By 2018, it was clear that Pinterest suffered from a problem many of its peers had long dealt with. Because most people are vaccinated and do not spend their free time making pro-vaccine content for social networks, a search for “vaccines” on Pinterest returned anti-vaccination results 75 percent of the time. The consequences of vaccine-related misinformation taking over Pinterest and other, larger social networks is not theoretical: measles has had a scary resurgence around the world,and the World Health Organization now lists vaccine hesitancy as a top-10 threat to global health.
While the other big platforms dithered, Pinterest took decisive action: it stopped returning results for vaccine searches. “It’s better not to serve those results than to lead people down what is like a recommendation rabbit hole,” Ifeoma Ozoma, Pinterest’s public policy and social impact manager, told the Wall Street Journal: As I wrote here at the time:
If you want to know what taking care of your community looks like — if you want to know what social responsibility for a tech platform looks like — it looks a lot like what Ozoma is saying right there.
Today, Pinterest took another worthy step in the same of social responsibility. It’s enabling search results for 200 vaccine-related terms, but serving results from results displayed from credible public health organizations, including the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics and Vaccine Safety Net. Julia Carrie Wong explains the move in the Guardian:
The platform will also bar advertisements, recommendations and comments on those pages.
“It was really important for us to make sure that this experience doesn’t allow any misinformation to seep in,” said Ifeoma Ozoma, public policy and social impact manager for Pinterest. “You’re not going to end up in a situation where you click on a trustworthy pin and the recommendations or comments are full of misinformation.”
Under significant pressure from Congress, Facebook and Google/YouTube have taken steps to reduce the spread of anti-vaccine propaganda on their networks. But public health experts say that none has gone so far, or will likely be as effective, as Pinterest’s move here.
Pinterest’s action is only possible because its executives made an editorial decision: that anti-vaccine misinformation is harmful to their user base and the larger world. They took the consensus view of the scientific establishment and acted, in Mark Zuckerberg parlance, as “arbiters of truth.”
The larger the tech platform, the more worrisome it is when they exert editorial power. We probably don’t want a service that has become our national communications infrastructure to endorse political candidates, for example.
And yet the past few years have repeatedly shown us the consequences of head-in-the-sand neutrality. Denuding platforms of human editors while entrusting recommendations to algorithms has been a boon to bad actors of all kinds, from anti-vaccine zealots to foreign agents. There is clearly a place for editorial judgment — for being that arbiter of truth — and the social platforms are now groping for it.
It’s likely no coincidence that the boldest action we have seen on vaccines to date comes from one of the smallest social platforms, in terms of its user base and public prominence. If you’re Facebook, or YouTube, every policy decision is an act of international diplomacy. It’s a negotiation with the press and with the stock market. It’s an electrified rail, to be touched rarely and with safety gloves.
But if you’re Pinterest — well, no one ever really knew what to expect from you on the policy front anyway. Out of the spotlight, you can act decisively, and with moral clarity. (Notably, Ozoma worked at Google and Facebook before coming to Pinterest.) As the world considers breaking up the world’s biggest social platforms, Pinterest’s contribution to public health today makes a good case for smallness.
⭐ Facebook is adding new requirements for political advertisers. This is a good thing. From my story in The Verge:
Facebook is adding new requirements for political advertisers, the company said on Wednesday, as part of its efforts to make the platform more secure in the run-up to the 2020 election. Before buying a political ad, advertisers will need to provide more information about their organization, including government-issued identification numbers. The move, which will take effect in mid-September, comes in response to some advertisers usingmisleading names in their disclaimers in order to disguise their identities.
“In 2018 we did see that our disclaimer process was something that could be misused,” Sarah Schiff, a Facebook product manager, told The Verge. “This is an effort to strengthen that process.”
Today’s changes mark an evolution in the political ad disclosure requirements that Facebook introduced last year. Beginning last spring, the company began to require anyone buying political advertising to verify their identity and location. Now they will have to go a step further, offering proof they’re part of the organization they say they represent.
Democratic senators warn that Messenger Kids isn’t safe for children in a new letter to Facebook related to the security flaw discovered last month. (Russell Brandom / The Verge)
The US government is trying to block the construction of an undersea cable financed by Google and Facebook and meant to provide internet connectivity. The Justice Department has raised national security concerns over the fact that the cable has ties to the Chinese government. More than 8,000 miles of cable have already been laid. (Kate O’Keeffe, Drew FitzGerald, and Jeremy Page / Wall Street Journal)
Germany’s data protection commissioner is investigating Facebook’s use of humans listening to users’ audio recordings to improve voice transcriptions. It’s one of several companies that were caught recently doing something like this, typically with minimal disclosure to the affected users. (Aoife White and Natalia Drozdiak / Bloomberg)
A Marine urges tech company employees to work with the Pentagon to build better technology. “Instead of pressuring their leadership to withdraw support from the American service member, tech workers could pressure them to add the just application of American power to their list of lobbying efforts that includes retaining extensive access to their fellow citizens’ private data and tightening their monopoly grip on the dissemination of information,” Lucas Kunce writes. (New York Times)
”Since the El Paso shooting, police have arrested more than 20 people who allegedly made threats of violence on social media.” (April Glaser / Slate)
Taiwan is electing a president in January, and there are signs that China is seeking to influence the vote using social media platforms. (Stanford Internet Observatory)
⭐ Apple apologized for privacy lapses related to having human contractors listen to Siri recordings to improve transcription. And unlike every other company caught doing this recently, Apple is rolling out meaningful (and expensive) changes to Siri’s pribacy policy:
First, by default, we will no longer retain audio recordings of Siri interactions. We will continue to use computer-generated transcripts to help Siri improve.
Second, users will be able to opt in to help Siri improve by learning from the audio samples of their requests. We hope that many people will choose to help Siri get better, knowing that Apple respects their data and has strong privacy controls in place. Those who choose to participate will be able to opt out at any time.
Third, when customers opt in, only Apple employees will be allowed to listen to audio samples of the Siri interactions. Our team will work to delete any recording which is determined to be an inadvertent trigger of Siri.
BuzzFeed uncovered a network of foreign sites falsely presenting themselves as Canadian news sources on Facebook and Google News, for unclear reasons. They’re actually run by accounts based in Kosovo, Israel, and the United States, and have been used to spread false or misleading information. (Craig Silverman and Jane Lytvynenko / BuzzFeed)
Unlinking your Facebook account from your Instagram account doesn’t actually, uh, unlink your Facebook account from your Instagram account. (Paris Martineau / Wired)
The Notorious JMW finds that Facebook is testing a clone of Squad, a screen-sharing app that lets you view your friend’s phone through your own. (Jane Manchun Wong)
If you’re tired of raising your small child, YouTube Kids has now introduced a filtered version of the app for preschoolers. Feels like really strange timing to introduce this one no?
Gamergate tactics have come to the podcast industry, with angry fans now coordinating to bombard podcast hosts with one-star reviews. (Ashley Carman / The Verge)
While Libra founders, Telegram’s “Gram” is moving forward. (Nathaniel Popper / New York Times)
I have no idea what to make of this wild story about an Instagram influencer who may or may not be being blackmailed by an anonymous content moderator at the Tampa facility I wrote about earlier this year. (Jesselyn Cook /HuffPost)
How Foursquare finally found success: by abandoning everything that people once liked about it to become a surveillance marketing company. It will make $100 million this year from your location data. (James D. Walsh / New York)
AND FINALLY …
While Pinterest focuses on getting people accurate health information about vaccines, Twitter is … doing Twitter things.
Advertisers can’t just say “vagina” on Twitter, as a publisher learned the hard way this week in attempting to promote The Vagina Bible, a medical book on vaginal health by gynecologist Jen Gunter. The publisher told VICE it was prevented from promoting a tweet linking an interview with Dr. Gunter on “vaginal health” and another with the language, “the definitive book for understanding your vaginal health!” Another promoted tweet about the book, stating “It’s time to separate the myth from the medicine with everyone’s favorite OBGYN!” was also removed.
Twitter prohibits promotional tweets about “adult sexual products and services,” but in a statement to VICE, a Twitter spokesperson wrote that “references to sexual organs” are permitted, and some of Kensington Books’ promoted content was confusingly nonetheless rejected due to “a combination of human error and violations, including the use of profanity and adult products.”