Facebooks Algorithm Hijacked This $8 Billion Company to Sell Cat Blindfolds

Over the past few months, Wish ads have dominated Facebook by hawking bizarre items like hamster leashes, giant human-sized balls of yarn, toenail extenders, mysterious car goo, and a myriad of other strange things for extremely low prices.

Thousands of these ads are displayed daily, not only on Facebook itself, but in a plethora of other apps that pull in Facebook ad inventory.

Wish ads are so unusual that theyve developed a cult following. For Wish ad connoisseurs, guessing what the products actually do has become a competitive game and a Twitter account called @WeirdWishAds documents some of the most surreal items.

Wish is an $8 billion e-commerce company similar to Amazon or Alibaba that hopes to become the next Walmart. Its competitive advantage is it offers much lower prices than its competitors by shipping direct from Chinese manufacturers. The only downside is that most items take around 14 days to arrive.

Many people have assumed that Wishs insane ads must be some type of viral marketing stunt.

edens got a conspiracy theory that the Wish app advertises weird shit so ppl will share the screenshot and alert people to Wish nd u know what i think shes right, one user tweeted in November.

But to those businesses who rely on Facebook ad inventory, Wish ads are no laughing matter.

Matt Raoul, CEO of the app Timehop, an app for viewing old photos and memories, said that his users began reporting the ads for offensive content sometime in November of this year.

Timehop is a very family friendly app, Raoul said. We have controls we set on the ads we display saying, no alcohol, no adult content, et cetera. But then we started seeing reports for these ads from this company called Wish and the ads were crazy! We couldnt believe it.

Some of Wishs more problematic ads promote products such as a penis sleeve extender, triple dildo strap-on underwear, a dog collar with a leash for women, an anall speculum, and a sweatshirt featuring the word cocaine and giant bags of the drug.

It was really embarrassing for us, Raoul said. We spend so much time worrying about what ads were showing our users and we do so much to limit them, but somehow these crazy ads got through to our users. We dont want to say no ads from Wish. Its just these particularly weird products we want to stop showing up.

But why would a seemingly straightforward e-commerce company promote such creepy and strange products? Like most things on the internet, it all boils down to the Facebook algorithm.

In February 2015 Facebook launched a new type of ad product. Unlike previous static ads, where the advertiser would have to hand select images that would be shown to users, the social networks new dynamic ads allowed companies to simply upload their entire product catalog to the platform. From there, Facebooks algorithm would choose which product to show which consumer.

Youve probably already noticed these new types of ads in your feed. The carousels are popular with big retailers like Macys and Wayfair that want to show off many products at once.

The theory goes that Facebook, with its massive mine of user data, could far more effectively target products to consumers in real time and save companies time by not forcing them to upload each image separately as a new ad. Since its launch, Facebook has used this ad format to help businesses showcase products like hotel rooms, flight options, real estate listings, cars, and more.

Wish has long been a large and dedicated advertiser on Facebook, quickly embracing new ad formats as fast as Facebook can release them.

Facebooks ad team has been blown away by how much more sophisticated Wish is as an advertiser than literally any other company, according to multiple sources, Jason Del Rey wrote in ReCode.

In 2015 alone, Wish spent around $100 million on Facebook ads and was the No. 1 advertiser on both Facebook and Instagram during the 2015 holiday season, according to app data startup Sensor Tower.

So when Wish decided to adopt Facebooks new dynamic ads this year, the company, unsurprisingly, went all in.

While Wishs competitors like Amazon or Alibaba might balk at handing massive amounts of datalet alone its full product catalogto Facebook, thats exactly what Wish did.

Wish currently has over 170 million unique products for sale, with over 9 million new products uploaded every week. When it made the transition to dynamic Facebook ads it gave Facebook access to every last one of them.

Theoretically, Facebook should have plucked out shoes on Wish and served them to shoe lovers, or pushed perfume on perfume lovers. But since Wishs catalog is so massive and Facebooks audience is so broad, some strange products bubbled their way to the surface.

Unlike the shoe or perfume ads, curious users actually clicked Wishs ads for things like plastic nostril holders or profane cuff links. According to Wish, Facebook registered this click as a positive metric and, in turn, showed the bizarre ads to more users, who were shocked, clicked and, in rare cases, actually bought them.

It was only a matter of months before things spiralled out of control. By late November, Wish had become the leading purveyor of advertising clickbait.

Its funny, Peter Szulczewski, CEO and founder of Wish, said about the ads, but its actually suboptimal for us.

If youre optimizing for clicks, people will click on these items, but its a curiosity-driven click, he said. People are just clicking on things because theyre crazy. No consumers are actually purchasing these products.

He said that he personally reviews Wishs top-selling items every day and hes never seen any of the strange products advertised on Facebook breach that group.

No one is going to buy a plastic tongue thing, he said.

Its a consequence of Facebooks ad system. Its basically rewarding high shock value items that people will click on. If we just show a garden hose or jacket, the CTR wouldnt be as high, he added.

Facebook doesnt particularly want to show these strange items either though, because ultimately they arent driving sales and some items even violate the companys guidelines.

Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesperson said, We review ads before they appear on Facebook to ensure they adhere to our policies. Upon further review we realized that some of the ads presented did not, so weve removed them.

Thankfully for Facebook, this issue hadnt arisen previously, because most businesses that use dynamic ads offer pretty mainstream products. Even the oddest coffee table on Wayfair is unlikely to shock a user into clicking.

Szulczewski said Wish is in the process of creating a more restricted product list to serve specifically to Facebook. Hes also been reassured by his conversations with Facebook ad executives, who he says are working on a solution to the Weird Tongue Thing problem.

Normally, when Wish chooses to serve ads for specific products, Szulczewski said, the company takes into account over a dozen metrics, including buy rate, refund rate, reviews, ratings, and more. Facebooks algorithm is simply emphasising clicks far too much.

Szulczewski said that he communicated this to Facebook and the company assured him that it is in the process of de-ranking clicks as a metric when it comes to the companys dynamic ads.

Wish ads, however, are simply the latest battlefield in Facebooks broader war against clickbait. The company has publicly struggled for years to tamp down on clickbaity editorial content in News Feed. Without restrictions, ads on the platform could eventually devolve into the type of internet chum that has clogged the broader web for years.

Because Szulczewski still does a lot of business through Facebook and credits the platform with facilitating a portion of Wishs growth, he stressed that he has no plans to abandon the worlds most visited social network, or dynamic ads, any time soon.

He also feels that, from a branding perspective, the damage done from the Weird Tongue Things will be reversible over time.

Were going to start showing things people are actually buying and people will see, he said.

Weve been around 5 years, we sell 3 million items a day, and very few of those are weird severed tongue devices or cat blinders.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/facebooks-algorithm-hijacked-this-dollar8-billion-company-to-sell-cat-blindfolds

Facebook plans to invest $20m in affordable housing projects

The tech company, long criticized displacing low-income residents in Silicon Valley, will partner with advocacy groups to amid massive campus expansion

Facebook has agreed to invest $20m in affordable housing initiatives after facing intense criticism for failing to help low-income residents in Silicon Valley where the technology boom has exacerbated displacement and gentrification.

The corporation, which is pushing forward with a massive campus expansion in northern California, announced on Friday a partnership with community organizations aimed at funding affordable housing construction and assisting tenants facing eviction.

Housing activists who have long been critical of Facebook and its role in accelerating income inequality in the region said the investment marked an unprecedented collaboration between Silicon Valley corporations and advocacy groups and that the project could push neighboring tech companies to better address local poverty.

Im hoping this fund will be the thing that starts to move the rest of the region, said Tameeka Bennett, executive director of Youth United for Community Action (Yuca), a non-profit in east Palo Alto that helped negotiate the new agreement.

The housing shortage has reached crisis levels in Silicon Valley, which is also home to Google, Apple and many other wealthy technology firms. Rapid job creation combined with a lack of new housing has created an estimated shortfall of 22,000 homes, with the region building only 26% of the housing needed for low-income people, according to non-profit group Public Advocates.

That means only the wealthy can afford to live near their Silicon Valley jobs, forcing an estimated 70,000 low-income workers to commute more than 50 miles to work.

Facebook, headquartered in Menlo Park, has contributed to the problem in direct and indirect ways. The company sparked backlash after it began offering generous bonuses to employees if they live near campus, which advocates say has hastened gentrification. Local real estate managers have evicted low-income tenants en masse, explicitly marketing units to Facebook employees.

The funding announced this week is not simply a philanthropic donation from Facebook, which is valued at $350bn. The corporation is legally required to fund certain community benefits as part of its ongoing expansion project, and activists have spent months pressuring the company to make substantial investments.

Facebook plans to add 126,000 sq ft to its campus and bring 6,500 new employees to the area, increasing the Menlo Park workforce by 20%. Development laws mandated that the corporation contribute $6.3m to below-market-rate housing.

Still, non-profit leaders said the housing fund could have a significant impact and noted that Facebook executives have relied heavily on the input of local advocates with the kind of intensive collaboration advocates rarely see from corporations.

The community groups that have the expertise really were equal players, said Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, senior staff attorney at Public Advocates, which had raised formal objections to Facebooks expansion proposal.

I hope having one large prominent Silicon Valley company leading the way on this will be a wake-up call for all the other global corporations that the Bay Area is hosting and the need for them to work locally, he added, rather than just thinking of themselves as global corporations that exist online.

In addition to investing $18.5m toward the creation and preservation of affordable housing, the company has offered $500,000 toward legal and rental assistance to tenants threatened with displacement.

A Facebook spokesman told the Guardian that the company doesnt have projections on the number of housing units the partnership could fund, but noted that the $20m is an initial contribution and said the company hopes to attract additional public, private and philanthropic entities to contribute to the fund.

Kyra Brown, Yucas social justice program director, said it was critical that Facebook do a better job diversifying its workforce and hire locally in east Palo Alto, a historically black city. African American employees make up only 3% of the corporations senior leadership in the US.

Silicon Valley is known as this very innovative place when it comes to addressing everyday issues, she said, but my hope is that we also take that same innovation and apply it to social issues.

Brown, who grew up in east Palo Alto, said the announcement was an important first step in the tech sector helping to address inequities in the communities theyve entered.

Im glad that Facebook is thinking about the legacy it wants to leave particularly when it comes to communities of color, she said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/02/facebook-affordable-housing-silicon-valley

I was so embarrassed I cried: do parents share too much online?

From first smiles to teenage experiments, a generation of children has had their every move posted by their parents. What can they do about it?

Picture a child entering the world, around the time that a new social networking venture known as thefacebook.comis making its own entrance to the world. It is 2004, and the child is easy to picture. Her parents have photographed their daughters first breath, first smile, first spoonfuls and first steps. When she reaches school age, she is snapped in uniform, probably outside the front door, and one parent, probably her mother, shares the image with friends. The child learns to read, write her name. She wins certificates, excels at sport. When Twitter, Instagram and later Vine arrive, her public identities multiply. She starts secondary school.

In a few months, this child and her classmates will begin to turn 13 and, perhaps, create their own Facebook accounts. When they do, they will come face to face with their digital shadow. They may step into it easily, or try to sever themselves from it, but it wont let go, this pre-existent media identity, because it has logged their lives from the moment they left the womb. Some will recognise their digital shadow, but what of those whose online identity bears little relation to their sense of self, or to the public identity they want to share? For years, parents have fretted about their childrens posting activities, while continuing to post as they wish about their offspring. Is it time they stopped or at least asked for permission first?

Today these questions are on the minds of the children at Kingsford community school in Beckton, east London, where the 13-, 14- and 15-year-old members of the Debate Mate after-school club are filing into a classroom on the first floor, slinging down school bags and glancing at the motion on the whiteboard. This house would ban parents from posting about their children on social media, the debate leader writes.

Its kind of weird your parents are still posting pictures of you on social media, someone says. One boy, Malachi, bows his head and writes a single word on his notepad: reputation. This is really about consent, his friend says. Do I want to be seen by a larger, broader range of people? There is a loud hum of agreement and one girl raises her voice: Parents! We dont want them invading our privacy. Because some of us, the only privacy we get is through social media.

These pupils often discuss social networking sites, their attractions and perils, but this is the first time they have turned their scrutiny on their own parents. And yet parents are the object of an increasingly aggressive interrogation. This spring a mother from Shropshire called out her sons bullying on Facebook, only for the post to go viral; the criticism of her became so intense she removed it and changed her Facebook page and phone number. Next came the 20-year-old mother from Balloch, Scotland, whose photographs of her 11-month-old daughter in tiny high fashion outfits attracted an Instagram following that included Khlo Kardashian until critics claimed the woman was sexualising her baby. She has since locked the account and gone to ground. After her came the Arizona father who nakedly cradled his naked, feverish baby in the shower, an image his wife snapped and shared, before Facebook removed it as offensive.

Excessive sharing about your children has long incited disapproval, but recently the disapproval has begun to acquire a proto-legal tinge. In March, French police warned parents against posting photos of their children on social media; according to social media analyst Eric Delcroix, the children could soon be able to sue them for posting inappropriate pictures, under the countrys privacy laws. The treasurer of the UKs Human Rights Lawyers Association, Leanne Targett-Parker, echoes the idea that it is only a matter of time before children mount legal challenges against oversharing parents. You cant imagine it not being something that starts to develop within the next five to 10 years, she says. I cant see how there cant be attempts at suing people for putting up posts that theyre unhappy with.

Some parents may shrug off the shaming stories and the professionalised sharing of family vloggers such as the Shaytards, the Brataleys, the Ballingers as beyond the range of their own moderate social media activity. But listen to the children in the Kingsford classroom and it becomes clear how many degrees there are of shame. To these teenagers, even small instances of sharing can be divisive. When I ask if anyone has experienced being overshared themselves, hands shoot up, but the answers are a long way from the public shaming that normally grabs headlines. They are exactly the sort of infringements that many parents will commit without a second thought.

I was eating a Subway. Chicken teriyaki. Eating that and my mum just took the picture and posted it on Facebook, one pupil says.

When I was little my parents took a picture of me being potty-trained. Three weeks ago they posted it on Facebook. Me on the toilet. It was really embarrassing, another adds.

I was with my aunt in the park. I was wearing my scarf but I didnt have a pin. It flew off and my hair was all raggedy, sticking up all over the place. My auntie put it on Facebook. I was so embarrassed I was crying. I asked her to take it down but she said, No, it looks cute.

My uncle posted when his daughter had diarrhoea: Pray for her.

One girl, 14, raises her hand. Parents love to post things about you, personal information that you might not like, she says. Which kind of affects your relationship with them. Now, when you want to speak to them about certain things, youre worried they might post it.

Her classmate Erin stands up. Her team supports the motion on the whiteboard that parents should be banned from posting and they have an idea. We want to pass a law that requires open forms of social media to put a consent button on their pages, so a child can report whether their parents have posted about them without consent, she declares. If parents refuse to cooperate, they will be fined the amount of 1,000.

These suggestions may sound excessive and unfeasible; in fact they lie squarely within the recommendations made by a number of adults campaigning in this field. Erins idea of a penalty, for instance, echoes the attempts by a Democratic state representative in Illinois, La Shawn K Ford, to make the shaming of children on social networking sites an offence. Offending parents should face a penalty, he has argued, which, just like Erins, would be a fine paid directly to the child. As for the apparently far-fetched idea of a consent button, this sounds uncannily similar to the delete button proposed by 5Rights, the campaign steered by the peer and film-maker Beeban Kidron to protect and empower children online.

More generally, the debaters irritation chimes with research published in March by a team at the University of Michigan. After interviewing 249 parent-children pairings across 40 US states, the researchers found that children were more than twice as likely as parents to say that adults should not post information online about them without permission. Would the Kingsford children concur? Class E11 rings with shouts of, Yes!

It aint going to happen, their teacher, Miss Alimi, says.

Miss! one of her students cries. Theres a thing called wishful thinking.

***

Miss Alimi is right: children are unlikely to gain control over their parents posting habits. But there is still scope for a conversation about what constitutes fair sharing, and each family will draw its lines differently. Consider the case of Heather Whitten, the Arizona-based photographer and teaching assistant who took the photograph of her husband and son in the shower that Facebook didnt like. Whitten saw the moment, and the image, as the height of parental care. Their toddler, Fox, had had a temperature for hours. Her husband, Thomas, was trying to cool the childs fever. For two years, Whitten kept the image private, finally posting it in May after Facebook removed other pictures she had shared of her children. She wanted to take a stand, to show that its just innocent pictures that people are twisting and getting offended by.

She was unprepared for the response for the way in which Facebook removed images from her page every time it received sufficient complaints, for the level of disapproval the image provoked, including claims that it was sexual or inappropriate. But Whittens stand had one other unexpected consequence. As the interested and the outraged followed the link to her blog, some began to question the legality, as well as the sense, of showing children naked. I just thought you were free to post what you wanted on the internet, Whitten says now. But then she discovered that in the state of Arizona, you cant show any naked images of childrens pelvic area or butt, and I realised I was technically breaking a law.

She removed the blog took everything down but in the bigger, moral sense, I dont feel Ive done anything wrong. Im not exploiting my children. Im not abusing my children. Im just sharing our lives exactly how they are.

Whittens experience shows just how nebulous and fraught the territory of sharing can be. Sure, her experience would never befall those for whom posting naked images of children is strictly out of bounds. But the case of Whitten is complicated. She and her partner are raising their children to not be ashamed or embarrassed of their bodies. They are living online within the offline boundaries they have set for themselves. People dont show nudity a lot of times because they think it will have a negative impact on their child. Your footprint is for ever on the internet, Whitten says. For me, its absurd. I just hope to combat that a little. Who knows how it will actually turn out, but I hope that my children wont ever look back and see pictures of themselves as children and feel embarrassed by other people seeing them as well. Because there is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Fox, the toddler in the shower, is still too young to veto or cherish the photograph that caused such controversy, but his older sister Lily, nine, loves it, according to her mother. She couldnt really wrap her head around why people would think there was anything wrong with it.

And yet, while Lily was comfortable with the image of her baby brother, she was deeply unhappy with other photographs her mother had uploaded the apparently harmless kind that many parents post. One day at around the age of six, Lily began to scroll through her mothers Instagram. She saw how many pictures there were of her and she didnt like it, Whitten says. For months, whenever Lily saw Whitten with the camera, she hid. That really opened up a conversation about why I take pictures, why I share pictures, who I share pictures with. Now, Whitten says, any time you see Lily, it is with her permission.

Alicia Blum-Ross, a researcher at the London School of Economics, believes we are entering a crucial moment. We are starting to see kids who have grown up, whose parents have shared images, and who are beginning to say: Wait a minute. Im not sure Im comfortable with that. What families need, she thinks, is a coming-of-age conversation. After all, it was Lily Whitten herself, at six, who instigated the dialogue with her mother that earned her the right to veto content. Does Lily have advice for other children? They should say, Please dont take any pictures of me it makes me uncomfortable, she says. And I might change my mind one day, but today I dont want to have to hide from your camera. Soon this digital rulebook chat might become as standard as the one about the birds and the bees. Blum-Ross sees nothing to fear. Both parties, she points out, are united by being the first generation of parents and children to negotiate this path. It can be a really shared experience, she says enthusiastically. The dilemmas are shared dilemmas, the pleasures are shared pleasures. Its a moment of overlap.

Blum-Ross, who has three-year-old twins, says she is not a person who advises total protection. I certainly wouldnt say, Dont share things about your children online. Its important that parents are able to claim their own space about that. Its OK to say, I need this community. Whitten, too, has always seen her sharing in those terms: I feel I share everything as my story this is my perspective on my life as a mother with these children. Im not trying to put words in their mouth, or tell the story from their perspective.

It is one of the oldest questions of storytelling: who does the story belong to? Blum-Ross, Whitten and countless others believe they are telling their own stories, and sharing posts about their children where they fit that perspective. But its complicated. I never had a filter before, says Whitten, sounding forlorn. I love the idea of having connections with other mothers and people. But I cant share the way I used to. After the Facebook furore, she is still fathoming whether to photograph differently or simply stop sharing.

Child
Photograph: Getty Images

For other parents, such as the author Amy Webb, who has written about her commitment to post nothing about her daughter online, the same process of consideration deters them from sharing altogether. They have the big conversation with themselves, each other, sometimes their children and decide the best answer is silence.

When the Guardian asked readers about their experiences, Apricot, who is 30 and lives in the north of England, wrote: When I started to Facebook my own childs pictures, I began to feel intensely uncomfortable. How could I instil in her a principle of privacy when I had essentially devalued hers from the beginning? She stopped posting. What we post is facets of ourselves, said Tamasine Preece, a teacher in Bridgend, whose PhD includes a chapter on oversharing. I think there is a morality to using children to explore parts of ourselves. My children are not me. They are separate.

Kidron, who says she has never interacted with her children on social networking sites (they are now 19 and 21), thinks that her behaviour reflects the idea that oversharing is inappropriate when the whole point of the journey to adulthood is to self-define to work out who you are, what your values are, how youre going to fit in. I think we have not thought hard enough about what that process might be like, if so much is shared and so much is public.

There are three issues here, she says. One is the right to a certain sort of privacy. The second is the need of young people to transgress and bump into their edges, and for that to be somewhat safe. The third is the need to break away from the model of your parents.

My own Facebook posts dried up as I researched this article. Of course, I can ask my children for consent, but I am not sure they are ready for a responsibility with permanent consequences. If an eight-year-old consents to a post, is it fair to act upon that consent, or should a parent second-guess how those feelings might evolve? After all, posts are eternal and a child cannot speak for his or her future self.

In any case, a childs consent can be capricious, even within one given day. My daughter, at eight, would prefer her photo not to appear on Facebook, but would be more than happy to see a video of herself playing Swingball on YouTube. My six-year-old, meanwhile, says he is sad that Google doesnt know me. Even the teenagers at Kingsford are conflicted. In the end, they vote against Erins suggestion of a fine for parents who share without their childrens consent, but they squirm in their seats, clawing the air for a turn to speak when I ask what rules they would lay down for their parents:

Dont say embarrassing jokes cos thats too much.

As far as the world is concerned, were not related.

Post pictures of me when I look amazing.

Dont post baby pictures unless Im happy and fully clothed.

Dont ever comment on my pictures.

Dont stalk my profile waiting for me to load pictures.

Dont follow.

Dont add me. Or my friends.

Dont tell dad jokes.

Dont take pictures of me eating food, cos my friends take it out of context.

Dont try and use internet slang on our wall. On your friends profiles you can embarrass yourselves all you want, but when its on our profiles it looks like weve taught you to say that. And it makes us look really bad.

Stay behind the times.

***

Of course, every family is different. In a quiet cul-de-sac in Newton Abbot, Devon, with sunlight pouring into the lounge, Molly Povey and her 11-year-old son Roman are sitting on the sofa discussing their experience of going viral.

In April 2015, with Roman desperately unhappy at school, Molly posted a plea on her Facebook page for his classmates parents to send her beautiful son birthday cards. Roman doesnt have any friends and often cries himself to sleep, the post began. It was shared around the world. Maybe 40,000 times, Molly says. (Interestingly, her post breaks only the second of the Kingsford rules, by disclosing that Molly and Roman are related.)

Neither Molly nor Roman, nor his two brothers, nor his dad Ian, who says he hates social media, were prepared for what happened next. Thousands of people left birthday greetings online. At the office of a friend whose address was hastily borrowed to protect Romans privacy cards and gifts began to arrive. Molly formalised the chaos into a Cards For Roman Facebook page.

Friendships were made, and some of them have lasted to the extent that in April, a year after his mothers plea for help, Roman celebrated his 12th birthday with 150 friends, strangers and Facebook friends at a Nandos in Exeter and at a second party in London. They have even met up with well-wishers in Germany.

Molly
Molly Povey, whose post about her sons loneliness went viral, with some of the birthday cards he was sent by strangers all over the world. Photograph: Rebecca Rees for the Guardian

While Molly tells this story, talking quickly because there is a lot to fit in, Roman scurries to and fro with his gifts: a Star Wars chess set from someone in the Netherlands, pictures from Brazilian schoolchildren (Molly says he is very big in Brazil), wicker baskets of cards.

But sometimes Molly worries. A bit. I think, what happens in years to come if he Googles himself and finds Lonely boy with no friends? Last year the local paper ran a front-page headline saying just that. I thought, oh my God, what have I done? Roman was with her, and comforted her. But it is true, he said. I am really lonely.

For the Povey family, the benefits of Mollys post are visible each day. His tearfulness has declined. The whole household is happier. Molly herself has found, in the Facebook page, a community that makes her feel supported and which, in turn, needs her. And now youve got a responsibility, Ian says. Its a strange thing. He himself has never read the initial post, usually declines to appear in photographs, and thinks that when it comes to sharing, Its best to err on the side of caution. Occasionally, Molly tells her community that Roman is having a bad day, or that she is: she doesnt want to pretend to people who know loneliness that loneliness doesnt happen. And yet, as Ian says, Its difficult to know sometimes what Roman really thinks about it.

Molly leads the way up to Romans bedroom, to show more of the gifts people sent. There is James Bond notepaper from the actor Andrew Scott, who played the baddie in Spectre, and a crew T-shirt from Star Wars: Episode III.

I wonder if Roman minds thousands of strangers knowing hes sad. Do you mind? Molly asks him. Do you mind that people know you get really lonely?

Maybe, Roman replies. I dont know. Ill go yes: I dont like it.

You dont like it? Molly repeats, incredulous.

No.

What, that people around the world know you are lonely?

Yeah.

You dont like it now? she asks again.

No.

Oh, Molly says. She sounds deflated.

It just feels weird, it does, Roman tells her.

Although Molly has publicly revealed aspects of her sons emotional life that other parents might hesitate to share, she is not incautious. For months she withheld Romans full name and has only recently felt comfortable disclosing that he is autistic. Before her heartfelt post, she deleted baby pictures of Romans older brother because he was about to start secondary school; surely the Kingsford debaters would approve.

Like Alicia Blum-Ross and Heather Whitten, Molly has rules. Think about whether its appropriate if in a year or five years your child would be embarrassed by anything youve done. And just why are you actually doing it? Is it a positive thing, or is it to give you a social boost as opposed to the children? Molly might appear to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from Tamasine Preece, who never posts, but the morals that underpin their behaviour are remarkably alike. And while Molly thinks you shouldnt be posting pictures of kids in the bath, in some ways her posts are as exposing as Whittens.

Later that evening Molly emails to say that the conversation with Roman had troubled her. After Id left the house, she offered to take down the page, she says, but Roman said not to. Turns out he was confused in his room and was talking about not liking being lonely, and not his page.

Or maybe Roman, in that moment, wished no one knew he was lonely. Then, later, when his mother checked, he minded less. Or maybe he understands that the community his mother has created has benefited him and his family. But these are only guesses. It is impossible to know. He is young, and the world changes many times a day. His parents have his best interests at heart, but like any who share news of their children, every time they post, they cross a line between privacy and publicity. Where each parent sees the line is an unsteady, unsettleable question. For Roman, and others like him, the truth may be something they are still working out, or simply prefer not to share.

Ive gone online after a few glasses of wine and said things I shouldnt have: parents and children talk social media

Elaine
Her posts can be really personal: Sadie Star with her mum, Elaine. Photograph: Jonathan Browning for the Guardian

Elaine Star, 47, a PA and poet, and her youngest daughter Sadie, 17, a student, live in Brighton

Elaine Ive had a Facebook account for about 10 years, so Sadie was probably seven when I first joined. I use it to keep in touch with different groups of people old friends, my poetry group, the puppet show I work with. Im also friends with a lot of my kids friends, because its often the best way of locating where mine are. I dont think it bothers them. All their friends are happy to come to the house and sit around my kitchen table and chat, so I dont think its odd. I dont post on their friends pages maybe just a Happy birthday message. But Im really impressed by the sorts of things they share about science, politics theyre very funny and insightful.

I have definitely made mistakes online. Ive gone on after a few glasses of wine and said things I shouldnt have. There have been some angry messages about the state my kids and their friends have left the house in. And they have all asked me to take down various photos. I get it: Im sensitive to the fact that theyre trying to be cool or whatever.

I think Im past the stage of worrying too much about embarrassing my kids. I write poems that are very personal, and I share them on Facebook. But thats how I express myself. The kids have occasionally said, Stop living your life on Facebook but Im an open person.

Theyre all fairly streetwise. We have a very open dialogue in our house. They have occasionally posted things that I think are a bit questionable showing off a bit about drinking with their friends, that sort of thing. I might have said, Hmm, you might want to think about that but Ive never said, Take that down. Im glad Facebook wasnt around to record my teenage years, though. Id hate it.

Sadie My siblings and I all use Facebook in different ways. Stevie posts a lot of pictures; Maisie likes to talk about stuff. Me and Joe post a lot of news stories, and I like posting videos or songs. I dont like to put up personal pictures, or get too emotional on Facebook. My mums posts can be really personal.

At the beginning, I didnt really want to be friends with her on Facebook. I didnt really want her seeing pictures of me that my friends had posted. They werent anything bad; they just felt like a bit of my life that was separate from her. Now I dont mind as much Im more open. Shes also friends with a lot of my friends on there. Thats not a problem, except that shes quite free with what she writes. Something would happen between us, and shed put it in a poem, and post it to Facebook, and I wondered whether my friends would see her in a different way. I think maybe I felt protective of her. But no one has ever said anything.

She has a lot of photos of us when we were little. When I was a bit younger, I hated seeing some of them online. I remember there was one where I was holding my pet hamster and I just thought I looked greasy and rough. And once my room was really messy and my mum said, Ill take pictures and put it on Facebook. I would have hated it if shed actually done it. Now Im a bit older, Ive learned to let go of it all a bit more. I think Im OK with whats out there about me.

Nell
I dont feel like the same person I was when I was little: Nell Redelsperger-Talbot with her mother, Juliet. Photograph: Lewis Khan for the Guardian

Juliet Redelsperger-Talbot, 43, a marketing and events manager, and Nell, 13, live in Eye, Suffolk, with Nells father and her brother Lawrence, 10

Nell Ive been cyberbullied before. One of my followers on Instagram, someone I knew, turned on me, then a couple of others who Id thought were friendly were making comments on my posts. It wasnt nice, and I wasnt sure how to handle it. In school they give you lessons about what to do if it happens to you, but when it comes to it, the reality is very different. But the school did deal with it.

After that, I became a lot more careful about who I accept as friends, and what people can see. Now I have one account for my photography and a separate one for my closest friends.

I have looked briefly at Mums Facebook account, but I dont have a clue about how Facebook works. I dont think I mind that there are photos of me. If you know the people that can see those photos, then thats OK. If its not private, Im not so sure about that. But I dont find it embarrassing. Maybe its because I dont feel like the same person I was when I was little. It doesnt feel as if those pictures are of me.

Juliet The cyberbullying was a harrowing time for Nell, but what was good was that some of her friends were supportive and took screenshots of the comments as proof of what was happening. Nell was worried I would be angry, so she didnt come to me until after it was over. It was awful, but in a way, I think it helped her understand what youre exposed to online.

Nell is a great photographer, and she sends me pictures, but Icheck that she is happy before I post anything on Facebook. Your children have every right to veto what you put online, although they have to be a certain age before they understand what it means. Neither of mine have ever had an issue with something Ive posted, but then theyre the generation that are used to having photos of themselves everywhere. I think it meant something different for my generation. It took so long to get photos developed that seeing yourself was so much more important.

The children were very little when I first signed up. I dont remember thinking much about privacy then. It wasnt until I read in the paper how posts about your children might be seen by complete strangers that I changed my settings.

As time went by, I began to feel uncomfortable about posting. It felt like everything online was becoming more about Look how wonderful I am and it made me feel quite down. So I left for a while. Eventually I rejoined because it was hard to keep up with everything. So now Ive started again but in a very different way.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/nov/05/parents-posting-about-kids-share-too-much-online-facebook-paula-cocozza

Facebook’s neighbors are losing their homes. What’s being done about it?

As the company prepares to bring thousands of new workers to its Menlo Park campus, advocates say it must do more to help lower-income local residents

The first time Tameeka Bennett had to drive two hours in traffic to get to her job in East Palo Alto, she broke down in tears in her car. It was October 2014, and Bennett, 29, had never imagined she would have to move away from the Silicon Valley city where she grew up, which is one of the least affluent communities in the region.

But her family had lost their home to foreclosure, and they couldnt find an affordable house to buy in East Palo Alto. So they were forced to move to Oakland, which is 40 miles north and a nightmarish commute away from Bennetts job as executive director of Youth United for Community Action, an East Palo Alto not-for-profit group that fights displacement.

While Bennett recognizes that there are multiple factors driving the regions housing crisis, its hard for her to ignore the most obvious force less than three miles north of her organization: the Facebook headquarters.

This week, Bennett and other northern California advocates are pressuring Facebook to make substantial investments in affordable housing as the powerful social networking company pushes forward with a major expansion that experts say will drive up housing prices and exacerbate income inequality in the center of the booming tech economy.

The brewing dispute over Facebooks expansion in Menlo Park which is adjacent to East Palo Alto and not far from the headquarters of Apple and Google has exposed what many critics of the industry see as a glaring contradiction in the tech sector. That is, these hugely profitable companies cast themselves as do-gooder innovators creating transformative technology, but in their own backyard, theyre contributing to a crisis that has grave consequences for disadvantaged communities and theyre doing little to disrupt the poverty plaguing their neighbors.

Menlo Park officials and residents debated Facebooks growth plans during a lengthy city council meeting that dragged on past midnight on Tuesday evening. The public discussion came one day after reports that founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are exploring ways that their new philanthropic organization could help alleviate the high cost of housing in the region.

Facebook which set up its huge campus in Menlo Park in 2011 has proposed two new office buildings that would add roughly 126,000 sq ft to its campus, along with a 200-room hotel. The project is expected to bring more than 6,500 new employees to Facebook and the hotel, which would increase the entire Menlo Park workforce by more than 20%.

As part of the expansion, Facebook is required to contribute $6.3m to below-market-rate housing.

The company further agreed to provide $350,000 for a study of housing conditions; $1.5m for a housing innovation fund for various initiatives; $1m for for a preservation fund to buy and protect units housing at-risk populations; and $2.15m for reduced rents in 22 units of workforce housing, with priority given to teachers.

Tameeka
Tameeka Bennett moved to Oakland after her family was unable to find an affordable house in East Palo Alto. Photograph: Courtesy of Youth United for Community Action

But critics say those are relatively inconsequential benefits given the size of the project and scale and urgency of the housing crisis and considering that Facebook is now worth about $350bn, making it the sixth-most valuable company in the US.

Research has repeatedly suggested that Silicon Valley tech firms have worsened inequality, and data shows the area has lost affordable units at alarming rates. Recently, there have been numerous mass evictions and threats of widespread displacement near tech corporations.

With a surge in tech jobs at Facebook, the project will probably attract tens of thousands of additional workers in lower-paying jobs that support the industry, said Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, senior staff attorney at Public Advocates, a not-for-profit group that has, along with the ACLU, raised formal objections to Facebooks project.

It is those workers and other poorer residents who will suffer the most from a jump in the regional housing demand, he said, pointing out that roughly 70,000 low-income workers in Silicon Valley already commute more than 50 miles to their jobs, which also has environmental consequences.

Its fundamentally not fair to ask low-wage workers in Silicon Valley to be bearing the personal costs for global corporate production, he said. Facebook could have a substantial role in correcting those deficiencies.

In East Palo Alto, officials have also gathered compelling evidence suggesting that Facebooks presence has had tangible consequences for low-income renters.

From 2011 to 2015, the average asking rent for a one-bedroom apartment in East Palo Alto increased by 89%, according to records.

One property owner acquired roughly 40% of the citys entire rental housing stock in December 2011 after Facebook moved to Menlo Park and the new landlord subsequently issued a significant number of eviction notices, officials have noted in city records.

That real estate company has specifically advertised new housing to Facebook workers, writing on its website: Now is the time to consider affordable East Palo Alto apartments before the rest of the Facebook and Google employees do!

In a recent letter criticizing Facebooks project, East Palo Altos mayor, Donna Rutherford, included that quote and pointed to research showing that in 67% of all recent house sales and rental units in East Palo Alto, the marketing materials have mentioned Facebook.

Its not that were against Facebook, but we want to make sure that when the expansion happens, it benefits not only a group of people, but the wider community, said Carlos Martinez, East Palo Alto city manager.

Caprice Powell, 24, who grew up in East Palo Alto, said she is moving to Atlanta, Georgia, this summer in part because she cant afford to rent here any more.

Facebook is coming in and bringing along all these rich folks Theyre able to afford our housing, because its nothing to them.

Powell said her sister and mother had both been priced out of East Palo Alto and that she was temporarily living in a small room in her godfathers house one of five people crammed into a two-bedroom. After she relocates to Georgia, she hopes to eventually return to East Palo Alto, but shes not confident it will be financially feasible.

It feels like East Palo Alto is not our home any more, she said.

Bennett, who said she knew at least five local families who had been pushed out, also pointed out that Facebook had offered its employees generous bonuses to live closer to campus, which has accelerated gentrification.

You are directly displacing families, she said, adding that Facebook should look beyond its impact on Menlo Park and commit to funding housing in surrounding cities.

One resident at the council hearing also pointed out that black employees account for only 3% of Facebooks senior leadership in the US, but others praised the company for bringing jobs and supporting local not-for-profit groups.

Facebook declined an interview request, but said in a statement: We understand that our growth affects the everyday lives of our neighbors, and we want to be respectful and thoughtful about how we approach our expansion. The future of Menlo Park is extremely important to us, which is why we work with city and community leaders to tackle local priorities, including transportation, housing and the environment.

The statement did not mention East Palo Alto.

At the council meeting, John Tenanes, Facebooks vice-president of global facilities and real estate, did not address criticisms over housing, but said: You have my commitment that Facebook will continue to be very active above and beyond what weve negotiated.

A spokesman for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative declined to comment on the rumors about potential housing initiatives, saying in a statement: We are in the process of examining a number of potential issue areas for future work.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jul/20/facebook-headquarters-expansion-menlo-park-california-housing

Facebooks newest news feed: good for friends, bad for publishers

Changes to the algorithm mean your friends posts will be prioritized, and publishers that rely on Facebook traffic will be gnashing their teeth

To paraphrase Archimedes, give me an algorithm, and I can move the world.

Facebook announced yet more changes to its news feed algorithm on Wednesday, the secret sauce that determines whose posts show up on your Facebook page, and whose remain unseen.

The winners: you and your friends, whose posts will receive more exposure than they have in the recent past.

The losers: publishers, who rely increasingly on Facebook to send traffic to their sites.

This is not the first time Facebook has tweaked its algorithms, which invariably results in agonized cries and the gnashing of teeth from those negatively affected. In April, after Facebook announced plans to move content posted by friends higher in the feed, traffic to some publishers sites plummeted by 25%, according to a report in Digiday.

Now Facebook is going further with that strategy, based on feedback from readers who say they would rather hear about grandmas recipe for fried pickles or see pictures of their nephews bar mitzvah than the fallout from Brexit or Donald Trumps latest gaffe.

In other words, Facebook is shifting back toward what it was originally designed to do before it stumbled into the news distribution business.

Joshua Benton, director of Harvards Nieman Journalism Lab, sees this as an incremental change, a continuation of policies Facebook has been pursuing for some time.

Its another step in the line of decisions Facebook has made centering around increasing user loyalty and keeping them on site, he says. Publishers need to recognize that Facebooks incentives are different than theirs. Its another sign that publications will have to rely more on direct reader revenue and less on advertising revenue.

Benton doesnt see publishers making radical changes in how they work with Facebook, besides having their social media editors spend less time maintaining publications Facebook pages and more time getting readers to share articles.

But they may also have to up their analytics game if they wish to avoid being crushed like a bug, says Jay Rosen, a journalism professor for NYU and author of the Press Think blog.

Its a case of the weak trying to figure out the strong, he says. Companies with great analytics tend to know a bit more about what Facebook is doing. I dont think BuzzFeed is wondering whats going on with its Facebook news feed. Other publishers who dont have very good analytics probably feel a little helpless.

On the other hand, the fact that Facebook admitted that internal values drive its news feed instead of impartial algorithms largely out of its control, as it has claimed in the past is a step in the right direction, Rosen says.

But its not just publishers who will be affected. The changes will also impact Facebook pages launched by businesses who hope to use the social network. Overall, we anticipate that this update may cause reach and referral traffic to decline for some Pages, explained Facebooks blogpost.

The specific impact on your Pages distribution and other metrics may vary depending on the composition of your audience. For example, if a lot of your referral traffic is the result of people sharing your content and their friends liking and commenting on it, there will be less of an impact than if the majority of your traffic comes directly through Page posts.

These changes make life even harder for the millions of brands and small businesses that have made Facebook pages one of their primary promotional tools, says Kari DePhillips, founder of The Content Factory, a social media marketing agency.

Brands already have to pay to play on Facebook, she says. If you have 10,000 Likes, a very small fraction ever see your updates, unless they specifically opt in to be alerted whenever you make a post and that rarely happens. So to reach the audience that has taken the initiative to Like your page, you already have to pay for advertising. This underscores that even more.

Ultimately, its another sign that when you sign a deal with the devil, eventually youre going to get burned.

Facebook has the power to send more or less traffic to publishers whenever it wants to, says Benton. They control the algorithm, whereas we have only a dim insight into it. They get to do what they want.

Its good to be the largest hoarder of content on the internet.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jun/29/facebook-news-feed-algorithm-change-traffic-publishing

Google’s ban on payday loan ads recasts debate of morality in media for digital age

The likes of Facebook and Microsoft have spurned fireworks, paintball guns and erectile dysfunction ads, much as publishing outlets have done for decades

Google was widely applauded this week for announcing it would stop selling ads for long-reviled payday loan companies. Facebook, it turns out, banned payday loan ads last year, along with those for weapons and unsafe supplements.

Yahoo wont advertise paintball guns, knives or fireworks and other explosives, Microsoft prohibits erectile dysfunction ads for Xbox users and all major tech firms, it seems, ban pornography adverts.

But does it matter how tech firms draw the line over who they do business with, or what type of ads users should be subjected to?

Googles decision offers the latest evidence that technology companies are not just, as some perceive them, a neutral global commons where all ideas compete. They are also media behemoths, hosting content, soaking up advertising dollars and making the awkward decisions confronted by publishing outlets for decades.

Questions about the morality of running ads arent new. Congress banned cigarette television ads starting in 1971.

Its all about protected first amendment choices and the discretion that publishers in this country enjoy, said Karlene Goller, the former press freedom attorney for the Los Angeles Times and now a media lawyer in private practice. Goller noted that when she was at the Times, the paper didnt run cigarette ads, escort service ads, or other ads that they decided were inappropriate for a newspaper of general circulation.

Whats different now is that an increasingly small number of technology firms control what an ever expanding number of people see online. And theyre willing to go beyond what is circumscribed in law to make their own decisions maybe shaping society in areas where governments wont act.

This change is designed to protect our users from deceptive or harmful financial products, Googles director of global product policy, David Graff, wrote in a blogpost announcing the ban, which goes into effect this summer.

Facebook officially banned payday loan ads last August, though in practice it wasnt permitting such ads before then, a person familiar with the matter said. Yahoo and Microsoft representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Chris Moore, marketing consultant and a principal with Greenwich, Connecticut-based Brains For Rent, has written about advertising ethics for the Advertising Educational Foundation. Google, he says, is continuing a long tradition of media companies managing their brands by deciding which ads they want to run.

They are also rarely moral choices, Moore said.

Technology companies motives for policing ads can be hard to determine, but they often come under pressure to ditch certain companies.

Facebook has run into bad press and angry parents for occasionally allowing teens to see ads for inappropriate dating sites and weapons. And Google in 2011 agreed to forfeit $500m to the US justice department over ad sales to illegal pharmaceutical companies.

Facebook and Google have the right to not run ads, said Jonathan Taplin, director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California.

In this case, Taplin said he was not convinced Google was acting to better society. Id call it a publicity stunt, he said. Their notion of whats bad and whats good is fungible.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/12/google-payday-loan-advertisement-facebook-microsoft-policies