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Journalism Tech

Amazon Sues Administrators of More Than 10,000 Facebook Groups Over Fake Reviews

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

Amazon.com Inc. said it filed a lawsuit against the administrators of what it says are more than 10,000 Facebook groups used to coordinate fake reviews of Amazon products.

Those in charge of the Facebook groups solicit the reviews for items ranging from camera tripods to car stereos in exchange for free products or money, Amazon said in a statement.

The activity, which is against Amazon’s rules, occurs across Amazon’s stores in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan, the company said. Such bogus reviews are typically used to boost products’ ratings and increase the likelihood customers buy them.

The lawsuit represents “proactive legal action targeting bad actors,” Amazon Vice President Dharmesh Mehta said.

My colleague Nicole Nguyen wrote last year about the problem of inauthentic reviews on Amazon.

And she has a new story out Wednesday, in the wake of Amazon’s suit, with tips on spotting fake reviews.

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Journalism Tech

Facebook Parent Meta Details Human-Rights Efforts

I’m late in sharing it here, but that’s the headline on a story I wrote last week with my colleague Salvador Rodriguez. It begins:

Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. released its first annual report Thursday on the effect its services have on global human rights, highlighting its efforts to combat challenges including human trafficking, the spread of misinformation and attacks on election integrity.

Facebook’s global operations are drawing scrutiny from rights groups and regulators. While user growth has stalled in rich countries, it continues to expand internationally, especially in populous, developing markets.

You may recall I wrote in November about Facebook’s India human rights impact assessment, a separate report that was commissioned some time ago. Rights groups told me they believed Facebook was trying to stifle it.

This newest report contains a summary of the India HRIA. The HRIA was done by a law firm Facebook commissioned to do the work. Facebook says it has no plans to release the HRIA in its entirety.

That’s drawn more criticism from groups that contributed to the HRIA. One called Facebook’s decision “deeply disappointing.”

You can read Facebook’s full human rights report on their website here. The India material begins on page 57.

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Journalism

Another Facebook Files Accolade: Deadline Club’s Public Service Award

Deadline Club Facebook Files

Following our Polk and SABEW wins, I’m proud to say my colleague Jeff Horwitz and our Wall Street Journal Facebook Files team has picked up another accolade: the public service award from The Deadline Club. (That’s the name of the New York City chapter of the the Society of Professional Journalists.)

The Club wrote:

“The ‘Facebook Files’ is a dazzling 10-reporter, 17-story package built on extensive original interviewing and research, and an archeological-grade probe of internal Facebook documents, including internal studies, online employee discussions and drafts of presentations to senior management. The Wall Street Journal’s coverage did not just force Facebook to change its core business practices. It also goaded governments and individuals worldwide to reexamine society’s relationship with technology itself and the power and pervasiveness of social media.”

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Journalism

We Won a SABEW Award for our Facebook Files Series

SABEW award

I’m proud to say that my colleagues Jeff Horwitz, Georgia Wells, Justin Scheck, Deepa Seetharaman and I won the 2021 investigative award (for large news organizations) from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, or SABEW, for our “Facebook Files” series.

“In an example of truly exemplary reporting that arguably had scope beyond compare, the judges unanimously chose Facebook Files as the winner in our category,” SABEW said. “The series featured remarkable reporting and writing that exposed the ways Facebook knew it was injuring its 3-billion-plus users and the repeated failures to make efforts to protect the users.”

(We also won a George Polk award in March for the series. And last year Jeff and I won a SABEW for our stories on Facebook and hate speech in India.)

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Journalism

We Won a George Polk Award for our Facebook Files Series

I’m proud to say that my colleague Jeff Horwitz and our wider Wall Street Journal team last week won a George Polk award for our Facebook Files series.

It was “an explosive series documenting how Facebook (now Meta) ignored internal findings that company practices promoted anger, divisiveness and extremism; protected drug cartels, human traffickers and dictators; and endangered teenage girls susceptible to body-image concerns, anxiety and depression,” the award announcement said.

“Files Horwitz obtained from a whistleblower demonstrated that top executives rejected fixes they feared might reduce profitability or create political friction.”

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Journalism Tech

Facebook Promised Poor Countries Free Internet. People Got Charged Anyway

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleagues Justin Scheck and Tom McGinty. It was on Tuesday’s WSJ front page. It begins:

Facebook says it’s helping millions of the world’s poorest people get online through apps and services that allow them to use internet data free. Internal company documents show that many of these people end up being charged in amounts that collectively add up to an estimated millions of dollars a month.

To attract new users, Facebook made deals with cellular carriers in countries including Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines to let low-income people use a limited version of Facebook and browse some other websites without data charges. Many of the users have inexpensive cellphone plans that cost just a few dollars a month, often prepaid, for phone service and a small amount of internet data.

Because of software problems at Facebook, which it has known about and failed to correct for months, people using the apps in free mode are getting unexpectedly charged by local cellular carriers for using data. In many cases they only discover this when their prepaid plans are drained of funds.

In internal documents, employees of Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. acknowledge this is a problem. Charging people for services Facebook says are free “breaches our transparency principle,” an employee wrote in an October memo.

In the year ended July 2021, charges made by the cellular carriers to users of Facebook’s free-data products grew to an estimated total of $7.8 million a month, when purchasing power adjustments were made, from about $1.3 million a year earlier, according to a Facebook document.

Click through to read the rest.

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India Journalism

Facebook Is Stifling Independent Report on Its Impact in India, Human Rights Groups Say

That’s the headline on my most recent story, an exclusive out November 12. It begins:

Human rights groups say Facebook is stifling an independent report it commissioned to investigate hate speech on its services in India, the company’s largest market by customers and where scrutiny of its operations is increasing.

Representatives for the organizations say they have provided extensive input to a U.S. law firm that Facebook commissioned in mid-2020 to undertake the report. The groups say they supplied hundreds of examples of inflammatory content and suggested ways Facebook could better police its services in India.

Facebook executives from the company’s human rights team, which is overseeing the law firm’s effort, have since narrowed the draft report’s scope and are delaying a process that has already taken more than a year, the groups say.

“They are trying to kill it,” said Ratik Asokan of India Civil Watch International, one of the organizations that provided the law firm with input. Mr. Asokan said that Facebook has raised technical objections through the law firm that have caused delays, such as changing definitions of what can be considered hate speech and included in the report, undermining what Facebook said would be an independent study. The law firm hasn’t provided a timeline for completing it, he said.

Click through to read the rest.

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India Journalism

Facebook Faces Official Questions in India Over Policing of Hate Speech

That’s the headline on my most recent story, with my colleague Rajesh Roy. It begins:

NEW DELHI–India’s government has asked Facebook Inc. for details about how it monitors and removes inflammatory content on its platform in the country, according to government officials.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology wrote to Facebook’s top executive in India this week, the officials said. The letter follows news reports including a Wall Street Journal article Saturday that said Facebook researchers had determined the company’s services are rife with inflammatory content in India, much of it anti-Muslim.

Based on the response from Facebook, the government will decide if it needs to seek more information, one of the officials said, adding that the present information sought was a preliminary inquiry.

Click through to read the rest.

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Journalism

Facebook Services Are Used to Spread Religious Hatred in India, Internal Documents Show

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleague Jeff Horwitz, out Saturday as part of our Facebook Files series.

It begins:

Mark Zuckerberg praised India in December as a special and important country for Facebook Inc., saying that millions of people there use its platforms every day to stay in touch with family and friends. Internally, researchers were painting a different picture: Facebook’s products in India were awash with inflammatory content that one report linked to deadly religious riots.

Inflammatory content on Facebook spiked 300% above previous levels at times during the months following December 2019, a period in which religious protests swept India, researchers wrote in a July 2020 report that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Rumors and calls to violence spread particularly on Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service in late February 2020, when communal violence in Delhi left 53 dead, according to the report. India is Facebook’s biggest market with hundreds of millions of users.

Hindu and Muslim users in India say they are subjected to “a large amount of content that encourages conflict, hatred and violence on Facebook and WhatsApp,” such as material blaming Muslims for the spread of Covid-19 and assertions that Muslim men are targeting Hindu women for marriage as a “form of Muslim takeover” of the country, the researchers found.

Click through to read the rest.

You can find all of our Facebook Files pieces in one place on the WSJ website here. And our podcasts from the series are all here.

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Journalism Newley's Notes

NN277: The Facebook Files — Follow Up

Sent as an email newsletter Sunday, October 10, 2021. Want in? Join my email list.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

Image of the week, above: Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, testified before Congress Tuesday.

So: A lot has happened since my last dispatch, on September 22, which I sent after the initial batch of stories in our Facebook Files series ran.

I wanted to devote this edition of Newley’s Notes to share some notable developments since then, though you may have seen several. Here goes, in roughly chronological order:

1) 📸 Instagram said it is pausing its project for kids.

2) 🗞 Facebook argued that we mischaracterized its internal findings in our Instagram article; we published several of the documents that formed the basis of that piece.

3) 📱 My colleagues Georgia Wells and Jeff Horwitz published another piece in the series. The headline: Facebook’s Effort to Attract Preteens Goes Beyond Instagram Kids, Documents Show.

4) 👉 Members of a Senate panel grilled Facebook’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis.

5) 📺 Then Haugen appeared on “60 Minutes.” Worth a watch, if you haven’t seen the segment.

6) ✍️ And don’t miss Jeff’s profile of Haugen.

7) 🎧 Also excellent: Haugen on The Journal podcast.

8) 🗣 Another good podcast: Jeff speaks with CNN’s Brian Stelter, on Reliable Sources, about how he first met Haugen and the stories came about.

9) 🏢 We ran another piece in the Facebook Files series. The hed: Is Sheryl Sandberg’s Power Shrinking? Ten Years of Facebook Data Offers Clues.

10) 👏 And finally, a lighthearted moment: On “The Late Show,” Stephen Colbert joked about Jeff sporting a headband during TV interviews.

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Normal editions of NN will resume soon!

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👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley