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Facebook's big content crackdown

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February 5 · Issue #284 · View online
The Interface
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Today, two stories about Facebook cracking down on bad guys.
It has been nearly six months since Alex Jones lost his infowar, getting banned by every major platform after a long career of bullying behavior. In the time since, his ability to attract new followers has been radically diminished — but not for lack of trying on his part.
Facebook has prevented him and his associates from creating new pages similar to the four that they banned last year over violations involving bullying, hate speech, and graphic violence. But the policy had a loophole that allowed administrators of existing pages to repurpose old pages — until today. Here’s me in The Verge:
Previously, Facebook would prevent administrators of banned pages from creating similar pages in the future. But the company found that some administrators have attempted to evade enforcement by repurposing pages that they had created before their bans in an effort to rebuild their online communities.
Today’s move marks the first time Facebook has removed pages in line with the updated policy. The company did not disclose all of the ways in which the freshly banned Jones pages resembled old pages, but said that they used similar titles. Jones is the creator of Infowars, which was kicked off platforms including Apple Podcasts, Twitter, and PayPal in addition to Facebook last summer.
It was the first major enforcement action Facebook undertook today. Pranav Dixit covers the second in BuzzFeed:
Facebook has banned four insurgent groups who have been fighting against Myanmar’s military from using its platform, according to a company blog post published Tuesday.
The banned groups include the Arakan Army (AA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDA), the Kachin Independence Army, and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. Facebook said that all “praise, support, and representation” related to these groups will also be removed from the platform as soon as the company becomes aware of it.
Dixit reports that the MNDA been blamed for at least 30 deaths, while the AA killed 13 police officers last month. Facebook says the removals did not come in response to a request from the Burmese government, which itself has been the recipient of multiple bans from Facebook.
On Twitter, journalist Kayleigh E. Long, who has written about Myanmar, worried that banning these “ethnic armed organizations” would silence legitimate political speech. “In this fell swoop, they’ll arguably be silencing civil society voices,” she wrote. “"Like, are they going to ban every EAO in the world? Every military? Will they update blacklist as ceasefires are made & abrogated? Are activists from ethnic minorities engaged in armed struggle silenced? The implications of this could be sweeping and can’t have been thought through.”
But in a blog post, Facebook argued that it was trying to do the thing that critics have long asked it to: prevent its services from being used to incite violence:
“There is clear evidence that these organizations have been responsible for attacks against civilians and have engaged in violence in Myanmar, and we want to prevent them from using our services to further inflame tensions on the ground.“
In any case, the trend is clear around the world: Facebook is enforcing its policies around coordinated inauthentic behavior and incitement to violence in more places, and more publicly, than it has to date. On Thursday, the company reported removing such content in both Indonesia (207 pages, 800 Facebook accounts, 546 groups, 208 Instagram accounts) and Iran (262 pages, 356 Facebook accounts, three groups, 162 Instagram accounts.)
Of course, partly this rash of takedowns speaks to the enormity of Facebook’s self-inflicted challenge. State-level actors are misusing its services around the world, sometimes to great effect. That the company has identified more of these actors is not necessarily a cause for celebration.
By now, "progress” has become one of Mark Zuckerberg’s most oft-repeated talking points. “We’ve made real progress on these issues and built some of the most advanced systems in the world to address them,” he wrote in his 15th anniversary post Monday. And: “It’s critical we continue making progress on these questions.”
One of Facebook’s key challenges is that it’s simultaneously working on hard problems across so many dimensions that it’s difficult to quantify what “progress” really looks like. Fighting information operations doesn’t resolve down neatly to a handful of metrics that you can nudge up or down over time. It’s impossible for me to identify the goal posts that, if Facebook could only kick the ball through, would lead most of its critics to agree that the platform had been “fixed.”
And it’s for that reason I think the uptick in enforcement actions is notable. “Progress,” to Facebook, will look like a lot of things. But one of the things it probably looks like is more banning of state-level actors, in more countries, and making it harder for them to ever come back.

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