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The Facebook groups bringing bad people together

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It's been four months now since Facebook announced its intention to invest more heavily in private gr
 
July 8 · Issue #353 · View online
The Interface
It’s been four months now since Facebook announced its intention to invest more heavily in private groups and messaging, and recently that effort has gotten a major marketing push. Walk through the Montgomery BART station in San Francisco and you’ll see ads for Facebook Groups plastering every wall, each emblazoned with the anodyne slogan “more together.”
In years past, such a launch might have been greeted with a collective shrug from the press. (The launch of Facebook Live in 2016 also involved a takeover of Montgomery Station, and passed with little fanfare — at least until a rash of violent live streams drew their attention.) But the increased focus on groups this year has come with energetic scrutiny from journalists — a sign of how even seemingly mundane Facebook launches now meet with deep skepticism around the world.
And judging from the awful groups that journalists keep discovering, that skepticism is warranted. Last week, ProPublica found a group of Border Patrol agents joking about migrant deaths and making other racist and offensive comments. (The Intercept posted an archive of the group’s awful posts.) Over the weekend, CNN found another:
At least one other social media group with an apparent nexus to Customs and Border Protection has been discovered to contain vulgar and sexually explicit posts, according to screenshots shared by two sources familiar with the Facebook pages.
The secret Facebook group, “The Real CBP Nation,” which has around 1,000 members, is host to an image that mocks separating migrant families, multiple demeaning memes of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, and other derisive images of Asians and African Americans.
The same day, Le Monde found a group with 56,000 members devoted largely to making misogynist comments. (I’m relying on Google Translate here, so let me know if I get this wrong, French speakers.) The group actively solicited revenge porn before Facebook shut it down, according to the report.
And just today, a Twitter user who stumbled across a Facebook TV ad investigated one of the featured groups, and found a rash of ugly posts.
All this bad behavior is worrying some observers, Elizabeth Dwoskin reports in the Washington Post:
“Large private groups remain unmoderated black boxes where users can freely threaten vulnerable populations,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League. “Without any AI or human moderators, it’s easy to orchestrate harassment campaigns — at minimum, this environment contributes to the normalization of bigotry and discrimination. As Facebook moves to more and more private communication, we’re concerned about this delinquency.”
Groups offers us yet another chance to think about the difference between internet problems and platform problems. There have always been online forums where awful people congregate — that’s an internet problem. It’s plausible that, in the absence of Facebook Groups, racist Border Patrol agents would have found another place to hang out online.
But Facebook’s size and recommendation algorithms change that calculation. Its size enables connections between many Border Patrol agents who may not otherwise have met. And its recommendation algorithms work to introduce them to each other — just as new moms were introduced to anti-vaccine groups through recommendations, so are Border Patrol agents introduced to groups like Real CBP Nation.
These algorithms operate opaquely, and their recommendations can rarely be predicted in advance. No one knew Facebook would recommend that new moms join anti-vax groups — its algorithm just suggested that they join, and found that new moms acted on the suggestion, and so started suggesting it more.
Facebook can’t solve racism or misogyny. But it can examine more closely the way it unwittingly recruits allies for racists and misogynists. That’s a platform problem through and through — and in the early days of Facebook’s pivot to privacy, it doesn’t seem to be getting much better.

Democracy
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Soon, satellites will be able to watch you everywhere all the time
Your Data Could Be at the Center of the Fight Against Big Tech
Elsewhere
They Kinda Want to Believe Apollo 11 Was Maybe a Hoax
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'A perfect storm': The Wall Street Journal has 21 people detecting ‘deepfakes’ - Digiday
Copies of AI deepfake app DeepNude are easily accessible online — and always will be
Having 30,000 followers makes you a celebrity, UK advertising watchdog rules
Dr Disrespect and other creators keep hiding their apologies
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Monkfluencers: how #monklife became a social media sensation
Meet the Mormon YouTube Influencers Shaping Millions of Teen Minds: ‘Church Is a Big Part of Our Life’
Launches
Instagram will test a feature that allows users to shadow ban their bullies
US Concentration Camp Map
Chris Harihar
TikTok has a rewards program in place to help current users recruit new users. Share your TikTok invitation code, people sign-up, you get points that go towards the rewards. Pretty standard. https://t.co/0VoFeYqp3k
7:36 AM - 7 Jul 2019
Takes
The Horrible Place Between the Apps
We’re told that too much screen time hurts our kids. Where’s the evidence?
And finally ...
Casey Newton
Someone please write an oral history of how the Cheese Insider Facebook page shared an article about Cheetos with this image https://t.co/6T8IECjyGM
12:49 PM - 8 Jul 2019
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and your favorite Facebook groups: casey@theverge.com.
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