” the filing said.
Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg was the runner-up in the Protocol tally, with more than $7.6 million spent on her safety in 2020. Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai came in third with $5.4 million.
Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was compensated $1.6 million by his company for security, while he paid additional costs himself. Meanwhile, Uber paid $120,000 to set up CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s home office, and has assigned a security specialist to his house, Protocol reported.
The $3 million rise in security spend from 2019 to 2020 was “primarily due to regular personal travel, costs relating to security protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, increased security coverage during the 2020 US elections and other periods with increased security risk, and market increases in the costs of security personnel,” Facebook said.
“Mr. Zuckerberg’s role puts him in a unique position,” the company wrote in the filing. “He is synonymous with Facebook, and as a result, negative sentiment regarding our company is directly associated with, and often transferred to, Mr. Zuckerberg.”
Zuckerberg accepted a $1 salary from Facebook, as he has in previous years, and didn’t receive any bonus payments or incentive compensation, the company said in the filing.
Facebook and other social media platforms faced a surge in misinformation on their sites when the pandemic started and the US elections kicked off. After former President Donald Trump falsely claimed that the election was stolen, including via his Facebook page, and triggered rioters to storm the US Capitol, the social media site suspended him indefinitely.
In March, Zuckerberg faced Congress with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to talk about spread of misinformation on their social media platforms. Zuckerberg also faced the Senate in November to be challenged by lawmakers about decisions Facebook took around the election.
Twitter on Wednesday rolled outtesting of Shop Module, a new e-commerce feature on its platform.
With Shop Module, Twitter users can scroll and tap through products to learn more about and shop for products on the business’ landing page without leaving the Twitter app.
“We know people come to Twitter to interact with brands and discuss their favorite products,” said Twitter’s Revenue Product Lead Bruce Falck at Twitter Analyst Day 2021. “Imagine easily discovering, and quickly purchasing a new skincare product or trendy sneaker from a brand you follow with only a few clicks.”
Shop Module is a new player in an already robust social media e-commerce space, with Facebook Marketplace, Shopify, and Instagram Checkout being big competitors. Twitter plans to capitalize on an increasing social commerce consumer market, which boomed during the coronavirus pandemic and is projected to grow over the next three to five years.
Twitter first ventured into e-commerce in 2014 with their “Buy Now” button, which embedded product links into tweets. The company decided to focus on performance ad sales since, but announced its intentions to re-explore e-commerce at Twitter Analyst Day last spring.
Twitter also introduced several e-commerce related features earlier this year, like Super Follows, which could potentially connect their fans to products and merchandise, and Professional Profiles, which allows businesses to display their address, phone numbers, and operating hours on their profile.
Still in the early stages of testing, Shop Module is currently only available to around 12 businesses across lifestyle, retail, and entertainment, according to Tech Crunch, and only US English-speaking IOS Twitter users can see the Shop Module on the app.
“Fundamentally, it’ll give us the chance to keep learning about which shopping experiences people prefer on Twitter,” Falck added in a blog post announcing the Shop Module.
2. From the homepage, click Pages in the sidebar menu on the left.
3. Click the Create New Page button in the menu on the left.
4. On the left side of the next screen,enter a Page name, select a Category, and write a Description. The right side of the page shows you a preview of your page as you add information to it.
5. Scroll down and click Create Page.
6. Next you can add images. Click Add Profile Picture or Add Cover Photo to upload photos from your device. Hit Save at the bottom.
7. A pop-up may appear asking if you want to connect your page to WhatsApp. If you want to, enter your phone number and click Send Code. If you don’t want to, click the “X” icon in the top-right corner of the pop-up.
8. Your new Facebook page is now created, and you can continue customizing it to your liking.
Additional set-up tips
Before you write your page’s first post, be sure to update your page with additional information for your business.
1. Make a call to action
Add a call-to-action button to your business page by clicking Add a Button at the top-right of your page. Choose an action from the available options. You can have visitors book appointments, contact you through Facebook Messenger, download your app, and more.
2. Choose a page username
Choose a page username by clicking Create @username under your cover photo and page name. This username will become the web address for your business page (e.g. facebook.com/businessinsider).
3. Enter upcoming events
To add upcoming public events, click the Events tab at the top of your page and select Create New Event in the top-right of the Upcoming Events section.
4. Update the About section
To get to the About section, click the More tab at the top of your page, beneath your page name. In the More drop-down, select About. Here you can add a location, business hours, price range, contact information, and more.
5. Add page roles
In the sidebar menu on the left, click Settings, then click Page roles to assign roles to other coworkers or brand managers.
In the Assign a new page role section, enter a name or email address into the textbox and in the drop-down menu on the right, select a role: admin, editor, moderator, advertiser, or analyst. Click Add when you’re done.
While the process is called a conversion, it actually copies your personal profile to a page. Your personal profile will remain intact and a new page based on that profile will be created. You can update the newly created page as you would a page created from scratch.
8. Select page visibility
Facebook pages are published as soon as they are created. This means an incomplete page would be visible to the public as soon as it’s created.
If you would prefer to work on your page in private before making it available to the public, you can update its visibility from the page settings menu – click Settings at the bottom of the sidebar menu on the left, and on the General tab, click Page visibility to unpublish your page.
This will prevent the page from being available until you’re ready to publish it again. Remember to update the visibility setting when you are ready to publish it.
Think of it as what will come after the internet. It’s a virtual universe that will straddle the physical and digital worlds, allowing people to live and interact in real-time in both of them.
Digiday gave a good example: you wouldn’t have different social media profiles across various platforms. You would instead automatically be yourself when you log onto Twitter, Instagram, and other online spaces.
The metaverse concept has been somewhat niche, presiding largely in the gaming world, until Zuckerberg pushed it into the limelight this week in an interview with The Verge.
He said Facebook would evolve from a social media company into a “metaverse company.” And Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth said Monday that the company is even building out a designated executive team to oversee progress towards the metaverse vision. It’ll exist within Facebook’s virtual reality branch.
Facebook’s VR and AR technology can currently “teleport you into a room with another person, regardless of physical distance, or to new virtual worlds and experiences,” Bosworth said in the Facebook post. “But to achieve our full vision of the Metaverse, we also need to build the connective tissue between these spaces — so you can remove the limitations of physics and move between them with the same ease as moving from one room in your home to the next.”
Zuckerberg said he’s banking on the transition to occur over the course of the next five years or so.
Stocks finished at record highs Monday as investors set their sights on earnings reports from major technology companies and appeared to set aside concerns about economic recovery in the face of rising coronavirus cases.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average pushed further above 35,000 after crossing that threshold for the first time on Friday. Stocks overcame losses earlier in Monday’s session to build on record highs notched Friday, capping a rebound from a rout last week. Stocks have seen points of weakness in recent sessions on worries about increasing COVID-19 cases around the world as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads.
Investors will start to plow through this week’s earnings reports, with more than one-third of S&P 500 companies set to release results. Tesla’s report is due after the bell Monday, followed by Alphabet, Apple, Microsoft on Tuesday, and Facebook on Wednesday.
Here’s where US indexes stood at 4:00 p.m. on Monday:
“What we’re looking for is what are companies doing with these strong earnings, what are they doing with their cash flow,” Tom Hainlin, national investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, told Insider on Monday.
“If they’re optimistic about the future, we’re looking for them to invest that cash flow … new businesses, new initiatives, new factories,” he said. “We’re looking for what are companies doing with these proceeds to give us some insight from the corporate side into where we think the economy is going in the second half and into 2022,” he said.
The Fed’s two-day meeting that begins Tuesday and ends on Wednesday will likely produce commentary about its outlook on domestic and global economic recovery and investors will gauge when the Fed may begin tapering asset purchases or start raising interest rates.
WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart said senior government officials of US allies, including some in national-security roles, were targets of Pegasus phone malware in 2019.
Cathcart’s statements, which were featured in an interview by The Guardian on Sunday, followed reports last week from the Pegasus Project, a consortium that included The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Amnesty International.
The reports said an Israeli company sold access to military-grade spyware, which was used to hack the phones of journalists, activists, and government officials.
NSO Group, the company behind the Pegasus software, denied the phone numbers leaked to the consortium were Pegasus targets.
WhatsApp sued NSO Group in October 2019, saying about 1,400 mobile devices running the app were targeted by the company’s surveillance software.
According to the complaint, NSO Group had gained access to WhatsApp’s servers to target “attorneys, journalists, human rights activists, political dissidents, diplomats, and other senior foreign government officials.” The lawsuit is ongoing.
“The reporting matches what we saw in the attack we defeated two years ago, it is very consistent with what we were loud about then,” Cathcart told The Guardian.
There were more than 50,000 phone numbers on a leaked list of potential Pegasus targets, although it was unclear how many had actually been targeted, Forbidden Stories said. The list included numbers for French president Emmanuel Macron, Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan, and South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, Amnesty International said.
NSO Group said the consortium’s reports were inaccurate, denying the numbers on the list were targets or potential targets of Pegasus. It said it would no longer reply to media questions about the software.
“The numbers in the list are not related to NSO group,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday under the headline Enough is Enough. “Any claim that a name in the list is necessarily related to a Pegasus target or Pegasus potential target is erroneous and false.”
The Pegasus software was designed to “covertly collect information about your target’s relationships, location, phone calls, plans and activities – whenever and wherever they are,” according to a product description included as an exhibit in WhatsApp’s 2019 lawsuit.
The software tracked GPS locations, monitored voice and VoIP calls, and collected other information, the description said. It also “[l]eaves no trace on the device.”
The software was reportedly sold to governments.
“There is no such thing as an encryption backdoor for just the good guys,” Cathcart said on Twitter last week. “A backdoor would be abused. And a backdoor would be a gift to hackers, criminals, spyware companies, and hostile governments, with dangerous consequences for safety and security.”