Conservatives Demand Supreme Court Overrule Fake Facebook Court, Others Weigh In

Illustration for article titled Conservatives Demand Supreme Court Overrule Fake Facebook Court, Others Weigh In

Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Facebook’s Oversight Board, the pseudo-legalistic, questionably independent body that the company claims has the power to review and potentially overrule official moderation decisions, issued its not-so-final proclamations regarding the status of Donald Trump’s account.

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The now-former president has been suspended from Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram after inciting deadly riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an ill-fated bid to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 elections. In short, the board punted right back to Facebook, upholding the suspension itself but claiming Facebook arbitrarily made up rules regarding “indefinite” bans to handle the Trump situation. The Oversight Board told Facebook to make an actual decision to either permanently ban Trump or unlock his account within six months.

As with everything regarding this godawful company, the inevitable pile-on took a clear partisan split. Republicans and right-wingers viewed the decision not to allow Trump back on the site—which could potentially have ramifications for any attempt at a political resurgence—as an affront on their values and free speech. Democrats and civil rights groups, for their part, generally expressed relief that the Oversight Board spared the country yet more angry posts from the ex-president but also focused on the ludicrousness of the entire venture.

As it turns out, the only people to have swallowed Facebook’s attempts to brand the Oversight Board as a pseudo-governmental arm of a sovereign entity hook, line, and sinker are right-wingers. Suddenly confronted with a vision of corporate dystopia they didn’t like, some Republicans turned to a higher power for help— among them Charlie Kirk, head of the ebullient diaper lad campus Republican and Facebook-spamming organization Turning Point USA. No, we don’t mean God, just something else equally as unlikely to intervene: the Supreme Court.

Kirk tweeted:

The US Supreme Court should overturn the Facebook’s ‘Oversight Board’s” ‘ruling’ which upholds the outlawing of the 45th President of the United States from social media.

This is a big tech, corporate oligarchy without standing and it’s gone too far. Enough is enough.

(The decision is not subject to review by SCOTUS, unless the type of lawsuit that has historically been laughed out of lower courts somehow makes it there, and the justices all decide to join Justice Clarence Thomas in throwing out decades of precedent and law to declare digital platforms as common carriers who can’t ban anyone.)

Kirk’s panicked viewpoint was mimicked by conservative pundit J.D. Vance, author of the loathsome Hillbilly Elegy and who has graduated from self-declared Trump supporter whisperer to prospective Ohio Senate candidate.

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Vance tweeted:

The Facebook oversight board has more power than the United Nations.

Conservatives were right to worry about giving our sovereignty away to a multinational institution. We just picked the wrong one.

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Will Chamberlain, co-publisher of right-wing magazine Human Events, tweeted, “A corporate committee has no more legitimacy to rule on censorship issues than a random anon on Twitter.” Random QAnon conspiracy theorist turned congresswoman Lauren Boebert, issued a vague threat: “Facebook will pay the price. Mark my words.”

More generally, Republicans used the Oversight Board ruling as an opportunity to continue harping on endlessly about alleged anti-conservative bias in Facebook algorithms (pure bullshit, as right-wing pundits and media consistently make up the bulk of the site’s top performers). According to CNN, the usual circus of right-wing sites including Fox, Breitbart, and Gateway Pundit all led with coverage declaring the decision as Orwellian censorship. Senator Tom Cotton said that the Oversight Board shouldn’t be weighing in on “issues of free speech,” while former White House chief of staff turned radio host Mark Meadows and guest Representative Jim Jordan both agreed it was time to “break them [Big Tech] up.”

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Trump issued a statement to several media outlets that we don’t give a shit about.

The reaction from Democrats and activist organizations focused less on the fate of Trump than the convoluted, corporate funhouse carnival process by which the decision was made, as well as whether it was meaningful at all.

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Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tweeted, “Facebook is amplifying and promoting disinformation and misinformation, and the structure and rules governing its oversight board generally seem to ignore this disturbing reality.” He added that “real accountability will only come with legislative action.”

Evan Greer, director of digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future, told Gizmodo in a statement, “The vast majority of people who are silenced by Big Tech platform censorship are not former Presidents or celebrities, they are marginalized people, particularly sex workers and politically active Muslims who live outside the U.S. We can go back and forth all day about where the lines should be drawn, but simply demanding more and faster removal of content will not address the very real harms we are seeing.”

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“It’s quite telling that Facebook refused to answer several of the Oversight Board’s questions about its algorithms and actual design decisions,” Greer added. “We need to strike at the root of the problem: break Big Tech giants, ban surveillance advertising and non-transparent algorithmic manipulation, and fight for policies that address this parasitic business model while preserving the transformative and democratizing power of the Internet as a powerful tool for social movements working for justice and liberation.”

David Segal, executive director of the Demand Progress Education Fund, a nonprofit that advocates enforcement of antitrust law, told Gizmodo in a statement that the Oversight Board is a smokescreen for Facebook’s business practices.

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“Facebook’s monopoly status means it does not compete in a free marketplace: not on privacy, not on algorithms, not in the online advertising market–which accelerates the spread of incendiary content,” Segal wrote. “To the extent anyone focuses on what the Facebook ‘Oversight’ Board says and not what they are—a mechanism to distract attention from and provide credibility to Facebook—we give Facebook a pass for its unfair and dangerous monopolistic practice.”

The Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights Under Law, a civil rights group, focused on the Oversight Board’s decision not to ban Trump outright.

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David Brody, the head of the group’s Digital Justice Initiative, wrote to Gizmodo that “Facebook must immediately and permanently ban former President Trump.” He added the Oversight Board’s decision “did not evaluate the full context of the case and it used legal technicalities to avoid answering hard questions. For example, it failed to address Trump’s repeated use of Facebook to inflame hate and racism, or his long history of spreading divisive lies and disinformation prior to the 2020 election. Over-reliance on formalist schools of legal analysis entrenches dominant power structures by turning a blind eye to the big picture.”

Greer told Gizmodo that while there is growing pressure to act against Facebook for its monopolistic business practices, lack of transparency, and monetization of hate speech and propaganda, ill-advised legislation seeking to rein in the company’s power could do more harm than good. For example, Republicans and Democrats alike have targeted Section 230, the law that shields websites from most liability for user-generated content, with legislation that could have unforeseen consequences or threaten the legal foundations of the internet economy.

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“The most dangerous thing that could happen right now is if the public accepts the idea that lawmakers should just do ‘something, anything’ about Big Tech,” Greer wrote. “We need thoughtful policies that actually address harms, not more partisan dunking and working of the refs.”

Cybercriminals Bought Facebook Ads for a Fake Clubhouse App That Was Riddled With Malware

Illustration for article titled Cybercriminals Bought Facebook Ads for a Fake Clubhouse App That Was Riddled With Malware

Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP (Getty Images)

Cybercriminals have been pushing Facebook users to download a Clubhouse app “for PC,” something that doesn’t exist. The app is actually a trojan designed to inject malware into your computer. The popular new invite-only chat app is only available on iPhone but worldwide interest in the platform has risen and users are clamoring for Android and, presumably, “PC” versions.

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Per TechCrunch, the malicious campaign used Facebook ads and pages to direct platform users to a series of fake Clubhouse websites. Those sites, hosted in Russia, asked visitors to download the app, which they promised was just the most recent version of the product: “We tried to make the experience as smooth as possible. You can check it out right now!” one proclaims.

However, once downloaded, the app would begin signaling to a command and control (C&C) server. In cyberattacks, the C&C is typically the server that informs malware what to do once it has infected a system. Testing of the app through malware analysis sandbox VMRay apparently showed that, in one instance, it tried to infect a computer with ransomware.

Taking advantage of a popular new product to deploy malware is a pretty classic cybercriminal move—and given Clubhouse’s prominence right now, it’s no surprise that this is happening. In fact, researchers recently discovered a different fake Clubhouse app. Lukas Stefanko of security firm ESET revealed how another fictional “Android version” of the app was acting as a front for criminals looking to steal users’ login credentials from others services.

Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that this most recent campaign was too popular, as TechCrunch reports that the Facebook pages associated with the fake app only had a handful of likes.

It’s an interesting little incident, though it may be difficult to find out more about this tricky campaign because the websites hosting the fake app have apparently disappeared. The takedown of the sites appears to have disabled the malware. Facebook has also taken down the ads associated with the campaign.

Don’t Blame the ACLU for Facebook’s Ills

Illustration for article titled Don’t Blame the ACLU for Facebook's Ills

Photo: Jason Kempin (Getty Images)

Earlier this week, folks in tech-savvy onlookers were utterly scandalized when a tweet thread from former Federal Trade Commission CTO Ashkan Soltani began being passed around. In it, Soltani calls out the American Civil Liberties Union for committing one of the cardinal sins of the tech privacy sphere: sharing data with Facebook.

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Soltani’s lengthy thread calls out—among other things—the ACLU’s updated privacy policy, which clarifies that the civil rights nonprofit will share details about its site visitors with the tech giant, a practice that “[flies] in the face of the org’s public advocacy and statements,” as he characterized it. Soltani also points out that while the ACLU only went public with its links to Facebook this month, the organization has spent millions of dollars on Facebook ads in the past.

“While I have tremendous respect for the work @ACLU and other NGOs do, it’s important that nonprofits are bound by the same privacy standards they espouse for everyone else,” Soltani added. In other words, this is an organization that’s done some incredible work advocating tech privacy for the general public. Why don’t they hold themselves just as accountable as the companies they’re rallying against?

Here’s the thing though. When the ACLU wants to get the word out about fighting voter suppression or advocating for trans healthcare access in your home state, chances are they’re going to need some sort of advertising to do so. While going door-to-door might have worked in the past, the nonprofit sector (just like every other sector) is largely shifting towards advertising online, if only because that’s where we’re all spending our time nowadays. And more and more, advertising online means advertising on Facebook—or else.

It’s an argument that makes some serious sense on one hand, but reeks of what I’ll affectionally call “Mr. Gotcha-ism.” Even if you don’t know Mr. Gotcha by name, you’ve almost certainly seen the 2016 comic by Matt Bors featuring a person complaining about the ills of society—like Apple suppliers’ reportedly shitty labor practices, or car makers’ downright unsafe automobile design—and the titular Mr. Gotcha reminding people that, well, they still use iPhones and still drive cars. The comic strip closes on the eternally memefied image of a man lamenting that we should try improving society, while Mr. Gotcha pops up (literally out of a well) to remind the man that he’s busy participating in said society.

In the couple of years that I’ve been ragging on digital ads for a living, I’ve been Mr. Gotcha’d more times than I can count. My articles calling out Facebook’s labyrinthian privacy policies get me emails asking why Gizmodo uses Facebook as one of the many analytics tools on its site. Pieces on Google’s invasive ad practices get emails asking why we use Google to serve some of our ads. And articles about ads, in general, garner comment after comment asking why we have ads on our site if we hate them this much. These commenters were so adamant that I notice how clever and observant they were that I ended up pinning a Mr. Gotcha-themed tweet to my Twitter account. Back in the pre-COVID era, I even had a (slightly modified) Mr. Gotcha comic pinned to my cubicle. I was committed to this bit.

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The thing is, the reason that you’re seeing Facebook track you across just about every site you know—regardless of the ethos of whoever’s running them—is ultimately due to monopoly power. The reason a lot of brands end up hooking themselves to the Facebook ad machine in some way isn’t because they want to necessarily, but because they have to.

If you click through the bulk of the ads that the ACLU has run over Facebook until now, not many of them ask for donations outright—at least until you click on the ad and visit the nonprofit’s site. Once there, just about every page is heralded by a banner reminding you that “with your support, we can lead freedom forward,” alongside an ask for either one-time or monthly donations.

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And while the ACLU declined to comment on how much of the org’s multimillion-dollar donations were garnered with the help of Facebook’s ad machine, a 2020 analysis from the nonprofit consultancy M+R offers some clues. In it, they described that throughout 2019, nonprofits across the board were getting 3.5% of all online revenue through Facebook—most of it coming through Facebook’s maligned fundraising tool, and some of it coming from targeted ads. Meanwhile, the same analysis found that just about every nonprofit was spending up to half of their budget to advertise on social media platforms, as opposed to say, Google search. And the smaller a nonprofit is, the more their budget gets dumped into these same platforms—with smaller names spending upwards of 96% of their budgets there.

The advertisers behind major pages will regularly trash Facebook’s unintuitive and broken adtech tools in one breath while also acknowledging in the next that they just can’t quit the platform. Even at $5 million in ad spend, the ACLU is still one of Facebook’s smaller advertisers—a group that has collectively said in the past the platform is just “too valuable” to quit. Even when larger brands say they’re quitting Facebook for a certain amount of time, that typically means they’re only quitting one or two Facebook properties, while still funneling that ad spend elsewhere on Facebook’s ecosystem. Putting your ad dollars on the platform isn’t a matter of endorsing the crap that Facebook pulls on a regular basis. For nonprofits, in particular, it’s a matter of survival.

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Ultimately, the question of “why the ACLU is using Facebook to advertise” is one that opens up an entirely new can of worms that nobody quite seems ready to answer. If Facebook’s ads are broken, then why does the company—together with Google—continue to control as much as 60% of ad dollars spent online? Why do advertisers refuse to leave, even when the company’s been caught lying again and again about how effective their ads really are?

Ultimately, the answer boils down to competition. While the FTC, along with dozens of attorneys general, already launched an investigation into Facebook engaging in monopolistic practices at the end of 2020, it seems like folks don’t seem to grasp exactly what Facebook’s monopolized here. For most of us, it’s eyeballs and attention. For nonprofits, for-profits, and everyone else, it’s sometimes every dollar they spend.

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Facebook Launches Tool to Help Users Get Covid-19 Vaccine

People receive the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine during opening day of the Community Vaccination Site, a collaboration between the City of Seattle, First & Goal Inc., and Swedish Health Services at the Lumen Field Event Center in Seattle, Washington on March 13, 2021.

People receive the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine during opening day of the Community Vaccination Site, a collaboration between the City of Seattle, First & Goal Inc., and Swedish Health Services at the Lumen Field Event Center in Seattle, Washington on March 13, 2021.
Photo: Jason Redmond (Getty Images)

Facebook has launched a tool in partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital to help people find covid-19 vaccine appointments, according to a press release from the social media company early Monday. The tool only works in the U.S. right now, but Facebook says it hopes to roll out the vaccine finder in more regions as the coronavirus inoculations become more widely available.

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Users can visit Facebook’s Covid-19 Vaccine Info Center where they’ll be able to see hours of operation for locations with the vaccine, along with contact info and links online to make an appointment to get the jab. The Facebook tool is available in 71 different languages so far, according to the company.

“Today we’re launching a global campaign to help bring 50 million people a step closer to getting Covid-19 vaccines,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post overnight.

“We’ve already connected over 2 billion people to authoritative Covid-19 information,” Zuckerberg continued. “Now that many countries are moving towards vaccinations for all adults, we’re working on tools to make it easier for everyone to get vaccinated as well.”

And while Zuck is correct that Facebook has started providing more authoritative covid-19 information in recent months, conspiracy theories about vaccines, among plenty of other things, found a safe home at Facebook for far too long—especially in private groups.

Illustration for article titled Facebook Launches Tool to Help Users Get Covid-19 Vaccine

Image: Facebook

Over 100 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. as of this past weekend, a remarkable achievement that should give Americans some sense of relief, however reserved. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

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What happens if you don’t use Facebook but still want to find an appointment to get the vaccine? The good news is that Facebook’s tool is simply built on top of an existing tool that’s already available online called VaccineFinder, which is available at VaccineFinder.org. The tool was developed by the CDC, Harvard Medical School, and Boston Children’s Hospital, along with other health care partners.

To be clear, pointing out that the tool already exists is not to discount or belittle Facebook’s actions today. For some people, Facebook is the entire internet and anything that helps get more people vaccinated is certainly a good thing.

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But it’s also helpful that this isn’t a tool that can only be accessed through Facebook. Plenty of people have jumped ship from Facebook in recent years following a multitude of privacy concerns with the platform. And the last thing we need is for Facebook to build proprietary public health tools that can only be accessed if you have a Facebook account.

Facebook ‘Endangered Public Safety’ by Blocking News During Pandemic According to Australia

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during morning media appearances in the Media Gallery at Parliament House on February 19, 2021 in Canberra, Australia.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during morning media appearances in the Media Gallery at Parliament House on February 19, 2021 in Canberra, Australia.
Photo: Sam Mooy (Getty Images)

Facebook has endangered public safety by blocking news on the platform in Australia during the covid-19 pandemic, according to Australia’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg a high-ranking official in the country’s ruling Liberal Party.

Frydenberg appeared on the local TV program “Today,” on Friday morning, Australia time, and insisted the government was not going to tolerate Facebook’s “unnecessary” and “wrong” attempts to bully Australia into submission.

“He endangered public safety,” Frydenberg said of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “In the middle of a pandemic, people weren’t able to get access to information about the vaccines.”

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Facebook started blocking all news content for Australian users on Thursday in retaliation for the government’s plan to implement a new law that would force large tech companies to pay news publishers for linking to their content. Google previously threatened to block all searches in Australia over the law but has since signed agreements with several large Australian publishers.

The hosts of the “Today” show, which airs on Nine News in Australia, were fixated on defending the country’s honor against Facebook, with co-host Karl Stefanovic even calling it “disgusting” that Facebook would block news.

“What he did yesterday… he treated us like chumps,” Stefanovic told Frydenberg. “And we need to be respected more than that. It’s disgusting.”

Dozens, and possibly hundreds, of Facebook accounts were blocked in Australia on Thursday, including government accounts and public service organizations that most people wouldn’t consider traditional news publishers. The heavy-handed approach had plenty of collateral damage. Facebook even briefly blocked its own page in Australia, as Gizmodo reported yesterday.

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“I think subtlety’s not their schtick,” Frydenberg told Nine News. “It was pretty bad what we saw yesterday.”

Australia has done relatively well during the covid-19 crisis, with just 28,900 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began last year, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. But Australia lags behind other wealthy countries in rolling out vaccines and Frydenberg’s government has been blamed for not coordinating sufficient planning on the national level.

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Several public health organizations were caught up in the Facebook news block on Thursday, including Western Sydney Health, South Australia Health, and the Sydney Local Health District. All three Facebook pages had been restored by Friday.

“We’re not backing down. No, we’re not backing down. We’re implementing this Code,” Frydenberg said. “We want these digital giants to pay for original content. That’s what Google is doing and we welcome the deals they have struck. With respect to Facebook, I’ll hear them out, and see what [Mark Zuckerberg] says.”

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Australia has a population of just 26 million, a little smaller than the state of Texas, so it doesn’t have the geopolitical weight to throw around and institute antitrust measures like the U.S. or European Union. Instead, Australia is using the tools it has in its toolbox in an attempt to tame big tech companies through local laws. And companies like Facebook and Google are terrified that Australia’s rules could become a model for other relatively small countries.

Frydenberg’s live interview with Nine News aired around 8:15 a.m. local time on the east coast of Australia (4:15 p.m. Thursday, ET), seemingly before he spoke with Mark Zuckerberg later in the morning, but details from that phone call have not been released. Frydenberg is reportedly scheduled to talk with Zuckerberg again over the weekend.

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Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Friday that the government was not going to back down from this fight and noted he believes Australians are with him on this battle against Silicon Valley’s largest players.

“This is Australia. You want to do business here, you work according to our rules, and that’s a reasonable proposition,” Morrison said.

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Morrison spoke with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently in an effort to shore up support from other smaller countries in their push against Facebook, according to Australia’s ABC News. And Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault condemned Facebook’s actions in Australia on Thursday saying it was “highly irresponsible” and that Facebook “compromises the safety of many Australian people,” according to Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper.

Prime Minister Morrison insisted that he’s not trying to be unreasonable, but that any overreaction by Facebook would likely be seen as foolish in Australia.

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“We’re happy to listen to them on the technical issues of this, just like we listened to Google and came to a sensible arrangement,” Morrison told reporters on Friday.

“But the idea of shutting down the sort of sites they did yesterday as some sort of threat—well, I know how Australians react to that. And I thought that was not a good move on their part,” Morrison said with a chuckle.

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