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)
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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.


Trump announces plans to launch new social network ‘TRUTH Social’

Updated 21 October 2021

Trump announces plans to launch new social network ‘TRUTH Social’

WASHINGTON: Former US president Donald Trump announced plans Wednesday to launch his own social networking platform called “TRUTH Social,” which is expected to begin its beta launch for “invited guests” next month.
The long-awaited platform will be owned by Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), which also intends to launch a subscription video on-demand service that will feature “non-woke” entertainment programming, the group said in a statement.
“I created TRUTH Social and TMTG to stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech,” Trump, who was banned from Twitter and Facebook in the wake of the Capitol insurrection carried out by his supporters on January 6 this year, was quoted as saying in the statement.
“We live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favorite American President has been silenced. This is unacceptable,” he continued.
The Trump Media & Technology Group will merge with blank check company Digital Acquisition Corp. to make TMTG a publicly-listed company, the statement said.
“The transaction values Trump Media & Technology Group at an initial enterprise value of $875 Million, with a potential additional earnout of $825 Million in additional shares (at the valuation they are granted) for a cumulative valuation of up to $1.7 Billion depending on the performance of the stock price post-business combination,” it stated.
Ever since he was banned from the world’s dominant social networks as punishment for stirring up the mob that ransacked Congress on January 6, Trump has been looking for ways to reclaim his Internet platform.
In May he launched a blog called “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” which was touted as a a major new outlet.
But Trump, who was also banned from Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat in the wake of the Capitol mayhem, canceled the blog just a month later.
Former Trump aide Jason Miller launched a social network called Gettr earlier this year, but the former president has not yet joined it.
 


UAE ranked 11th on major global brand strength index, beating US, UK

Updated 21 October 2021

UAE ranked 11th on major global brand strength index, beating US, UK

  • The top five positions are taken by Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Germany, followed by Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand

LONDON: The UAE climbed three spots from last year’s global Brand Strength Index, beating both the UK and the US, to be ranked 11th among the world’s strongest nation brands. 

Brand Finance gave the UAE a score of 79.1 out of 100, marking “the latest confirmation of the excellence of the Emirati model in strategic planning and development,” according to Minister of Cabinet Affairs Mohammed Al-Gergawi.

He told The National: “It confirms the nation’s success in establishing modern, open, transparent and interactive media communication with the public around the world, through which it has been able to present its many inspiring success stories.”

Similar metrics demonstrated a rise in UAE’s economic ranking and financial value.

“The rise in the economic value of the UAE’s national brand from 18th to 17th position this year is a clear indication of the country’s global reputation and competitiveness in various fields,” added Al-Gergawi.

The top five positions are taken by Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Germany, followed by Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand.

“There is no doubt that achieving 11 percent brand value growth, from $672 billion to $749 billion, is a major achievement in the 50th year of the UAE and underlines how quickly our nation has established its name and global identity as a developed and pioneering country. It is an exceptional success story that will be told to all generations,” Al-Gergawi added. 

Brand Finance, a brand valuation company, measures the relative strength of national brands through a balanced scorecard of metrics evaluating brand investment, equity, and performance. 

Andrew Campbell, managing director at Brand Finance Middle East, said that the UAE is “challenging the Western status quo in ranking.” 

He added: “As the UAE celebrates its Golden Jubilee year, it continues to fly the flag high, promoting the nation’s achievements across the world through ground-breaking initiatives like the Emirates Mars Mission and serving as the gateway to the region by hosting the world for 182 days at Expo 2020 Dubai.”

Not only did the UAE score high on brand strength, but the country also stood out for its COVID-19 response, getting top marks on the influence and business and trade pillars, while also scoring strongly on the education and science pillars. 

While Switzerland continued to dominate the market as the world’s strongest nation brand, other countries took a fall. 

The UK, US, Japan, and France have all fallen out of the top 10 strongest nation brands following perceptions on how they handled the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The UK fell dramatically from 2nd to 14th position with a score of 77.4, while the US dropped from 4th to 17th with a score of 75.1. 

Despite their brand strength taking a hit, however, these nations all still feature in an unchanged top 10 when ranked by nation brand value.

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Facebook paying fine to settle US suit on discrimination

Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than US citizens. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 October 2021

Facebook paying fine to settle US suit on discrimination

  • Facebook is paying a hefty fine to resolve allegations that it discriminated against US workers in favor of foreigners with special visas to fill high-paying jobs
  • Facebook sponsored the visa holders for “green cards” authorizing them to work permanently.

WASHINGTON: Facebook is paying a $4.75 million fine and up to $9.5 million to eligible victims to resolve the Justice Department’s allegations that it discriminated against US workers in favor of foreigners with special visas to fill high-paying jobs.
Facebook also agreed in the settlement announced Tuesday to train its employees in anti-discrimination rules and to conduct more widespread advertising and recruitment for job opportunities in its permanent labor certification program, which allows an employer to hire a foreign worker to work permanently.
The department’s civil rights division said the social network giant “routinely refused” to recruit, consider or hire US workers, a group that includes US citizens and nationals, people granted asylum, refugees and lawful permanent residents, for positions it had reserved for temporary visa holders.
Facebook sponsored the visa holders for “green cards” authorizing them to work permanently. The so-called H-1B visas are a staple of Silicon Valley, widely used by software programmers and other employees of major US technology companies.
Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than US citizens. The tech companies maintain that’s not the case, that they turn to foreign nationals because they have trouble finding qualified programmers and other engineers who are US citizens.
“In principle, Facebook is doing a good thing by applying for green cards for its workers, but it has also learned how to game the system to avoid hiring US tech workers,” said Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “Facebook started lobbying to change the system more to its liking starting back in 2013 when the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate was being negotiated.”
The settlement terms announced Tuesday are the largest civil penalty and back-pay award ever recovered by the civil rights division in the 35-year history of enforcing anti-discrimination rules under the Immigration and Nationality Act, officials said. The back pay would be awarded to people deemed to have been unfairly denied employment.
The government said Facebook intentionally created a hiring system in which it denied qualified US workers a fair opportunity to learn about and apply for jobs that it instead sought to channel to temporary visa holders.
“Facebook is not above the law and must comply with our nation’s federal civil rights laws, which prohibit discriminatory recruitment and hiring practices,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke told reporters in a telephone conference. “Companies cannot set aside certain positions for temporary visa holders because of their citizenship or immigration status.”
Facebook also agreed in a separate settlement with the Labor Department to expand its recruitment for US workers and to be subject to ongoing audits to ensure compliance.
The company based in Menlo Park, California, said it believes it met the government’s standards in its practices. It said it agreed to the settlements to end the litigation and move ahead with its permanent labor certification program — which it called an important part of its “overall immigration program.”
“These resolutions will enable us to continue our focus on hiring the best builders from both the US and around the world, and supporting our internal community of highly skilled visa holders who are seeking permanent residence,” Facebook said in a statement.
Facebook says it ended the April-June quarter this year with over 63,400 full-time employees globally and has 3,000 current job openings.
The lawsuit was filed against Facebook last December by the Justice Department under the Trump administration. The alleged violations are said to have occurred from at least Jan. 1, 2018 to at least Sept. 18, 2019.
A $4.75 million fine and $9.5 million in back pay are a trifle for a company valued at $1 trillion with revenue of nearly $86 billion last year. But the announcement comes at a time of intense public discomfort and scrutiny for Facebook.
Public allegations and testimony to Congress from a former Facebook data scientist that the company disregarded internal research showing harm to children have raised a public outcry and calls for stricter government oversight of the company. The former employee, Frances Haugen, accused Facebook of prioritizing profit over safety and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation.
The company is also awaiting a federal judge’s ruling in an epic antitrust suit filed against it by the Federal Trade Commission. Calls from critics and lawmakers of both parties to break up the behemoth company are intensifying.


Britain fines Facebook $70 mln for breaching order in Giphy deal

Facebook had refused to report all the required information, despite multiple warnings, the CAM said. (File/Twitter)
Updated 20 October 2021

Britain fines Facebook $70 mln for breaching order in Giphy deal

LONDON: Britain’s competition regulator has fined Facebook 50.5 million pounds ($69.6 million) for breaching an order imposed during its investigation into the US social media giant’s purchase of GIF platform Giphy, the agency said on Wednesday.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Facebook had deliberately failed to comply with its order, and the penalty served as a warning that no company was above the law.
Facebook said it strongly disagreed.
The CMA said Facebook had failed to provide full updates about its compliance with requirements to continue to compete with Giphy and not integrate its operations with Giphy’s while its investigation was ongoing.
Facebook had refused to report all the required information, despite multiple warnings, the CAM said, and it therefore considered the failure to comply deliberate.
“We warned Facebook that its refusal to provide us with important information was a breach of the order but, even after losing its appeal in two separate courts, Facebook continued to disregard its legal obligations,” said Joel Bamford, senior director of mergers at the CMA.
“This should serve as a warning to any company that thinks it is above the law.”
Facebook said: “We strongly disagree with the CMA’s unfair decision to punish Facebook for a best effort compliance approach, which the CMA itself ultimately approved.
“We will review the CMA’s decision and consider our options.”


Algeria journalist freed after 6 months’ jail for ‘false news’

Updated 20 October 2021

Algeria journalist freed after 6 months’ jail for ‘false news’

  • ‘Our reporter Rabah Kareche is free again after six months behind bars in Tamanrasset prison’
  • Algeria ranks a lowly 146th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index

ALGIERS: Algerian journalist Rabah Kareche left prison on Tuesday after completing a six-month sentence for “spreading false news,” his newspaper Liberte said.
“Our reporter Rabah Kareche is free again after six months behind bars in Tamanrasset prison” in the country’s desert south, it reported on its website.
An appeals court had sentenced Kareche on October 11 to six months in prison plus six months suspended, a two-month reduction from his original sentence.
His release came as he had already served much of sentence during his trial and appeal.
Kareche was arrested in April after reporting the Tuareg, a Berber minority who have long complained of economic and social marginalization, had protested over “expropriation” of their historical lands.
He was sentenced on August 12 to eight months behind bars plus four months suspended for “spreading false information liable to damage public order.”
He was also accused of posting reports that could trigger “segregation and hatred within society.”
“I’m the victim of a grave injustice,” Liberte quoted him saying as he left prison.
“I did nothing more than my job as a journalist with professionalism.”
Algeria ranks a lowly 146th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.