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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.

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Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Facebook Drops Plan to Run Fiber Cable to Hong Kong Amid U.S. Pressure

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleague Drew FitzGerald, out Wednesday. It begins:

A Facebook Inc. consortium withdrew its bid to build a new internet conduit between California and Hong Kong after months of pressure from U.S. national-security officials, the latest sign of a deepening rift between the two governments.

The social-media giant told the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in a filing it would withdraw its application to land the Hong Kong-Americas project, known by its abbreviation HKA, pending a new request for “a possibly-reconfigured submarine cable system.”

Facebook and several telecommunications-industry partners first filed for permission to build the fiber-optic cable in 2018. It would have connected two sites in California with branches to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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India Journalism Tech

India Threatens Jail for Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter Employees

That’s the headline on my latest story, an exclusive out Friday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz.

It begins:

India’s government has threatened to jail employees of Facebook Inc., its WhatsApp unit and Twitter Inc. as it seeks to quash political protests and gain far-reaching powers over discourse on foreign-owned tech platforms, people familiar with the warnings say.

The warnings are in direct response to the tech companies’ reluctance to comply with data and takedown requests from the government related to protests by Indian farmers that have made international headlines, the people say. At least some of the written warnings cite specific, India-based employees at risk of arrest if the companies don’t comply, according to some of the people.

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India Journalism Tech

Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter Face New Rules in India

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

India is establishing new rules to govern internet firms like Facebook Inc., WhatsApp and Twitter Inc., a fresh challenge for the American giants in a huge market that is key to their global expansion.

The new guidelines, unveiled Thursday, say that in order to counter the rise of problematic content online like false news and violent material, intermediaries must establish “grievance redressal mechanisms” to resolve user complaints about postings and share with the government the names and contact details for “grievance officers” at the firms. These officers must acknowledge complaints within a day and resolve them within 15.

Social media firms must take down material involving explicit sexual content within 24 hours of being flagged. Firms must also appoint officers and contact people—who live in India—to coordinate with law enforcement agencies and address complaints. Some firms must also help identify the “first originator” of some messages, the rules say.

“We appreciate the proliferation of social media in India,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s minister of electronics and information technology, said Thursday. “We want them to be more responsible and more accountable,” he said.

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Journalism Tech

After Myanmar Coup, Facebook Removes National Military TV Network’s Page

Facebook in Myanmar

That’s the headline on an exclusive story I wrote, out Tuesday. It began:

Facebook Inc. banned a Myanmar military television network page following Monday’s coup, the social media giant’s latest move in a country where its platform has been connected in previous years to physical violence.

A page for the television network has since at least early last year posted photos that publicize efforts of the nation’s military, drawing likes from more than 33,000 people, before it was removed late Monday. Facebook first removed the Myawaddy television network from its platform in 2018 as part of a crackdown on hundreds of pages, groups and accounts—some tied to Myanmar’s military—that it said had abused its services, but a page promoting the station later reappeared.

After The Wall Street Journal asked Monday why the Myawaddy page was operational given its earlier ban, Facebook removed it and it now displays a message saying “This Page Isn’t Available.”

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India Journalism Tech

In India, Facebook Fears Crackdown on Hate Groups Could Backfire on Its Staff

That’s the headline on my newest story, an exclusive with my colleague Jeff Horwitz, out Sunday. It begins:

Dozens of religious extremists burst into a Pentecostal church outside New Delhi in June, claiming it was built atop a Hindu temple. The group installed a Hindu idol in protest, and a pastor says he was punched in the head by attackers.

Members of a Hindu nationalist organization known as Bajrang Dal claimed responsibility in a video describing the incursion that has been viewed almost 250,000 times on Facebook. The social-media company’s safety team earlier this year concluded that Bajrang Dal supported violence against minorities across India and likely qualified as a “dangerous organization” that should be banned from the platform, according to people familiar with the matter.

Facebook Inc. balked at removing the group following warnings in a report from its security team that cracking down on Bajrang Dal might endanger both the company’s business prospects and its staff in India, the people said. Besides risking infuriating India’s ruling Hindu nationalist politicians, banning Bajrang Dal might precipitate physical attacks against Facebook personnel or facilities, the report warned.

Such conflicting concerns underscore the struggle Facebook faces in policing hate speech that exists in the vast sea of content posted to its platform around the world. The calculus is especially complicated in India, Facebook’s largest market by users. Facebook has staff on the ground, recently invested $5.7 billion in a new retail venture and interacts with a government whose politicians have ties to Hindu nationalist groups.

“We enforce our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy globally without regard to political position or party affiliation,” said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone, calling the company’s process for determining what entities to ban careful, rigorous and multidisciplinary.

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Links to our previous stories on Facebook in India, if you missed them, are here:

Categories
India Journalism Tech

Facebook’s WhatsApp Gets Green Light to Expand Mobile Payments in India

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

Regulators in India granted Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp permission to expand its digital payments service, a win for the company after a delay of nearly three years in its largest market by users.

The National Payments Corporation of India, or NPCI, said late Thursday that WhatsApp can bring the service to a maximum of 20 million users. That is up from the one million cap that has been in place since the encrypted messaging platform in February 2018 began offering payments via its app in a trial service, the first of its kind.

“I’m excited to share today that WhatsApp has been approved to launch payments across India,” Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a video provided Friday by the company. The service, which is free, enables users to connect their bank accounts to the app and easily send money to one another, just as if they were sending a typical chat.

Still, WhatsApp remains far from making the functionality available to all of its more than 400 million users in India. The NPCI said WhatsApp can start with a maximum of 20 million users—which would be about 5% of WhatsApp’s total user base in the country.

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India Journalism Tech

Facebook’s Top Public Policy Executive in India Steps Down

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

A Facebook Inc. executive in India who was at the center of a political storm over the company’s policy on anti-Muslim hate speech on the platform is leaving her position Tuesday, the social-media giant said.

Ankhi Das, Facebook’s top public-policy executive in its biggest market by users, said in an internal post provided by the company that she had decided to step down to pursue her interest in public service.

The Wall Street Journal reported in August that Ms. Das had opposed applying Facebook’s hate-speech rules to a politician from the ruling Hindu nationalist party, along with at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence, according to current and former employees.

Following the article’s publication, Indian lawmakers questioned Facebook officials, while the company’s staff pushed internally for a review of how it handles problematic content.

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Newley's Notes

NN233: Dogs in restaurants

Sent as an email newsletter Wednesday, September 9. Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

👋 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.

Photo of the week, above: table for four, Hong Kong. Spotted on a recent evening.

🆕 If you missed it, my latest story on Facebook and India, out Thursday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz: Facebook, Under Pressure in India, Bans Politician for Hate Speech. It begins:

Facebook Inc. banned a member of India’s ruling party for violating its policies against hate speech, amid a growing political storm over its handling of extremist content on its platform.

The removal of the politician, T. Raja Singh, is an about-face for the company and one that will be politically tricky in India, its biggest market by number of users.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Facebook’s head of public policy in the country, Ankhi Das, had opposed banning Mr. Singh under Facebook’s “dangerous individual” prohibitions. In communications to Facebook staffers, she said punishing violations by politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party could hurt the company’s business interests in the country.

And a re-cap of our previous stories on the topic, if you missed them:

🚨 Administrative note: There will be no NN next week. I’ll be back the week of September 20.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

📪 1) The U.S. presidential election is in 55 days. Many people are expected to submit their ballots by mail due to Covid–19. Here’s a rundown of how to vote by mail in every state.

👨‍💻 2) Silicon Valley tech firms are finding ways to help parents take care of their kids amid the pandemic. Childless workers say they’re being treated unfairly.

🌲 3) In Chicago, Amazon drivers are hanging their smartphones from trees near delivery stations to try to collect delivery orders faster.

🧘 4) Longread of the week: “The Eco–Yogi Slumlords of Brooklyn.”

🇸🇳 5) Senegal, “with a population of 16 million, has tackled COVID–19 aggressively and, so far, effectively. More than six months into the pandemic, the country has about 14,000 cases and 284 deaths.”

🎥 6) Netflix is making “The Three-Body Problem,” the popular trilogy of sci-fi books by China’s Cixin Liu’s, into an English-language series.

🙅‍♂️ 7) And speaking of Netflix, founder Reed Hastings is no fan of working from home. “Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative,” he told my WSJ colleague, Joe Flint, in an interview.

👏 8) Excellent Twitter thread: “Civil War generals as Muppets.”

🔉 9) Sounds of the Forest: “We are collecting the sounds of woodlands and forests from all around the world, creating a growing soundmap bringing together aural tones and textures from the world’s woodlands.”

🐕 10) Dog related video of the week: “Every morning at the same time a sweet stray angel visits this cafeteria to get her daily dose of love and food.”

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves.” – Julia Cameron.

•••

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
India Journalism Tech

Facebook, Under Pressure in India, Bans Politician for Hate Speech

That’s the headline on our newest story, out Thursday. It begins:

Facebook Inc. banned a member of India’s ruling party for violating its policies against hate speech, amid a growing political storm over its handling of extremist content on its platform.

The removal of the politician, T. Raja Singh, is an about-face for the company and one that will be politically tricky in India, its biggest market by number of users.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Facebook’s head of public policy in the country, Ankhi Das, had opposed banning Mr. Singh under Facebook’s “dangerous individual” prohibitions. In communications to Facebook staffers, she said punishing violations by politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party could hurt the company’s business interests in the country.

Click through to read the rest.