Journalism Newley's Notes

NN276: The Facebook Files

Sent as an email newsletter Wednesday, September 22, 2021. Want in? Join my email list.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes.

I missed sending NN out last Sunday, as I usually do. This will be a shortened, dog-video-less version, sent in the middle of the week. But I wanted to highlight some reporting I’m really proud of.

👉 Image of the week, number one, above: The Facebook Files, a WSJ series we published last week.

WSJ Facebook Files page one

🗞 And image number two: The front page of last Friday’s WSJ, featuring a piece I wrote with my colleagues Justin Scheck and Jeff Horwitz for the series. It went online Thursday.

The headline of our story: Facebook Employees Flag Drug Cartels and Human Traffickers. The Company’s Response Is Weak, Documents Show.

Click through to read the story; you don’t have to be a WSJ subscriber to read it.

🎧 And there’s an accompanying podcast with additional material.

The series, which began on Monday, Sept. 13 and contained contributions from a team of us at the Journal, has already had a sizable impact.

My outstanding colleague Jeff, who covers Facebook and has led our reporting, has also done several media appearances to discuss the series. Here he is on CNN, CNBC, and NPR, among others.

⭐ Here are links to the rest of the stories in the series (again, these links are non-paywalled), each containing unique revelations about how the world’s largest social network operates:

– Monday: Facebook Says Its Rules Apply to All. Company Documents Reveal a Secret Elite That’s Exempt.

🎧 Podcast here.

– Tuesday: Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show

🎧 Podcast here.

– Wednesday: Facebook Tried to Make Its Platform a Healthier Place. It Got Angrier Instead.

🎧 Podcast here.

– Friday: How Facebook Hobbled Mark Zuckerberg’s Bid to Get America Vaccinated

Normal editions of NN will resume soon!

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,


Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Facebook, Twitter, Google Threaten to Quit Hong Kong Over Proposed Data Laws

That was the headline on an exclusive I had out Monday. It begins:

HONG KONG–Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have privately warned the Hong Kong government that they could stop offering their services in the city if authorities proceed with planned changes to data-protection laws that could make them liable for the malicious sharing of individuals’ information online.

A letter sent by an industry group that includes the internet firms said companies are concerned that the planned rules to address doxing could put their staff at risk of criminal investigations or prosecutions related to what the firms’ users post online. Doxing refers to the practice of putting people’s personal information online so they can be harassed by others.

Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau in May proposed amendments to the city’s data-protection laws that it said were needed to combat doxing, a practice that was prevalent during 2019 protests in the city. The proposals call for punishments of up to 1 million Hong Kong dollars, the equivalent of about $128,800, and up to five years’ imprisonment.

“The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering the services in Hong Kong,” said the previously unreported June 25 letter from the Singapore-based Asia Internet Coalition, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Click through to read the rest.

India Journalism Tech

Facebook Ends Ban on Posts Asserting Covid-19 Was Man-Made

Facebook Covid

That’s the headline on a story I wrote that ran Thursday. It begins:

Facebook Inc. has ended its ban on posts asserting Covid-19 was man-made or manufactured, a policy shift that reflects a deepening debate over the origins of the pandemic that was first identified in Wuhan, China, almost 18 months ago.

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report.

“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured from our apps,” Facebook said in a statement on its website Wednesday.

Click through to read the rest.

India Journalism Tech

WhatsApp Says It Filed Suit in India to Prevent Tracing of Encrypted Messages

WhatsApp India lawsuit WSJ

That’s the headline on a story out Wednesday by my colleague Jeff Horwitz and me. It begins:

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp said it filed a lawsuit in India to stop new government rules that would require the company to trace users’ encrypted messages, escalating a battle over online speech between American tech firms and the South Asian nation’s ruling party.

The messaging service, by far the largest in India, said in a statement that it filed the suit late Tuesday with the New Delhi High Court. The company has argued that the new rules violate Indian law because tracing individuals’ messages would violate their fundamental right to privacy.

Click through to read the rest.

India Journalism Tech

Indian Police Visit Twitter’s Office After Politician’s Tweet Is Labeled as Misleading

Twitter India

That’s the headline on a story I wrote that run on Tuesday. It begins:

Indian police visited Twitter Inc.’s office in New Delhi to investigate the company’s labeling of tweets from a ruling party spokesman as misleading, the government’s latest move against U.S. tech platforms amid criticism over its handling of the pandemic.

Sambit Patra, a spokesman for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, in posts last week shared what he said was a document from the main opposition party purporting to show instructions for criticizing Mr. Modi’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. India has in recent weeks reported record highs of daily cases and deaths, making it the world’s worst current outbreak.

Twitter appended a label to Mr. Patra’s tweets stating that they contained “manipulated media.” A company policy prohibits the posting of images or videos that Twitter determines may be doctored and could cause harm.

Click through to read the rest.

India Journalism Tech

India’s Covid-19 Crisis Tests the World’s Back Offices

India IT firms and Covid

That’s the headline on my latest story, out Saturday. It begins:

India’s giant outsourcing firms are facing a two-front challenge: protecting the health of millions of employees as the nation suffers the world’s worst Covid-19 crisis, and ensuring that their work continues as usual for the big Western companies on their client lists.

Companies like Infosys Ltd., Wipro Ltd. and Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., known as TCS, have built up armies of workers who serve global clients like Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc.’s Citibank and Vanguard Group, doing everything from running call centers to writing computer code. The companies, along with Western tech businesses with large India-based staffs, are dealing with absences of sick workers, trying to help stricken employees find oxygen and getting vaccine shots for others at a time when such resources are scarce.

Click through to read the rest.


My Colleague and I Won a SABEW Award for our Coverage of Facebook in India


I’m proud to say that my colleague Jeff Horwitz and were honored earlier this week with a 2020 “Best in Business” award from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) for our coverage of Facebook in India. We won the international reporting award (for large news organizations).

From the judging comments:

“This well-documented set of impactful stories reveals how Facebook and its executives in India are conflicted, or even willfully blind, when company policy calls for blocking hate speech but company interests include working with a governing party closely linked to that hate speech.”


“Sobering reporting on a fundamental worldwide concern that resonates strongly with the ongoing turmoil over social media and hate speech in the U.S.”

Among our stories on the topic, which I’ve linked to here before:

India Journalism

Me on ‘The Journal’ Podcast Talking India, Covid-19, and Social Media

Journal podcast -- India, Covid, social media

I was on Tuesday’s edition of our “The Journal” podcast talking about my recent story on India, Covid-19, and accusations that the government is censoring social media over its handling of the crisis.

You can listen online here or find it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or other services. It was out May 4 and is called “India’s Social Media Crackdown.”

India Journalism Tech

India Accused of Censorship for Blocking Social Media Criticism Amid Covid Surge

That’s the headline on my newest story, out yesterday. It begins:

India’s government ordered Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and Instagram to block about 100 social media posts criticizing its handling of the exploding Covid-19 surge in the country, sparking public anger and allegations of censorship in the world’s most populous democracy.

Officials said the legally binding order was designed to tackle what it called attempts in recent days to spread coronavirus-related misinformation and create panic by posting images of dead bodies taken out of context. Twitter, which received many of the takedown requests, blocked the posts in India, though they remained visible outside the country.

“Certain people are misusing social media to create panic in society,” India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in a statement Monday, when asked about the blocks. It didn’t specify which laws were used to issue the orders.

Many people on social media reacted with outrage. They said that the posts and others—some from senior opposition politicians—were political speech, arguing that Prime Minister Narendra Modi hasn’t done enough to curb India’s mammoth coronavirus surge, which shows no signs of slowing down from setting global records.

Click through to read the rest.

Journalism Tech

Facebook Staff Fret Over China’s Ads Portraying Happy Muslims in Xinjiang

That’s the headline on my newest story, an exclusive that went online Friday and was in Saturday’s print WSJ. It begins:

Facebook Inc. is blocked in China, but Beijing is a big user of the platform to spread its political views to hundreds of millions of people overseas, sometimes via advertisements.

Now, some Facebook staff are raising concerns on internal message boards and in other employee discussions that the company is being used as a conduit for state propaganda, highlighting sponsored posts from Chinese organizations that purport to show Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs thriving in China’s Xinjiang region, according to people familiar with the matter.

The U.S. and some European governments say Beijing is committing genocide against the Uyghurs, citing a campaign that includes political indoctrination, mass internment and forced sterilizations.

Facebook hasn’t determined whether to act on the concerns, say people familiar with the matter. The company is watching how international organizations such as the United Nations respond to the situation in Xinjiang, one of the people said. The U.N. this week called on firms conducting Xinjiang-linked business to undertake “meaningful human rights due diligence” on their operations.

Click through to read the rest.