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Mark Zuckerberg Admits Facebook Publishes ads Containing Lies

The revelation led the Menlo Park, California-based firm to launch an investigation into how apps use the data of Facebook users, and this led to the suspension of thousands of apps that did not adhere to the firm's use rules

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FILE - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at a Facebook developer conference in San Jose, California, May 1, 2018. VOA

Facebook  founder Mark Zuckerberg defended the social network’s policy of publishing campaign ads that contain false statements or lies and claimed that people will just have to live with it and decide for themselves what is true and what is not true.

In a speech at Georgetown University in Washington on Thursday, Zuckerberg admitted that he is concerned about the “erosion of truth” in society and online, but he rejected the idea that his firm and other tech companies should be the ones to decide whether info placed on the social networks is accurate or not, Efe news reported.

“I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100 percent true,” he said, adding that he does not believe that a “private company (should) censor politicians or the news in a democracy.”

It is the public who “should decide what is credible, not tech companies,” the Facebook CEO said.

He said that there were exceptions to that general rule, asserting that Facebook was not going to allow content to be posted that incites violence or poses an imminent risk of harm.

He said that people place ads on Facebook about many more things than elections, and that poses a challenge on where to draw the line at what is allowed.

“I believe that when it’s not absolutely clear what to do, we should err on the side of greater expression,” he said, going on to say that prohibiting election ads would favor incumbents or candidates seeking re-election.

“Do we ban ads about health care or immigration or women’s empowerment? And if you’re not going to ban those, does it really make sense to give everyone a voice in the political debates except for the candidates themselves?” asked Zuckerberg.

Mark Zuckerberg. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Facebook CEO’s remarks come after Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren posted ads on the social network in which she incorrectly declared that Zuckerberg supports President Donald Trump’s re-election.

Warren, who admits that the claim made in the ads is not correct, has harshly criticized the monopoly held on the social networks by the big tech companies and called for their breakup.

In his speech, Zuckerberg said that if the government and online platforms jointly addressed issues like data privacy, data portability, content and elections critics would be less likely to try and break up big tech firms.

“If that at happens, I don’t think people will end up concluding that breaking up the companies is the right thing to do,” he said.

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The biggest controversy Facebook has faced in recent years came in March 2018 when it became known that British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used an application to gather data on millions of Facebook users without their consent and then used that data for political ends.

The firm used the data to prepare psychological profiles of voters that it allegedly sold to the then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign before the 2016 election, among other things.

The revelation led the Menlo Park, California-based firm to launch an investigation into how apps use the data of Facebook users, and this led to the suspension of thousands of apps that did not adhere to the firm’s use rules. (IANS)

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Social Media Giant Facebook Still a Fertile Ground for Promoting Anti-vaccine Posts

The research team will continue to study how anti-vaccine arguments are spreading on Facebook and how the company is responding to demands from public health organisations to clean up its act

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The Facebook mobile app on an Android smartphone. Wikimedia Commons

You may find it hard to believe but just two organisations in the US are misusing Facebook to post maximum number of anti-vaccine messages to reach targeted audiences, questioning the role of social media in providing a platform to unscientific anti-vaccine messages.

In the first study of public health-related Facebook advertising, published in the journal Vaccine, researchers at the University of Maryland, the George Washington University and Johns Hopkins University found that a small group of anti-vaccine buyers has successfully leveraged Facebook to reach targeted audiences.

The social media platform’s efforts to improve transparency have actually led to the removal of ads promoting vaccination and communicating scientific findings, they reported.

The two organisations are the World Mercury Project run by Robert Kennedy Jr, and the Stop Mandatory Vaccinations campaign run by Larry Cook.

The research calls attention to the threat of social media misinformation as it may contribute to increasing “vaccine hesitancy,” which the World Health Organisation ranks among the top threats to global health this year.

This increasing reluctance or refusal to vaccinate threatens to reverse the progress made in halting vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, which has seen a 30 per cent increase in cases globally.

“The average person might think that this anti-vaccine movement is a grassroots effort led by parents, but what we see on Facebook is that there are a handful of well-connected, powerful people who are responsible for the majority of advertisements. These buyers are more organised than people think,” said Amelia Jamison, a faculty research assistant in the Maryland Centre for Health Equity, and the study’s first author.

The research team, co-led by Dr Sandra C Quinn, Dr David Broniatowski and Dr Mark Dredze, examined more than 500 vaccine-related ads served to Facebook users and archived in Facebook’s Ad Library.

This archive, which became available in late 2018, catalogued ad content related to “issues of national importance.”

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The social media application, Facebook is displayed on Apple’s App Store, July 30, 2019. VOA

The findings revealed that the majority of advertisements (54 per cent) which opposed vaccination, were posted by only two groups funded by private individuals, the World Mercury Project and Stop Mandatory Vaccination, and emphasized the purported harms of vaccination.

Because Facebook categorizes ads about vaccines as “political,” it has led the platform to reject some pro-vaccine messages.

“By accepting the framing of vaccine opponents — that vaccination is a political topic, rather than one on which there is widespread public agreement and scientific consensus — Facebook perpetuates the false idea that there is even a debate to be had,” said David Broniatowski, associate professor of engineering management and systems engineering at George Washington University.

This leads to increased vaccine hesitancy, and ultimately, more epidemics.

“Worse, these policies actually penalise pro-vaccine content since Facebook requires disclosure of funding sources for apolitical’ ads, but vaccine proponents rarely think of themselves as political. Additionally, vaccine opponents are more organised and more able to make sure that their ads meet these requirements,” Broniatowski mentioned.

Facebook is a pervasive presence in the lives of many people, meaning its decisions about how to handle vaccine messaging have far-reaching and serious consequences, said Quinn, a principal investigator on the study.

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“In today’s social media world, Facebook looms large as a source of information for many, yet their policies have made it more difficult for users to discern what is legitimate, credible vaccine information.

“This puts public health officials, with limited staff resources for social media campaigns, at a true disadvantage, just when we need to communicate the urgency of vaccines as a means to protect our children and our families,” Quinn added.

The research team will continue to study how anti-vaccine arguments are spreading on Facebook and how the company is responding to demands from public health organisations to clean up its act. (IANS)