We’ve been getting criticism for holding an internal report until it was more favorable for us and then releasing it. Getting criticism isn’t unfair. But it’s worth taking a closer look -- and making note of some of the components of the story.
Facebook admitted this evening that a post that cast doubt on covid-19 vaccine was most popular on the platform from January through March. www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/08/21/facebook-coronavirus-vaccine/
A news story suggesting the COVID-19 vaccine may have been involved in a doctor's death was the most viewed link on Facebook in the U.S. in the first three months of the year. But Facebook held back from publishing a report with that information. www.npr.org/2021/08/21/1030038616/facebooks-most-viewed-article-in-early-2021-raised-doubt-about-covid-vaccine
🚨 🚨 🚨 Facebook says post that cast doubt on covid-19 vaccine was most popular on the platform from January through March www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/08/21/facebook-coronavirus-vaccine/
The company initially withheld the Q1 report and released a sunnier Q2 version
As first reported by the New York Times, which obtained a copy of the Q1 report before Facebook released it, the most-viewed link on Facebook between January and March of this year was a since-updated news story that suggested a Florida doctor’s death may be linked to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Facebook policy communications manager Andy Stone tweeted Saturday that the criticism Facebook received for not releasing the report “wasn’t unfair,” but tried to unpack the complexities of how it handled that most-viewed link:
“News outlets wrote about the south Florida doctor that died. When the coroner released a cause of death, the Chicago Tribune appended an update to its original story; NYTimes did not. Would it have been right to remove the Times story because it was COVID misinfo?” Stone tweeted. “Of course not. No one is actually suggesting this and neither am I. But it does illustrate just how difficult it is to define misinformation.”
Stone said Facebook had withheld the January-March report “because there were key fixes to the system we wanted to make.” He didn’t elaborate further on what those fixes were, but tweeted a link to the Q1 report.
On the question of the unreleased report from earlier this year and why we held it. We ended up holding it because there were key fixes to the system we wanted to make.
What Facebook released on August 18th was a report showing the most-viewed content in its public News Feed from April to June, its second quarter. It offers a rosier picture of the company; the most-viewed post in Q2 was a word puzzle that invited users to pick out the first three words they saw. The second most-viewed Facebook post between April and June asked users over 30 to post a picture of themselves if they looked young. The most-viewed domains included YouTube, UNICEF, Spotify, and CBS News. Among the top ten most-viewed links on Facebook in Q2 were a GIF of kittens, and a UNICEF response page for India’s COVID-19 crisis.
It’s not totally clear why Facebook decided to release these reports of popular content at all, but criticism of the platform’s handling of misleading COVID-19 information has been mounting in recent weeks. The Biden administration has urged Facebook and other social media platforms to do a better job at dealing with misleading or false information about COVID-19 vaccines on their sites.
Another possible motivation for Facebook’s new “transparency” reports is likely the work of New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose who last year began using Facebook-owned content analytics platform CrowdTangle to compile and publish daily lists of the top-performing US Facebook pages, lists which frequently included pages dedicated to former President Trump, and right-leaning pundits like Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino. The lists were reportedly a source of irritation for Facebook.
Facebook did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Sunday morning. You can read the full Q1 content transparency report below.
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21 August, 2021 - 08:15pm
The Washington Post reported Saturday that Facebook acknowledged as much after a week where it shared some information about what’s popular on the social media network. Earlier in the week, Facebook detailed some of the most shared and liked content on the site in the months of April and June of 2021, highlighting that instead of right-wing pundits that content was about Aaron Rodgers and online CBD. But that disclosure made skeptics wonder why the company wasn’t sharing information about other months.
And on Saturday, Facebook revealed details about what was popular during other months of the year: coronavirus misinformation.
Facebook said Saturday evening that an article raising concerns that the coronavirus vaccine could lead to death was the top performing link on its platform from January through March of this year, acknowledging the widespread reach of such material for the first time.
It also said another site that pushed covid-19 misinformation was also among the top 20 most visited pages on the platform.
All this comes weeks after president Joe Biden said that Facebook was “killing people” by spreading misinformation not properly moderated by Facebook. The article has full details about what Facebook revealed, but it’s another reminder that the site has amplified some of the worst parts of anti-vaccine skepticism that’s prolonged the pandemic and helped keep wide swaths of the population unvaccinated despite overwhelming evidence that it’s safe, effective and life-saving for millions of people.
[via Washington Post]
20 August, 2021 - 05:39pm
Earlier this week, Facebook released a quarterly report on the most-viewed posts shared on the platform, but the Times reports that the company "had prepared a similar report for the first three months of the year, but executives never shared it with the public because of concerns that it would look bad for the company."
In fact, according to the Times, the Facebook report revealed that "the most-viewed link was a news article with a headline suggesting that the coronavirus vaccine was at fault for the death of a Florida doctor."
And that wasn't the only troubling part.
"The report also showed that a Facebook page for The Epoch Times, an anti-China newspaper that spreads right-wing conspiracy theories, was the 19th-most-popular page on the platform for the first three months of 2021," The Times reported. "The report was nearing public release when some executives, including Alex Schultz, Facebook's vice president of analytics and chief marketing officer, debated whether it would cause a public relations problem, according to the internal emails. The company decided to shelve it."
The shelved report noted the extent to which the story on the deceased doctor spread.
"This link was viewed by nearly 54 million Facebook accounts in the United States. Many commenters on the post raised questions about the vaccines' safety," the newspaper reported. "Six of the top 20 sharers came from public Facebook pages that regularly post anti-vaccination content on Facebook, according to data from CrowdTangle, a social media analytics firm owned by Facebook. Other top sharers of the story included Filipino Facebook pages supporting President Rodrigo Duterte, a pro-Israel Facebook group and a page called 'Just the Facts,' which described itself as 'putting out the Truth even when the media won't.'"
The Taliban militants of Afghanistan have grown richer and more powerful since their fundamentalist Islamic regime was toppled by U.S. forces in 2001.
In the fiscal year that ended in March 2020, the Taliban reportedly brought in US$1.6 billion, according to Mullah Yaqoob, son of the late Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who revealed the Taliban's income sources in a confidential report commissioned by NATO and later obtained by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
In comparison, the Afghan government brought in $5.55 billion during the same period.
I study the Taliban's finances as an economic policy analyst at the Center for Afghanistan Studies. Here's where their money comes from.
Afghanistan accounted for approximately 84% of global opium production over the five years ending in 2020, according to the United Nation's World Drug Report 2020.
Much of those illicit drug profits go to the Taliban, which manage opium in areas under their control. The group imposes a 10% tax on every link in the drug production chain, according to a 2008 report from the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent research organization in Kabul. That includes the Afghan farmers who cultivate poppy, the main ingredient in opium, the labs that convert it into a drug and the traders who move the final product out of country.
Afghan farmers harvest opium sap from a poppy field in the Darra-i-Nur District of Nangarhar province May 10.
Mining iron ore, marble, copper, gold, zinc and other metals and rare-earth minerals in mountainous Afghanistan is an increasingly lucrative business for the Taliban. Both small-scale mineral-extraction operations and big Afghan mining companies pay Taliban militants to allow them to keep their businesses running. Those who don't pay have faced death threats.
According to the Taliban's Stones and Mines Commission, or Da Dabaro Comisyoon, the group earns $400 million a year from mining. NATO estimates that figure higher, at $464 million – up from just $35 million in 2016.
Like a government, the Taliban tax people and industries in the growing swath of Afghanistan under their control. They even issue official receipts of tax payment.
“Taxed" industries include mining operations, media, telecommunications and development projects funded by international aid. Drivers are also charged for using highways in Taliban-controlled regions, and shopkeepers pay the Taliban for the right to do business.
The group also imposes a traditional Islamic form of taxation called “ushr" – which is a 10% tax on a farmer's harvest – and “zakat," a 2.5% wealth tax.
Since some of those taxed are poppy growers, there could be some financial overlap between tax revenue and drug revenue.
The Taliban receive covert financial contributions from private donors and international institutions across the globe.
Many Taliban donations are from charities and private trusts located in Persian Gulf countries, a region historically sympathetic to the group's religious insurgency. Those donations add up to about $150 million to $200 million each year, according to the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies. These charities are on the U.S. Treasury Department's list of groups that finance terrorism.
Private citizens from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and some Persian Gulf nations also help finance the Taliban, contributing another $60 million annually to the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, according to American counterterrorism agencies.
The Taliban's insurgency has destabilized Afghanistan for nearly 20 years.
In part to launder illicit money, the Taliban import and export various everyday consumer goods, according to the United Nations Security Council. Known business affiliates include the multinational Noorzai Brothers Limited, which imports auto parts and sells reassembled vehicles and spare automobile parts.
The Taliban's net income from exports is thought to be around $240 million a year. This figure includes the export of poppy and looted minerals, so there may be financial overlap with drug revenue and mining revenue.
The Taliban own real estate in Afghanistan, Pakistan and potentially other countries, according to Mullah Yaqoob and the Pakistani TV Channel SAMAA. Yaqoob told NATO annual real estate revenue is around $80 million.
According to BBC reporting, a classified CIA report estimated in 2008 that the Taliban had received $106 million from foreign sources, in particular from the Gulf states.
Today, the governments of Russia, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are all believed to bankroll the Taliban, according to numerous U.S. and international sources. Experts say these funds could amount to as much as $500 million a year, but it is difficult to put an exact figure on this income stream.
For nearly 20 years, the Taliban's great wealth has financed mayhem, destruction and death in Afghanistan. To battle its insurgency, the Afghan government also spends heavily on war, often at the expense of basic public services and economic development.
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A peace agreement in Afghanistan would allow the government to redirect its scarce resources. The government might also see substantial new revenue flow in from legal sectors now dominated by the Taliban, such as mining.
There are many reasons to root for peace in war-scarred Afghanistan. Its financial health is one of them.
Yesterday, I told you about the real fault line within the GOP and how the Democrats are hammering it to its breaking point by speaking the truth. While the GOP's radicals don't mind you knowing about its informal network of paramilitaries waiting to spring into action, its leaders and old guard would rather you didn't know. Right-wing violence exposes covert efforts to make authoritarianism nice and legal.
Don't lose hope, I said. The GOP's authoritarian takeover depends on its ability to balance both camps and their irreconcilable desires. One wants open violence while the other condemns it knowing the party's attempts to nullify democracy by way of state laws rigging elections would be exposed for what they are. Meanwhile, the Democrats are knocking the GOP off-balance by speaking truthfully. Recently House Democratic Majority Whip Jim Clyburn told Roll Call: "Call it what it is. Use the word: nullification. It is voter nullification" (my stress).
Today, I want to bring Hussein Ibish into the conversation. He's a scholar at Washington's Arab Gulf States Institute. He writes for a bevy of publications, including Bloomberg and the Times. For The Atlantic, he wrote about the link between violent rhetoric and real violence. The difference between them, Ibish said, is merely a matter of time.
"Decades of living in, studying, and writing about the Middle East have taught me that whenever a political faction becomes obsessed with violent rhetoric and fantasies, brutal acts aren't far behind."
I think Ibish is correct in saying that "while there's always been a strain of militancy on the American right and left fringes, there is something unmistakably new, and profoundly alarming, about the casual, florid, and sadistic rhetoric that is metastasizing from the Republican fringe into the party's mainstream." He cites a spectrum of evidence, including a particularly gruesome article in The Federalist. But I think it's important to bear in mind that past rhetoric by fringe Republicans didn't feature militancy divorced from violent rhetoric. In every sense that matters politically, militancy and violent rhetoric were the same.
Environmental historian James Skillen identified the early 1990s as the start of a "more militant rhetoric [that] included the new, decidedly insurrectionist interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, namely that the founders had written the amendment precisely so that individual citizens would have guns to use against government tyrants.
When we put the history of the Republican Party's rhetoric of violence in perspective like this, it should be clear it started small, increased steadily and was punctuated by the white backlash against the first Black president and by the siege on the United States Capitol by a disgraced former president's armed paramilitaries. It seems to me that the space between violent rhetoric and violent acts can be best understood as like a mycelium that's been growing and spreading underfoot, occasionally mushrooming in the form of mass death.
What mass death? Here's where I really part ways with Hussein Ibish. He suggests violence is coming–that it will be an outcome of violent rhetoric of the gory kind illustrated by that Federalist article. But I think we have seen the violence. No, I'm not talking about the January 6 insurrection. I'm talking about pogroms no one has identified as pogroms. We have instead identified them as senseless or incoherent or insane, the bloody product of mental illness and irrational gun laws. But I have come to think of the shooting massacres the country has witnessed over a decade at a half–Sandy Hook, Charleston, Parkland and El Paso–as outcomes of a long campaign of violent rhetoric begun in the early 1990s when fringe Republicans embraced a "decidedly insurrectionist interpretation of the 2nd Amendment." The GOP's allies, inside and outside the party, have increasingly understood that the problems of democracy can and ought to be solved with a gun.
If I'm correct, this is the proper context by which to understand the Republicans' response to a once-a-century plague that will kill, before it's all over, a million Americans. Instead of a major nation-threatening crisis, it was a political opportunity. The Donald Trump administration knew at the start of the covid pandemic that it was spreading rapidly in major metro areas that were run by Democrats. Knowing this, the administration slowed its response in the belief that the enemy (the covid) of its enemy (the Democrats) was its friend. The point of violence is elimination. The coronavirus was doing all the work. Even now, the Republicans are sabotaging recovery from the pandemic in the hope that Americans will blame the current administration.
I disagree with Hussein Ibish in another significant way. "At the moment, it is a Republican disease. No one but Republicans themselves can cure it," he said. Democracy can cure it regardless of the GOP. But that requires greater awareness, helped along by the Democrats, of the Republicans' history of palling around with domestic terrorists going back to the early 1990s. That requires greater awareness of shooting massacres as political violence, as pogroms, intent on "cleansing America." That requires greater awareness of the covid pandemic being weaponized by the Republican Party to achieve its political goals. Violence comes in all shapes and sizes. But we have to call it what it is. Breaking the GOP's fault line demands we all of us speak the truth.
Of all the hazards that hurricanes bring, storm surge is the greatest threat to life and property along the coast. It can sweep homes off their foundations, flood riverside communities miles inland, and break up dunes and levees that normally protect coastal areas against storms.
As a hurricane reaches the coast, it pushes a huge volume of ocean water ashore. This is what we call storm surge.
This surge appears as a gradual rise in the water level as the storm approaches. Depending on the size and track of the hurricane, storm surge flooding can last for several hours. It then recedes after the storm passes.
Water level heights during a hurricane can reach 20 feet or more above normal sea level. With powerful waves on top of it, a hurricane's storm surge can cause catastrophic damage.
Storm surge begins over the open ocean. The strong winds of a hurricane push the ocean waters around and cause water to pile up under the storm. The low air pressure of the storm also plays a small role in lifting the water level. The height and extent of this pile of water depend on the strength and size of the hurricane.
As this pile of water moves toward the coast, other factors can change its height and extent.
The depth of the sea floor is one factor.
If a coastal area has a sea floor that gently slopes away from the coastline, it's more likely to see a higher storm surge than an area with a steeper drop-off. Gentle slopes along the Louisiana and Texas coasts have contributed to some devastating storm surges. Hurricane Katrina's surge in 2005 broke levees and flooded New Orleans. Hurricane Ike's 15- to 17-foot storm surge and waves swept hundreds of homes off Texas' Bolivar Peninsula in 2008. Both were large, powerful storms that hit in vulnerable locations.
The shape of the coastline can also shape the surge. When storm surge enters a bay or river, the geography of the land can act as a funnel, sending the water even higher.
Ocean tides – caused by the gravity of the moon and sun – can also strengthen or weaken the impact of storm surge. So, it's important to know the timing of the local tides compared to the hurricane landfall.
At high tide, the water is already at an elevated height. If landfall happens at high tide, the storm surge will cause even higher water levels and bring more water further inland. The Carolinas saw those effects when Hurricane Isaias hit at close to high tide on Aug. 3, 2020. Isaias brought a storm surge of about 4 feet at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, but the water level was more than 10 feet above normal.
How storm surge and high tide add up to coastal flooding.
Sea level rise is another growing concern that influences storm surge.
As water warms, it expands, and that has slowly raised sea level over the past century as global temperatures have risen. Freshwater from melting of ice sheets and glaciers also adds to sea level rise. Together, they elevate the background ocean height. When a hurricane arrives, the higher ocean means storm surge can bring water further inland, to a more dangerous and widespread effect.
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20 August, 2021 - 05:08pm
The company praised itself this week for being “the most transparent platform on the internet.”
When Facebook this week released its first quarterly report about the most viewed posts in the United States, Guy Rosen, its vice president of integrity, said the social network had undertaken “a long journey” to be “by far the most transparent platform on the internet.” The list showed that the posts with the most reach tended to be innocuous content like recipes and cute animals.
Facebook had prepared a similar report for the first three months of the year, but executives never shared it with the public because of concerns that it would look bad for the company, according to internal emails sent by executives and shared with The New York Times.
In that report, a copy of which was provided to The Times, the most-viewed link was a news article with a headline suggesting that the coronavirus vaccine was at fault for the death of a Florida doctor. The report also showed that a Facebook page for The Epoch Times, an anti-China newspaper that spreads right-wing conspiracy theories, was the 19th-most-popular page on the platform for the first three months of 2021.
The report was nearing public release when some executives, including Alex Schultz, Facebook’s vice president of analytics and chief marketing officer, debated whether it would cause a public relations problem, according to the internal emails. The company decided to shelve it.
“We considered making the report public earlier,” said Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, “but since we knew the attention it would garner, exactly as we saw this week, there were fixes to the system we wanted to make.”
Mr. Stone said Mr. Schultz had advocated releasing the original report but eventually agreed with the recommendation to hold off. Facebook released the report on Saturday after the publication of this story.
Facebook did not say why it decided to produce a popularity report, but it has faced increasing scrutiny over the data it shares with the government and the public, particularly over misinformation about the virus and vaccines. The criticism has escalated as cases from the Delta variant of the coronavirus surged. The White House has called on the company to share more information about false and misleading information on the site, and to do a better job of stopping its spread. Last month, President Biden accused the company of “killing people” by allowing false information to circulate widely, a statement the White House later softened. Other federal agencies have accused Facebook of withholding key data.
Facebook has pushed back, publicly accusing the White House of scapegoating the company for the administration’s failure to reach its vaccination goals. Executives at Facebook, including Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, have said the platform has been aggressively removing Covid-19 misinformation since the start of the pandemic. The company said it had removed over 18 million pieces of misinformation in that period.
But Brian Boland, a former vice president of product marketing at Facebook, said there was plenty of reason to be skeptical about data collected and released by a company that has had a history of protecting its own interests.
“You can’t trust a report that is curated by a company and designed to combat a press narrative rather than real meaningful transparency,” Mr. Boland said. “It’s up to regulators and government officials to bring us that transparency.”
In this week’s report, which covered public content viewed in Facebook’s News Feed from April 1 to June 30, popular links included local news stories, a cat GIF and a Green Bay Packers alumni website. Popular posts, which were seen by tens of millions of accounts, included viral question-and-answer prompts and memes.
Most of the company’s draft report, like the one Facebook released on Wednesday, showed that the 20 most-viewed links on Facebook in the United States were to nonpolitical content, like recipe sites and stories about the United Nations Children’s Fund.
This link was viewed by nearly 54 million Facebook accounts in the United States. Many commenters on the post raised questions about the vaccines’ safety. Six of the top 20 sharers came from public Facebook pages that regularly post anti-vaccination content on Facebook, according to data from CrowdTangle, a social media analytics firm owned by Facebook. Other top sharers of the story included Filipino Facebook pages supporting President Rodrigo Duterte, a pro-Israel Facebook group and a page called “Just the Facts,” which described itself as “putting out the Truth even when the media won’t.”
Months later, the medical examiner’s report said there wasn’t enough evidence to say whether the vaccine contributed to the doctor’s death. Far fewer people on Facebook saw that update.
The 19th-most-popular page on the social network in the earlier report was “Trending World” by the Epoch Times, a publication that has promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory and spread misleading claims about voter fraud before the 2020 presidential election. The Epoch Times is barred from advertising on Facebook because of its repeated violations of the platform’s political advertising policy.
Trending World, according to the report, was viewed by 81.4 million accounts, slightly fewer than the 18th-most-popular page, Fox News, which had 81.7 million content viewers for the first three months of 2021.
Facebook’s transparency report released on Wednesday also showed that an Epoch Times subscription link was among the most viewed in the United States. With some 44.2 million accounts seeing the link in April, May and June, it was about half as popular as Trending World in the shelved report.