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Facebook whistleblower says transparency needed to fix social media ills

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Frances Haugen, Facebook whistleblower.

A deeper investigation into Facebook’s lack of controls to prevent misinformation and abuse in languages other than English is likely to leave people “even more shocked” about the potential harms caused by the social media firm, whistleblower Frances Haugen told Reuters.

Haugen, a former product manager at Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook, spoke at the Reuters Next conference on Friday.

She left the company in May with thousands of internal documents which she leaked to the Wall Street Journal. That led to a series of articles in September detailing how the company knew its apps helped spread divisive content and harmed the mental health of some young users.

Facebook also knew it had too few workers with the necessary language skills to identify objectionable posts from users in a number of developing countries, according to the internal documents and Reuters interviews with former employees.

People who use the platform in languages other than English are using a “raw, dangerous version of Facebook,” Haugen said.

Facebook has consistently said it disagrees with Haugen’s characterization of the internal research and that it is proud of the work it has done to stop abuse on the platform.

Haugen said the company should be required to disclose which languages are supported by its tech safety systems, otherwise “Facebook will do … the bare minimum to minimize PR risk,” she said.

The internal Facebook documents made public by Haugen have also raised fresh concerns about how it may have failed to take actions to prevent the spread of misleading information.

Haugen said the social media company knew it could introduce “strategic friction” to make users slow down before resharing posts, such as requiring users to click a link before they were able to share the content. But she said the company avoided taking such actions in order to preserve profit.

Such measures to prompt users to reconsider sharing certain content could be helpful given that allowing tech platforms or governments to determine what information is true poses many risks, according to Internet and legal experts who spoke during a separate panel at the Reuters Next conference on Friday.

“In regulating speech, you’re handing states the power to manipulate speech for their own purposes,” said David Greene, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The documents made public by Haugen have led to a series of US congressional hearings. Adam Mosseri, head of Meta Platforms’ Instagram app, will testify next week on the app’s effect on young people.

Asked what she would say to Mosseri given the opportunity, Haugen said she would question why the company has not released more of its internal research.

“We have evidence now that Facebook has known for years that it was harming kids,” she said. “How are we supposed to trust you going forward?“

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Finland’s PM says young female government has been target of hate speech

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Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland says she and her fellow young female ministers have been targeted with extensive hate speech for their gender and appearance while in office.

“We can see that when you are young and female the hate speech that we are facing is often sexualized,” Marin told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday, a little more than two years into her term as Finland’s state leader.

Marin, 36, became the world’s youngest serving government leader in December 2019 when she was sworn in as prime minister, and originally all five party leaders in her center-left coalition government were female.

Marin, who has more than 540,000 followers on Instagram around the world, said she doesn’t allow the hate speech to affect her decisions but she is concerned about social media becoming more hurtful.

“I worry about so many others and this is why we want to make sure that we are not tolerating this kind of behavior.”

Marin made national and international headlines in December when she decided not to cut her night out short after finding out she had been exposed to COVID-19 the day before. Four days later Marin apologized saying she should have acted differently.

Finland’s young prime minister clubbing during a pandemic became the topic of memes around the world, some of which were humorous and others insulting.

Some opponents have attacked her for appearing on the covers of some of the world’s largest fashion magazines and for being often spotted out with popsingers and social media influencers in Helsinki.

“I am who I am, a 36-year-old mother and a young person who has friends and a social life,” she said.

Marin, who enjoys cleaning her own premises and going for 20-km (12-mile) runs outdoors, said she wants to bring a human side to high-level political leadership and show other young adults that young people can lead too.

In December, the minister in charge of Finland’s COVID response, Krista Kiuru, announced she is expecting a baby due in March, making her the fifth minister in Marin’s government to have a child and take parental leave while in office.

“Globally the image of a leader is still very masculine…, and there are few decision-makers from a younger generation,” Marin said, stressing she wanted to change that.

A report by the NATO Strategic Communications Center last February found that female Finnish politicians are subject to gendered abuse on Twitter, much of which came from clusters of right-wing accounts and did not seem highly coordinated.

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Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together

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When British India was partitioned into two independent states in August 1947, Sikka Khan’s father and elder brother, Sadiq, left Phulewala village — which became the Indian part of Punjab — and returned to their paternal village of Bogran, which became part of Pakistan.

Just two years old at the time, Sikka was too young to go and stayed behind in India with his mother. The family was to be reunited soon. The parents only wanted to wait until it was safe for the toddler to travel.

But the promise of being together again was cut short by violence and communal rioting that marred one of the biggest forced migrations in history. Following the partition, about 15 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs swapped countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.

Sikka and Sadiq lost their father, mother — who committed suicide when she found out about her husband’s death — and the bond that was only restored last week.

“I told you we would meet again,” Sikka, 76, said through tears, as he embraced his 84-year-old brother when they met in Kartarpur, Pakistan on Jan. 10.

Kartarpur is a border city where Pakistan, in late 2019, opened a visa-free crossing to allow Indian Sikh pilgrims access to one of the holiest sites of their religion, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, which after the partition, the site found itself on the Pakistani side of the border.

The brothers’ reunion did not last long, as each of them had to return to their countries. For the past seven decades, India-Pakistan cross-border visits have been limited by tensions and conflict.

“It was an emotional moment for us, and I could not believe that I was meeting my brother and his family,” Sikka said in Phulewala village, where he has remained since 1947.

“Life has given me the opportunity to reunite with my brother and I don’t want to live without him,” he said. “I need the company of my brother more than ever before. I want to live the rest of my life with my elder brother.”

They got in touch in 2019, when Pakistani YouTuber Nasir Dhillon visited Bogran village, where Sadiq still lives, and heard his story. He shared the footage on social media and soon received a message from Jagsir Singh, a doctor in Phulewala, who connected him to Sikka.

The YouTuber and the doctor helped the brothers meet virtually.

“The brothers for the first time saw each other over a video call two years ago,” Singh said. “Since then, they have remained in touch with each other through WhatsApp.”

They have been talking to each other at least 15 minutes every day, but it took them two years to meet in person as even the visa-free Kartarpur corridor was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic until late last year.

“The opening of the Kartarpur corridor in November last year allowed us the opportunity to organize the meeting between the brothers,” Singh said.

When he arrived in Kartarpur, Sikka, who does not have his own family, was accompanied by a dozen villagers from Phulewala.

“For me, my village has been family,” he said, as he chatted with Sadiq through a video call. “Now I want to go to Pakistan and live with my elder brother for some time. I hope the Pakistani government gives me a visa.”

Sadiq, too, wants to visit his brother.

“I want to meet Sikka in his village,” he said during the video call with his brother. “We want to live together and make up for the time we have lost.”

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Meta removes Iran-based fake accounts targeting Instagram users in Scotland

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Facebook parent Meta Platforms removed a network of fake accounts that originated in Iran and targeted Instagram users in Scotland with content supporting Scottish independence, the company’s investigators said on Thursday.

The network used fake accounts to pose as locals in England and Scotland, posting photos and memes about current events and criticism of the United Kingdom’s government, Meta said.

The accounts posted commentary about Scottish independence and organized their content around common hashtags promoting the cause, though they at times misspelled them, the company said. The accounts also posted about football and UK cities, likely to make the fictitious personas seem more authentic.

The network used photos of media personalities and celebrities from the UK and Iran as well as profile pictures likely created through AI techniques, Meta said.

In a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, Scots voted 55 percent-45 percent to remain in the United Kingdom, but both Brexit and the British government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis have bolstered support for independence among Scots and demands for a second vote.

Meta said its investigation found links to individuals in Iraq, including people with a background in teaching English as a foreign language.

It said the operation had some connections with a small Iran-based network it previously removed in December 2020, which mostly targeted Arabic, French and English-speaking audiences using fake accounts, but did not provide further details on who might be behind the activity.

“We’ve seen a range of operations coming from Iran over the last few years,” said Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead for influence operations, in a press briefing. “It’s not a monolithic environment.”

The social media company said it had removed eight Facebook accounts and 126 Instagram accounts as part of this network in December for violating its rules against coordinated inauthentic behavior.

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