As Facebook Reveals Dark Posts, Twitter Keeps Them Hidden

Brendan Mcdermid / Reuters

Facebook pledged last week to reveal all ads being shown to its users, even those not appearing on advertiser profiles, after it was revealed that the company ran Russian-linked ads meant to influence the election. Twitter, however, will not commit to the same, and appears to have no plans to expose its so-called dark posts to public scrutiny.

Twitter, which had an outsized presence in the 2016 US presidential election thanks largely to then-candidate Donald Trump, currently hides promoted posts that don’t appear publicly on ad buyers’ profiles. And as of this writing it appears to have no plans to do otherwise.

Last Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company intends to make these dark posts public as part of an effort to increase transparency after discovering that Russia-linked ads on Facebook may have interfered with the US presidential election.

Dark ads or posts are commonly purchased on social networks as a way to reach very specific audiences. The messaging is typically targeted at a particular demographic and the posts delivering it aren’t visible on the advertisers’ timelines or pages after they’ve been shared. They're especially useful in politics, where advertisers can create scores of highly targeted ads meant to be shown to specific segments of the electorate.

Twitter's current policy allows advertisers to run dark ads without showing them to the broader public. Asked if it would follow Facebook's lead and make publicly visible the dark ads currently hidden on its platform, a Twitter spokesperson declined to answer, saying simply, "We don't have anything to announce now."

That would leave Twitter behind Facebook, which Zuckerberg said hopes to create “a new standard for transparency in online political ads.”

Dark ads have long frustrated researchers, who say they hamper deep understanding of political campaigns. And because they are not subject to the same oversight as traditional radio, TV, and print ads, they’re also enticing to foreign entities that might seek to influence elections without leaving a trail of digital breadcrumbs. Facebook, for example, has been drawn into a congressional inquiry into the Kremlin’s influence operation during the 2016 US presidential campaign because of dark ads that appeared on its pages.

Congress has recently been ratcheting up its scrutiny of how major online platforms handle political ads. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner are trying to rally support for a bill that would require digital platforms with over 1 million users to put any political ad buy of more than $10,000 into a public database. Meanwhile, the Federal Election Commission is examining online ad disclosure rules.

“We hope Twitter will demonstrate leadership by acknowledging the issues dark ads on social media present for democratic states and work with the FEC and Congress to enact sensible legislative and regulatory reforms for disclosure and disclaimers for online platforms that host paid political ads,” said Alex Howard, deputy director of Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan government transparency group.

Howard's call for transparency comes as Twitter leadership is expected to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee in relation to its Russian election-tampering investigation this week.

Instagram Lets You Limit Comments Just To People You Follow

Today, Instagram is rolling out new features aimed at making it harder to troll and harass users, and also at looking out for some of its most vulnerable users.
1. A big new change that’ll make it easier to eliminate creepers: You’ll be able to limit who can comment on your posts. There will be four options:
People you follow
People who follow you
People who follow you and people you follow
This will only be available to public accounts. Previously, you could only block comments from people one by one, and it wasn’t possible to limit large groups of people.

2. The “hide offensive comments” feature will now be available in French, German, Portuguese, and Arabic. This feature launched in English in June as a way of blocking certain words, but now it’s expanded into a more robust, AI-powered detection of the nuances of harassing comments.
To turn it on, go into the “Comments” section of the Instagram app, and toggle on the automatic filter:
3. The last featur.. Continue reading

North Korea Says Trump’s Tweet Is A Declaration Of War. Twitter Won’t Say If It Violates Its Rules.

Getty Images / John Paczkowski
On Monday morning North Korea's foreign minister told journalists gathered near the United Nations that president Trump's recent tweet about North Korea was a declaration of war against his country. Trump's “they won't be around much longer!” tweet and North Korea's interpretation of it are the latest in a series of escalations between the two powers that have set the international community on high alert. Since Trump made the remark on Twitter, today's comments from North Korea also raise the question: Does a threat that leads to a declaration of war violate the company's opaque rules for conduct and its prohibitions against harassment and incitement?

Twitter appears unwilling to weigh in. Asked for comment on Trump's Sept. 23 tweet — specifically if it violates the company's terms of service — a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News it “does not comment on individual accounts for privacy and security rea.. Continue reading

This New Facebook Feature Could Help You Find Out Who’s Running A Page

Facebook just launched a way for page managers to identify themselves to the public. The new feature is now available on all pages, but it is optional and therefore unlikely to be used by pages involved in suspect activity.
BuzzFeed News identified an early version of the feature on a Russian-language news page run from Germany. The right-hand rail of the page features a section called “Team Members” and lists the name and profile photo of a man who manages the page. When contacted via Facebook Messenger, he confirmed it was a new feature.
After BuzzFeed News asked Facebook about the “Team Member” section, the company published a Help Center article that details how it works, and a spokesperson said the feature was now available globally.
“Adding yourself as a team member on your Page is a way to show other people on Facebook that you're a manager of that Page,” says the help article.

The spokesperson, who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity, told BuzzFeed News the.. Continue reading

Steve Bannon Sought To Infiltrate Facebook Hiring

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Steve Bannon plotted to plant a mole inside Facebook, according to emails sent days before the Breitbart boss took over Donald Trump’s campaign and obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The email exchange with a conservative Washington operative reveals the importance that the giant tech platform — now reeling from its role in the 2016 election — held for one of the campaign’s central figures. And it also shows the lengths to which the brawling new American right is willing to go to keep tabs on and gain leverage over the Silicon Valley giants they used to help elect Trump — but whose executives they also see as part of the globalist enemy.
The idea to infiltrate Facebook came to Bannon from Chris Gacek, a former congressional staffer who is now an official at the Family Research Council, which lobbies against abortion and many LGBT rights.
“There is one for a DC-based ‘Public Policy Manager’ at Facebook’s What’s APP [sic] division,” Gacek, the Senior Fellow for .. Continue reading

Mark Zuckerberg Can’t Stop You From Reading This Because The Algorithms Have Already Won

BuzzFeed News; Getty Images
There’s a decent chance that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will see this story. It's relevant to his interests and nominally about him and the media and advertising industries his company has managed to upend and dominate. So the odds that it will appear in his Facebook News Feed are reasonably good. And should that happen, Zuckerberg might wince at this story’s headline or roll his eyes in frustration at its thesis. He might even cringe at the idea that others might see it on Facebook as well. And some almost certainly will. Because if Facebook works as designed, there's a chance this article will also be routed or shared to their News Feeds. And there's little the Facebook CEO can do to stop it, because he's not really in charge of his platform — the algorithms are.

This has been true for some time now, but it's been spotlit in recent months following a steady drumbeat of reports about Facebook as a channel for fake news and propa.. Continue reading

Ellen Pao’s Story Is Messier Than Her Book Makes It Sound

Ellen Pao leaves the San Francisco Superior Court Civic Center Courthouse on March 27, 2015 in San Francisco.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
Anyone who’s been curious about the Ellen Pao story has been eagerly awaiting her memoir, Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change, which was finally released this week. To recap: In 2012, Pao filed a $16 million gender discrimination suit against her employer, the legendary venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — and the ensuing five-week gender bias trial in 2015 became an obsession of the tech industry. Reset has a lofty aim: to give Pao a platform to finally explain how she established herself as a champion of diversity and equality in the workplace.
But the reality is much more complicated. At times, Reset scans as strategically engineered to burnish Pao’s narrative, which has been reshaped by time and the collective memory of her trial to turn her into a figurehead for the diversity movement in tech. But Pao is a co.. Continue reading

Facebook Scraps Plan To Create Non-Voting Stock Following Lawsuit

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
A day after Mark Zuckerberg's widely-criticized response to Russian use of Facebook to influence the 2016 US election, the Facebook founder and CEO was dealt yet another setback.
Facebook will halt the creation of “C Class” shares following a lawsuit, scrapping a plan to create a new class of non-voting shares intended to allow Zuckerberg to maintain control of Facebook while giving away his wealth via the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
“This is an unconditional surrender,” shareholder attorney Stuart Grant of Grant & Eisenhofer told BuzzFeed News. “I do think the message is loud and clear: you can’t just run over the stockholders.”
Facebook's decision to scrap the creation of the new non-voting shares comes as Zuckerberg and Facebook are increasingly scrutinized by Congress. Yesterday, Zuckerberg announced Facebook would turn over approximately 3,000 Russia-bought ads to federal .. Continue reading

Here’s What You Need To Know About Uber Being Banned In London

What's going on?
London taxi drivers block Whitehall in Westminster, central London, during a protest over the regulation of private hire cars using the Uber app.
Dominic Lipinski / PA Archive/PA Images
After a long campaign by London's black-cab drivers, Transport for London has decided not to renew Uber's licence to trade as a private hire business, effectively banning it from the capital.
Uber has been active in London since 2012 and has built a business with, it claims, 3.5 million customers and 40,000 drivers. TfL was considering granting it a new five-year licence. But instead, its last day in operation here will be 30 September. It has 21 days to appeal.
It's a huge moment in the evolution of the so-called gig economy and a big test of how governments and regulators can halt the fast-paced growth of consumer technology as it disrupts traditional industries. Here are some more questions, and some (brief) answers:
Why is this happening now?
Laura Dal.. Continue reading

How Apple Built An iPhone Camera That Makes Everyone A Professional Photographer

BuzzFeed News; Getty Images
This fall, when hundreds of gorgeous, expertly lit portrait shots of friends, relatives, and their pets inevitably begin to dominate your Instagram feed, feel free to thank 17th-century Dutch master painters like Vermeer.
It's the day after Apple's Sept. 12 iPhone event and Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller is enthusiastically explaining the origins of the Portrait Lighting feature in the new iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X. “We didn't just study portrait photography. We went all the way back to paint,” he explained.
Like the camera in every iPhone that preceded them, Apple is touting the cameras in the iPhone 8 Plus and the forthcoming iPhone X as its best ever. This year the company is particularly proud of these, which boast a marquee “Portrait Lighting” feature that brings a range of professional-looking effects to the already great photos the dual camera system on the iPhone 7 Plus is capable of taking.
“We didn't just study por.. Continue reading