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07.24.17 | 11:06 am

Facebook’s cafeteria workers, barely making ends meet, are now trying to unionize

Not everyone working at Facebook is living the dream. In fact, most of the contracted facility workers at the company's Menlo Park, California, headquarters are having trouble making ends meet. That's why about 500 of Facebook's cafeteria employees are banding together to join a union, reports the Guardian

While cafeteria workers do make wages above the $15/hour minimum wage, they are not provided benefits to help them stay afloat. With the price of living in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area rising to staggering levels, these employees are unable to afford adequate housing or health care. 

One family of Facebook cafeteria workers, profiled by the Guardian, lives in a garage. Facebook employees are given access to amenities like onsite doctors, but these workers are not allowed access to such perks. 

The big union push is to help these employees get the adequate support they need. While neither Facebook nor the food service contractor they work for opposes the union, the cafeteria workers likely have a long fight ahead. You can read the full profile here

[Photo: Flickr user Jimmy Baikovicius]

Update: Facebook has provided Fast Company with this statement:

"Our vendor workers are valued members of our community. We are committed to providing a safe, fair, work environment to everyone who helps Facebook bring the world closer together, including contractors. Our commitment does not change, regardless of union status."

07.21.17 | 11:25 am

Facebook tells us how great video is after forcing everyone to pivot to it

We're in the middle of a media bloodbath. News companies, begging for any new digital ad revenue and solid monetization footing, are cutting editorial teams in the name of a "video pivot." Why? One reason is that video is hot right now and advertisers love to spend money on new things. Another reason is that Facebook and Google, which dictate media consumption, want to emphasize video.

But while media organizations flail, Facebook wants to let marketers know that video really is the future. A new report from Facebook explains that more people are watching videos on the platform, and more people are expecting to watch video.

At first glance, this seems like a normal internal research sort of project. Upon further examination, it's a bit odd. For one, instead of focusing on how video is paying off for publishers, the report talks about how more Facebook and Instagram users are emotionally engaging with video. Which, in a sense, is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Facebook has been shoving video down everyone's throats—video is everywhere on our news feeds. So it shouldn't be shocking that people are watching more video and expect to watch more of it. 

According to Facebook, people like video because it's more personal and engaging. Take this statistic:

"Those surveyed were also 1.8x more likely to say they feel inspired by mobile video on Facebook and Instagram than TV, and 1.5x more likely to say they feel excited by mobile video on Facebook and Instagram than TV."

This is all a way for Facebook to sell to marketers that video is the future, without really showing ROI. People feel "inspired" watching Facebook videos. Great! Look at how we force it upon our billions of users and then they watch it.

[Image: Facebook]

07.20.17 | 7:25 am

Here’s everything Facebook says it’s doing to help journalists (and publishers)

The company published a lengthy post today giving a six-month updated on its Facebook Journalism Project. The project aims to establish stronger ties between Facebook and those in the news industry—and probably also aims to defuse the mounting tensions between it and publishers, who fear the social network has too much control as the gatekeeper of their content. In the post, Facebook breaks down the improvements it's made to better supports publishers' and journalists' needs. They include:

• Instant Articles enhancements, including the ability to support simultaneous publishing on Google AMP and Apple News (coming soon) through the Instant Articles SDK

• an upcoming tool that will support subscriptions in Instant Articles

• an improved Rights Manager, which helps publishers better protect the rights to the videos they post

• the introduction of the Facebook for Journalists Certificate, a three-course curriculum designed by the Poynter Institute and Facebook.

• the introduction of Facebook Safety for Journalists resources, which teaches journalists how to protect their accounts and themselves on Facebook

Facebook also announced that its Instant Articles now pays out over $1 million per day to publishers via the Facebook Audience Network.

07.19.17 | 9:37 am

Facebook and Google are making people forget where they get their news

A new study from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford shows that when people discover news via search or social media, they often forget who actually wrote the story. 

"Less than half could remember the name of the news brand for a particular story when coming from search or social media," the report found. Conversely, people were more likely to remember the platform on which they found it. So instead of saying "I read this New York Times article," online news readers are more likely to simply state, "I found the post on Facebook."

The study underscores one of the biggest existential crises facing media brands in the age of digital media: As outlets increasingly rely on platforms like Facebook and Google, news content is looking more homogenous—and brands are losing the qualities that make them distinct. On Facebook, one Instant Articles post looks a heck of a lot like every other. The findings are also not a good sign in the fight against fake news: If people can't recall the actual source of the post—and instead simply remember how they found it—how do they know if it's from a trusted source?

This is one of the many reasons why newspapers are banding together to collectively bargain with Facebook and Google. News Media Alliance president David Chavern told me last week that brand dilution on digital platforms is one of the things that's killing the news business. You can read my interview with him here

[Photo: HStocks/iStock]

07.18.17 | 10:37 am

Facebook just scooped up Uber’s former head of communications

A week ago, Uber's head of public policy and communications, Rachel Whetstone, confirmed she was leaving the company. Today Recode reports that she is joining FacebookKara Swisher writes that Whetstone will be working in "a newly created role as VP of comms of its WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger products." Before Uber, she worked comms at Google.

According to Recode, Whetstone was feeling increased pressure—both thanks to the daily public crises Uber encounters as well as heat from the company and its board. 

07.12.17 | 6:08 am

Ugh. Facebook Messenger will soon start showing you ads with your messages

The ads, which have seen limited testing, will soon go global, appearing on Messenger's home screen between conversation threads, reports VentureBeat. Tapping on an ad will either take you to the advertiser's website or open up a chat window where you can essentially have a text-based sales call—because that's what we all want, apparently. Facebook says users will start seeing the ads by the end of the year.

07.11.17 | 7:30 pm

Facebook is “in touch” with Congress about Russian election interference

Among the challenges facing the five committees investigating possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, a central hurdle is understanding how Russian-bankrolled "fake news" spread across social networks. 

According to a report in Politico, lawmakers have allegedly turned to Facebook for answers. Sources confirmed that Facebook officials are "in touch with key congressional investigators" who are looking for information about Russian interference. In May, Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, visited Facebook headquarters in May. Neither Facebook nor Twitter would comment about whether they were cooperating.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's team is filled with prosecutors and FBI agents "well equipped" to investigate the Twitter bots and Facebook trolls that churned out content boosting Trump and maligning Clinton, Politico reports. As part of its investigation, the House Intelligence Committee also wants to speak with Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign's top digital strategist, as well as Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who helped coordinate the digital effort.

It's still unclear to what extent the social media companies are complying or will comply with any investigation. (Facebook, Buzzfeed reports, has lately been aggressive about pushing government search warrants into the open.) You can read the full Politico story here

[Photo: via Wikimedia Commons]

07.07.17 | 3:32 pm

Facebook basically wants to build an entire town

Facebook is looking to expand its Menlo Park campus, adding not just office space but also a grocery store, retail shops, parks, and even 1,500 homes where people could live. The aim is to build a "village" of sorts, where all of the amenities within the social network's property would also be accessible to non-Facebook residents of the area.

The idea was presented to Menlo Park officials on Thursday. If approved, Facebook hopes to start construction in 2019, with plans to have the first buildings ready for use by 2021. 

Check out more details over at Co.Design.

06.29.17 | 9:54 am

Instagram introduces a troll-tricking layer that filters abusive comments with machine learning

The online wars are filled with trolls and spam. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have pledged to do their part to make them safe places to connect, meaning figuring out ways to reduce abusive comments and spam. 

Instagram today is introducing a new tool to help this fight. By using machine learning, the Facebook-owned app is hoping to automatically flag and remove toxic and abusive content. The automatic filter will not let the commenter know that their post was flagged—in fact, it will still be visible to them—but everyone else will just not see it.

Similarly, Instagram is also using machine learning to combat spam messages. You can read more about these new machine learning efforts here

06.28.17 | 5:44 pm

Do you have what it takes to moderate Facebook hate speech? Take the quiz

The folks at ProPublica unveiled a huge journalistic get today: internal Facebook documents that offer a peek into the secret guidelines it uses to moderate hate speech and violent content. Reviewing posts and deciding what to remove is a Sisyphean task for a social network with two billion users, so it's not all that surprising that the company tries to rely heavily on mathematical formulas. But the execution is jarring to say the least. 

Included in the story is a slideshow quiz (recreated by ProPublica from rules that may have since "changed slightly") that shows guidelines Facebook has used to distinguish between protected categories and non-protected categories. Protected categories include things like race and gender identity, while non-protected categories include things like age and social class. Then there are a lot of category subsets—like "children" or "drivers"—which can result in non-protected categories when combined with protected ones. So, "Irish teens" is not protected but "Irish women" is, according to the slideshow. Lost yet? Check out the article and click through the slideshow.   

06.27.17 | 1:40 pm

Amazing, but true: More than 25% of all humans use Facebook

As a tech journalist who writes frequently about Facebook, I've referred to the size of the service's user base in many ways over the years. Recently, I've been using "nearly 2 billion users." Well, as of today, neither I nor anyone else needs to use the word "nearly" anymore.

That's because, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted today, the service has crossed the 2 billion mark. Think about that. There's roughly 7.5 billion people on Earth. That means 26.6% of all the people in the world are active Facebook users. So how did the company reach that impressive number? My colleague Harry McCracken has the scoop on how the company used science and empathy to cross the 2 billion line

06.26.17 | 8:00 am

This will make you understand why you click on certain headlines and not others

Researchers at BuzzSumo analyzed over 100 million headline phrases that resulted in the most engagement from users on social media. They found that certain three-word phrases, or trigrams, that were included in headlines garnered more engagement from users in the forms of likes, shares, and comments. By far, headlines with the phrase "will make you" got the most engagement on Facebook. That was followed by headlines with "this is why" and "can we guess" phrases in them. The worst performing headlines included the phrase "simple way to" followed by "that actually work" and "don't forget to."