Facebook decided faith groups are good for business. Now, it wants your prayers

Facebook sees worshippers as a vital community to drive engagement on the world’s largest social media platform. (The Independent)
Short Url
Updated 22 July 2021

Facebook decided faith groups are good for business. Now, it wants your prayers

  • Facebook adds prayer tool, an attempt to reach out to the religious and faith communities, accessible to all US Facebook Groups
  • The tool essentially allows users to request prayers, and other users can click a button to say “I prayed,” and their names will be counted underneath the post

LONDON: Facebook has long sought your attention. In recent weeks, it has started asking for your prayers as well in a new tool now available for US Facebook Groups.
The prayer feature is part of Facebook’s recent and concerted outreach to the religious community, which it is speaking about in detail to media for the first time. Facebook sees worshippers as a vital community to drive engagement on the world’s largest social media platform. As early as 2017, CEO Mark Zuckerberg cited churches as one example in a lengthy manifesto on connecting the world and the company created a team focused on “faith partnerships.”
COVID gave new urgency to the efforts, Facebook’s head of faith partnerships Nona Jones told Reuters in an interview. The new prayers product was spun up after the company saw an increase in people asking each other for prayers during the pandemic, said Jones, who is also a pastor in Florida.
The outreach culminated in the company holding its first virtual faith summit with religious leaders last month. During the live event broadcast on Facebook Live where the company played videos with heart emojis floating across the screen as religious leaders ministered to their congregations, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg discussed a future where leaders engaged worshippers with virtual reality tools and augmented reality.
At the end of May, Facebook made its prayer tool, which it had been testing with some faith communities, accessible for all US Facebook Groups to turn on. In one private Group seen by Reuters, a woman used the tool to request prayers for an aunt sick with coronavirus. People replied by clicking a button to say “I prayed,” and their names were counted underneath. Users could choose to be notified with a reminder to pray again tomorrow. Others requested prayers for a daughter’s broken heart, a son’s driving test and problems with an insurance company.
Jones confirmed prayer posts are used to personalize ads on Facebook, like other content. A spokesperson said the data could feed into how Facebook’s machine learning systems decide which ads to show users. Advertisers will not be able to directly target ads based on the content of the prayer or use of the feature, the person said. The spokesperson also said prayer tool use would not be factored into the categories that ad buyers already use to slice up Facebook audiences based on a demonstrated interest in topics, like “faith,” or “Catholic Church.”
“One of the biggest communities using Facebook products to connect are people of faith,” said outgoing Facebook app head Fidji Simo, in a fireside chat at the summit, following panels with religious leaders and a session for spiritual breathwork, a breathing and meditation exercise.
“When I looked at the data of what was taking off during the pandemic, we were seeing massive growth in the spiritual category.”
Early in the pandemic, Facebook sent “starter kits” of equipment like small tripods and phone holders to faith groups for live-streaming and shooting content as places of worship closed down. It launched a faith resources website with e-learning courses and quizzes on best practices, touting that “the people your house of worship wants to reach are on Facebook platforms already.”
This year, it has started up an Interfaith Advisory Council to hold regular meetings with faith leaders and educators. As well as consulting religious leaders — who told Reuters their wish lists for the site included church planning tools and emojis showing more diverse forms of worship — Facebook has been picking the brains of organizations already running large online faith platforms like evangelical megachurch Life.Church, pastor Kyle Kutter said.

MIXED RECEPTION
While many religious leaders who spoke to Reuters welcomed Facebook’s attention in a year when their communities were forced to stay at home, some Group users cited concerns over the privacy of prayer posts, questioning how their spiritual activities could be exploited online, or said they found it clinical.
Simcha Fisher, a member of a Catholic women’s Facebook Group, said she had only seen the prayer post used by friends who noted it felt “icky.” Her friend had compared Facebook to an overbearing parent getting involved in interactions occurring naturally on the platform: “Anytime Facebook rolls out something new, you know it’s because they’re hoping to make money off it...to eventually sell you something, somehow,” Fisher said.
Some religious leaders and Group members said they wanted to see the same level of commitment Facebook had shown in launching prayers to dealing with abuse targeted at their communities on the site. Khizer Subhani, who runs a Facebook Group for Muslims in the Bay Area which was given early access to the prayers feature, said he welcomed the company’s focus but weighed it against his frustrations over Facebook’s handling of hate speech around religious groups on the platform.
For Facebook, which faces attacks from global regulators and lawmakers, including over its track record of failing to curb harmful content like violent rhetoric and vaccine misinformation, connecting the faithful during a global pandemic is the kind of application it says it wants to double down on. Faith communities represent “the best of Facebook and we hope to keep it that way, now and in the future,” Sandberg said at the summit.


Facebook to target harmful coordination by real accounts using playbook against fake networks

Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook to target harmful coordination by real accounts using playbook against fake networks

  • Facebook is taking a more aggressive approach to shut down coordinated groups of real-user accounts engaging in certain harmful activities
  • The move could have major implications for how the social media giant handles political and other coordinated movements

LONDON: Facebook is taking a more aggressive approach to shut down coordinated groups of real-user accounts engaging in certain harmful activities on its platform, using the same strategy its security teams take against campaigns using fake accounts, the company told Reuters.
The new approach, reported here for the first time, uses the tactics usually taken by Facebook’s security teams for wholesale shutdowns of networks engaged in influence operations that use false accounts to manipulate public debate, such as Russian troll farms.
It could have major implications for how the social media giant handles political and other coordinated movements breaking its rules, at a time when Facebook’s approach to abuses on its platforms is under heavy scrutiny from global lawmakers and civil society groups.
Facebook said it now plans to take this same network-level approach with groups of coordinated real accounts that systemically break its rules, through mass reporting, where many users falsely report a target’s content or account to get it shut down, or brigading, a type of online harassment where users might coordinate to target an individual through mass posts or comments.
The expansion, which a spokeswoman said was in its early stages, means Facebook’s security teams could identify core movements driving such behavior and take more sweeping actions than the company removing posts or individual accounts as it otherwise might.
In April, BuzzFeed News published a leaked Facebook internal report about the company’s role in the Jan. 6 riot on the US Capitol and its challenges in curbing the fast-growing ‘Stop the Steal’ movement, where one of the findings was Facebook had “little policy around coordinated authentic harm.”
Facebook’s security experts, who are separate from the company’s content moderators and handle threats from adversaries trying to evade its rules, started cracking down on influence operations using fake accounts in 2017, following the 2016 US election in which US intelligence officials concluded Russia had used social media platforms as part of a cyber-influence campaign — a claim Moscow has denied.
Facebook dubbed this banned activity by the groups of fake accounts “coordinated inauthentic behavior” (CIB), and its security teams started announcing sweeping takedowns in monthly reports. The security teams also handle some specific threats that may not use fake accounts, such as fraud or cyber-espionage networks or overt influence operations like some state media campaigns.
Sources said teams at the company had long debated how it should intervene at a network level for large movements of real user accounts systemically breaking its rules.
In July, Reuters reported on the Vietnam army’s online information warfare unit, who engaged in actions including mass reporting of accounts to Facebook but also often used their real names.
Facebook is under increasing pressure from global regulators, lawmakers and employees to combat wide-ranging abuses on its services. Others have criticized the company over allegations of censorship, anti-conservative bias or inconsistent enforcement.
An expansion of Facebook’s network disruption models to affect authentic accounts raises further questions about how changes might impact types of public debate, online movements and campaign tactics across the political spectrum.
High-profile instances of coordinated activity around last year’s US election, from teens and K-pop fans claiming they used TikTok to sabotage a rally for former President Donald Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to political campaigns paying online meme-makers, have also sparked debates on how platforms should define and approach coordinated campaigns.


Facebook rolls out new messaging, business tools for brands

Facebook will begin testing the ability for brands to send emails through Facebook Business Suite
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook rolls out new messaging, business tools for brands

  • Facebook rolls out new feature that allows businesses to find and chat with potential customers on the app
  • The new features will help Facebook offer personalized shopping experiences to its users

LONDON: Facebook Inc. is rolling out new ways for businesses to find and chat with potential customers on its apps, the social media company said Thursday, as it seeks to become an online shopping destination.
The new features will help Facebook, already a leader in digital advertising, offer personalized shopping experiences to its users, said Karandeep Anand, vice president of business products at Facebook.
Businesses will now be able to add a button on their Instagram profiles to let people send a WhatsApp message to the company with one click.
Integrating WhatsApp is particularly important for customers in countries such as India and Brazil, where the Facebook-owned messaging app is widely used, Anand said.
Facebook said it will begin testing the ability for brands to send emails through Facebook Business Suite, a feature that lets businesses manage their presence across the social media site’s apps, in order to simplify how companies reach customers.
It will also test new work accounts to let employees manage business pages without needing to log in with their personal accounts.
The new business tools come a day after WhatsApp began testing a new feature in São Paulo, Brazil, to let users find shops and services through a directory in the app for the first time, part of an effort to bolster ecommerce on the service.


Facebook bans German accounts under new ‘social harm’ policy

The action is the first under Facebook’s new policy focused on preventing “coordinated social harm.” (File/AFP)
Updated 17 September 2021

Facebook bans German accounts under new ‘social harm’ policy

  • Facebook removes almost 150 accounts and pages linked to anti-lockdown demonstrators in Germany under new policy to halt the spread of misinformation

LONDON: Facebook removed almost 150 accounts and pages linked to anti-lockdown demonstrators in Germany, the company announced Thursday, under a new policy focused on groups that spread misinformation or incite violence but who don’t fit into the platform’s existing categories of bad actors.
The accounts on Facebook and Instagram spread content linked to the so-called Querdenken movement, a disparate group that has protested lockdown measures in Germany and includes vaccine and mask opponents, conspiracy theorists and some far-right extremists.
Posts from the accounts included one making the debunked claim that vaccines create viral variants and another that wished death upon police officers who broke up violent anti-lockdown protests in Berlin.
The action is the first under Facebook’s new policy focused on preventing “coordinated social harm,” which company officials said is an attempt to address content from social media users who work together to spread harmful content and evade platform rules.
Under its long-standing guidelines, Facebook has removed accounts that use false personas or spread hate speech or make threats of violence. The new policy is intended to catch groups that work together in an attempt to get around the rules, while still spreading harmful content.
In the case of the Querdenken network, Facebook said multiple account holders used both individual and duplicate accounts to spread content that violated Facebook’s rules on COVID-19 misinformation, hate speech, bullying and incitement of violence.
It was that coordinated effort to deceive, along with the harmful content and a history of past violations, that prompted Facebook’s action, according to Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy.
“Simply sharing a belief or affinity with a particular movement or group wouldn’t be enough” to warrant a similar response, he told reporters on a conference call Thursday.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has put some Querdenker adherents under surveillance as the movement has become increasingly radicalized and its protests have attracted neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists.

Related


Are some Saudi social media influencers crossing the line?

Updated 17 September 2021

Are some Saudi social media influencers crossing the line?

  • Saudi social media stars are learning they must play by the rules — or pay the price

RIYADH: Saudi social media influencers have become a key element in the Kingdom’s advertising market in recent years, but many are increasingly aware they risk a backlash if their growing power is not used wisely.
While many observers argue that influencers serve a positive purpose, others say they are simply filling the airwaves with nonsense — but there can be no disputing the effect they have, especially when using the right tone to sell a product, brand or idea.
However, marketers warn that this can be a double-edged sword, with influencers naively thinking they can get away with simple advertising techniques or using a convincing sales pitch, while others break established rules and even laws in a bid to gain followers.
Either approach can land influencers in trouble and, thanks to the internet’s long memory, the damage can linger for years.

Some influencers do not think except to rush behind their interests and gain from advertisements or the number of followers  — Dr. Abdulrahman Alazmi, Associate professor of psychology at Naif University

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Commerce has strict and clearly defined rules for online advertisements, and regularly updates “red-flagged” establishments and shady businesses. The ministry also issues warnings against spreading rumors or promoting products that fail to comply with the relevant authorities’ standards. Firms or individuals who breach regulations are subject to legal action, including hefty fines.
Some marketing and advertising outfits told Arab News that they face difficulty at times over influencers’ failure to comply with the rules, “interacting with the spirit of the law rather than its text.”
Nafel Al-Nabhan, a Snapchat influencer, said that he does his best to comply with legal and ethical standards. “I do not target a specific category in my posts; they’re just moments that I share and consider as a daily diary with both good and bad,” he said. “I made many mistakes because I did not study the media, but I learned from my mistakes, and that was fun.”
Al-Nabhan said that his views on social media platforms have changed over time. “After Twitter deleted former US President Donald Trump’s account, social media became more powerful than bombs and bullets,” he said.
Deena Alardi, an Instagram and Snapchat influencer, said that “being present in the largest media source today is a great responsibility, so I must act within the laws, regulations and conditions (outlined) by official and private bodies in this field.”
Asked about the challenges she faces, Alardi admits that communicating her message to the public can be difficult, but said she is determined to maintain her standards.
“I have not and will not allow myself to resort to methods that are an embarrassment in front of the community.” The influencer said that content must be studied and planned professionally. “My high regard for people has put me in some bad situations that I do not want to repeat. You should not trust easily,” she said.
“It is normal for thinking to change over time,” Alardi said, adding that some influencers lower society’s view of their lives, interests and priorities because they present unrealistic, exaggerated and sometimes false claims.
“The audience believes everything it sees, and this is one mistake that can backfire.”
Nourah Al-Salem, another Snapchat influencer, said: “There is no doubt that the influencer is a byproduct of their environment and culture, and they have moral standards and responsibilities to highlight the positive aspects of society.”

There are standards that we adhere to with influencers, and the most important are ethical behavior and good reputation. We are also interested in adhering to the customs, traditions and culture of society — Moustafa Reda, Managing director at the First Exhibitor marketing agency

She added: “As for delivering messages to my audience, the challenges are simple since they have a high level of awareness and deep understanding. I do not need to pretend or resort to devious methods that leave me embarrassed in front of my followers or society.”
Dr. Abdulrahman Alazmi, an associate professor of psychology at Naif University, told Arab News that some influencers resort to dishonest behavior to gain followers, especially those in adolescence and childhood.
“The influencer at this age is looking for enjoyment because it is compatible with his audience in their age group. Bad behavior can be comedic, prompting followers to publish, spread and follow an influencer, and giving the influencer negative support to make them interact more and behave in a way that attracts the attention of children and teenagers,” he said.
“Some influencers do not think except to rush behind their interests and gain from advertisements or the number of followers.”
Alazmi, who specializes in family counseling, said that an influencer’s mistakes in the short term are usually limited to fame, advertisements and interests. “However, in the long run, the impact is very painful, because this person documents himself through videos that do not correspond to his stage after the age of 40, for example, and his sons will not accept them in the future. He reveals to himself and his family that he is superficial, and he has a behavioral deviation that is not appropriate for him when he grows older.”
Nasser Alodah, general manager at advertising and digital marketing specialists the NOB Agency, told Arab News that the firm insists influencers agree with the conditions requested by a client, such as advertising the work, obtaining approval and adhering to the number of views.
At least 95 percent of influencers agree to these conditions, he said.
“In the past we had difficulty dealing with influencers when signing the terms. Some did not want to sign, perhaps because they see that signing with others is a big responsibility and it is frightening for them. The professionalism and knowledge of most distinguished influencers today has made signing contracts an easy matter,” Alodah said. As for influencers with bad reputations, Alodah said that the agency steers away from them and advises clients to do the same.
“When an influencer violates one or more conditions, it is discretionary. For example, if the mistake is out of the influencer’s control, we move past it, and sometimes we see that we are partners in the mistake, like having to postpone shooting or something, and so we resort to discussions with the influencer and the matter is often settled amicably.”

If the mistake is out of the influencer’s control, we get past it, and sometimes we see that we are partners in the mistake — Nasser Alodah, NOB Agency general manager

He added: “As for whoever makes a mistake intentionally, we cancel the deal with them and inform the party with which we are contracted that we are canceling the contract with this person. I think this is one of the strongest punishments an influencer can receive.”
Moustafa Reda, managing director at the First Exhibitor marketing agency, said: “There are standards that we adhere to with influencers, and the most important are ethical behavior and good reputation. We are also interested in adhering to the customs, traditions and culture of society.”
The agency is also keen to main influencers’ “credibility” on social media. Reda said that influencers could be divided into two groups: “Some understand the nature of the work, and the culture and environment in which they are located, while others violate these agreed conditions.”
Only a small number fell into the second category, he said.
He agreed that some influencers’ love of image and fame leaves them vulnerable to unintentional mistakes. “Still, as professionals, we remind them to follow guidelines and go by the book.”
According to Ahmed Nazzal, CEO of Wajahah Marketing, working with influencers demands high standards. “The most important is reputation, society’s view of this person, his view of society, and respecting the culture, and respecting customs and traditions.” He said that influencers, like everyone, are prone to error and many receive insufficient training for their role.


French court lowers Bloomberg fine over hoax Vinci statement -media reports

Updated 16 September 2021

French court lowers Bloomberg fine over hoax Vinci statement -media reports

  • Bloomberg News was originally fined $5.9 million in December 2019 for publishing a hoax press release
  • AMF said at the time that Bloomberg should have known the information in the hoax press release was false

PARIS: A French appeal court on Thursday upheld a ruling by France’s markets watchdog AMF against US news agency Bloomberg for publishing a hoax press release, French media reported, but lowered its fine to three million euros.
Bloomberg News was originally fined five million euros ($5.9 million) in December 2019 for publishing a hoax press release in November 2016 relating to construction group Vinci, which had filed a legal complaint to the AMF.
The AMF said at the time that Bloomberg should have known the information in the hoax press release was false.
“Our journalists, among others, simply reported on what appeared to be newsworthy information and were the victims of a sophisticated hoax, the perpetrator of which has not yet been found,” a Bloomberg spokesperson said after Thursday’s ruling.
“We hoped that the court would recognize the issues of press freedom at stake. We are disappointed the court has not overturned the original decision and will consider our options on appeal,” they added.
Vinci shares fell as much as 18 percent on Nov. 22, 2016 after the hoax statement, which said that the French group would revise its 2015 and 2016 accounts and fire its chief financial officer.
The AMF had said it had taken action against Bloomberg because it had published the statement without verifying it.
Vinci’s share price recovered after the company denied the Bloomberg report and said that the statement was a hoax.
The appeal court’s ruling was not immediately available on its website or on the AMF’s own site.