Jessica Guynn

Race and class divide: Black and Hispanic service workers are tech's growing underclass

A new and growing underclass is working inside some of the world's wealthiest companies. They push mops and clean toilets. They cook and serve gourmet lunches. They patrol suburban office parks. They ferry technology workers to and from their jobs in luxury shuttle buses. But they are not on the payroll at Apple, Facebook or Google, companies famous for showering their workers with six-figure salaries, stock options and perks. Instead they are employed by outside contractors. And they say the bounty from the technology boom is not trickling down to them. 

Facebook while black: Users call it getting 'Zucked,' say talking about racism is censored as hate speech

Black activists say hate speech policies and content moderation systems formulated by a company built by and dominated by white men fail the very people Facebook claims it's trying to protect. Not only are the voices of marginalized groups disproportionately stifled, Facebook rarely takes action on repeated reports of racial slurs, violent threats and harassment campaigns targeting black users, they say. Many of these users now think twice before posting updates on Facebook or they limit how widely their posts are shared.

Who paid for that political ad in your Facebook feed? It's not always easy to figure out

Who was trying to influence your vote in the midterm elections? On Facebook, it was not always easy to find out.  Political advertisers are required to fill in a field that says who paid for the message in your news feed, but that does not necessarily tell you who they or their backers are. Entities can write whatever they want in that field as long as it's not deceptive or misleading. A growing number of Facebook ads in the run-up to the election took advantage of that loophole to obscure or conceal the identity and political motives of who paid for them – and Facebook did not catch it.

Facebook takes down ads mentioning African-Americans and Hispanics, calling them political

Dozens of advertisements removed from Facebook for being political ahead of the November midterm elections did not appear to express any political view. The ads from businesses, universities, nonprofits and other organizations did seem to have something in common: They mentioned "African-American," "Latino," "Hispanic," "Mexican," "women," "LGBT" or were written in Spanish. Even offers of free delivery from Chipotle Mexican Grill were mislabeled as political.

News publishers protest Facebook's new political ad rules

Major news organizations raised objections to Facebook's plans to treat ads promoting political news coverage the same as political advocacy ads. Under changes Facebook will roll out May 22 aimed at combating the spread of political misinformation, all Facebook ads featuring political content will get a “Paid for by” label and would carry a disclaimer. Publishers say these new rules are too broad. These political messaging labels would also appear on "sponsored" posts that news organizations buy to amplify the reach of an article or video on the political news of the day.

After Facebook hearings, users want to know: who's protecting my data?

"Who’s going to protect us from Facebook?" asked Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) at a House Commerce Committee hearing April 11. There's currently very little recourse for Facebook users whose privacy was breached by the Cambridge Analytica leak, says Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "The reason we need privacy laws is precisely because individuals lose control over their personal information when it is transferred to a business," Rotenberg said. "Privacy laws help ensure personal data is used only for its intended purpose."

Google starts flagging offensive content in search results

With growing criticism over misinformation in search results, Google is taking a harder look at potentially "upsetting" or "offensive" content, tapping humans to aid its computer algorithms to deliver more factually accurate and less inflammatory results. The humans are Google's 10,000 independent contractors who work as what Google calls quality raters. They are given searches based on real queries to score the results, and they operate based on guidelines provided by Google.

On March 14 they were handed a new one: to hunt for "Upsetting-Offensive" content such as hate or violence against a group of people, racial slurs or offensive terminology, graphic violence including animal cruelty or child abuse or explicit information about harmful activities such as human trafficking, according to guidelines posted by Google. The goal: to steer people with queries such as "did the Holocaust happen" to trustworthy websites and not to websites that engage in falsehoods or hate speech.

Facebook begins flagging 'disputed' (fake) news

Facebook has begun flagging fake news. Or as Facebook calls it: "disputed" news. A warning label is being slapped on articles that clearly have no basis in fact or reality — at least some of them. The giant social network first promised to roll out a "disputed" tag in December. Among the disputed offenders that people spotted on Facebook: A fictionalized story "Trump's Android Device Believed To Be Source of Recent White House Leaks" from a fictional publication "The Seattle Tribune." The story carried a disputed label with links to fact-checking services that explained why it was not true. The website has a disclaimer that it is a "news and entertainment satire web publication." But the story fooled people anyway.

The "disputed" tag is part of Facebook's grand plan to crack down on fake news as the company tries to tamp down the controversy over its role in the spread of misinformation that sharpened political divisions and inflamed discourse during and after the presidential election.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg publishes manifesto to save the world

Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook will move beyond connecting family and friends to building "social infrastructure" critical to bringing people together in a "global community." In a nearly 5,800-word letter to Facebook users published on his Facebook page, Zuckerberg laid out his vision of what kind of world he believes Facebook can help create as it pushes back against a growing tide of anti-globalization sentiment. The letter comes as Facebook is besieged by criticism that it drove people apart by helping spread hyperpartisan misinformation and creating filter bubbles for people who share the same beliefs during the bitterly divisive presidential election. The tone is a significant departure from Zuckerberg's initial rejection of the idea that misleading or fabricated news articles on Facebook influenced the outcome of the election. Though the letter is long on utopian ideals, it's short on actual details. Zuckerberg broadly says Facebook will heal growing division by focusing on key areas such as tools to build more inclusive online communities and tools that help encourage more civic engagement and push people to become more informed consumers of news.

Facebook inks research deal with 17 universities

Facebook’s secretive lab Building 8 has signed a collaboration deal with 17 universities to speed up the research cycle for hardware and software. Building 8, headed by former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency chief and Google executive Regina Dugan, has entered into a "Sponsored Academic Research Agreement."

That means Facebook can get new research projects launched in weeks, bypassing the nine to 12 months it usually takes, Dugan said. Facebook is hoping to tap "the best research minds in the world" to speed up product development, Dugan said. The academic institutions, which include Stanford, Harvard and MIT will be paid a fee by Facebook.