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‘Techlash’ Hits College Campuses

In 2006, Google bought YouTube for more than $1 billion, Apple was preparing to announce the first iPhone, and the American housing bubble began to deflate. Claire Stapleton, then a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, faced the same question over and over: What did she plan to do with that English degree? She flirted, noncommittally, with Teach for America.

Then, a Google recruiter came to campus and, Ms. Stapleton said, she “won ‘American Idol.’” The company flew her out to Mountain View, Calif., which felt to her “like the promised land” — 15 cafeterias, beach volleyball courts, Zumba classes, haircuts and laundry on-site.

But for Ms. Stapleton, now 34, the real appeal in a job at Google was what seemed to be a perfect balance of working for income and according to one’s conscience. Naturally, she said yes to an offer in the corporate communications department.

“There was this ambient glow of being part of a company that was changing the world,” Ms. Stapleton said. “I was totally googly-eyed about it.”

More than a decade later, college seniors and recent graduates looking for jobs that are both principled and high-paying are doing so in a world that has soured on Big Tech. The positive perceptions of Google, Facebook and other large tech firms are crumbling.

Many students still see employment in tech as a ticket to prosperity, but for job seekers who can afford to be choosy, there is a growing sentiment that Silicon Valley’s most lucrative positions aren’t worth the ethical quandaries.

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Credit…Rafael Rios for The New York Times

“Working at Google or Facebook seemed like the coolest thing ever my freshman year, because you’d get paid a ton of money but it was socially responsible,” said Chand Rajendra-Nicolucci, 21, a senior at the University of Michigan. “It was like a utopian workplace.”

Now, he said, “there’s more hesitation about the moral qualities of these jobs. It’s like how people look at Wall Street.”

The growing skepticism of Silicon Valley, sometimes referred to as the “techlash,” has spared few of technology’s major players.

In 2019, Facebook was fined nearly $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for mishandling user data. Amazon canceled its plans for a New York City headquarters after residents, union leaders and local legislators contested the idea that the behemoth should receive $3 billion from the state to set up shop. Google, in 2018, faced internal protests over its plans for a censored search engine in China and handling of sexual harassment. (High-ranking Google employees have stated that the company never planned to expand search into China, but also that plans for a China project had been “terminated.”)

The share of Americans who believe that technology companies have a positive impact on society has dropped from 71 percent in 2015 to 50 percent in 2019, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey.

At this year’s Golden Globes, Sacha Baron Cohen compared Mark Zuckerberg to the main character in “JoJo Rabbit”: a “naïve, misguided child who spreads Nazi propaganda and only has imaginary friends.”

That these attitudes are shared by undergraduates and graduate students — who are supposed to be imbued with high-minded idealism — is no surprise. In August, the reporter April Glaser wrote about campus techlash for Slate. She found that at Stanford, known for its competitive computer science program, some students said they had no interest in working for a major tech company, while others sought “to push for change from within.”

Belce Dogru, who graduated from Stanford with a degree in computer science last year and is completing a master’s program at the university, said: “There has definitely been a shift in conversation on campus.”

Stanford is the second-biggest feeder school for jobs in Silicon Valley, according to data from HiringSolved, a software company focused on recruiting. Some companies pay as much as $12,000 to advertise at the university’s computer science job fairs; recruiters at those events didn’t always have to make a hard sell.

“It felt like in my freshman year Google, Palantir and Facebook were these shiny places everyone wanted to be. It was like, ‘Wow, you work at Facebook. You must be really smart,’” said Ms. Dogru, 23. “Now if a classmate tells me they’re joining Palantir or Facebook, there’s an awkward gap where they feel like they have to justify themselves.”

Palantir, in particular, has drawn the ire of students at Stanford for providing services to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (also known as ICE).

Last summer, a campus activist group, Students for the Liberation of All People, visited the company’s office, a 15-minute walk from campus, and hung a banner nearby that read: “Our software is so powerful it separates families.” Similar protests took place at the University of California, Berkeley, Brown and Yale, according to Recode. The protests, and the attitudes they reflected, were also covered in The Los Angeles Times.

Audrey Steinkamp, a 19-year-old sophomore at Yale, which sends about 10 percent of each graduating class into tech, said that taking a job in Silicon Valley is seen as “selling out,” no different from the economics majors going into consulting who are “lovingly and not-so-lovingly called ‘snakes.’”

That is especially true, some of the students said, when a classmate chooses to work for Facebook, whose products have spread disinformation and helped influence a presidential election.

“The work you do at a place like Facebook could be harmful at a much larger scale than an investment bank,” Ms. Dogru said. “It’s in the pockets of millions of people, and it’s a source of news for millions of people. It’s working at a scary scale.”

Many students still believe that technology can help change the world for good. As Ms. Glaser put it for Slate, some of them are opting out of the Big Tech pipeline and trying, instead, “to use technical skills as an insurance policy against dystopia.”

“Students have an opportunity to look at where they can have the most impact that’s in line with their values,” said Leslie Miley, a former director of engineering at Google and Slack. “The fact of the matter is Google, Facebook, Twitter are not in line with those values because they’re huge companies beholden to a lot of different masters.”

Anna Geiduschek, a software engineer who graduated from Stanford in 2014, was working at Dropbox last year when she received an email from an Amazon Web Services recruiter. She replied that she wouldn’t consider a job with the company unless Amazon cut its contract with Palantir.

“These companies go out of their way to try and woo software engineers, and I realized it would send a powerful message for me as a potential employee to tell them no,” Ms. Geiduschek, 27, said, noting that top tech companies sometimes spend roughly $20,000 to recruit a single engineer. “You could basically cut them off at their supply.”

Her recruiter responded: “Wow I honestly had no idea. I will run this up to leadership.” Days later, Ms. Geiduschek received another template email from an Amazon hiring manager, so she scheduled a call and aired her grievances by phone.

Some engineers are sharing screenshots of their protest emails on Twitter with the hashtag #TechWontBuildIt. Jackie Luo, an engineer, sent an email to Google saying that she wouldn’t consider a job there given its plans to re-enter China with a censored search engine.

Kelly Carter, a web developer, emailed a Tesla recruiter with her concerns about the company’s anti-union tactics. Craig Chasseur, a software engineer, emailed the H.R. department at Salesforce to critique the company’s contract with ICE.

These protests echo mounting public concerns about the power of these corporations. But it’s not clear whether they have moved the needle for prospective hires.

Former recruiters for Facebook told CNBC in May that the acceptance rate for full-time engineering job offers at the company had dropped precipitously, as much as 40 percent.

After the article’s publication, Facebook disputed the figure; the company “regularly ranks high on industry lists of most attractive employers,” a spokesman said. Data published the same month by LinkedIn showed that tech firms continued to hire at high rates, especially for entry-level employees.

But at campus career centers, students are struggling with the dual, and sometimes dueling, desires for prestige and purpose.

“It started with millennials, but now Gen Z-ers are getting educated because they want to do good in the world,” said Sue Harbour, the senior associate director of the career center at the University of California, Berkeley, which is Silicon Valley’s top feeder, according to HiringSolved. “And as we’ve seen tech companies grow, we’ve also seen the need for more tech oriented to social responsibility.”

Some recent graduates are taking their technical skills to smaller social impact groups instead of the biggest firms. Ms. Dogru said that some of her peers are pursuing jobs at start-ups focused on health, education and privacy. Ms. Harbour said Berkeley offers a networking event called Tech for Good, where alumni from purpose-driven groups like Code for America and Khan Academy share career opportunities.

Ms. Geiduschek said she recently left Dropbox for Recidiviz, a nonprofit that builds technological tools for criminal justice reform.

But those so-called passion jobs are more challenging to come by, according to Amy Binder, a sociologist at the University of California, San Diego, and the lead author of a 2015 paper about elite colleges “funneling” graduates into certain kinds of “prestigious” careers.

“For other sectors like tech it’s easier to get on the conveyor belt and fill these positions,” Dr. Binder said. “I graduated from Stanford in the ’80s, and even back then there was talk on campus about people selling out and going to investment banks, but those jobs are still getting filled. The self-incrimination hasn’t stopped the juggernaut.”

Dr. Binder said elite schools have long steered students toward certain “high-status” industries — the C.I.A. in the 1950s, finance and consulting in the aughts and tech today. It’s a “prestige system,” she said, that universities enable.

“As tech firms get more negative reviews in the media and it becomes clear what their political toll can be, students may have more circumspection about taking these jobs,” she said. “At the same time, they’ll continue taking these jobs because of the security and reputation that comes with them. And universities will keep sponsoring all this recruitment.”

For years, students were told they could tackle ethical concerns about technology from the inside, working within the mammoth structures of companies like Google. Ms. Stapleton said that was part of the company’s allure: its ostensible commitment to empowering even its youngest employees to weigh in on critical problems.

She spent 12 years at Google and YouTube on various teams, including internal communications, where she wrote company talking points. Her weekly emails to staff, she said, were the stuff of corporate legend. At a 2012 all-hands, Larry Page, one of the company’s founders, called her onstage to celebrate her work as colleagues presented her with a wooden plaque that read: “The Bard of Google.”

Then, in 2018, Ms. Stapleton helped organize a Google walkout, after reporting in The New York Times revealed that the company gave a $90 million severance package to the Android creator Andy Rubin, who was accused of sexual misconduct.

Twenty-thousand workers left their desks in protest. Within six months, Ms. Stapleton said, she was demoted and pushed to resign. In December, she wrote about her experience in an essay for Elle.

Google maintained that Ms. Stapleton was not sidelined for her role in the walkout. “We thank Claire for her work at Google and wish her all the best,” a Google spokesperson responded. “To reiterate, we don’t tolerate retaliation. Our employee relations team did a thorough investigation of her claims and found no evidence of retaliation. They found that Claire’s management team supported her contributions to our workplace, including awarding her their team Culture Award for her role in the Walkout.”

But Ms. Stapleton said her story should give bright-eyed students pause about whether Big Tech and altruism are aligned.

“I don’t know if Google can credibly sell young people on the promise of doing good in the world anymore,” she said. “That’s not to say there aren’t wonderful people there and interesting things to work on. But if you care about a company’s values, ethics and contributions to society, you should take your talents elsewhere.”

Mr. Miley, who left Google in 2019, echoed her sentiment: “It’s hard to change a system from within when the system doesn’t think it needs to be changed.”

A spokeswoman for Google said the company continues to see job application numbers grow annually, and noted that the practice of having employees raise concerns about policies, whether on data privacy or human rights reviews, is part of the corporate culture.

The outside attention those concerns may draw is a reflection of Google’s growth and evolution from a search company to a larger entity with many products and services, the spokeswoman said.

But even companies with a market cap of over $970 billion (Google’s parent company, Alphabet) or over $614 billion (Facebook) aren’t immune to the punches of potential talent. John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University who also advises companies on recruitment, estimated that criticisms of Uber’s sexual harassment and discrimination policies cost the company roughly $100 million, largely because of talent lost to competitors.

Sarah Soule, a professor and senior associate dean at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, said in an email that there is a long history of students protesting questionable corporate ethics, with several cases of protest directed toward recruiters, yielding powerful effects.

Take the case of Dow Chemical Company, which in 1965 accepted a $5 million Department of Defense contract to manufacture the flammable gel napalm during the Vietnam War. When recruiters turned up at New York University, they were met with hundreds of angry student demonstrators, The Times reported.

Brendon Sexton, the student government president at N.Y.U. at the time, demanded a moratorium on Dow’s campus recruitment efforts in 1968. “They don’t care that a sin is being committed here,” he told protesters near the job interview site.

Public pressure continued to mount, fueled largely by young activists. The company halted its production of napalm a year later.

Ms. Geiduschek said the behavior of tech companies is especially difficult to challenge because their products are ubiquitous.

“It’s hard to avoid spending your money at Amazon. I sometimes do it, especially in that Christmas-season binge,” she said. “If you want to sway this company to do the right thing, you have to attack it at places that are higher leverage, where it hurts.”

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Facebook Says It Won’t Back Down From Allowing Lies in Political Ads

SAN FRANCISCO — Defying pressure from Congress, Facebook said on Thursday that it would continue to allow political campaigns to use the site to target advertisements to particular slices of the electorate and that it would not police the truthfulness of the messages sent out.

The stance put Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, at odds with some of the other large tech companies, which have begun to put new limits on political ads.

Facebook’s decision, telegraphed in recent months by executives, is likely to harden criticism of the company heading into this year’s presidential election.

Political advertising cuts to the heart of Facebook’s outsize role in society, and the company has found itself squeezed between liberal critics, who want it to do a better job of policing its various social media platforms, and conservatives, who say their views are being unfairly muzzled.

The issue has raised important questions regarding how heavy a hand technology companies like Facebook — which also owns Instagram and the messaging app WhatsApp — and Google should exert when deciding what types of political content they will and will not permit.

By maintaining a status quo, Facebook executives are essentially saying they are doing the best they can without government guidance and see little benefit to the company or the public in changing.

In a blog post, a company official echoed Facebook’s earlier calls for lawmakers to set firm rules.

“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management overseeing the advertising integrity division, said in the post. “We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”

Other social media companies have decided otherwise, and some had hoped Facebook would quietly follow their lead. In late October, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, banned all political advertising from his network, citing the challenges that novel digital systems present to civic discourse. Google quickly followed suit with limits on political ads across some of its properties, though narrower in scope.

Reaction to Facebook’s policy broke down largely along party lines.

The Trump campaign, which has been highly critical of any attempts by technology companies to regulate political advertising and has already spent more than $27 million on the platform, largely supported Facebook’s decision not to interfere in targeting ads or to set fact-checking standards.

“Our ads are always accurate so it’s good that Facebook won’t limit political messages because it encourages more Americans to be involved in the process,” said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign. “This is much better than the approaches from Twitter and Google, which will lead to voter suppression.”

Democratic presidential candidates and outside groups decried the decision.

“Facebook is paying for its own glowing fake news coverage, so it’s not surprising they’re standing their ground on letting political figures lie to you,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.

Ms. Warren, who has been among the most critical of Facebook and regularly calls for major tech companies to be broken up, reiterated her stance that the social media company should face tougher policies.

The Biden campaign was similarly critical. The campaign has confronted Facebook over an ad run by President Trump’s campaign that attacked Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s record on Ukraine.

“Donald Trump’s campaign can (and will) still lie in political ads,” Bill Russo, the deputy communications director for Mr. Biden, said in a statement. “Facebook can (and will) still profit off it. Today’s announcement is more window dressing around their decision to allow paid misinformation.”

But many Democratic groups willing to criticize Facebook had to walk a fine line; they have pushed for more regulation when it comes to fact-checking political ads, but they have been adamantly opposed to any changes to the ad-targeting features.

On Thursday, some Democratic outside groups welcomed Facebook’s decision not to limit microtargeting, but still thought the policy fell short.

“These changes read to us mostly as a cover for not making the change that is most vital: ensuring politicians are not allowed to use Facebook as a tool to lie to and manipulate voters,” said Madeline Kriger, who oversees digital ad buying at Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC.

Facebook has played down the business opportunity in political ads, saying the vast majority of its revenue came from commercial, not political, ads. But lawmakers have noted that Facebook ads could be a focal point of Mr. Trump’s campaign as well as those of top Democrats.

Facebook’s hands-off ad policy has already allowed for misleading advertisements. In October, a Facebook ad from the Trump campaign made false accusations about Mr. Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. The ad quickly went viral and was viewed by millions. After the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down the ad, the company refused.

“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter to the Biden campaign.

In an attempt to provoke Facebook, Ms. Warren’s presidential campaign ran an ad falsely claiming that the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was backing the re-election of Mr. Trump. Facebook did not take the ad down.

Criticism seemed to stiffen Mr. Zuckerberg’s resolve. Company officials said he and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s president, had ultimately made the decision to stand firm.

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University in October, Mr. Zuckerberg said he believed in the power of unfettered speech, including in paid advertising, and did not want to be in the position to police what politicians could and could not say to constituents. Facebook’s users, he said, should be allowed to make those decisions for themselves.

“People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he said.

Facebook officials have repeatedly said significant changes to its rules for political or issue ads could harm the ability of smaller, less well-funded organizations to raise money and organize across the network.

Instead of overhauling its policies, Facebook has made small tweaks. Mr. Leathern said Facebook would add greater transparency features to its library of political advertising in the coming months, a resource for journalists and outside researchers to scrutinize the types of ads run by the campaigns.

Facebook also will add a feature that allows users to see fewer campaign and political issue ads in their news feeds, something the company has said many users have requested.

There was considerable debate inside Facebook about whether it should change. Late last year, hundreds of employees supported an internal memo that called on Mr. Zuckerberg to limit the abilities of Facebook’s political advertising products.

On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote on his internal Facebook page that, as a liberal, he found himself wanting to use the social network’s powerful platform against Mr. Trump.

But Mr. Bosworth said that even though keeping the current policies in place “very well may lead to” Mr. Trump’s re-election, it was the right decision. Dozens of Facebook employees pushed back on Mr. Bosworth’s conclusions, arguing in the comments section below his post that politicians should be held to the same standard that applies to other Facebook users.

For now, Facebook appears willing to risk disinformation in support of unfettered speech.

“Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies,” Mr. Leathern said. “Frankly, we believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this, the better.”

Mike Isaac reported in San Francisco and Cecilia Kang reported from Washington. Nick Corasaniti contributed reporting from New York.

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Don’t Tilt Scales Against Trump, Facebook Executive Warns

SAN FRANCISCO — Since the 2016 election, when Russian trolls and a tsunami of misinformation turned social media into a partisan battlefield, Facebook has wrestled with the role it played in President Trump’s victory.

Now, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times, a longtime Facebook executive has told employees that the company had a moral duty not to tilt the scales against Mr. Trump as he seeks re-election.

On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote on his internal Facebook page that, as a liberal, he found himself wanting to use the social network’s powerful platform against Mr. Trump. But citing the “Lord of the Rings” franchise and the philosopher John Rawls, Mr. Bosworth said that doing so would eventually backfire.

“I find myself desperately wanting to pull any lever at my disposal to avoid the same result,” he wrote. “So what stays my hand? I find myself thinking of the Lord of the Rings at this moment.

“Specifically when Frodo offers the ring to Galadrial and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her,” he said, misspelling the name of the character Galadriel. “As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.”

In a meandering 2,500-word post, titled “Thoughts for 2020,” Mr. Bosworth weighed in on issues including political polarization, Russian interference and the news media’s treatment of Facebook. He gave a frank assessment of Facebook’s shortcomings in recent years, saying that the company had been “late” to address the issues of data security, misinformation and foreign interference. And he accused the left of overreach, saying that when it came to calling people Nazis, “I think my fellow liberals are a bit too, well, liberal.”

Mr. Bosworth also waded into the debate over the health effects of social media, rejecting what he called “wildly offensive” comparisons of Facebook to addictive substances like nicotine. He instead compared Facebook to sugar, and said users were responsible for moderating their own intake.

“If I want to eat sugar and die an early death that is a valid position,” Mr. Bosworth wrote. “My grandfather took such a stance towards bacon and I admired him for it. And social media is likely much less fatal than bacon.”

The post by Mr. Bosworth, a former head of Facebook’s advertising team, provides an unusually candid glimpse of the debates raging within Facebook about the platform’s responsibilities as it heads into the 2020 election.

The biggest of those debates is whether Facebook should change its rules governing political speech. Posts by politicians are exempt from many of Facebook’s current rules, and their ads are not submitted for fact-checking, giving them license to mislead voters with partisan misinformation.

Last year, platforms like Twitter and Google announced restrictions to their political advertising tools ahead of the 2020 election.

Facebook and its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, have faced heavy pressure from Democrats and Republicans, including Mr. Trump’s campaign, not to restrict its own powerful ad platform, which allows political campaigns to reach targeted audiences and raise money from supporters. But other politicians, and some Facebook employees, including a group that petitioned Mr. Zuckerberg in October, have argued that the social network has a responsibility to stamp out misinformation on its platform, including in posts by politicians.

Mr. Bosworth said that even though keeping the current policies in place “very well may lead to” Mr. Trump’s re-election, it was the right decision.

Dozens of Facebook employees pushed back on Mr. Bosworth’s conclusions, arguing in the comments section below his post that politicians should be held to the same standard as other Facebook users. They debated whether Facebook should ban or remove posts by politicians, including Mr. Trump, that included hate speech or forms of misinformation.

One Facebook employee warned that if the company continued to take its current approach, it risked promoting populist leaders around the world, including in the United States.

A Facebook spokeswoman provided a statement from Mr. Bosworth in which he said that the post “wasn’t written for public consumption,” but that he “hoped this post would encourage my co-workers to continue to accept criticism with grace as we accept the responsibility we have overseeing our platform.”

Ultimately, the decision on whether to allow politicians to spread misinformation on Facebook rests with Mr. Zuckerberg. In recent months, he has appeared to stand firm on the decision to keep the existing ad policies in place, saying that he believes Facebook should not become an arbiter of truth. But he has also left himself room to change his mind. In November, a Facebook spokesman said the company was “looking at different ways we might refine our approach to political ads.”

Among those lobbying Mr. Zuckerberg is President Trump himself, who claimed on a radio show on Monday that Mr. Zuckerberg had congratulated him on being “No. 1” on Facebook during a private dinner.

Mr. Bosworth said he believed Facebook was responsible for Mr. Trump’s 2016 election victory, but not because of Russian interference or the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which millions of Facebook users’ data was leaked to a political strategy firm that worked with the Trump campaign. Mr. Bosworth said the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica revelations — uncovered by The Times, working with The Observer of London and The Guardian — rightly changed the conversation around how Facebook should handle user data, and which companies should be given access to that data.

But, he said, Mr. Trump simply used Facebook’s advertising tools effectively.

“He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica,” Mr. Bosworth wrote. “He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period.”

Mr. Bosworth, a longtime confidant of Mr. Zuckerberg’s who is viewed by some inside Facebook as a proxy for the chief executive, has been an outspoken defender of the company’s positions in the past.

In 2018, BuzzFeed News published a memo Mr. Bosworth wrote in 2016 justifying the company’s growth-at-all-costs ethos, in which he said the company’s mission of connecting people was “de facto good,” even if it resulted in deaths.

After the memo’s publication, a Facebook executive said the company wished it could “go back and hit delete” on Mr. Bosworth’s 2016 post.

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Lord of the Rings, 2020 and Stuffed Oreos: Read the Andrew Bosworth Memo

On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, a longtime Facebook executive and confidant of Mark Zuckerberg, wrote a long memo on the company’s internal network.

In the post, titled “Thoughts for 2020,” Mr. Bosworth — who oversaw Facebook’s advertising efforts during the 2016 election and is now in charge of the company’s virtual and augmented reality division — admitted that President Trump’s savvy use of Facebook’s advertising tools “very well may lead to” his re-election. But he maintained that the company should not change its policies on political advertising, saying that doing so in order to avert a victory by Mr. Trump would be a misuse of power, comparing it to a scene from “The Lord of the Rings.”

Mr. Bosworth, who is seen by some inside Facebook as a proxy of sorts for Mr. Zuckerberg, also weighed in on a variety of issues that have vexed Facebook for the past few years, including data privacy scandals, Russian interference, political polarization and the debate over whether Facebook is healthy for society.

Here is the full post as written:

The election of Donald Trump immediately put a spotlight on Facebook. While the intensity and focus of that spotlight may be unfair I believe it isn’t unjust. Scrutiny is warranted given our position in society as the most prominent of a new medium. I think most of the criticisms that have come to light have been valid and represent real areas for us to serve our community better. I don’t enjoy having our flaws exposed, but I consider it far better than the alternative where we remain ignorant of our shortcomings.

One trap I sometimes see people falling into is to dismiss all feedback when they can invalidate one part of it. I see that with personal feedback and I see it happening with media coverage. The press often gets so many details wrong it can be hard to trust the veracity of their conclusions. Dismissing the whole because of flaws in parts is a mistake. The media has limited information to work with (by our own design!) and they sometimes get it entirely wrong but there is almost always some critical issue that motivated them to write which we need to understand.

It is worth looking at the 2016 Election which set this chain of events in motion. I was running our ads organization at the time of the election and had been for the four years prior (and for one year after). It is worth reminding everyone that Russian Interference was real but it was mostly not done through advertising. $100,000 in ads on Facebook can be a powerful tool but it can’t buy you an American election, especially when the candidates themselves are putting up several orders of magnitude more money on the same platform (not to mention other platforms).

Instead, the Russians worked to exploit existing divisions in the American public for example by hosting Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protest events in the same city on the same day. The people who shows up to those events were real even if the event coordinator was not. Likewise the groups of Americans being fed partisan content was real even if those feeding them were not. The organic reach they managed sounds very big in absolute terms and unfortunately humans are bad at contextualizing big numbers. Whatever reach they managed represents an infinitesimal fraction of the overall content people saw in the same period of time and certainly over the course of an election across all media.

So most of the information floating around that is widely believed isn’t accurate. But who cares? It is certainly true that we should have been more mindful of the role both paid and organic content played in democracy and been more protective of it. On foreign interference, Facebook has made material progress and while we may never be able to fully eliminate it I don’t expect it to be a major issue for 2020.

Misinformation was also real and related but not the same as Russian interference. The Russians may have used misinformation alongside real partisan messaging in their campaigns, but the primary source of misinformation was economically motivated. People with no political interest whatsoever realized they could drive traffic to ad-laden websites by creating fake headlines and did so to make money. These might be more adequately described as hoaxes that play on confirmation bias or conspiracy theory. In my opinion this is another area where the criticism is merited. This is also an area where we have made dramatic progress and don’t expect it to be a major issue for 2020.

It is worth noting, as it is relevant at the current moment, that misinformation from the candidates themselves was not considered a major shortcoming of political advertising on FB in 2016 even though our policy then was the same as it is now. These policies are often covered by the press in the context of a profit motive. That’s one area I can confidently assure you the critics are wrong. Having run our ads business for some time it just isn’t a factor when we discuss the right thing to do. However, given that those conversations are private I think we can all agree the press can be forgiven for jumping to that conclusion. Perhaps we could do a better job exposing the real cost of these mistakes to make it clear that revenue maximization would have called for a different strategy entirely.

Cambridge Analytica is one of the more acute cases I can think of where the details are almost all wrong but I think the scrutiny is broadly right. Facebook very publicly launched our developer platform in 2012 in an environment primarily scrutinizing us for keeping data to ourselves. Everyone who added an application got a prompt explaining what information it would have access to and at the time it included information from friends. This may sound crazy in a 2020 context but it received widespread praise at the time. However the only mechanism we had for keeping data secure once it was shared was legal threats which ultimately didn’t amount to much for companies which had very little to lose. The platform didn’t build the value we had hoped for our consumers and we shut this form of it down in 2014.

The company Cambridge Analytica started by running surveys on Facebook to get information about people. It later pivoted to be an advertising company, part of our Facebook Marketing Partner program, who other companies could hire to run their ads. Their claim to fame was psychographic targeting. This was pure snake oil and we knew it; their ads performed no better than any other marketing partner (and in many cases performed worse). I personally regret letting them stay on the FMP program for that reason alone. However at the time we thought they were just another company trying to find an angle to promote themselves and assumed poor performance would eventually lose them their clients. We had no idea they were shopping an old Facebook dataset that they were supposed to have deleted (and certified to us in writing that they had).

When Trump won, Cambridge Analytica tried to take credit so they were back on our radar but just for making [expletive] claims about their own importance. I was glad when the Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale called them out for it. Later on, we found out from journalists that they had never deleted the database and had instead made elaborate promises about its power for advertising. Our comms team decided it would be best to get ahead of the journalists and pull them from the platform. This was a huge mistake. It was not only bad form (justifiably angering the journalists) but we were also fighting the wrong battle. We wanted to be clear this had not been a data breach (which, to be fair to us, it absolutely was not) but the real concern was the existence of the dataset no matter how it happened. We also sent the journalists legal letters advising them not to use the term “breech” which was received normally by the NYT (who agreed) and aggressively by The Guardian (who forged ahead with the wrong terminology, furious about the letter) in spite of it being a relatively common practice I am told.

In practical terms, Cambridge Analytica is a total non-event. They were snake oil salespeople. The tools they used didn’t work, and the scale they used them at wasn’t meaningful. Every claim they have made about themselves is garbage. Data of the kind they had isn’t that valuable to being with and worse it degrades quickly, so much so as to be effectively useless in 12-18 months. In fact the United Kingdom Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) seized all the equipment at Cambridge Analytica and found that there was zero data from any UK citizens! So surely, this is one where we can ignore the press, right? Nope. The platform was such a poor move that the risks associated were bound to come to light. That we shut it down in 2014 and never paid the piper on how bad it was makes this scrutiny justified in my opinion, even if it is narrowly misguided.

So was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected? I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks. He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period.

To be clear, I’m no fan of Trump. I donated the max to Hillary. After his election I wrote a post about Trump supporters that I’m told caused colleagues who had supported him to feel unsafe around me (I regret that post and deleted shortly after).

But Parscale and Trump just did unbelievable work. They weren’t running misinformation or hoaxes. They weren’t microtargeting or saying different things to different people. They just used the tools we had to show the right creative to each person. The use of custom audiences, video, ecommerce, and fresh creative remains the high water mark of digital ad campaigns in my opinion.

That brings me to the present moment, where we have maintained the same ad policies. It occurs to me that it very well may lead to the same result. As a committed liberal I find myself desperately wanting to pull any lever at my disposal to avoid the same result. So what stays my hand?

I find myself thinking of the Lord of the Rings at this moment. Specifically when Frodo offers the ring to Galadrial and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her. As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.

The philosopher John Rawls reasoned that the only moral way to decide something is to remove yourself entirely from the specifics of any one person involved, behind a so called “Veil of Ignorance.” That is the tool that leads me to believe in liberal government programs like universal healthcare, expanding housing programs, and promoting civil rights. It is also the tool that prevents me from limiting the reach of publications who have earned their audience, as distasteful as their content may be to me and even to the moral philosophy I hold so dear.

That doesn’t mean there is no line. Things like incitement of violence, voter suppression, and more are things that same moral philosophy would safely allow me to rule out. But I think my fellow liberals are a bit too, well, liberal when it comes to calling people Nazi’s.

If we don’t want hate mongering politicians then we must not elect them. If they are getting elected then we have to win hearts and minds. If we change the outcomes without winning the minds of the people who will be ruled then we have a democracy in name only. If we limit what information people have access to and what they can say then we have no democracy at all.

This conversation often raises the alarm around filter bubbles, but that is a myth that is easy to dispel. Ask yourself how many newspapers and news programs people read/watched before the internet. If you guessed “one and one” on average you are right, and if you guessed those were ideologically aligned with them you are right again. The internet exposes them to far more content from other sources (26% more on Facebook, according to our research). This is one that everyone just gets wrong.

The focus on filter bubbles causes people to miss the real disaster which is polarization. What happens when you see 26% more content from people you don’t agree with? Does it help you empathize with them as everyone has been suggesting? Nope. It makes you dislike them even more. This is also easy to prove with a thought experiment: whatever your political leaning, think of a publication from the other side that you despise. When you read an article from that outlet, perhaps shared by an uncle or nephew, does it make you rethink your values? Or does it make you retreat further into the conviction of your own correctness? If you answered the former, congratulations you are a better person than I am. Every time I read something from Breitbart I get 10% more liberal.

What does all of this say about the nature of the algorithmic rewards? Everyone points to top 0.1% content as being acutely polarized but how steep are the curves? What does the top 1% or 5% look like? And what is the real reach across those curves when compared to other content? I think the call for algorithmic transparency can sometimes be overblown but being more transparent about this type of data would likely be healthy.

What I expect people will find is that the algorithms are primarily exposing the desires of humanity itself, for better or worse. This is a Sugar, Salt, Fat problem. The book of that name tells a story ostensibly about food but in reality about the limited effectiveness of corporate paternalism. A while ago Kraft foods had a leader who tried to reduce the sugar they sold in the interest of consumer health. But customers wanted sugar. So instead he just ended up reducing Kraft market share. Health outcomes didn’t improve. That CEO lost his job. The new CEO introduced quadruple stuffed Oreos and the company returned to grace. Giving people tools to make their own decisions is good but trying to force decisions upon them rarely works (for them or for you).

In these moments people like to suggest that our consumers don’t really have free will. People compare social media to nicotine. I find that wildly offensive, not to me but to addicts. I have seen family members struggle with alcoholism and classmates struggle with opioids. I know there is a battle for the terminology of addiction but I side firmly with the neuroscientists. Still, while Facebook may not be nicotine I think it is probably like sugar. Sugar is delicious and for most of us there is a special place for it in our lives. But like all things it benefits from moderation.

At the end of the day we are forced to ask what responsibility individuals have for themselves. Set aside substances that directly alter our neurochemistry unnaturally. Make costs and trade-offs as transparent as possible. But beyond that each of us must take responsibility for ourselves. If I want to eat sugar and die an early death that is a valid position. My grandfather took such a stance towards bacon and I admired him for it. And social media is likely much less fatal than bacon.

To bring this uncharacteristically long and winding essay full circle, I wanted to start a discussion about what lessons people are taking away from the press coverage. My takeaway is that we were late on data security, misinformation, and foreign interference. We need to get ahead of polarization and algorithmic transparency. What are the other big topics people are seeing and where are we on those?

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Bickert, Monika Computers and the Internet Facebook Inc Presidential Election of 2020 Rumors and Misinformation Social Media Uncategorized United States Politics and Government Video Recordings, Downloads and Streaming

Facebook Says It Will Ban ‘Deepfakes’

WASHINGTON — Facebook said on Monday that it would ban videos that are heavily manipulated by artificial intelligence, known as deepfakes, from its platform.

In a blog post, a company executive said Monday evening that the social network would remove videos altered by artificial intelligence in ways that “would likely mislead someone into thinking that a subject of the video said words that they did not actually say.”

The policy will not extend to parody or satire, the executive, Monika Bickert, said, nor will it apply to videos edited to omit or change the order of words.

Ms. Bickert said all videos posted would still be subject to Facebook’s system for fact-checking potentially deceptive content. And content that is found to be factually incorrect appear less prominently on the site’s news feed and is labeled false.

The company’s new policy was first reported by The Washington Post.

Facebook was heavily criticized last year for refusing to take down an altered video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi that had been edited to make it appear as though she was slurring her words. At the time, the company defended its decision, saying it had subjected the video to its fact-checking process and had reduced its reach on the social network.

It did not appear that the new policy would have changed the company’s handling of the video with Ms. Pelosi.

The announcement comes ahead of a hearing before the House Energy & Commerce Committee on Wednesday morning, during which Ms. Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, is expected to testify on “manipulation and deception in the digital age,” alongside other experts.

Because Facebook is still the No. 1 platform for sharing false political stories, according to disinformation researchers, the urgency to spot and halt novel forms of digital manipulation before they spread is paramount.

Computer scientists have long warned that new techniques used by machines to generate images and sounds that are indistinguishable from the real thing can vastly increase the volume of false and misleading information online. And false political information is circulating rapidly online ahead of the 2020 presidential elections in the United States.

In late December, Facebook announced it had removed hundreds of accounts, including pages, groups and Instagram feeds, meant to fool users in the United States and Vietnam with fake profile photos generated with the help of artificial intelligence.

David McCabe reported from Washington, and Davey Alba from New York.

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Amazon.com Inc Apple Inc Computers and the Internet Facebook Inc Google Inc Hudson Yards (Manhattan, NY) Labor and Jobs Real Estate (Commercial) Relocation of Business Renting and Leasing (Real Estate) Uncategorized

Silicon Valley’s Newest Rival: The Banks of the Hudson

When Facebook was searching for another New York office, one big enough to fit as many as 6,000 workers, more than double the number it currently employs in the city, it had one major demand: It needed the space urgently.

So after the company settled on Hudson Yards, the vast mini-city taking shape on Manhattan’s Far West Side, existing tenants were told to move and a small army of construction workers quickly began to revamp the building even before a lease had been signed.

Facebook’s push to accommodate its booming operations is part of a rush by the West Coast technology giants to expand in New York City. The rapid growth is turning a broad swath of Manhattan into one of the world’s most vibrant tech corridors.

Four companies — Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — already have big offices along the Hudson River, from Midtown to Lower Manhattan, or have been hunting for new ones in recent months, often competing with one another for the same space.

In all, the companies are expected to have roughly 20,000 workers in New York by 2022.

Cities across the United States and around the world have long vied to establish themselves as worthy rivals to Silicon Valley. New York City is certainly not anywhere close to overtaking the Bay Area as the nation’s tech leader, but it is increasingly competing for tech companies and talent.

New York’s rise as a tech hub comes as industries that have long dominated the city’s economic landscape are transformed by technology, and are themselves increasingly reliant on software engineers and other highly skilled workers.

The growth in New York is occurring largely without major economic incentives from the city and state governments. Officials are mindful of the outcry last year over at least $3 billion in public subsidies that Amazon was offered to build a corporate campus in Queens.

The retail behemoth, stung by the backlash, canceled its plans abruptly in February. It is continuing to add jobs in the city, although at a slower pace.

Still, Amazon’s announcement last month that it would lease space in Midtown for 1,500 workers renewed a debate over whether incentives should be used to woo huge tech companies to New York.

Opponents of the earlier deal, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of Queens, said Amazon’s decision to expand in Manhattan showed that New York was so attractive that tax breaks were unnecessary.

Others responded that the Hudson Yards space the company was leasing paled next to the campus proposed for Long Island City, Queens, and to the 25,000 people Amazon had pledged to employ there.

Tech companies are choosing New York to tap into its deep and skilled talent pool and to attract employees who prefer the city’s diverse economy over technology-dominated hubs on the West Coast. New York is also closer to Europe, an important market.

“For a long time, if you lived in the broader tech sector, there was inertia that brought you to Silicon Valley,” said Julie Samuels, executive director of Tech: NYC, a nonprofit industry group. “So many people wanted to live here and move here, but felt the jobs weren’t here. Now the jobs are here.”

Google has grown so quickly and is so squeezed for space that it is temporarily leasing two buildings until a much larger development in Manhattan near the Holland Tunnel, St. John’s Terminal, is ready in 2022.

The big tech firms started in New York with small outposts. Google’s first New York employee, a sales worker, arrived in 2000, and worked out of a Starbucks in Manhattan. It was the company’s first office outside California.

Tech industry offices were once mostly filled with sales and marketing employees who needed to be closer to their customers and to industries like fashion, finance, media and real estate that power the city’s economy.

Over the past five years, though, the makeup of the companies’ combined New York work force has come to resemble the West Coast version: a mix of engineers and others involved in software development.

The New Tech Corridor

Four big technology companies will have a combined 20,000 workers in the city by 2022, mostly concentrated along Manhattan’s West Side. Squares on the map show where Facebook, Google and Amazon have leased space, or are planning to.

The New York Times

At Google’s New York office, highly skilled workers now outnumber their colleagues in sales and marketing. Of the nearly 800 job openings that Amazon has in the city, more than half are for developers, engineers and data scientists.

“Every line of business and every platform is represented quite healthfully,” said William Floyd, Google’s head of external affairs in New York, the company’s largest office except for its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. “Not everyone wants to be in California.’’

Oren Michels, a tech adviser and investor who sold Mashery, a company based in San Francisco, to Intel in 2013, said that New York City had become a refuge for tech workers who did not want to be surrounded solely by those working in the same industry.

“You have younger engineers and those sorts of people who frankly want to live in New York City because it’s a more interesting and fun place to live,” he said. “San Francisco is turning into a company town and the company is tech, both professionally and personally.”

Mr. Michels said that his family had bought a home in Manhattan in 2014 with a plan to split their time between San Francisco and New York. They soon decided to live full time in New York, where Mr. Michels is on the boards of four tech firms.

The number of tech jobs in New York City has surged 80 percent in the past decade, to 142,600, from 79,400 in 2009, according to the New York State Comptroller’s office. (The business services industry, which includes accountants and lawyers and is the largest private sector, employed 762,000 people in 2018, according to the comptroller’s office.)

Since 2016, the number of job openings in the city’s tech sector has jumped 38 percent, an analysis for The Times by the jobs website Glassdoor found. In November, New York had the third-highest number of tech openings among United States cities, 26,843, behind just San Francisco and Seattle.

It is not only the biggest tech firms that are growing in New York. From 2018 through the third quarter of 2019, investors pumped more than $27 billion into start-ups in the New York City region, the second most in that time for any area outside San Francisco, according to the MoneyTree Report by PwC-CB Insights. (Nearly $100 billion was invested in start-ups in the Silicon Valley area in that period.)

Industries like finance, retail and health care provide more jobs, but the tech sector, with an average salary of $153,000, has become one of New York City’s main economic drivers.

That has raised concerns about whether the industry is intensifying income inequality and making New York unaffordable for more people.

The four big tech companies “attract thousands of out-of-state employees with advanced degrees and work experience, and drive unprecedented influxes in luxury rentals, rent hikes, and the flipping of buildings and private homes,” said Kiana Davis, a policy analyst at the Urban Justice Center.

“It should go without saying,’’ she added, “that middle-income, low-wage, poor and unemployed residents in these cities cannot access the luxury housing market nor the rising rents and have been driven out of their communities as a result.”

Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraisal firm, said that the residential market in Manhattan had been strong in areas where the tech firms had grown.

“I speak to brokerage groups twice a week, and the conversation is always peppered with questions about the tech sector,” Mr. Miller said. “If you have 20,000 employees coming in who are high-wage earners, that can have a pronounced impact.”

The major tech firms are expected to grow to the point that they are among the largest private tenants in New York in the coming years, rivaling longtime leaders like JPMorgan Chase.

Among companies in the technology, advertising, media and information industries, Google and Facebook are now the largest tenants, beating out legacy companies like Condé Nast, News Corp. and Warner Media, according to an analysis performed for The Times by the real estate company Cushman & Wakefield.

Facebook employs 2,900 people in New York, and recently signed the lease at Hudson Yards for 1.5 million square feet in three buildings. In addition to providing space for 6,000 workers, the deal gives the company an option to take over another several hundred thousand square feet in the development.

Facebook executives initially set their sights on a marquee building on Madison Avenue in the Flatiron district, not far from the company’s existing offices, according to a person familiar with Facebook’s plans.

But then Facebook executives toured Hudson Yards and were impressed with the amenities, including shops and restaurants, and with the short walk to major subway lines.

A deal was struck in November, but with a requirement on Facebook’s part that about 300,000 square feet in two buildings, 30 and 55 Hudson Yards, be ready very soon.

Workers were immediately brought in to begin preparing the space and to move out existing tenants.

Two blocks east, Facebook is close to signing a lease for about 700,000 square feet in the 107-year-old James A. Farley Building across from Pennsylvania Station, according to three people familiar with the deal. The property, also known as the Farley Post Office, is being renovated by the Related Companies and another developer, Vornado Realty Trust.

More than 2,500 employees could eventually work there. (The Wall Street Journal first reported on the potential lease.)

“It’s hard to predict future growth, but we believe New York is a vibrant market with a tremendous pool of talent,” a Facebook spokeswoman, Jamila Reeves, said. She declined to comment on the company’s specific plans.

Just north of the Farley building, Amazon said recently that it had signed a lease for 350,000 square feet in a building on 10th Avenue near Hudson Yards, enough space for 1,500 employees. The social media company LinkedIn, whose New York offices are not far away, in the Empire State Building, recently said it would expand to four additional floors in the landmark property.

The tech titan whose intentions in New York are probably least known is Apple.

Executives at the company, which has had an office in the Flatiron area, have toured buildings in that neighborhood and in the Hudson Yards area but a deal has not yet been signed. Apple has inquired about leasing much less space than other big tech companies, roughly 50,000 square feet.

Apple declined to comment.

For every West Coast company with a household name that has expanded in New York, there are many large but lesser-known firms with headquarters in the city.

One, Datadog, which provides cloud-based software for businesses, went public in September and is valued at $10.5 billion. The company has 480 employees in its New York offices, up from 125 three years ago.

Categories
ace&jig Computers and the Internet Dresses Elizabeth Suzann (Fashion Label) Facebook Inc Fashion and Apparel Instagram Inc Noihsaf Pyne&Smith Clothiers Shopping and Retail Social Media Uncategorized Women and Girls your-feed-fashion

How to Make Friends Online the Old-Fashioned Way (Buying Clothes Together)

Image
Credit…Riah Beth Photography

Emily Useche, who is 27 and lives in Arkansas, had just put her baby down for a nap one afternoon when she decided to post some family photos on Facebook. But she didn’t simply upload them for friends and family to see.

She also posted the photos to a private Facebook group for a whole other community: A fan club for Pyne & Smith Clothiers. Ms. Useche was wearing one of that brand’s dresses in the photos — a style she had posted about once before when she saw it being sold secondhand — and was ready to show it off. Minutes after she posted, other members replied with compliments for her, and praise for the sunflower check dress she was wearing.

The group, Pyne & Smith Clothiers BST and Chat, is one of a number of so-called buy-sell-trade communities. Part social club and part marketplace, the groups have sprung up on Instagram and Facebook and have, for some users, become a daily place to socialize and shop.

While many serve enthusiasts of mass market brands, others are powered by dedicated followers of idiosyncratic indie brands, the sort rarely featured in glossy magazines and often escape the notice of major retailers. But they have devoted followers, many of whom are attracted by the idea of slow, ethical fashion.

Facebook and Instagram communities can be a very real alternative to traditional retailers, providing shoppers with not only products, but also friends.

“A lot of us are millennials who are trying really hard to take steps toward sustainability,” said Lacey Camille Schroeder, 32 and a jewelry designer who lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She created the PSC buy-sell-trade Facebook group. “People buying these dresses tend to be like-minded when it comes to fashion. A lot of them are in the ‘crunchy’ category.”

That line was founded by Joanna McCartney. She stumbled into making clothes in 2014 when she couldn’t find a linen dress she liked during the hot Los Angeles summer.

Made of flax linen and produced in California, the dresses look like the kind you could wear to a dinner party and to collect eggs from your free-range chickens the next day. Their prices range from $146 to $186, though by the time the dresses make it to this group, they’re usually sold for about $120 each.

Ms. Schroeder set up the group, which has 2,888 members, two years ago when a follower of the Pyne & Smith Clothiers Instagram said she was looking to sell a gently used Pyne & Smith dress that was taking up space in her closet.

Ms. Schroeder got on the phone with Ms. McCartney and hammered out the group guidelines.

Civility and a promise to be kind when posting critical feedback are among the few requirements for membership, and Ms. Schroeder said she rarely has to moderate conversations.

In some cases, a single dress may be sold and passed between three or four members, who connect with each other and facilitate their own sales along the way.

Groups range from small pop-up Instagram hashtags like #JamieandTheJonesForSale, with fewer than 100 posts, to accounts like Noihsaf Bazaar, which was started on Instagram in 2013 and now has more than 30,000 followers.

Noihsaf was founded when Kate Lindello, 36, a stylist, fashion blogger and stay-at-home mother, wanted to sell a pair of Rachel Comey flats that didn’t fit.

Today Noihsaf, which focuses on emerging and independent designers, operates multiple Instagram accounts, including one for vintage and one for beauty products, and posts 1,200 to 1,500 items weekly on its main resale account.

Ms. Lindello employs three freelancers to help her sort through the hundreds of daily submissions and choose items to post. Unlike volunteer-run accounts, Noihsaf charges a $3.80-per-sale fee.

“Tech is a blessing and a curse,” Ms. Lindello said. “We’re behind our phones so much, but you also have the chance to make this human connection.” In 2017, after posting a pair of her own denim jeans on the account, she was surprised to see that the buyer lived only two miles down the road.

“I could have mailed those jeans to Allison in Duluth, but I wanted to know who this person was,” she said. “I emailed her, and she said she’d just drop by my house. She ended up being a New Yorker who had just moved here, and we’re buddies now. She’s my kid’s dentist.”

Around that same time, Nicolle Rountree, an African-American logistics manager who lives in New Orleans and wears plus-size clothing, was fed up with feeling unwelcome in stores and buying new pants every month when fast fashion ones fell apart.

Through online research, Ms. Rountree discovered Elizabeth Suzann, a label that offers classic staples in natural fabrics in sizes XXS through 4XL — and then discovered that used Elizabeth Suzann clothing was being sold on Instagram accounts like Sell/Trade Elizabeth Suzann and Sell/Trade Slow Fashion.

One day, a fellow Instagram shopper tagged her in a post for a used pair of black Clyde pants in size 16 that she had spotted. Ms. Rountree bid by commenting on the post and bought them from the seller for $125 (normally $245), becoming the third owner of the pants and a committed Elizabeth Suzann customer.

This year, Ms. Rountree became a volunteer moderator of the Sell/Trade Slow Fashion Instagram account (more than 18,000 followers), which hosts and curates sale posts for slow fashion items, hosts trade forums and prompts weekly discussions about ethical fashion. Through the group, she has met more and more women who care about slow fashion.

It’s an online community that became even more real in October, when Ms. Rountree met two other moderators of the group and road-tripped to the Elizabeth Suzann sample sale in Nashville.

“I got out of the car, and there’s this line of women, many of whom I knew, mostly by their Instagram handles, and they ran up to me and hugged me. It blew me away,” she said. “We were all there waiting and shopping in terrible 90-degree Southern summer heat, all stripped down to just bras and underwear. And people are handing you stuff to try on, and you’re handing them stuff to try on, and you don’t even know them. They’re strangers who aren’t strangers.

“I’m a black woman who lives in the South,” Ms. Rountree said. “I have never felt that safe around that many people before.”

Sali Kelley, 50 and an American child care provider and E.S.L. teacher in Italy, has also seen her life changed by online buy-sell-trade communities. Between 2015 and 2016, Ms. Kelley’s best friend left the country, leaving her adrift and depressed, and she and her family moved from Milan to Varese, a smaller city in northern Italy.

Feeling alone and isolated, Ms. Kelley found herself having more interactions online. Eventually, most of them centered around a newly discovered passion: slow fashion, and one brand in particular, Ace & Jig, a female-run American company that uses vivid Indian textiles to create whimsical, colorful clothing.

Though Ms. Kelley was initially turned off by Ace & Jig’s retail prices (new pieces are $200 to $300), she began searching Instagram, where she discovered hundreds of women selling under hashtags like #aceandjigforsale (more than 16,000 posts) and #aceandjigcommunity (more than 5,000). Noihsaf also has a channel dedicated to Ace & Jig.

Before long, Ms. Kelley had started an Instagram account dedicated to celebrating the label, as well as a private message group for plus-size members to trade their Ace & Jig items. She even began organizing an April 2020 meeting for fans in Paris and London, and says it’s not unusual for her to spend hours each week chatting with other Ace & Jig fans and commenting on community posts.

She is also managing the cross-country journey of an Ace & Jig shirt that is being mailed from fan to fan every couple of weeks.

“The rules are basically there’s no rules,” Ms. Kelley said. “You wear it once and post a picture of it and pass it on.” Termed the “traveling Baja,” after the shirt style and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” the shirt is size XS but seems to fit most of the women who want to participate, Ms. Kelley said.

Currently making its way through Tennessee after traveling from Italy through 13 other states, the shirt is a way for people in the community to connect that Ms. Kelley said she dreamed up one night when she couldn’t sleep.

“Most of us are women with the same core values who care about women’s issues,” Ms. Kelley said of the 500 or so online friends in her network. “We talk about kids, life, jobs. We’re constantly messaging each other and commenting on each others posts. If I haven’t seen someone post for a while, I’ll check and ask, ‘Hey, are you O.K.?’”

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Berners-Lee, Tim Bitcoin (Currency) Blockchain (Technology) Computers and the Internet Dorsey, Jack Facebook Inc Libra (Currency) Social Media Twitter Uncategorized Zuckerberg, Mark E

Internet Giants, Defied by Bitcoin, Now See Its Tech as a Remedy

SAN FRANCISCO — Not so long ago, the technology behind Bitcoin was seen in Silicon Valley as the best hope for challenging the enormous, centralized power of companies like Twitter and Facebook.

Now, in an unexpected twist, the internet giants think that technology could help them solve their many problems.

The chief executive of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, said last week that he hoped to fund the creation of software for social media that, inspired by the design of Bitcoin, would give Twitter less control over how people use the service and shift power toward users and outside programmers.

Likewise, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has said he hopes the same concepts from Bitcoin could “take power from centralized systems and put it back into people’s hands.”

This push toward decentralization — the buzzword people in tech are using to describe these projects — has already gained enough currency and has sounded outlandish enough that it was one of the central themes of the satirical HBO show “Silicon Valley.”

Though Bitcoin’s digital tokens are widely used among the tech set, its underlying concept — a network of computers managing the currency without anyone in charge — is what’s most interesting to many people working on decentralization.

Countless entrepreneurs are working on decentralization projects, including the creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee. He founded Solid, which seeks to fix the problems of the centralized internet by shifting the ownership of personal data away from big companies and back toward users.

But the other efforts have largely been aimed at taking down Twitter and Facebook rather than helping them solve their problems. And the two behemoths have plenty of problems, from policing their sites for toxic content to dealing with pressure from regulators who think tech companies have grown too powerful.

Not surprisingly, the efforts at Twitter and Facebook have faced skepticism and questions about whether they are just trying to land some positive press while dodging responsibility — and regulations.

“When a company does something like this when it is under pressure, it becomes a way to distract attention by appearing to do something,” said Mitra Ardron, the head of the decentralized web project at the Internet Archive, which has hosted the Decentralized Web Summit the last four years.

Many people working on decentralization projects are concerned that Twitter and Facebook are trying to align themselves with the work’s countercultural spirit without giving up their enormous power.

“The monoliths see it as a threat to their model, so they try to weave in the concepts into their own products to maintain control,” said Eugen Rochko, the founder of Mastodon, a competitor to Twitter. With around two million users, Mastodon has been one of the most successful alternative projects.

Mr. Dorsey said Twitter was just starting to look at the idea and had committed only five people to it. Facebook has moved ahead with its Bitcoin-inspired cryptocurrency and has beefed up encryption, but the company has otherwise taken few steps to decentralize its services. Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Zuckerberg, though, have frequently discussed decentralization, suggesting they have a personal fascination that goes beyond business interests.

Mr. Dorsey also hired a small team at his second company, Square, to work full time on Bitcoin, without any commercial responsibilities. And he recently announced that he was hoping to take an extended sojourn in Africa to understand how Bitcoin was working there.

“It’s clearly catching on in part because people believe in it,” said Neha Narula, the director of the Digital Currency Initiative at the M.I.T. Media Lab. “It’s not necessarily that it is cheaper or more efficient or faster or easier. In fact, it is much harder. But it’s clear that this idea speaks to people.”

Mr. Dorsey’s tweets last week suggest that he wants the new team, Blue Sky, to build essentially a basic version of Twitter that would be available for anyone to copy. This would make it easier for outside developers to build on top of Twitter and to compete with it. A competitor might be able to offer a version without ads, or one that recommends tweets to readers based on different standards.

While that would most likely pose a commercial threat to Twitter, Mr. Dorsey said it would also force the service to be “far more innovative than in the past” and could draw more overall users to it.

The idea of decentralization harks back to the basic design and ideals of the internet, which was supposed to be a global gathering place where everyone was welcome and no one was in charge.

Mr. Dorsey said the invention of Bitcoin had made it possible to revive those early ideals. The key to Bitcoin is its blockchain database, which provides a way for a network of disconnected computers to agree on a single set of records for every Bitcoin in existence.

Mr. Dorsey is following in the steps of the many cryptocurrency advocates who have argued that the underlying technology could be used to record all the users and activity on a social network, and to agree on a single set of rules for the network, without having any single company in charge. He said, though, that it would most likely take “many years.”

Facebook has pursued several projects over the past year that would shift control to its users.

The company’s most notable effort with blockchains is the Libra cryptocurrency, which aims to create money outside the control of any one company. The Libra effort has faced crippling opposition from politicians, regulators and even some of the project’s original partners. But it appears to have inspired central banks in China and Europe, which are also considering ways to duplicate Bitcoin’s underlying technology.

Already, many start-ups have tried to use blockchains to create social networks to compete with Twitter and Facebook. But these networks, with names like Minds and Steemit, have faced many of the same problems that Bitcoin has, struggling to attract mainstream attention and leaving users to fend off hackers themselves. Many investors have largely given up on blockchain investments.

Several up-and-coming projects focused on decentralization, including Mr. Berners-Lee’s Solid, have steered clear of the blockchain entirely because they don’t believe it is useful for anything other than financial transactions.

Mr. Dorsey said one of the great appeals of a decentralized future was that Twitter would no longer be the only one in charge of deciding what is and isn’t allowed on the network.

To many people, that sounded like an effort by Mr. Dorsey to wash his hands of the hardest but arguably most important responsibility of social networks today: identifying and filtering bad actors and disinformation.

“I’m concerned that Twitter may try to foist the responsibility for dealing with these problems onto the decentralization community,” said Ross Schulman, the senior policy technologist at New America’s Open Technology Institute.

A spokeswoman for Facebook had no comment on the company’s efforts.

Mastodon, the Twitter competitor, allows anyone to tweak the software in order to create his or her own version of Mastodon. If people don’t like the rules set up in one version, they can move to another.

But Mastodon has provided a window into just how difficult these problems are to deal with, even with decentralization.

The Mastodon software was created to form a refuge from anger and hate speech on Twitter. But recently, a social network with close ties to hate crimes and the far right, Gab, used Mastodon’s software to create a new home after it was pushed off the mainstream internet. Mastodon’s leaders were opposed to it but could do little to stop it.

“Building these types of decentralized social networks comes with a slew of challenges that we haven’t figured out how to solve yet,” said Ms. Narula, who was a co-author of an article titled “Decentralized Social Networks Sound Great. Too Bad They’ll Never Work.”