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BREAKING: Facebook Removes 200 Fake News Pages And Accounts Linked To President Duterte’s Social Media Manager

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Facebook removed more than 200 pages, groups, and accounts linked to President Duterte's social media manager for proliferating fake news.

In a time with a heightened political climate in the Philippines, fake news and misleading social media contents dominate the political conversation. The country’s problem in fake news and alternative facts does not go far from what other countries experience in this age of social media.

With the rise of fake and misleading news in social media platforms prompted many tech companies to do their part to regulate and remove the fallacious content of their websites and apps. Just like today, when Facebook announced that it had removed more than 200 pages, groups, and accounts that engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on its platform as well as on its subsidiary company, Instagram. Facebook said they removed the said accounts because they are “misleading others about who they were and what they were doing.”

Fake news has become commonplace in Philippine’s political environment. The rise of the strongman Pres. Rodrigo Duterte in the 2016 presidential elections was highly credited to social media groups that were meant to mislead voters of facts, political experts say. According to local sources, the marketing team behind Pres. Duterte’s campaign has employed “trolls,” locally known as “ka-DDS” and colloquially called “Dutertards,” who impersonate Filipinos citizens in an attempt to sway public opinions towards voting the then-Davao City Mayor. Three years following his election to office, the fake news, and false narratives didn’t stop according to Facebook.

In a blog post dated March 28, Nathanial Gleicher, Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy has removed 200 Facebook pages, groups, and accounts linked to a network owned by Nic Gabunada. Nic Gabunada served Pres. Duterte’s 2016 campaign team as the social media manager. Facebook said that while the organization behind the problematic accounts and Facebook groups attempted to conceal their identities, their internal investigation has reached to a conclusion that all of them originated from a network linked to Gabunada.

“We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people. We’re taking down these Pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted. In this case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action,” Gleicher said in a blog post in Facebook Newsroom entitled “Removing Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior From The Philippines.”

There were 67 Facebook pages along with 68 Facebook accounts, 40 Groups, and 25 Instagram accounts that were taken down. Facebook reveals that in total, the said fraudulent facebook content pages and groups have a reach totaling to millions.

“About 3.6 million accounts followed one or more of these Pages, about 1.8 million accounts joined at least one of these Groups and around 5,300 accounts followed one or more of these Instagram accounts,” Gleicher wrote in a blog post.

The internal investigation conducted by the California-based tech company has also revealed that the organization connected to Gabunada spent a total of USD 59,000 for ads on Facebook paid for in Philippine peso, Saudi riyal, and US dollars. The operations started paying for media space on Facebook in January 2014, two years before the infamous 2016 elections that put Pres. Duterte to the office and the most recent advertisement ran in March 2019.

The five-year operation was identified by Facebook, which includes accounts and Pages through an ongoing internal investigation into Philippines-linked coordinated inauthentic behavior. Gleicher said that their assessment came from open source reporting and they have shared relevant information with policymakers and other industrial partners as the basis for their course of action regarding Facebook’s findings.

The Philippines has been trying to suppress the proliferation of fake news and misleading contents following the boom of the criticism against the abusive behavior of some politicians in social media. In 2017, a law was proposed entitled Anti-Fake News Act of 2017 that seeks to “penalize any person who maliciously offers, publish, distribute, circulate, and spread fake news or information or cause the publication, distribution, circulation or spreading of the same in print, broadcast or online media.”

The legislation was introduced by Senator Joel Villanueva and is still awaiting decisions from both the upper and lower houses of the Congress for passing. /apr

A consumer tech and cybersecurity journalist who does content marketing while daydreaming about having unlimited coffee for life and getting a pet llama.

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Facebook Digital Money — Libra — To Debut Next Week With Huge Backers

Facebook is set to debut its own digital money known as Libra; multiple companies like VISA and Mastercard backs up the new currency. Click To Tweet

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Facebook is set to debut its own digital money known as Libra; multiple companies backs up the new currency.
The new digital money is called Libra. Photo: SEOPlanter | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Rumors have circulated online regarding Facebook releasing its crypto-based currency, and the talks appear to be accurate as multiple companies – from financial companies to booking websites – have signed up to back up the Facebook money.

Reports suggest that multiple companies, including VISA and Mastercard, have signed up to back the digital currency that Facebook is planning to launch by 2020. Other companies include Paypal, the popular money transfer service, Uber, the ride-hailing application, and Booking.com, a travel booking platform.

The cryptocurrency is reportedly said to be named Libra, and the financial and e-commerce companies, venture capitalists and telecommunications firms will invest around $10 million each in a consortium that will govern the digital coin. The consortium, known as Libra Association, was built for Facebook to establish a group of companies that will back its monetary efforts.

Facebook opens a Swiss company to focus on the digital money venture

A few weeks ago, the social networking giant reportedly opened up a company in Switzerland to focus on payment and blockchain technology, similar to the technology that powers bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies.

Read: Facebook Opens A Swiss Company To Develop Own Virtual Currency, Report Suggests

People familiar with the matter said that Facebook is planning to unveil the new digital currency next week and will start the operation next year. The money is expected to act as a “stable coin” because it is hinged on government-issued currencies in order to limit the volatility of the value of the coin; an issue which Bitcoin has faced for some time. According to a Swiss publication, Handelszeitung, the Facebook cryptocurrency would be tied to the US dollar and therefore will remain stable unlike bitcoin, which started crashing since 2017.

Owned by Facebook Global Holding II in Ireland, the Swiss company will focus on developing the software and hardware for crypto-related functions like payments, blockchain, analytics, big data, and identity management.

Facebook is hesitant to comment regarding their plans for the digital currency and did not confirm nor denied the reports of its existence. Nonetheless, the news is consistent with an earlier report that Facebook created a team of 50 individuals to develop their cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to be used across the network and on its WhatsApp messaging services.

That design would be geared toward avoiding a speculative frenzy like the one that caused the value of the primary cryptocurrency, bitcoin, to soar and then crash. While Facebook also did not confirm anything related to the leaked project at the time, the California-based company confirmed that they are interested in blockchain technology.

“Like many other companies, Facebook is exploring ways to leverage the power of blockchain technology,” the company said in a statement. “This new small team is exploring many different applications.”

It isn’t known, even to some members of the consortium, how the coin will work or what their roles will be, people familiar with the project said. However, it is also noted that regulatory hurdles are still high for Facebook to overcome with this new project. People familiar with the matter said that the concerns were raised regarding the potential of the new currency to be used by terrorist organizations and money launderers in their operations – something other cryptocurrencies have since been associated with.

Interesting partnership with potential competition

But investors are nonetheless interested in the project as other companies back up the new digital money in hopes of gaining traction with millions of Facebook users around the world. It is interesting that to note that the involvement of VISA and Mastercard to a service that will practically, if successful, would pose a threat to their business as one of their biggest competitors.

Other analysts have seen value with this partnership, however. Still, the lure of Facebook’s nearly 2.4 billion monthly active users was too strong for many companies to pass up. Card companies have long fretted that a technology giant could muscle into their business, creating a payment option that cuts out card networks. Participating in Libra allows them to closely monitor Facebook’s payment ambitions while sharing in the upside should the project gain traction with consumers.

Meanwhile, Facebook will not be having control over the new venture – nor will the consortium. Some of the members could serve as “nodes” along with the system that verifies transactions and maintains records of them, creating a brand-new payments network, according to people familiar with the setup.

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Facebook Usage Forecast Continues To Decline

The future isn’t too bright for Facebook all along.

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Facebook is compensating numbers using Instagram's and WhatsApp's growth to cover the fact up that their number is on a decline.
Average US Facebook Usage Time is down by three minutes in 2018. Photo: Stock Catalog | CC BY 2.0

Facebook’s engagement is shrinking — as Americans spend less and less time on the social media network. The future isn’t bright for Facebook either, and they are expected to see a declining trend in US time spent on the platform, a study reveals.

A report published by eMarketer showed that the average time spent on the social media giant declined by 3 minutes in 2018 and is expected to continue decreasing until 2021 — where it is predicted to plateau.

This year, US Adult Facebook users will spend only 38 minutes per day browsing the site, which is down by two minutes in the company’s previous forecast. Furthermore, they expect that by 2020, the average time spent will drop more to 37 minutes per day.

“Facebook’s continued loss of younger adult users, along with its focus on downranking clickbait posts and videos in favor of those that create ‘time well spent,’ resulted in less daily time spent on the platform in 2018 than we had previously expected,” eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson said. “Less time spent on Facebook translates into fewer chances for marketers to reach the network’s users.”

For spectators, a few minutes drop in time spending among American may not be significant, but it is a very alarming trend for Facebook whose business depends mainly on advertising and ad revenues. Analysts argue that since the US is one of Facebook’s most lucrative market, a decline in the engagement level in the tech giant’s flagship service may force advertisers to use other advertising platforms.

Nonetheless, the future of Facebook may depend on Instagram soon as engagement levels are on an increasing trend. Average daily time on the Facebook-owned platform will reach 27 minutes this year among US adult users. And time spent will increase by 1 minute every year through 2021, according to the researchers.

“Features like Stories, influencer content and video are all contributing to more engagement and a slow but steady uptick in time spent on Instagram,” Williamson said.

App “family metrics” will be published; no more Facebook-only numbers

According to some people knowledgeable on the matter, it could also be the reason for Facebook’s decision to stop communicating their engagement data to the public. Besides, having bad data is also similar to having no business at all.

Instead, according to Facebook, it will start publishing collective metrics for its “family” of apps, which includes Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

“Over time, we expect family metrics will play the primary role in how we talk about our company, and we will eventually phase out Facebook-only community metrics,” Facebook’s CFO Dave Wehner said during the call.

Facebook is probably doing this to project growth even if the growth of Facebook (the social media platform) is on the decline and the growth of other platforms such as Instagram may compensate for the bad numbers in Facebook’s arsenal.

Controversy after controversy

Analysts and researchers posit that Facebook’s shrinking numbers are affected by a series of controversies over security that the company has faced in the last few years. The tech giant has been repeatedly slammed for their failure to protect their users’ privacy in different occasions.

Only recently, a study published by Consumer Reports suggests that there are a lot of Facebook users who can’t turn off the facial recognition feature and cannot prevent the social media network from using the technology to identify their faces in the platform. According to CR, they have found out that eight out of the 31 test accounts that they used in the study does not have an option to turn off facial recognition. As an implication, it is possible that there are more users out there who don’t have the same ability even if the researchers have noted that they are still unsure whether there are others.

Furthermore, the growing number of fake news and fake accounts used for political motives also dissuades users from using Facebook as often as they used to. Even if the company has renewed its commitment to end the swath of fake news and fake profiles on its platform, the problem persist and the perception of people over the way the company is handling the problem does not change.

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Company Denies “Unethical” Collection Of IG Influencer Data Following Online Exposure

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The company accused of exposing personal info of celebrities and IG influencers said that they did not get the data from "unethical" sources but researchers don't agree.

Chtrbox, the Indian marketing and promotions company accused of sourcing millions of celebrities and Instagram influencers illegally and exposing the database online, denied the allegations that they unethically sourced the data in the discovered leaked data pool.

In late May, a tech researcher found an exposed database containing the personal and private information of millions of celebrities, social media influencers, and brand accounts from Instagram. Following an investigation conducted by the researcher, it was determined to be owned by an Indian marketing company named Chtrbox, which is selling services such as marketing promotions with influencers as well as sponsored ads.

Recently, the company in question responded the allegations made by tech researcher Anurag Sen from Twitter and said that they did not purposely or recklessly leaked the said data, but instead, a third party inadvertently exposed the data.

“The reports on a leak of private data are inaccurate. A particular database for limited influencers was inadvertently exposed for approximately 72 hours,” said the company’s official statement regarding the incident.

But this claim has been debunked by the original reporter of the data breach. Zack Whittaker, a journalist from TechCrunch, through his Twitter account, said that the breach had been discovered since May 14 and the claim that the breach lasted for only 72 hours is “inaccurate.”

Each record in the database contained publicly listed data scraped from influencer, celebrity, and brand Instagram accounts including their bio, profile picture, their follower count, verification status, and their location by city and country. However, the database also contained private contact information, including email address and phone number.

Several high profile influencers and celebrities were found in the database, including some prominent beauty and fashion bloggers, food bloggers, celebrities, and other famous social media influencers. According to Whittaker, he contacted several people on the list at random whose information was found in the database, and some of them indeed replied, confirming that some – or most – of the data contained in the database are actual data scraped from their Instagram accounts.

The report revealed that each record, aside from public and personal information of the account owner, also includes an estimated worth of each account, factored by the number of followers they have, the engagement level they receive, the width of their reach, likes, and shares they had. The calculation was used as a metric to determine how much to pay an influencer to post a sponsored content on their account as an ad.

However, the company also denies this claim saying that private information was not taken unethically.

“The database did not include any sensitive personal data and only contained information available from the public domain, or self-reported by influencers. We would also like to affirm that no personal data has been sourced through unethical means by Chtrbox. Our database is for internal research use only, we have never sold individual data or our database, and we have never purchased hacked data resulting from social media platform breaches. Our use of our database is limited to help our team connect with the right influencers to support influencers to monetize their online presence, and help brands create great content,” the company added.

Another tech researcher chimed in the discussion on Twitter saying that it is possible that the database entries were taken from a February 2019 Instagram breach that he previously reported. He said that not only did the exposure started from May 14th, but even since December 2018.

David Stier, a cybersecurity researcher, said that even after Instagram fixed the exposure following his report, phone numbers and email addresses of IG accounts were still visible on many accounts in the Instagram app.

Another tech researcher chimed in the discussion on Twitter saying that it is possible that the database entries were taken from a February 2019 Instagram breach that he previously reported. He said that not only did the exposure started from May 14th, but even since December 2018. David Stier, a cybersecurity researcher, said that even after Instagram fixed the exposure following his report, phone numbers and email addresses of IG accounts were still visible on many accounts in the Instagram app.

Until now, it is still unclear how Chtrbox gathered the data. The original theory was regarding the IG breach, something that the company has also denied in its statements.

Meanwhile, in a statement made by Facebook following the disclosure of the database said that the company is investigating the matter.

“We’re looking into the issue to understand if the data described – including email and phone numbers – was from Instagram or other sources,” said an updated statement. “We’re also inquiring with Chtrbox to understand where this data came from and how it became publicly available,” the social media giant said in a statement.

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